putting to rout all that is not life

putting to rout all that is not life

“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”
-from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

Last December I started a tradition of watching a movie by myself once I got home from the last day of classes, before the kids came home. A scene from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (the newer one) had come to mind in a random moment, so I figured that would be a good selection, since this has been a particularly difficult semester –one in which I’ve asked myself on more than one (or twenty) occasions, “why am I doing this again?” Several classes which don’t seem to have much to do with what I want to do at the end of this educational adventure were getting me a bit draggy at the heels. And in light of the fact that last year was sort of unabated amazingness, well, the contrast was less than helpful.

And, so, I figured a little cinematic existentialism couldn’t hurt.

…But that quote –I really, really want that to be true, but I know it’s not. Because living that way tends to lend itself to losing appreciation for the moments when there are no walls to see behind, no dangerous things, seeing the familiar world. And if I lose that, I know I lose the real purpose of life.

It’s losing the ability to fight to find the beauty in the ordinary, joy in the mundane, that leads to what Thoreau might call “leading a life of quiet desperation.”

The end of Dead Poets’ Society (last December’s semester-end choice) shows the futility of living life in endless pursuit of the mountaintop moments, driven by self-determined goals of what we want our lives to be about.

I remember being pretty disappointed with Walden, when I finally got around to reading it. Thoreau struck me as being sort of self-absorbed, rather anti-social. I’d hoped for a manual on living a richer life, I suppose. I didn’t get that. I got the ruminations of one man who threw out society’s ideals and went off by himself and pretty much gave up on his community. I was left with a feeling of emptiness –a lot like I was at the end of Dead Poets’.

I guess the thing I appreciated about Walter Mitty was not so much the journey of finding courage, but the end: the point where he discovers that everything he needed was right in front of him. The wallet in the trash. The gift he’d ignored. It was all in his back pocket, and he’d gone and thrown it away. He’d made a false dichotomy between safety and adventure, and in the process, sort of missed them both.

Sure, jumping off a helicopter was a thrill, long boarding through Greenland (or was it Iceland? I can’t remember) was pretty incredible.

The journey may change you, but sooner or later, you’ve got to go home.

And that’s where I find myself, months from graduation –about on my journey back home, back to the world of work and writing things maybe nobody will read. Maybe this semester was about fishing through the trash to find that wallet. Learning again to fight for the joy in the mundane. Needing to look harder to find the beauty in the things I live with every day.

“Beautiful things don’t ask for attention” -from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

What’s the purpose of life? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Forever includes the days circled in red on the calendar and the days in between. It includes the unforgettable moments and hours of tedium. It’s all part of forever.

The art of it is to realize that joy is worth the fight.

what matters

There’s a spark somewhere that I hit sometimes when I write. It doesn’t always happen, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out the alchemy to make it happen when I desperately want to sometimes. Sometimes it takes time, thought, quiet, a few days’ rumination. Sometimes, there’s a holy moment of incredible joy when I hit that final word and know that it is done, and I got it exactly right. But the more I write, the more I appreciate that rare moment for what it is. It doesn’t come along without paying the dues of days and weeks where that moment just won’t happen.

I’ve never loved anything –writing or otherwise– without that spark of …whatever it is. Passion, life, risk, I don’t know. Maybe it’s something like the breath of the Spirit into an idea or a person or a leaf on the wind. I can’t make it happen. I suppose that comes with the territory of this calling I’ve walked into. Everything I write that matters is written with borrowed words. I’ve invented no language. At best, I’ve been taking notes of the world, carefully curating thoughts and ideas and images, gathering them all together as I travel, bringing them home, spreading them on the picnic table, sorting them, arranging them in such a way as to tell not just the story, but to give the idea of what it was like –the wandering and the walking along. Not just the collected items, but the thread that ties them all together. That’s the magic that happens when I get it right.

Just enough words, not too much, paired with a willing ear or eye and the magic happens. I wish it happened every day, but maybe that would be asking too much.

Or would it?

