Different and Apart, but Not Alone

“That is why the Christian is in a different position from other people who are trying to be good. They hope, by being good, to please God if there is one; or–if they think there is not–at least they hope to deserve approval from good men. But the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christ-life inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.”

As I’ve stated, the one goal I have for this year (aside from working on remaining “calm”), is to read the entire way through A Year with C.S. Lewis. From time to time, I hope to share with you selections that particularly stand out to me. This quote, from Mere Christianity, is part of a larger selection for January 27, but I think it stands well on its own.

Very little of what we do in this life (Christian or not) is wholly the result of individual actions. Certainly, in America, there is great pride in pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps and soldiering on through difficult circumstances. When this happens, it is something to be admired and to which we should all aspire. Yet I do not believe that we do anything completely independently. We have had help, if not from human beings, then certainly with the assistance, guidance, and love of our Creator.

As an introvert, I will admit to having some struggles getting involved in activities that require community involvement. Social anxiety is not just something I struggle with currently, but something with which I have tried to fight against since I was very young. Oddly, however, I do not know if I’ve ever felt truly, completely alone, especially when I am physically alone. The times when I have felt most helpless, most utterly abandoned, have frequently been at those large social functions in which I seem to withdraw most into a feeling of uncomfortable awkwardness and complete social ineptitude. As a teen and younger adult, this fact was a source of great sadness for me. It was something to be medicated or counseled through. It was an obstacle to overcome; deficiency or medical issue to be “healed.” As a slightly older adult, this is just a fact about myself I have come to accept.

You see, I now understand that it is not solitude that I seek. In fact, it is when I sit down to do any of my “solitary” activities (writing, reading, reflecting, even watching television programs), that I often feel most connected. Connected to what, you ask? Well, to me, these are the moments I feel most connected to God (yes, often even while watching the boob tube!). I cannot remember so much as a birthday party in my earliest years during which I felt like I belonged. In many ways, I’ve always felt “apart.” Not special, mind you, just apart.

I have often said that, though I am undeniably a product of my parents by appearance (and by certain other traits), I have always felt that my family is much “cooler” than me (depending, of course, upon how you measure “coolness”). I do not say this to get sympathy, it’s just a matter of fact. My parents and brother make friends with such ease and LOVE social functions and so many other things from which I gradually fell away as I grew more independent. My parents, brother, aunt, and grandparents are probably the coolest people I know. I admire their social boldness, but I have ceased aspiring to it. In the words of the wise Willow Rosenberg, “That way leads to madness… and sweaty palms.” People are just different, and I am a person… who is different.

Even as I write this, however, I recognize that God has called me to do great works and some of these works will be done in community, particularly as I get deeper into my work on my graduate degree in seminary and go forward into whatever ministry God intends for me. I cannot sit here and spell out the terms of my future ministry and dictate to God that I will not become a more social being. I may well do that as I age. For the time-being, however, there is a peace in accepting that, while I may not find peace in a crowded room or social gathering, wherever I am, God is with me. As I seek to walk closer with God, I know I will be formed into precisely the kind of being I am meant to be. Right now, that appears to mean pastoral counseling and writing, but I am in no way limiting my options and closing my mind to the possibilities.

I’ll leave you with one final thought from the same selection from Mere Christianity:

“A live body is not one that never gets hurt, but one that can to some extent repair itself. In the same way a Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man who is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble–.”

Time: So Little and So Much

I like time. There’s so little and so much of it.

– from “Angel”

My little family of three is less than three weeks away from becoming a family of four (and even more heavily testosterone laden). At moments during this pregnancy, it felt like these weeks would never arrive and now that they’re here, it seems as though they’ve come around quite suddenly. Pregnancy, like many things in life, feels at once blisteringly fast and painfully slow. I do not wish to wax poetic about the joys and struggles of carrying a child for nine months nor complain about the pleasures and stresses that come along with motherhood. I realize there are multiple perspectives and am fully aware that many do not get to experience these gifts.

As I sit here watching my son play, intermittently happy and then running to me upset when he becomes frustrated (which happens approximately every minute or so at two-and-a-half years of age), it occurs to me that time is an incredibly curious phenomenon. In many respects, it does seem as though it passes more rapidly as we age. It is true that a minute is a minute regardless of how old we get, and yet there’s a relativity to time that shifts dramatically in varying circumstances. Two minutes seem an eternity to a two year old stuck in a time out, but fly by for the student trying to squeeze a few more test answers before the professor announces, “Time’s up!” Waiting at a red light for sixty seconds is incredibly frustrating (especially when running late) and yet those same sixty seconds tick down ever so quickly to the football team desperately trying to score the winning goal at the end of the fourth quarter.

