The Art of Turkeys

Wild TurkeysI see art in the turkeys who come to our yard daily. I see beauty and wonder as they drink from the old, metal bucket we keep filled with water, tilting their heads back once they’ve filled their mouths with a swallow so that the liquid can go down and quench and fill. I am delighted to watch them peck and scratch at the dirt, and, sometimes, sit in it.

They haven’t brought their babies here to drink for more than two years now. I wish they would, but I’m content just to see them live and move and have their being right outside our kitchen window.

Turkeys aren’t known for their beauty. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to them. Cats and dogs, dolphins and horses have many admirers. But turkeys, with their tiny pink heads, their thin legs, and their sleek, dark bodies, aren’t the recipients of as much love. But still they go about their lives, unconcerned with the world that only notices them for their meat.

I notice them, these wild friends of mine, and I never tire of watching them walk, run, sit, drink, explore, and fly into the tall pines at twilight to sleep in safety.

Sometimes I feebly gobble to them from above or across, and sometimes they reply. But more often I just watch them, like I’m doing right now, not wanting to alarm them and thus hasten their departure.

I watch this corner of the turkeys’ world, knowing that when I’m no longer living here, my heart will still thrill at the sound of their gobbling, one of my favorite sounds in the world.

Are These My Glasses?

glasses
photo by Iain Browne at flickr’s creative commons.

They gave me that look and those words, critiquing my lodging arrangements on our trip. She stood in the middle of the street and started singing beautifully, and I realized she would always be better than me at everything. She came up to me and touched the mole on my face, the one that sprouts black hairs.

Two nights ago, I dreamed all those scenarios, one right after another, and what an insecurity bath it was!

Sometimes my confidence is off-the-charts, and I love being me, and “weird” is a badge of honor. Then my world opens up a bit more, or I’m plunged back into an earlier time with earlier people, and it all comes back.

I’m not invincible; I’m fragile.

Two autumns ago, I knew the steps and I walked in them. Literally. I knew that writing helped me understand myself. I knew that walking brought clarity to thoughts and prayers. So I did both often, and the steps were simple, and life was sweet.

But it was easier to carve out the space for these life-giving habits then. I had just returned home from seven months abroad. I was reunited with my cats and the majority of my wardrobe, and everything looked a little newer and fresher than it had before I left. I was afraid of this return, afraid of falling back into depression and old, hated patterns, but I was healthy, the world was new, and I had time aplenty on my hands. And so I slid smoothly into the new rhythm.

But once you slide out of it, as I did after a few months — gradually and imperceptibly — it’s hard to regain that footing.

It’s been almost a year and a half now since those (perceived) idyllic days.

It terrifies me how fragile this is, how fragile I am, how easily I can and have lost my way on the slippery slopes of self-loathing and comparison and laziness and many others.

Writing again has been like exchanging someone else’s glasses for a pair that’s actually my prescription. I’m grateful to be able to see again, but I’m also fearful. What if I lose them or break them or forget them somewhere? What if I forget to clean them and they get all smudged and blurry and I’m so used to the new normal that I don’t realize it’s time for a reset?

And how do I even know these glasses are the “magic formula” for seeing? What if there’s a better, sharper pair somewhere else, and I’m unknowingly settling for ones that may work for a while, but will give me headaches in the end?

In which I am light and bright and sparkling

More of my writing happens when I’m a mess than when I’m radiant.

But I was radiant today.

bright filters of tree
photo from liquidnight at flickr’s creative commons

I looked in the mirror and saw nothing I didn’t like. My own words pleased me. I saw nothing to complain of, nothing to disprove of, nothing to cast a shadow.

My arms were overflowing with containers and books and pieces at the end of the day when I stepped into the home warmth, and that’s when my personality really began to overflow. I find Jane Austen’s description of her best-known work, Pride and Prejudice, a fitting description for this phenomenon of self-satisfied being: “light, and bright, and sparkling.”

