Art and me and my keyboard

One of my professors just passed along this article to me from Christianity Today, centered around the idea that the church has made beauty subjective.

It was one of those pieces that kind of slapped me. But isn’t beauty subjective? Isn’t it in the eye of the beholder? The author, Karen Swallow Prior, says this:

“We no longer distinguish between what Roger Scruton in his lovely book, Beauty, calls “aesthetic interest” and “mere effect.” If beauty is entirely subjective, the only thing that measures its worth is “mere effect”—how it makes us feel.”


Are we just interested in feeling? Is that all our art is about? That’s an interesting question, because it might change how we do art if we say “no.” If you’re asking me (which, you obviously are since you’re here), saying “no, we’re not just interested in sappy feelings” would make our art much better.

What if Christian literature was more interested in speaking complex truth and creating something beautiful and masterful and possibly not easy to digest? What if our music scene was more interested in making good music than changing the lyrics of trashy pop to make it appropriate for our children’s ears?

Prior goes on to bring Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor’s thoughts into the mix. O’Connor says that our Christian fiction has reduced our “conception of the supernatural to a pious cliché.”

Doesn’t that sting? Don’t we want to cling to our pious clichés and say, “well, at least they’re pious! At least they aren’t secular! It doesn’t matter that we’ve over sentimentalized our God to something tiny and simple and cuddly. At least we’ll draw people to Jesus with this stuff!”

As for me and my keyboard, we will try to understand what objective beauty is. We will read great writers and try to determine what makes them great. How did they get there? What do they understand that we don’t? We will look at humanity and try to see deeper than the surface. We will attempt to glance at the heart of people and the heart of God, because if we actually do it well, we won’t have all the answers. We won’t answer all the questions by “The End” and will actually end up being thought-provoking.

How to get ready for your sister’s wedding.

Did you ever know that people usually write “how-to” articles because at one point they didn’t know how to do whatever it is they’re telling you how to do?

Or maybe they currently don’t know how to do that.

So, maybe this is more of a brainstorm, but you’re welcome to be a part of it. Take a seat.

We’ve got about 13 days and 4 hours til my sister and her wonderful fiancé exchange rings. I think my heart stopped when I saw that on the countdown today. I knew yesterday that it was two weeks away, but looking at the countdown that used to have triple digits just made it more real.

She’s getting married and will no longer live across the hall from me. We won’t brush our teeth together every night. She’ll live in a cute little apartment about 30 minutes away with a far better man than I could have ever picked out for her, and no matter what, from there on out, we’ll be visitors in each others’ homes. Still family, but visitors.

At this point, even pictures of other people’s weddings get me teary, partly from happiness, and – to be honest – partly because it’s change. Change typically makes me cry. I also cry when I’m frustrated, but that’s not applicable here. (I’ll let you know if I change my mind about the applicability of tears of frustration while I’m doing my hair 13 days from now) I don’t know how I’m going to make it through the ceremony without making those ugly I’m-not-going-to-cry faces. I probably won’t. Stay tuned for those pictures.

Funny how the best things in life – like watching your very favorite sister embark on an incredible adventure that you are exhilarated about – can still summon tears and that little twinge of sadness at the end of an era.

This is the point where we focus on the new beginnings. We acknowledge that it’s hard to move on from something so good like sharing toothpaste and talking on the bathroom floor late at night and living life together, but then we look ahead. We look forward to our lives as adults who are intentional about staying connected. We look forward to some day taking our families on trips together and being the best aunts possible to our nieces and nephews.

For now, I look forward to loving my sister’s new last name and learning what to do with a brother-in-law… and figuring out how to not cry during my toast.

Brains and boxes.

It’s boxing day. So I think I’m finally going to get the boxes off of my floor. I’ve been dancing around them for a week and a half now, so I think it’s time I reclaim my floor.

Every time I come home from a semester at school, I downsize. Something about realizing that I spent five months without any of the things in my room makes me wonder how much I really need them. So, I go through all the drawers and shelves in my room. It takes me ages, and I can hardly walk through my room without stepping on something. So don’t get too impressed. I may not actually get it all done.

It’s just about the only way that I find out what’s in my drawers and closet. Otherwise, I don’t really know. I mean, I have an idea, but I’m just getting the hang of this whole organized life thing. I spent the majority of my very short life as a pack rat and extremely disorganized (and happy with it) girl.

