Wednesday, May 12, 2010

On Writing and Age Wrinkles

I love writing and I hate writing. The two feelings are constantly throwing house parties in some emotional apartment my logic is never invited to. Like opposing pistons charging wildly into the same cylinder or two bulls in the same pen. They collide with force and drama and certainty. With writing specifically, as much as God teaches me through it, it's never good enough to show anyone - and so it stays unpublished, entombed and unfinished. It is for me, catharsis and chaos in equal measure.

But maybe writing is more like life, people can forgive an imperfect word or a bad paragraph as long as there's a beauty to the whole. All of our words are like lines and wrinkles drawn into an aging face - they make us, us. Different, weak, broken, strong, but recognized and loved, not in spite of them, but because of them. It's different, how God works, how he stands with stretched arms signaling the beginning of a better story; offering strength and peace in the middle of weakness and chaos.

So our worst days become a kind of necessary punctuation. They link the elements in our stories; pauses in our prose.

And our best days are the secret and soaring poems we only tell to our favorite people.

Our stories are made beautiful because they're written with the stuff of the bad days and the dignity of the good days. And like that, maybe we're supposed to accept the imperfect words because we know that better words are coming, and sometimes, in the best times, they come quicker than we'd hoped. Or sometimes we have to dig and bleed to find them. But we always find them. And always when we need them.

Maybe we are all writers who have already been written into a story full of labored sentences and the right amount of poetry. We just need someone to read it and tell us to keep writing.

So, write it, whatever it is. Write the bad words until the good ones come. Change your life. Start your life. End your old life. Get a better job. Get a better boyfriend. Hit "publish." If we trust that the whole of the story is beautiful a one, we can't really fail. Let the worst of you become a kind of period that doesn't just end a bad sentence, it signals the beginning of a new one, a better one.

Maybe it's time to trust that the words will come. Maybe it's time to let Him write and know that they will.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Forgetting Facebook

In an effort to remain transparent, I will, in full disclosure say that I have checked Facebook this week.

It was Tuesday or so, and I'd forgotten to log out from my phone - I got some alert and followed it in to the Facebook interface in order to read a message and log out.

There. Truth. I feel so much better.

That said, I'm learning quite a bit about myself as I've given up Facebook for a month.

1) The days are long enough. They just are. It's easy for me to get overwhelmed with work and irritated with God for giving us "only" 24 hours a day. The truth is, we have 24 full hours in every-single-day - and that's long enough to do just about anything we want.

There is enough time in the day. In fact, there's plenty.

Think about it. Say you work (or go to school) for 8 hours a day. If the average person gets about 8 hours of sleep (that's being optimistic) that leaves another 8 hours left to do anything you want. There's enough time to work another full time job with the time we have left over. Of course, that's a bad idea, but the point is, there IS enough time.

While it's not directly related to Facebook, this week has brought to me some of the most difficult conversations I've ever had. But the best part was, was that I was there to have them. I'm not saying that my time spent away from Facebook has necessarily opened the door to deeper friendships, but these conversations were literally of the once in a lifetime kind, and I thank God that I was fully there to engage in them.

2) I've done more.

I've read more, written more, ran more, started swimming, started my own megalomaniacal website - I've just simply done more and have done better work. To be sure, there's times where my left hand wants to instinctively type "F-A-C-E' in the address bar and let autofill do the rest but usually, I'm too busy doing something that matters.

3) I feel slightly disconnected.

I think part of the lure of social media is the "connectedness" it offers. It's like you're privy to hundreds of different conversations and you get to piece together certain elements of people's lives through their pictures, updates, links etc. There's a small part in all of us that is sated when we feel 'included' - but a birds-eye-view shows me that really, it's just nourishing insecurity. I want to be included, more than I just want to feel included - and sadly (or maybe, hopefully) that really only happens outside of the internet.

So, overall - it's a positive project I've launched into. Right now, I'm giving myself only a 50% chance of ever returning to Facebook. Maybe though, the problem isn't the site itself, but my self-control, or lack thereof.

How has it been giving up meat this week? Or Facebook? Or anything? I'm excited to live deeper.

