Category Archives: Community

Welcome to Reality

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I struggle with having realistic expectations of myself.

I am either the best person – EVER! – or I’m a miserable failure. The bizarre part is that I seem to have found some magical portal that gets me from one side of this chasm to the other in rapid succession. I was keenly aware of this when I was exploring the role of being a worship leader in high school. I had deranged fantasies about being some sort of worship superstar. Said fantasies came back to haunt me whenever I did something normal and silly, like dropping my pick or breaking a string or completely forgetting an entire verse of a song. I never was able to just see myself for what I was – a young musician with lots of room for growth, but also someone who had a lot of passion and good intentions.

I still jump back and forth. I’m better about it now in the sense that I recognize myself doing it more often and can do my best to correct my behavior or thoughts. But it still sneaks up to bite me in the butt. And oh, it’s a nasty, tricky cycle. I run around with my over-inflated ego bulldozing everyone around me for their controlling, manipulative, or sometimes just contrary behavior. And then when I slow down and realize that I’m acting like a maniac, I have a hard time admitting that I did wrong. Because, you know, admitting that you were wrong translates into “You are an epic failure” in my brain.

The continual dilemma of being a part-time artist is that I never have time for everything that I want to create. I’ve written just over half of the blog posts for our trip, and I’m stuck somewhere in the wilds of County Donegal because the inspiration to write a story that’s been rattling around in my brain for five years hit and when inspiration hits, you absolutely should go with it. So I have twelve chapters of said story and somewhere around eight days of blog posts.

I stopped going to pottery cold-turkey back in April when the soil woke up and my life launched into all things gardening and seed-sowing. Oh, and speaking of that, our yard is literally changing on a weekly basis and as much as I would like to share more about that process on my other blog…well, I just haven’t.

When November hits, there will be Christmas merry-making to contend with. And I’m nowhere near ready for that.

My husband graciously bought me two very nice violin books a couple of years ago, right around the time I decided that playing the violin well required more hours than I had to give. Every time I see those books hanging out in our music room, I think about cracking them open and tuning the violin, just to keep my fingers nimble. However, I never actually get that far.

The desire to create combined with the limited amount of minutes in my day plus the constant ebb and flow of inspiration sometimes makes me feel like I’m failing as an artist. I wasn’t really trying to get anywhere in particular in the first place, and I’m still failing.

So, when I get like this, one thing I find helpful is to just sit down and write out two things: what I’m feeling and what the truth is. And no, they aren’t always the same thing (mind blowing, I know). I usually walk away from this exercise with a very clear head and a good plan to get through the day.

What is truth? The truth, for me, is factual stuff. Things that don’t move around too much or that aren’t dependant on temporary circumstances. For me, this is some truth:

I have worth and value completely separate from any relationships, career choices, roles, or creative endeavors.

I’ve spent the past two years making healthy choices for myself and working through my crap in pretty in-depth ways. This pleasantly resulted in a better relationship with God, my husband, and many of my friends. Heck, I would say it even resulted in me having more friends and not being so isolated.

I am fully capable of continually making responsible choices in my lifestyle, and I often do. I take care of my body. I enjoy my vices in moderation and don’t let them control me. I intentionally seek out wise council when I’m feeling confused. I allow the limbs of my faith to be stretched and pushed, because I have roots that I know I can trust in.

My husband and I have a better relationship than I ever thought we would. We are affectionate, honest, respectful, and kind towards one another. We do our best to honor our own needs and wants and still be giving towards the other person. We support one another. We are actively and intentionally doing things to improve our marriage and not let it stagnate. It it’s God’s will for us to have a family that extends beyond the two of us, I’m convinced that we will do an awesome job and be able to eventually laugh at our mistakes (because Lord knows, we will make them).

I have an amazing community of friends that are constantly showing me more about what the face of God looks like. How He expresses himself in so many different ways. How His arms are big enough to encircle all of us in our searching and shifting.

I’m a creative person, and I produce beautiful and imperfect things. I’m not really an expert in any field, but I create first of all because I enjoy it, and that’s the important part.

In the past few months alone, I took a risk and started drawing and writing fiction again. Both of these are things I haven’t had enough confidence to do in many years. Regardless of what comes from these endeavors (a novel? The complete illustrated version of the day that Jason and I met?), it was healing to start them nonetheless.

