A Suburban Sinai

I have the windows open in my room right now, and I can see the wind running it’s hand through the tops of the trees outside. Gray clouds. It’s Autumn today.

About 2 and a half years ago I decided it would be a neat thing to write a book. And so, I set out to write it. I got about 26 pages in, too. The thing is, it wasn’t meant to be a children’s book, a pamphlet, a magazine article, or a research paper… so 26 is actually a failure. 

There, I admit it. I failed.

In fact, I’ve failed a lot of things since then.

Some French quizzes. Keeping the Sabbath. Completing another Spartan Race. Remembering colleagues names. Finishing a swimming competition. Mailing finished paperwork. Being patient. Being selfless. Properly observing the Feasts. Graduating.

And you get the point.

I’m sitting underneath sheets right now, in a fort, in my room, in a house, in Indiana. It sounds so unlike anything I imagined I’d be doing 2 and a half years ago. There is no book. And there are no other things that I thought I’d have at this point in life – like my degree. But I’m content.

And my failures, however unwanted at some point or another, played a large part in bringing me here. 

It is the middle-ish of the Feast of Sukkot. A feast to remember when Adonai brought Israel out of Egypt and had them live in sukkot as they wandered in the desert. And because I can’t very well trust this neighborhood not to mug me if I were to sleep in a tent on the lawn, I am here – underneath a fort of blankets and pillows, on the floor, eye level with the windows. 

Celebrating. 

It’s a party in here.

And I celebrate right now by remembering where I was, just like Israel did. Remembering what they came out of and where they were going. I wonder what some of them had as plans for their future? Maybe it wasn’t writing a book, but I’m sure that, being human, that at least had some desires for their lives. And yet, when they left Egypt (especially in the circumstances that they left it in), I doubt any of them were thinking, “Yes! My dreams of running out of Egypt, watching them all drown in a parted sea, and living in booths for the rest of my life, has finally come true!” No, they actually complained a whole heck-of-a-lot. 

But here humanity is! However many thousands of years later, still remembering those years, and honoring it by doing likewise. And it isn’t a week of complaining. It’s a week of celebrating. Of honoring Yahweh, who heard the cry of those he loved, and brought them out of their misery in order to provide a better home. 

Was it immediate? Did they go to bed one evening in Egypt, and wake up the next in a mystical land flowing with milk and honey? No. In fact, they had, in a way, to prove their devotion to Yahweh by trusting him to lead them there. They were being brought to the destination, not the destination to them.

So as I sit, enjoying this little tent and that reminiscent feeling of being 8 again, I think about where I am, where I am being brought out of, and where I am being brought to.

I chuckled when I wrote the title for this post: A Suburban Sinai. Mount Sinai was a pretty amazing place for the Israelites – for both good and bad reasons. A place of sin, but also a place of forgiveness. It was there that they were made aware of Yahweh’s laws and commandments. 

This past 8 weeks here has kind of felt that way. 8 weeks of living in a new place that wasn’t my previous home of childhood nor my next home of adulthood. 8 weeks of learning what it means to be content and not complain – a struggle. 8 weeks learning about Yahweh, His laws, His desires, His heart. And 8 weeks of being led through thoughts and realizations and fears. 

Not that 8 weeks is the new 40 years, but I’m not Israel, am I?

And I didn’t leave Egypt.

And I’m not going to a land filled with actual Canaanites.

 

So I’ll take my suburban Sinai, and learn what I can, as I can. 

All underneath my linen sukkah.

Float

It doesn’t matter what the wind says when I stand atop a mountain and let it whip around me.

It says I’ll make you stand straighter

It doesn’t matter what the snow whispers as I slide down it to safety.

It says I’ll follow your footsteps

It doesn’t matter what the white tells me.

It says Here I breathe, within you

The fog is like velvet against my skin, and does me no harm.

It doesn’t matter.

I stand atop the mountain, and all that matters is

What is

Below me

What is

Underneath me

What is

Within me

The chasm

Grows

Wider.

