Friday, July 27, 2018

60 Gay

via pixabay
Life turned idyllic whenever we traveled up north. There the sand dunes lay golden under the sky...the lake lay placid cupped between hills and cottages...the cherries lay chocolate covered in the dishes at the famous Cherry Republic. 

For one week in the year, we felt at home. That place held the church we loved--the community we craved and couldn't find back home. We drank in a sense of rest. We filled up with creativity from Food Network. We boated and hiked and the guys watched baseball games, and then in the evenings my sister and I would creak up the narrow stairs to our room--the room with the three twin beds and the windows facing the lake. 

Driving home was the hardest. As the expressway curved back towards the city, a slow sense of oppression settled back over us. We keenly felt the loneliness; keenly felt that we were only at home one week out of the year. Back in the city, there was almost a sense of spiritual oppression. 

L.M. Montgomery too, captured the sense of exile in Jane of Lantern Hill. While I never traced those themes, I always loved Jane (even above Anne.) Caught between separated parents, Jane lived in the city where she was friendless, trapped, and called Victoria by everyone around her. 
Gay Street, so Jane always thought, did not live up to its name. It was, she felt certain, the most melancholy street in Toronto...though, to be sure, she had not seen a great many of the Toronto streets in her circumscribed comings and goings of eleven years. (Jane of Lantern Hill, pg. 1) 
But that summer--oh, that glorious summer when Dad asked her to meet him--she got her cottage by the ocean--the cottage with the garden, the kittens, and lashings of magic. There people called her Jane--there she was able to cook and learn how to run barefoot on a stubble field (I've always wanted to do that a la Jane). She learned what home was. Until the fall, when she had to come back to Toronto and 60 Gay, leaving her heart behind in Prince Edward Island. 

Year after year, she lived an exile through the school year and thrived in the summertime. 
Those last few days were compounded of happiness and misery for Jane. She did so many things she loved to do and would not do again until next summer...and next summer seemed a hundred years away. (Jane of Lantern Hill, pg. 140) 
For almost ten years we were Jane. Everything we wanted was up north. But gradually, things shifted. As we graduated high school and met more people, the sense of exile lessened. We invited people into our home. We met people online and formed Bible studies. My brother and I joined BSF. We got jobs, put down roots. Now, when I drive through the city on Monday nights, the chorus of Andrew Peterson's "Everybody's Got a Song" beats through my heart like a refrain. Oh, I love this city. A couple years ago when the prospect of moving popped up, we knew that here--here where we once felt oppressed and lonely--we now had a vibrant sense of life and people we did not want to leave behind. 

It's been five years now since we last saw those windows. I still deeply want to go back north at least once more before we all grow up. There are still corners of loneliness to be combatted. We still haven't found a church that feels like home. In other words, heaven hasn't come down. But it's a place I love. 

Interestingly enough, Jane, too, found home in Toronto. Once her heart found rest and people popped up to share her life with, it was no longer the place itself that seemed so terribly lonely.  Toronto, too, had its house with lashings of magic.
Jane thought of the little stone house in Lakeside Gardens. It had not been sold yet. They would buy it. It would live...they would give it life. Its cold windows would shine with welcoming lights....There would be no more misunderstanding. She, Jane, understood them both and could interpret them to each other. And have an eye on the housekeeping as well. It all fitted in as if it had been planned ages ago. (Jane of Lantern Hill, pg. 217)
Home is in our hearts and with the people and the God that we love.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.--Matthew 6:21

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.--Colossians 3:1

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Life in Tears

via Pixabay
When I watch movies by myself lately, I cry. Sometimes it is ugly cry. Sometimes it is just a hint of almost tearing up--not really crying. But either way, it is a response to art.

When I cry, I know my heart is in a tender place.

It hasn't felt tender. It's felt dry and hard the last few weeks. A friend asked me on the phone what God was teaching me lately; I said it felt like one of those times when you don't feel like a very good Christian. Overwhelmed and trapped by what is within. Tired.

Devotions help. They're key to feeling alive. Prayer is key, too, to feeling alive. But devotions are hit and miss when you're trying to finish up a memorizing project and you won't let yourself move on until it's over. Sometimes in the morning it's too tiring to review Psalm 119. (So why keep doing it, Schuyler? I don't know. But I want to hold on a little longer.)

