Thursday, January 10, 2013

Epiphany of the Kicker

There's something beautiful about sadness. It's something we all recognize when that earthquake quality rolls through our core, raining invisible chaos on our invisible emotive organs. It's why people love tragic stories and tragic heroes, and it's why tragic events bring communities of humans closer together. We all sense that rumbling emotion and catch it reverberating through each other's souls, swimming like a translucent Man o' War behind colorful eyes. We see it.

It is this quality of sadness that convinces me it is the reason we allow ourselves to be loved fruitlessly. By that, I mean the almost unrequited loves, the ones in which we submit ourselves to foolhardy behavior, relentless hope, and harmful self-perspectives because we are in love with a person who treats us horrendously. We kiss the foot that kicks us while they bite the hands that devotedly feed them. Sometimes these people know what they are doing to us; sometimes they do not. Either way, it is a rampant human tendency to chase the Kicking Foot as far as it will run, and sometimes we continue to skitter circles around it if it stops moving. We devote ourselves to those who, at least in behavior, hate us. I believe this is because humans are enamored with sadness.

Watching the eyes of a girl whose heart has just been wounded, I see so many things that I have felt. I see her tears that pool just enough to make her eyes gloss, but she dares not spill one. I see the contrast between her now-shining deep blue irises and the gloom of her blackened but beautifully long eyelashes. I see the hope attempting in vain not to die, all the while knowing it will soon be put out, existing as a mere reflective speck of light in her eyes. I feel her exposure leaking into the room, pressing on my ribcage until both our chests become gaping cavities of emotion. I see all this and I feel all this and I think it is beautiful.

Beauty such as this inspires me to be poetic. It inspires me to write. It inspires me to stay up much later than I wanted to because I have found the urge to express the epiphany I have had by watching the sadness dance in her eyes. I understand, finally, why humans are so attached to the pain that kills us: it brings out a deeper gorgeousness that we never know otherwise. This gorgeousness is not just superficial; it is the gorgeousness of the vitality of pain, the depth of experience, and the existence of the soul. It is the proof that reality does not only exist in our minds and that we did not just invent God to make ourselves feel better. It is the representative of the morality that we sometimes pretend we do not have. To paraphrase an author I can't remember from a book I didn't really think was that good, we long for an Eden we have never known. Part of us senses a perfection that exists elsewhere, and when it is not fulfilled, our disappointed souls flicker through like veils blowing just out of place in the breeze. This pain, this profound and incomparable longing betrays our spirituality, and we recognize the beauty of the soul in both ourselves and one another. This is why we allow ourselves to be treated terribly. This is why we love to be comforting confidante when a dear one's life wounds them. We long for pain because we long to finally see glimpses of the deep soul within us all.

"The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit." Psalm 34:18

Monday, December 31, 2012

What I Want out of 2013

1. For the words rape, fag, gay, and phrases like "kill yourself" to be taken out of the world's vocabulary. Specifically, out of gaming vocabulary.

2. Actually, how about gaming disappears?

3. For people to give up opposition to love. Gay love, straight love, interracial love—if it's love, no matter what the kind, it's undoubtedly better than hate.

4. For people to stop hating each other for having opposing political views. That's why we vote. Now shut up about it.

5. For all judgment to cease. We all do stupid things, mean things, hurtful things, and things that nobody else understands. The sooner we accept this, the better we will all get along.

6. For God to be allowed back in schools. Church and state can be separate without restricting the freedom of those who believe in God but may not be able to afford private school.

7. For teachers to be able to provide their students with an education, not just a lesson plan.

8. For "family time" to include activities that exclude any type of screen.

9. For all the Kindles to burn in a fiery, fiery funeral pyre larger than the state of Alabama.

10. For everyone to appreciate honesty as much as my best friend does.

11. For all those folks who showed up in theaters to see Les Mis to stop hiding when other pieces of art and literature are struggling to make an appearance in society.

12. Robin Williams for President.

13. For jobs to be payed according to social importance, i.e., teachers should be payed more than reality show pimps.

14. For "Man in the Mirror" to actually take effect on people, especially politically. African hunger is sad, but it's okay to start with the hunger in our own country before we pretend we're going to fix the world.