 

For the peace that is within me grows not because of action. It grows from understanding. And understanding grows, itself, from peace. I slide down it, I stand atop it, I walk through it like a veil.

It doesn’t matter what it says to me, it matters that it is.

The sky lights purple curtains outside my window.

 The sun has set.

——–

Some of the most peaceful things to me are memories of when I was completely taken away from myself and into something complete. Something whole, not missing any part, nor doubting any increment. Moments like standing on a mountain. Or sliding down the side of a snowy mountain face. Or walking through fog thick enough to be lost in. The whiteness of these moments is transfixing.

And it is peaceful. It is peaceful because I am taken away from the things I focus on more readily. I am taken away from myself. It’s like it takes away everything just enough to let you see it without being a part of it.

And what I’m saying with this poem is that the whispering of the wind on a mountain top – the sliding down the snow – the walking through the mist… It doesn’t matter what those moments say to us. It matters that they are. I don’t want to diagram a sentence if that sentence brings peace.

I want my mind to be lost, to be at rest.

And just as the sun lights the clouds on fire with color, so my mind is consumed again with everything. And peace is no more a part of me. I become the sun, looking at the clouds, turning them over in my mind, but simply not understanding how they float.

Dream Speech: A Poem

In my life I have seen all but fear reign in the hearts of men.

In my life I have noticed that a trend is not to doubt, but to live with power of heart, and of mind, and to accept the fate which man chooses.

In my life, such things as hunger and thirst are but trifles that serve to be only an unrealized antithesis to all that is good.

In my life I have guidance in the direction which my feet take, and nothing stops them save the arrival of the destination.

In my life I live, fully.

And in this life, so do all others.

I am called serenity, peace.

I am light during darkness.

I am substance in air.

I am your dreams.

 

I’ve had to look a lot harder into a few things, lately. I’ve had to figure out how to tie in what was with what is.

What was would be those pictures on my cork board. Little memories of big things. Parties with friends. Running races. Climbing mountains. Trips to the ocean. Or even just those pictures of moments. You know them… There wasn’t any posing. Just the raising of the camera. No warning. But the memory was caught because of it. You get to keep more than the face – you get to keep the conversation you were having and the reason you were conversing and the friendship of the person.

And when I look at these memories, I have to tie them into today. I suppose I’ve never realized I needed to even do that. They were always just pictures – things I could take off of my cork board and put into a box. But at the same time – they were never just pictures. They were always parts of me. And that is the thing I am just now realizing.

In effort to figure out how to move ahead, I need to understand how to take along. And it is quite difficult, really.

Because I have to acknowledge the truth of the pictures while embracing the reality of the future. I suppose that any of you that have moved on in life to a new surrounding or chapter will understand, in essence, what I am trying to articulate.

How do I say to the future, “You can still dream”? I look at the pictures beside me and know that in them I was still dreaming. I still had this grand idea of a world outside of what I knew and how wonderful it would be. But now – see it isn’t as simple as the world losing it’s grandeur. It’s far more complex. It is that stubborn fraction of me that demands to stay free. That views a new chapter as life squelching bag that, once placed over the head, is never removed.

The beautiful things about dreams is that truly do give hope. They are a candle that burns brightly. The unfortunate thing about dreams is that they are built with such hard stone that to mold the dream, to revise it, is almost to kill it. That once one realizes the world isn’t flat, the dream of falling off the edge is obliterated. Never once is the concept of the edge challenged. For to change the edge, is to change the dream.

But it’s possible. Something tells me it is. That it’s possible to change how I understand the edge. That maybe falling off the edge of the world can become a jump into the deeper parts of it.

I think this poem is what dreams would say if they could speak. They are so hopeful, so devout within themselves. But they are so unwilling to mature.

A Conversation About Community (and why it seems to be extinct)

Community.

It’s a really hard thing to nail down.

I’ve been beating my self over the head with what to write about. I know it’s been a bit of a break since the semester started, and I’ve had so many great ideas run through my mind (granted – it is me seeing them as great… They could have been total duds) but the willingness to sit down and write has escaped me time and again

I’ve had some really great conversations lately, though. And through them, I’ve noticed a trend. The topic and importance of community continues to surface – time and again.