Even writing didn't feel particularly life-giving. It's been a pressure cooker of "I'm not making word count. I'm not telling the story I want to tell. It's better, but it's not there yet. I'm making the same mistakes."

Lately, what has felt alive is neither prayer nor devotions, but other people's stories.

As I write this post I am listening to Sleeping at Last's, Saturn, which a friend just told me about last Wednesday. And I am crying again. It's easy not to feel spiritual--to feel like a movie junkie, someone who can't move past the self-indulgence of a good book, who needs to dig down and work harder at getting this spiritual relationship all together. It all started at the end of May when I took a break from work. Binging on stories, on good art, felt like sitting down to a meal after starving--taking in vitamins when your soul was crying out for lack. Peace was there. Joy was there. A sense of fullness of life was there--and how do you reconcile all that when it doesn't have a chapter and verse on it?

A month and a half later reading still felt alive--but devotions really didn't. Coming out of a life season, the only thing I knew for sure I needed was more of Jesus--because there was entirely too much of me.  I was driving in a car last Tuesday night when another puzzle piece fell into place. It was probably one of those nights when driving wasn't a good idea, but God takes care of you in those times, and I needed the solitude and the time with Tenth Avenue North. I cried again as the CD wound to its end--I confess, I admit, I look for life outside of you // I repent, coming back, to the only joy that's true. I listened to it twice. It was a heart cry.

Two days later, four of us friends headed down to St. Louis for a writer's conference. I was looking at the session descriptions I had picked when I registered when I decided to switch to a different one. Chaos and Creativity--that felt like a pretty good description of life at the moment--so I walked into the meeting room, found a plug for my laptop, and tumbled into another piece of the journey. The session wasn't about making the most of your writing time, or all the tips to make time management possible while juggling events and expectations. It was about finding God again in the writing--making it a journey of intimacy with him. Over the six hours of class, it felt like another injection of living truth--how to find a sense of closeness to God again.

Prayer was reawakened. Peace was reawakened. Writing without striving and chaos was reawakened. It's only two days later, and I don't want it to be stolen away. But as I sat and listened to Allen Arnold discuss how God wants us to create with him and without chaos, I was able to trace what God had been doing this Spring when it didn't seem like he was. I realized that the Father who loves to guide his children had been guiding me all the way back in May, when it seemed like all I could do was read stories. He was reaching me through that love. And now he is continuing the guiding--all the way to himself.

I have a ways to go. I don't want the seed to be choked out. So pray for me, if you can, that the Lord will grow it until it is strong and sturdy and true.

It began by crying over stories again--and now I can see that even though it did not feel like God was present, he was, even ways that didn't feel ultra-spiritual. It was a drawing, a healing, a pouring in of life, that he is continuing even more specifically with explicitly spiritual things.

I do not know all the ins and outs of it. But when I cry over life--over pain and love and eucatastrophe and my relationship with Jesus--then I am in a living place. And it feels good to be in a living place again.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

I Have Learned

via Pixabay.
This beautiful picture has nothing to do with the post, but I'm sure some deep and clever metaphor could be found herein. 
I'm almost halfway through the stack of books for this summer. Five are ticked off; six more (and a review book) to go. They have kept me company riding in the car on a day so hot I worried I had damaged a new library book....awake at night flipping through my Kindle....lying in bed exhausted after a party....or just settling down in the evening before going to sleep.

I've learned about the kings of England. Julia Baird's biography of Victoria absolutely geeked me out. I knew her story from the Victoria miniseries and The Young Victoria, but somehow it feels solid and respectable to add a nonfiction biography as part of your fandom, you know? Then you actually know what's real. I don't know what it is about Victoria, but somehow I can hear her story again and again and again. My favorite part of the biography was learning about her ancestors. Somehow I didn't really know that Victoria's grandfather was king during the Revolutionary War. It's amazing to see a bunch of dissipated, dreadful sons (barring Victoria's father) race to marry a bunch of German women and produce an heir--all due to the death of the king's granddaughter and Parliament's plea. It's even more amazing to think that there was a male grandson--but because he was Victoria's younger cousin, he missed the throne. Also interesting: so much accuracy in the Victoria miniseries.

Sometimes I think I could be a queen. Not in the "everybody serve me" way, but in a bittersweet, slightly lonely Victoria way.

