Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tuesday Thoughts

Give me all the alone time.

Give me Ikea trips in solitude.

Give me single movie dates. 

Give me isolated tables in coffee shops. 

Give me a quiet office. 

These are the scenarios which I prefer. I am an outgoing introvert. I can do social, but I like alone. 

However, as I'm getting older I'm finding how impossible it is to sustain the isolation. I just keep meeting really great people. People who stick with me and listen to me and care about why I like to be alone. There is joy in sharing and understanding. Joy that cannot be experienced in the solitude. Joy surpassed. But the deeper these people seep into my life the less sure of myself I am. Not in my security, but in my sufficiency. 

Affirmation is a funny concept. It says we share with people not just what we like about them, but we share in what ways it attaches us to them. Affirmation is the explanation of lingering. True affirmation burrows and plants relationships with deep roots. 

It makes sense, when friendships dissolve, the most grief is experienced not when remembering experiences, but words. I look back on many friendships in my life and I can't remember where we were or why we were having that given conversation, but I remember exact phrasing of words that fed my soul. I tear up remembering the warmth of verbal affection, often times greater than any hug I could have received. 

Affirmation comes through noticing. It comes through stepping deeply into a moment to hear not just the sentence uttered but the soul-well that it drew from. 

And maybe that's what it is. Maybe sharing genuine words with one another is drawing deeply from each others wells. Satisfying deep parchment for relationship. Sipping the wine of our Father and celebrating complexity of selves. Communion. And in all reality, this communion can turn bitter. It comes at a price. Hence why sufficiency is questioned. If Jesus is not the one filling my own well, I will always be drawing from other people to fill myself and it will leak, diluted and stale. I am only as sufficient as my dependence on the One who knows how to fill me. And He knows because He created me. 

I don't know why this has struck me so deeply 3 pm on a Tuesday, but somehow it has. The sweet memories of Chicago on my mind from this weekend and a friendship that so simply depicts this communion, the growing depth, that can come when I choose to be squirmy and uncomfortable and leave my solitude for bits of time. Don't get me wrong, solitude is good, but maybe, just maybe, I don't need so much as I thought.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Grangst

I'll be honest, New Years resolutions stress me out. The only purpose they serve is to cause me to believe that the life I'm currently living now is subpar and that if I am more self-aware, more disciplined, more confident, more anything, I will be happier. They place a timeline and a structure around conviction, stifling it of it's natural bite. 

Right now I find myself thinking about the opposite of resolutions. I am thinking about grace, and not just thinking about it, sniffing around my life for it. I hold tightly to grace. The grace that Jesus offers me, salvation grace. I press into his willingness, his bloody offering to me over and over again, amazed that He wants me though I am constantly biting it. 

It's humbling and thoughtful to sing that in a hymn. Though I'm finding I'm not so capable to see it in my sin. When repentance grabs a tight hold of me, when I am nakedly taking ownership of my callous nature, how does grace apply then? When I am needing to reconcile with people, how do I believe in the absolution grace offers me? What I'm getting at is, where does grace meet angst?

We know what it's like to have wronged someone. We know what it's like to be a moral failure. And there are consequences to that. Consequences that take days, weeks, months, years or sometimes eternity to reconcile. How does Jesus' grace answer my offense in those moments?

And I struggle. I struggle because I'm prone to seeing my failure as the climax and the grace as the falling action of my story. Grace is the answer to my problem and my problem is the pinnacle. In that belief, grace is only a response, which leaves room for other responses....non-grace living. When truly grace is an alternative plot line altogether. Sanctification sees my sin as the rising action and the grace as the climax. It sees Jesus as it's own hero who defines all falling action therein. Grace isn't a causal response to my failure, it's the reason the story was written. 

I'm asking to see this better. I'm pushing into those moments when I fail, believing grace to not just apply to the angst, but to be the same as it...grangst if you will. What Jesus' salvation offered me was the ability to look at contention as redemption. It is what answers sin with humility, not needing to save face when I repent to people, dissolving shame into appropriate pain and remorse. Grace isn't a happy lifestyle. Grace is a hopeful lifestyle. It says we can fully face ourselves and each other and live deeply. Penitently. Honestly. Gutsy. It's audacious and willing to be wrong and corrected. It's also willing to convict and correct others for their good. 

What the grace Jesus offered me and is instilling in me is really authenticity. Jesus gives me the opportunity to not be self-protective, to be wrong, to be free from my fear of scrutiny. In return, it offers me a life full of relationships I trust with my soul, knowing that they don't save me but Jesus has saved us both and will use us to push each other "further up and further in" as C.S. Lewis says. 

