Sunday, November 4, 2012

Everywhere People

I've always wanted to be an extrovert-- the type who can captivate an audience, make anyone laugh, garner a wide group of friends. But I've had to realize that I'm not one, much I as would like to be. That doesn't mean that I don't have my moments of extrovertness. I do! But they're rare.

I also really love people. But I've realized how you can only befriend so many. You can only touch so many lives, make time for so many coffee dates, remember so many birthdays, tell the same story so many times. You can only stretch yourself so thin. So, as much as I would love to have that wide group of friends, I've found that I actually can't. And there's a reason. Someone once told me that the average human being can only maintain around 10 close friendships. It made sense logically, but (even though it was one of my best friends who told me), I did my research to make sure it was a credible statement. It was. :) The sources I read discussed how, despite the fact that nowadays we have hundreds of acquaintances due to sites like Facebook, this hasn't changed our number of real meaningful friendships. We're actually lonelier than ever, and that's because the more we branch out, the thinner we spread ourselves.

This statistic bothers me though. Ten close relationships? Only 10? Whether it's actually five for most people or 15, that's still such a modest number when you recognize how massive the world is and how Jesus did charge us with the great commission. However, I have to remind myself that the number is only representative of our most intimate relationships.

I think what bothers me about this statistic is the fact that those 10 people will probably change. Multiple times. See, I don't let go of people easily. I assume most people don't. But because it takes me such a long time to bond, once I do, I have real trouble letting go. And having gone through so many phases even in only 24 years, it's been clear that moving on is inevitable. I had this conversation with a friend recently, and we talked about how the idea of holding people loosely is so unattractive because it sounds careless and bitter. Would I rather avoid making friendships for fear of getting hurt? Or do I risk the loss in hopes of experiencing a possibly temporary friendship? If it's true that we are called to love all people, and "to love is to be vulnerable," then the reality is we have the responsibility to take that risk. As Christians, we are basically guaranteed to experience relational pain again and again. Encouraging, huh?

Think about your three closest friends. When did you meet them? How? I was thinking about this recently and was surprised to realize that my three closest friends have been my three closest friends most of my life. In other words, I haven't made close friends that have stuck since I was little. Hmm. I'm not sure if that's natural or not, but it made me think. For the last decade or so, I've been investing in relationships that have either been put on hold, faded, or entirely disappeared. Okay, they haven't ALL gone that route-- I have made lots of amazing friends that I would like to stay connected with-- but time will determine that. (Sorry if this is a downer so far, but I'm trying to make a point.:)) My question is: what has been the purpose of investing in these friendships? The answer: I honestly don't know. I don't know why certain people you absolutely loved spending time with fade into a memory. Why are there so many seasons to this short lifetime we've been given? Why do those seemingly divine appointments not develop into fruit we can see? I wish many of them have continued growing. I hope many of them were mutually beneficial. I am heartbroken that some of them disappeared. But, more often than not, it's not because I became lackadaisical and didn't hold tight enough. Only God knows the inner-workings of those details; and my lack of peace is only evidence of my lack of trust.

In the end, I guess I'm content to be an introvert. Most of my favorite things are done best alone: walks, runs, piano playing, writing, reading, praying. But human beings are meant to be in relationship with each other, and the purpose of this post was to tell you how much you mean to me. If I haven't seemed to reach out enough, it isn't because I don't care. It's because I'm trying to learn how to juggle all of life's elements (just like you are, I'm sure), including people. Well, especially people. And lately sometimes all I can do is just hang on and breathe. But I'm trying to trust Jesus the best I can.

I love you, friends. I hope I don't lose you. But at least I know I will see you forever in heaven one day. What a party that'll be!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Men: Academic, Artist, or Athlete?

Girls, what comes to mind when you hear the word "man?"

Most likely, when I asked that question, an image came to mind instead of a definition. Whatever image you most associate with a guy is what came to mind. Culture and society (that includes literature, media, perhaps even the church) is good at projecting images of what men ought to look like-- personas. And these are often pretty accurately reflective of what men really do look like. Here, I'll show you what I mean. Come with me on a quick diversion that illustrates this point well... :-)

FRONTIER MAN: the all-American, hunts, fishes, lives off the land, isn't afraid to get dirty

THE SUPER HERO: holds super powers, rescues the ladies, flies, wears tights 

THE MUSICIAN / THE HIPSTER (these two often mingle)
Wears skinny jeans, plays guitar, hibernates in coffee shops, writes, is very exclusive

 THE KNIGHT: noble, suave, heroic, generally rides a steed

THE GEEK: genius, mechanically-minded, often speaks in a foreign language

THE STUD: strong physique, warrior-type, executes strong plan of attack


THE JERK: witty, popular, shrewd, irresponsible (sometimes learning a lesson) 