15. For real crimes to stop being turned into Lifetime movies. It just happened. No, a year is not enough of a "sensitivity period."

16. All video games to be demolished except Pacman.

17. NO MORE REMAKES OR SEQUELS. There are plenty of struggling writers in this world. Hire some of them to write better movies.

18. Better yet, hire them to fix all the profane grammatical errors in advertisements.

19. For people to stop being afraid to be human. Rejection happens, pain happens, mistakes happen, and no matter how hard you try to avoid it, you will get hurt. There does happen to be some truth in "go big or go home." If you go home, at least you tried. The effort is always better than the avoidance.

20. For more people to bring to social awareness the things that matter to their hearts. No more songs about that booty all up in da flo or the chain hangin' low or rides on disco sticks. How about some more work from Macklemore and U2 and other people who take notice and try to spread awareness. Or, you can write songs about sex that don't have to be vulgar as @#!%. Think a little more Bryan Adams, a little less 50 Cent.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Paradise Lost... and Found?

"For neither do the spirits damned lose all their virtue..." —John Milton, Paradise Lost

Perhaps it is uncouth of me to quote a piece of a poem partial to Satan. John Milton's masterpiece, Paradise Lost, describes in poetic brilliance the war, fall, and deception of Satan and his legions of thwarted angels. With this description, of course, comes the contrast of the Good Lord's grace and power amidst a "threatened" throne. Milton writes with resounding diction and philosophical inquiry, thus making Paradise Lost an absolute dream for me: an epic poem and genius work of literature that also causes me to think deeply about my faith and the state of the world.

As can be read in many of my previous posts, life's social and logical struggles have challenged me. I have recently fallen into a state of distrust, abandoned expectations, and neglected hope. In response to such notions I have acted accordingly, living in the world as if it is all that exists. Though my actions do little to glorify the God I believe in, He has been ever on my mind throughout, and every day I question what it is exactly I am trying to prove by turning from faith to the world. I made a sort of pact with myself to pursue only what I truly want and to chasten no more the honest opinions of what is necessary in my life. I dove into literature and writing, working a job I adore, creating lists of self-improving goals like re-teaching myself guitar and learning calligraphy. I am working toward the body I want and the mind I want; yet, all falls to faith. Its impact is constant: if you do have faith, its effect is impossible to mistake; if you don't have faith, you spend most of your time trying to explain why it is not there. Either way, the mind is consumed with the presence of faith.

I have not yet brought myself to return to reading my Bible consistently. I have hardly felt worthy to touch it in past times, and now I hold a slight (unjust) aversion to it. I have read only some chapters from my favorite book, Ecclesiastes, which was brought to my mind when it was quoted by dear Mr. Hemingway in the front of my new favorite novel, The Sun Also Rises. Despite my love for Ecclesiastes, the disarray of my mind has kept me from immersing myself in the Bible's call, causing me to be negligent and hesitant and doubtful. By some stroke of fate divine, I chose to next read Milton's aforementioned poem, which I had previously read excerpts from about a year ago in class. The excerpts—small though they be—were enough to dramatically arouse my interest in the poem. An epic verse about the Fall of Man from the tormented perspective of Satan himself? How could anyone not be intrigued?

Thus began my reading of Paradise Lost and the psychological journey back toward faith. Though baby steps seem awfully large in comparison to the miniscule movements I am making back toward God, it seems He is still watching me, luring me by dropping into my hands the perfect concoction of my love and bane. Logic and literature, faith and reality superimposed into beautiful words and artful arrangements on aromatic, red-worn pages have captured my attention. I am only three books into the epic, and already I have witnessed several dimensions of rebellious spirit wrought with sins of pride, greed, malice, and gluttony, as well as the gloriousness of those fallen who had such potential, and the contrast of the wounded, vengeful rebellion against the majestic benevolence of the great Creator. Some instances that have already captured me include God's discussion with his Son about the forgiveness of man, claiming men are given grace because they did not manifest evil within themselves but were seduced by the outward forces of the fallen. Also, the quote at the beginning of this post stopped my eyes immediately upon the page. "For neither do the spirits damned lose all their virtue..." This said of the masses of fallen angels who hold honor among thieves, upholding respect and perverted virtue among the monarchic structure of newly-founded Hell. This statement particularly struck me, as I have mentioned asking before of my friend how many times God would be willing to forgive me the same foul strikes. If the damned do not forfeit the entirety of their virtue, how then can I possibly be so beyond the reach of redemption? I have never doubted the power of God's forgiveness, but only the power of my own ability to turn from evil and embrace the humility necessary to return to God's favor.