Jesus meets us in the actuality of today, with addictions, disease, hashtags, anxiety, coffee dates, anger, family conflict, to do lists, resolutions, anti-resolutions. He speaks to today. He says he's enough for today. What struck me so profoundly this week was the reality that Jesus doesn't even need my penitence. He's not waiting until I'm repentant enough to change me. I don't have to foster that in myself or in others. He saved me even when I didn't know I needed saving. That's the crux of it all. I am not my own hero. I am not the main character of my story. Jesus is. And that's the real comfort. That's the freedom that makes resolutions dull. His kingdom says I don't need to make lists and changes to live a better life, I just need to pursue His presence because He already did all the work. 

It matters not if I'm skinnier, better read, paleo, craftier, wearing better clothes, in a better job, etcetera before this year is over. I am accepted now, and that's enough for Him....shouldn't it be enough or me too?

 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Mother Mary

It's 55 degrees. 94.9 is back to playing Billy Joel on repeat. And all around me Christmas deflates back into the recesses of basements and closets for another 364 days. 

But I'm not done thinking about it yet. In fact, I feel as if I've just begun. Even though Advent was a time for pondering, the height of momentum happens Christmas day. Contemplation, for me, at its deepest level happens when it's no longer forthcoming but here. 

I spoke the part of Mary for my church's Christmas Eve service. Basically I'm holier than everyone and was offered the privilege to say boldly, "behold I am a virgin" on stage in front of my whole church....twice in one night. I should hope all of you one day are offered that fine joy. 

Besides mortifying my soul in the name of Christmas, reading the part of Mary did something to me this year. It put me in her shoes,  I said the words she said and it caught me off guard. What must have it been like?

"But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart." 

Sitting in her hay-bed. Knowing both her and Joseph's side of the story. Hearing some outcast-shepherds tell their tale of heavenly host, followed by these strange rich men from another country one-up the shepherds, talking about how they followed a star and a hunch to a foreign barn with a teen-mom and her non-baby-daddy to give them presents. 

What must have it been like to hear an angel tell you you're going to have a kid, then hear a story echoed so similarly from strangers who come to see your barn-child? It's as if God decided to give Mary wave upon wave of affirmation. "No Mary, this wasn't all a lie, this little guy who you're going to breastfeed and change diapers for, he is the one your ancestors waited and labored for, He is going to save you. And I will prove it to you by sending vagabond farmers and millionaires to tell you so." 

So while everyone around her swapped stories and ogled Jesus, Mary just watched and put the pieces together. Knowing deep in her soul that life as she knew it had changed for not just her, but for all humanity. 

I wonder how many times in her life Mary came back to their family's beginning. How many times did she have to remind herself that God gave Jesus to the world, not just her? How many times did she have to recall the shepherds manifesto and withhold her own inkling to tighten her grasp of Jesus and let him go? How many times did she have to recall that Jesus was God with us when it seemed he was just a defiant 12 year old runaway embarrassing his parents?

And maybe Mary didn't doubt and that's part of why she was blessed. Maybe when angels tell you something, you don't doubt it again. Even 30 years later.

Recently, the sense of security in my world was violated. No longer naive, I notice fear building in myself as I process through the world not being safe. The world as I knew it no longer is. And I'm having to remember promises that Jesus didn't come as a warrior, he came to bear the unsafeness and offer us security beyond it. Jesus came to eradicate fear from my life, promising peace to those with whom He is pleased. He's pleased by people who believe His Gospel, who believe that a baby who came with such divine intricacies, is who He says He is. 

He is the wonderful counselor, inviting himself into our fear, pain, anxiety, depression, mental deficiencies, to provide respite and healing and strength and courage.

He is the mighty God, He doesn't fear our destructive capabilities because His own abilities  supersede them innumerably. And He will prove it one day. 

He is the everlasting father, he is the Jesus of all the generations before us who bore our names and lineages. The good kind of father that is patient and sturdy. Watching us fail and fail and waiting for us to ask to see the better way, joyfully guiding us there. 

He is the prince of peace, bearing the weight of nobility and honor, he directs us towards peace in our souls. He stands true to peace, always pursuing it and offering it to us. Peace with God, to bear the family name of Redeemed. 

So as my boat is still rocking back and forth, I am remembering all that was meant to be remembered. Jesus was born to be my refuge. Tender and mild and valiant and courageous. He is my good, untamed Savior, capable of withstanding that which I cannot and holding me tenderly as His mother once did for him. 