I'm really excited.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Goodbye Facebook (for now)

I could tell you that I'm giving up Facebook for a month because it's simply next on my monthly list of "discipline projects" or I could be superholy and say that I'm "Surrendering" Facebook, maybe even call it a "fast" - I suppose those things are true, but only half-true.

I check Facebook a lot.

At work, at home, on my phone - straight up - I check it all the time. And, after some pausing and introspection, I really can't figure out why. Maybe it's the same reason we all check it constantly, checking in on "our world" - or worse, some kind of post-modern indulgence - counting comments and nods like flair or checkmarks of affirmation.

Whatever it is, it's become unhealthy for me and it's going away for a month - at least.

So, besides not knowing what 430 people are doing everyday, or who (still) hates Mondays - or which of my old students are working their way towards drinking problems, I'm excited for this month's abstinence. But abstaining for the sake of abstaining isn't enough, is it? Whatever's been given up, needs an interim (de)vice to fill it's void, to align the wayward compass or the whole meaning of sacrifice is lost.

So, I will turn to writing, or reading, or simply being silent and wonderfully disengaged.

I've already turned my attention to next month's discipline project, and I've decided I don't want to do it alone. Anyone want to give something up for a month, or better - DO something consistently, everyday for a full 30 days? Let's brainstorm, let's change our lives, lets live better, fuller, deeper stories.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Live in love and let the world know why.

I met a woman while shopping tonight. Well, by "met" I mean she checked me out and bagged my items. And by "shopping" I mean... Ok I was at Wal-Mart.

Debra was her name, I wanted to ask if she shortened it from "Deborah" - to rid herself of the baggage that comes with unnecessary consonants. "That's very phonetic of you" I wanted to say. But I didn't.

On her vest, next to "Debra" was a much more prominent pin that spelled "JESUS" in jewels. Probably Bedazzled, if I had to guess. I wondered if management ever confronted her regarding the amount of real estate it claimed on her vest. I wondered what Debra would tell them if they had. But I suppose no one would mistakenly call her Jesus instead of Debra.

I was fourth or so in line and as I studied Debra I'd hear her salutation as she finished with each customer's process. "Blessings" she'd say to one. Or "have a blessed night" to another. As my turn approached I speculated about what she'd tell me, like a man entering a doctor's office or fortune teller's....tent.

"Maybe Debra knows." - was everything I could think. "She knows I lied at work today." or "Look at this white boy, down in the ghetto looking for deals on whey protein and power steering fluid." I'd not yet spoken a word to Debra, but I was desperate for her endorsement.

The register beeped a cold digital rhythm as she processed my goods. Some car stuff, some wine I'd bought for $7.24 just to make a statement (I'd seen the same bottle sell for $30.00 a day earlier.) the aforementioned whey protein and some various necessities. They scanned through and I broke the silence.

"How's your night going?" I asked, a hint of sheepishness cracked my lips.

"It's great." She said, all teeth and smile. "I'd never complain. Did you just come from the gym?" - I had indeed, and I was ecstatic that she had sent my conversational serve back over the net.

"It's a beautiful night" she continued. "That'll be $36.42."

I'd walked in 20 minutes earlier lamenting the fact that I was entering a Wal-Mart; even more disappointed in the fact that I even live near the low-price leader. If I'm honest, I felt superior to the situation; that my lot in life was certainly higher than congregating around pregnant teens and poor families and discount groceries.

But Debra, who pinned the name of Jesus to her breast as an announcement of identity; used every opportunity to speak Love into each pregnant teen and poor family that came through her line. I don't have to visit again to know that everybody who chooses her lane will receive the same benediction. In the best way possible (through love) it confronted me with the opportunities (or opportunities I miss) each day to speak love into someone's life. Not only love, but Love - in the name of Jesus. Straight up.

That's the goal of our lives isn't it? The great commission and all of that. To live in love, and let the world know why. There's some kind of perfection in every single minute and I want to live truly and lean into these minutes like favorite poems or tall, swaying trees.

I swiped my card and entered my PIN number. Debra handed me the receipt.

"Be blessed" she told my eyes.

And I was.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

"I was chasin' something, but I wasn't sure just what"

I saw this a month or two ago, it was one of those transcendent moments that don't happen as often as I'd like.