Girls are always out to find "a real man." At least this is what I hear a lot. They've been searching since the days of the ancients, and nothing has changed since. But are they simply searching for an image, a persona, of what we've been told is a man... or should they instead be looking for a definition of what a man ought to be? This summer, and this first week of the new semester, I've been reading and watching (mostly watching) an exorbitant amount of Victorian novels, poetry, and BBC time period dramas. This was partly in order to prepare for my Jane Austen class at WJU and partly because, at the end of the day, it's highly therapeutic to lay down and immerse yourself in three hours of beautiful English countryside-- at least for a girl. And if there's one thing in these stories, it's a plethora of male characters to analyze. We women highly enjoy this. Due to the extensive character development that takes place in these plots, there's much opportunity to examine the various types of men. There's usually the upstanding male lead (whose integrity and affection attract the heroine) and the licentious scalawag (whose passion and charm seduce the side characters). We root for the sympathetic heroine to finally come to terms with the male lead. But this isn't simply because he's a man who adheres to the classic romantic persona; it's because he's a hero at heart.  

Sy Rogers had a more effective way of categorizing these men during a conference I once attended. He said that men typically fall into one of three types: 1) the academic 2) the artist 3) the athlete. Obviously, there is some overlap, and certain people definitely seem to have all three. But, basically, men in each of these categories are known for their strengths, which come in the form of either intellectual capabilities, emotional expression, or physical aptitudes. What was profound to me was... they're ALL men. From a Christian perspective, if we gals are eager to find "real men" (which, from what I hear, translates into leaders who are spiritually mature), we can find them in all three of these categories, despite what culture tells us is admirable or popular. One man may not fit the athletic type-- he isn't muscular at all and tends to stay pretty clean-- but his well-researched scholarly work changes the world of science, politics, psychology, or theology. Another man may be relatively uneducated and simplistic in thought-- but his physical strength provides the ability to work with his hands to create things or participate in sports, where he can give glory to his Creator. Still another may not fit the athletic or academic type, yet his expressive creative abilities allow him to use music, art, or literature to create beauty that speaks powerful truths. They are all equally admirable, and they are all equally masculine.

Ladies, there are many guys out there who need encouragement in what God has created them to be. They're up under a lot of competition and pressure by society to act or look a certain way. If you meet a man who does not fit your preconceived stereotype, but has actions that speak volumes about his character, he is the "real man." I'm thinking of people like Eric Liddell, Peter Marshall, and Jim Elliot, whose faith and integrity dominated their careers, which were Olympic runner, preacher/writer, and evangelist. Don't run after the wrong ones-- the ones who fit the mold but have no substance. Don't fall in love with a persona because, believe me, it's easy to do. Look for the man who is confident in his identity, whether that be academic, artist, athlete, or whatever stamp you might place on him. Ultimately, if he is a Christian, his identity is in Christ, and that must be flagrantly displayed in whatever his hands find to do. Look discerningly for the hero at heart.

... As Elinor Dashwood appropriately put it, he is the one who you must highly esteem. He is the one who is "amiable and worthy."

For a more extensive (and pretty exhaustive) read, I recommend this article. The Marks of Manhood

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Beauty by Repetition?

"Mom, this picture makes my soul hurt, it's so beautiful." 
"Why the hurt? Why doesn't it make you happy?"

.          .          .

I remember the first time I heard a particular piano-driven worship song. It lifted my spirit from the present evil of homework and allowed it to soar with its truth and melody. I was smitten. For 5:44 minutes, I was consumed in all that was good and right.  Now here I am several months later, practicing the same anthem for an event; and, after frequently catching it on the radio and practicing it on my own instrument, I am sorry to say it is quickly losing its captivation. Not its power, per se, but the power's immediate effectiveness. Why?

Each spring, I get unreasonably excited every time I drive down Hwy 193. There is one piece of acreage in Cool that changes from a moist brown field to a lush green shire practically overnight. Trust me, it is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen. At least for the moment. I can be having a normal conversation in the car, but as soon as I realize we're approaching The Shire, I frantically switch my iPod to the track "Concerning Hobbits" and revel in the organic beauty. Thank you Howard Shore. No other green field holds such fascination for me, and after a month of such revelry, even the euphoria inspired by this little piece of Eden begins to fade. Why?

These experiences seem to disappear almost as quickly as they come. It seems that their entire purpose is to bring temporary gladness but initiate a yearning for something more. And I've come to the conclusion that this other-worldliness we encounter in such moments is richest when it's spontaneous and infrequent. Am I right? This is why a song that incites glimpses of eternity cannot be continuously repeated; or why a beautiful view cannot be looked at for more than five minutes (before one starts to notice the mosquitoes), or even why a humorous line from a movie is just not that funny the second time around. They lose their sense of wonder. Basically, it comes down to the fact that emotions come in waves that only last so long. But I'm convinced these waves are gifts that stimulate the soul and spearhead action.

I was recently blessed to be able to interview singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson, and I was struck by his description of an all-too-familiar experience. After watching a glorious sunset as a starry-eyed teenager, Peterson remembered "crying and feeling a terrible ache for that beauty. I felt terribly alone, but at the same time I felt spoken to. I felt a warm presence that somehow comforted me and made me sad at the same time. After I pulled myself together and drove home, I wrote it all down in a journal that's since been lost. Years later, when I read C. S. Lewis describing joy as sehnsucht (a German word for longing), I knew I had felt it that night in the cornfield."  