I've learned about the FBI. James Comey's actions struck passionate discussions, and their ripple effects are still continuing. Back in 2017, I found Comey's questionings before a committee to be fascinating (I didn't know who he was before that). I find the guardedness of secret intelligence to be fascinating, liked his presentation, and wanted to read his book for myself.

In his book, Comey confesses both to ego, and to sometimes struggling to make the final decision in a situation where high-up people are involved. If he knows that about himself, I wouldn't be surprised if that influenced his course of action later. Most of his book struck me as balanced and readable, but the section on Trump felt rawer; less clear-sighted--a life situation that probably would have been better with time to judge and temper it. But book deals won't wait for time while the iron's hot.

The most chilling phrase I read was when Comey alerted someone to an issue with Trump (I wish I hadn't returned the book so fast. Most likely it was connected with the Justice Department or the Attorney General). After not hearing back, he contacted the man he sent it to again. The man's response? "[expletive deleted], I hoped it would just go away." (Again, I returned the book too soon so this isn't an exact quotation.)

I hoped it would just go away. That phrase can echo in the church, the family, the individual human soul: I didn't know what to do, so I hoped it would just go away. You can replace "it" with anything: a struggle with sin or a doubt of faith or a secret abuse or a relationship strain: I hoped it would just go away is often the heartfelt cry of our finite humanity.

"It" doesn't go away. It must be seized. Faced. Grappled with. Brought to face the light and honesty, no matter how inconvenient or uncomfortable. That is the only way to ever make "it" go away.

After reading the book, I think it's hard for a human to be in the FBI. To be without bias politically, to make hard decisions about the ugly secrets of people in power, requires a cast-iron commitment to principle and inability to be swayed from the right thing that I'm not sure I could muster.

I've learned about love. On July 5th I finished reading Tracy Groot's Flame of Resistance, a Rahab retelling about a British pilot who teams up with a French prostitute during WW2. I cried all over the end. That climax was absolutely stellar. Powerful, powerful themes of love and sacrifice in one delicious twist after another.  I need to learn how to twist a story like that.

I've learned about caring for the outcast. One story I didn't expect to discover this summer was Call the Midwife. It made me cry too. Call the Midwife Season 1 is a beautiful, poignant set of episodes about ministering to all--the dirty, the poor, the joyful, the sinners. Babies come regardless of the circumstances in which they were conceived--whether it's a newlywed couple's first baby or the result of a one night stand. The whole series is a touching picture of humanity--of people who have sinned and aren't repentant--of people who have sinned and want to hide--of people who have found love and marriage later and still experience loss--and of people who have loved for decades and still have room for one more baby. The main nurse, Jenny, comes to the East End of London unaware at first of all the filth and suffering. And it's powerful to see how she must provide compassion and care to everyone regardless of their moral standing. Stories like this, at the age I am now, expand my heart within my faith. (Episode 2 has gritty and touching themes of child sex-trafficking. Episode 5 has gritty/mature, but not visually graphic, themes as well.) I'm really looking forward to season 2.

So far this summer has been inspiring and tear-inducing. Seven books to go. I can't wait for them.

Though I haven't cried over Martin Luther yet.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

4th of July Book Haul

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This 4th of July was a hot one. One of those where you shower and go out and then come home and shower again because it's so hot. Did that stop me from going to the annual book sale?

Pfft. What a question. 

Complete with water and rolling cart to carry books (very smart suggestion, made by le mama, which I was super happy with later) I trecked off to the library. Tables and tables of books in the hot sun. Filing around rows of books with other eager bibliophiles. 

Much bliss. 

So here's what I picked up (disclaimer: I haven't read most if not all of these books, and some of them are interesting general market books but may contain content that I probably wouldn't fully endorse/may end up discarding later. If you know of yucky content, I'd love to hear about it!)

The Guernsey and Literary Potato Peel Pie Society
GUYS. A movie adaptation with Lily James releasing in just a month! It looks fantastic! I hope it's good--I was over the moon to find this book (plus a copy for an author friend of mine.) 

The Color of Bee Larkham's Murder 
This book is about a boy who associates things in his life with different colors. But the color of murder disturbs him, and he needs to find out what caused the death of one of his neighbors. Note: I just flipped through the first pages, and it looks like it may contain a mature theme. I possibly won't be continuing. 

The Book Thief
When I was younger, I turned up my nose at the moral premise of stealing books. Now I'd actually like to consider the story, because it seems to be a powerful one. 