If the damned have enough left within them to be considered still of virtue, even in the mires of a poetic Hell, then I on Earth still have infinite strength to return myself to a state fit of attempting worship of a greater God than ever found. I cannot be completely devoid of the virtue I may have owned before. There is a way back; though I have to find it precisely, I am now aware of its existence. I no longer doubt my ability to return to God's graces. It is simply a matter of bracing myself and doing so, and the Lord has encouraged me by placing this response directly into my hands, centuries after it was written by a simple poet.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Mad World

It's a strange, strange world when you can feel guilty for being someone's friend.

Right now, I can think of three people I "should" hate. Each of them has wronged a friend of mine in the past. I do not condone their actions, but I do not hold grudges against them, either. Two of them I don't even particularly like. I see no problem, however, with treating them like human beings. Isn't that why my friends hate them in the first place—because they didn't treat others well?

Three stories.

One. A bunch of college kids become friends. A girl and a guy in this group of friends start dating. Everyone knows this guy is a "friendly" guy. Eventually, he cheats on her. A few times.

Two. Two girls become friends. One shares her feelings about a guy that the other girl has just befriended. The first girl harbors secret feelings for years. The boy suspects, but doesn't return the ardor, and acts accordingly. A small, drunken betrayal occurs, and the first girl is heartbroken.

Three. A girl discovers her friend has been dating a guy who has allegedly cheated on her twice. The friend's friends all hate her boyfriend for this reason.

In story One, I am one of the "college kids." I was horrified for my friend when she got cheated on, and I was angry that the guy—also my friend—had done it. I wanted to be there for my girl friend, but I did not feel the need to shun the guy. I wasn't seeking him out, by any means, but I wasn't about to forget about the year of friendship we had developed. I didn't see him around for a while; he was giving my girl friend space. The girl's other friends started violently hating him immediately. I understand this situation, I really do; but is it necessary for me to end my friendship, too? Treating that guy like a leper wasn't going to help my friend's wounds heal, and treating him like a human being wasn't going to harm my friendship with her (at least, it shouldn't). Now, a year later, we run into each other, and he's surprised I'm still "cool with" him. It's still not over, though—some other friends of mine aren't fond of him and seem to lose words when I mention that he invited me to hang out. Why do I feel guilty for wanting to hang out with someone who has already been my friend for two years?

Story Two tells of a friend of mine who was hurt by someone we both know. I became friends with the guy much after the story began, but I have been here to witness the end, and the end is not pretty. Now I am caught among another group of friends who want to hate this guy with all they have (not quite as violently as the group in story One, but still). I am casual friends with this guy. I don't hate him. I think he acted like a jackass, and I'm sorry that he hurt my friend—very sorry—but I have nothing to do with the situation. Why do I feel pressured to hate him?

Story Three is about a friend of mine whose boyfriend all our friends hate. Am I the only only one who thinks IT'S THEIR OWN DAMN BUSINESS? If he did cheat and she took him back, that's her choice. She's allowed to date whomever she likes, even if he's not a great catch. I understand wanting to be there for her and wanting her to be with a man she deserves (rather, who deserves her), but I don't think it's "being a good friend" to continually talk shit about her boyfriend when you're only slightly out of hearing range. Sure, he may be a douche, and sure, maybe he did cheat on her, or whatever he is said to have done. Either way, I believe you can support a friend without supporting their decision. I think it is more loving to listen to a friend and help them out with their bad decision (read: be open-minded and willing to listen and advise) than to correct them without being willing to hear reasons. Hear reasons, not just learn them and trash-talk them. We all make dumb decisions. Making someone feel like they can't talk to you about certain parts of their lives is only going to make it worse if that decision does backfire. Why do I feel like my friends would hate me for wanting to support my friend, no matter what her choice is?