So, I keep downsizing. This would probably be a nice thing to do in my brain. Scour the shelves and the filing cabinets (as if it’s that organized…) What have we got here? Is this jealousy? It’s so dusty from all these years of storage. I think this is from second grade. We can get rid of that. Clear up the space for something more productive.

Can you do that? Can you go through the catalog of memories and emotions of your brain and get rid of the things that aren’t true, noble, right, pure, lovely, or admirable? Can you replace all the things people have told you that aren’t true with the right information?

Sometimes I wish my brain was more like my closet. But then I look at my closet and figure that maybe my brain needs to stay the way it is.

I forget but then I remember

It’s 13 degrees below zero this morning. I’m trying not to complain about it, because then I’ll just feel like a wimp when it gets colder.

We’ve talked about how I named the 2000 Honda civic I drive “Audrey,” after the ever-classy Audrey Hepburn. Audrey’s a classy car, but Audrey does not like the cold.

Unfortunately, we have a two-car garage, which means that Audrey and my sister’s unnamed car sit outside, while my parents’ cars enjoy the protection of four walls and a concrete floor. Snow piles on their hoods and roofs and accumulates around their wheels so I spin when I try to leave for work. Brooke and I are both good friends with our scrapers and brushes. Someday, we dream, we will have garages to call our own. Then we won’t have to scrape our cars every morning. But until then, we scrape.

Every time I put my key in the ignition, Audrey whines for a bit before starting. I don’t blame her; it would be hard to get going after sitting dormant in that weather, even for a few hours. She groans for the first few minutes of mobility and refuses to warm her engine before I reach my destination, usually no more than ten minutes from my house. That way, the air blowing out of the vents never actually becomes heat, which is probably Audrey’s revenge for the cold home I’ve given her.

I spend a lot of time talking to Audrey. Oh, baby. I tell her. You can do it. Just start. Ohhhh, there you go. Okay, let’s go to work. You’re fine. You’ve got gas. I got all the snow off your hood. Yes, I know: I promised you a car wash a week ago, but it’s coming soon. Do you want your doors to freeze shut? *silence* I didn’t think so. 

The coaxing and the little reminders that she is capable of fulfilling her purpose make me feel like a life coach and wonder if that’s how God feels with me. I know it’s cold there. I know it feels like I’m not around sometimes, but I promise you, I’m there. You’ve got my Spirit filling up your tank. I’m scraping off the grime that a fallen world cakes on you. I know, it’s not comfortable, but in the end you’ll shine. You’ll point people to me. When the time is right, the cold weather will end, and I’ll come take you to be with me forever. But until then, I have tasks for you, kingdom building tasks. 

I forget sometimes that God knows what it’s like to be this little person chugging through a world that can be downright unfriendly, even during the most wonderful time of the year. I forget sometimes that He came so that I might know what abundant life is like, that I could be an ambassador to all the people who don’t know what it’s like to live in light. I forget sometimes that He is for me, and His birth to a lowly little family in a stable 2,000 years ago proves that.

I forget about Jesus sometimes and why He’s important, but the story of Christmas and the stories that go with it remind me.

Not Just For Me

I’ve been thinking about baby Jesus a bit in the past few weeks. I’m still finding it pretty remarkable that God would want to put on skin and bones. In my philosophy classes, we’ve talked about how the flesh was seen by the Greeks as a low state of being. Real existence to them wasn’t even manifested in material things but rather in a perfect Idea.

So it’s radical that Jesus, the most perfect being in all that exists, decided to put on skin and bones and live among His creation. Actually, it’s more like insanity. That’s like you or me wanting to become a stick figure in order to connect better with our creations (unless you can draw better than a stick figure… in which case, congratulations are in order). And, even more radical, it’s because He loved too much too stay away, too much to let His creation continue to be separated from Him, even though they created the gap themselves!

I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around God’s love for me this semester, because I needed it. I still do, and I bet you do, too. I need to know that God loves me so much and so radically that He would give everything (and did give everything) so that we could have a repaired relationship.

As I’ve thought about this, though, the best part is that it’s for me (hallelujah)… but it’s not just for me.

I don’t understand God’s love. I don’t understand why I can’t understand it, either. I don’t understand how God can love everything but still be untainted by the things that aren’t lovely. I don’t understand how God can love me enough to keep pursuing me when I would rather not be pursued. But I know it’s so big that it covers over all my sins. I know that it’s the kind of love that sends a beloved Son to die and defeat Sin and Death once and for all.