I love these days, but I wonder if they are entirely good for me. I wonder if I’m as ill equipped at emotionally processing the good days as I am at processing the bad ones.

Two words come to mind: “frenzy” and “narcissistic.”

And yet in this sparkling there is so much of true self that I can reach out and grab onto. My laughter can fill many barrels, and everything seems open and possible. Life is here as a gleam and a glare.

But even if I were to curb the self-absorbed aspects, I wouldn’t want to be radiant like this all the time. It takes another corner of my true self to weep with the weeping, and to feel something for those who see life as closed and impossible … to ask hard questions and sit in silence … to see the world beyond my blankets.

These blankets of mine — some colorful, others dour — bring comfort in their time, but there is more.

The Lizzie Manifesto

Pandora is filling my borrowed room with lovely sounds akin to Pachelbel’s Canon, and I am restarting my blog with hope that it will continue even when the feelings aren’t there. Because writing is one of the things that, in the past, has helped me recover who I am, and I have confidence that it can do it again.

embraced by words
by Robbert van der Steeg, from flickr’s creative commons.

My church began its annual missions focus this week, with a sermon on the Great Commission from a woman only two years older than me. I walked in numb and flat, as I have for a while now, but I left with a few flickers of inspiration that stayed with me into my car and into the quiet. Not to knock on my neighbor’s door or deliver hope to strangers, as you might expect, but to knock on the doors of my own heart and find out what’s inside … to deliver hope to my own cracked and broken pieces.

I want to listen to myself and accept the reality of where I’m at right now. This roller coaster is nothing to feel afraid of, ashamed of, or less-than because of. It’s here, and I’m on it, and it’s okay. Normal, even. I will settle in and appreciate this view and that exhilaration, and when my stomach drops and the g-forces throw my tears back at me and I can barely see through the squinting, it won’t be a nasty surprise but an accepted — if not welcome — part of the ride. We’re all on different roller coasters at different times, and even the most extreme and, conversely, the most slow-moving ones don’t last forever. This too shall pass, but in the meantime …

… Who am I? What makes me come alive? What do I need?

I asked myself these and other questions from the wicker chair in the sweltering shade, while the dogs looked on.

This is what I want:

  • A safe community that brings life
  • Energy and motivation to write, explore, breathe, and enjoy the simple things of life
  • To find purpose, passion, hope, and truth and carry them with me in my being and doing
  • A strong foundation spiritually, emotionally, relationally
  • New opportunities and experiences for the stretching, invigorating, experimenting, and the living of life to the fullest
  • To truly see the people and the world in which I live — to laugh and cry and feel and taste — rather than going through the motions
  • To always be honest and true to myself
  • To find life and refreshment in discipline
  • To be good, but not safe
  • To have the courage to move when the place I’m in no longer brings life, but also to recognize that my cocktail of purpose, passion, hope, and truth can be found anywhere.
  • To love well
  • To value quality over quantity
  • To press on with or without the feelings
  • To be released from feeling like I have to be there for everyone all the time
  • To be okay with journey and process without outcome or destination
  • To have a heart and mind always open to learning

Looking between the lines in “Noah”

Russell Crowe as Noah
Russell Crowe as Noah (from ew.com)

As I read reviews and then sat in the dark cinema, I was open. I was reaching, as with feelers, into the waters of Noah, open to receiving what was good and thought provoking about the movie. And I didn’t come away empty-handed.

But then I read the lambasting words, and the movie called blasphemous and compared to excrement, and I tucked my feelers under my body, afraid what they would think of me for daring to see anything good in the adaptation.

But I did. I also saw things that unsettled and troubled me. I’m not entirely sure how to make sense of it all, but I’ll try.

First, I don’t think the filmmakers were intentionally trying to mock Christians or distort the biblical account as much as possible. My take is that this was a serious attempt to examine the story of Noah and the Flood in a new way while challenging expectations, looking at human nature, looking between the lines, looking at philosophical questions the story evokes.

