When Riding the Struggle Bus

I rolled my ankle the other day. It would be nice to say I was doing something cool, like trail running, or heroic like saving kittens from a burning tree. . . well, ok I was walking. I had also just gotten a speeding ticket.

I know a lot of people have bad days, or weeks or whatever. Days when everything seems to be going wrong. You know the phrase; all the shit hit the fan. Then there are extended periods of time when stuff goes wrong. When life seems to be just a string of annoying circumstances and little shits that hit the fan intermittingly over the course of several months.  Stuff that isn’t that big of a deal but when it happens a lot it makes you want to start flipping desks and throwing chairs. Like losing your license and having to go to the DMV. . .twice. And losing your wallet three times in one month, the third time for good.  Over the course of the semester getting five parking tickets and pulled over 3 times. Gaining seven pounds in a week.

Then there are the normal little things you have to put up with on a daily basis. The restaurant you work at is absurdly busy, all the servers are cussing and all the guests are complaining. The kids you baby sit haven’t stopped crying because you won’t let them watch Elf for the fifth time in a row. You’re power steering pump has a leak and you constantly have to add fluid to it.

I’m sure you can relate to a few of these things. You probably even have crappier problems to deal with than me. We’ve all got crappy things to deal with. We all should start a sewage plant with our crap.

We all deal with crappy stuff, and I don’t think we should boo hoo about it or anything, but one of my biggest problems comes when I pretend like all these little things can’t get to me. They can get to me, bit by bit the way maggots devour a carcass. They can build up, reproduce and steal my peace right out from under my nose, replacing it with irritability and stress. They can get the best of me because I try to ignore them until it’s too late, because I don’t consider them trials. James 1:2-4 says this-

Count it all as joy brothers, when you experience trials of various kinds. For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

The pastor of my church in Chattanooga was preaching on James 1:2-3 and he put it perfectly the other day when he said problems are inevitable and unpredictable. They catch you off-guard, when you have ten bucks in your bank account or when you’re out of coffee. They can disguise themselves as trivialities and so make one dismiss them outright instead of responding to them mindfully, with patience and prayer. Then there are the problems you deal with on the reg. Oswald Chambers called this drudgery, he talks a lot about it in My Utmost for His Highest. Drudgery is best describes as what feels like mindless, purposeless work; like busing tables nonstop at work. But drudgery can be anything when you are just going through the motions. When you are just reacting instead of considering.

When reading this passage in James, I always used to think that he meant big stuff. Like persecution and whatnot and I think he specifically was here. Then my pastor made me realize there is a reason he says various kinds of trials. James was a pretty smart dude, he knew not to dismiss any kind of struggle.

Trials produce endurance, but only if we choose the right way to respond to them. My pastor and Oswald Chambers both reminded me that the way to respond is with joy; not that I’m in a sucky situation, but knowing God has given us opportunity to grow my patience and draw on his strength, and knowing that God has ability to work through every trivial aspect of my life.

This is the reaction I want to choose, the one that is so very against my nature. Please remind me of this the next time I get a parking ticket.

The Creative Struggle.

God created us in his image. It’s hard for me to see how I look like God though, and really I forget what he looks like too often.

Fortunately, he keeps reminding me. Specifically, he has been reminding me of his unending creativity, and why that’s relevant to my personal struggle to make art.

Even writing this simple blog post is a struggle honestly. I could just go read about fifty others  on the same subject by writers who are far more talented than I. Most times it seems like there are an infinite number of writers that are more talented than I am, and I don’t say that to feel sorry for myself. It’s just the truth. If you’re an artist, musician, baker, carpenter or whatever there will always be someone out there better than you.

This semester I took a poetry course and I loved it, but toward the end of the semester life happened and I dropped the ball a few times. Long story short I ended up with a B and although my professor was good, I didn’t get any encouraging feedback from him really. So this morning, for one of many many times over the years I  was re-evaluating why I write. Especially poetry! You have no idea how frustrating it is to be in love with an art form that is so unpopular! Sadly, I have encountered very few people who read poetry that are not poets themselves. So why bother?

 

This was my state of mind this morning as I sat brooding over my grades and lack of inspiration, coffee in hand and eyebrows furrowed like a regular little mopey college student.  Not for the first time,  in my heart I asked God why should I?  Just as in In his characteristic style, the answer came whispered and in one word. David.

