Tag Archives: essay

Minutiae

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How quickly stress causes us to lose our perspective.

Deadlines and hectic schedules narrow our vision. Don’t think I’m down on deadlines. I’m not. I know that without deadlines, precious little would get done, and we’re not on earth to sit around and do nothing.

But we also certainly aren’t here to do so many somethings that we still end up doing nothing.

I took a test in my aesthetics class on Tuesday. The fact that I can hardly pronounce the class’s subject is a testament to how well its concepts are sinking into my brain. The textbook is as thick as a brick, and so is my skull. Aesthetics is the philosophy of beauty. Apparently just calling something “pretty” doesn’t cut it. Nope, the ancients had to go and write essays on it.

I studied about five hours over the course of several days for this test. I memorized facts about Aristotle, Plato, Plotinus, Augustine, Aquinas, and Ficino. I memorized the intricacies of Plato’s cave and Plotinus’s monistic concept of deity. I went over Aristotle’s Poetics and made sure I knew the six elements of perfect drama backwards and forwards. The professor is known for his difficult tests, and I wanted to be prepared.

When I received the test, my heart pounding and my hands clammy, I realized to my horror that the test was much easier than I thought it would be. He wasn’t looking for minutiae, which was what I had studied. No. Instead, he was looking for the big picture. He wanted to know which philosopher agreed or disagreed with Plato and on what points. That was all.

Guess what I didn’t know? Which philosopher agreed or disagreed with Plato and on what points. In my exhaustion and stress-induced narrow focus, I had neglected to see the importance of the big picture.

I am guilty of this in more than one regard. I get too busy, too stressed, and too tunnel-visioned to see that I am part of a larger story. I am the adopted daughter of an awe-inspiring God Who has a reason for everything that happens in my life and in the life of everyone else who lives on this planet. The tiny part of the story I’m living plays into the greater epic of the Creation, Fall, and Redemption of man. There are people out there who don’t know this story. Even some of you, my dear and loyal readers, may never have heard of this incredible truth.

If I get too focused on the minutiae of my life, I will forget that there is a bigger story I need to be telling. If I am to succeed on this test, called Life, I must make a priority God’s truth that exists on a higher plane than I am walking.

 

Paper Writing

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I need something explained to me.

I need to know why writing things like poems and blog posts and bursts of fiction is so easy, while writing a paper for class is like wringing water from a rock?

I blocked off hours to write a paper today. Hours. I came up with a thesis, a simple outline, and one, count it, one well-structured and cited paragraph. How long did this take me? Three hours.

How long does it take me to write a Flight of Fiction? One hour. A poem? Thirty minutes. The average blog post? Fifteen minutes.

Is it the fact that I’m writing for a grade? Is it my concern for quality that makes me worry over every comma and conjunction? Is it my inability to focus on the argument when I get distracted by the individual sentence structures? Is it my slowness to process the information in the textbook to turn phrases into quotes and citations? Is it my lack of familiarity with the material?

Is it because I’m lazy? Is it because, deep down, I really want to be doing anything but writing a paper at that moment?

It takes me forever to work up steam when I’m writing anything related to literary analysis. I can analyze life in second—literature, however, takes hours. And trying to analyze the World’s Longest Letter (aka Juana Inez’s Reply to Sor Filotea De La Cruz) and all its intricacies and allusions takes a really, really long time. Time I don’t really have to give.

There’s a metaphor for life in there somewhere, but my brain’s too tired and too full of biblical allusions at the moment to think about anything else.

Here’s hoping for a tomorrow choc full of inspiration. If this paper doesn’t get done tomorrow, it doesn’t get done at all. 

Fairy Tales

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People seem to have a love-hate relationship with fairy tales these days.

I’ve noticed two camps: one camp loves fairy tales and everything they imply. A person from this camp will readily tell you that she still believes in them—that happy endings are not only a possibility, but a likelihood or even something she deserves. I’ve noticed more women in this camp than men.  This person is either an extremely bubbly eternal optimist or that really quiet girl or guy who sits in the back of the class drawing dragons in the margins of his or her notes.