Second, there are many things we don’t know about the story of Noah. Here are some of them: how devoted Noah’s family members were to God and what kind of people they were; if any of them (Noah included) ever doubted or struggled or didn’t understand; exactly how God communicated with Noah, both at the beginning when he told Noah what to do, and throughout the journey of building the ark and escaping the Flood; what the antediluvian world was like; what Noah’s interactions with the corrupt world were, especially as he began his ark-building endeavor; and let’s not forget the mystery of the Nephilim. Granted, I’m not a theologian, but none of these things seem cut-and-dried to me.

The biblical account is essentially this: God told Noah what to do in a way that was clear and intelligible to him, and he did it. And not just instructions about the dimensions of the ark and how many pairs of animals to bring aboard, but also which humans to bring on board, and the fact that He was establishing a covenant with Noah.

This seems clear-cut and straightforward with little room for ambiguity, but is there anything clear-cut and straightforward about a Flood in a rainless world; about a God who embodies both mercy and justice, love and wrath, beginnings and endings, death and life; about humanity being preserved inside a 350-cubit-long box made of gopher wood while death writhes in the waters outside? I remember all the things we don’t know about the story of Noah, and I realize that there may have been more going on between the lines – even if only at the heart and head level – than we know.

(If you haven’t seen the movie yet, be warned that the next few paragraphs contain spoilers.)

In the movie, God’s instructions to Noah are a part of that ambiguity, especially as relates to the future of the human race. At first, Noah is planning on finding wives for his two unmarried sons, but then he sees the wickedness of the world in all its perversity, and becomes convinced that humanity has corrupted itself beyond repair, has lost its chance. God’s justice, he believes, requires that the human race end with his family. But then Shem’s previously barren wife gets pregnant on the ark, and we’re plunged into an Abraham-and-Isaac scenario with a Noah willing to kill his own grandchild if it (or they, as it turns out) is a girl.

As I was watching this, I thought, The only way to redeem this is to make it clear that Noah had misunderstood God’s will and was taking matters into his own hands in the wrong way.

In a way, this did happen, but not as clearly as I would’ve liked.

I have no problems with Noah being a flawed human being. He was a sinner like the rest of us, despite being “blameless in his generation.” In the movie, we saw a man who obeyed God and walked differently from the rest of the world … and yet a man who saw a world that was broken and evil and corrupt, and struggled with that tension.

Here is what I keep coming back to: I think the movie portrayed some of the emotions and struggles that Noah and his family could have been dealing with, even if they didn’t manifest themselves in the same ways they did in the movie. What must it have been like to be the only ones following God in a corrupt world? What was it like to face the unknown and the prospect of every other human drowning while they would float atop the waters and survive? The Bible doesn’t probe their hearts and minds, but Noah opens that door, and is it far-fetched to look into the facts of the Flood and wonder if there was any fear, or doubt, or a struggling with the tension between God’s mercy and God’s justice, or even wondering deep down if they deserved to be spared?

Yes, there were things I would’ve changed about the movie. I would’ve made it clearer that Methuselah’s special abilities were from God. I would’ve sketched out the Nephilim differently. And I especially would’ve drawn out more of God’s mercy and love than we saw portrayed. That is what troubled me the most: knowing that this interpretation of God could leave some people thinking of Him as impersonal and unloving. And yet, wrath and justice are a part of God’s character, and especially need to be examined in a story about the Flood.

But despite all this, Noah helps us explore and ask questions and wrestle with a familiar story in a new way. Even though this movie was made by a non-Christian taking creative liberties, I believe that God can use it. He can illuminate our minds and hearts to see what was good and draw it out. He can redeem the ambiguities and interpretations that went too far. And He can resolve those tensions and bring us back to Himself.

Here’s to Being

Here I am, again.

I’m moving gingerly back into this space, unsure of what I’m able to commit to, of what is life-giving, of what tomorrow will feel like.