And I know it’s for everyone. I know it’s for the wounded and those who can’t find their way. I know it’s for people who have it all but have nothing. I know it’s for people who hate God or deny Him or think He’s obsolete or thinks He hates them or don’t want Him to exist and mess with their lives. I know it’s for people who are mad at God. It’s for those of us who want to love God with everything but are totally incapable. It’s for food service people and businesspeople and USPS even though they’re always crabby and people who don’t have any clue who God is or what He’s about. It’s for the homeless and the people with home enough for 12 people. It’s for the fatherless and the people with more parents than they know what to do with.

It’s for me.

And it’s for you.

And for everyone else.

Which is insane. And I don’t understand it. But I think the most remarkable things in life are the things I try to grasp and can’t. I think the most incredible truths are the ones beyond me, because that means it’s bigger than me. I don’t need a God I can understand and fit in my box, because then He’s small enough for me to handle.

No, I need a God big enough to love the whole world enough that He would send His only Son so that anyone who accepts the gift could have a real relationship with Him.

Journey to the hope of Christmas

I drove for three hours straight on Saturday, which probably isn’t a big deal for you, but it was a small victory for me. I say small victory because I tense up a bit when driving over 65 mph on a two-lane highway, so after a while I get cramps in my shoulders. Plus, car butt is an even greater reality from the front seat when you have to keep a foot near the gas pedal. It’s something about not allowing myself to stretch for three hours.

I know; this is whiney. I promise there’s a point to all this.

I decided while I was driving through the snowy, barren tree-lined highway of Wisconsin that I like road trips. Maybe I need to add a qualifier to that: I like road trips post-finals. I let my mind wander – not too far, mind you. I’m a good, mindful driver – all over the trees and the road and the snow and the other cars and passengers and the destination and the journey. It only went to my to-do list for a few minutes, in between thoughts about existence and Christmas and journeys.

I’ve written before that I’m a fast walker. I walk for the destination, not to pass the time. While that’s definitely true in winter, when the wind is threatening to remove my outer layer of skin, I’m learning to love the journey. I’m learning that driving in Wisconsin – where there isn’t any cell reception and you can’t stay on a radio station for long because you get out of range in fifteen minutes – promotes curiosity.

You know how a train of thought goes: you start by seeing a farmhouse, then you wonder who lives there and why they’d build a farm so close to a highway, then you wonder if maybe the highway came after they built the farm. Actually the farm was there for hundreds of years (not those buildings you see now, of course), when the city built the highway running through their neighbors’ land (who had to sell so they could move their ailing great-grandma nearer to a hospital). It’s affected how their cheese tastes (because it’s a dairy farm, duh), and now they’re struggling to make ends meet. Or maybe they’re not dairy farmers. They just raise cattle and try to ignore all the cars. Or maybe they like the cars. They put out signs by the highway and sell lots of jelly in the summers and meet all sorts of interesting people.

Then you think about how Jesus was probably born in a barn like that one you’re passing by now. You wonder how Mary endured it. Poor girl: no epidural, no clean sheets, no nice nurse to tell her that it’s going to be okay – just keep pushing. Really, all the conditions were about as bad as they could be. Jesus was born at exactly the right time to exactly the right people, right under the star that would eventually lead the wise men to him, but it doesn’t seem optimal, does it? For one thing, what can a baby do for a people who’ve been oppressed by the Romans for so long? Didn’t they need a strong political leader or a military man?

But then Jesus grows in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man, and He eats with sinners and heals the diseased. He calls the pious, oppressive religious leaders of the day snakes and washes His disciples’ feet. He tells people to go and sin no more, provides good wine for a wedding, and loves people who were quite certain that they were unlovable. He shows us how we are to live, what a life in close communion with God looks like, and how to bring the kingdom of God to earth.

It seems like enough. It seems like Jesus could have just done that, but we know that God didn’t just put on skin to change the way the world works and to show us how to live. He put on skin and plopped Himself in a manger so that one day He could die and come back to life to repair the broken relationship that we had with Him. He said, I want to be close to you. So close that I’ll do something that no other god has even thought of. I’ll put on flesh. I’ll lower myself to the point of serving those I created. I’ll lower myself even further, to the grave.

But then, three days after I’m dead, when you think all hope is lost, I’ll come back to life to show that I can restore anything. I can fix what is broken and be in communion with my people. 

That’s the hope of Christmas, that Jesus came to us, in the lowliest way possible so that He could redeem and be in relationship with those he created – all of them.