Remembering / Not Forgetting

So I’ve been accidentally working on the chunk of story I spawned in Fiction Writing class a couple years ago that someday might grow into at least a small novel. If you’ve read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, …this is my “Arthur.” If you’ve read the book, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s a special kind of awkward right now, a happy little mess that I can’t quite leave alone yet. In the last couple days driving I’ve had a few ideas, and I’m finally (!) learning to have something with which to take down all the mental sticky-notes of ideas and words and stuff floating around in my head. Right now, it’s my evernote app on my phone (no pen necessary, and I always have my phone with me).

So this happened yesterday… I’m thinking it’ll go somewhere in the beginning. Or maybe I’ll keep it for something else. Whatever.

Remembering and Not Forgetting

I remember and I do not forget.

Remembering is the thought that floats by unexpectedly on the breezes of the day,

snagging the chain on the light in your soul

as it sinks into consciousness.

Not forgetting is an act of the will.

It’s the effort to capture the echoes of a lost love’s voice in the ear of your mind.

These are the things I remember,

and the things I will not forget.

Thoughts on “Bowling for Columbine,” Back to School Edition

Watching Bowling For Columbine, finally. They’re talking about school violence, and I still wonder what I would have turned out like, had I not been delivered from my own little hellish experience in Glenwood. I know the three years I was there did enough damage on my ability to relate to people –I still assume people think the worst of me and I’ll never fit in. It’s taken decades of willfully deciding not to listen to the voices of self-consciousness picking myself apart to finally approach people with some semblance of self-confidence. It took me about five years to discover that the things for which I was kicked around there were not things to be ashamed of, but to embrace. So, when I heard the news about Columbine back when it happened, after the initial shock, I felt ashamed that I sort of understood -maybe- what would make someone at least think that way. My thoughts of violence never went beyond harming myself, but there’s something really sick and evil about an environment that makes a 5th grader listen to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Richard Cory” and wonder what it would fix to off oneself. I wish I were kidding. Better, I wish I could go back and tell my classmates that this is the way their words, their behavior, their ignoring me felt.

I went back to Glenwood years later, can’t remember for what, and ran into a school group going through the park. Fifth graders, I’d guess, and I watched them. Watched as a boy mocked the girl in front of him, and watched in third person replay the sort of crap that happened to me. Watched the teacher completely ignore what happened. Wanted to pull that little punk by the collar, slam him into a picnic table and tell him exactly what I thought of little boys who couldn’t keep their punk mouths shut and leave people alone. But I didn’t. And I guess that’s a good thing. Because it likely wouldn’t have fixed anything except my overdeveloped sense of vengeance.

Since then, I’ve discovered that forgiveness really is far better than vengeance, and I’ve healed. Some. I still have that little mocking, name-calling voice, courtesy of the students in my class, that I frequently channel that vengeance on –telling it to shut up and leave me alone. But, really, that experience made me who I am today. It gave me the strength (even if a strength through scar tissue) that really doesn’t give a rip what people think, in the end, if I’m doing what I know to be right. It gave me an appreciation for who I am. It helped me learn when to speak up and when to shut up. It gave me the eyes that see the ignored, the picked on, the overlooked. What got me through those years was, in my own childish, maybe silly way, standing up for the Heather Lebishaks and John Shulls of the world. What did I think when I heard the story of Columbine? There but for the grace of God go I. And I am thankful every day that He didn’t let me go there.

Sigh. My kids go back to classroom school tomorrow after two years of school at home. One of the things I desperately loved about keeping them home was being able to keep them from what I’d experienced. But I can’t keep them in a closet forever, and I’m not always going to be the one able to teach them the lessons they need. Sometimes those lessons come through some really crappy experiences, like my years in Glenwood. And as much as I will do my best to protect, defend, walk with them through those crappy experiences, I can’t prevent them. But you can bet for sure I’ll be waiting for them here at home, hugs, cookies, milk and listening ear at the ready. And I’ll know to tell them that maybe punk little kids have a story of pain they’re not letting on. If my kids know they’re loved by God and loved by their family and know the things that make them awesome, maybe they’ll be able to discern that that punk little kid is a liar, and they won’t believe his lies because they’ll know the truth, and can kick it in his face. Lovingly, of course :).

endnote:  Of course, we know a bit more about Eric and Dylan now. It looks more like there was some very real mental illness going on there, beyond the usual family issues and teen angst of being an outsider. Millions of kids survive an outcast existence in school and never think of violence. Some do. Either way, I will always view Columbine more about the evil behind the eyes of the person holding the gun than about the gun itself.