It isn’t that community is something I’ve necessarily had a huge ambition for during my life. Nor is it that I am seeing a shift within myself, either.

It’s that I’ve come to the conclusion that community is the heart of the body of Christ.

It pumps the blood. It sets the rhythm. It keeps the body alive.

I spent a lot of time in a very special kind of community this past summer, and I am just now beginning to see some of the lessons that came of it.

As a Christian body – we lack community. Okay okay okay — I’ll be specific. We lack genuine community. Community that desires to be with and care for each other. I’m lumping myself into that – by no means do I rise above it. But I still feel justified in pointing it out.

We have little cells of community that function in their own means. My job as a barista is a community. We support each other as workplace friends and coworkers. That community functions in its purpose as a coffee shop. My part as a member of a student group is that of a member in a community. A community that supports each other’s efforts on stage and management of their workload and classes. My existence in my house is part of a community of women. A community that encourages each other and enjoys each other’s company.

My point is that each of these communities are good – but they are not the Church. The people in them may be part of the Christian body, but to force each community to function as a separate entity, complete with accountability partners and pre-work prayer, confuses people.

It helps the members of that community function within it only.

I love that we can pray before work – that we can exercise that right. But I fear it makes our brains function like waffles – that we tend to put things into neatly organized squares. Should we combine prayer into a campus group that is part of a Christian college? Sure! If nothing is stopping you, and that helps the group as a whole stay focused on the important factor – God’s presence in our lives – then go for the gold. But how do we stress to that community that the purpose of that prayer is not to make that small community functional outside of the bigger one.

I really hope this is making sense.

If not (which is likely – I’m losing myself here) – please let me explain it. Better, at least. In terms of what I am seeing become a trend.

As followers of Christ, those who claim his salvation and strive for holiness, we are part of the Body of Christ. That Body is a community. The Community. The Community is diverse, full of people with different backgrounds, stories, strengths, weaknesses, and places in life. Different groups of people find each other, and form sub-communities. And what I am seeing is that in the natural progression for these sub-communities to form, the sub-communities begin to take the place of The Community. They cease to intertwine. The Body of Christ then becomes The Arm (with it’s own community) and The Leg (with it’s own community) and The Head (with it’s own community). It’s not the Body with The Community as The Heart (lots of capitals, I know).

Do you see the subtle difference? It is normal, and right, that each of these groups have a community within themselves. It would be impossible not to have one. But we start focusing more on the center of our small circle, and forget about the huge one that we live within.

So what I’m seeing is more like cliques. People who find comfort in those like them, but stay in that comfort. And as long as we are comfortable, we’re happy, right?

The Community… It isn’t as healthy as it should be. Because The Heart is trying to pump, but all of the body parts are happy with their little vessels, and keep telling the heart to stay outside.

The Body of Christ cannot properly function unless each body part gives up its dependence on itself and allows the uncomfortable and uncontrolled reality of the larger community wash into it. Into it. Not just over it. Not just around it. It’s not a mote – it’s a vein. And it brings life.

There is no need to give up the prayer before work or before a meeting – that is a sign of the larger life outside of the smaller community – but we need to stress the understanding that community is larger… So much larger… Than a meeting with 5 people once a week, or a title to a group you are a part of, or a position at a job.

And I suppose I am a little frustrated. I’m frustrated because what I see instead is the term “community” being applied to everything without clarification. So as a resident of the Townhouses, I am part of community.

That’s grand. Technically, yes I am.

But now having qualified for that position, of “Community Member,” I check it off my list. I’m part of a community. I live on campus – I’m part of the community.

The action of living out that responsibility is lost.

I am part of The Community that spans to Russia. I am of the same kind of the Chinese followers who sacrifice their own lives for the same cause I live for. I am one of The Community of quiet pastors who live their lives reaching into the communities of their church and surroundings. That is the blood from The Heart pumping into The Leg and The Arm and The Head.

