Dear Adventures in Odyssey: I Love You, But It’s Complicated

“Did you know that Lizzie used to work for Focus on the Family?” he said, she said, with a gleam in their eyes.

It’s not a secret, my internship from last decade, but it doesn’t come up often. When it does, though, it’s a conversation starter, a newsworthy item for my friends to pass along. I don’t fit their picture of someone who once worked there, you see.

Even at the time, I didn’t really think of myself as working for Focus on the Family (FOTF). I was there for Adventures in Odyssey; nothing else at the organization held much appeal.

With the Odyssey crew
With the Odyssey crew at the end of my internship (2009).

Adventures in Odyssey (AIO or Odyssey for short), Focus on the Family’s seminal children’s radio drama, turns 30 this year – today, in fact. On this day in 1987, a 25-minute episode aired about a boy named Davey who feels like a failure until kindly shop owner John Avery Whittaker (“Whit”) helps him realize his worth as they invent something that goes wrong before it goes right. The story, set in the small, Midwestern town of Odyssey, is bookended by a skit with the show’s host, Chris, who tells a story about Abraham Lincoln to reinforce the theme. “Whit’s Flop,” that very first episode, aired one year and four days before I was born, and all my life the show and I have been moving in tandem toward our own milestones.

Can I say I like Odyssey but not Focus on the Family, as I would say I like Jesus but not Christianity?

No, I didn’t think so.

It’s a poor comparison anyway. Odyssey was birthed from Focus on the Family and, like it or not, is a product of its parent organization. Jesus, however, wasn’t always entangled in Christianity, especially not Christianity as we know it today. But that’s another topic for another time.

I do know that I’m not the only one who has been able to partition the two, approving the one and rejecting or ignoring the other. A college roommate was vocal about her dislike for Focus on the Family, but made an exception for AIO.

Even when I was jumping at the chance to be an intern for my beloved radio drama, back in the day when I believed what everyone I knew growing up believed, I was still taken aback by the interview question asking “what my opinions were on the five major issues most important to Focus on the Family.” I bumbled through the answers I knew they expected of me, without much thought as to whether they were really my answers.

Lately, it’s gotten harder to separate the AIO from the FOTF. But once upon a time, it was just Odyssey tapes, Odyssey at 4:30 on the radio, Odyssey before bed and on car rides, and, later, Odyssey on message boards and at events. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

From its earliest days, Adventures in Odyssey has employed some of the best and most versatile voice actors in the business. This is not hyperbole. The show’s main actors include (or have included) Hal Smith from the Andy Griffith Show, who also lent his voice to Beauty and the Beast and An American Tale; Alan Young, best known as Wilbur in Mister Ed and as Disney’s Scrooge McDuck; Will Ryan, featured on The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin; Katie Leigh of Totally Spies; Chris Anthony, the former voice of Barbie; and Jess Harnell with his hundreds of film credits, including Wakko Warner in Animaniacs. These actors and many others have or had extensive careers, spanning decades, and it still chokes me up how many of these people have passed away since I first “visited” Odyssey. I have met many of the actors as an adult, but I was too late for some of them.

Me and Will Ryan
Meeting Will Ryan, voice of Eugene Meltsner (and writer Paul McCusker, in the background), at the 20th anniversary live show (2008).
Me and Katie Leigh
Spending time with Katie Leigh, voice of Connie Kendall, when she came to speak at my college (2011). Photo by Cara Strickland.

I once joined a Facebook group that probably doesn’t exist anymore, about how “Adventures in Odyssey was the soundtrack of my childhood.” I didn’t grow up with Saturday morning cartoons or Boy Meets World or whatever else my peers were watching in the ‘90s. Odyssey was a cozy backdrop to my life, but it was just a backdrop in many ways, piping from the tape deck on the dining room windowsill while I would color and make lists and watch fat squirrels eat birdseed from the feeder in the backyard, filling my long-term memory and stealing my heart.

