Life in El Bastón Rojo

It’s funny how one day you look at the calendar and think, “Thanksgiving is in two days. I guess I should finish that post I started in August.”

All the things you hear about Louisiana are probably true. My expectations were that I would spend a year in a swampy, bug- and alligator-infested place, constantly being hit by hurricanes, eating delicious food, and enjoying some lovely Southern hospitality. To my surprise, all of these expectations have been met except for the alligator sighting. We still have nine months to go, however, so I’ll keep running like a crazy person to and from the trash can at night, praying under my breath that my leg doesn’t become alligator dinner.

This is a legitimate concern, y’all. We live on a BEAUTIFUL piece of 25-acre property, and yes, it does have a small swamp. So far I have seen cranes, seagulls, owls, deer, raccoon, possums, and, last week, had a small heart attack when I walked out to my car at 4:45 AM and had a fox yowl at me and nearly run through my legs in his haste to get away. If you’ve never heard a fox bark, you may not understand how terrifying this can be when you’re still half-asleep.

The people of Baton Rouge are so lovely. I’d forgotten how normal it is to have a conversation with a complete stranger in the grocery store until I moved back here. Our church has been so welcoming and warm, too. Within the first few weeks of living here, we had been invited to dinner at least five times. I love the South. It feels good to be back where people hold the door open and wave when you let them into your lane.

During the first week of living here, Ted and I took a walk around our beautiful, borrowed property. We had this conversation:

Me: “Do you think we’ll have a hurricane while we’re here?”
Ted: “Nah.”

Three days later, I was sitting in my car, crying in frustration as I tried to think of another place that might still have bottled water in stock. Hurricane Isaac himself wasn’t too bad (as far as I could tell, anyway) in Baton Rouge, but we did lose power for almost a week. This, not having our St. Louis community around us, and the nearly two months it took me to find a job really made our transition rough.

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Sunset a few hours before Hurricane Isaac moved in.

God is always faithful, though, even when I doubt. One might think that I would understand this on a deeper level by now, but I don’t. I’m beginning to wonder if I will ever be able to make a grocery list or (halfway) fill up my gas tank without getting stressed. God seems pretty bent on building up my trust in Him, and I’m thankful for that, even though it makes me sweat bullets.

His provision made for a crazy October. I agreed to help run the church’s pumpkin patch fundraiser in late September, and two days later, I landed a job as a barista at the local coffee house. I was working 60 to 70 hours a week for awhile, which gave me immense respect for anyone who works multiple jobs. I had never been so happy to see November 1st in my life.

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Turns out working at Community Coffee House (or CC’s) is much like riding a bike for me. This cafe has its own unique challenges (a drive-thru and a finicky, hand-operated espresso machine), but the atmosphere is so oddly life-giving for me, despite my introversion. Since my time working in Christian organizations, I’ve missed the real world of people who cuss and party too much and have such varied, colorful opinions about everything. Being there at 5 in the morning, downing black coffee and having a conversation with my manager about his experience with the church while we stuff the pastry case with blueberry muffins makes me happier than I’ve felt at work in a long time. I didn’t know it when I first tied on an apron at Starbucks all those years ago that I was going to love it as much as I do, or how much it was going to change my view of ministry, but I am eager to see where my education and my job experience will finally collide. In the meantime, I’ll tamp espresso grounds and steam milk and use my employee discount for free caffeine while I write.

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This is our Louisiana life so far, and it’s good.

A Letter To My Husband

Dear Theo,

Today is our second wedding anniversary! That’s 730 days now, so that’s pretty awesome. In fact, that’s 658 more days than Kim Kardashian and Chris Humphries…but that’s not really something to brag about, so never mind.

I get anxious whenever I hear things like, “The first/fifth/seventh/twentieth year is the hardest.” I look back on the last two years and I wonder, Have they been a fluke? Are all the exceptionally hard things hiding in the shadows somewhere, waiting to pounce on us in the midst of all the fun we’re having? Does the fun continue, or does it fade with babies and mortgages and funerals?

Because the last two years have been fun. Though we captained a sinking church plant to the bottom of the ocean whilst living well below the federal poverty line and far away from family and friends, it’s been a grand ole time, don’t you think? I love our little life in the Midwest, and the knowledge that you and I had a ball building it together makes me think that the best (Baton Rouge and St. Louis and then only God knows) is yet to come. I think the world has told us wrong, Theo. Marriage isn’t a ball and chain…life might be from time to time, but you and I? We’re a party.