The Five Love Languages of Children 
I've never actually read a full book on the five love languages, but I've taken the test and found it helpful. I flipped through this edition at another place recently and thought it might have some helpful insights in it  (especially because I'm rarely around children.)

The Help
I don't know about all the content in here, but like The Book Thief, this seems to be a powerful story, so I thought I'd pick it up and consider it, especially due to the themes of racial injustice. After To Kill a Mockingbird and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, I'd love to see the theme further on in history. 

90 Minutes in Heaven
I was able to hear Don Piper speak once at a writer's conference. His story made sense to me, but I thought it would be worth reading the entire book to see if all of it bears out with my current understanding of Scripture. 

Good to Great, by Jim Collins
I just heard of this book--it contains the 20-mile march principle from Amundsen's race with Scott to the north pole. Amundsen marched consistently 20 miles a day, and I love how they apply this concept to all of life. I thought it would be interesting to explore further. It's for businesses, so I don't know if a lot of it will apply, but we'll give it a shot. 

Friday's Child, by Georgette Heyer
I haven't read a Georgette Heyer, but really want to! There were several to choose from but I didn't know which one to get, all the sads, so I picked one by title and hoped for the best. 

Romeo and Juliet 
Currently on a Shakespeare kick. I wanted to get The Merchant of Venice, but that one was a school copy with markings in it, so I thought I'd wait for one with clean pages. And one of the other collections I thought about switching out for was gone by the time I went back. All the sads. 

The Princess Bride 
Hopefully good for laughs. 

Master and Commander, The Far Side of the World
Both beautiful and the same editions. Just found out The Far Side of the World is #10. Oh, well. I'm good at reading the endings of things first. ;) :cheeky chuckle: 

Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories, Volume I
I already have a couple of editions of Sherlock Holmes. But this one was the same cover I checked out from our home library and read first. I couldn't resist. The sentiment was strong with this one, and it's the perfect travel copy. 

Gone With The Wind
My two goals this year are to read Gone With The Wind and Wuthering Heights so I know the stories and my mom and I can chat about them together. 

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass 
Please be enchanting! When's the best atmosphere to read this book? 

The Iliad and The Odyssey 
I hadn't thought of any books ahead of time, but I thought this one would be cool to read ahead of time. I've heard Aimee Meester recommend it, and it sounds fun, so I was super happy it turned up!

Have you picked up any books recently? What's on your summer reading stack? 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Last Battle: Of Aslan and Remembrance

via Pixabay
It was almost midnight on a Saturday evening when I finished The Last Battle. There were two chapters left, and if you've already read the book, you can't stop in the middle of the last two chapters. It is a hard book. A book of endings after glorious centuries of adventure. By the time you're into the adventure, there's also a sense of foreboding: this battle and what comes from it will not be the same as anything else from Narnia.

When we were younger, my mom covered the pictures of Tash. Those were dark to us.

The Last Battle starts, interestingly enough, with the clearest depiction of manipulative abuse I've ever seen in print. If I were counseling someone going through that issue, I would probably pull out that chapter as an example. It takes the danger signs and puts them to living flesh in the dialogue of an evil monkey: "Now Puzzle, I understand what needs to be done better than you. You know you're not clever, Puzzle." From the beginning Shift makes Puzzle do the dirty work, railroading over all his protests. He sends Puzzle into a dangerous, cold pool, sends him to the market for bananas (making him think he wants a walk when he doesn't), and forces him to put on a lionskin costume when he's tired. It's easy to see that Shift is bad from moment one. And Puzzle has believed Shift for so long that he really does believe he isn't clever anymore: a tragic sign of an abusing relationship.

Throughout the story, Puzzle is rescued from Shift and lifted from his captivity. C.S. Lewis, through Eustace, points out that believing lies does damage. "If you'd spent less time saying you weren't clever and more time trying to be as clever as you can--" Jill, of course, shuts him up, though I think it's an interesting point that lies we believe about ourselves contribute to the unhealthy power an abuser can exercise, denoting that we bear some responsibility for our own actions. (Though certainly not at all for theirs.) I also thought of a danger signal earlier in the book: "There were very few Talking Beasts or Men or Dwarfs, or people of any sort, in that part of the wood, but Shift had one friend and neighbor who was a donkey called Puzzle." That sounds a knell of concern. An abuser with one friend, far away from anyone else who could challenge him or tell Puzzle what was really going on. It's so sad. Puzzle had no help. He was stuck on his own, and it's easy to get stuck on your own. We all need people to help us. But while it's sad, thankfully it also has a good ending: Lewis gently depicts the healing that came when Puzzle found precious, true community and Aslan.