Later, I would discover Odyssey’s ability to keep me on the edge of my seat, I would get up early on Saturdays to catch the new shows, I would pull out my old cassettes with stronger feelings, I would catch the pop culture references that had once eluded me. Still later, on the verge of college and the verge of leaving Odyssey behind me, I found a fan message board, and everything dormant and untapped in me found its home and sprang to life.

AIO live show
At the 20th anniversary live show (2008). Pictured from left to right (on the stage): Chuck Bolte, Will Ryan, Katie Leigh, Dave Madden, and Jess Harnell.

In 2008, my first visit to Colorado for the 20th anniversary live show became one of the best weekends of my life. I met the actors, the writers, and fellow fans, many of whom I’m still in touch with. In 2009, I spent my summer interning for Odyssey and administrating the above-mentioned message board, and then returned to college and promptly started a club for fellow fans. We made video reenactments and went on a road trip to Colorado and even brought one of the main actors to our Indiana campus to speak in chapel.

This was the zenith of my love for the show, and my nostalgia for that time of my life is matched only by my nostalgia for the show itself.

I was never on fire for Jesus, not really, but I was on fire for Adventures in Odyssey.

Life seems a simpler place when you know what you love and you have ways of expressing that love.

I wouldn’t go by “Lizzie” now if it weren’t for the show, and I might not be living in Colorado. I might not have changed my major to media communication or worked in radio or spent three months in China or done a whole host of other things. Adventures in Odyssey helped me keep my head above water in times of deep depression. It brought about friendships that never would’ve formed otherwise, leadership roles I never would’ve accepted. Directly and indirectly, I have Odyssey to thank for so much joy in my young adult life. I will never forget this. To me, Adventures in Odyssey is much more than the sum of its dialogue.

Adventures in Odyssey Club party
The Adventures in Odyssey Club at our first Christmas party (2009).
Club with AIO showrunners
The AIO Club meeting showrunners Dave Arnold and Paul McCusker (2011).

And it was a dream come true to meet the people behind the voices and the people who wrote and directed and made magic with sound, to work with them in some cases, to go behind the scenes, to know and be known. They are lovely people, thoughtful and professional and funny.

As for the episodes themselves, the writing quality ebbs and flows, as it does in any long-running production, but I’ve found a lot to appreciate: How to craft a story arc, how to tell a story with sound, how to move forward when the actor who plays the main character dies suddenly.

I haven’t listened to any new episodes for a few years. This is partly because the aura of nostalgia is missing with the newer shows. Every semi-reboot has sawed off more of the glue binding my fate to the fate of the show, which I suppose is only natural when the child grows up but the show does not. I am also skeptical about any program’s ability to carry on indefinitely and still remain a high-quality production. The longer I listen, the more déjà vu I experience.

When I was younger, I hoped Odyssey would still be producing new episodes if and when I had kids. Now, if I ever have kids, I would want them to listen to some episodes but not others.

You see, I am not only out of the target age range, I am also out of the target ideology range. The segment of Christianity that AIO is a spokesperson for is one I am no longer a spokesperson for. I used to think Odyssey was good at avoiding denominational squabbles and sticking to the basics of the faith. However, because this show and its parent organization focus on conservative evangelicals and conservative evangelicals focus on them, it’s a narrow list of squabbles that are avoided, a narrow list of “basics” that are adhered to. Christianity has many different expressions, interpretations, and practices, but you wouldn’t know that from listening to the show.

In this make-believe world, the conservative Christian worldview and its applications have no baggage, no side effects, and no viable alternatives. All the characters are so nice and well-meaning, their faith clean and tidy and straightforward. There are some episodes that show a cognizance of the things we do not know and that hold certainty loosely, but the farther I get from my “on fire” days, the fewer stories I see, past or present, that do a good job managing that tension. More often than not, it’s oversimplifications and assumptions, and even though I find it’s usually lines here and there that trouble me rather than whole storylines or episodes, those lines add up.

This is not an “open letter” or a rant. I am not going line by line through episodes to point out everything that makes me cringe now. I know everyone is doing the best they can with what they have. Odyssey has gotten better over the years at portraying more diverse characters, more diverse families, but I still see room for improvement.