Time’s fleeting and seemingly bi-polar nature is something wholly out of our control. I suppose the moral of the story is to enjoy every moment of life and try not to worry about those things over which we have no control. My easily frustrated toddler who, at the moment, cannot get enough of Mama’s love and attention (especially at the most inopportune moments) will become a busy young boy soon enough and, let’s face it, I’ll miss these days and that “clingy-ness” that sometimes wears on a tired pregnant mother.

Yet another curious observation about time is how easily some seem to classify it as “wasted.” Priorities in life differ from one person to another. So, too, do our interests and hobbies. People occasionally deride those who spend their leisure time watching television or playing video games. Such time is clumsily classified as frivolous and wasted. It may be true in some cases. Some who enjoy nothing more than the “great-outdoors” find it “sad” that there are those of us who, for one reason or another, do not. Then there are those who enjoy spending their time with their nose in a book and laugh at those who stare “mindlessly” at the “idiot-box” for hours a day (I am a reader and would argue there are plenty of books out there that are doing absolutely nothing to contribute to one’s IQ or knowledge base).

Any number of comparisons can be made regarding what is and is not wasted time. This, I think, is a judgment that is largely relative and best left for each individual to evaluate alone. For my money, I agree with this sentiment:

“Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.”

-Marthe Troly-Curtin

I will leave you with one final thought from C.S. Lewis, as I seem to be turning to his wisdom with increasing frequency even when I do not, necessarily, agree:

“The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.”

– C.S. Lewis

Enjoy whatever time you have, however you choose to spend it.

Blessings!

We have two bits of evidence…

We have two bits of evidence about the Somebody [behind the Moral Law]. One is the universe He has made. If we used that as our only clue, then I think we should have to conclude that He was a great artist (for the universe is a very beautiful place), but also that He is quite merciless and no friend to man (for the universe is a very dangerous and terrifying place). The other bit of evidence is that Moral Law which He has put into our minds. And this is a better bit of evidence than the other because it is inside information. You find out more about God from the Moral Law than from the universe in general just as you find out more about a man by listening to his conversation than by looking at a house he has built.

-C.S. Lewis from Mere Christianity (emphasis mine)

This is appropriate food for thought given the terrors and horrors of this our modern world. In the absence of time for a full blog post today, I thought I would leave it here and allow it to ruminate.

The Curious Problem of Resolutions

I am of two minds on the subject of resolutions. On the one hand, recognizing a problem and wanting to fix it is certainly nothing to scoff at. I admire a person’s willingness to change. On the other hand, change is seldom easy and so few people actually stick to their resolutions that they are often quite meaningless. I had three goals last year, none to which I strictly adhered. I probably did write something every day, but it was not always the kind of writing I intended. I definitely finished many books in 2012, but most of these were seminary related and hardly amount to all of the books I started in 2012. We did not keep to our “one family PT day per week” goal. We did venture out a lot more in 2012, but hardly to the extent we would have liked. This pregnancy has been hard on all of us and made that whole goal a bit impossible (perhaps after I recover from the birth of our second son, we can get back to this one because it’s incredibly important).

Three 2012 resolutions set, three 2012 resolutions that were less than resounding successes. Apparently, I’m not alone in failing to keep these resolutions. After discussions with many friends and reading the plethora of sarcastic internet memes referencing these seemingly universal failures, I have decided against declarative resolutions this year. I have purposely not even written on the subject until January 7, so powerful is the “dangerous” temptation to set such resolutions.

I have read that New Year’s resolutions are successful only when they’re specific, but such is the nature of any goal, yes? With the impending birth of our second son and my desire to return to seminary after taking just one semester off, I do not wish to set goals so broad or so many that I am doomed to failure. I keep thinking to myself, wouldn’t it be great to sit here around this time next year and write about how I accomplished a goal I set at the beginning of the year? Would that be enough to spur me toward making meaningful year-long goals and keeping them? I know not. At least several times a year, I vow to do something every day and just do not (but, if I had set a goal to get out of bed every day, take care of Weston, and put away the dishes, I’d definitely have succeeded!).