The other camp is the realist/pessimist camp. They’ve got their tents pitched in the marshes, if you know what I mean. These were the first kids in school who were willing to say they did not believe in fairies. These are the disappointed ones. These are the ones who expected things to turn out the way they do in fairy tales—prince charming or perfect princess and living sappily, happily ever after. When they didn’t, they threw the baby out with the bath water and insisted that love must be a myth as well. The people in this category vary. Some are the smart people who approach relationships with a “head-over-heart,” cerebral approach—like Lt. Commander Data on a date. Some are militantly anti-romance; the kind who like to yell at couples locked in prolonged periods of silent eye-contact to “take a picture, it lasts longer” (I’ve seen this happen). There are those who are content—and perfectly happy—living life without the fairy tale, and fill their time with similarly worthy pursuits.  And then there are those who swathe themselves in cynical bitterness, cranking out angry-sounding essays from their darkened corners at Starbucks, sipping the bitterest of espressos.

I’m not here to say what camp I’m in. I’m just giving you the field notes.

I do wonder, however, why this seems to be such a divisive issue. Both camps tend to look down their noses at each other. The fairy-tale-lovers pity those who’ve given up on hunting for prince charming, and those who have given up on Princy and love in general think that everyone in camp A is several fries short of a Happy Meal.  

Both sides seem to be missing the point. Honestly, folks, love—when it’s real love, not the counterfeit version that seems to be so prominent these days—is beautiful. It’s the most wonderful thing in the world.

What’s real love?

“Greater love hath no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Real love is utterly selfless. Real love is like being king of the universe and deciding to become a human for thirty years. Real love is like spending three of those thirty years telling people the truth about themselves, even if that’s not what they want to hear. Real love is spending your years on earth caring for people that society has cast out. And even when those people decide to turn on Him, demanding His death,  His real love still loves them back. Someone with real love would be willing to let His soul, though sinless, be stained with all the wickedness of the world. Real love is willing to carry all the blame for every crime—crimes He didn’t commit. A Man with real love would be able to look into the eyes of His executioners and say to an unseen listener, “Father, forgive them—for they do not know what they do.” Real love forgives. Real love lasts for all eternity.

And that’s no fairy tale. 

Ceremonial Cunfuddlement

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Ceremonies are funny things.

Who knows where they got started. One day some guy woke up in the morning and thought “Hey—when someone achieves something, maybe we should make it a big to-do and invite tons of people and…like…give something to the people who achieved something. Yeah. We should totally do that.”

Maybe before medals and diplomas, people gave people rocks. Or taxidermed animal heads. The Greeks gave little crowns of laurel leaves to people who ran the fastest or the longest—or the longest the fastest. If you read The Iliad, they also gave the victors things like cows, chariots—even women (the poor dears). Much, much later, we started giving people who achieved things stuff like metal medallions they could hang around their necks, or metal cups made for decorating and not for drinking out of. Personally, I wish we could have stuck with the practical rewards. A cow will at least keep the grass trimmed. Trophies just gather dust.

And then, of course, there must be a ceremony. You can’t just slap a medal on someone and send them on their merry way. No, you’ve got to gather a bunch of people to watch you slap a medal on someone, shake their hand, congratulate them. Or, for the academic achievers, i.e., anyone who graduates from anything, we give out little pieces of paper printed with formal language in fancy fonts. Broken down like that, a ceremony sounds a little silly.

The same goes for weddings. Finding someone who will put up with your nonsense for the rest of his or her natural life is definitely and achievement. I won’t downplay that. But there’s a lot of seemingly superfluous twaddle that has gotten stuck on to weddings. Yes, vows are important, and having people there is important. But food? Flowers? Fancy clothes? Is that really necessary? You can say the vows—and mean them—in jeans and a t-shirt just as easily as you can in formal wear.

So why? Why do we embellish achievement? Why do we tack tradition onto ceremony?

The only answer I can give will come in its usual anecdotal form. I went to the Anytown Academy graduation today. The children who were freshmen when I was a senior got their diplomas today. The people in the auditorium were mostly parents and grandparents and siblings, with a few cousins and uncles and aunts scattered throughout. We were all there to watch at least one person that we loved be recognized for working hard (or maybe not so hard) for four years to achieve a certain level of smarts, despite the hurdles of familial, interpersonal, mental, or physical difficulties. These kids—18 most of them, a few stragglers in the 17 or 19 slot—walked onto the stage as high school students, and walked off as potential college students. I knew a handful of them—next year, I’ll only know one—but I was proud of every single one of them. High school is stinkin’ hard, people. It’s not as hard as what comes after it, but it’s still stinkin’ hard.  And yet, some of those kids stood there with medals on their necks signifying their outstanding performances in grades, specific subject matters, or extracurricular stuff. Extracurricular—that means they did more than they had to survive in high school. Not only did that kid work hard to get good grades, but he worked hard in other areas as well and still came out on top. That’s pretty amazing.