Someone commented the other day about how we are proof of the saying “Opposites attract.” It’s true: we’re probably the closest two people can come to being Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark without all the archery and death and baking. I’m the dark-haired to your blond, the quiet to your outspoken, the night owl to your early bird, the stubborn to your easy-going. I drive the long distances; you do the parallel parking. I develop; you pioneer. You hold my hand when I’m having a meltdown over finances or my lack of professional career fulfillment; I hold the extra screws when you are angry at the pot rack for not hanging correctly on the kitchen wall.

Variety is the spice of marriage, it seems. This, combined with the infallible truth that nothing can drag down your sense of humor for long, convinces me that at least I’ll never be bored.

Proof enough, I think.

A little over a week ago, we were at our dear friends’ wedding. It was beautiful and joyous and fun, and as I listened to them echo the things we promised each other two years ago, I couldn’t help but evaluate myself. Have I lived with you in holiness according to the Word of God? Have I loved you, respected you, comforted you, honored you, submitted to you, kept you in the good and the bad, in sickness and in health? I hope I’ve done my best (remember that time I went to Schnuck’s at midnight to get you some hydrogen peroxide and bandages for the four inch gash you got playing softball? Or the time(s) you brought someone home for dinner unexpectedly even though the apartment was a wreck and I just smiled and dished up another plate?), but I’m not perfect, as you well know, and I’m so grateful that you love me anyway. My record of ‘rights’ is short compared to my record of ‘wrongs’ (which I know you don’t keep, because you’re forgiving like that), but I promise to keep on keeping my promises.

In the meantime, thank you for fixing the garage door and the shower drain and the ice maker and the dryer and the bed frame and the linen closet door and the bookcase. And for replacing my car battery at one in the morning. And for salting the sidewalk when it ices so that I don’t slip and fall. Thank you for not being upset when I don’t get the laundry done like I said I would and you have to wear a dirty shirt to class. Thank you for introducing me to Doctor Who and the intricacies of baseball and lacrosse. Thank you for not getting too annoyed when I mix up Obi Wan Kenobi and Han Solo. Thank you for loving, serving, and leading me like Christ loves, serves, and leads the church. And thank you for making me laugh even when I don’t want to.

Happy anniversary, Theo. I can’t wait for at least sixty more.

Love,

Chelsjoy

The Top 5 Things Introverts Dread About Church (And/Or Church Camp)

I have known for a very long time that I am an INFJ (this is a personality type on the Myers-Briggs scale). It basically means that I am an intuitive, perceptive, imaginative yet strangely logical loner who hates clutter and crowds.

My poor husband is an ENFP (and I say poor only because he is married to me). Imagine a golden retriever with a stick that happily jumps on you as soon as you walk into your house after a long day. Then add a generous dash of humor, a penchant for being the best person you’ve ever met, and multiply it by 5.

That’s Ted.

Ted is studying to become a pastor, and he will be an amazing one. He loves Jon Acuff’s blog Stuff Christians Like (as everyone should. Jon Acuff is hilarious and very talented. And coincidentally, an ENFP).

Today, on my day off, I was catching up on SCL and came across this post. I spent nearly an hour scrolling through the comments, sometimes laughing, sometimes thinking about the terrible introvert experiences I have had and thought I had repressed. (Clue: I hadn’t.) The memories kept rolling and rolling, and soon I realized that there was no way I would be able to post all of them on someone else’s blog. That’s what my blog is for, right?

So, for my lovely, curious extroverts (and for all the introverts out there smiling and nodding in a knowing sort of way), here we are:

The Top 5 Things Introverts Dread About Church (And/Or Church Camp)
Written So That Extroverts May Understand And Prevent These Sorts Of Things From Happening

5. “Welcome! Shake a hand, give a hug, share a name!”

In every church I have attended, this has been a precursor to the beginning of the service. What I want to know is why. There is no way that anyone is going to remember anyone else’s name in the 2.7 uncomfortable seconds it takes to say, “Good morning! My name is so-and-so. God’s peace.”