I’m going to stand in awe of that this Christmas, to rejoice that my Savior didn’t ask me to complete a list of tasks or play a spiritual game of chutes and ladders to get to Him. Instead, He came to me.

Bearing like Mary.

Get excited, I’m blogging twice in one week for the first time in a long time.

Here’s what’s been going on since we last talked:

1. Papers

2. Packing

3. I spilled tea on the couch and have to sit on the floor as punishment.

4. Papers

5. Packing

6. Papers

7. Reading

8. Packing

9. Baking (in excess)

10. Trudging around in the snow and loving every second of it. The second half of that sentence won’t last long.

I’ve also been thinking about Mary’s story, because it’s the Christmas season. I’m beginning to realize that we have a lot in common. I’ve typically heard Mary presented as the epitome of following God when He asks you to do something or as an example that God uses unlikely people to do amazing things (e.g. 14 year old girls to be the mother of the son of God).

But now I’m starting to think that Mary might be more human than that. Let’s rehash her story, shall we? Mary was a teenage virgin (the Bible’s very clear about that. It’s one of the only things we know about her specifically) who was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph. Then one day, her whole world gets flipped around when an angel comes to her and tells her that she’s about to become pregnant with a baby boy who will be called the Son of the Most High.

The angel gives her a name for the child to save her the stress of having to come up with one (likely not the real reason but also very nice of him. Can you imagine trying to pick out a name for the son of God?) and leaves.

Mary’s response? “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me according to your word.”

The Bible doesn’t say that she leaped around or jumped for joy. It doesn’t give us a facial expression for her or a tone of voice or any clue as to how she was feeling, but I think I have a guess.

I bet she felt a little bit confused, maybe a bit defeated. I think that’s how I would feel. She was doing so well in life with her betrothal to Mr. Joseph and all that. Now she’d have the Hester Prynne stigma (even though that book came about 1700 years later). And as incredible as it sounds to be the mother of God, I bet she didn’t feel up to the job.

I can imagine the thoughts going on in her head:

I know I should feel honored, but I didn’t do anything to merit this honor. I don’t think I’m ready. I just want a normal life. I know God will use me in great ways and that my whole life will be remarkable because of this, but it looks so foreign and complicated. I might have this stigma as the pregnant teen for the rest of my life. People won’t know he’s the son of God right away, will they? Will He come out with a halo? What am I going to tell Joseph? I barely know the man, and now I have to explain this whole scenario to him. He won’t believe me. What if he leaves me? I just want order! I just want God to use me in smaller ways, in ways I can manage. I never asked for this. I don’t even know what to do with a regular baby, much less a holy one! 

I think God asks us to bear what we’re not prepared for. I think He wants to be born in our lives through something we never expected and can’t bear on our own. In a sense, this year I’ve had my own type of pregnancy (don’t get the wrong idea, I’m definitely not pregnant), bearing some things that are going to bear fruit in my life and change me so that God can use me. I know this, in my head. I know that my struggles are here to bring God glory, but it’s still hard.

It’s still difficult to swallow the responsibility. It’s not like God says, Hello, I want to use you, not because of anything you are but because I want to partner with you because I love you and want to use you for my Kingdom purposes. You are going to have an integral role there. (apparently God speaks in run-on sentences) and we respond with confetti. No, God says all that, and we feel like we’ve been hit with a two-by-four. That’s realistic. I’m 90% certain that Mary felt that way, at least at some point.

This is where I’ve learned to lean. I’m certain that Mary learned the same thing, that it isn’t shameful to be dependent. Really, that’s the only way that you’ll be able to bear the weight of God’s work. That’s what He wants us to do. He gives us something to bear and an arm to cling to while we bear it. That way, when we move into the work that He was preparing for, we’re used to depending on Him. It’ll be about Him and not about us. We’ll know where our strength comes from and constantly return to be filled up again.

I want to be like Mary this Christmas, to be stunned that God would ask me to bear something for Him and to lean on Him while I wait for it to be born in my life.

Being over doing.

Have you missed me this week? I’ve missed me this week. It’s been one long to-do list. However, I still found time to bake brownies and scones, so I had a little fun.

There’s something about crossing something off my to-do list that is just so satisfying to me. Even if I don’t actually have a physical to-do list and don’t get to draw an actual line through anything, the knowledge that I’ve conquered one of the my stressors is enough.