As I was sitting there, applauding my friends, I realized that one day this ceremony might get even more personal than it was when I was graduating, myself. One day, one of those bambinos or bambinas on that stage might share my last name and DNA. One of those graduating seniors might be my graduating senior. One of those kids in blue robes might be my kid in a blue robe. In which case, I don’t care how long the ceremony is, or how long, or how seemingly superfluous—I will be so proud of my kid that I will not care. I will enjoy every minute of it because I would want the world (or at least everyone in the auditorium) to see my kid the way I do—as an awesome, marvelous, one-of-a-kind, fearfully and wonderfully made individual. I will clap very loudly, future child, I promise you.

What’s more, God is all about giving credit where credit is due—He says as much in Romans 13:7. One day, on a day not set into any calendar save the calendar of God’s mind, He will host The World’s Biggest and Longest Awards Ceremony. At this ceremony, He will recognize each of His children for all of the good they have done. He will give each of them eternal homes and trophies that won’t tarnish—trophies that actually mean something. And everyone in the audience will grasp to the fullest extent the difficulty of each person’s journey and the significance of each reward.

Of course, at the end, we’ll hand those rewards back. We know full well that we couldn’t have gotten them without God, anyway. We couldn’t have gotten anywhere without Him.

So it seems there’s a significance in ceremony, after all. Every ceremony is a celebration of the achievements and awards granted by God Himself. That’s nothing to scoff at. Pomp, circumstance, and all.

Coincidences

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Tonight I learned something fabulous.

Tonight I found out a friend and fellow student of mine shares my birthday. Not only do we share a birthday, but we’re in the same society (read: UU “sorority”). We’re both Ravenclaws. We both play stringed instruments. We also live in the same dorm. We also lived in the same country (Germany) at the same time (2000-ish); we both speak German (although she speaks it much better than I do). We both have brown hair and brown eyes. We both enjoy eating large salads.

In short, I have found my long-lost twin.

We go through our lives being told that we are unique. Everyone is different from each other—radically different. These differences are the spice of life. These differences are what make living interesting.

All of this is true. But another wonderful aspect of living is that we all have a lot in common as well. More, perhaps, than we’d like to admit to ourselves.

We all need love. We need love from other people—we need it from our parents and our siblings and spouses. When we don’t receive this love, we are disappointed at least, crushed at the most.

We all value our own lives above just about anyone else’s. Man is a defensive creature. We want security. We want safety. Even the risk takers of the world—the sky divers, the bungee jumpers—strap themselves into harnesses and wear helmets. Everyone wants to live, preferably for a long time.

We all are born incomplete. We’re hunting for something. We’re born with questions in our heads.

And none of us need to be taught to do bad things. Badness is an instinct. Children have to be taught to share, to be kind, to obey, to be content—those things don’t come as naturally as throwing temper tantrums.

It’s easy to be judgmental of the people we see on the news—the headline makers carted off to jail—the mug shots on the front page. We think we’re above the kind of behavior that lands people in jail. But really, I can’t look down my nose at anyone. Not the thieves, not the embezzlers, not even the murderers. None of them. Not a single one of those people just woke up one morning and decided to do what they did. No: one conscious decision led to another, then another, then another. I could have easily made the same choices. I am capable of the same crimes. I’m no better than them. I’m no better than anyone.

We all have much more in common than it’s pleasant to think about.

That’s why we all need a Savior. In a world of imperfections, we have one Perfect Standard worth conforming to. In a world overrun by evil—the evil that sits inside all of us—there is Someone who can lift the stains from our hearts. And one day He will lift the stains from the whole world.

The world is full of people who, at least as far as externals are concerned, are completely different. Different heights, different hair color, different ages, different tastes. But, at core, we all share the need for redemption.

Hello, there, world. Let’s talk. We’ve got a lot in common, you and I. 

Nineveh: A Travelouge

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Yesterday I filled in the last page of a journal I started a year ago on that date. During last year’s spring break, I bought a red Moleskine journal for the purpose of filling it with written prayers. I found that I was easily distracted when I tried to pray, so I thought that if I wrote out my letters to God, I could focus a little better. At the beginning of the following week, on March 23, I began writing in this journal. Now that I’ve filled the last page, I’ve gone back and read the earliest entries, comparing the struggles of then to the struggles of now.