On Friday, we had another musician in our house and we shared songs together. Most of them were covers of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, but I did share one of my original songs and this person was so gracious in their praise. Not only that, but I heard myself singing lyrics that I had written and thinking, “Oh, wow. I did OK!” It’s not a song to save the world but it’s a song that contains parts of who I am. Therefore, it’s a beautiful song.

I am moving forward. Sometimes it’s in violent bursts of creative energy, and sometimes it’s a slow plodding that involves lots of e-mails to Horticultural program coordinators, editing chapters, and eraser marks.

These are the things that ground me in reality. These are the things that are true.

 

O Holy Night

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It’s this time of year where I feel the deepest sense of pride for Milwaukee. I drive to work in a warm car and watch people trudge along in poorly-insulated clothing, pick their way on sidewalks that are slick with the lack of consideration for people who use them. The people who wait at the bus stops smelling of stale cigarette smoke and urine, hoping the bus will come around the corner and block the wind that howls around the meager enclosures. They are students and workers, mothers and fathers and children and grandmothers alike. I often think that, if I had lots of money and nothing better to do, I would give people rides in my warm car for free. But I am finite, I am limited. I cannot shelter all of my city, could never hit every bus stop on the coldest days.

And yet my city endures. It continues functioning, even as it limps along in the cold. And we are braver and stronger because we keep going when it’s difficult. The idea that people in poverty are lazy stems from detached groups who have likely never observed people in poverty, in my opinion. Waiting in the cold for a late bus to make it to your job that probably doesn’t pay you enough to support your family is not easy.

But that’s not what I wanted to think about today. As we drove to work, I was thinking of God being near. This time of year is a joke, even in the church world. The glowing images of a clean white baby in a cozy stable surrounded by his white, beautiful parents, the fuzziness of nativity scenes and the blissful ignorance of blending Santa with the Baby Jesus narrative. The perfectly pitched songs of Gloria, the well-rehearsed Christmas Eve candlelight services. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate tradition. I enjoy the lights poking through the blankets of snow just as much as the next person. I like to maintain a sense of wonder that I can’t fully define, and I think that’s important in the realm of faith.

But there is a tension and a balance that is beautiful to behold; wonder and the grimness of reality. How many of my gifts were made by an underpaid worker in a foreign country, or even worse, by an enslaved child? How much did I feed into a culture of greed, of materialism, of too much “stuff”? How many things did I do to make an impression instead of to be authentic about who I am?

And I think again of God being near. God coming to earth. God coming and being one of us, waiting at bus stops and stretching paychecks and maybe even God as a child in India being forced to make glittery ornaments for American Christmas trees in terrible conditions. The God of the poor, the God of the oppressed. The God who we believe was born to a migrant, unwed teenager in filthy conditions, who spent much of his life without a home.

I can endure Christmas songs well enough, but I do have a favorite. Or, more specifically, I do have a favorite verse of a Christmas song. It’s the second verse of “O Holy Night”, the one that talks about justice and the slave being our brother. And honestly, I’m kind of a crybaby about it. I can’t really sing it without tearing up and choking on the words. Because so much of the prophesies about Jesus’ coming talked about breaking oppression, about restoring justice. Yet there are so few Christmas songs that even mention this.

Yes, there is a holiness to the story. There is sacredness in the idea that God came as baby in poverty, came to be near to us who, to some degree, all walk around in our own degree of poverty. The slave is our brother. Redemption is not just a dialog about the cross, redemption includes the intentional nearness that Jesus’ time on earth encompassed.

And so I drive to work and I see God at the bus stop every day, especially on winter days. I readjust the lens of family to cover my city, my friends, my church – we belong to God, and therefore we owe love to one another.

And he came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to you who were near;for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

I will be intentional this Christmas. I will hold my husband close and know that we have grown in our love for one another because we have better learned to love ourselves as God loves us. I will breathe prayers of thankfulness for my friends and all of the safety and community I find when we hold church together. I will look out across the land that we have been graciously given and remember that I was cared for even in the wilderness. I will remember that when I sing, “Silent night, Holy night” I am singing about the peace that was brought by birth, life and death.