None of this is okay. None of it. The way the guys acted is not okay, but the way my friends react is not okay, either. I'm not saying I've never had a particularly insensitive reaction to someone who has hurt me or a friend, but I think I've grown a bit past that. Perhaps it's because of one of my best friends from home. She dated someone I was okay with for a while, but rumors of cheating began to arise and led to heartbreak. She has since still been somewhat involved with him, but I'm not going to stop being a good friend to her because of that. I want her to be happy, and even though I don't think that guy is going to make her happy, I'm willing to hear her reasons why she's willing to try. I would rather stay close to her and be able to help her up if she falls than to abandon her because I disagree with her choices. The pressure that I feel to hate all of the aforementioned guys is so intense, though, that I almost felt guilty for running into the friend from story One in public. I almost didn't want to be seen with him because I felt I would be judged and subsequently hated. Has anyone heard of forgiveness? Yes, heartbreak hurts. Yes, people make stupid choices over and over again. "As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly" (Proverbs 26:11). We all know it. So let it go. Forgive. Forgive and let live, and support those you love, even if they're acting foolishly. YOU act foolishly; would you like it if your friends muttered hateful things about someone you cared about, or forced their friends to hate you for a mistake you made, or refused to hear about an important part of your life because they disagreed? How would YOU like it?

Don't put your friends in those situations. Don't demand hate. Let forgiveness suffice where injury stings. Forgiving may not satisfy the desire we all have for vengeance or calm our sense of self-righteousness, but it is the better way to handle wrongs. I'm not saying avoid protecting those close to you—by all means, let them know how you feel. Tell them you disagree, disapprove, etc. But don't push them away. Be honest, and let them return the favor. Open your mouth if you must, but never forget to open your ears.

Jesus saves.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Mountain Lion

A couple years ago, I had an encounter with a mountain lion. It was not a gruesome experience; I simply ran into one with a friend as we descended a hiking trail at dusk. We stared. It stared. It took a few steps toward us with a flicking tail. We threw our hands up and shouted as loud as we could. It disappeared. Despite how easy that confrontation was, it terrified me beyond belief. Thus began the dreams about the mountain lion.

At first the dreams seemed to be mental replications of the actual experience. They gradually grew to be more violent, however, with the mountain lion attacking first other people, then me, and most often succeeding. I've had dreams in which the lion attacked in houses I felt comfortable in, thus destroying their serenity. I've had dreams where I attempted to fight the lion to little avail. Very often, I would shout at the lion in my dream, only to wake myself with strange half-hollers trying to escape my sleep-paralyzed body. I would encounter the lion every few weeks. This has been happening for about two years now.

Last night, though, the dream finally changed. This time, the scenario was that I had lost everything and had to live outside in the woods with a sleeping bag and a hammock. I couldn't find anywhere safe to hang the hammock, so I discovered a tiny cave with just enough room for a person to sleep. I didn't want to be attacked while asleep, so I left the cave to find something with which to block the entrance. When I returned, the mountain lion had taken over my cave. Instead of fleeing—it hadn't seen me yet—I started growling at it, loudly. I growled and growled, and the lion crouched, tail flicking, eyes flashing, just as it did in the true encounter. Suddenly, the lion sprinted out of the cave. This time (be warned; the dream gets a bit Chuck Norris here) the lion did not win. Right as it lunged for me, I swung a fist around and punched its muzzle, then managed to swing an arm around its neck and snap it (sorry PETA). I had finally defeated the lion.

I still woke with those strange hollers in my throat. Fortunately, I don't think I woke my roommate, but this has happened before and I warned her about it, so she shouldn't be worried either way. This time, though, I woke with a sort of astonishment. So much of this dream was different. I had never been completely alone when the lion attacked before. I had never had to face the lion dead-on, eye to eye. Most importantly, the lion had always won. This time, in a face-to-face deadlock, I succeeded.

