June 06, 2018

Day Lilies

I have these lovely day lilies in my front flower bed.  (If you know me well, you know that flowers aren't really my thing, but there's something about the day lilies that always makes me smile.)

They are spring embodied in fragile flesh.

Every year, they rise from the ground, golden phoenixes from the ashes of winter.  Hopeful.  Alive.

But the thing that gets me is that even as they begin to bloom in the spring, they also begin to die.  By the time I get around to weeding around them, there are always multiple dead strands among the living.  It used to bother me, pulling away those brown, dried-up pieces.  It seemed heartless, wrong.

The more I think about it, though, it's the opposite.  You have to prune away what is dead to make room for the living.

And every time I cull the dead leaves, life erupts in glorious splendor, as though they were just waiting for the opportunity to be free from the stranglehold of death before they could bloom.

I wonder about that.  I wonder what happens when you are brave enough to cut away the parts of your life that are dead or no longer growing. 

What change then comes? 

April 11, 2018

"When You Are Careless...."

One of my favorite movies this year was The Greatest Showman.  Seriously.  I saw it three times in the theater and have already watched it once since purchasing it.  It's destined to become a long-term favorite.

But there's one aspect of the story that always leaves me frustrated.  SPOILER ALERT.

It's the storyline between P. T. Barnum and Jenny Lind.  Now, I don't know the real historical story--I'm just going off the film.  The filmmakers build up this fascination that Barnum has with Lind, along with what I consider to be a mutual flirtation that escalates until the moment in which she tries to take things to the next level and he realizes that he needs to go home to his wife.

Seemingly everyone I've talked to about this movie views this scene as a victory for morality because the man stayed faithful to his wife.

I disagree.

What I see in this scene is a man who lets himself become infatuated with a woman who is not his wife.  Rather than fighting it, he crafts a set of circumstances in which he is frequently alone with her.  He gazes at her.  He travels with her.  She leans her head on his shoulder while in the coach.  And the tension builds.

He consistently leads her on, making her believe that he is interested in her, but he changes his demeanor in the moment in which he rejects her advances to make her believe that she is the crazy one for having fallen for him.  She responds badly, which I think is understandable.

She is not without blame--she allowed herself to get emotionally involved with a married man and then threw herself at him--but he is the one who led her on.  He is the one who should be accountable for the greatest portion of blame, and yet, in the film, he is not.

She is right, I think, when she tells him, "When you are careless with other people, you bring ruin upon yourself."  And although kissing him in front of the cameras was mean and an exercise of poor judgment on her part, I can kind of understand why she did it. 

What if Barnum, in the moment of reckoning, had given her a real and honest apology instead of mumbling something about his wife and needing to go home?  Not some vague story, not some maybe-it's-an-apology-if-you-read-between-the-lines pseudo-apology to make him look like a good guy without addressing any of the real issues at hand, but a real, heartfelt response covering what he did and what he was responsible for.

Sometime to the effect of, "I am an idiot.  I lacked self-control and behaved toward you in ways that I shouldn't have, even though technically, I didn't cross any lines.  I have led you on, and I am the person responsible for leading you to respond to me as you have.  I made bad choices, and they hurt you, and I know I can't undo the confusion and pain that you must be feeling right now, but I am sorry and will do anything I can to make it right."

But we don't get that in the movies, do we? 

February 03, 2018

A Different Story

I learned this evening that a few days ago, a guy I knew from high school--(three years ahead of me--he was a senior when I was a freshman), a guy that I once had a crush on, a guy who was all the things you wanted to look up to at a young and impressionable age--took his life.

What makes the world grow so dark that a person can't see another way out?

It baffles me.  I can't speak to knowing every sort of pain that exists, but I've walked my own dark roads at certain times in my life.  I can't imagine, even in the worst of those moments, wanting to end it all. 

So much hurt for so many people.  Wasted and useless.

It could have been a different story.  It should have been a different story.

October 27, 2017

On Mindset and the Woman at the Airport

A few years ago, I was waiting in an airport that was small enough that you kind of had to sit near your gate because there was nothing better to do.

