Thursday, 25 February 2010

An Ode to the Best

My best friend is one of my favourite things in all of God's vast creation: the sun is awesome, but one of her hugs can warm just as well; the seas are unthinkably full of life, but a single tear from this girl and I'm overwhelmed and weeping along with her, whether in grief or in joy; though there are many beautiful plants and animals on our planet, nothing makes me smile faster or truer than her smile.

Jaleesa, this is for you.

You are beautiful in heart, mind, soul, spirit, personality, attitude and body. You are not flawless, but you make imperfection attractive. You are a striver, an organized whirlwind, a pursuer of better things, a simplifier of the unnecessarily complicated. You paint beauty onto blanked canvas, you create art with the full knowledge that you can only ever imitate His art. You credit where credit is due and often restore that perspective to my life when we speak. You lift my spirit, you brighten all our lives, you are so strong - but you are not afraid of sharing your weaknesses with those you love and trust. You inspire the writer's block, you clear the clutter of my thoughts, you wrestle out questions that no other would even notice or wonder over - and you do all this even from a distance, even when you are only present in the presence of a memory of you.

You are deeply missed in my life.

When I think back on the things we used to be able to do when life was simpler and the distance between us not so large, I am nearly overcome by such a strong mix of emotions that the only response I can muster is to write it all out. I wish we could go back the photography of our Monday dates, but I wouldn't wish for the experiences we've gone through since to be erased. I wish we could go back to murder mysteries and spinning around with our arms outstretched in the basement of that church that looks so different now, but if we had not moved on from the relative innocence of that time I could not be here, trying wildly at a computer that is too out-in-the-open for this remembering to be as consuming as it usually is, and you could not be wherever you are - with your Love, in the city that holds so much promise and hope for your future, even on days when you feel you should just move in to that sewing lab and have your possessions and meals delivered.

You, my friend, are going places. You are going to be changing this world. I believe that you will find a way to bring your love for Jesus and your heart for stylistically relevant and modest men and women into the fashion world. You will be making a statement to this slave-labour oblivious culture of ours, and you will be able to help people. You will be able to help people that you don't even know.

So, Jay, my best of friends from now until forever and a day, take courage in you. I take courage in you often, far more frequently than the times I take to tell you. You are loved, fiercely, by many, many, many, many, many, many, many people.

Of which I am only one.

And I think God gets three of those credits. And Evan, and your Mom and Dad, and the rest of your innumerable family members, and all of your friends from all walks of life, and my friends who know very little about you except that I love you (and I know that, if you ever meet them, their love would be quick to grow). I'm just reminding you of the truth - there's a lot of Jaleesa focused love going around, and it's my pleasure to bring it to your attention once more.

I love you, my Best. Know that truth today - and smile.
With a prayer,

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Greater Expectations

School is piling up.

While walking down the hallway today I saw a poster for time management services - a poor student with a frightening armload of books stacked up so high that his (or her?) entire torso and face were hidden behind his (or her...) homework.

I'm beginning to feel like this unfortunate student.
The problem is that I just don't care.

It's not that I don't value the education that I am receiving while I'm here at university, because I do - I'm even interested in the information that I am collecting in class. It's not that I feel incapable of completing assignments and papers, because I could - I have the skills and the smarts to pull everything together and deliver a strong argument. It's not even that I'm finding the timing of the workload completely overwhelming, even though I do have four projects due in the morning. It's that this work doesn't really matter.

Let me draw you a parallel. In the summertime I run a program for youth completely based on a points system. If one of my kids does something positive (win a game, memorize a verse, lend a hand without being asked), they are rewarded with a point value between 50 and 1000 points. Similarly, if one of the students breaks a rule or is caught in a lie or acts out in physical violence, etc, they face the consequence of losing points - both individually and for their team. It's a system that has been incredibly effective for keeping them focused and in-line by creating a healthy, competitive atmosphere. It works the same way in university. If I write a good paper and present my thoughts clearly and efficiently, I am awarded with a point value somewhere between 70 and 90. If my paper shows off a poor effort and makes it clear that I really couldn't care less about my topic I can expect a score that falls in the range of 40 or 50. But here's the part that I really can't get over in my mind:

Points don't mean anything.