And I will continue to treasure these things and ponder them in my heart....even though it's the 26th. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

O Tennebaum

We Jacksons do Christmas the right way around here. With lots of Yuletide pomp and Christmas-stance. Friday my mom, sister-in-law and I unpacked the Rubbermaids brimming with stockings, ceramic villages, faux greenery and my moms collections of snowmen and Santa Clauses'. We listened to Amy Grant sing Grown Up Christmas List and Nat King Cole's seranade of O Tennenbaum and lit Spruce scented candles. 

Saturday we gathered in Clan firm and drove to the Christ,as Tree Farm that once was my grandfathers. For 40 years he tended to saplings and fostered cheer through months of sweltering heat and infestations to grow ten acres of pine. We chatted with the new owners, kind as can be and I was just grateful as I chased my niece throguh the memory forest while my sisters little family searched. 

Once we found them just the right one, returning home, we congregated and opened the tins of ornaments that have graced our tree, some for 36 years. Now a flocked, pre-lit wannabe graces our living room, but the effect is much the same as if it were real. And I wanted to share our little tradition with you. 


You see my out-of-place Kung Fu Panda ornament. I would tell you of my sweet dad bringing me this home from his Hallmark job to cheekily foster my love of animated movies when I was in college. 


We may also note that Jacksons are kind but raucous people. And when decorating a tree, the tendency for the most sentimental ornaments to get broken is strong. My brothers baby ornament has survived the fray for 31 years with only a small case of flaking and a chipped top. 


We would all argue who gets to tell you all about the infamous Santa. My dad made this in this Kindergarten class 52 years ago. My mother patronizes our affection for him by insisting he be put on the back of the tree. We'll take what we can get for this little guy to live on. 


My dad would tell you about how for years this ornament was put on as a reminder of my brothers near-yet-far presence while in the army. Now he gets to place it on himself while holding his daughter. 


Someone would share how back in 1991, my parents purchasd this ornament to hold strong to our roots while we moved into Chicago Bears country. It did the job and they raised three very fine Chiefs fans. 


My mom would tell of how she had a lunch pail extremely similar to this growing up, so each year we pull out this ornament and she hooks it on to cherish the memory of childhood. 



And finally, when looking at our tree, you will see these bright bulbs littering the empty space between branches and ornaments and they are their own type of sentimentality. I would explain how my mother bought three boxes of these from Macy's the winter before her and my dad got married. They have met the most liberal demise over the years, but the remnant is still used to fill the gaps. 



This tree tells the story of our family, of births and distance and family jokes. You wouldn't see the raffia my mom insisted on tying to the branches for years, but we would probably express relief at the twine bows absence. But mostly, as I admire the decorum, I am just glad for this emblem that ties our family together. I love that it tells our stories. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Acquiescence

It's Fall. In fact, it's SO Fall like that it's beginning to tip toe into Winter territory. I don't love Winter because I typically run cold....however, a few years ago I discovered space heaters. And out of my heart blossomed a tolerance for Winter that has blessed me and others, who now have to feign less compassion for my liturgy of complaint. 

This is also the time of year I steep in deep pockets of memory. Four years ago at this time, I was deep in depression and feeling spent and out of control. And God met me there. Nothing changed in circumstance but His presence burrowed deep into my marrow. I haven't forgotten those days and I love to remember them. 

I've began again one of my favorite books. One Thousand Gifts. Pondering gratitude and joy. Asking how Jesus can stitch thanksgiving into my being. I keep being pressed by the same verse inescapably. 

Do not be anxious about anything, but by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. 

Philippians 4:6

Thanksgiving precedes the request and the answer. When we live under the banner of heavy gratitude, the kind with the audacity that thanks Jesus for His death, we are acquiescing. We say that we know He will just show up, and it will be enough. True thanksgiving is capable to withstand cancer, infertility, financial crisis, not by making it easier but by promising His presence. And in the abiding relationship that comes from just knowing God to be God, we can acquiesce. Knowing full well that pain will be pain, but that just as Jesus talked to His Father while sitting on the cross, He will hear us too and draw near. 

And in the dear times, when we celebrate well, when we sing a merry tune and revel, holding tight the moments which carry the sweet aroma of things being most well, we know Him to be present too. And isn't that the fundamental difference? We choose to see God in joy as opposed to seeing joy from God. His capability to transform all things to being good and helpful far exceeds our barometer for happiness. It is there that our perception for thanksgiving that we can foster space for it to break our gauge.

In these days of remembering the despair of loneliness of my 20th Christmas, I am incapable of severing that from remembering the hope He gave through being there. It changed everything. It gave me the ability to acquiesce the responsibility to fix and resolve to His shoulders and to just be present in my hurt so I could truly heal. 

