Friday, July 18, 2014

The Things That Actually Matter

I've noticed lately that life is...really weird.

When growing up you assume that there's various points in time that you'll arrive at and feel...different when you get there. High school. College. Post-college. A salary job. A boyfriend. A girlfriend. A marriage. Kids. Retirement. Whatever.

Now, I'm not sure if it's because I read too much about spacetime and relativity and just get in these huge existential quandaries, or because I think to much and notice things no one else seems to notice...

...but the idea of arriving anywhere in our own timeline is an illusion.

There's no way I'm the only one who's noticed that being an "adult" is not a feeling. It's series of responsibilities and things that you do, but I honestly believe no one ever feels like an adult. I'm pretty sure everyone feels somewhere between the ages of fifteen and twenty with more experience, but that actually feeling "oh, hey, I'm an adult" is really more like "Whoa. Bills. Uhm...I own a car...wait. Uhm. I need an adult to give me some advi....uhm...I AM the adult. Well, this is weird."

I mean, no one told us life was gonna be this way.

For a lot of us our jobs are a joke, we're broke, and our love life's D.O.A. It's like we're always stuck in second gear when it hasn't been our day, our month, or even our year.

...sorry, but I think the FRIENDS theme song is the only thing that was trying to tell us the truth this whole time.

Life is one giant MMORPG, and sure, there's instances and parties and quests and there's endgame raids, but you don't WIN. You can always get a better piece of gear, kick more gnomes in their punk asses in a battleground, but you don't WIN. Rack up all the achievements you want but the game goes on. Life is like an MMORPG where you're logged in automatically every day when you wake up, you can't turn your Vent channel off, and the only way to unsubscribe is to die (the kind where you don't start over again at the graveyard.)

And, honestly, the only meaning in life AT ALL is the meaning you choose to add to it. As far as I can tell, there is nothing inherently meaningful about careening through space and time with the ground beneath our feet spinning at 1,000 miles an hour and the entire planet hurtling around the sun at 67,000 miles an hour...we're falling through space, clinging to the skin of this tiny little world...*ahem* and there's just absolutely nothing deeper to it than that unless we choose for there to be.

Personally, in the last few weeks of intense, red-wine fueled deep thought, I've determined that there are three things that make life meaningful:

- The relationship with the God whom I choose to believe created me and everything else and in whom I place my faith.
- Really and truly being in tune with who I am as a person, and striving to be the best, 100% that I can be.
- The connections I make with other people who occupy earth in this space and during this time - deeply and radically loving the people in my life for who they are.

That's it.

I really think those are the only things that matter.

Additionally, I'm pretty sure that the way those three things are best experienced is by living directly in the moment. Right in the middle of now and nowhere else. Sure, plan for the future, because it'll get here sooner than you think, but in order to really trust God, we need to turn those plans over to Him and enjoy the moment He's giving us right now, because that's the only sure thing.

That's where knowing ourselves comes in - to enjoy a moment as fully as we can we need to know ourselves  - what makes us happy? What do we want to smell, see, taste, feel? Where do we want to go and what's the most exhilarating way to get there? Who do we want to shoot through space and time with at the speed of light? Who do you love enough to sit down and listen to and let time fly by you while you sit still in space and share in their story? ...which is where those connections with other people come in.

And while it's kind of a weird, terrifying, immense sort of conclusion to have come to - it's actually also breathtakingly freeing.

You realize that it actually won't make a difference what you do to keep the bills paid; what matters is that on your own time you're going out and boldly doing what makes you come alive - what you're best at - because God gave you unique gifts, and one way to connect with Him, yourself, and others simultaneously is to use them.

You realize that you could go and do a million billion beautiful, wonderful, staggering things and they won't matter ONE BIT if no one exists to share them with. And so you start to really hold close to your heart those beautiful people in your life that you're lucky enough to call friends, and you cherish their jokes and their willingness to share their heartaches with you, and you learn to be transparent with them because the fact that we, as human beings, can connect to other human beings like phenomenal. And that makes anything about them that might be abrasive kind of...diminish. It's just not as important. I think, eventually, if done right, you might not even notice those things at all anymore.

And then you take those beautiful people with you and you go dance in the rain and drive with the windows down. You smell flowers and eat weird new food, and take every opportunity to see an ocean or a mountain, or eat donuts at midnight.

You buck up and you ask that gorgeous person to dance, even if they are way better at it than you, because you exist at the same time in the same place and that's kind of miraculous when you realize that no one knows how big the universe is. The universe might literally go on forever, but you and that person exist in the same pinprick of it, and you can hold each other and spin around and slow time down together for a little while. So do it, damnit.

I mean, when you're a kid, they tell you it's all...grow up. Get a job. Get married. Get a house. Have a kid, and that's it.

