It Won’t Always be Raining

I’ve been pretty hard on myself lately.

Things haven’t gone the way I wanted them to, and sometimes blaming myself is just easier.  When I am the only common denominator in a series of disappointing events, It’s easier to beat myself up than to say I don’t know why this happened.  It’s easier to blame myself than to try and understand complicated theology about God and spiritual forces and sin nature and what He allows and what just happens because we’re human.  Etcetera.

There’s so many things in my life I can’t explain.  I can’t tell you why every year of my life has been completely different from the one before.  I can’t tell you why relationships that seemed so meant to be haven’t worked out.  I can’t tell you why I’ve sometimes felt so strongly like God is leading me in a certain direction, and then the road leads to pain and disappointment, making me feel as if I was intentionally led astray by a God who seems to care more about proving a point than giving me a real purpose for living.  Can the little bit of life experience I’ve gained really justify so much difficulty? 

It’s reminded me of one of my favorite songs by Tyler Heath (of The Oh Hello’s) which says It won’t always be raining.

it won’t always go how you want it to go
but the flower needs the rain
just as it needs the sun to grow
there will always be something
that’s beyond your control
but you’ll never live ’til you let it go

It’s so hard to let it go.  It’s hard to let go of hurtful words others have said, and the ones I’ve repeated to myself.  It’s hard to accept that life just didn’t go the way I planned, and now it’s time to move on.

Literally.  

For quite some time now, I’ve been feeling like it’s time to go.  It’s time to climb a mountain, to look up at a new sky, to learn to navigate new roads.  At first I ignored it.  I told myself that leaving now was just too scary when I have $200 in my bank account and a resume that says “serious identity crisis”.  But the nagging feeling just wouldn’t go away.  

I still had this small voice in my head that said “It’s time to go.”  

As soon as I return from Europe in August, I will be leaving Chicago to accept a job as a music teacher in the mountains of western Guatemala, in a town called Quetzaltenango (also known as Xela).  For a little while at least, I’m trading in city streets for mountains and my abundance of stuff for a two packed suitcases.  My to-do list currently includes applying for a missionary visa and buying a raincoat and a Spanish dictionary.  

no, it won’t always go how you want it to go
the rain will surely find you
and the sun will come and go
but it will not always be raining
seasons change, people grow
and you’ll never live ’til you let it go

A season of my life is ending, but sometimes endings are good.  An ending could be the end of years of uncertainty, the end of an identity crisis, the end of stagnancy.  And some of these things may persist despite a change of scenery, but I decided a long time ago that I would rather live a life that is interesting rather than one that is comfortable.  With every ending, we also have a beginning, and beginnings give us hope that life will not always be the same.  After a difficult season, looking forward to a new beginning is a reminder that it won’t always be raining.  

Well, unless you live in Xela, where I hear it really is always raining.  But I think that’s a different story.

You can download It Won’t Always Be Raining Here, and receive a great life lesson for $1.  I’m only promoting this artist because they’re awesome, not because I get anything from it.  

Sunset from Kiliney Hill (Ireland)

Sunset from Kiliney Hill (Ireland)

This week sounds like: Ireland

Ireland Collage 1

 

I’m taking a few minutes during my stay in Greystones, Ireland to share a few photos and experiences from my travels thus far.  I’m continually amazed by the natural beauty – where we’re staying right now, you can walk right out the door to see rolling green hills and the Irish Sea.  So far, we’ve gotten lost several times (the Irish tend to under-estimate walking distances when they tell you how far away something is), and I’m thankful for the ability to ask for directions in English.  I’ve drunk about three gallons of tea.  I saw Bono’s house (or at least the front gate, which was surrounded by tourists).  I’ve climbed lots of hills.

In honor of my travels this week, I’ve included three of my favorite tracks from Irish artists.

1.  Feeling the Pull – The Swell Season

2.  Talk – Kodaline

3.  And if My Heart Should Somehow Stop – James Vincent McMorrow

He Will Give You a Seed (New post for Single Roots)

“If you ask God for a tree, he will give you a seed.”

I learned this from a man named Bishop John, who was a minister overseeing several churches and schools in a town outside of Nairobi, Kenya. While we were with him, he prayed that his church would grow, and more people would be reached with the Gospel.