I remember them. I communicate with them. I try to understand their lives, their battles, their stories. And in doing so, their lives, their battles, and their stories strengthen me. The blood that The Heart is pumping is life giving, and by only living in the blood of a smaller community, I become stagnant, simple minded, and tired.

I love the girls that I live with. But if, all year, they were the only ones to minister to me, I would not be completely challenged. I would learn what to expect from them, and seek instead a comfortable answer or solution. But I have more than them (and everyone does). I hear the stories of classmates, of people from the community around me, of professors, and I am challenged. New ideas and thoughts become mine to process and contemplate.

I grow.

So when I say I am frustrated, it isn’t that my frustration is aimed at any one organization or person. It’s that I simply don’t know how to proceed.

How do encourage a larger sense of Community? How can I spurn others on? And should I, even?

When you see a lack in something around you, and know that it needs fixed, or helped, how do you react?

Cause I see the lack. But it’s like I’m looking at a broken machine, and all I can tell is that something inside isn’t working properly. I’ve no clue how to fix it – but man do I ever want to try my hand at getting it working again. Cause it seems like all I need to do is tweak this lever left and this other lever right and BAM – good as new.

Nothing is that simple. I can barely get a strand of Christmas lights to work properly.

So I guess I’ll just wait it out. I’ll sit under the clouds and work on myself, and ask God to fix me (cause wouldn’t you have it, but I’m broken too!), and wait for that green light to start running.

Heaven is going to be a glorious realization of all that I do not yet understand and all that I cannot yet see. The Community – all the levers will be turned just the right way. And she’s gonna shine.

My Footprints Would Crush Nations

It’s a been a rough return to school. I had one of these “rough beginnings” last year, as well. For a completely different reason – granted.

 

Let’s take a mental walk!

 

In one day, I left a long summer behind me. It felt like finishing a marathon and recuperating by taking 5 steps before beginning another. I jumped off the plane, into my house, into a whole new way of thinking, into my car, into my townhouse at school, into my classes, into complete and utter chaos. (Slight dramatization). But it wasn’t easy. And it hurt my heart to try to adjust to such a new way of life.

I loved the ideal of living on a mountain. I say ideal on purpose (no – I didn’t just misspell idea). It is an ideal way of living. Those to whom it appeals tend to think of it as a snowy oasis of peace – void of sound, consumerism, worry, and small matters. But it isn’t. It’s just full of different sounds, worries, small matters, and an odd desire to buy every outdoor gear that comes across my field of vision.

But I remember trying to understand the feeling of Indiana after having gotten used to the feeling of Mt. Rainier. I didn’t like it. I wanted to be away. There was this inner tugging to leave behind the shallow concerns of academia. And, if I’m being honest, that feeling still persists. I balanced my frustration with running. I decided to run as much as I could, to exercise, to put my energy into making myself healthier.

It went great for 3 weeks. Really. I managed to not only meet my goal of running a 5k 2 weeks after my return, but I also ran a full 2 miles longer than that, and made a personal record of 5 miles. A super slow five mile run is still a 5 mile run – and I felt so good. I was organized, getting my work done ahead of schedule, staying on top of it.

Academically.

Inside I was still battling this odd anger at being back at school. I didn’t care about books when I knew the valley was enduring the return of snow and the mountain was amassing more ice upon its many glaciers. I think of Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice when she so quickly states, “What are men to rocks and mountains?”

I don’t know, Liz. I feel ya.

None of my reports mattered anymore. And while the running helped, it didn’t solve that problem of spiritual frustration and anger.

So fast forward to now. What has changed? It’s more like what has degraded. Motivation flew away on wings of steel, straight into a tree. Dropped dead. A dead, steel bird. All I can do is stare at it. My room has become a mess (a symptom of my mind), and every day contains more realizations of oncoming assignments that still mean nothing to me.