Some part of me feels this dream is significant somehow. Recurring dreams don't just drastically alter their endings that way. Yes, the setting and specifics of my mountain lion dreams have changed in the past, but the main plot was always the same: Amy vs. mountain lion. Mountain lion wins. Defeating the lion woke me with the feeling that something in my waking life has also changed. I can't imagine what it would be—I can only think of minor "victories," and even those are grasping for straws—but it feels strong. There's a sense of relief in my spine today. I feel as if defeating the lion has brought me over a nasty ravine, a wild crevice, something large that I could not have thought of crossing before, but here I am on the other side. I feel like there is another part of my life waiting for me, and I am finally able to face it.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Letter to My Friends

When you think nobody is listening, you yell too loud.

This is the base of my life recently. To use a far too common metaphor, this year has been a roller coaster ride - not the fun kind. It's the kind where the people standing next to the tracks can hear the cars ripping over the steel, thrashing wind through the bars as they race by, shaking the tracks with something wild between a rattle and a bang.

I have put all of you in the place of the passersby to the roller coaster. I have selfishly flown across the steel, not caring that the wind I shoot your way is too strong and uncomfortable. I have hardly stopped to listen. Occasionally I pause, then get up for another 30-second race around the tracks. Circles, constant circles. I'm going nowhere.

I do have to say one thing: I'm still not sure what is wrong. Yes, I am struggling immensely with my faith. Yes, I have been talking about boys all the damn time. Yes, I am slightly caught up with a few minor situations. Clearly, some of my choices are not at all beneficial to myself or to those around me. That being said, I don't feel like I have gone off the deep end. I'm pushing my boundaries, but I'm taking small steps back. I'm aware of what I'm doing. Maybe that will make you all even more frustrated with me, but it's honest. I am not entirely certain of my motivations all the time, but I'm not trying to hurt anyone and I'm not on a self-destruction path. I'm sure half of what I just said will only convince you otherwise, but it is the truth of my thoughts.

No matter what I am struggling with, however, I should still be acting as a better friend. I should slow down and shut up and listen to you. I should stop constantly whimpering about everything I want and don't want and that is happening or not happening in my life. I should find ways to deal with my problems so that you guys don't have to. I should realize when I've blown enough hot air and learn to shut up and deal.

So guys, this is me apologizing to all of you. I'm sorry for being a shit friend. I'm sorry for being so selfish in the time I spend with all of you. I could say now how much I cherish my friendship with each of you, but I don't think I'm worthy to say that if I don't act like it. I'm sorry for making you listen to me over and over and over again with all the same stupid stuff. I'm sorry for grabbing too tightly onto your friendship because something inside me is askew. I should figure out my own loneliness issues without putting weight on your shoulders, and I haven't been doing that effectively. Or at all.

I know some of you are probably rather disappointed with me. I'm sorry to have disappointed you. Some of you must really be better than me, and I don't say that sarcastically. You can understand whatever it is I'm doing wrong, and I still don't feel it. I've felt trapped in Core for so long that this just feels like actual life now. It feels normal. I know the idea of Christianity is to be better than normal, but maybe I'm just not. They say the path is narrow, and maybe I just don't fit on it.

I commend all of you for being such wonderful people. If I didn't already know how amazing each of you are, the fact that you put up with me this long would prove it. Thank you for listening, for trying to help, for giving advice, for watching my back, and for not punching me in the face, though I'm sure I deserve it. Thank you for being true friends even though I'm doing something wrong enough to put you all off. Even if you're mad, disappointed, or just frustrated, thank you for everything. Know that I love you all and I am thinking every day about how to figure myself out and make myself better. You all deserve a better friend than me.



Saturday, November 24, 2012

When God is Gone

I think we all like the image of God begging for us to give Him our attention. We all like to think when we are busy with other things, He waits for us like a puppy at the door. We think He gives us so much attention that we are the only ones on His mind when we decide to drift away for a while.

I don't think this is true. I think, as much as God loves us, He is not going to put Himself on hold while we waste our time with trivial pursuits. This should not be such a foreign concept to us. Hell, some women won't even keep their attention on a guy if he takes too long to call! Why then do we need this constant reassurance?

I think we say this because we are all afraid to admit we have actually walked away from God, however temporarily. We are too afraid to do something wrong and own it. We'll run off and dabble with sin, but we always want to be able to glance over our shoulders at the door we closed and know God is on His tiptoes, desperately peering through the peephole, watching us. We like to think we are so important that we will worry God if we take off to make some mistakes.