A few months ago, I received a phone call from a friend in the middle of the night telling me he had passed away. The next morning, I found a blog post written by a local missionary about his funeral, which was attended by 2,800 people and described as the largest funeral anyone had ever seen. He planted a seed, and the tree that grew touched the lives of 2,800 people—2,801 including myself.

Read the rest here.

This week sounds like: leaving

This week sounds like moving on.  It sounds like airplanes and packed suitcases and currency conversions, and allowing life to change.  It sounds like letting go of the past and taking the next step, uncertain of what’s ahead.

Where am I going, might you ask?  Well, first I am going to Europe.  My grandmother was born in Northern Ireland, and my family is going to Ireland, England, France, and Scotland for a month to be tourists and to visit family.  So, my posting might be more sporadic from here on out, since I will be trekking around Europe and completely dependent on free wifi.  I suppose there’s worse problems you could have, after all.

After that… I can’t say for sure yet, but there may be big changes in store once I return.

1.  White Owl – Josh Garrels (this is one of my favorite music videos ever)

2.  Time to Run – Lord Huron

3.  Rivers and Roads – The Head and the Heart

 

To know we’re not alone

Just a few thoughts for today:

“We read to know we’re not alone.” – William Nicholson, Shadowlands

This is one of my favorite quotes, spoken by the fictional C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands, though it is commonly attributed to the real C.S. Lewis, who frankly has more than enough to take credit for without also taking credit for things another author supposed he might have said.  Anyway, I would like to propose an amendment to this quote.

“We write to know we’re not alone.” – Becca Nelson

Or at least, I write to know I am not alone.  I suppose some other writers may just enjoy reading their own words.

In order to share our stories, though, we need to be willing to be vulnerable.  I loved what Brené Brown said about vulnerability in her book Daring Greatly.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

We feel shame and depression and anxiety when we feel alone, when we feel like we’re defective, when we feel like we’re the only person in the world who doesn’t have it all figured out yet. Sometimes, the most healing words in the world are me too.  

I spent yesterday getting my car repaired, trying to talk my way out of going to traffic court when I’m supposed to be 7,000 miles away, and then waiting around for a train that was delayed for two hours.  I’m looking for a me too.

When the world is feeling all wrong, I watch Gilmore Girls.  I’ve watched about 10 episodes in the past two days.  I’m looking for a me too.

I’m really bad at budgeting, remembering to pay my bills on time, using coupons, and finding jobs that pay me money.  I’m looking for a me too.

Even if you aren’t one for over-sharing on the internet for the whole world to see (guilty as charged…), just know that you are not alone.  You aren’t the only one who makes stupid mistakes.  You aren’t the only one who is frustrated.  You aren’t the only one who is lonely.  Etcetera, etcetera.

You are not alone.

I am not alone.

We are not alone.  

This could change everything.

This week sounds like: moonlight

I made this playlist late at night, on an Amtrak train traveling through Indiana cornfields.  There was a big, yellow harvest moon in Indiana last night, and I wish I could have photographed it.  Instead, I made you a playlist with two of my favorite opera singers, and a piece from Sleeping At Last’s Space album, which I am currently obsessed with.  Listen to this playlist at night, and I guarantee it will change your life.

1.  Barbara Bonney – Mondnacht (Night of the Moon)

It was as though the heavens
Had silently kissed the earth,
Such that in the blossoms’ lustre
She was caught in dreams of them

The wind crossed through the fields,
And swayed the heads of grain
The forest softly rustled
How starry was the night

And my soul spread
Far its wings
And sailed o’er the hushed lands
As if gliding home

2.  Kate Royal – Morgen (Tomorrow)

And tomorrow the sun will shine again
and on the way that I will go,
she will again unite us, the happy ones
amidst this sun-breathing earth,
and to the beach, wide, wave-blue
will we still and slowly descend
silently we will look in each other’s eyes
and upon us will sink the mute silence of happiness

3.  Sleeping at Last – Moon

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

The Fault in Our Religion

I came home the other night to find my dad sitting on the couch, watching the movie Enchanted by himself.  I didn’t find this at all surprising, figuring that he also knows most of the dialogue of the movies The Prince and Me and The Princess Diaries (parts 1 and 2).  This is a strange world I live in, I know.  Both of my parents also get genuinely excited when Dish Network gives them a free trial of the Hallmark Channel.  