For me, this song might rate up there with Cannonball as one of the best ever written.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

A Hangover from Memory Lane.

I used to be in a band. A few actually. And they were good, actually.

It's strange and surreal and somewhat painful to look back into those memories. I've kind of locked them away and given the keys to 4 other guys. And only on rare occasions, inebriated by nostalgia, do we open the locked cabinets and drink from them.

By the time I'd graduated high-school we had 3 recordings out under three different band names. We'd changed members only once, for the most part, the core of us remained forged. By my first year of college, we had been in talks with a few record labels, and I had all but dropped out of my second semester - missing so many classes to record our first (what would be our only) full-length record. That summer, we set out on tour.

MTV feeds our fantasies with visions of two-story busses that pick band members up from their Gatsby-esque mansions, our reality picked us up from our parents' houses in a 1986 conversion van clocking around 218,000 miles on the odometer. One troubled tour began with us breaking down 1/2 mile from setting off from my house. Literally, five minutes after hugging my parents and loosely promising to send postcards, I was calling them to come to the rescue of our sorry situation. I'd never once doubted that we'd be fine. And so, we were.

I have a lot of memories of these summers, the best probably coming from the first stop on our first tour ever. We'd been booked in Yuma, Arizona. Aside from one (still) deeply depressing turnaround trip to Fresno, the band had never been on any adventure with more than one destination. We'd reached Yuma in a few hours. The van was smoking a little from inappropriate (see: not engine) places, and seemed to handle her maiden voyage with the effort of a moderately healthy octogenarian. The city is dusty, or at least I remember it being dusty. Plenty of wind and Mexicans; we were absolutely alive. As we stopped and began to unload the only guitars we had, and the equipment we'd be sharing with another band for the next two months, a kid about my age approached me.

He was wearing one of our shirts.

The thing is, we didn't have shirts. We had arranged some last-minute screen printing and were due to pick them up in a city or two down the schedule. He had made his own Falling Cycle shirt. In Arizona. Hundreds of miles from the suburban bedroom where I'd sit for hours in my underwear creating parts to his "favorite songs." To this day, the reality of this does not make any sense to me.

He thanked us for coming to Arizona, and I thanked him too, for coming. We played that night to probably 30 people; it is still one of the proudest moments of my life.

This is a (horrible) video from our last show ever, almost exactly 6 years ago. Another one of the proudest moments of my life.

EDIT: Someone at about 3:22 yells "What the hell is going on?" - a great question my anonymous friend. After 6 years, I still don't know, either.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

I have to do something. I do not want to do it. I need strength and grace. Maybe peace will come.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Enter: Beauty

It's been a hard few months.

It’s not that I’m bad with the truth, it just comes slower for me. The abrasion of transparency is too easily avoidable, and while I’m sure it’s been apparent to my closest friends, I haven’t been on the up-and-up as of late.

Personally, and probably too honestly, the last few months have been dark for me. For a few weeks, I was sure that God had grown dim in my heart. For a few days, I knew I had wandered too far outside of his grace. And for a few terrifying hours, I wondered if there was a God at all. "Maybe" I thought, "my western paradigm needs a convenient creation tale to sate the ugly questions and my fragile consciousness needs a story to believe that explains why, for some reason, we all feel orphaned in some way." Truly, it felt dark and wholly unnatural, like breathing underwater. If I'm honest, my lungs are still sore.

The doubt came in the desert. A dry and dusty few months with as little spiritual life as the terrain suggests. I’d been working constantly and was overwhelmed with obligations. I wasn’t sure what hours He kept, but my schedule never seemed to sync with God’s. Our shoulders would brush, and surely he was ready to talk, but honestly, I didn’t have the time.

Enter: Beauty.

Oh, Beauty. A notion as sincere as the sun and probably just as old. I have been confronted lately with the almost tangible and ubiquitous truth in beauty. I would argue that everyone, at some moment (hopefully many moments) has experienced some level of unmistakable beauty. No matter how often we overlook or avoid it, It is, for must of us, a regularity. But why is anything beautiful? A rocky coast and angry waves have very little evolutionary value, but I’d dare anyone to dismiss them as unremarkable. What good is it to be reminded of our fragility, and why does it stir into us something like wonder, rather than paralyzing fear (and, truly a wonderful mixture of each?) Beauty adjusts our compasses; it drives us northward.