We are NOT that important.

Don't get me wrong - we are definitely important to God. Think of the verse everyone always quotes about the sparrows. God loves us unfathomably, but He does not need us. He made us out of love, He guides us out of love, and He continues to bless us out of love. Apart from Jesus, there is no human born because his presence was necessary. Jesus' human life on Earth wasn't even necessary for God, only for us. God could have let us rot; He sent Jesus instead, again out of love. Most of us just refuse to acknowledge a certain truth:

If we want to walk away, God will let us.

He is not going to force us to stay close to Him. He is not going to force us to obey His commands or read His word. He is not going to commandeer our lives if we intentionally drive ourselves too far off course. He will always welcome us home and He will always forgive us, but there comes a point when He will let us live without Him. Why else does the word "if" exist in the Bible? There are people against God - some vehemently against Him. If God had done his puppy-dog wait at the door, those people likely wouldn't have such strong hatred for Him. They would feel as if He had been there all along, and some horrible tragedy of fate had kept them from seeing Him. If God lets them walk away, however, they have no one to blame but themselves, and someone to hate for letting them go.

I only bring this up because I have not been as strong in faith in the past couple months. I have been frustrated, angered, and rendered careless, and only because I allowed myself to be. I have wondered aloud to one of my best friends, "How many times do I get to run away before God stops wanting me back?" Many of the above thoughts resulted from that conversation. God will always be willing to forgive and to love, she told me, but He is also willing to let me walk away. The path is narrow, and not because God does not want us to come back - it is narrow because we refuse to knock. We want to be chased. There is the whole idea of God pursuing us in ardor, but I think even that has been too romanticized. God will pursue us, yes, when we are most in need of Him and most ignorant of Him. Once we know Him, though, we are responsible for bringing ourselves to His feet when we are most deserving of pain.

I understand right now that God has let me walk away. I am not sure if I am ready to come back. I do miss Him. I still have connections with him. I think about Him every day and pray to Him about at least the smaller things. I have conversations in my head about what He would think and what I should say. I haven't read much of His word in a while and I find it hard to give up some of the areas in which I have allowed my tense limbs to stretch - areas that may not be very beneficial to my faith. I know God has not abandoned me, though; He is letting me figure myself out, and He knows (more so than I) when I will be back. I do not think God is worried about me. Should I get myself into irrevocable trouble - which is always a danger in walking away - I think He would care. Of course He would! He is the God of unfathomable, unmatchable love! I believe it wrenches His heart unimaginably painfully when each one of us turns away, but I am also able to admit exactly how selfish of a human being I am. I know my actions hurt God and I still want to do them. I know my actions can break God's heart and I'm still not sure if I want to give them up yet. I am an impossibly selfish human being and that is why I sin!

I'm working on getting back to the way I believed a few months ago. By working, I mean I am thinking more and more about why it is right for me to return to God. The funny thing is, my faith was the strongest it has ever been in my life right before I turned away. Why would I leave when my faith is strongest? I don't know exactly. I got fed up, I suppose. I wanted to see what life was like without all the uptight pressure and tension that comes with dealing with a bunch of Christians all the time. I wanted to see what would happen to me if I encountered the world as it is. I wanted to see what faith I could bring from being hurt, from messing up. I have found God closest when I have been destroyed, and everything I was feeling recently led me to feel nothing. Ever sing "break my heart for what breaks yours"? Ever utter the prayer that God "break my heart" to let Himself in? I believe it is necessary. I don't think I have to be overwhelmed by a physical sensation of God in order to have strong faith in Him, but I do think participation of the heart is necessary, and right now I can't feel my heart at all. I'm not necessarily setting out to get my heart shattered, but I can't with certainty say that is not some part of my intention. I am wandering, and I think God understands. Approves? Well. There are some things I know God definitely does not approve of, and I think we're all kidding ourselves if we pretend He doesn't care. I do have enough faith in my God, though, to know He understands the fickle wanderings of our hearts. He knows me. He knows what I want, even though I don't. He knows what I will find. Most importantly, He knows exactly what will kick my butt home.

And He will still be willing to answer the door.