Treasure

I was listening to poetry this morning and this, which has been brewing in my mind for weeks, finally came out. I hope you enjoy it!

Treasure

Like jewels hanging around my neck

Are the babbles and giggles

the screeches and squawks

The unintelligible language you speak

You reach out your hand to touch my lip

As if my mouth holds unknown things

hidden treasures

Sometimes we wash your hands at the sink

Like a couple dancing

You in my arms

Long familiar with the hold we have on one another

A daily anniversary of the day you arrived

Happy

Curious

and spry

When you cry out in the night I am blinded

With sleep

But I find you as if buried

Deep within a mine

Alone

Afraid

and waiting

When I scoop you into my arms

You wrap around my neck

More precious than anything

Ever to adorn me

When years tumble past

Like the clothes you watch

through the window of the wash machine

Will memories fade with them

Or will they polish to a bright shine

Like gold or diamonds

Like time in a jar of water

Shimmering, shining bright

Mockery

There is something about wit that charms me. When someone comes back with a sharp reply, especially if it is clever and unexpected, I smile broadly. I almost can’t help but savor the moment. And to me no people group seems to be more proficient at this skill than the players in British fiction, from Shakespeare to Masterpiece Theater to Monty Python. They know how to turn and twist words and use body language to suggest meanings that might never have been there before. Brilliant!

I’ll admit it: I laugh out loud when I read books that have this clever wit. Ask my wife,who finds my responses to books humorous (though that could be a whole separate post). JK Rowling had a fantastic time of it in Harry Potter; Charles Dickens delighted in turns of the phrase. Jane Austen gets me every time – the words she chooses are so biting and yet so kind, disguised in Victorian propriety, covered by the layers of class structure, social mores, and the status of women. Brilliant!

There are two ways that this kind of wit can be used as a form of communication. One way is to put another person in their place. The other way is for sheer, unadulterated entertainment. Sometimes a person/character blends both styles (which isn’t surprising since humiliation can be made entertaining). Now our morality sensitive minds read this and think – Oh, how cruel! or how horrible! and what a selfish thing to do! Using wit as a device seems unnecessary, filled with pride and self-gratification, the complete opposite of the humble Christian way filled with grace and encouragement. But admit it to yourself now that there are moments a well placed barb leaves you cheering the underdog, proud of her/him for standing up to an overwhelming structure and standing for justice with exceptional flair.

I confess now that I am very guilty of enjoying a verbal spar every now and again. In my (somewhat complicated) mind, dialogue can be a bit of a game, a challenge to actively think through communication carefully and come out on top. Perhaps it comes from boredom? I know I am far happier when someone else joins in the repartee. It really isn’t even a matter of winning or losing, now that I come to think about it. But how I feel about it really doesn’t matter as much as do the consequences of my behavior. And if other people love to join, where is the harm in that?

I have (rarely) heard it said that the Bible is against making fun of people. In the first Psalm, the writer warns not to sit in the seat of mockers. I always pictured that as a guy who sits in a courtroom , then stands, points and laughs at anyone who is convicted. That couldn’t be the same thing as wit, right? I mean, it is so, unintelligent.

My eyes were opened if ever so slightly yesterday night at church. Jason Poznaks, who does a fantastic donkey impression, was describing the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. He described this image of a man on a young donkey, swaying about a street lined with people who were throwing their cloaks and palm branches before him. In Jason’s words this was a king’s homecoming, er, except it really wasn’t a king’s homecoming. He talked about what the return of a conquering hero King would look like in those days. The king would enter a city gallant on his best horse, coming before a vast army whose size and prowess promised further victory and the opulent spoils of war. When the King arrived it would mean the war was over and that victory belonged to the people of the kingdom. It was probably the biggest party the people could muster. In comparison, Jesus came on a clunky pinto with a small crew of Occupy San Diegans, each confused about their purpose in being there.  Jason also pointed out that this king Jesus, really the King of Kings, was not the ruler or political power that the people wanted, and therefore could never be the expected victor. He was not going to conquer Rome, per se.  In a way that we might not understand, Jesus’ entry to the city was kind of a joke, almost unworthy of any fanfare. I am sure that there were people standing by laughing to themselves, or at least slightly poking fun at Jesus to the person standing next to them.

Now this was meant to be the grandest affair, an important step to fulfill the promises Gad had made hundreds of years before. And it did fulfill the prophecy, to the letter. But why did Jesus have to ride in on a donkey? Why couldn’t he have blown everyone away? Because God has a sense of humor, a grand wit about him. Its purpose; to put people into their place by revealing who He is. How funny that God would send a king on a donkey!