Some things I learned from this election

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  1. People tend to react with a “deer in the headlights” look when you tell them that there ARE more candidates on the ballot than two. Really? You mean I don’t HAVE to choose the lesser of two evils? No, really. This was my first year voting for an independent candidate. It was kind of a tough decision – I’d done my research and found someone who represented my core value more than Obama or Romney…and I knew they stood no chance at winning. I came to accept that, and I cast my vote anyway. Why? Because my vote is my voice – and even though I represent a small chorus, I am speaking my convictions to whoever takes office. This SHOULD be our intention when voting – not to simply prevent a candidate we don’t like from taking office, but to be fearlessly honest about what we stand for. After all, if someone doesn’t know what you represent, how can they represent you?
  2. I am baffled by the nastiness of people, and how easy it is to dilute morals to make a (hateful) point. I believe killing is wrong – in almost every circumstance. Killing an innocent American baby and killing an innocent Iraqi child are both wrong. Inflicting mental trauma on a pregnant woman is wrong. Inflicting mental trauma on a 19-year-old soldier is also wrong. You can’t say one is worse than the other. God help me if I ever get to the point where I feel I have the right to tell someone that they are not a follower of Christ based off of what morals they take with them to the polls. I kind of thought that Christians had moved past the point of saying things like, “You are going to hell if you vote for Obama”, or, in my more liberal camp’s case, “You are not a Christian if you vote for Romney”. I was sadly mistaken.
  3. There’s quite a few white people who truly have no clue what it means when a black person says they are voting for Obama because he’s black. And, I mean, I guess I understand that. As white people, we’ve never, ever had to think about our ethnic identity and what our skin color represents. We have that luxury. Unfortunately, no other ethnic group in our nation does. For many people that I know who are black, it had nothing to do with skin color and everything to do with what someone’s skin color represents. Honestly, I wouldn’t have a problem with a white person voting for someone simply because they’re also white – it’s a natural and somewhat healthy part of diversity to acknowledge one’s culture and ethnic identity and want to identify with it. This is especially true if that particular identity has often been synonymous with oppression or hardship. What I would have a huge problem with would be someone saying something along the lines of “I’m voting for ________ because the other candidate is white/black/purple/green and I don’t want someone who is white/black/purple/green to be in office”. That’s racism, kids. Pure and simple.
  4. I stand on the same soapbox I stood on four years ago – and that is right next to you on your soapbox. My vote is one small way I affirm my beliefs and convictions, but the far more important way I can do this happens in my day to day life. My vote represents choices I have made, and with those choices come great responsibilities.

    To raise daughters and encourage other young woman to respect their bodies and emotions, and to never take lightly their choices and the consequences of them.

    To raise sons and help other young men to understand that a woman is not a commodity, not a plaything or an object. We are human beings deserving of the same dignity that they are.

    To push myself outside of my comfort zone and engage with people who are different, so that I may have a better understanding of the world around me and make decisions that benefit the least of these and not just my own ambitions.

    To participate, whenever possible, in business transactions that benefit my local economy or that benefit poverty-stricken areas around the world in a manner that is fair and ethical.

    To do my best not to support forced labor, underpaid workers, unnecessary wars, and abuse of privilege – even if this means that I pay more money for a garment (or go without!) or have to use a few extra dollars to fill my gas tank.

    To never take lightly my ability to produce my own healthy food in my backyard, nor my ability to share these resources with the community around me.

    To advocate for children in my city; one in four lives in poverty, and consequently one in four will also not graduate from high school. In an American city where people in the suburbs literally have so much wealth and opportunity that it’s a burden to them, these are some sad statistics.

    To never take for granted that I have an education, a home that I am able to own, a car that I have a license to drive, a job where I am treated and compensated fairly, and citizenship in a country with abundant resources. Many, many people within blocks of where I live don’t have these privileges.

    To daily acknowledge the fact that war is not a vague concept happening overseas – war is being waged in my own home, in my own city, in my own state. War happens whenever I chose to selfishly serve myself before my family (which, I should note, is different than engaging in self-care for my well-being so that I CAN participate in selfless behavior towards others). War happens when I disrespect someone because of their political beliefs. War happens when I make decisions out of fear for those are different than me.

    War happens when I insist, without honest dialog, without making the effort to understand how you came to form your convictions, that you are wrong and only I am right.

    For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

    Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2: 14-22)