There was a lot of really, really awful stuff happening in my life a year ago. I try not to let on about the negative aspects of my life on this blog, because I figure that you all have enough negativity in your lives without me adding my worries to yours. That, and this is the internet, and the internet is just a bad place to hang out your dirty laundry. But trust me when I say that a year ago, I was fighting the biggest, meanest, hairiest spiritual dragon I’ve ever had to face.

I prayed about this battle constantly. God was my sole strength. He was all I had. Those were some very dark days, but He was my light. His grace proved more than sufficient. By the end of the semester, He had rescued me, and I was freed from a burden that had weighed on me for about a year.

The rest of the prayer journal was me dealing with the battle scars. The conclusion of the first battle led to a hundred little ones, all hearkening back to that initial conflict. I was relieved. Then angry. Then haughty. Then ashamed. Then angry again. And so on and so on.

And all along, God just wanted me to love. Specifically, He wanted me to love the source of my prior pain.

But I didn’t want to. For reasons best left unexplained, I saw loving what (or who) had hurt you as a dangerous occupation, like trying to tame a dragon. I was Jonah and love was my Nineveh.  How could I learn to love what had hurt me so deeply?

Then I remembered. I only love God because He first loved me. I don’t deserve His love. I don’t deserve the gift of grace that sets me free from hell. I deserve death. I deserve a lot of awful things, none of which I will receive because God loves me in spite of my own colossal failings. I’ve hurt God deeply. But He forgave me. He still loves me.

He wants me to love.

So I went to Nineveh. I went to Nineveh and decided that obeying God was more important than hanging on to hate. Hate doesn’t do much good, anyway. Love, on the other hand, heals.

I filled that last journal page with a prayer thanking God for all the things that happened. He can and will teach me to love. He brought me there and back again. He takes us on these journeys for a reason—if only so we’ll be stronger at the end.

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Wonderful Things

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I love old movies. There are many reasons why I love old movies, but the greatest reason is probably because the oldest movies have the best things to say. From the dual meaning of “As you wish” to something as simple yet enduring as “There’s no place like home,” old movies really had something they wanted to communicate. New movies, more often than not, leave me cold. There’s nothing to quote. For a girl who abandoned speaking in English for speaking in movie quotes years ago, if I come away from a movie unable to repeat any of its dialogue, the movie was a waste of time.

There’s a particular old favorite of mine called Hello Dolly, based off of the Thornton Wilder play The Matchmaker. It’s about a woman who it a vibrant, energetic, and strong—yet almost allows life to pass her by. At one point, after a gloriously colorful and energetic dance number involving half the city of New York, Dolly collapses onto a bench and a girl who’s just met the love of her life runs up to Dolly, grabs her hands, and says “Isn’t the world full of wonderful things?”

Dolly cannot agree. She can only smile and squeeze her friend’s hands before letting her flit off with the boy who’s found her. She watches them go, and her smile fades. In an apostrophe to her dear departed husband, she tells him: “For years I haven’t shed one tear, nor have I for one moment been outrageously happy.” She has forgotten how to live life fully.

We can’t live every moment of our lives being outrageously happy. If we did, the moments of ridiculous happiness would become monotonous and lose their sparkle. But a life without moments of exceptional, uninhibited happiness can hardly be called a life. Where does this happiness come from? Happiness is a fleeting thing—unlike joy, which is a steady stream of contentment that comes only with divine grace and practiced care—and is tied to fleeting pleasures. But happiness (the exceptional, uninhibited kind) comes from a wide-eyed, appreciative delight in the fact that the world, in fact, is full of wonderful things.

For example: there is nothing particularly exceptional about the concept of a firework. It’s gunpowder (or a similar substance) stuffed into a tube and then set on fire. Fireworks are no more than really big, synchronized sparks. But they’re wonderful. They’re not only pretty, but powerful. Flowers fired from a cannon. Comets in a bottle. They world’s only beautiful bombs. Watching them explode above your head makes you feel like the whole planet is celebrating. And tonight, at the conclusion of a long and exciting day, watching the sparks fly and the hearing the rockets boom, I was happy. Exceptionally, uninhibitedly, outrageously happy.

It is possible. It is real. Happiness still exists. It has not gone the way of the dinosaur and the dodo bird. While happiness is not a lasting sensation, it does burst into our lives on occasion, yellow, bright, and glowing.