Another thing that struck me in the book was how important remembering history was in dark moments. In chapter four, after a captive King Tirian sees a strange, harsh Aslan appear on the hill near him, he is left in cold and darkness. At that moment, he sets his mind back to remembering. "He thought of other Kings....He thought of his great-grandfather's great-grandfather King Rilian....Then he went further back and thought about Rilian's father, Caspian the Seafarer....And then he remembered (for he had always been good at history when he was a boy) how those same four children who had helped Caspian had been in Narnia over a thousand years before." Remembering gives Tirian the tool he needs to cry out to Aslan and the four children from the past. It's impossible not to draw the parallel: time and again in Scripture, remembrance of God's acts of deliverance gives hope for the future.

Later on in the book, in chapter eight, King Tirian is walking with Eustace, Jill, and their tiny band of survivors in one of the happiest scenes in that bleak middle. They're in the midst of a beautiful wood when Jill says "It's a pity there's always so much [misfortune] happening in Narnia." In that moment, Jewel the Unicorn says that she's "quite mistaken". He tells her more ancient Narnian history than we've probably heard in the series thus far, covering the time between The Magician's Nephew and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  Swanwhite the Queen. Centuries of dances, feasts, and tournaments. King Gale, who delivered the Lone Islands from a dragon. While this isn't used to draw out hope, it's a fascinating moment in the story.

It's a story of high emotion: a great epic at the end of a tale for children. It twists your heart in the reading of it from Jill's tears in battle, to the bear's heartrending confusion in his moment of death (which my sister pointed out to me), to the dwarves' rejection of truth after Shift used their religion to lie to them. Throughout the dark moments, Tirian's personal demeanor and relationship with Jewel the Unicorn give a feeling of courteous, chivalric knighthood in a way I noticed differently from the other tales. (For some reason, I don't know why, King Tirian was one of my favorite kings.) King Tirian and Jewel's iconic stand by the white rock is a fitting climax to the seventh story in Narnia. I won't spoil the ending for those of you who haven't read it. But in the midst of the darkness, Tirian's steadfast faith gives comfort: "Courage, child. We are all between the paws of the true Aslan."

Skip just this paragraph if you don't want a couple of spoilers. The only thing that struck me as a little off (and I'm being too perfectionist, I'm like, this is Lewis's story, Schuyler, it's OK) was the spiritually-blind dwarves still sitting in the middle of the grass when other animals have streamed off into Aslan's shadow. Why is this cockroach in my salad? Aslan's country is supposed to be perfect. Secondly, I know it's slightly rebellious and perhaps theologically questionable, but I was always glad that Emeth got to Aslan's country. Perhaps not right, but it is how I feel. And lastly, I was also glad when a friend sent me a quote she found about Susan from C.S. Lewis: "The books don't tell us what happened to Susan. She is left alive in this world at the end, having by then turned into a rather silly, conceited young woman. But there is plenty of time for her to mend, and perhaps she will get to Aslan's country in the end--in her own way." ~C.S. Lewis, letter of 22 January 1957

Later in the book another beautiful quote pops up: "Tirian said they could come with him and take their chance--or as he much more sensibly called it, 'the adventure that Aslan would send them'." In Aslan's hands, there is no chance. His sovereignty still reigns, and he still cares about his people in this story: the confused mice who don't know if they should help Tirian. The bear who "doesn't understand." Puzzle, in the grip of an antichrist figure. Tirian, bereft of Cair Paravel. And Jill and Eustace, who can't quite remember how they left home. Even in the midst of fire and Calormene drums, of gathering enemies and the fear of being shoved through the stable door, the High King reigns in Narnia. And that squeezes my heart because through a story it washes us with the truth that God is taking care of us. Even when we don't understand, and the enemy is stronger, and our fears draw closer and closer to hand, God is taking care of us.

*slight spoilers follow* 

This story is hard and sad, but it is also glorious and hopeful. The contrasts are sharp, leaving the light bursting bright. I am glad to have read it. Of course, I want to read the rest of the chapters that go on and on, "each one better than the last." I never want Narnia to end.

So, even though I don't get to read them, I'm glad it never will.
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