David didn’t write psalms for other people to critique or workshop or publish in the latest snobby Hebrew Psalms and Prophecies Anthology.   Throughout his life, there was something intrinsic to his nature that compelled him to express himself to the Lord artistically, something that God himself had put there. Similarly, the Lord expresses himself to us through his artistic creations. The beauty and majesty of natural world is the art God uses to  communicate countless lessons to humankind and reveal his own character. We know that God created us in his own image, to reflect his character means to be creators. It pleases God when we reflect him well, therefore it pleases God when we practice creativity.

As  a Christian, it’s my life’s work to mirror my creator  to the best of my ability. So that’s my answer, that’s why I need to keep writing and baking and experimenting with all varieties of flavorful smoothie combinations. To create be creative is to reflect God and that is also an act of worship.

I think that is something David grasped very well, even though his psalms were often ranty ( Just made up that word; the practice of ranting a lot.) and self focused and he reused the same images over and over again. Even though he was sometimes straying far from Gods will. His works where far from perfect, but the Lord was his inspiration and model. God used David’s artistic works to prophesy the messiah and inspire countless people despite the shakiness of David’s own character and the imperfection of his art.

So to any of you like myself, dismissing their art as worthless or giving up on a project or worrying about anything they make not being good enough. Just remember God is pleased with any effort genuine effort to reflect him. Even if it’s  reflecting his creative nature through wigwam building or something.

Creating art through any medium is a worshipful practice, and that is more than enough inspiration for any Christ follower. So don’t hold back!

 

P.s. If you don’t know what a wigwam is you should – here yah go

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wigwam#Wigwams_of_the_Northeast

 

 

A Commendation: to the God of joyful noise. . . and turtle bread.

 

 

 

A lot of days,  it feels like everything  stressful or boring in my life is competing for my single-minded attention.

 

I hate how easy it is to prescribe for myself just a bit of distraction to escape monotony in my life. Vedging extremely tempting, and  is kinda like ibuprophen. The more often you take it when you don’t really need it, the more you have to take for it to be effective. When really, a glass of water might have done the trick in the first place. But you know, this becomes a lifestyle faster than you can say “whatever”. . . and you miss things. At least you take for granted finding joy in everyday things. The beautiful gifts that are given every day, the rise and set of the sun, the smile of someone  you walk past at school, sharing a cup of coffee with your grandparents or even a cold drink when it’s hot outside. All things that are often unrecognized but delightful. All things that were they gone, I would sorely miss. I misunderstand and underestimate so badly. Boredom and discontentment  is not a product of an uninteresting life, it is a product of a skewed perspective ( as most negative things are). I seek distraction when I’m bored, but what I really need is focus.  It doesn’t matter where you are In life. It is filled with wonderful things waiting to be experienced, but you will never know if you are distracting yourself from it. You will never know if you can’t stop thinking about how you don’t have enough hours of work next week, or how there is too much on your list to do.

 

I’m pretty sure God started teaching me this a long time ago, but I’ll pick up at the part where I started to get it.

 

This semester I enrolled in an acting class.  Now, I don’t have an aversion to acting per say, but I have never had a prolonged, active interest either. When I walked into the first class meeting I wondered what I was getting myself into, and I definitely couldn’t remember why I had registered for it in the first place. Probably because It would most likely be easier than Geology or whatever. The teacher went over the syllabus and told us right out that we were going to perform  A Midsummer Nights Dream at the end of the semester. I looked around the class, everyone looked pretty much as if they were in the same boat as me, little to no acting experience. Later I  discovered my suppositions to be correct. “Great.” I thought, “This play will suck but you still have to be in it.” There are a minimum of four female characters in A Midsummer Nights Dream and we had three girls in the class, so I couldn’t just be a tree or something. I started to think Geology wasn’t so  bad.

 

My views changed at the next class meeting. Not only had more people joined the class, it was fun. I mean we didn’t even do a lot of anything and it was fun. The teacher had us all playing games and smiling 5 minutes into class. Then he started talking with this contagious sort of energy and I became aware of the excitement of my classmates.  I don’t even remember most of what he said( something about his views on creative expression) but excitement is contagious. What I do remember him saying was this phrase ,“I like to make a joyful noise.” This stood out to me immediately but really processed later that day. I slowly started to get what God was saying. It’s too easy for me to take my time at Roane State for granted, just as it is with many other things in my life. My mentality was get the hours, get out and move on to  the University of Tennessee. But that mentality would have me missing out on joy filled experiences that I might never have the opportunity to partake of again,  simply because I kept looking past them to my future goals. So I am learning to not only cherish everyday things, but also to take full advantage of the opportunities unique to my current position in life.