And has anyone considered what that is like for people who have never stepped foot in that church, or any church at all? I’ve been in church my entire life, and this entire process ties knots in my stomach. I understand the rationale behind it (we want to be a friendly, welcoming community), but isn’t this accomplished in a less forced manner before and after the service, over donuts and coffee? Why do we feel the need to programmize normal human interaction?

Awkward encounters are so much easier with caffeine and sugar.

It is for this reason that I really love running slides or doing some other manner of work for the church during the beginning of the service. Can’t shake your sweaty hand if mine are busy doing something else.

Go ahead, judge me.

4. “Chelsey, what do you think?”

Okay, look.

I will tell you exactly what I think once I want to say it. Trust me, I am very opinionated. Just because I am sitting quietly in this group of people, listening to all of them talk about their lives or this Bible passage or this idea, doesn’t mean I have a rock for a brain or that I’m too scared to speak up. Or, even worse: that something is wrong with me.

The worst offenders for this one are small group leaders and youth directors. And I know that for a fact, because I am one. Take it from me: if an introvert isn’t speaking, it isn’t because nothing is going on upstairs. It’s because they’re THINKING. And once they feel comfortable enough, they will share. And yeah, that might take a couple minutes. A couple weeks. Maybe even a couple months. Their silence isn’t a reflection on your leadership! Suck it up, leaders: be secure in yourself and let the “awkward” silence sit. After all, it’s not awkward until you make it awkward. Plus, there is most likely an extrovert in your group, and they’re chomping at the bit to get the thing rolling.

 3. “Let’s get into groups and pray aloud and/or tell each other our deepest, darkest struggles.”

 At this point, you may be wondering if I actually like people.

I like people. I really do.

Introverts tend to have very deep relationships and friendships. They are often very few in number. Case in point: when planning our wedding, I told my husband that I wanted three bridesmaids: my sister, my best friend, and his sister. He gave me his best puppy dog face and told me that he wouldn’t be able to go lower than 9 groomsmen.

Ted won, obviously.

People just love Ted. I get it. I do, too. (We ended up having 7 bridesmaids and 7 groomsmen, and I love and cherish every single one of them.)

At the church where I work, we meet weekly to pray over the prayer requests we receive as a staff. We separate into groups of 3 to 5, go to separate corners of the church, and begin to pray over the list. I have a mini-panic attack every single time. I hope I’m adept enough to cover it. I’m probably not.

2. The Actual Contents Of Prayer

If you could see into my head while I pray aloud, it would look something like this:

“Dear Jesus: I am completely blanking right now. I know that when we usually talk, the conversation never ebbs, but all these people are looking at me and listening to me and holy cow, I feel like I’m naked and I’m going to hyperventilate. If you love me – no, I know you love me – please give me something intelligent to say in front of all these people. That I work with every day. Who are expecting me to form a coherent sentence. If it’s fancy and a little theological, too, that would be great. Thanks a million. Amen.”

Recently, one of the pastors at my church gave a devotion about how people pray out loud. He said that if a person asks for things that God has already promised, like His presence or His faithfulness, then it’s foolish and they probably have a pretty weak faith.

Right. As if I wasn’t already self-conscious enough.

 On Jon Acuff’s post about introverts, one very well-meaning woman tried to give an introvert some advice about praying out loud:

“Sometimes I have an apprehension of going to the bathroom in public with someone who is the in the stall right next to me. Sometimes it is really hard to avoid. However, I know I have to go, so what I do is close my eyes and just go with the flow. I would say the same to you the next time you are asked to pray out loud in front of others: Just close your eyes and go with the flow. He promises that as we open our mouths He will fill it with His words. I have found this to be true not only in my life, but also in the lives of others I know.”

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Ohhh. Why didn’t I think of that?

Also, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to use the phrase “go with the flow” again. Ever.

1.  “You should be more…”

 Talkative. Friendly. Open. Or, my personal favorite: “You should be more like your sister.”

I once had a very influential camp counselor tell me that. My sister and I are very close now, and I would love to be more like her, because she’s the bomb.

This is my sister. Out of the two of us, she is clearly cooler.

But at that point in my life, my sister was a beautiful, blonde, popular, fashionable, outgoing cheerleader. I was a somber, dark-haired band nerd who wore jeans and t-shirts and hated high school. Of COURSE I wanted to be more like her! Who wouldn’t?!

You would think that this sort of thing doesn’t happen to me anymore, but it does, actually. Even at 23, an age in which I am actually secure in my personality, this conversation takes place:

Me: “Yeah, I’m an introvert.”