But here I lie, in the dark of my sister’s dorm room while she sleeps, with peace and a full heart, and an ash cross on my forehead that I haven’t gotten a proper look at yet.

It is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, and I have come a long way since the darkness of the new year. January was a bleak month for me and others I know. I looked toward February and saw it glowing with hope and promise. And that’s what I found there. I had a weekend of feeling close to God for the first time in a long time, and another weekend of connecting with girls half my age and revisiting my camp baggage and realizing so much about who I am as a person, a youth leader, a counselor.

And yet, I’m still amazed at how easy it was to bend back to how things were before. To bend back to autopilot and doing and hard edges and stagnation.

Maybe I will be bending a different way by this time next month.

I have never observed Lent before, but this year I signed up for an online course that’s focus is on being and resting. After being wrung dry, after depression, in the midst of doubt and sameness, this is what I needed.

I read the introductory posts from the other few dozen women taking part in the course, and I wrote out my story in unabashed wordiness. Then came the peace and the full heart. And the desire to keep writing.

So here I am, again.

In which I tell you about my depression

Here I am in the darkness, and I can’t muster the strength to wave.

Of course, that’s not really true. If it really were coal black inside me at this very moment, I wouldn’t be able to type these words, never mind lift my hand in some half-hearted greeting.

But it comes, this darkness, and I am afraid of my feelings.

So very thin, so very fragile, is the distance between “okay” and “broken.”

In college, “depression” flitted at the edges of my mind and in my Internet searches, but I rejected the notion. It was something else. It was insecurity, it was stress, it was my spiritual state.

This time, there is no doubt, no explaining away, no alternate narratives.

It came without warning as I sat at the table with my lasagna and the people I had been so excited to see again. It came, and excitement left me and I couldn’t follow the conversations around me and they were a million miles away and I shut down and curled inward and wanted to cry. Later, I did cry.

It came gradually as I walked hand-in-hand on dark, wet nights and wrote pages and pages in my journal while everyone slept. It came, and so did fear. All my certainty left me and I thought of things being shaken and falling away, and soon even that clarity was gone too.

It came like a brick, like an anvil, like a dementor, as we got in the car and prepared for a long drive on that rainy night. That terrible rainy night.

There were respites between the storms, and even a day or two when I felt like my old self again. But it never truly went away, and eventually my body began to wear down too.

I’m home again, and it looks different here. Duller edges, familiar motions, the quiet breaking and forgetting and existing.

I want healing, and I’ve been pursuing it a little. But mostly I’m still holding back, clinging to my defense-mechanism isolation, becoming almost a mechanism myself.

I know healing is so much more than those little white pills they gave me. That word, healing, seems so gentle and soothing and right, but when you stop the sideways glances and look it straight in the eyes, you realize how hard and messy and uncomfortable it will be.

Here I am in the darkness, and I want out, but I don’t know and I’m afraid.

Life on autopilot: it’s time for a change

Wednesday was one of those days where I felt everything, and I’m so grateful.

I sat in my swivel chair, shut tight in the little studio while instrumental Christmas carols filled the room and the waveforms rose and fell right along with them. In between pushing record and stop and occasionally adjusting the volume, I was reading Liz Curtis Higgs’ book The Women of Christmas.

Somehow, we received quite a few copies of that book here at the station, and so one day a couple weeks ago, I found that shiny red hardback in my box. A new resource! I thought, admiring the Christmassy cover.

There are many Advent resources, I’ve found.

Perfect for this girl who’s bringing Advent to the late-night hours of a small Christian radio station.

So there I was, reading The Women of Christmas while the music played, and I felt it, all of it.

The Christmas story was alive in my heart, and I wasn’t reading it just so I could pull out a few quotes for my radio show.

The night before, I had been reading another book, and I was having trouble getting into it. At the back of my mind were thoughts like maybe I can pull something out of this for my blog and how can I use this in my writing/teaching/speaking?