I have deeper problems with Focus on the Family as a whole, of the choices they make politically and the ways they choose to engage culture and the world. Their pictures of the ideal world or family or culture are not my pictures. When I listen to AIO now, I notice things I didn’t notice before.

Sometimes, though, I am noticing good things. I recognize how a three-part mystery from the mid-90s is all about championing differently-abled people. I am moved by unflinching stories about the Underground Railroad and the Fisk Jubilee Singers. I appreciate the nuanced handling of subjects such as forgiveness, doubt, and grief. I go on everyday adventures with the characters as they take vacations and learn how to drive and fall in love. I go on extraordinary adventures with them as they solve decades-old mysteries and foil the bad guys who want to take over the world. And the best of the Bible story adaptations capture a glimmer of why Jesus is so appealing to so many people.

I can’t help it. I will always love Adventures in Odyssey, even when I have trouble liking it. Whit and Connie and Eugene, Tom and Bernard, Jack and Jason, Jimmy and Donna and George and Mary, they all feel like real people, real friends and family members, even when they fight, or maybe especially when they fight. I’ve seen the same warmth and camaraderie in the recording studios as I see in what comes out of those studios, that sense of connection that we all long for, and this is perhaps the epicenter of my nostalgia.

I would like to think that if these characters became living and breathing people, they would not fall prey to the us-versus-them polarization rampant in our country today. I would like to think that I could have a conversation with Whit or Jack, that, despite our differences, we could sit down over milkshakes for a heart-to-heart, and they would really listen, and by understanding more of the Other with our heads and our hearts, we could change the world a little at a time.

Happy birthday, Adventures in Odyssey.

 

All my Odyssey possessions
Posing with all of my Adventures in Odyssey gear for a contest (2008).

Now is the right time

Hello Colorado

It needs to stop, this wanting to write but never taking the time

It needs to happen, this writing I keep talking about.

This is my corner of the Internet. Facebook can feel too much like being at a family reunion, with all the aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins asking me what’s going on in my life in that big city twelve hundred miles away. Twitter is like a party with all the cool kids: a lot to stimulate and energize, but too much going on and too many people I don’t know to really feel comfortable there.

I have things to say here, and I know it won’t always be easy to press Submit. I want to talk about the Enneagram and Parenthood and that intersection on the way to work where there’s always a homeless person with a sign. I want to talk about loneliness and fear and my turbulent spirituality. The sharing may not be without its trepidation, but I think it’s important to be bold and brave where I can be.

A year and a half ago, I had two glorious months of writing regularly in this corner, but then I was too ambitious: I decided to write every day for a month on a topic that seemed right at the time, but that quickly ran dry without providing the hoped-for jump start to my floundering faith. I kept writing, though, determined to see the month through. And that’s what happened, though perhaps it’s more accurate to say that it saw me through … and bid me farewell at its end.

Whenever I move to a new place, I’m always hopeful that this is it, that my life will finally stop stagnating and I will no longer fall into making myself be who they expect me to be and I will stop reverting and everything will be better. But I keep having to remind myself that a new zip code isn’t enough, even if it’s a fine beginning. Some changes and growth have happened simply because of being on my own in Colorado, yes, but the deeper, heart work can’t happen without intentionality and even pain.

There are millions of blogs out there on every conceivable topic, but the ones that resonate with me the most tell the truth about the hard places and don’t shy away from the gray areas. That’s the kind of blogger I want to be: one who doesn’t ignore or sugarcoat the messiness, the contradictions, the failures of life, but who walks straight into them even if she doesn’t know what she’ll find in the middle or on the other side.

May the words I write be honest and yet life-giving for all of us on this journey, and may we be able to truly come alongside each other in this place.

Here’s To Being Honest

It’s been three years since a major bend in the road of my life coincided with the start of a calendar year.

Then, I was excited. Then, I pinned all my hopes on a time of transformation overseas. And it was a time of transformation, growth, friendships. I’m grateful.