It is laughter and pain (in equal, liberal doses) that forges bonds into brotherhood. It is joy that unites lovers and it is love that confirms them. The heart of God seems so full with desire that to ignore ours is probably the only way to walk in the opposite direction of Him. I'm learning that it's good to feel small, to measure ourselves against the bigness of a God so good He uses beauty, not codes or commandments, to fill our sails, to drive us northward, towards Himself.

It's so easy to live in an existence that feels determined by me, but living this way, is it any wonder I feel helpless, anxious, lifeless? Like a ship sinking from stilled seas, I need wind and I need waves and I need to plunge into the blue every so often, if only to see it’s terrible and beautiful depth.

And to remind ourselves, that the pool of grace is deeper than we can dive.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

On Coasting and Climbing.

A few years ago, I launched a mission to engage myself in the most uncomfortable situations possible. I actively sought the awkward. You had a place I didn't want to be? I'd go with you. You've got a person I didn't want to meet? I'd get their number (This didn't turn out well.) Reluctance became routine. The results were as expected, a full year of goosebumps, pocket-hands and witty banter. But, more importantly I've been blessed with a few new friendships and mentors I now wouldn't trade for anything. I also became an expert at moving furniture. It's very much like tetris.

I'm taking a similar approach this season, this time focusing on finishing things. It doesn't have to be indulging in a passion or driving the final nail into some life-changing project, but I think the challenge itself will change my life. And, it will be difficult.

I've always been excellent at starting things. From reports to relationships, the best part is the beginning. The part where you're swept into inspiration and the conversation flows naturally, and you think "this is how it should be." But I'm realizing that the beginning stages of anything are supposed to feel like beginning stages, and the hard, determined middle-stages have a feeling all their own. And the final stages are even better (so I hear.) My downfall is expecting the latter stages to feel as euphoric as the beginning. But coasting downhill can only take you into valleys. I'm learning that maybe there's a beauty in climbing out of them.

If I'm honest, I'm afraid of finishing. I'm afraid that I'll have to own the results, stand next to them; speak on their behalf. What if they aren't good enough? What if no one cares? But I'm tired of that and I'm tired of justifying my failure to finish.

I guess I'm learning that there is no climax without conflict. Here's to finishing things, starting with this blog.

Monday, January 04, 2010

On Writing

Okay. I’ll do it.

I've given myself permission to write. And it's terrifying.

And here’s my promise. I'll only write from the deep part; the true part.

I remember that old myth before it was ruined by medical shows or friends in nursing school; the old yarn that told us our blood was actually blue while in our body, and only turns red when exposed to oxygen. Writing for me is proving that myth false or else watching my blue blood become red. My skin is cold and dry so I'll have to dig into the deep veins. I'm learning life is not best lived from the deep parts.

It's only lived from the deep parts. We are orphans anywhere else.

I've had some kind of affair with writing for a few years now. Some days, I'm gifted. Some days, I wonder if maybe English was my second language. Most days, though, writing feels like owing money to God. He’s a big benevolent bill collector and upon non-payment His whispers become wails, and his chasing becomes chastising. Honestly, it feels terrible to ignore God. But it's beautiful, because it's nothing like guilt.

It feels something like being shipped off to a foreign country where the language sounds familiar, but it’s not. You get by for awhile with lots of nodding and pointing, but ultimately you’re left hungry and can’t find the bathroom. Writing has felt much this way for me. It's been both catharsis and chaos. But it’s good, and it’s important and I have to believe in it.

I guess this is how I know that God is good; that we are pursued by our desires, we are hunted by passions. To me, this begs the existence of some kind of adventurous, persistent, desiring and beautiful creator who travels unreasonable distances to display something profound, leaving us surrendered and exhausted, arrested and whole.

So this year, I will write. It feels a little like dancing and fighting at the same time, but I really hope you will read it. And while I hope it's more dancing than fighting, I have to go where the blood is.