You cannot eat a grade. You can not trade them or spend them or share them. Scores, like points, are in and of themselves completely useless. They are non-valuable. They are nothing - just numbers on paper. Meaningless.

I am having a hard time putting my heart and soul into a system that reaps no physical fruits. Will this paper on Ancient Athenian democracy and the execution of Socrates (assuming that he did indeed exist at all) have a lasting impact on my life? It will not. When I write my Children's Literature essay for tomorrow that explores and compares the significance of large houses in two modern novels, will my entire paradigm of writing youth fiction be rocked into a new reality? It is not very likely.

I am feeling the call once more to a world overseas where the money I borrow is spent on more than attaining invisible, intellectual status. My heart, now more than ever before is being pulled to other places, to the work that my hands could be doing, to the mouths I could feed and the little bodies I could teach and hold and love. I so much want to be freed from the restrictions that are placed on the skills that I have and I want to be released to chase my imagination with a criticless pen and few sheets of paper. I want to tell stories that matter. I want to do things that mean something. I want to change somebody's world, but I don't think I can do that while sitting in a lecture hall. How can I balance the call of greater expectations with the life I must presently live?

I know I am here for a purpose... I just don't think my purpose is going to be here for long.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

I Can('t) See It Now

Close your eyes, relax and tell me about your childhood...

"Picture your favourite childhood memory. Got it?"
Yes. I remember a scene around the campfire at Snow Lake, where several girls are, rather innocently, roasting sunfish alive - but I don't explain the memory yet.
"What do you see?"
Well... I remember the fire and who is present and roughly where we are, the lake, the hunt camp, the outhouse behind us, the trucks... but what do I see?
"Do you see in colour?"
No, not exactly... actually, no, not at all. I don't see anything. I can remember, but I can't see.

Turns out, I am not normal. My mind has been BLOWN.

Did you know that some people can see their memories? They can close their eyes and actually SEE pictures, scenes, faces, views...

If you can do this, I have news for you. In my mind, you are very abnormal and very, very lucky.

I cannot see my memories. I see the black nothingness of the back of my eyelids. No matter how hard I try, I cannot draw up a visual image associated with anyone or anything I have seen with my eyes open. I have always thought I have a very visual mind (the art, the photography, even the creativity in pictures I can "paint" with my words), but now I must question what I really understand as visual.

I'm still tripping about this - you can close your eyes and see?

According to Carolyn (who opened my eyes to this reality, so to speak), both of us are part of the 5% of people who can't recall visually. Though I have visual dreams and Carolyn does not (she describes hers much like a detailed story), both us us "draw a blank" when we consciously try to remember anything no matter how specific. I can describe it, yes, but I just don't see the light!

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Ponder, Ponder...

Some lessons are very quickly learned. For example: music is absolutely EVERYWHERE and I think not all secular media is bad.

I'm in a familiar place. I commit to do something and I quickly discover that "maybe that wasn't such a good idea after all." I think we're allowed to have these moments. I think that it's in these times of consideration and reconsideration that we learn a little more about reality. So, now I'm trying to figure out exactly what I really want to accomplish by a "detox." Here is some of what I'm thinking through... and, considering my audience of friends who are close enough to care about all of the random things my artsy fingers can plunk out and family that is obliged to such attention, I'm looking for feedback if you're willing to offer it because I think I'm not really sure what I think.

I want to be like Jesus. And a lot of the Bible is pretty clear cut about how to accomplish such goals: "Whoever says 'I know him' but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked" (1 John 2:4-6). And further along in the same chapter, verses 15-17: "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions — is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever."

I'm at a loss, guys. How do I balance this? I need some insights.