 

This past weekend I had an itching urge to make turtle bread, so I did. My little sister and I got really excited about it, and we made it together. I taught her how to play rummy while it was baking and when it was done we both admired the finished product, nodding to each other in approval. That day I don’t remember thinking about anything other than what I was doing in the moment, and it was great, it was fun, it was joyous. I look forward to participating in A Midsummer Nights Dream with the wonderful people in my class and although I hope other people like it,  my goal is to recognize the value of all the experiences associated with the class. To  cultivate and cherish the growth of  new relationships and my own character. Whatever I am doing, whether it be prancing around like a fairy under bright lights or making turtle bread with my sister,  it is my privilege to raise a Joyful noise to the Lord.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P.S.  Turtle bread : normal bread  specifically shaped to resemble a turtle.

 

 

Convenient God.

It is way too easy for me to live off of junk food. I hate to admit it, but it tastes good. It just does. The more I eat it the more it becomes tastier, when it really hasn’t become tastier it’s just that I have become addicted to it. I periodically slip into these eating habits. One of the problems with subsisting off of crap food though, is that it makes me sick. My complexion suffers, my energy is zapped, and when it gets really bad( let’s just be real here) I can get pretty chubby. However, there is an adequate solution. All I have to do is work out some, take daily multivitamins, and occasionally supplement my diet with a few nutrient–packed foods and I’m good to go, problem solved, chubby crisis averted! Just enough to get by fairly well without having to give up anything.

The problem with these little fixes though, is that they can never enable me to reap the rewards of a truly healthy lifestyle. I’ve been on the healthy eating end of the spectrum and those of you that have too will agree with me when I say it is better. But it is hard, the other way is just so darn convenient you know?

I hate to admit it, but It is very easy for me to fall into this pattern with my faith. So often I treat God like a multivitamin or one of those lame 5-minute fat-blasting cardio workouts that you see on Pinterest. It’s way too easy for me to subsist off of things that provide more instantaneous gratification, the stuff that “tastes better” only because I’m addicted to it. So often I will seek entertainment instead of seeking God. So often I focus on honing some small talent of mine to obtain praise or admiration from others instead of praying for my friends and family. So many days it is easier to run for miles rather then come to communion with God simply because it is more fun and tangible to me at the time. The scary thing about this is that I can live quite comfortably this way if I have God as my “multivitamin.” I can go to church, read my bible consistently, even perform acts of service and be in leadership positions without giving up my little discrete idols. They are discrete because none of those things are bad in and of themselves, that is what makes them dangerously permissible when they become idols. I can approach God as an intimate friend only when I am emotionally desperate or I have a big question. I can totally take advantage of the fact that he will not refuse to help me even when I ignore him the rest of the time. This creates the illusion godly living that is the most deceptive to myself. Unfortunately, I think this is a common Christian practice.

Donald Miller talked about this idea in his book called Blue Like Jazz, he writes “ I realized in an instant that I desired false gods because Jesus wouldn’t jump through my hoops . . . my faith was about my image and ego, not about practicing spirituality.” In other words we as Christians are susceptible to the tendency to do the bare minimum in order to keep from completely subscribing to worldliness. We desire “false gods”; admiration, beauty, entertainment, and sin because living for Jesus makes absolutely no provision for the flesh, to gratify our weak and selfish desires. So, while we have salvation, living out our faith becomes not about God but about our own self-absorption. Our relationship to him about convenience rather than servitude.

It’s hard for me to confess that there have been so many long periods of time that I have treated God like this.

It is not only hard to obtain the habit of a healthy lifestyle but also hard to maintain it. It requires resources of time and money and it requires sacrifice. Living for God is much the same. He is not here to make us comfortable, or give us good feelings, or provide for our every desire, or even ensure our safety( even though often he graciously does). He is within us to make us into who we were designed to be, reflections of him! Warriors and royalty! The light in darkness, advocate and servant to our brothers and sisters of the world!

My prayer is that God will continue to expose my selfish motives and idols. I want to follow and serve and pray when it is the last thing I feel like doing, when I have to sacrifice things that are actually important, not just my superficial wants. On a related note, I have lately been having trouble getting into worship, at first I pinned it on cookie- cutter lyrics or anything else I could use as a scape goat. Now I realize, I cannot worship him when I am making him something other than what he is. I don’t believe anyone else can either. I cannot worship Convenient God.

Matthew 10:37-39 “Whoever loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”