When Jesus received a complaint from the Pharisees about his disciples’ celebration, he claimed that even the rocks would cry out in worship if the people stayed silent. Why? Because the rocks get the obvious truth that the Pharisees were missing. Call it hyperbole if you will, but here we are again with a sharp wit that demonstrates the vast chasm between the thoughts of men and God. Did God want to make a show of this? I don’t think that is God’s style, at least most of the time. But he certainly made a scene either way.

So I come back to this whole thing of mockery or wit or linguistic olympics….can that side of me peaceably coexist with this transformed world view? Being honest with myself, if I had to fast from being witty for entertainment’s sake it would probably really get to me. And knowing that it would get to me means I probably need to do it.

As for whether it is right or wrong, does it matter? Perhaps, like the Pharisees, I would be getting upset about something that isn’t even the point. My God is creative with how He relates with people so therefore shouldn’t I be? One day it might be through fire in the sky and the next day a talking donkey, but God has a keen sense for reaching the human condition. Why shouldn’t I approach other people in a human way, in a way that relates to them, and relates me to them like a well-made bridge?  Like a Pharisee I could fall on the side of fear and pocket the dangerous possibility that I may do or say something wrong. But would that be living? Talking about all of this makes me realize that I don’t know God in this way. I don’t approach Him with a smile and clever words because I know He is always going to be greater than I am. And yet He is overjoyed to teach me in unexpected ways, to lead me down paths that draw me in closer. Why can’t we flirt with one another, or at least dance or wrestle? Perhaps a fast would give me an opportunity that I have never taken before – to get to know God better in his sense of humor and irony, to approach the Almighty knowing well that it could be abrasive to my pride but delightful to my soul.

This Year – On Conviction, Confession, and Thanksgiving

I had a terrible New Year’s Eve this year. It was so bad, I completely forgot about the holiday until after it was over (perhaps I’ll celebrate Chinese New Year to make up for it?). That evening is a shining example of God’s faithfulness to me and my impatience in return.

For those of you that haven’t heard my story (how many of you are left?), I was on a flight bound for San Diego on New Year’s Eve, coming from Las Vegas. In a freak natural phenomenon, the San Diego Airport was fogged in, and though we tried a couple of times our plane could not land there. After a quick flight up to Ontario (about 114 miles away), a couple more hours “trapped” on Ontario’s tarmac, we were released into an airport that was closed for the New Year’s Eve holiday (at least the restaurants were). Eventually our flight was cancelled, and we waited for our airline to find a bus to drive us to San Diego. No problem, right? It was only 7:30pm on New Year’s Eve.

My parents, who live about ten minutes away, were out of town, as were my closest relatives. The rental car companies had no “one-way” cars left to rent (at least not without an exorbitant fee). I became tired and cranky and hungry and impatient and angry. All I could think about was being home. And the dollar signs it would take to get me there.

My lovely wife did her best to prevent a Derek meltdown, and talking to my family on the phone helped. Then the little miracles started arriving. My parents had an extra car at home available for us to drive, if we could get there and get in. I thankfully had a key to their house with me. My mom called a friend who was also willing to pick us up at the airport and drive us to my parent’s house. We were finally at home in bed by 11pm. Perhaps the most unexpected blessing; the airline sent vouchers to apologize for the situation (a situation they did not create, I might add. Props to Southwest Airlines).

It has been a few days since, and I am coming back to my senses. Time to think through the inevitable New Year’s Resolutions. What did I resolve to do last year? Oh yeah – this blog! This year brought many unexpected twists and turns, most notably my wife’s long job search, my sudden immersion in novel writing, and the progressive dissatisfaction with where I am at. What could this New Year bring?

Let’s begin with conviction. I guess I can’t resolve to be more convicted, but I find this basic of element of my Christian life wanting. Instead I  listen to the voice stoking my own ego. No where is it more clear than in marriage, where my every move affects another person. While a pithy “pray more” or “read the Bible more” suffices for many on this category, they don’t work for me. Within this man is a battle of wills; the will of God versus the will of Derek. And the will of Derek likes to keep Derek distracted – dangling carrots like acceptance, success, and self-indulgence with a hint of immediacy so that I have no desire to do anything that does not suit me. When a plane flight re-routing is needed to wake me up again, I realize I need to look in the mirror more often. Then I can see the ugly stuff; I use food to make me feel better, I crave approval any way I can get it, I drive myself mad with perfectionism, and I make myself feel like a failure for not being successful enough. The Holy Spirit opens my eyes to the people and places around me in funny ways, reminding me that I need to be dependant on God for all things, and that in God I have nothing to worry about. I thank God for conviction, though I equally hate it. I feel like a little kid that tries too hard, only to realize that I don’t get it, and then to further realize that not getting it is a good and beautiful thing.