I've already sought some of this advice. I've been challenged to keep my one-month commitment, if only for the purpose that I have said that I would. It was a decision quickly made, but every commitment deserves completion (and it will re-teach me the lesson to really think through these commitments before I decide to express them). Am I going to stick my fingers in my ears and yell "LALALALA I'M NOT LISTENING" when someone else is playing their music? No. But I'm going to clean out my iPod (...when I find it...) and I'm going to skip out on movie nights for the next few weeks. Excellent timing, what with reading break and home only a few hours away, but I'm going to stick with it.

Do you think I'm wrong? Do you think I'm right?
Either way I welcome advice and commentary.


Well I've been challenged yet again, and it's just confirming my conviction. If you use iTunes, look up Pastor Tim Lucas and his series on Porn. Then we can talk about our culture and our minds.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Filter the Incoming

I'm sure you've had one of those moments... the kind when you know you're getting a talking to. Sometimes the person doing the talking doesn't really know that they're speaking such a direct and sharp word into your life, but you know it and once the fact is realized there is no escaping the conviction that grips your heart in the hearing.

On Sunday morning my pastor was preaching at me - right between the eyes. I've had this experience before, especially with pastors, where their message is so applicable that it's not even funny. It's like God sat him down and they went over exactly what I needed to hear and then together they delivered the blow.

Usually my pride takes a hit in such heavenly ambushes. I am a terribly proud woman - of my skills, of my thoughts and sometimes of my actions - and the vast majority of the right-at-me lessons I take in from church follow this simple yet poignant pattern: "Hey girl. You need to step back and remember who you are and who I AM. You are a girl, a small, weak, limited little thing. You are no better than that person or that person. Child, I am God. Now, I love you, but you had better check that attitude of yours mighty quick or there's gonna be trouble." (In my mind, God has the voice and vocabulary of a black man, rumbling and deep, like that of James Earl Jones, right to the point, no side stepping the matter at hand, just laying it all out in the open in a gentle, friendly sort of way.) That's my Father for you - and so I respond, bite my tongue, say I'm sorry and temper my ego. But today's lesson was not about pride. Today was about the filter... or lack there of.

Allow me to briefly summarize and paraphrase part of Pastor Tim's lesson: "Consider airport security. Why do they check you on the way in? You go through metal detectors and x-ray machines, they root through your luggage, they give you "the look" and you run the gauntlet of precautionary measures. If there's a threat, it's met on the way into the plane and immediately eliminated, blocked out, guarded against. But when you get off the plane, you're free to go - you can walk right into a giant crowd of people and disappear without so much as a once-over. There is no check-out checking. Why? Well, the answer is, perhaps, obvious: by the time you're on the plane, it's too late to check for problems and threats. By the time you get off, the damage you could have inflicted to the passengers of the plane would already be done and so there is no need to re-scan and re-secure the exiting passengers. Whatever has gone into the plane has come off again, and as long as the security was tight upon entrance then you don't need to worry about what comes out again - it is clean, bomb-free, secure, good. And it's the same thing with the heart."

So, the old adage of "garbage in, garbage out" proves true even in the practical circumstances of life. Jesus says it this way: "The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45). Your heart (mind and emotion) feeds your action. How healthy is your heart?

I thought my heart was healthy, but God has shown me otherwise.

I think I can compare my metaphorical heart to the physical heart of an athlete who trains regularly and eats well and does much to care for himself, but also has a drinking problem. The athlete looks really good until you discover his one weakness and when you get an eye-full of that, you start to realize just how much it affects the rest of his lives. My parallel runner is healthy... except for his booze. I am healthy too... except for my lust: mental, sexual and emotional.

Feel free to take a moment and knock down that pedestal you've put me atop. I am not the spiritually righteous person you have believed me to be. And please don't excuse my behaviour and my failure because I will tell you openly that much of my sin has been absolutely, deliberately defiant. I have seen the escape from temptation that God promised and I have slammed the door in his face so many times. I have given the devil a hold in my life that I very much want to shake him from and part of that process starts with confession... even if it's the awkward blog kind.