My attitude now, however, is a bit different. Still hopeful, but cautious and apprehensive and not-all-of-my-eggs-in-one-basket-anymore as I prepare to move from California to Colorado in less than a week. Too much has happened since then for me to believe that transformation will happen so easily. I’m tired.

It’s become a bit of a mantra with me that “I either feel a lot, or not at all,” and this business of saying goodbyes is of the feel-a-lot variety. So I’ve been reaching for my journal more often over the last couple weeks, finding solace and sense in pouring out and pressing through with one of my beautiful Japanese gel pens.

2014 was the year of reading more. I want 2015 to be the year of writing more. Blogging more, maybe, hopefully, but even journaling alone would fill the need … would perhaps fill it better, being without the baggage of self-promotion and insecurity that can happen in places like these when the soul isn’t quite healthy.

2012 was the best year of my life. 2014 is certainly a candidate for worst, though my perspective is certainly skewed given my closer proximity to this year than to all the other hard ones. A year of depression, loss, questioning everything, stagnation. A year where international travel was no longer an adventure, but a heavy weight. A year, metaphorically, of being in at least two constricting boxes.

Physical relocation provides ample opportunities for change, but my hopes for a better 2015 don’t — can’t — depend on that. Rather, it’s in the finding and seeking out of spaces to be honest with myself and honest with others. Over the last two years, I’ve found myself in self-imposed and externally imposed situations where I’ve felt the pressure to bite back the true, the raw, and the real in exchange for the acceptable, the sanitized, the pretty.

May this be a year of daring greatly.

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?

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

Day 31: Here, at the End of This Thing

31 Days in the Word

One month ago, I spontaneously decided to join with hundreds of other bloggers and accept the challenge to post a blog every single day of October. My series would be called 31 Days in the Word, and it would be a way to hold myself accountable to reading the Bible daily.

Well, I have blogged every single day, but it didn’t take long before “31 Days in the Word” turned into more of a “31 Days of Whatever-the-Heck-I-Can-Think-Of.” What with working almost full-time, as well as juggling multiple other commitments this month, blogging daily became a major consumer of my time, and, if I’m honest, a burden. I’m a slow writer, especially at the end of long days.

Perhaps inevitably, this blogging experiment often turned Bible-reading into a pressure-filled, obligatory chore. Whenever I would read the Bible before writing a blog post, I couldn’t focus on Scripture without thinking, What am I going to pull out of this to write about today? That’s part of the reason why my blogs, for the most part, became less about what I was reading in the Bible, and more about what was going on in my life and mind and heart at the time. Sometimes it was Bible-related, sometimes it wasn’t, but being real was more important to me than fitting into a mold.

And I wrote many real words that flowed from my life and mind and heart, and that maybe wouldn’t have been written if I hadn’t been blogging so often.

As the month went along, however, I found that my writing and my life were becoming a bit disproportional. This quote from Sarah Bessey that I shared last week sums this up excellently:

Sometimes, I find if I’m writing too much and not living my life enough I have nothing to write about. Writer’s block and that place where I’m feeling stuck and where I feel I have nothing to say, it’s usually because I have nothing that I’m living and nothing I’m experiencing and nothing I’m taking in. You can’t really write out of an empty well. … I can’t write about church and community when I’m not making time for church and community in my life.

Will I ever do a 31-day series again? Right now, it seems very unlikely, but if I ever do it will not be a decision made without serious consideration regarding both subject matter specifically, and whether or not I am up for such high-frequency writing.

Thanks for joining me on this journey! To give both you and me a break, I’ll be resting from blogging this Friday, but will resume my pre-October Tuesday/Friday blogging schedule on Tuesday, November 5.

If you missed some of this month’s posts, you can find a full list of them here. These are a few (okay, eleven) of my favorites:

Day 24: When November 1st Can’t Come Soon Enough

Christmassy socks
Yes, these are the very socks I mention, in this photo taken just for this blog post.

I woke up an hour early this morning. I’m still in my pajamas, wearing a hoodie and thick Christmassy socks even though the warmth outside will reach the mid 80s by the time the sun has finished its work for the day.