The other person: “Oh, I’m so sorry.”

God has created us all so beautifully and uniquely. There is no reason to apologize for that.

I am very sure that other introverts out there have had similar experiences. Please feel free to share, because I know that I shouldn’t be so presumptuous as to speak for all introverts everywhere.

But only if you feel comfortable enough.

The Time I Ran Away From Donald Miller (& A Reaction To Blue Like Jazz)

So, it’s been awhile. If you think the best of me, you might guess that I’ve been working feverishly on my manuscript.

But no. I haven’t, really. Not beyond the working that takes the form of constructing multi-layered characters and plot lines in my mind as I stare out of windows. Then I sit down in front of my computer and am instantly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of research and information I need to do in order to actually put words on screen.

Your expectations of my work ethic are probably too high. I know mine are.

I can’t be bothered to apologize, though. My life is full of really important things like making my own chicken stock,  drinking Irish Car Bombs whilst playing Settlers of Catan with friends, snorkeling in Oahu with family, cracking cascarones on the heads of small children, and typing prayer bulletins.

And then the bathroom needs to be scrubbed after I finish obsessively reading Mockingjay for the fourteenth time. Oh, and two of my friends have welcomed a new baby, so he obviously needs to be snuggled.

And then someone rips the handle off of my car door and steals my GPS, so, you know, that whole situation takes time to resolve. (I’m really good at crawling sideways into the driver’s seat from the passenger’s seat now, by the way.) And then there are always the daffodils on the street that beg to be collected and displayed in a vase, so I oblige.

Life is full of life right now. And you know what? I don’t mind. It’s rather nice, actually.

Oh, and this happened.

Please excuse the overwhelmingly ecstatic expression on my face. I was sandwiched between Donald Miller and Marshall Allman and they were being hands-y behind my back.

St. Patrick’s Day 2012 found me with both fists glued to the steering wheel as I picked my way through the worst thunderstorm I have ever seen in St. Louis. My husband Ted was in the seat beside me and our friend Michael was in the back, directing me toward Covenant Theological Seminary. Michael had cleverly hacked ‘the system’ and discovered that Blue Like Jazz was being screened there later that night. With no tickets, no plan, and no clue, we set out to find the movie.

When we pulled up behind a giant blue trailer stopped in the middle of the street outside the seminary, we figured we had found it.

“What do I do?” I asked them, half giddy, half aghast. “Just follow them? Use a 30 foot tail?”

“Sure,” they said, so we did. We stalked the Blue Like Jazz trailer for 10 minutes before realizing that they had no idea where they were going.

“Do we go knock on the window and tell them where the chapel is?” asked Ted, only kind of kidding.

“What if Don Miller thinks we’re stalking him?” I said, suddenly horrified.

“I think they’re stuck,” said Michael.

So they were. The giant trailer was stuck in the mud of a person’s front yard. So we did the logical, helpful thing.

We turned around and drove away.

I know. We should have stayed. We should have been good Samaritans. We should have used our giant muscles and pushed the behemoth out of the muck. But I’m a chicken, so we drove to the chapel and very helpfully informed the head honcho that the crew were stuck in the multi million dollar neighborhood next door. They headed over and called a tow truck.

Half an hour later, I was sitting by myself in a lounge, clutching Michael’s copy of A Million Miles In A Thousand Years. Ted had taken him to pick up Emily, his girlfriend, who had been in a car accident, but was thankfully unharmed.

“Just do me one thing,” he had said before he left. “Get it signed?”

“Sure,” I said.

Which left me alone in the slightly creepy lounge when Steve Taylor and Don Miller walked in, soaking wet.

“Are you one of my volunteers?” asked Steve.

“Uhh. No.” I’m just the girl who has no clear idea of how she got here, or where she is, or what to say. And may or may not have been creepily following your trailer earlier and failed to render aid. And I am now the girl who is shoving this book in my purse and running away. Again.

“What on earth are you supposed to say to Don Miller when no one else is around?!” I texted to my friend Mallory as I very intelligently hid in a bathroom stall.

“Hi, I love your stuff and you’re brilliant?” she helpfully offered.

“I only got as far as ‘awkward stare.'”

“Just go ask him his favorite color or something.”