As we are about to step into Advent, I am looking forward to this time to think with weighty expectation and joy of the weeks that lead us to the night of our dear Saviors birth. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

To Love and Do

My mom and I took a walk the other day. As the cacophony of leaves created a noisy, yet soothing soundtrack we talked much as we usually do about many of the same things we usually do. One of which is journaling. As I already have elaborated on this week, my mom has taught me many things as she herself has learned them over the years. Besides quilting, she has also shared journaling. 

Writing in that manner is probably one of the greatest sources of spiritual development in my life. In the deep recesses of my childhood closet hide more than a decade worth of spiral bound thoughts. And while there is much less complaining about youthful woes, chores, homework and groundings, not much else has changed. I still choose to go there to contemplate first. These pages are filled with recognition of faults, expressions of sin, repentance, stubborn defiance, mourning over friendships and relationships, but also of wonderful discoveries, impassioned ideas, stories of God's faithfulness and fairness, new friends, newfound dreams, and really happy memories. 

As I'm on the brink of closing another journal, I look at the slow growing stack and love these penned moments of myself. They are imperfect and messy and not very eloquent, but they are the truest expressions of my thoughts and it's important to me that they have a place of their own. There is a reflection in those scrawlings where I take ownership of myself and Jesus meets me there regularly to point me back to Him. 

While I hold an affinity for journaling myself,  I don't see journaling as some grand value everyone should agree to...in fact, it's the opposite. I am first and foremost a proponent of people finding things they like to do or find helpful and meeting Jesus there. Painting, home decor, horseback riding, brewing coffee, restoring a car, trail running. Jesus meets us in creativity because He Himself is the Creator. And in that we are free to do what we love and experience Him in it. 

"The moment good taste knows itself, some of its goodness is lost," CS Lewis wisely wrote in Surprised By Joy. Inevitably because of sin everything we do is already only half good, and we but continue to lose more when we look to the thing in itself to give us substance. The sharpness and beauty of all creative things comes from its innocence. To follow the path of ability and knowledge with abandon, not expectation, is the only way to truly experience creativity the way it was intended. The ambition to create a beautiful thing is not a problem, it is when we lose our love of creating that turns it into something less good. We search for beautiful results because we enjoy them. If we stop enjoying the search or the result, then beauty in its essence has no purpose. 

I also hope to convey that the creativity I am talking about is not in the absence of hardwork and patience but the absence of futility and vanity in the name of attention or self-satisfaction. In fact, when we are truly doing what we love and enjoying the One who enabled us to love it, we are free to work hard because we are uninhibited by laziness, insecurity, comparison, or fear of rejection. We stop doing what we love in the name of impressing people and actually end up finding the most freedom to just like doing it. 

I journal because it is a form of beauty of me. It may not be blog or novel or Kinfolk worthy, but our creative endeavors aren't always meant to be shared. Sometimes they're just for us to know with our Creator, and that, my friends, is the whole idea. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Quilts

My mom is currently resurrecting my high school graduation quilt from the grave. There was a cataclysmic incident in college with my roommates dog where she forewent manners and destroyed a corner. As we were formulating a plan to bandage the poor thing (the quilt, not the dog), I just was glad. Glad that my mom did this for me. Glad that we could share in the vision of the quilt 2.0. Glad to be with my mom. 

There is not a couch without a quilted cloak, or a bed without a sock-like shroud in my moms house. My mom has always been a sewer and quilter. Some of my earliest memories are of her sitting in her basement chalet surrounded by a moat of cotton and twill. Many nights I remember going to sleep in my pink room with the duet of my mom singing while her Bernina hummed harmony rising from the air ducts below my room in a soft lullaby. These quilts are one of many of her offerings of hospitality to us.


Quilts are not the only way I see this etching of hospitality on my childhood. When I was 8, my mom began to sacrifice some of her alone time at Whistle Stop, a local coffee shop, to me. There I learned what it is to enjoy simply the presence of another without conversation, her with a Beth Moore study, me with American Girl and Junie B. Jones novels. Over the years, we shifted to Starbucks and we progressed to C.S. Lewis, Timothy Keller and art journaling. The silence remained but were also shared with occasional punctuations of conversation for me to share an interesting quote or to inquire about her reading for her Counseling classes. 

My mom has always welcomed me and my siblings. We have always been invited into her world to share time, knowledge, questions, a snarky comment, or her bread. She has portrayed hospitality in the most vivid way possible. Not just inviting us to her home, but into herself. The older I get the more I find these little nuances in my life and I just want to pause and remember them. To pen them and hold them dear to me because they are unique to my family. And let me be honest, while I share a lot of things with my mom, I don't share her love for quilting....which is why I write about it instead.