It was evening, and flights were delayed, and emotions were high.

And there was this couple, maybe in their upper-20s or lower-30s, with a toddler.  I don't even remember what set them off, but they started fighting, and the fight turned very loud and very public, very quickly. 

The woman said something about an online course she was taking, and the man just tore into her, verbally berating her, telling her how stupid she was, how she had no business being in college, how she was just going to fail at that like she had failed at everything else in her life.

And she started crying.  And no one did anything.  Including me.  I still regret that.

Why am I talking about this?  There's this course that I've been revising, an online learning strategies type of course, and one of the key elements I've been weaving into the content is related to mindset, which I believe is critical to academic (and life!) achievement.  In all honesty, I've been working on the course long enough that I utterly loathe looking at it right now.  I don't want to finish it, even though I'm down to just the final tweaks.  I keep putting it off.  Most days, I just...can't.

But then I think about that woman at the airport.  The one who was trying to better herself.  The one who had an abusive, negative, self-defeating voice literally screaming in her ear in a public place, repeatedly telling her that she was dumb and incapable and a failure.  The negative voices in her world must have been so loud--I can't even imagine.

I think of her, and and I think of other very real and very scary stories I've heard from some students in our program, then I think: we have to change this.  Maybe we can't change the people around them, but we can help them change the way they view the world.  We can help them find voices in their world (and in their heads) that are supportive and positive and believe in the seemingly impossible.

If there is one takeaway that I want these students to walk away with, I want them to believe that change is possible.  They don't have to be whatever message everyone has always spoken over them.  They don't have to be helpless.  They don't have to be stuck in the same circumstances without hope. 

You can change your mindset, and you can change your world.  With God's help.  I believe that with all of my heart.

October 09, 2017

Racing to Beat the Devil

There's a strange sense of clarity that comes while you're running.  Sometimes, anyway.  It's like the world stops--the clock doesn't, thank God--but everything inside your head turns simultaneously fuzzy and focused.

Some days, it leads to profound thoughts.  Other days, you find you're racing to beat the devil.

At least, that's what Stephen King would call it, I think.
Silver flew and Stuttering Bill Denbrough flew with him; their gantry-like shadow fled behind them.  They raced down Up-Mile Hill together; the playing cards roared.  Bill's feet found the pedals again and he began to pump, wanting to go even faster, wanting to reach some hypothetical speed--not of sound but of memory--and crash through the pain barrier.
He raced on, bent over his handlebars; he raced to beat the devil.  (Stephen King, IT, 233)
Today was one of those days for me.  So many things.  An amalgamation of thoughts, worries, dreams, and desires.  I like to joke sometimes that normal people wouldn't last a day inside my head.  It's like the dream world in the movie Inception--sure, the possibilities are endless, but watch out, buddy, because it will turn on you, and it will eat you alive.

Normal people, of course, don't have years of practice with living inside my head.  I do.  And most days, I hold the villains at bay.  But every now and then, I find myself racing to beat the devil.  Harder and harder and faster and faster because as long as I'm running, it all gets pushed away.  And it needs to be pushed away.

Problem is, at some point you have to stop running.
He was going uphill again now, speed bleeding away.  Something--oh, call it desire, that was good enough, wasn't it?--was bleeding away with it.  All the thoughts and memories were catching up--hi, Bill, gee, we almost lost sight of you for a while there, but here we are--rejoining him, climbing up his shirt and jumping into his ear and whooshing into his brain like little kids going down a slide.  He could feel them settling into their accustomed places, their feverish bodies jostling each other.  Gosh!  Wow!  Here we are inside Bill's head again!  Let's think about George!  Okay!  Who wants to start?
You think too much, Bill.
No--that wasn't the problem.  The problem was he imagined too much."  (Stephen King, IT,  235)

September 19, 2017

Leveling Up

It's getting close--my birthday.  I'm not telling you the exact day because you're the Internet and you're not allowed to know.  Even though--let's be realistic--you and your hive-mind probably already know.