“Hell no. I’m staying in this bathroom until Ted gets back.”

“You’re ridiculous.”

Thunder clapped overhead. I counted the cracks in the ceiling tiles and started four games of Words With Friends.

Knock knock knock. “Maintenance.”

Great.

Now ousted from my hiding spot, I pulled the hood of my rain jacket up around my face and loitered around outside, wondering why on earth I thought that day had been shorts-and-sandals weather. Ted came back and laughed himself sick at me.

“They’re normal people, Chelsey,” he said.

“I know that.”

“I don’t think you do.”

He convinced me to walk back inside the lounge to wait for the meet and greet event. A middle-aged man wearing a trucker cap and a beer gut sat down next to us.

“So’s this thing ’bout music?”

I laughed at his joke. It wasn’t one. I realized after several awkward, legitimately speechless moments that I had no idea how to articulate exactly what Blue Like Jazz was about (and Ted was very helpfully smirking and averting his eyes from the entire conversation), so I handed him my battered copy to thumb through. When he started chuckling, I remembered how I had treated that book like a journal during my freshman year of college.

Please, please, please don’t be reading the awful things I wrote about the ex who broke my heart, I thought, squeezing my eyes shut in anxiety. Good Lord, I’m not cut out for this day.

I managed to make it to the beginning of the meet and greet event. Ted nosed his way to the front of the crowd and I lurked behind him, thoroughly disgusted with myself.

Steve Taylor handed me a Twizzler. I shook Don Miller’s hand and he signed the books. Marshall Allman introduced himself and I blindly reached for the first topic of conversation that came to my mind.

“So, did y’all enjoy Austin last week? South By Southwest?”

Bless Marshall Allman’s soul.

“Yeah! Austin is my hometown, so it was great to be back.”

Me, now extremely relieved and babbling: “No way! It’s my hometown, too. Well, actually, I’m from this small town outside of Austin. Liberty Hill. No one knows where it is.”

The Blessed Marshall Allman: “You’re kidding. My family owns a ranch in Liberty Hill. Right past Seward Junction. We have pictures of me in diapers standing in the Blanco River. Blonk-o? Is that how you say it?”

It’s not. It’s ‘blank-o.’ But it’s impolite to correct movie stars, right?

A couple pictures, a free Snickers bar, and two hours later, however, I wasn’t thinking about Marshall’s mispronunciation or my complete lack of social skills. I didn’t care about anything else except for the scene unfolding before me, in which two guys in pope outfits sat in a makeshift confession booth, crying. I cried with them, knowing exactly how both of them felt.

“God’s not like that,” said one of them.

And it’s true. He’s not. God’s not a rapist. He doesn’t make mistakes. He’s not a bully or a hypocrite or a fool. He doesn’t laugh at the angry things I write in a paperback. And He never, ever abandons me when I get stuck in a millionaire’s muddy yard.

God’s not like me. Which is a good thing, as you can clearly see.

And I’m so thankful that Blue Like Jazz is out there to help others see it, too.

Blue Like Jazz opens this Friday, April 13th. To find a participating theater near you, go here

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

I’ve always loved Christmas. Every single little bit of it.

Whether it’s twinkle lights, Advent wreaths, claymation Christmas cartoons, tucking a handmade gift under the tree, or sharing a meal with people I love, I’m crazy about it. Besotted. Smitten.

My earliest Christmas memories include running around the playroom with my little sister, singing our hearts out to the Disney character version of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas.’ I remember Christmases filled with church pageants, hot cocoa and popcorn, touring a live replica of Bethlehem, and decorating cookies with my parents. I remember creeping into Paige’s room after we were tucked into bed on Christmas Eve and falling asleep there, both of us exhausted from giggling and listening very hard for any sound of ruckus on the roof. And I will always remember the joy of seeing a stuffed stocking lying on the hearth next to a half-eaten plate of cookies and a hand-written note from the jolly man himself.

Eventually, I began to notice that Santa and my mom had very similar handwriting. I’m not sure when it happened, but the magic of Santa disappeared and Christmas became different – deeper, somehow.  The day I realized that ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’ probably sounded like a Lenten hymn purposefully was the day I fully understood that the hope of Christmas, the sorrow of Good Friday, and the joy of Easter were intimately wound together.