How about confession? I suck at confession. Sometimes I wish I were Catholic so that I would have a “safe” person to tell everything to. I know that is ridiculous. I also know that I can say anything to God. But I suck at confession because I fight repentance. I don’t want to do the hard things. And my community often does not want to do the hard things, either. They would rather hear me out and try to make me feel better. Perhaps the only way to resolve this issue is to choose to serve those most in need – to do hard things empowered and emboldened by God – and to let the confessions flow out of humility rather than pride. I bet drug addicts would have a thing or two to tell me about pornography and my thought-life. I bet foster kids wouldn’t hesitate to highlight my innate selfishness. And (thankfully) my wife helps me to see when I am too into me. Can I resolve to put my confessions into actions?

I was recently challenged to “fall back in love” with God. When I heard those words, I recalled the afternoons I would spend on a park bench next to a pond, watching the sunlight filter through the leaves overhead while sketching praises to God. Or whole days I would take to climb a mountain alone and talk to Jesus as if he were there with me, walking alongside me. Or those mornings I would run off with a journal and would ask questions – hard questions – because I was hungry to know. How incredibly thankful I am to have those memories. But why are they memories?

I forget who God is when I am no longer thankful; when I don’t acknowledge his presence in my daily activities. When I realize who God is, I am drawn in – and I fall more in love. Can I therefore resolve to run away with God – to be alone with Him and see what happens, even when I am surrounded with people?.

I want to be entangled with God. Isn’t that what love looks like?

I fell in love with my wife, and we are married and practically inseparable. I love having her around, knowing that I am called to serve and honor her far more than myself, and yet redeemed and valued through our relationship. I want to be like that with Jesus. It isn’t that I want to wear a big Jesus t-shirt or to make my faith a talking point with everyone I meet, but I want to be united to God in a more indelible way. Can I acknowledge that Jesus is there with me always and be madly in love with him? The fear of becoming completely irrelevant, or worse yet, self-righteous, translates into a life of compartments with so little romance. I want God in the now, even in those moments I am convicted and confessing, when I feel guilty or impatient or hungry, when I am doing completely “ungodly” things. To heck with the formalities. I want each step to be a fragrant praise.

I know, my resolutions are impossible.

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

What are you thinking about for this New Year? What resolutions have you made?

Christmastime is Here

Hey all…

I have been a lazy blogger lately. I admit it. But I should be revving back up to full swing at some point in December. Or maybe I will wait until January and make a New Year’s Resolution.

First…some identity crisis. Blogs are about mashing together all of a person’s different interests, right? Well, if men are like waffles, my waffle is filled with cooking, faith and spirituality, hospitality, artsy-fartsy, writing, and psychology. How does one blog about all of that at once? It’ll be a cookifahoartsywricology blog! Say that ten times fast.

And on that, I read a blog post today that I loved. And it was about food. And God. Thanks to Joe Pastry for his observations and musings on the fine art of baking. I love reading his blog; I feel so much smarter.

This year, inspired by the Baked cookbook and abundance of cookies, I decided to make chocolate truffles. The process was somewhat of a fail, since the first round of tempering chocolate involved 45 minutes of hand mixing straight. I guess it was a workout. But I was bitter for the rest of the day. I mastered the process, and now I feel more like an expert. I made milk chocolate almond ones and dark chocolate coffee ones…and now I am working on the pinnacle of holiday treats…rum balls. I’ve got to take some pictures…

On another note, I am fine tuning the novel. I would love to have friends sample it and tell me what they think…so if you read this and are interested, leave me a message or write me an email. I am only in the final stages of rough draft creation…so it is going to be painful in parts. It is exciting to have gotten this far, though. Is it wrong that I think I should finish it before I have any kids?

Faith and phil0sophy-wise, the thought of Jesus, the Son of God, being a baby, has really hit me this Christmas. I keep thinking of all of the contrasts between the throne room of God and the manger in Bethlehem. I wonder if Jesus had shadows of memories, you know, like that feeling you have been someplace before? I also have thought about traditions more. I even wrote a blog post that I never posted on the subject. Perhaps that will come out this week? I’ll see what I can do.

If I don’t get to it before the end of the week- Merry Christmas to you all!

I just don’t feel right….

Sometimes I forget where I am going and what I am doing. I believe my life this week has been an example of that. Somehow my passion and drive leaked out, and I moped around without motivation or enthusiasm. I stopped seeing value in the things I was doing. In my quiet, internal thoughts, the mists of disappointment whispered discouragement. Questions dropped to undermine my every choice, my every action, until at long last I arrived at the worst question of all – is this really all there is? And as silence failed to answer the question, and the world around me filled with good cheer, I become further unmotivated and lost. I just don’t feel right.