Instead of making resolutions bound for failure, I will simply make myself some promises. First, as most of you know, I am a big fan of C.S. Lewis. Much of his work has significantly shaped my theological thought process. I have a book called A Year with C.S. Lewis in which each day contains a paragraph from one of his brilliant works on religion and theology. So far in 2013, I have read one page (day) per night without ever declaring this as a resolution. It’s not a resolution, in fact, it is merely a new piece of my routine.

Second, I improved significantly in becoming a calmer person last year after the panic over finding a specialist to treat my lupus. When all of that worked out (along with some other, even more personal issues), it finally dawned on me that yes, indeed, things really do always have a way of working out. I am not sure if this came just with my age or if it is one of those lessons that does not sink in until it has been learned many times over. I certainly have not mastered the art of calm, but I have started to approach more of life in the same way that some of my favorite people do: “It will be okay.”

Recently losing a dear friend, Cindy, to cancer on Christmas Eve, helped put things into perspective. I never thought that the last time I spoke to her would be it. As I reflect on our conversations, I can smile with the knowledge that Cindy knew how much she was loved and appreciated. I am relieved to know that we never exchanged a harsh word in our years of friendship. No one expected her recent cancer battle to be such a short one and her passing helped confirm how precious each and every moment of life is. I suspect we each have different reactions to the death of a loved one, but as I went through holiday festivities, I marveled at the outpouring of love I witnessed for such a great lady. I thought to myself, “Could we not all pass on with some peace knowing we were so well loved and fondly remembered?” Reflecting on my own faults, the tendency of my brain to head to the “worry” and my inability to, in many cases, “find the fun” (and I take a beat here to smile thinking of how Cindy would delight at my quoting Faith) leaves me hoping to improve upon these traits. I am never going to be a social butterfly and I am, often, quite a serious person. These are probably not things that will change in any appreciable way, yet I think I could do with some calm and find some peace and, yes, a little more FUN, in something beyond the mundanities of life.

I wish much luck and success to all of those who have actually set resolutions in 2013! May you accomplish your 2013 goals. As for me, I am going to continue to focus on short-term, attainable goals and hope to write to you next year a calmer person, having read all of A Year with C.S. Lewis, and “found the fun” more frequently than not. Of course, a little wine a time or two a week after the new baby’s born may help with at least two of those goals, particularly if I wish to maintain my sanity while raising two boys as a military wife and finishing seminary, eh?

Blessings to all in 2013!

Jessie’s Favorite Television Shows of 2012

As sit I with my hot cup of green tea and peruse my list from 2011, I am delighted to say that I still enjoy much of what I did last year. I’m also happy to pronounce that my list will differ because I’ve simply seen more greatness from some old favorites who’ve stumbled in recent seasons. Without further ado… here are my favorite shows of 2012!

 

11. Supernatural – I have just completely caught up with this show. Seasons six and seven almost lost me (and I’m not the least bit bitter that this show has gotten an eighth season where some Whedony shows I love did not, but I digress). Given the sincere pleasure of witnessing the intricate complexities of the Winchester brothers relationship, I simply cannot give it up. After seeing these initial episodes of season eight, I am thankful that I did NOT give up on the Winchesters. I genuinely enjoy the spin on the traditional ideas of good vs. evil, heaven vs. hell, angels and demons, and how the writers have managed to really explore spiritual and moral themes in a unique way without ever abandoning the core of the show: the brothers Sam and Dean. I’m loving this season and appreciate the flashbacks of what Dean and Sam experienced in their year apart. I’ve always been “Team Sam,” probably because of his understated good-boyness and the unique brains plus the brawn he brings to the screen (I can only handle long hair on two men: Brad Pitt and Jared Padalecki). Yet, I certainly do not deny Dean’s appeal. Despite some iffy story arcs in recent years, these characters keep me coming back for the ride and I’m happy to buckle myself right in!

 

10. Parenthood – I mean, what can be said about a show with no genre gimicks (it takes place entirely in this day and time) with realistic family drama that, though it brings us to the point of tears nearly every week, still does not feel forced of contrived? One cannot watch this show without feeling deeply for each character (a credit to both the actors and the writers). I find myself incapable of choosing a favorite character of storyline. I’m only a few episodes into season four and, kids, I’m still hooked.

 

9. Happy Endings/New Girl – I have little to add from my assessment of these shows from last year’s favorites list. Each of these shows has been steadily good and a joy to watch!

 

8. The Vampire Diaries – Consistently good through the end of season three and into four, despite a few hiccups with Elena’s transition. Well done, TVD crew! And oh right, I’m a Damon/Elena shipper and I will not hide it!