Let's jump back to the airport imagery. What I've been doing in my life is scanning the exit. I carefully control every thought that leaves my mind, every action that is performed, every word that escapes my lips and when I find something that I know shouldn't get out I thrown it back onto the plane by the collar... where it does who-knows-what to the other thoughts, potential actions and yet unspoken words that are waiting to get out and do some good. On the entrance side of things I'm pretty welcoming to all sorts and kinds of input. Without questioning I let in the good stuff - the Bible lessons, the sermons, the love, the friendships, the prayer, the school (sometimes), but with them I'm also saving seats for their opposites: the supersexual music videos, the violent television shows, the angry music, the cursing, the perversion of our culture... all of those things that I hypocritically criticize and then secretly indulge in, the things that are slowly poisoning the clean thoughts and the pure ideas and the godly influences of my life. It seems inescapable and easily justifiable, but is it really? Is sex so unavoidable? Is it truly impossible to block it out?

I don't think so. I think it is going to be stinking hard to fix my filtering system and it might take some very dramatic measures to move my security guards back to the in-cues without letting the filth I've been collecting in my heart and my mind to get off the plane. I have this mental image of my burly body-guards pushing their way between the seats, dragging the crap with them as they go while giving the good thoughts a brush-off and a straighten-up. Then my guards will chuck the slimy, lusty, disgusting and shameful memories out of my heart, over the barricades and back to the cue on the outside of the airport. It doesn't mean they will go away... but it might give me the time I need to get my feet under me again, to re-organize my filtering systems and to mop up the plane, as it were. Unfortunately I do not have microscopic security guards who are going to do this for me... it's just me in my mind and so the plan has to be something I can do on my own.

I am going to fast Secular Media.

I don't know if this is going to work, but I think it's worth a try. With the exception of anything directly assigned for a class, I am locking out all television, all explorations of YouTube and all music that does not honour and glorify Jesus. Sadly, this will include girly, "harmless" pop. More sadly, this includes country.

I don't know how long I need to detox my spirit. I'm going to start with a month and see how I feel and how I think after that. Maybe this needs to be permanent, I don't know, but I do know that I need some pretty dramatic change in my life and this is step one for me.

What is step one for you? What are you letting sit on the plane that should be locked out of the port? You don't have to expose your heart to the world and confess your vice in the open, but open your eyes to your own downfalls. Acknowledge your weaknesses and stop giving in to them. Choose to fight. Choose to guard. Choose to filter the incoming.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Loser Has To

Have you ever experienced a memory so wonderfully clear that you can close your eyes and re-live not only the visual mapping of whatever moment in time your mind has flashed back to, but but also the physical, spacial sensations? For one blissful, joyful, overwhelmingly nostalgic moment I was standing on the side of a mountain in the late evening with a group of close and crazy friends and witnessing a game of loser has to.

I've been thinking a lot about Costa Rica lately, but my memories are not usually as strong or as lasting as this one a few moments ago. I could feel a temperature difference, a change of lighting, the smells of lemon and jungle and life, the flickering of fireflies up the road towards the cattle and that very unusual chicken farm. This memory started on Facebook with a video of the actual race: Melissa and Frankie facing off in a very bold challenge of eating half a wild lemon each. First to complete got the bragging rights and the loser had to jump in the pool (fully clothed, of course), even though we should have been on our way to bed - and it was pretty chilly, at least compared to the daytime blazes. The video lasted just over a minute, but even now as I write a bit of this out I'm there in my heart - the hills, the beaches, the creatures, the people, even the lemons! There is something about that time in my life that I will never be able to forget or part from however many years I am removed from such adventures. One day I will go back there and walk Campamento Roblealto's tropical trails again. I will be braver upon my return; I have grown so much, learned so much, become so much more. The past three years have been incredible in many ways and because of many, many people - but it all started there, in Costa, in Boundless. My faith is rooted there. My heart is rooted there.