But I bring up the topic of birthdays because I'm trying to remember a birthday in the past few years in which I wasn't completely stressed out and panicky, almost beyond reason (though I hid it well).  Not because of getting older (I'm a fan of birthdays--I consider them occasions in which I level-up on life), but because of the relationship I was in.

I was terrified that somewhere in the packages, there would be a ring.  A ring that I didn't want.  Completely and utterly terrified.

It seems so easy to say that now.  Strange.

Before him, days like my birthday were filled with longing.  If only I had a man, if only I had a man, if only....

I don't feel that now.  It's been replaced by this strange clarity that I'm choosing to define as "freedom." 

I don't have to get married if I don't want to.

I don't have to spend the rest of my life barefoot and pregnant if I don't want to.

I don't have to stop working or doing other things that are important to me just to make someone else happy.

I have seemingly endless opportunities to choose what to do with the rest of my life.  

Life is good.  I'm ready to level up once more.

June 20, 2017


A million years ago, otherwise known as 1995 or thereabouts, I was listening to Michael W. Smith's "Lead Me Home" album in the back of my parents' minivan as we drove home from a family vacation.  Maybe I was drowning out my parents' fighting--they fought a lot when trapped together in a car for lengthy periods--or maybe all had gone silent and music was what remained.  The specifics elude me now.

But what I do remember is riding into the dusky twilight and hearing "Trilogy" for the first time.  I think it changed me.

At some point, I picked up the piano music and it became part of my regular non-piano-lesson repertoire.  It's not fancy, musically, but it has some lovely moments, and it catches the breath of my soul literally every time I hear it, sing it, or even just play it.

Tonight, I found it again.  And after playing through it a few times, I find myself caught once more.

I.  The Other Side of Me

The part I have never understood.  The love part.  There's such an inherent intimacy in these words. 

If I were the ocean / You would be the shore / And one without the other one / Would be needing something more / We are the shadow and the light / Always love me / And never leave me now / Now you are the other side of me.

I think about my recently ended relationship and I wonder: would it, could it ever have been what this song describes?  Probably not.  Not if I'm truthful with myself.  But maybe it could have.  If...this.  If...that. many things that are not and will not be.

But of one thing I am certain: I have literally no conception of this type of relationship.  Every now and then, I'll encounter couples who have been married for a long time and not only still like each other but seem genuinely happy and in love.  It's the strangest thing.  It just doesn't compute.  It's like I'm in a museum, staring at them through a thick glass wall, and there they are: this model of something I can't even wrap my mind around.  There is no logic to explain it. 

II.  Breathe in Me

If ever there is a song for the dark night of the soul, this is the one. 

I used to be / So sensitive / To the light that leads / To where you are / Now I've acquired / These callouses / With the darkness of / A cold and jaded heart / So breathe in me / I need you now / I've never felt so dead within.

Now this, I understand.  The dark places, the calloused and hardened heart, the feeling that these bones are dead and the only hope is the ruach, the breath of life (הִנֵּה אֲנִי מֵבִיא בָכֶם רוּחַ וִחְיִיתֶם) (Ezek. 37:5b).

And yet it's never when I'm in the darkest places that this song finds me.  It's when I have hope once more.  It's when I remember Whose life and breath I need in me.  And suddenly, I want to play it over and over and over and over because maybe it reminds me that there is light on the other side of darkness and there is hope on the other side of what once seemed dead.

So breathe in me.  I need You now.

III. Angels Unaware

Maybe there's a light in my soul
Maybe it flickers like a neon sign outside an abandoned hotel.

And so hope flickers.  And light returns.

Maybe there are things you just can't know
But can you say there are no mysteries
In that house you choose to dwell?

And perhaps also with hope and light and breath come a reminder that we are not islands unto ourselves.  That no matter what dark night we have traveled through, there are others.  Those who need us to step beyond our own struggles and lack of faith and help them.  But do it unto the least of these. 

Maybe we are entertaining angels unaware.