God knows we need it.

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Doing the Time Warp

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Meeting up with an old friend is one of those divine-but-surreal occurrences that need to happen, every once in a while, just so we can get our bearings.

There are things that you will forget as time goes by.  You’ll forget about the time when you and your roommates sat on the floor in a massage chain while the first person in the line read a book and everyone else rubbed each other’s tired shoulders. You’ll forget about how your coworker’s sister was one of your roommate’s best friends. You’ll forget little details, little memories like that. But then if, a few years later, you and that same roommate meet up again, it will all come flooding back, as though it were only yesterday that she graduated and said goodbye.

As children, our friends fade in and out of our lives. Families move away, and that childhood friend will be forgotten, just as they will forget you. This mutual forgetting is inevitable. Occasionally both of you will look up from your respective desks and fleetingly wonder what the other is doing with his life. These moments are few and far between.

But should you encounter and old friend in the highways and byways of life, something extraordinary will happen. Your two lives that had once intersected and drawn apart are now again drawn together, but both of you have miles of experience behind you. Your experiences have been different. You are now both vastly different people than you were the last time you saw each other.

It is moments like these when we realize that, yes, time is passing. Yes, we are getting older. Yes, we have grown stronger. Yes, we have become more clearly ourselves. Time has pulled you along, and you are (hopefully) wiser now than you were before.

Sometimes it takes seeing an old friend to really come to terms with this. The contrast between your separate journeys throws our current selves in sharp relief to what we were in days gone by. I don’t count it as a sad thing, this change. It can be a sad thing, depending on the choices that you’ve made. But more often than not, a silent celebration happens in the minds of two friends long separated. A silent celebration of life where we see that time is not always the enemy. In fact, time, used wisely, can be our friend.

Greater Love

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Friendship is an underappreciated miracle.

Most human beings enter the world with a predisposition to dislike all other human beings. A lot of us had to be taught to be nice. When we were little, we were told to share, not to push, not to fight, not to call each other names. As we grew up, we had to learn not to be judgmental, not to gossip, not to talk about other people with veiled references to their faults and shortcomings. People don’t like people. Most liberals and conservatives have operated under mutual hatred for years. Southerners and Northerners still rib each other (rather cruelly) even though that particular war has been over for a long time now. Women and men have been at odds since the dawn of time—ask any embittered spinster and she’ll wax eloquent on the subject for hours. Rare is the individual who can hold love in their heart for absolutely everyone. Most of us had to be taught by experience and the grace of God that all people are flawed, and one flawed person is no different from another flawed person, and that everyone needs to be loved—whether or not we think they deserve that love.

With this in mind, it is a miracle that something like friendship exists.

Friendship is the fellowship of two or more people who are, more often than not, completely different from each other. If you ask a pair of friends where their friendship began, it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to pinpoint the moment or the hour or even the day that it began. Chances are they’ve been friends since childhood, when counting days and moments didn’t matter as much. They’ve grown up accepting each other’s quirks and supporting each other through the growing pains of life. They never signed a contract or held a ceremony—and chances are they’ve never made any promises. They’ve just been friends. No one can really identify the glue that holds them together. They could be as opposite as night and day, but they still manage to get along famously. That’s why friendship is so incredibly miraculous.

Take my best friend, for instance. She is as “not me” as “not me” gets. We still can’t figure out how we’re friends, other than to say that we’ve been friends for so long we just can’t imagine life any other way. We both like good books, good music, and good food (although convincing her to take five minutes out of her very busy schedule and eat something is a continual battle)—but that’s about it. I like sandals and she won’t wear anything but high heels. She’s driven and I’m laid back. She likes the beach and I like the mountains. She dresses like a lawyer; I dress like a hippie. She’s organized and I’m a clutter bug. She’s analytical and I’m about as logical as a two-year-old’s finger-paint replica of a Picasso painting. With all of these differences, you’d think we’d hate each other. But, by some miracle, we’re friends. There’s a love, a mutual acceptance of each other’s oddness, that has endured for many, many years. This is a riddle we’ve spent the past fourteen years trying to puzzle out.

It makes me think of all the other friendships (some of them fictional, but hey) that we remember as being sacrificial and all-enduring. David and Jonathan. Elijah and Elisha. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Rogers and Hammerstein. Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway. Sam and Frodo. Inigo and Fezzik. How these friendships began, or how they could possibly endure, is a complete mystery. But they did. And we remember them because watching these friendships in action helped change the way we see the world.