Mark 9:19-24
“And He answered them, ‘O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ And he said, ‘From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.’ And Jesus said, ‘If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out, ‘I believe! Help my unbelief!’ “

I have a new definition for unbelief. It’s living as if you have no God. Doesn’t matter that I consider myself a Christ follower, that I go to church, that I could write a book or two with not only my own stories of God’s faithfulness and His faithfulness to others –if I am living as if I have no Father, I am guilty of unbelief, a sin I didn’t really think about much until these last few days.

I found myself thinking more than once about the passage I quoted above. When I first read the father of the possessed boy’s response, I remember thinking, “What a stupid thing to say! Either you believe, or you don’t!” Now, however, I think I get it. The last few busy days of preparation to go I’ve been battling fear, presenting itself as that leaded feeling at the bottom of the gut that keeps poking me, questioning whether or not there’s something crucial I forgot or didn’t do that will either make us unable to go, or at the least, make us deal with unpleasant consequences. I know that feeling well. It didn’t help that June finally decided to make an appearance in Wisconsin, bringing with it the storms and threatening weather that always get me on edge. One of my “unreasonable fears” is tornadoes. “Unreasonable fears” are the fears that make you so senseless things to avoid them. Remnants of the childhood fears that make you scream or run away. The sort of fear grownups aren’t supposed to have. Mine are one of the kids choking, tornadoes, and bees. Vomiting used to be on that list, but after having three kids, one with gastroesophogeal reflux disease, that’s kinda been dealt with :).

About fears, reasonable or not, if we truly live in the awareness and knowledge that we have a God who loves us completely and unconditionally (through Christ), is any fear really “reasonable”? In light of God’s sovereignty, no. Not really. Fear is a symptom of unbelief. If we believe that God in his love of us only gives us what is best (however unpleasant that best might be), and we are walking in obedience to what He asks, fear might be a red flag that somewhere there just could some unbelief lurking about. If we find we are not walking in obedience, then that red flag of fear could be the thing that calls to attention the need for repentance. But it still all goes back to unbelief –why do we disobey? Observing my son, I’ve learned that a lot of disobedience stems from either not believing obeying would be in our best interest, or in not believing that obedience is possible. Unbelief again, resulting in disobedience, which shows itself in fear of the consequences of our sin.

So, that’s what I’m up against this week. I need to believe that no matter how many pairs of underwear I forget, or whether we break down in the middle of Montana, or if I forget to replace the windshield wiper and we wind up in a rainstorm in the middle of South Dakota, or if one of us ends up sick, we’ll still be fine, and God will use it to teach me to relax and believe that He will provide what we need when we need it.

What kind of America do I want to live in?

In the quest to answer the question, “Who would Jesus vote for?”, that question has also come up. I think of stuff like September 11, and about Katrina and the response there. I think of how much more difficult our life is now than it was four years ago. Don’t think I’m blaming our life situation on Pres. Bush –just saying that I see life a whole lot more differently from this side of the poverty line. I know what it is to need and obtain help from the government now. Way different. I know what it is to lose a job and not be able to find a replacement right away. I know what it is to be hesitant to go to the one place you should be able to go to first, the church, because you have heard the (innocently uttered) judgmental comments about the poor before.