This is why I’m not a fan of writing book reviews. The knowledge that the book review is waiting for me just past the last page, and demanding a solid analysis and arguments, distracts me from being able to fully enjoy, immerse, be. That tendency to turn everything into a performance is already there; why exacerbate it?

So there I was, reading this book, Grace for the Good Girl, and I finally gave myself grace. I finally let go and let myself read without the pressure of having to remember everything or be able to regurgitate it later. It was wonderful.

My days of being are few and far between.

I’m too much about lists and tasks and getting five things done at once. And usually, those five things can all be done with the help of a mouse and a keyboard. I’m convinced that all of this, all the lists and the task orientation and the spending all my free time in front of the computer, dulls my mind and heart.

And honestly, I’m already tempted to believe my life right now is dull.

I am 25 years old, and I live at home with my parents, and even though I have a job and a blog and a group of youth group kids I love, my life is safe, easy and predictable.

And what do I do? I dull it still further.

I want my life to count, even now in the in-between and the over-familiar.

I’m on autopilot right now, and autopilot is easy. But autopilot steals my humanity, one hour at a time. It steals my ability to feel and think deeply, to empathize, to truly live life.

Wednesday was one of those days where I felt everything — the Liz Curtis Higgs book, the words and Scriptures and thoughts I spoke into the microphone — was fully present, and felt like a person, not a robot.

This brings me to today, and this weekend.

I’ll be spending a good part of this weekend in a car, and after two and a half hours of sitting in the dark thinking, I already feel emotionally and spiritually rejuvenated. This is going to be a healing weekend, I can tell.

It’s too soon to decide which attitudes and activities need to be replaced in the long-term, but I think it’s time to take a break from this blog. I was already going to take two weeks off for Christmas, since I’ll be on vacation in England, but I think it would be healthy for me to start my blog vacation early.

Blogging has become more about lists and tasks and social networking, more about trying to turn barely processed thoughts into polished writing, more about analyzing my life while I’m living it than it is about the sheer joy of writing. I need time to think and pray and be. I need time to rediscover my love of writing, and to decide what role blogging should play in it right now. Does the activity need to change, or just the attitude, or both? I don’t know, but I need to turn off the autopilot to find out.

Thank you to all of you who have supported me in this journey. I hope that this time off is the start of something new.

To Dream Deeply

possibility
photo by mollybob on flickr’s creative commons

A new idea comes to me, a big idea to change everything, a wild idea to throw off the old certainties. “Wrap your mind around this,” it whispers.

And so I do.

My mind snaps to attention with new heart energy, and I’m making this work. Connections fuse and I’m mapping my potential new course. I’m thinking through all the details and logistics and dismantling all the practical problems. I am alive in this, dreaming and drinking in the planning.

I don’t ask these questions, at least not right away: Is this the right thing? Am I ready for this? Is the timing right? Is this you, Lord?

The problem is, by the time I finally get around to asking those questions, I’ve already half-decided to say yes because everything seems so easy and solvable in my mind. How easily I forget that those obstacles aren’t the only ones. If I start to convince myself that the only challenges are logistical ones, I ignore spiritual and emotional realities.

And those spiritual and emotional questions take time. They require stillness. The answers aren’t so easy.

My possibility is beautiful and exciting, but also expensive and fragile and not guaranteed to last or even work.

I don’t want to rip into it like it’s a toy in cheap paper. I don’t want to assume that, because I’ve thought of it and it excites me, it’s made for me and nothing will go wrong and there are no cracks in it or me.

I want to ponder and treasure, to take this possibility in my hands with care and really see it in all of its complexity.

Is it for me? Is it for now? Is it worth the cost?

Dreaming isn’t bad. Getting excited about a possibility isn’t bad. But when it’s a big, potentially life-changing possibility, I don’t want to dream lightly. I want to dream deeply.