I know it’s not the end of the month, not the final entry of 31 Days in the Word, but I need to reflect on this whole thing a bit. I hope you don’t mind.

Yesterday, I knew that I had long since reached a point where I needed to be in the Word, needed to pursue community, needed to put ideals and plans and goals into real-life action instead of just writing about them.

In an interview about writing, Sarah Bessey said, “Sometimes, I find if I’m writing too much and not living my life enough I have nothing to write about. Writer’s block and  that place where I’m feeling stuck and where I feel I have nothing to say, it’s usually because I have nothing that I’m living and nothing I’m experiencing and nothing I’m taking in. You can’t really write out of an empty well. … I can’t write about church and community when I’m not making time for church and community in my life.”

I very much resonated with this. I am a slow writer, often. Especially after spending seven or eight hours at work before trying to pull words out and meet the daily quota.

How glad I will be when there no longer is a daily quota!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I did this experiment, and I’ve written many things that I’m proud of, many things I probably wouldn’t have written otherwise. But I will be glad when November arrives and I can settle back into my twice-a-week postings and “living my life” won’t have to feverishly try in vain to stay ahead of — or at least neck-and-neck with — my writing.

Last night, I was tired and sitting bleary-eyed in front of my computer, wondering what I would write about, and then I thought, You know what? I’m just going to spend some time with God and go to bed.

Best decision ever.

Day 11: When the Outcome Matters Most

all-nighter
photo by striatic on creative commons (flickr)

My mind and my life are full of many things, but I can’t seem to settle on any one of them long enough to rest in the exploration. There are too many things worth doing. I must do all of them, and I must do them all well (or so I tell myself).

This is the first of at least three (most likely non-consecutive) posts about rest. This is also day 11 of 31 Days in the Word.

I’ve discovered that I’m much more concerned with outcome than with process. Not in theory, but in practice. I quickly read through a chapter of the Bible and then spend a couple hours crafting an eloquent, relatable blog post that rings true.

The time I spend on each speaks volumes: I’m more concerned with my own writing than I am with the Bible.

I want the blogs I write and the emails I send and the tweets I … tweet to be quality additions to the smaller and larger conversations I’m involved in online. This is good. What’s bad is that my drive for quality is tied mostly to things others can see.

What matters is that I make an appearance on Skype or at Starbucks with you and prove my friendship.

What matters is that I am there for the Internet.

What matters is that you still think I’m cool, and a good writer.

All through college, I drank a deadly cocktail of perfectionism and procrastination. I could pull an all-nighter to write a paper or study for a test and still get high marks, and maybe my outcome looked the same as the kid next to me who had spent two weeks in the process.

But I knew the difference.

I knew I was learning so much less and sabotaging my education by cramming everything in at the last minute or holding my writing skills at gunpoint. That’s not where long-term growth happens.

This is not the way I want to live my life.

I weaken real relationships to keep up the appearance of relationship. I weaken my few things to keep up the appearance of many things.

I want to let go of my “control” of the outcome and the appearance and embrace the process — even the process no one sees — with as much care and attention as I have embraced the outcome.

This weekend, I will be considering how I can actually do this rather than just wanting it but doing nothing.

Life is not about me (and neither is the Internet)

One month ago today, I pressed “publish” and started being a serious blogger. And by “serious blogger,” I don’t mean I started writing about serious things (though my blogs do tend to be about the deeper sides of life), but that I started taking blogging seriously by posting consistently.

Having my own little corner of the Internet has been wonderful and illuminating, and reminds me that writing is what I’m meant to do. And yet I do feel the tension between writing as an overflow of who I am and writing to be read.

a roomThe truth is that I want people to come into my room of words here. The truth is that there are steps I can take, ways I can open the door a little wider and spread the word a bit further, so more people can hear the music and see the lights and smell the aromas of the little party going on here.

And therein lies the problem. Or at least, the tension.