Then I remember that there are still more things to do on the list, and it’s so easy to think that everything would be better if I could just fast forward through this time period where there’s so much to do and so much hecticness. A week from today sounds like the most glorious day in the world, because the to-do list is so much shorter and consists of much less stressful things. But really, the to-do list never ends.

I put so many “shoulds” on myself. Do you do that, too? I should have gone running this morning. I should have a cleaner desk. I should be working on homework all the time. I should not drink so much coffee. I should go to bed earlier. I should tell everyone I love them every single day. I should be smiley all the time. I should have coffee with more people. I should go see my professors during office hours more often. I should never have dirty dishes in the sink. I should have eaten that stuff before it went bad (I’m such a waster). I shouldn’t have spent any time doing anything but studying this semester. I should have journaled more. I should have blogged more often. I should have sent cards to my grandma every week.

By the end of it, I start feeling like a failure at being human.

But is being human about achieving? I think this matters. I think being human is more about substance than activities. Certainly, our substance will determine what we do, but it matters more who we are than what we accomplish. Usually when I ask people how their days are, they respond with what they’ve done. And that’s appropriate, but I hope that we don’t measure our worth by that.

Here’s what I have to say to you: Even if you get nothing productive done today, you still have value. I suppose this is more to remind myself than anything else, but that’s okay. My value comes from God. It’s not anything I earned, and it’s not anything that I can earn more of. Doing stuff often just makes me tired. Granted, I still need to do these things, but it needs to have its proper place. It isn’t how I determine what I’m worth, but it’s how I manage the life I’ve been given.

Immediately after typing this, I will continue to try to accomplish things, but I’m going to keep reminding myself that even if I get nothing done, I’m still worth something. And I don’t work to determine my value.

The third annual spectacular Thanksgiving post

[Yes, I know Thanksgiving was a few days ago, but this is when I had time to post. So you can just continue the celebration with me!]

I know you’ve waited for this all year long. You’ve been wondering what my family is going to cook this year and whether or not I’ll go rollerblading again.

Screen Shot 2013-11-28 at 10.02.42 AM

Here’s the answer to the rollerblading question: no. I’m still in my pajamas and am sore from kickboxing and yogaing yesterday. In this picture, I’m sitting in my pajamas trying to figure out why Photo Booth won’t work.

Instead of working out, I’m getting a jumpstart on the Thanksgiving post.

It’s 10:54am, and I’m thankful that I get to be with my family this week. I’m thankful for how supportive they are, that they laugh at my jokes, that they listen to my stories, that they’re all so gung-ho about food, that we have great conversation together, and that they’re seeking God everyday.

It’s 12:24, and I’m thankful for butter, even when we spill it in its liquid form on the floor. I can’t say I like it on my feet as much as in my mouth, but I like butter. Our crew will be here in 36 minutes, and all we have left to do is steam the green beans. Hopefully we haven’t forgotten anything.


circa 12:50pm, getting a few last minute things cooked.DSCN1740

got a small kitchen? use the living room.DSCN1743

Confetti is a must. Those are little turkeys. We found it all over when we started cleaning up later. DSCN1744

be thankful in technicolor. It’s better than black and white.

Two best ingredients in the whole meal: garlic and butter. DSCN1752

MY favorite dish: starch, butter, and salt.DSCN1759

The pilgrims wait with a fire for the guests to arrive.DSCN1760

I drew a pretty picture.DSCN1762

gobble, gobble, thanks. I only had a brown and blue piece of chalk, so that’s the best I could do. Not bad, eh?DSCN1763

Green beans, steam away.DSCN1767

The plethora of dessert options.DSCN1771

Eating and conversing. Best pastime there is.DSCN1779The boys asked at least five times (while the rest of us were still eating our first helping of real food) when we could cut the dessert. Finally, at least an hour after their first asking, they got their wish!


And they finished their first AND second plates of dessert before the rest of us even sat down with ours. They got a sugar high pretty quickly.DSCN1783MMM.

As much as I’m thankful for my extended family, I’m thankful that I get to spend Thanksgiving with some people who feel like family. For the past 8 years, we’ve spent Thanksgiving with this family (and this year, we got to meet one of my dad’s co-workers as well!). They do food and conversation better than most, and I’m thankful that they’ve been a part of our lives for so long (even longer than that!)

God knows what He’s doing when He brings people into our paths through piano lessons and babysitting opportunities that lead to lifelong friendships (well, it’s been around for most of my life).

And now we head into December, push right into the Christmas season. I’ll take my thankfulness with me, because it’s too nice to leave behind in November.