Of course, like everything else associated with Christianity, Christmas has its fair share of drama. People who represent themselves as Christians are usually defensive about only saying ‘Merry Christmas’ to strangers. They brandish their Christian pride like a road flare and tout sayings like “Jesus is the ONLY reason for the season!” and “Keep Christ in CHRISTmas!” They walk around feeling deeply misunderstood and attacked, not realizing that they are the very antithesis of the infant Jesus on that first Christmas: gentle and lowly.

Meanwhile, church workers everywhere look at the Advent season and break into a cold sweat. Christmas means extra decorations and special music and extra food for the mid-week services and organizing charity drives and kids’ pageants and Christmas dramas and candles and folding extra bulletins and ordering extra chairs and making sure everything is perfect and oh sweet mercy, did we remember to order the poinsettias?!

Tonight, my husband and I (because we are said church workers and will be extremely busy for the next two days) celebrated our own little Christmas. We ate dinner by the light of our Advent wreath, bouncing in our seats with the excitement of exchanging gifts. Wrapping paper and ribbons flew all over the living room as we exclaimed over our respective items, playing with and trying them on for size.

One gift, however, kept my attention. My husband had picked it on a whim: a little 6 dollar Charlie Brown Christmas tree, sparse and bent, complete with a single red bauble.

I absolutely love it.

The Charlie Brown Christmas special has always been dear to me. Something about Charlie Brown makes me want to gather him up in a big hug and actually hold the football for him to kick. And give him a decent piece of Halloween candy, for goodness’ sake.

But the real reason I love ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ is for all of its imperfections. The scenes are spliced together haphazardly. The children who do the voice work are very clearly not trained. The animation is jumpy and sometimes doesn’t match the sound. The jokes are cheesy and out of date. It doesn’t have a suspenseful, revealing climax of any kind.

Instead, it features a thumb-sucking little boy with a ragged security blanket, standing in the middle of a stage, simply reciting a passage from the book of Luke about the birth of the Savior of all creation.

He isn’t acting. He isn’t indignant. He isn’t even real.

And when I stand in a group of people, holding a lit candle and singing Silent Night, I wonder why the rest of us think that Christmas is about more than his sincere words. Or could be improved by our pointed huffs of “Merry CHRISTmas” or our professionally produced church dramas.

Christmas isn’t fancy. It’s about a newborn to unwed parents in a smelly cave that housed barn animals. It’s about an uneducated man who lived a life of poverty and died an horrific, undeserved death. It’s about a dead-yet-gloriously-alive man who laid aside his own grave clothes in a borrowed tomb and walked outside to ask a weeping woman: “Why are you crying?”

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

but the ground pulls at my feet

A few years ago, I was sitting with a friend at a Christmas party, talking about the ‘secret meaning’ behind a CD. This may sound trite, but then, when you’re 19 years old, I think most of your conversations are trite. Actually, when you’re 23, I’m pretty sure most of your conversations are trite, too. I claim to have matured in the span from 19 to 23, but not as much as I give myself credit for.

“So have you figured it out?” he asked, half-smiling at me. This particular friend of mine has a way of asking questions that stump me, yet I can never get mad at him for it. I don’t know how he does it. I dislike – and value – that in him.

“Uh…I think so?”

“So, no.”

I sighed. “I have a feeling that if I had, I’d understand exactly what you mean. And since I don’t…I suppose that no, I haven’t.”

He nodded. “You’ll figure it out.”

I shook my head, irritated. “I doubt that.”

The album I was trying to figure out is called A Collision (or, 3+4=7), by the David Crowder Band. It’s one of my favorites now, but at that point, it never failed to frustrate me. It was weird. It had strange little mini-songs between the real songs. And there was this really annoying track at the end that was full of static and mumbling. What was the deal with this band, anyway?

You'd ask the same question if confronted with a beard like that.

One night, however, as I was sitting at Kerbey Lane (a 24 hour restaurant in Austin), working on a paper at 2 in the morning with the album playing on my iPod, I heard something I hadn’t heard before. I set down my blueberry pancake-loaded fork and turned the volume up, concentrating.

“Okay, so what’s the deal with these little songs between the real…you know, the real songs? Like, are they significant?”

Very good question, I thought, intrigued. I looked down and saw that I was listening to the last track on the album – the annoying one. I started the track over, making sure to listen closely so I could catch every mutter.