I made a list of 5 post-grad jobs and opportunities. Besides nearly getting a panic attack at the prospect of post-grad employment, I realized that my degree grants me and one million others full access to about 5 jobs. I’m the verge of admitting, in a school built around “life-calling,” that my “calling” isn’t to four walls with a chalkboard in between. My calling is to life. And if it holds a classroom, awesome. If it holds something else – I’m perfectly fine with that. But what do I do when an assignment assumes I’m treating my degree like the next 50 years of my life?

A common theme this summer (not on purpose) was about how life is about the journey. The destination is important, but the journey is what matters most. I at first was against this. I’ve been trained to see the destination, Heaven, as the most essential thing. Heaven is awesome – but Heaven is… do I dare say… unknowable? I have faith that Heaven waits, not because of myself, but because of Christ. But if I lose focus on the journey to being there… What have I lost?

So I began to reevaluate. To look at the journey, and it’s importance.

Take, for example, my hikes this summer. Or at least one: Camp Muir. The end of that hike was the camp itself, at 10,188 feet elevation. A feat. It came with a stellar view of other volcanoes on the horizon. Mountains below me. Glaciers beside me. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen because of the experience of getting there. That’s where I learned. That’s where I pushed myself and chose to take step after step up the snow field. That’s where I got frustrated and overcame my doubts. Camp Muir was my reward.

So I am trying to apply this kind of thinking to more things. Things like my academics, where my shift is changing from “Get diploma. Get diploma. Get diploma.” To “Learn. Learn. Learn.” And when I sense that my learning is being jeopardized… Yes. I get a little frustrated. Frustrated at why I am not learning what I wish to be learning. Things about the earth, about how it functions, about literature and people and art and music. Why am I not learning those?

No. I write 5 post-grad opportunities I will never take. I struggle to understand a language I am rarely encouraged in. I stay up late in effort to care enough to begin my assignments.

Confession: I’ve become addicted to the series Plant Earth by BBC. And I was watching an episode about rainforests, where I learned that there is a fungus called Ophiocordyceps that gets into insects bodies, goes up to their brain, and controls them. Then, once that insect dies (because of the fungus), the fungus grows up out of the head and blooms… Just to create more spores that get into more insects and so on and so forth. It’s disgusting. And I feel like one of those insects. The virus of Idontcareatallyceps has taken root deep within me and I’m slowly losing control. Call me if something starts growing out of my head.

It isn’t where I saw myself 5 months ago, when I was finishing one of the lamest semesters of my school career. I saw myself getting into Senior year and… Doing what I do best: living life like a college student. But, whether it is “senior-itis” or simply a justifiable frustration – I’m more concerned over the price of gas than I am about the disgustingly low score on my last French quiz.

I know my life is not about the grades I received Fall Semester my Senior Year at school. It seems like a big deal – and it certainly isn’t a small one – but 15 years from now… No one will care. What matters is that day 15 years from now. It’s a face-slapping kind of truth to accept, living in the “here and now.” I can acknowledge, in defiance, that 15 years from now none of this will matter… But I still have to accept that here and now… It does.

So I sit and ponder.

And so my assignments accumulate.

And so I admit that I still know nothing more than I did half an hour ago, when I began writing. There are a lot of other things on my heart and in my mind than “Paper #4” for Mark Twain due next Tuesday. Things that deserve the time the keep taking from me. So what is the problem? Is there one? Are too many things vying for my time?

Psh. Always.

I guess the struggle comes in how to deal with it.

I often find myself wishing for the Nisqually Valley. Just to be there. Or to somehow float to the top of Rainier, and sit there silently, alone, the wind rushing against the skin of my face. Away from my little papers. Away from this little chair, in this little room, in this little state of being.

It makes God seem a lot more… awesome. Because when none of this matters, and I wish to be somewhere else… I have to find something to cling to. Something that makes sense. He kind of draws me back, like a ship on a string which gets carried off by the tides all the time. A little tug, and I’m facing North again.

I keep hearing that God never lets a good work He starts go unfinished. I’m looking for that “good work.” It’s somewhere.

Maybe it seems little right now, too.

I’m glad that world is not just from my perspective.

 

Because

if it were

my footprints

would crush nations.