Never underestimate the power of a friendship. Friends are a gift from God. He didn’t make us to walk entirely alone. He puts people in our path—or attaches them as beautiful, permanent fixtures in our lives—for a reason. This is a miracle that is best left unquestioned. All we can do is embrace it.

 

Sweet Silence

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We live on an awfully loud planet. It only grows louder with the population—louder still as people blast their stereos, talk on cell phones, play their podcasts, and rev their engines. Our world is not filled with communication so much as it is filled with (often pointless) noise.

It seems that most people despise silence. I’ve had friends tell me they hate to study in the library because it’s too quiet. Students are so used to studying with the TV on, or music playing, or studying over the clamor of a large and vocal family. We’re attached to gadgetry by virtual umbilical cords, unable to last a second without a video, a newscast, or a song. People have even started putting their cell phones on speaker mode so that passers-by are blessed with both halves of the conversation. People can’t stand solitude because there’s no one around to fill the air with noise.

Even when all gadgetry is out of commission, people still feel the need to fill their lives with noise. I’m not saying conversation is a bad thing—not in the slightest. There are few things more enriching than a productive, wholesome conversation. But that’s the thing: real conversations are nearly extinct. People speak in generalities, in complaints, in whines, or tune out the other speaker so they can dwell on the next triviality that will come pouring out of his or her mouth. I know because I so often am guilty of this very thing.

Real communication—people connecting in deep and meaningful ways with other people—is vanishing.

A friend and I once toyed with the idea of going to a campus meal and spending the whole dinner communicating with only nonverbals: gestures, eyebrow raisings and lowerings, smiles and frowns. The experiment would show just how effectively and concisely we could communicate without using noise or superfluous language. We have yet to try this, but I still think it’s a good idea. We had discovered that we had known each other long enough that nonverbals were often all we used anyway, so we figured using them deliberately was a fair goal.

My best friend and I only resort to talking when we absolutely have to. Usually this happens in the event of a funny story involving some mutual acquaintance or catching each other up on the particulars of our lives. But after a certain point in the conversation, words become unnecessary. We have enough mutual respect and love for each other that we don’t feel the need to speak and impress each other with a fountain of words. We find security in silence.

Pondering on this point reminds me of an interesting truth about God. He loves silence. Yes, He made the chattering birds and the roaring sea waves, and of course He is responsible for the wonderful gift of human speech. But how often in scripture does He beg us to “be still”? The Psalms are full of references to King David praying in the stillness of night, when he was sure not to be interrupted. In the book of I Kings, the prophet Elijah did not hear the voice of God in the earthquake’s roar or the thunder’s rumbling. Rather, he heard it in God’s own still, small voice.

This world hates God. Its people hate Him more and more with every passing year. No wonder, then, that the world grows noisier and noisier. They want to tune Him out. With all the noise in their hearts and heads, it is impossible to hear Him.

But He will be heard. And He asks us to be still; to listen with all our hearts and souls and minds as well as with our ears. There is sweetness in the silence that is filled with the presence of God.

The Rainbow Connection

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In the history of the English language, a set of three specific words opens the door for deeper human interaction more than any other combination. If you supposed those words were “I love you,” you are only 2/3 wrong, so don’t feel too badly. No, I’m thinking of the question “How are you?”

“How are you?” This question can be asked genuinely, feelingly, softly, loudly, ironically, or even threateningly. Sadly, these poor little words are most often uttered flippantly, with an air or disinterest or worse, dismissal. The potentially monumental question of how a person is faring on their rocky journey through life has become as reactionary as sneezing upon entering a dusty room.

This is not always the case, of course. Many people still ask this question with real interest and concern for their fellow human beings. These are the caring people whose existence makes the world a much more endurable place than it might be otherwise. They ask the question and you just know that they mean it. Such people are rare, however, and few really know how to put meaning behind these three little words.

In context, the phrase and its response most often occur in the following sequence:

Person 1: “How are you?”

Person 2: “Good.”

Person 1: “Good.”

And that’s it. Whether or not Person 2 actually feels “good” is irrelevant. This is perhaps one of the small number of “socially acceptable” lies we use every day. How often, really, are we doing “good” compared to all the times we’re feeling stressed, anxious, nonplussed, sad, angry, excited, blissful, tired, sleepy, or on top of the world? And yet “good” is not only the most common response, but the most expected—even though it’s most likely not the exact truth.