How can we truly care about each other when we all have our own blogs we want people to read? How can we take the common-sense steps to get our blogs out to more people without making it all about our blogs and our readerships? How can we get involved in like-minded online communities without ulterior motives tugging at us?

I think this tug-of-war of seemingly conflicting motives applies to other areas of life too, other vocations. The missionary who sends out newsletters and updates to let people know about his ministry, but also hopes those mailings will bring in more financial support. The aspiring actor or filmmaker or musician trying to get noticed. Everyone struggling with the tension of doing what you love … and then having to promote yourself.

My goal is not to see the others as competition or as a means to an end. I don’t want to compare, I don’t want to maneuver, I don’t want to feel like I have to shout the loudest so people hear me. That makes art ugly. Even the word “networking” puts a bad taste in my mouth.

It’s tempting and romantic to want to close the doors to my little room and keep my eyes fixed on what’s going on here, on making pure art from the fullness and brokenness of who I am. If someone stumbles upon my little nook, great, but that’s not where my attention lies.

But the fact is, creatives (and others) who want to make a living doing what they love usually can’t completely close their eyes to marketing and networking. So how do we put ourselves out there without becoming arrogant and self-focused and losing the purity of the art?

I’m reminded of this quote by Frederick Buechner: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

It doesn’t stop at my gladness. I want to help you through what I write, not just help myself. I don’t want things to degenerate into “you do this for me and I’ll do this for you.”

I don’t want to follow God as a means to an end. I don’t want to write or spend time with people or do ministry as means to ends. Maybe that logic works for the small things, the little tasks (or maybe it doesn’t). But when it comes to people and purposes, I don’t want to treat them as a means to an end. They are too sacred for that.

Friend, I want to love you and love your calling independent of me and my calling. You were not put on this earth, or in the blogosphere, or in my circle of friends, to prop up my ego, or make me famous, or give meaning to me and my calling.

Life is not about me, and neither is the Internet. It’s not about controlling or conforming to be seen, appreciated, loved.

This is something I know I’ll have to remind myself of again and again as I fight to be authentic and love more. But those things are worth fighting for.

Confessions of an Insecure Reader

I’m insecure about my art.

I’m insecure about my opinions of others’ art.

I have to know exactly what I think and why. I must be able to intelligently and articulately defend my beliefs and opinions. That is the measure of me — if not my worth, then my mind.

I’d like to think that I have a sensible head on my shoulders, good tastes, and sound judgment of good vs. bad writing (as one example). I want to be smart, a critical thinker.

Joining the popular social network site for readers, Goodreads, reminded me of this. As I “compared my bookshelves” with those of my friends, I felt pangs of inferiority when I saw some of the discrepancies in our rankings of the same books. Here are examples of some of the thoughts that ran through my mind: Do I really think that book deserved 5 stars? So-and-so gave it a 3, and, knowing her, she probably had good reasons for doing so. I just click indiscriminately based on half-remembered impressions and loyalties, hardly a proper analysis at all! I can’t even tell you why I gave it 5 stars. What does this say about my tastes? etc., etc.

books
photo by azrasta on creative commons (flickr)

To a lesser extent, I’m similarly self-critical about my opinions of TV shows, movies, and music (don’t get me started on politics or theology!). But books … I should know books. I’m an avid lover of words, I’ve always loved writing, I’ve taken classes. I should know a great book when I see it, and a good book, and a so-so book. And if I end up liking a book that’s widely viewed as only so-so, well, that’s okay, as long as I have good, intelligent reasons for doing so.

This, this, this, it’s all insecurities. The first step is recognizing them, they say. Well, I’ve seen them for a good, long time, analyzed them to death time and time again, called them by name. Many and varied are they that plague and and unnaturally shape my thoughts and interactions. They hold me back, poisoning and entrapping, hiding for a time and then resurfacing and throwing me back into a familiar confusion and a delving again into the whys.

Whittle down this particular insecurity to its root, and I believe it’s this: I’m afraid that I’m not smart.

Please let me be smart. 

That’s when I realize it must be time to return to the fountain of grace.