I know that I am lost when activities and people that normally bring me joy fall flat. I arranged a big office lunch yesterday which was well attended and fun, except I was no fun. There wasn’t even an attempt at shallow happiness on my part, I felt bleh and acted bleh. Deep down I wanted something different and better. At times like this, the temptation to take “hits” of happiness from various deceivers grows; pride becomes fragile and needy, lust wants to taste everything, and each activity requires a pep talk. When I stand back and look at these mini fits and failures through the lens of perfectionism, I see failure – failure at work, failure at home, failure to change, failure to lead, and failure before God.

I almost gave up on reading the Bible this morning. I read the grocery ads to begin with instead. While I was on the train, shuffling around through the front of my bag, I came across that salve for my wandering soul – “My Utmost for His Highest.” To be honest, I didn’t expect much. If I felt blah enough to disregard the impact of the actual people in my life, how would a book help? Then I read the top of the page. “The moral law.” Just what I needed – a  lecture on morality – a chance to discover another failure upon failure. I could see my sin and guilt, spilling out like a hundred scarlet letters on my chest.

But I let Oswald Chambers talk:

“The moral law does not consider us as weak human beings at all, it takes no account of our heredity and infirmities, it demands that we be absolutely moral.”

Well come here and take away my spiritual gold stars because I am never going to get there.  I don’t know what upset me most about that statement – the part about the law not taking into account how messed up I am, or the expectation of perfect morality. And besides, I don’t really know where I am going and if it looks anything like where I am at, and I don’t care if I get there. So what if my logic is illogical; if the situation felt right in the first place, it all would make sense. Life would be right, and everything in the world would line up with it. Then I could be like all the other “happy” people around me.

Ever felt that way?

It seems like I live my life in two extremes as a follower of Christ. The first is consistently self-congratulatory, feeling better at every step, seeking and finding affirmation in doing good and being right. From this worldview, I am a success, and I can do anything I put my mind to. The opposite extreme I frequent less often; the doldrums of drudgery, when the bright colors all seem gray and I am unhappy and I am barely making things happen. Life appears near meaningless and often hopeless, but I know I have to keep going. How often are my prayers whining, filled with striving and moaning , desperate and destitute. I beg to be put back in success mode. I want to be right.  Who wouldn’t want to be?

Oswald Chambers, of course, kept speaking to me:

“We only begin to realize the power of the moral law once we see that it comes with a condition and a promise. But God never coerces us. Sometimes we wish He would make us be obedient, and at other times we wish He would leave us alone. Whenever God’s will is in complete control, He removes all pressure. And when we deliberately choose to obey Him, He will reach to the remotest star and to the ends of the earth to assist us with all of His almighty power.”

I didn’t want to admit it, but this funk I was in, this state of near depression, was also a state of rebellion. I want my life to be different and to serve me, I want my obedience to be rewarded, I want my pride to be stoked, I want to be made into a better person than I am so that I can achieve more and be very successful. I am tired of scraping by and making due. I have fooled myself into thinking that it all comes back to being in that happy place.

“And when we deliberately choose to obey him…” there it was, plain as day. I just don’t feel right because I am not willing myself to obey; to do, to go, to risk. Even if I don’t see the next step or I am lost and unmotivated, I can still take that step towards obedience, even if it is a step out of the dark into the slightly less dark. For me this looks like an abandonment of that magical “something better,” through prayer and honesty with myself. My God is bigger than my situation, and bigger than my ability to do it all by myself.

[On a side note, God was faithful to my obedience this month, and I wrote down more than 50,000 words towards a novel. It is not complete. May that stamp (to the right) be a testament to God’s faithfulness..and remind me to keep obeying.]

 

 

NaNoWriMo Update….

Today I exceeded 30,000 words!!! Woohoo!! Fighting a cold this week, but other than that, on target to get this thing completed. Sort of.

I actually realize that 50,000 words may not be enough to complete a novel, at least not one I am writing. I think it may be closer to 75,000 or 100,000. Egh. Lord give me a patience!

But I have a lot to say when I come back thanks to a little discipleship from Madeleine L’Engle and the Gospel of Mark.

Slow Down and National Novel Writing Month

So…I haven’t been blogging much lately. I think it is a measure of disappointment combined with a slightly new direction. When Facebook changed everyone’s home page, well, people stopped reading. That was a little disheartening…but not the end of the world. I just took a short hiatus.

Now I will probably take a longer one. It is National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo), and I am firmly committed to writing 50,000 words this month. I may jump on here now and then to update my progress….but, for now, I will be fairly silent this month. Perhaps in December I can work on building my platform.

Now…onward!