So, I’m a registered Independent, and have been ever since Bush ran the first time. And, yes, I did vote for him, both times. After Sept. 11, there seemed no better choice. He seemed much more prepared to deal with and take seriously the threat of terrorism. He stood for unborn life, and supported faith-based initiatives to help the poor. All good things. But now, I see things differently. I’m finding myself asking different questions. How is it possible to be completely “pro-life” when we spend so much time defeating legislation that hundreds of thousands of moms are slipping through the cracks and left with no answers as to how to support those children yet to be born -or not. Laws are important, but did paper get more important than our neighbor? Is it “pro-life” to be sending young men to war? Is that war worth the lives lost? Maybe. Jury’s still out on that one in my mind. Both sides make some sense. …And what about the quality of those lives we are protecting? Are we creating a society that protects the poor? That defends the downtrodden? What else was Jesus about if not that? Jesus is for losers, after all (think about that statement –it’s not a slam on Him, but our sinful condition).

So, I’m in a bit of a quandary, still, but the conclusions I’m coming to are really scary. Lots of questions that lead to more questions that lead to answers that I didn’t want to find. It’s so much easier to live in a box. That’s why I’m an Independent. Sometimes I need to do hard things, and I may have to do just that on election day. I’d like to believe that the Church could take on poverty single-handedly. God can do anything, I believe that. What is changing, however, is my observation that perhaps the “powers that be” are one of the ways God works to take care of poverty. To be continued (in other words, my mind isn’t made up yet 😉 ). For further reading, go check out www.matthew25.org. Still ruminating through the stuff there…

Little-Known Facts about the Christian Reformed Church

I am in a little bit of shock. On my bouncing through the internet, I came upon a message board post by a CRC member who holds to the “full quiver” (holding to the idea that “God should plan our families”) ideology. She stated that our church policy is officially against the use of birth control. Knowing that that couldn’t possibly be true (no way!), I decided to check the CRCNA site –here’s what I found. http://www.crcna.org/pages/positions_birth_control.cfm

She was right. The CRC came out with a statement in 1936 (the article points out that it was in a period of “birthrate decline” –I don’t know what they were trying to point out by saying that; if they meant it that we’re not currently in a birthrate decline, their argument fails miserably …but I digress) that hasn’t since been reversed, although it was challenged in 1971.

In 1936 the CRC spoke out against birth control, stating that married people should follow the biblical mandate to be fruitful and multiply and therefore produce as many children as is compatible with the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of the mother and the children. No subsequent synodical decision has changed this official position. [emphasis mine]

Kinda makes one wonder what else the CRC officially holds to, now, doesn’t it?  Well, it does leave the disclaimer I italicized. That right there would disqualify the CRC as being officially “full quiver” minded, as I understand it, but a whole lot closer to the ideal I see from the Catholics I’ve known over the years. File that in the “things that make you go hmmm…”.

Maybe I’m just remembering incorrectly, but I don’t remember seeing large families as a good thing, or, for that matter, seeing kids presented as much more than an inconvenience in my growing-up years. The idea that God works through families, and that kids are a blessing was a new one to me. I don’t think my heart really changed about that until we went through our course through CCL. Sure, I wanted to have kids someday, I just didn’t really think about why. Our CCL course was the first place I saw the family (even the large family) presented as one of the primary ways God works through people. Sad, but that’s what I remember. Since then, I’ve known several more families (large and small) that have lived out this ideal to be a portrait of Christ and the Church. I just don’t remember feeling all that valuable or important as a child. Value and importance came with adulthood. Childhood was a necessary evil. Did I get that idea of myself, or was I listening to the wrong people? I don’t know. I do know, however, that the spine-chilling terror I used to have about having another kid is pretty much gone now (no, that’s not an announcement), and I’m having a much easier time loving my kids for who they are and not for who I hope they’ll be someday. I’m not counting the days until they’re gone. It grieves me when young parents do nothing but complain about the kids they only see in the evenings and weekends. It bothers me when stay-at-home moms feel they have to constantly assert how much of a sacrifice their lives are. Actually, I’ve been missing Elanor, who’s been gone all day this year, and I’m looking forward to summer. I even refused to put Amaryah in the optional Friday preschool class –and it wasn’t all for financial reasons. Yes, I do dream occasionally about what life will be like with all of them in school. It just came to me that I’d miss having that extra morning with her here. She’ll be gone soon enough. Well, enough rambling for now. I was just really surprised that the CRC was of that position –then again, we used to joke about “evangelism by childbirth” in college. Maybe there’s something to that, after all.