I wonder, then, if it’s possible to start a trend of giving unexpected answers to this overused and typical question? Could an atypical answer restore meaning to this diluted but potentially meaningful phrase?

Why not answer with a color?

Person 1: “How are you?”

Person 2: “Feeling purple, thanks for asking.”

or

Person 2: “Orange, absolutely orange.”

or

Person 2: “A bit cerulean, actually. You?”

Person 1 would then do a mental double-take. “Did he really say what I think he said?” he would think to himself.

Person 1: “Did you just say you were feeling purple?”

Person 2: “Yes, I did.”

Person 1: “Well, what does that mean?”

Ah, yes. What does it mean? By replacing the noncommittal word “good” with a color, the asker is suddenly forced to think about how their friend really feels. “How are you” takes on a whole new meaning, and two people have connected in a way they wouldn’t have otherwise had they been allowed to breeze by each other with the typical exchange.

Not only that, but running into people in the highways and byways of life could be a lot more fun. And colorful.

A Little Fall of Rain

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Not all of the world’s lovely music is in a major key. Some music rests in minor, passing over our senses subtly, smoothly. It does not call of attention or demand a change of mood. But to the listener whose heart is predisposed to sadness, the ebb and flow of music in a minor key frees up knots of emotion that would have remained tied otherwise.

There is a place for sadness in everyone’s life. Normally I talk about happiness on this blog, but tonight I’d like to take a break and give due credit to sadness, especially sadness without a cause.

Normally we feel sad for a definite reason: a death in the family, a breakup, a national crisis, a failed interview, or even something small like not doing well on a quiz. But every so often, sadness creeps into our lives unbidden and seemingly without motive.

This sadness does not feel the same way that the other kinds do. Other kinds of sadness roar into our lives, shackle us, and drag us into inescapable tar pits of unpleasant emotions. No, this is a gentle sadness, like a misting rain. It casts a grey shadow over you for a day or two, softly laying down a coat of dampness that slows your thinking ever so slightly, as though you were watching the world from behind a foggy window. This sadness does not make you want to cry, but only to think while curled up in a blanket and listening to the softest or most profound of your favorite songs.

Far from torturous, this soft sadness does not bring to mind all of the mistakes you’ve made or all the people you miss. It reminds you of nothing but itself, becoming a memory in and of itself. It is a productive sadness: it drives you to think of word combinations or images you had never even dreamed of before, and soon the cup of herbal tea that had occupied your hands is replaced by a pen and paper. Before long, you find yourself drawing with words or pictures, moved by the tide of sadness and the sound of music.

When the rain clouds pass, their work complete, they leave the air fresher and the grass greener. Likewise, when this causeless sadness passes—whether after a long nap or a long time alone—we are left a little fresher and more joyful for having a reprieve from endless exuberance. All sunshine and no rain, the grass will never grow. All happiness and no interludes of sadness, and neither will we.

This inexplicable sadness passes quickly, like a minor line in a passage of music that is mostly major. It winds itself around us for a moment, reminding us that sadness can be beautiful, before resolving itself in a major chord.

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The Simple Joys of Cat-Lady-Hood

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There are three cats in our house; one per person. The youngest furry bundle of joy belongs to my father, who found her injured in the middle of the road two Augusts ago. The middle cat, a shaggy but adorable behemoth who thinks she’s a dog, adheres to my mother. And the oldest, a fluffy, arthritic faded beauty who purrs like a motorboat, is mine.

Cats aren’t dogs. I shouldn’t have to say this, but so many people expect cats to behave like dogs that I feel I should make this clarification. You see, it is possible to own a dog. They submit to that kind of treatment fairly well; in fact, they seem to enjoy being under a human’s control. Cats are made of sterner stuff, and will rarely consent to answer to anyone but themselves. Hence their whole mode of expression and communication is entirely different from that of a dog. Did I say superior? No. Just different.

Cats are, for the most part, quiet creatures. This is perhaps why they are the favorite companion of introverts, people who are often judged by the same ruthless criticism that cats are subjected to. Most people mistake quietness for shyness, shyness for aloofness, and aloofness for snobbery.