 

7. Parks and Recreation – Leslie Knope. Ron- freaking-Swanson. Ben Wyatt. I. LOVE. THIS. SHOW. The end. I can’t say enough about it, so I won’t try. Just watch it, people.

 

6. Mad Men/Breaking Bad – The ONLY reason that the near perfect seasons 5 of each of these shows are not further up on my list is because I do not wish to try to reorder it and try to parse out the negatives and positives of the other shows to try and see WHERE these fit. The ad men (and women) of SCDP came back last year and blew my mind in their subtle way yet again. There is just not enough room for me to espouse its finer points. Breaking Bad is one that the hubby and I JUST started watching recently and I must say that I think it left its mid-season finale on a superbly strong note. If I had been watching this all along, it would surely have made the list each year.

 

5. Homeland – I have few words for the absolute perfection of this show. It’s completely, wholly, and utterly brilliant (and I do NOT use that word lightly). I am not sure there’s a show out there that’s better written, more perfectly performed, or more consistently heart pounding. Claire Danes may as well run away with all the acting awards… male and female. And don’t even get me started on Mandy-freaking-Patinkin. Sincere, sincere love for this one!

 

4. The Walking Dead Need I say more? All right. I know not everyone has big love for Rick Grimes, but I love the man, so let’s just lay that out right off the bat. But Daryl? Is there anyone for whom the character love just sneaks up on you in quite the same way? Season 2 was a little shaky before its mid-season finale, but really picked up in the back half. The first half of season three has brought about plot lines to all at once disgust and intrigue me. I cannot wait to see where we go from here!

 

3. The Good Wife This show always seems so sure of itself and rarely makes mistakes. Julianna Margulies continues an outstanding run as Alicia and I simply cannot get enough of the brilliant Alan Cumming as Eli Gold. This season, I’ve been a bit thrown by the lackluster addition of Kalinda’s husband. I hope they’ll give her something more interesting to do on screen in the second half of the season. Consistently consistent. Much love for this series.

 

2. Revenge – Considering that this show continued to get incredibly better as season one progressed (not an easy feat to accomplish), I wanted to put it at number one. This is THE show that I cannot wait to watch each and every week. I feel a keen sense of loss when there is no new episode each week. Season one’s finale in May was literally jaw-dropping. I rewatched that fateful walk of Victoria’s to the airplane over and over. Could she REALLY have died? Surely they wouldn’t kill off one of my top three favorite characters? Coming back for season 2, I felt the show had stumbled a bit to find its footing–as most shows do in their sophomore outings. In the most recent two or three episodes, however, the Revenge crew seems to have regained its footing. Here’s to a spectacular back half in 2013!

 

1. Dexter – So I never thought The Good Wife or Revenge would be eclipsed by Mr. Morgan and his nobly wicked deeds, particularly given that it’s never been number one on my lists. Yet the most recent season has simply brought me to my knees. I’ve always enjoyed this show, even in its worst seasons. I wanted to LOVE season six given how it started to delve into Dexter’s thoughts on religion, spirituality, and the complexities of the eternal soul, yet they seemed to abandon that a bit too easily with the death of Brother Sam. That season, however, ended on what was perhaps its strongest note yet with Deb’s discovery, which set season seven up perfectly. With the addition of Yvonne Strahovski (as Hannah) and Ray Stevenson (as Isaak Sirco), this season was absolutely perfect (though I perhaps could have done without all the Quinn-ness). I can honestly say that I’m excited about this show in a way I may never have been and cannot WAIT to see the grand final season. And if Jennifer Carpenter doesn’t get nominated for SOMETHING, I will cry. Did you SEE those final few moments? I mean, c’mon.

 

These aren’t the only shows I watch, but by virtue of being the ones I “rush” to watch, its safe to say they are my favorites (and thank goodness about half of them have short seasons). I’d like to throw out honorable mentions for the superb ending to ‘The Closer’ and its seamless transition into ‘Major Crimes’, ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Spartacus’, which have been stellar this season. Sadly, I’m behind on ‘The Big C’, ‘Californication’, ‘Nurse Jackie’, and have yet to see the final season of ‘Weeds’ – but these are all fantastic shows as well.

Additionally, I cannot recall when ‘Chuck’ ended, but suffice to say, if I could have remembered, it would have made the list… likely in one of the top 5 spots.

Stay tuned for a few more blogs in the coming week or two and an eventual “favorite FILMS of 2012” list!

Blessings!