My Life Like A Ukulele: God’s Timing and Cheesy Analogies

“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.”

The words of 2 Peter, chapter 3, verse 8.

 

As I understand slowness, it pertains to my desire to see something done. A driver in front of me can be slow, the person preparing my sub at Subway can be slow, the internet access at a national park can be slow. I understand this term because I know what I want. And the speed of the thing does not meet my desire.

Isn’t that interesting?

Isn’t it interesting that I only understand things that come from… me.

Just as I cannot understand the pain it is for a parent to lose a child, so I cannot understand the God’s timing. It is not of me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this concept, of God’s timing. I even decided to have it be the message last Sunday with my coworkers and friends. Basically, I discovered that God’s timing is something we will never comprehend.

And even though this is intimidating and scary in some respect, we are encouraged by Romans, which tells us that God’s plan for those who love him is good. That we wait patiently. That our hope, though it is not seen, is spoken through us by the Spirit – to God. Or by 1 Corinthians, which says that no one, ever – no ear, no eye, no mind – can conceive or has heard or has seen this “good” and God-timed plan.

I have a funny story.

I own a ukulele. I take this miniature wood work of joy with me everywhere. To Florida. To Mozambique. To South Africa. Pennsylvania. New York. Maryland. Ohio. Indiana. South Carolina. North Carolina. Washington. You get the picture.

It is the most curious thing, to watch how people react to the sound of a ukulele.

I was sitting in the basement of my home for the summer, with several other people. Preoccupied with my own thing, I wasn’t paying much attention to what the others were doing. As far as I could tell, it involved the Chinese language, lots of computers, a little bit of music, and occasional laughter.

It wasn’t until I heard the unzipping of a case and the word “ukulele” that I looked up and realized that one of my coworkers had found my uke sitting in the corner and knew what it was. He proceeded to unzip it, tune it, and strum – all while I was sitting across the room, comfortably upon my couch. The others at the table found this incredibly amusing. A couple girls even got up to talk with him and check out the scene. (Apparently my ukulele is a stud-maker. Who knew?)

I was cracking up. With the twinge of apprehension that the instrument may be broken under improper care, I also realized that this was the reason I brought it. So that others could enjoy the sound, try it out, or just laugh at how small it is. The guy ended up being pretty respectful, actually. He put it back after a few minutes. But the timing of this scene was important to me.

As I have sat contemplating the idea of God’s timing, it’s a curious thing that I was here to witness the unforeseen strumming of precious ukulele.

It was as if, as it was happening, that I knew God was trying to demonstrate something for me. He knows I think in images, and he knows I process things pretty slowly.

My life is like that ukulele.

Bear with me through this corny illustration. It’s worth it. I hope.

My life is like that ukulele. It was made to make music, but it never knew where this music would be made before it arrived at the location. It was made to make the music of the person holding it. But it never knew the song beforehand. It was made to bring joy. But when it stays within it’s case, zipped neatly away, the music stays there too.

It’s been a lot of places. South Africa. Mozambique. Indiana. Ohio. Washington. You get the picture. And It’s ready to go a lot more places, if it can make it.

My life is like that ukulele. Only an instrument, until the Musician comes along and makes it a presence in the room.

But most importantly, I think my life is like that ukulele because it waits. It waits until the Music Maker comes along and begins to strum a lovely song. (Look at that rhyme!). Music, in an empty room, although still beautiful, brings joy only to the maker of the music. But music in full room – it has the possibility to impact far more. The timing of when the music is made – it makes a lot of difference.

There. I tied it all in. You weren’t expecting that, were you?

That my life is like a ukulele because the timing of a song can mean the difference of impacting numerous people. If I was created to bring joy to God, and joy to others, then timing is truly important.

So while I may sit here, and wish that I could work things on my time, I know that as God is working his unknowable and good plan. That as things do start happening, it means perhaps the difference of playing music to a full room as opposed to an empty one.

And as long as I am open, ready to make music, that God can use this ukulele of a person to maybe make something sound better than it had before.