Cats prefer to keep to themselves and run on their own schedules. They do not enjoy performing, and are difficult to bribe into doing something they really don’t want to do. Cats are more prone to hold grudges than dogs, which seem to have memories as short as their attention spans and forget abuses far too readily. This is largely because a cat’s sense of self-preservation is much higher than that of a dog’s. Cats remember how individuals treat them, and, much like humans, treat each person according to the individual’s kindness or perceived lack thereof. Dogs, by some genetic quirk that prohibits them from seeing the treachery of human nature, will submit themselves to all kinds of abuses before either being killed or snapping and ripping a person’s throat out. Dogs trust when they have no reason to trust. Cats are, by nature, skeptical and untrusting. This is perhaps why people prefer dogs to cats. No one wants a pet that reminds them of themselves.

Granted, that was a paragraph of sweeping generalizations based more on one girl’s observations rather than proven fact. As far as the longstanding debate as to whether dogs are better than cats or vice versa, the best answer is “to each his own.” It’s a preference, not a religion. Although, because the two animals are so different in nature, it is safe to say that a person’s preference either way says a great deal about what kind of person he is, and it takes a very special sort of person to have room in his heart to accept both creatures for what they are.

Regardless as to whether one’s preference is dog, cat, parakeet, or capuchin monkey, there is an undeniable delight in owning or being owned by a pet.

My cat, like most octogenarians, spends most of her time sleeping. The location of her favorite napping place depends on her mood and how she’s feeling. The location will usually change every month or so. For a while, it was my parent’s closet. During the summer, it’s my mother’s chair in the front room by the picture window. Since November, her favorite place has been my bed, preferably while I’m in it. The minute she’s let in the house in the morning, she makes a dash for my door, where she will stare forlornly at the doorknob and meow until someone lets her in. This morning, my mother let her in my room, and she promptly made her way to wherever my face was, purring loudly. Then, in a tactical move uncharacteristic of my rather standoffish feline, the cat curled up in a ball on top of my chest, settling into a contented nap. Not only was I no longer obligated to get up, but I now had every reason to fall back asleep to the purring lullaby sung by my cat.

Back in the summer, when I had my wisdom teeth taken out (a painful ordeal that didn’t stop being painful until this month), the middle cat made her shaggy self at home on the couch where I had to camp for several days. She always seems to know when someone isn’t feeling well, and is the go-to nap cat for whoever has the sniffles. She is the family clown, who has not only the funniest facial expressions but will also talk back to you (by “talk,” I mean “chirpingly meow”) if you talk to her. She is the sociable cat, and she is the most likely to come downstairs when people are visiting and welcome them, and has been known to sit and watch movies with the people invited over for movie nights.

When I was sick over the weekend, the youngest of our feline trio—who normally avoids me for reasons inexplicable—seemed to know that something was wrong with me, and spent hours curled on top of my feet while I slept. Since my feet were warm, the rest of me was warm as well, and I felt much better with the cat keeping me company.

And that, in short, is why I love my cats.

Well, This Has Been Fun

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2012. Here it is. There it goes.

My overly-excited neighbors have begun shooting off fireworks two hours early. With any luck, they’ll run out of firecracker by the time I need to go to bed.

2012 has been a lovely year for me. I’m almost sad to see it go.

This year took me to Croatia and back. This year saw one of my best friends get married to the man of her dreams. This year proved me wrong on all the right counts, and proved me right on all the right counts, too. This year brought The Hobbit, which was marvelous. This year taught me what love isn’t, which has proved to be very helpful information. I’ve had just the right ratio of goodbyes and hellos in 2012, and some of those hellos have the promise of even more hellos in the future.

Best of all, this year God showed Himself to be just as powerful as everyone always told me He was. He pulled me out of the muck and planted my feet on an unshakable Rock. He has made me stronger. He has made me more dedicated. He has polished off a few more of my rough edges. He deserves all the credit for making 2012 a marvelous year.

Outside of my little life-bubble, things are going crazy. There have been wars and rumors of wars; horrendous school shootings; laws passed that limit our freedoms; horrible natural disasters that slaughtered thousands. It’s hard to remember in times like these that there actually is a God in control of the world. But He is. He is in control. His plan is not plain—but if there’s one thing I know about His plan, it’s that it leads to a happy ending. I read through the Bible this year. I just finished reading the Book of Revelation today. Trust me—everything’s going to turn out okay for those who’ve followed Him faithfully.

2012 has been great. If nothing else, it brought us closer to that Happy Ending.  And 2013 will bring us closer still.