So in case you haven’t figured this out, in my house we are big fans of Happily Ever After.  Movies are a form of escapism, and it’s so much nicer to escape into a world where nothing is exploding, nobody is dying, and everyone goes on to live in an eternal state of bliss.

However, At 11:00 yesterday morning, you would have found me alone in a movie theater crying my eyes out.  Unfortunately, this too is a pretty common occurrence.  I went to see The Fault in Our Stars because I’m also a sucker for a good tearjerker.  In addition to getting me to grapple with human mortality at a strip mall at 11 AM on a Tuesday, it made me think about our desire for easy answers that don’t always exist.

I won’t summarize the entire plot line, because a quick google search will help you out there if you haven’t seen it or read the book.

I left the theater curious to see what Christian reviewers had to say about a movie that grapples with life and death, but doesn’t give Sunday School answers.  (You know, when in doubt, the answer is always Jesus.)

PluggedIn says “Sadly, one fault Hazel and Gus share is that they don’t always make the wisest of choices. They sleep together. And they prefer to see themselves as pawns of the stars, not beloved by those stars’ Creator.”

Similarly, Tim Challies says “Mostly he teaches—well, I don’t know what he teaches. It’s not nihilism, but neither is it Christian hope and optimism. In a novel about illness and death, he makes suffering meaningless and eternity dubious. Of equal concern is the minor plot line that brings the sixteen and seventeen year-old together in bed. Though it is not particularly alluring or explicit, the moral is that it is far better to find a soulmate and have sex with him or her than die a virgin.”

The Christian reviews of this movie seem to be focused on two things.  First, THEY HAD SEX! (gasp!) Never mind the fact that they were dying of cancer, and the whole argument against pre-marital sex doesn’t hold much water when there’s not going to be a marriage.  I did, however, enjoy the line in the Plugged In review that said “their platonic relationship goes kablooey.”  That was quite descriptive. But anyway, their second main point is “Where was God in their suffering?”  Tim Challies even asks “Where is the ‘Christian hope and optimism’?”

And do you know what?  That’s a great question.  I would love to know the answer.  This may not be a true story, but there are plenty of true stories about children who die from cancer.  I would love to know why God doesn’t pull a Deus ex Machina and miraculously swoop down and solve everything.

I would love to know why some people spend their entire lives living with hardened hearts, and in all those years he never intervenes or reveals himself in a tangible way.  And never mind the fact that those who never found God in their suffering on earth are by traditional Christian teaching condemned to eternal suffering as well.  (Pardon me while I have a minor faith crisis here.)

The story revolves around a fictional novel called An Imperial Affliction, which is a story about a girl with cancer that has no ending.  It trails off mid-sentence as if she dies or just gets too sick to write anymore.  The Fault in Our Stars asks questions about God, and about heaven, and about life and death, but doesn’t answer them.  

Christians especially really like neatly tied-up endings.  We like the stories where God answers prayer and intervenes when things are going wrong.  We like stories that talk about heaven as if it just negates suffering on earth.  Because of our tendency to sell Christianity to non-believers like it’s some sort of consumer product, it doesn’t look good when God is silent.

This is a story that doesn’t gloss over the painful reality, or use it as a tool for selling religion.  One of the recurring themes is that “Pain demands to be felt.”  

Though I, as someone who has never faced a terminal illness cannot speak with much authority here, I do believe God can use suffering to bring about incredible good.  In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl wrote about the way we can endure even the greatest hardships if we have found a purpose in our lives.  He can speak from experience, having survived the Nazi Death Camps to become a well-known psychiatrist and writer.  I think there is a difference, however, between finding meaning in life and finding meaning in pain itself. 

In the book of Job, Job and his friends spend the first 37 chapters arguing back and forth, trying to figure out the meaning behind suffering.  Finally, God responds, not with an answer, but with another question.  “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” He says.  “Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know!” (Job 38:4-5 ESV)

This, I believe, is the fault in our religion.  We are in the business of providing answers to questions even God himself did not answer. We comfort those in pain with religious platitudes, when we should instead hold their hand and say “I don’t know.”  We proudly proclaim the stories where God shows up, while sheepishly hiding the stories about meaningless pain under the rug.  