I get it when I stand in the wind; while playing piano; through photographs of England; when listening to Phil Wickham; during Samwise Gamgee's speeches; when I pray that God would do 'immeasurably more than we ask or think.' You get it in a dozen other ways.

The Oxford scholar himself has an entire testimony based around this experience, which he penned in the narrative that fills the pages of his autobiography. C. S. Lewis describes this sensation of Peterson's as "an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished from happiness and pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has one characteristic in common with them: the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again. It might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief. But then it is a kind we want. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world." -Surprised By Joy

Pleasure is being enchanted by the mingling of music and a grassy hill. Joy is the sensation of it momentarily slipping through your fingers. But it's also the deep-seated knowledge, however painful, that whatever has slipped through your fingers is coming back. In glorified form. 

Joy is two-fold: beautiful and unsatisfying. Rapturous while it exists, but fleeting in essence. It has something to do with passions, perceptions of eternity, and God's callings. Joy (sehnsucht) is the reality of "where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." -Frederick Buechner 

Let's not lose our sense of wonder. And for goodness sake, let's not kill it by repetition. I pray that in those moments of true beauty, we might revel in them, move in the way that joy moves, and, Lord willing, hunger for them again and again. We'll almost always draw nearer to our heavenly Father because of it. After all, it's what Andrew Peterson declares to be "one of the surest signs to me that the Gospel is true."

All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord stands forever. -1 Peter 1:24-25  

Sunday, February 19, 2012

12am Stream of Consciousness: John Mayer, Mutts & My Education

Tonight I was burning some late-night calories on the treadmill while streaming acoustic tunes through an iPod. My two pups came in to watch (just to ensure I feel extra self-conscious), and I juggled the art of bending down to pet their furry heads while still maintaining some balance and rhythm. As the older and wiser dog stared at me with that sage, sad expression full of puppy tears, I had an epiphany not unlike that of a father who realizes he's spent the bulk of his life absent from his son's baseball games and birthday parties. I suddenly wanted to throw my arms around the dog's neck and say, "Who cares about finishing school anyway? Of course I'll stay home and play fetch with you!" I loved the familiar comfort of my pets wandering our acreage. I loved spring grass the hue of fresh limes appearing in patches around the pine trees. Particularly, I loved the peace and quiet. And the loving hugs of my parents. The truth was... life was happening here at home, and I was missing it. Or this was at least my definite impression. My thoughts wandered to the music playing in my headphones. It echoed my thoughts of what I would have to face the next day. I normally wouldn't expect to find a soul-brother in John Mayer, but as I listened, I was convinced that for this one moment I was sharing a silent commiseration with this melancholy musician:

"I am driving up 85 in the kind of morning
that lasts all afternoon; just stuck inside the gloom
Four more exits to my apartment
But I am tempted to keep the car in drive
and leave it all behind."

These are definitely the musings of a university student, who has been under the academic influence longer than first expected. They say you can't get a decent job anymore without a degree short of a Master's. They also say you aren't guaranteed a job at all, even with a degree. So what was I doing? Was a college education really the answer to an unknown future? That wasn't for me to say. It was only for me to discover- because years back I began the long haul and wasn't about to quit now, much as I wanted to. I was in it to finish, whether it killed me or not.

"I rent a room and I fill the spaces with wood in places
to make it feel like home. But all I feel's alone.
It might be a quarter life crisis, just a stirring in my soul
Either way, I wonder sometimes about the outcome of a still verdict-less life
Am I livin' it right?"

What if the last several years of voluntary confinement had required me to miss what was happening in the lives of those I loved best? Was a classroom environment really where I wanted to spend these hours, day in and day out? It was spring after all- the time when the world wakes from a deep freeze and sets out with renewed conviction. I wanted that renewal- that warm, feverish awakening from the cold routine of academia. It was time to burn the textbooks and shred the papers! It was time to lock away the old scantrons, exams, transcripts, receipts, fliers, scratched-out sheets of poetry... and erase my FASFA password. Forever. I was done with administration, analyses, research, articulation. I wanted to EXPERIENCE. But still one year left!

Then the wise expression of my counselor interrupted the flurry of thoughts. I remembered a little something he was challenging me to do: hope. Not in people, surely. Not even in me. But in the One who gave me an intellect, the opportunity for education, and the ability to positively affect change with the resources given me. What a privilege. He would settle my restless spirit if I released it. And this could only happen if I took a deep breath and stopped feeling like the world was passing me by. Just a day at a time, Bailey. Just one day at a time.

I pushed STOP on my iPod and pulled the plug on the treadmill. Switching off the light switch, I stepped out into the darkness and surveyed the faint stars above. They were glorious. My ears tried to adjust to the quiet expanse, when a dark silhouette dashed playfully ahead of me and trotted back carrying a stick.

... and my heart almost sank into the gravel. Thanks, John. :-)