11 Things I Learned in November

After a hiatus last month due to 31 Days in the Word, I’m back with a hodgepodge assortment of what I’ve learned this month. For the fourth time, I’m linking up with Emily Freeman and other bloggers to give you a recap of November’s fun and memorable discoveries. Enjoy!

1. We finished our fall Share-a-thon at KVIP radio a few weeks ago, and I learned (again) that I’m exceptionally and increasingly comfortable on live radio, almost unnaturally so for my level of introversion. Of course, a lot of it has to do with it being this radio station and these co-workers/co-hosts and those listeners, but it still boggles my mind sometimes.

2. For my birthday dinner at Olive Garden, I tried wine for the first time. I’m not a fan. At least, not of the particular white wine I sampled.

3. Speaking of alcohol, intoxication in this country is defined as having a blood alcohol content level that is at or greater than 0.08%. When I went in to retake a portion of the written test as part of renewing my driver’s license, I realized I had no idea what the legal limit was. Luckily, I’m a good guesser (on that and a couple other questions), or else my trip to the DMV might not have been so quick.

4. I am a Jesus Feminist: “I have always accepted the basic complementarian understanding of gender roles without giving it much thought: Women are to submit to their husbands, and preaching is for men. … Now, I’m starting to question it. I’m finding strict complementarians and those who take Paul’s words on submission to their literal extremes. I’m learning to walk in the freedom and love of Christ. And for the first time, I’m asking questions. Why can’t a woman preach? I wonder. For the first time, it’s bothering me.”

It was a big step to write about something so controversial (or potentially controversial) here, but I desire authenticity, and for me authenticity means allowing myself to wrestle and ask hard questions outside of the safety of my own head and home. And I’m glad I did.

5. Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the best film adaptation I’ve seen in a long time. It’s a great movie in its own right as well. I look forward to seeing it again.

6. November 3rd was the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. I learned which countries have the most extreme persecution. China isn’t as high on the list as I expected it to be. Also, I found out about Iranian-American Pastor Saeed Abedini, who is currently imprisoned in Iran for his faith. Read his story and sign the petition here.

7. Not every American makes pumpkin pie from a can. I’d always assumed that was the norm, since it’s what we’ve always done — in fact, if it hadn’t been for a pumpkin carving activity in high school, I might’ve never, in all my 25 years, interacted with the insides of that gargantuan vegetable (or fruit?). Granted, I don’t know what percentage of Americans opt for the can over pureeing the pumpkin themselves, but I can no longer hold my can with the same pride and joy that I did before.

8. It’s worthwhile to enter book giveaways. Though I am biased, seeing as how I’ve won four much-desired books in the last month or so.

Lizzie and her books
I’ve won four out of five of these books in giveaways. (from left to right: When We Were on Fire by Addie Zierman, Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey, A Million Little Ways by Emily P. Freeman, and The In-Between and Wrecked by Jeff Goins)

9. I love Advent. Last December was my first year of truly observing this pre-Christmas season of waiting and expectancy, and now I’ve taken things to the next level by bringing the celebration to my radio show. Of course, one of the consequences of doing so — particularly this Christmas — is that I’m already halfway through Advent on my program while in the real world Advent hasn’t even started yet. But I don’t mind this head start. In fact, I’m interested in the Christian year even beyond Advent, so I purchased the book Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God by Bobby Gross.

10. I’ve never owned a dog (and never really cared to own one), but after taking care of a couple’s border collie/Australian shepherd for three weeks while they were on vacation, I realized there’s more to dogs than loud barking, slobbery licks, and poop. Dogs are very affectionate, and I loved being welcomed home from work by my canine companion, Ozzie.

11. I’m not a Whovian (yet?), but after watching “The Day of the Doctor” (the 50th-anniversary special for the beloved British TV show, Doctor Who) I understood why people love it so much, why this is a big deal. I was also confused a lot of the time, but that’s to be expected for someone like me who’s only seen a dozen Doctor Who episodes in total.