I have read enough Christian novels and seen enough low-budget Christian movies to know there is an abundance of “Christian hope and optimism”, but a definite lack of hard questions about faith.  There is an abundance of squeaky-clean morality, but a definite disconnect from the reality of life outside Evangelical Christian subculture.  (If you know anyone who has intellectually proven the existence of God and taken their formerly atheist college professor to a Newsboys concert, please let me know.)

We need to be a community that wrestles with doubt.  We need to be a community that can say “I don’t know.”  This is where true hope comes from—knowing that even when we don’t have the answers, God is in the questions.  

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Soundtrack of the Week

I couldn’t imagine my life without a soundtrack.  There’s nothing in the world like finding just the right song at just the right moment.  So, I bring you Soundtrack of the Week.  I’ll post three tracks each week which I hope will inspire you to go out and create something wonderful.

This week we have…. (drumroll please)

1.  Hello My Old Heart – The Oh Hello’s

2.  Sky Full of Stars – Coldplay

3.  Ends of the Earth – Lord Huron

(Please let me know if you have trouble with the spotify player.  I am debating whether to use spotify or just youtube links in the future.)

The Stories of Right Now

At times in my life, I’ve had a definite sense of temporary-ness.  In college, I lived in an an unfashionable on-campus apartment with peeling paint and wood paneling and outdated linoleum.  Though it certainly needed some work, It wouldn’t have made any sense to re-paint or fix it up in any way, knowing I would only be there for a few months.  Just get through it, I told myself, and then you can move somewhere else.

After graduation, I moved back home while I looked for a job.  I kept my stuff packed up in boxes, knowing that as soon as I found a job I would be moving out to start my “real life”. Just get through it, I told myself, and then your life will begin.  

I had a teaching job last year that was completely life-consuming.  My to-do list stretched from Chicago to Gary, Indiana and most days, I wouldn’t leave school until 6:00 in the evening.  I went home every night, crashed into my couch face-first, and said Just get through it, and it will get easier.

I always told myself, Don’t make any stops along the way, don’t invest any more than you have to, but just get through it.  

There was something I loved about the crummy little college town that I called home for four years.  There was a church I loved that met in a musty old school building and a community of people I loved who were trying to live their lives differently.  

A year after graduation, I went back to this place and tried to make my home there.  I was convinced that I was doing something great and spiritual by giving up my three part-time jobs at home for this town and this church and this community.

I had been so certain, but then the world caved in and it all turned out so much differently than I thought.  I remember talking to a friend with tears in my eyes, saying “Why did I invest so much?  Why did I love this open myself up and love this church and this community and these people?”  Then he said to me (probably much more eloquently than my restatement here), “You’ll never regret investing in the moment, but you will regret it later if you don’t.”

It’s like we think that if we invest less now, it will hurt less later.  And maybe it will.  We humans are really good at protecting ourselves from pain.  We’re really good at creating boundaries and pushing away life to protect ourselves from whatever it is we are afraid of.  But I believe that by protecting ourselves from this pain, we’re also shutting out joy.

Joy comes from saying “I gave everything I had in this moment.”  I laughed and I cried and I shared my heart and I made a lasting memory in a temporary place.  Like the piles of stones the Israelites built in the desert to remember the times when God appeared, these divine moments remind us that we can have real, authentic, miraculous life, even if we are just passing through.

Make moments matter.  Ask yourself “How can I give everything I have to this moment, right now?”  Because that’s all we have, after all–a string of moments, and we will never know how many we have until we reach the end.

Even when the sorrow comes later, it cannot take away what has already been created.  It cannot erase what was written and experienced and remembered.  It cannot un-write our stories.  So, let’s write them right now.  Write them in crummy college apartments and crazy jobs and new cities and uncertain relationships.

Love in the midst of temporary, and one day we’ll wake up and discover that real, meaningful life has already begun.

If Our Hearts Need to be Broken (New post for Single Roots)

To be honest, I haven’t had a lot of good dating experiences. In my 25 years as a socially awkward introvert, I’ve always struggled with the vast differences between the men I want to date and the men who want to date me. Very rarely does someone fall into both categories. If we lived in a world where men idealized women who read a lot of books rather than women who are confident and attractive, perhaps my experience would be different.

Recently, I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes by C.S. Lewis from his book The Four Loves which says, “To love at all is to be vulnerable.”

Read the rest here.