I listened to the whole thing. Then I listened to it again. And again. And then I left the restaurant, my paper unfinished, because I looked like a bit of a lunatic, sitting alone with tears streaming down my face.

The whole point of the album is simple: they’re just trying to make you sing. Even though the elements of worship are imperfect, even though sin (the ground pulling at their feet) is keeping them down – they’re just trying to make you sing.

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Of course Crowder’s trying to make you sing. That’s what he does. He’s a singer-songwriter-worship leader. He has been given a gift from God that helps others glorify God Himself. He is being faithful with his talents, just like all Christians ought to be. Just like I try to be.

What I’ve been realizing lately, however, is this:

The ground isn’t just pulling at my feet. It’s pulling at my whole being – my time, my soul, my joy.

You see, I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. Even though I look ‘put-together’ on the outside (happily married to the best person in the world, employed with a full-time job that directly correlates to my degree and should fulfill me in every way a profession should; basically, functioning in every conceivable way that a young adult ought to), I wake up in the morning and stare at myself in the mirror, lost.

I tend to think in sentences like this: “When I _________________, I will be satisfied.”

“When I graduate from college, I will be satisfied.”

“When I get married, I will be satisfied.”

“When I finally get an internship, I will be satisfied.”

And yet here I am, overflowing with good and perfect things, utterly bewildered and still thinking in “When I…” sentences.

Many people like to quote C.S. Lewis when comments such as these come up. It’s a fantastic quote, but, in my estimation, has been made somewhat catchphrase-y by the Christian community.

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

I shake my head every time I read this. Yeah, okay, Lewis. I know you’re a genius. I get it. I can’t be satisfied by anything but God Himself.

But seriously.

I can’t be satisfied by anything other than God Himself.

No matter how good my life is (ungrateful wretch, aren’t I?), my goal shouldn’t be to find satisfaction among temporal things. My goal is heavenward. To always turn to my Father and give Him all the glory. To sing, and help others sing, too, even when it feels like the ground is not only pulling at my feet, but swallowing me up to my neck.

I’m determined to keep singing.

I strongly recommend that you turn your volume way up, pay close attention, and listen to this whole thing.

David: “Um. I mean, I guess. I just…I don’t think…I don’t think you should read too much into any of this, you know? It’s…I mean, the Lark Ascending was written…it was a piece written by Vaughn Williams who died in 1958, and, uh…the work opens with this calm set of sustained chords and then…and so then the violin enters as the lark and it…it starts with this series of ascending and repeated intervals and this…these nimble and elongated arpeggios. And he actually found inspiration in a work by the English poet George Meredith, who died in 1909, and the composer included a portion of Meredith’s poem on the flyleaf of the published work. And it went like this:

‘He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound,
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake.
For singing ’til his heaven fills,
‘Tis love of earth that he instills,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup
And he the wine which overflows
To lift us with him as he goes.
‘Til lost on his aerial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.'”

Interviewer: “Huh. Wow. That’s nice. But, I mean…but who is the lark?

David: “I don’t know.”

Interviewer: “Sorry; I think I’ve got the wrong page. The script you gave me says something different. It says you are.”

David: “Yeah, but I don’t…I don’t feel like the lark much of the time. And there are other larks for me, you know?”

Interviewer: “Wait a second. So correct me if I’m wrong but in the script I have, you’re making a point that art does this.”

David: “Right.”

Interviewer: “You know, the whole ‘It rises on wing from earth to fill the heavens, pulling the rest of us with it; that as the lark rises, so do we.'”

David: “Right. I’m unsure.”

Interviewer: “But…hold on. I mean…it…it says so right here.”

David: “Yeah. But the ground pulls at my feet.”

A Clueless Yet Run-Of-The-Mill September 11th Story

In many ways, I feel like an outsider every September 11th since that fateful one in 2001.

That Tuesday started for me much as every middle school morning in Liberty Hill did: I woke up early. I slipped into my workout clothes and knee pads, putting my school clothes and Girl Scout vest in a bag for after athletics. I munched on a granola bar as my mom drove me to school.  I hopped out of the car and ran inside to begin warming up for volleyball practice.

So this is a track picture instead of a volleyball one...but it's 8th grade, anyway. Yeah, that's me on the right end. Enjoy.