But the truth is, the world is so much stranger than that.

It's so much darker.

And so much madder.

And so much better.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

I want to drive.

Actually, I drive every day to work.

Every day I get in my car and I drive East, but about 20 miles out I stop and get out and then after 5-10 hours, turn around and go back.

So, to be more accurate, I want to keep driving.

I'd like to drive about an additional 570 miles.

Through mountains. Mountains and valleys. Massive, solid, masses of rock and earth that are reminders of how strong and solid our God is, and that every deep, dark valley eventually rises back up.

Past forests. Forests so stark and bare in the winter, yet so blindingly verdant in the spring; so dark under their rich canopy of foliage in the summer, and so brilliantly ablaze in autumn you could almost convince me they were on fire. Forests that never let you forget about seasons - that life has them, too, and that if you know how to look at them, each one is just as gorgeous as the last, and you can enjoy one just as much and without fear of the next.

Across fields. Fields that remind you that nothing will grow unless someone works very hard to till the ground, plant the seeds, water them, fertilize them, and that even once the crop is grown it will just die without someone working just as hard to harvest it and bring it home safely and store it where it's safe. Fields that remind you exactly what you have to do with dreams, because dreams are just seeds - and they need an extraordinary amount of care, hard work, and determination if they're going to grow, bear fruit, and enrich your life the way you want them to.

Into cities. Cities full of people. Any and every and all kinds of people, from the over-privileged to the homeless, sometimes literally standing in the same 3 square feet of space. A somber check to our spirits to remind us never to take our blessings for granted - to remember that literally every single shred of anything that we call "ours" is really God's, and we're just holding it for Him. He gives and takes away, and we don't always know when or why He will. Between that and the hustle and bustle and lights that never dim and places that never seem to close, it's a reminder to to live right in this moment and nowhere else, full of gratitude.

Out of cities. Because most of the time just looking at a big farmhouse with a wraparound porch that's got a swing and a few chairs will remind us that sometimes you need to just slow waaayyy down. Looking at the comparative stillness reminds us that stillness is important. Because when you're still enough somewhere quiet enough to hear the tree frogs and the crickets and the wind in the shade trees, you're probably somewhere still and quiet enough to hear that still, small voice in which God speaks to us of our hearts and our destinies.

Yes, I want to drive through mountains, past forests, across fields, into and out of cities until I get to the ocean.

Ohhh, the ocean.

The ocean is my favorite. Because when I stand there with my feet in the sand, I feel the thrilling and rightfully terrifying pull of massive waves of water that have spent thousands upon thousands of years washing up on every shore of every continent and beating against every boat that has ever sailed. I can't see it, but I know that somewhere across that ocean are Europe and Africa. England and Australia and oh my goodness, it's just so BIG. It has swallowed entire ships and airplanes full of hundreds of people that were never seen again. It has creatures and plants that no one has ever set eyes on. If you go deep enough it will crush you to death just because of how BIG it is. Tsunamis and waterspouts and gas vents and currents that will suck you under and drown you. That ledge - that massive ledge that you can see on snorkeling trips or on Google earth - that ledge that just drops off into...nothing.

And yet there I am with my feet in it. And in a few minutes I'll run in further and stand there and jump into the waves. I'll even let them lift me off of my feet so I can't touch the ocean floor.

The ocean is my favorite because the ocean is so, so much bigger than I am. It's so massive and powerful and beautiful. This great, colossal thing. And I can't help but be reminded of God. Not only because it is His magnificent creation, but because He, too (and even more so!) is even bigger than I can possibly imagine. We can never, ever, as long as we will ever live here on this planet with it's mountains and forests, and fields and cities - we will never know how deep God is, and what mysteries He holds in the depths of Himself. We will never understand all of the things that He does, or why He takes the people and things that he takes. God gives and takes away, just as the ocean floods and destroys while at the same time some new island is being born somewhere in a steam-shrouded show of molten magic, and we may never even find if before it sinks back away.

And people treat the ocean like they treat God. Some people want nothing to do with it. They don't even care. They live their whole life landlocked away somewhere with no idea what it even looks like, apart from pictures. Some people like to go and look at it, but they'll be damned if they're going to go get themselves wet. Nope, too dangerous. Some people will stand on the shore and let the waves lap at their toes - experiencing the tiniest, slightest amount of joy possible - safe, but still missing so much. Others, like me, will charge out past where the waves are breaking, risking and likely actually being plunged under and driven head, hip, or face first into the sand like a rag doll at least once before making it out to where the waves are still just rolling (usually). We'll let the ocean carry us, surround us, and we'll dive into it and swim through it. The occasional wave-pounding is worth the thrill of riding them when they don't catch you the wrong way. Other people go deeper still. They scuba dive and some even go down along some of that ledge. There's always someone trying to go deeper, see more, and experience more of the massive entity that is the ocean, and I have no doubt that those who go deeper are in more peril and have more joy from it than those who only run across the tip of the waves that skim the shore.

