Monday, June 14, 2010

reminders of grace

I have a bad driving record. Anyone who knows me at all knows this about me. You would think it's to the point where my friends would say that they don't want me to drive them anywhere ever. You'd think they'd stop trusting me. Needless to say, I was pretty tough on myself about getting in this last car accident. I was pretty sure I would never trust myself to drive a car ever again. So imagine my surprise when I got a call from my friend Jesse about a week after my accident, and he was offering his car to me for the next two weeks while he was at chapter camp. I thought to myself, "Do you even know what my driving record is like? Do you realize that I have a history of doing this?" I was so flabbergasted that he would trust me, all things considered, because I certainly didn't merit his trust in this particular area. Part of me thought, "Man, Jesse, what are you thinking?!" Well, actually that was probably all of me at first. It wasn't until later when I realized that Jesse was extending me grace. In spite of my driving record, Jesse didn't look at me like I was a screw up who didn't deserve trust with his car.

Due to my driving record, I've now been kicked off my parents' car insurance. After crying myself to exhaustion in the storage closet at Tabor, rubbing snot on my dress, and asking God, "Why did I have to get in another car accident?! This wouldn't have happened if it weren't for that accident!," I politely asked Him if He could turn back time a bit so we could just undo the whole ordeal. For some reason, He chose not to comply. But believe me, I know that I am a blessed woman. The problem is that it can be so easy to forget sometimes when I'm sitting on the floor in a storage closet thinking, "why me?" That's why I need to be reminded about grace sometimes...or more like constantly. I need friends and family to offer me grace and make God's love complete (1 John 4:12) because it's too easy to forget about my blessings when my circumstances start to drown me.

God's recent reminders of grace in my life have been humdingers (although, of course, grace is by definition always a humdinger!). I was so struck by God's grace one evening as I was waiting for TJ to come pick me up. It occurred to me that I didn't deserve TJ to be so nice to me. In fact, due to my experiences, I half expected him to feign disappointment and say "Oh well, I have stuff to do tonight anyway" when I called to say that my alleyway was blocked so I couldn't drive to his house. So when he said he would come pick me up, I didn't even know if I could accept the offer. But TJ was offering me a reminder of grace.

I know this doesn't sound like much of a humdinger, but the key background information that you need to know is that I had been running away from God not too long before then. I mentioned this a bit in other entries, so I won't go into details, but I had no desire to engage with God for about a month or so. And there He was in all His glory, blessing me anyway. I asked Him why He was being so good to me when just a bit ago, I hadn't even wanted to talk to Him. I told Him I didn't deserve to have someone like TJ in my life, being a white knight, bringing me flowers, offering to come pick me up. I didn't understand why God was blessing me when I was clearly undeserving.

But that's grace for you. I couldn't possibly earn it no matter how hard I'd try... and I think that grace really hit me that day as I waited for TJ to pick me up because I knew how I had blatantly chosen not to engage with God. So to experience blessings after going through a period like that was experiencing grace to the fullest because I couldn't possibly think I deserved any blessing.And after going through a period like that, I think I needed God to offer a big romantic gesture to remind me of His grace. That day, while waiting for TJ to pick me up, God was Derek to my Meredith--on top of a mountain, standing among paper bags with candles in them forming the outline of a house, exclaiming that He thinks we can be extraordinary together. There was no way to ignore a big romantic gesture like that. (God knows I go weak in the knees for big romantic gestures!)

Not all reminders of grace are big romantic gestures, though. Sometimes they're more subtle. But they're all humdingers because, well, how can it NOT be a humdinger when God shows you that He thinks you're worth it, that you're not just some screw up, that He wants something extraordinary with you?! And in a world where we are constantly faced with lies telling us that we are just worthless screw ups, it becomes absolutely imperative that we extend grace to those around us as a reminder that God blesses us and loves us, even though we really don't deserve it. We need to give reminders of God's grace so that others can keep having their Grey's Anatomy-like, extraordinary moments when, otherwise, they might have just cried in a storage closet about something or other.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

and the poetry lives on

I once wrote that I didn't want to ever see things differently. I wanted the poetry I had written to always mean what it meant at that time to me. And yet, in the same paragraph, I claimed to be letting things go and understanding that my current view of love was a working definition. But I wasn't really letting things go, and I wasn't willing to let my definition of love be molded. The truth is, I was terrified to let things go. And oddly enough, part of the reason I was afraid of letting it go was because I really, truly, deeply dislike when my feelings are invalidated. Even in this case, when it meant damaging my heart deeper and deeper because I stubbornly thought I had to be committed and keep clinging to something that wasn't really there and hadn't been for a long time, if ever, I couldn't bear the thought of my words, my poetry being invalidated and meaning nothing.

My poems are like horcruxes, the darkest of dark magic in the Harry Potter world, where I've placed pieces of my heart, thinking that it's safe, but I find out later that when the feeling behind my poetry finds itself invalidated, it not only destroys the poem, but it destroys that part of my heart that hid there. It's a gamble to spread myself so thin and create all these horcruxes. Shakespeare liked the idea of immortalizing himself (and others) in his poetry. He said that his lines were eternal. I kind of wonder if he ever experienced something where the woman/man (who knows?) he wrote sonnet 18 for turned out to not be as lovely and temperate as he thought. And if he did, what did he do with that poem afterward? Would he even have wanted it published?

