Saturday, January 31, 2009

Dogs: let's be honest.

For those who know me, it will come as no surprise that I have little shortage of honesty--a painful quality at times. However, I have grown up in the south, which encourages people to smile when they are really frustrated and say things like "Bless your heart" when they really mean "You're an idiot." We southerners like to put a glossy finish on all our sentences. Typically, I buck the system and just tell it how it is, but when it comes to dogs, I've been a true Southern Belle for far too long.

For years, I have pretended to like dogs, to smile when I see them, and to pet them just enough to convince those around me that I'm fond of those furry animals. But here's the (painful) truth: I am awkward and uncomfortable around dogs. It's not that I hate dogs; theoretically and from a distance, they are delightful creatures. Up close, however, I'm like a 12-year-old boy at a dance: he likes girls and will talk in the corner with his friends about them, but when he actually has to dance with one, well, it's awkward.

So, I've decided that it's time to be honest about my awkwardness around dogs and to stop pretending that I'm natural with them. If you've ever seen me around dogs, you know that I'm anything but natural. I'm not really afraid of them or have had a particularly bad experience with them, but when I'm around dogs--any kind of dog--I have an aversion to them and become stiff and jumpy and just generally uncomfortable. I have several theories about why I have this problem including (but not limited to): my dad's aversion to dogs, the fact that my parents thought a half rottweiler-half lab would be a great pet for young children (the thing outweighed me in a few months), and that I'm a bit of a neat/germ freak and don't like dog smells.

So, if you have a dog, please know that I still want to hang out with you, that I'm not an animal hater, and that I'll even hang out with you AND your dog...and even pet it! But when you see me looking reminiscently like a pre-teen at a dance, just know that it's not your dog; it's me. Honest.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Let's Get Organized!

I've always thought that if I wanted to pursue a career other than teaching, I'd go into professional organizing. Seriously. I find a ridiculous amount of satisfaction in creating order out of chaos, making functional space, and finding ways to help people stay organized even after I've finished the initial "clean sweep." My mom loves this quality in me because I compulsively clean some part of her house every time I go home. I thrive on the immediate results and the joy it brings her to have space she can use more effectively. I really should take before and after pictures. I've organized closets, pantries, offices, storage spaces, and even barns for family, friends, myself, and work.

Not to over-spiritualize this trait, but in many ways, this desire to bring order out of chaos reflects our Father's desire to do the same. Our world is overrun with the weeds and vines of sin, selfishness, and waywardness, and in His redemptive way, he "strikes a straight blow with a crooked stick (thanks to my favorite pastor, Joe Novenson, for that one). God is in the business of re-ordering the universe, of clearing the clutter of our lives, and giving us ways to live that lead to freedom. The satisfaction I find in organizing (other than the fact that I'm just a bit of a neat freak) is one way that I bear God's image, reflecting His character. As Bob Flayhart says, "Joy is found when your God-given talents meet a need."

So, if you need some organizational tips, encouragement, or outright help, I'm at your service. And I'm always looking for new and inventive ways to organize, so send me your ideas and what has worked for you; if you're not one of those organized people, not to worry: you're probably more normal than the rest of us.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Velveteen Rabbit: an excerpt

Here's an excerpt from one of my favorite stories of all time. I particularly love that the story makes being "real," or being loved, out to be something that is messy, unconditional, and forever. Every time I read this story, I find new depth to its truths.

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

"I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.

"The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."

Go here to read the story it its entirety.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

pieces of fiction

For no apparent reason, I've been thinking today about the past. Maybe it was the President's farewell speech or thinking back on 2008 or seeing the wrinkles forming under my eyes, but whatever it is, I've come to an interesting realization. It seems that everything that has happened in the past now seems fictitious. This is why people say, "It felt like another life time when I..." It's the idea that our past feels like a story, a fictional account, that we continue to tell but aren't sure we actually experienced. This, of course, is why pictures, memorabilia, and any other preservative measures mean so much--they remind us that it was all real.

For example, I worked at a camp throughout college. I have no doubt that I worked there; I have pictures and memories and videos and necklaces and permanent tan lines from that experience. However, because so much time has passed and I have lost touch with most people there (and because my campers are now old enough to be counselors!), it doesn't feel very real. While that part of my life occurred, it will never be as real as what is currently happening. And, of course, I suppose that's how it's supposed to be: the present should feel the most real.

But there are times when I wish the past didn't feel so distant, cartoony, dream-like, or fictitious. I want to remember my late grandfather's voice, the invigorating exhaustion of camp, the late-night college conversations, the feel of holding my little siblings in my arms, and the terrified excitement of the first day of teaching. And if I don't make efforts to remember these things through reflection or inspection of some sort, the past will only become more hazy. So, while we shouldn't live in the past, we should attempt to preserve those pieces of our lives that shape us so that they do not become pieces of fiction.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Enlarge my heart!

"Enlarge my heart!" This is the cry of David the Psalmist in Psalm 119:32: "I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart!" I have really benefitted from our ESV study Bible, which notes that David is asking for God to make his heart broad, to expand his ability to perceive God's truth. And I particularly love the exclamation point at the end of the verse. As an English major, we were taught to use exclamation marks sparingly since very few sentences actually justify that kind of enthusiasm and urgency, so I love that David chose to use that punctuation, which underlines the whole-hearted, imperative nature of his request.

Like the blooming Amaryllis in my kitchen window, I want my heart to stretch and yearn and grow and enlarge, that I might be able to know and understand God more deeply. If God were trying to pour the water of His truth through a straw, very little would go through, but if he pours it into a wide-mouthed river, all of it would fall into the river! I want my heart to be that wide, to be open and ready and stretched so that I can absorb as much of Him and his truth as possible. Stretching is painful; it's slow; there is no quick fix; results are not immediate. But the more we stretch, the more limber and liberated our hearts are to open wide the gates of our hearts. It is this enlarging of our hearts that gives us the freedom to RUN in His ways.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

New Year's Resolution (singular)

While I have a yarn ball of resolutions that I'm pawing at (including goals for my spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual life), I've decided to narrow down my annual aspirations to just one this year: BE MORE FLEXIBLE.

As I was reminded in this sermon today, making a resolution first requires repentance for failing to do that which you are resolving to do. So, in resolving to be more flexible this year, I am admitting that I often fail at this, falling into the rigidity of my own expectations and agenda.

I am a planner, so my tendency when plans change is to resist and become anxious. I am learning, though, that it's a lot easier to go with God instead of fight Him (even though I often want to resisit Him), so I'm praying that this year more than any other, He will teach me to be more immediately and completely obedient and accepting of His will, that my heart will yield willingly to His plans, trusting that they are far more perfect and purposeful than my own.

I want to remember that other people are often right, that there is more than one way to do something, and that plan B isn't always inferior to plan A. This takes humility--another quality that I confess I often lack.

So, when you see me struggling to make peace with change in any way (spiritually, physically, circumstantially), please know that it is just that: a struggle. But this year, by God's grace, it will be a joyful struggle, knowing that I am becoming more like Him through repentance and humility.