But man has yet to reach the deepest depths. There is always more. Always a new thing. And always, always bigger than us.

"Legolas Greenleaf, 
long under tree
in joy thou hast lived,
beware of the sea!
If thou hearest the cry of the gull on the shore,
Thy heart shall then rest in the forest no more." 
- J.R.R. Tolkien

Sunday, April 6, 2014

I Saw a Thing and it Gave Birth to a Rant

A friend posted a post from someone who posted it originally and it contained a thing that made me go a little righteous rage on things and now you all get this post do do with what you will.

If you're a Christian, or you're around Christians, if you've set foot in a church Youth Group, if you were homeschooled, if you went to some sort of Christian youth conference, then you've heard this verse.

Chances are you've had it used on you at least one of the following ways: Someone quoted it at you to tell you that as a Christian you shouldn't be dating, or being in more than one relationship in your lifetime is bad; someone used it to tell you that you're crossing all sorts of physical boundary lines in your relationship that Christians aren't supposed to cross, or that you should commit to wearing a purity ring to keep yourself from doing so, or that you shouldn't be dating until x age or until after x know - all sorts of things involving the words "courtship", "I Kissed Dating Goodbye", "defrauding", or anything implying that your first kiss should be on your wedding day and that your life needs a lot of chaperons.

Before I get any further, let me say this:

If you are waiting until you're married to kiss someone - good for you!
Do you have a purity ring and a solid commitment to what it means to you? Awesome!
Do you always leave room for Jesus/the Holy Spirit/a really big family Bible between you and your significant other? I'm glad you've got a boundary for yourselves that you're sticking to.
Are you determined not to date the way the unsaved do? GOOD.

I'm not necessarily here to say that all of those things are wrong, or at least not wrong for everyone. What I'm here to say is that at least one of the verses being used to ingrain these ideas into the minds of Christian youths (and therefore Christian adults, since we all grow up...wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey) might not actually be talking about those things, or talking about them in the specific way we're used to hearing them used.

I'm looking for someone to join me in an adventure through contexts and concordances, and you, beautiful reader, strike me as the perfect companion. Shall we begin? Very well. Allons-y!

Guarding Your Heart

I will be absolutely dumbfounded if you have had a Christian individual use this phrase to refer to anything other than a dating-in-some-sense-of-the-word relationship. Here's the verse it comes from:
"Keep and guard your heart with all vigilance and above all that you guard, for out of it flow the springs of life." - Proverbs 4:23

One of the first things you should do with any scripture verse you hear - especially if you suspect it might be being used incorrectly, or so often that, while they keep using that verse, you do not think it means what they think it means - is crack open your own Bible and look at the context. So, without further adieu, here's the last chunk of that chapter in Proverbs (usually I find that there's a pretty clear beginning and end to where a verse came from, and I personally don't feel led to encompass the whole book or even chapter when looking for context on most things. If you feel that extra step is necessary, please do so - but in this case I think you'll still agree with my conclusion);

"My son, attend to my words; consent and submit to my sayings.
Let them not depart from your sight; keep them in the center of your heart.
For they are life to those who find them, healing and health to all their flesh.
Keep and guard your heart with all vigilance and above all that you guard, for out of it flow the springs of life.
Put away from you false and dishonest speech, and willful and contrary talk put far from you.
Let your eyes look right on [with fixed purpose] and let your gaze be straight before you.
Consider well the path of your feet, and let all your ways be established and ordered aright.
Turn not aside to the right hand or to the left; remove your foot from evil." - Proverbs 4:20-27
Now, two things make me want to dig deeper:

1) That whole section certainly doesn't appear to be about dating. That doesn't mean that verse 23 isn't, since the section is definitely talking about how to live your life overall, but it certainly makes me want to take a closer look at the meanings of the words in verse 23.

2) "...for out if it flow the springs of life", if the verse really means heart as in the one you use to love who you're dating...well, if the center of our romantic feelings is the place from whence flows the very springs of life itself - excuse me but does anyone else find that a little terrifying? That doesn't sit right with me, either.

It appears as though we're in tall grass, here.

Wild CONCORDANCE appeared!

MINDY uses SEARCH. It's super effective!

"Leb" is the transliterated word my lovely online concordance gives me for "heart," via an Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon. Here are all the things it can mean:

inner manmind, will, heartunderstandinginner part, midstmidst (of things)heart (of man)soul, heart (of man)mind, knowledge, thinking, reflection, memoryinclination, resolution, determination (of will)conscienceheart (of moral character)as a seat of appetitesas a seat of emotions and passionsas a seat of courage

"Seat of emotions and passions" is definitely one way it can be used. So who you fall in love with is definitely something you should pay close attention to.