In the aftermath, though, I find my poetry still belonging to me. The feelings are still mine to hold. Just because I don't feel the same way now doesn't mean that those feelings were invalid. That's the beauty of literature, isn't it? Literature lives on, takes on a new shape, and means one thing to one person and another thing to someone else. And mine is no exception. So just as I originally thought, my heart is safe hidden between the lines.

And as it turns out, I really do have a working definition of love. Having a working definition of love means that as I grow closer to the Lord, I will learn how to love others more and more as Christ would have me do. And that's a Good thing, with a capital G. I regret that I wasn't able to love better in the past. But I realize that I was where I was, and just because I'm not still where I was does not mean that the way I felt then is invalid. That's why my horcruxes haven't been destroyed. The nature of [good] literature is that it lives on, even if the original muse is gone. In Sonnet 18, Shakespeare thought about comparing his beloved to a summer's day, but he realized that summer fades. But his eternal lines, well, they're eternal.

Likewise, my eternal lines continue to morph as my definition of love is refined over time. So when I think of poems like "Lavendar Petals" or "Grounded," I now feel the freedom in knowing that these poems can live on and mean something different, as my viewpoint changes. Because that's good literature, right? And that's Good to know for life. My definition of love is being refined, praise God! And as my definition of love deepens, the poetry I write is becoming deeper, and the poetry I wrote yesterday changes shape to mean something even more to me than it meant before. Maybe that's why I love poetry so much--my feelings can never be invalidated in my poetry, so long as I remember that my definition of love is a working definition and that seeing things differently is actually a good thing. No, it's more than a good thing, it's a Good thing.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

sentimental stuff

Once upon a time when my parents were dating, my mom accused my dad of caring more about money than he did about her. So he took his money and ripped it up, saying "You think I care about money? Here's how much I care about money!" Now, the idea of ripping money up kind of makes me want to cry, but you have to give the guy props for being willing to do that to show her that he did not, in fact, value his money more than he valued her.

As for me, I like to keep memories in a box. I like to save special emails in a folder. I like to keep photos organized neatly in a photo album, chronologically from the beginning of the semester to the end. In short, I'm sentimental. So for me to get rid of my sentimental stuff is a big deal. It wasn't until a few months a go when I decided to clean out a folder of emails that I had saved that I understood what it means to let go of stuff. My original intention was to organize the folder by cleaning out some of the emails that didn't really say anything, which was about half of them. But there I stood with at least 30 emails remaining, so I started to get rid of ones that meant only a little, and after a few times reading through, I was down to 6. Honestly, I couldn't delete those last 6 that day. Some of them said meaningful things, and others were meaningful because I remembered how I didn't win that argument, but this email proved that I clearly should have won. I knew I would delete those last 6 emails eventually, but I couldn't do it yet.

I didn't put pressure on myself to delete those remaining emails. I had deleted a lot, and it felt really good. In fact, I couldn't believe how good it felt. I no longer had any record of those conversations ever taking place, and that was okay. I was okay. I half expected one of my limbs to fall off, I think. Every time I deleted one of the emails, I held my breath and examined my extremities, just waiting for one of them to disappear because I had just deleted what I thought was a piece of me. And when I found myself fully intact, I realized how good it felt to know that I was still whole. A few days later, I was able to delete the last few emails. And yes, I still have ten fingers, ten toes, and all the necessary body parts holding those extremities in place!

The whole ordeal was a bit like my dad ripping up money. In the end, it wasn't about me cleaning up my gmail folders. Rather, it was a statement about letting go of my past relationship; it was me saying that I no longer attach meaning to those things, and it no longer matters. I no longer had one foot stuck in the past. It's saying, YOU matter more than the memories of what used to be. (And speaking of losing a limb, doesn't keeping one foot in the past sound like the real way to do that?)

Knowing that God is jealous for me, I wonder if that's a bit like how He feels when I tithe my money, give away my possessions, or sacrifice for someone else's sake. Letting go of the things that we used to put value in might be how we're demonstrating to God that He matters more. When we choose not to place value in money, beauty, etc, it's like we are making the same declaration that Paul made--that he counts everything as loss compared to knowing Jesus. Choosing selfishness or love of money over my love for God is a bit like saying, "I love you, TJ... but I'm going to keep all my old emails and reminisce about my past relationships from time to time. I hope that's okay with you." Yeah, that would definitely not be okay with him.

Obviously counting everything as loss compared to knowing Jesus matters a lot more than letting go of my old emails. But why is it that sometimes we can so easily justify our love for money when we can clearly see that putting value in my old emails isn't okay? Letting go of all the things I could value more than my relationship with God has the same freeing result as deleting emails or ripping up money... I realize that I'm okay. In fact, I'm more than okay, I'm good. And I mean good with a capital G. Good.

I still have my box of memories (though I have gotten rid of some of the things in it). And there isn't anything wrong with keeping the box, but I need to give it the proper value it merits, which means, in short, trusting that all of my limbs will stay attached to my body, even without that stuff.

"A thousand half-loves must be forsaken to take one whole heart home" -Rumi