Everything seemed normal until a teacher ran into the gym, flagging down our coach, who was in the middle of running a drill with us. Our coach paused as the teacher whispered something her ear. I was poised, next in line, waiting to dig up the spike, when my coach suddenly froze. She dropped the volleyball without a word and ran across the gym, into her office, where she slammed the heavy wooden door.

Confused, I stood up straight, turning to look behind me at the line of other 13 year-old volleyball players. One of them, Kelly, shrugged and grabbed a ball. She tossed it up in the air and started warming up with another girl. The tension dissipated, and we didn’t think anything of it for the rest of the morning.

In my next period, band, fourteen students were missing. In the next, I was one of ten students. All of our teachers seemed on edge, but not a word of hijacked planes or New York City crossed their lips. We were in the dark, left absolutely clueless – and in an age where cell phones weren’t the norm for every six year-old, why wouldn’t we be?

It was only when I was sitting at a cafeteria table, chewing on the turkey wrap my mother had packed for me the night before, that I finally caught on to what was making that Tuesday so odd.

“The World Trade Center was bombed,” I heard, and looked over to my friend Ashley. She had just gotten back from the dentist, where she’d been sitting in a waiting room with a television. Her eyes were alarmed as she monitored the cafeteria for teachers.

“What’s the World Trade Center?” I asked.

“I don’t know, but it’s in New York, and it’s been bombed. And the Pentagon, too.”

“The Pentagon?” I said, shocked. I did know what that was.

“Yes, but don’t tell anyone,” she forbade us. “Mrs. West doesn’t want us to know about it. She told me when I came back to school.”

I was confused. “Why not?”

“Because she doesn’t think we’ll be able to focus if we’re afraid.”

Both sides of my family have been in Texas almost since they arrived in the United States (and rarely traveled outside of it, especially at that point in my life), so bombs in New York City and Washington DC, while awful, didn’t seem like much to worry about. I tucked the news about the bombs into the back of my mind – even though it seems unfeeling now – next to my mental list of things to do after school: Girl Scout meeting, math homework, and the fact that it was Paige’s turn to put away dishes after dinner that night.

It was only later, when I saw an image of a man jumping out of a smoke-blackened skyscraper, his tie fluttering in the wind, that I finally felt what the rest of the country was feeling.

Horror. Disbelief. Anger.

And fear. A fear as thick, cloying, and debilitating as an anesthetic. A fear that reached into our hearts and clenched its vice-like grip around our acceptance, our charity, and our good will.

Fear gripped the United States that day, and, in my estimation, hasn’t loosened its hold.

Over the following couple of years, we became a hollow facsimile of who we once were. Neighbors turned against neighbors. People were reported to the FBI because of their ‘suspicious’ behavior (and, usually, ethnicity or religion). Phone lines were wiretapped, internet use went under surveillance, and people smashed CDs because of the artist’s political convictions.

Airport security changed drastically. Even now, we take off our shoes, belts, jackets, and jewelry when going through airport security. We throw out our over-three-ounces bottles of hand sanitizer before we go through the checkpoint. We submit to being physically patted down. We keep an eye out for unattended luggage. We don’t even joke about using a word like ‘bomb’ while waiting to board a plane.

We are not who we once were. We are afraid.

Many innocent, undeserving lives were lost that day. A friend of mine put up a statistic recently that 76% of the victims in the towers were men with children under the age of 18. That’s a lot of fatherless children. That’s a lot of grief. That’s more than enough reason to behave the way we have and still do.

But that is not how God calls us to behave.

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10

God calls us to do the unpopular thing: fear and love Him alone.

“The LORD is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1

God calls us to do the meekest thing: trust Him alone.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12-14

God calls us to do the most impossible thing: forgive those who hurt us.

Trust and forgiveness are likely not things you will hear much about today. You will, however, hear about remembrance, patriotism, and, if you’re very unlucky, a Toby Keith song that warbles about how ‘the colors on our flag don’t run.’

We shouldn’t forget about what happened. We shouldn’t forget the lives that were lost. We should be grateful for a country that lets us live in more freedom than most in the world experience.

But like Paul wrote in the letter to Colosse: as you remember, forgive as the Lord forgave you. Look back and put on the virtue of love, which binds everything together in perfect unity.

NYC skyline, March 2009

Also – Mr. Keith, sir? Please don’t sing again. Ever. I forgave you once for ruining real country music, and it’s hard to do so over and over again.

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