But you know what else? You should be paying attention to everything that can affect your inner man - the midst of who you are. And do you know what can do that?


You need to be keeping a diligent watch over your memories, what you reflect on when you get pensive or nostalgic, what kinds of knowledge you take in, in what way you are determined and how much so (too much determination IS a bad thing, actually), and you should be watching over anything that wants in to your soul, because the Devil is out there and you should be making sure he's not getting at you through your job, your music, your movies, your family, your friends, your belongings, your workout schedule, your food, your drinking, your games, your motivation, or, yes, your romantic relationships.

This verse is telling you to be a watchman over your whole life.

It's not telling you anything about relationships specifically because that's not what Leb means! Leb means you - everything you have been, everything you are right now, and everything you will ever be. It means thing things no one will ever know about, and the biggest part of your legacy that you will leave behind when you go home to join our Father in heaven.

What it's definitely not telling you is how many relationships is okay before you find the one you marry, whether you should hold hands, or kiss goodnight, or make out, or cuddle, or whatever - that's never a black and white until you get to sex, actually, which Paul addresses later in the new testament, and he straight up says sex. The closest this verse gets to directing the physicality of a relationship is that it's saying "If you know you can't make out with someone without wanting to go all the way - back off." Just like it's saying "If you can't get within walking distance of a casino without blowing your savings account - stay away," "If you have no concept of bowls of ice cream and will eat the whole half gallon - leave it at Kroger, "and if you can't get on the internet without watching porn - cancel your service."

This verse is not just about romantic things - it's about SO MUCH MORE, and I really think it's deceitful and damaging how it's used these days. Your whole life does not flow from your romantic desires, and they deserve no more vigilance than the entire rest of your life deserves. (Which is all your vigilance, so break out the Armor of God and suit up, dearies - life is a giant, crazy, spiritual battlefield.)

Also, I have yet to find a single verse (including the ones about not awakening love until it pleases - I can post on those another time if anyone would like me to) that says you can't date, or that you should only date the person you'll end up marrying, or that you can't have opposite-sex, platonic friendships, or anything else "guarding your heart" is generally paired up with. In conclusion, I think the overall things the Bible has to say about how you conduct your love life are as follows:

  • Make God and His will for your life your absolute number one priority. This includes my last post about striving to be 100% of who He created you to be. When you were born, tiny little bald-potato you had all your potential, all of your personality, and a whole great big destiny wrapped up in that mini-Sontaran form. So unleash that all day every day and use it to do God's work wherever you find yourself.
  • When you meet someone the first goal you have should be to love them with beautiful, Christian love. Accept this beautiful human being that God made and treat them like we're told to - with reverence and submission to each other, with songs and hymns and love and acceptance. Whether you want to be friends or it's love at first sight - this should be first.
  • Because you started off respecting that person, getting them emotionally involved in a "summer relationship", "nothing serious", or something you want to "take slowly and see where it goes" so you can "keep your options open" should already be right out. If it's not, go back to bullet point one and repeat as necessary until you can actually complete bullet point two.
  • If that other person also loves you with Christian love and respects you as a human being with feelings, and you guys can reasonably forsee enjoying each other's company long enough and to the point where you want to enter into marriage and maybe raise a kid or two and otherwise support each other in God's will and generally Song-of-Solomon it up on a regular basis - DATE. Don't date like the world does, but DATE! Spend time together, one-on-one, with friends, with family. A bunch of days in a row and a bunch of days apart. Do that. Because it's one of the only ways to get to know a person on a "Yes. I can marry you and not murder/divorce/ignore-you-forever-because-I-actually-hate-you" way. And that's okay. 
Also, not dating someone will not protect you from heartbreak. I've had my heart broken by men I was not in a relationship with. I mean...think about the heartbreak that will occur when Benedict Cumberbatch or Tom Hiddleston finally get married! 

I kid, I kid. But seriously. Walk in the beauty of Ephesians 5:13 - be transparent and illuminated, flaws and awesomeness, and when you find someone you like, let them know. At best - you just found your spouse. At worst - they're not mature enough to say "hey, lets just be friends" and follow through, and you lose someone that wouldn't have been a good friend anyway.

So. Follow the convictions the Holy Spirit gives you. Go only as far as you are morally comfortable with physically. Keep your purity ring, but keep it because you feel led to, not because of a verse that doesn't even mean what they say it means. If you feel called to keep away from dating, you'd better keep away. But if you want to date - date. Date! Date with respect and the best of intentions. Date while being you and being vigilant about your whole life. 

And remember: