In Life & In Literature (Rough Cut)

Standard

What do we do when it seems our story stalls?

It is so easy to take a happy ending for granted. Oftentimes suspense doesn’t seem to come from the conclusion but rather the actions that bring the reader there. The Ring will get to Mordor- but how? Harry will defeat Voldemort- but at what cost? Sherlock will uncover the truth- but what could that be? It seems silly and nihilistic to spend thousands of words on the triumph of darkness (the greatest fiction). Humans were programmed for hope, after all, and the story of our race and the God that made it- the one from which all stories spring- indicates that evil will not have the final say.

As a reader who favors certain fictions to the point of exhaustion, it oftentimes becomes essential to sort of- feel- with those beloved characters, to step back from their situations a moment and try color it in with my own experiences. It helps to understand better what I am reading and, to be truthful, to keep the material fresh. It is in moments like these that you realize that Frodo did not trek with inherent confidence in his success; Harry did not assume that Voldemort would fall at his hand, and Sherlock- well, Sherlock was probably quite certain of his abilities, but that is beside the point.

I think of Elizabeth Bennet’s despair after it seems to her that she’s lost Mr. Darcy forever; I consider Anne Shirley lamenting her potential return to the orphanage from which she was so recently freed; of Cosette afraid to fetch water from the well so deep in the woods. In moments like this, with a cup of tea in one hand and the resolution to all these (conveniently) far-away problems in another, we forget that these characters had no idea of their happy endings.Their resolutions were as mysterious to them as our tomorrows are to us. Their lives were difficult, unknowable, and oftentimes incredibly hard.

Yet- and this seems rather- indelicate, but it’s true: A good story is good because there is conflict and there is resolution. We are not necessarily entertained by tales of happy people in a constant state of delight. Comedy is astute and honest observation; tragedy is the inevitable, and life mixes it all. Even the frothiest fiction composed for babies has  its own kind of anguish, or at least a muddy puppy, a formerly white sofa, and a mother at the end of her rope. I say this with much sensitivity: in our own realities, the frustrations, heartaches, and unknowables are what makes our story readable.

I would describe this strange time of transition in my life as not necessarily a conflict but most definitely a time of deep frustration. Most seems stagnant, where very little changes and nothing much improves. I am constantly battling my emotions-a topic for another post- and reminding myself of two truths, an amalgam of book-born common sense (my pastor once said that “we often learn better from parable than from principle”-PREACH) and Biblical reality.

1. I am not the Author. I do not have the final say. Acknowledging this is and letting go of control is incredibly hard. Trust me. But imagine if “Pride and Prejudice” was written by it’s heroine, the aforementioned Elizabeth Bennet. Her faulty “first impression” (wink) would have rendered one of literature’s most-adored romances a disastrous disappointment. Jane Austen had a plan. So does God. And unlike Lizzie, I have the luxury of knowing my Author, of being forthright with Him, of looking to His word to see what He says about me. He knows intimately the hearts, words, and ways of all His characters (Psalm 139 vs 4-5, 15-16; Proverbs 5:23). He promises “to work all things together for our good” (Romans 8:28), a good that He understands better than we ourselves do. He cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18)- these verses aren’t niceties!

2. Remember: a good story resolves its conflict. I am not pretending that life is flawless, nor that all our issues find themselves conveniently wrapped in a precious little bow. However, as sure as I am told by the Lord that I will have trouble (John 16:33), I’m also told that He is preparing rooms for me in Heaven (John 14:2), is a source of rest and peace on the other side of it (Matthew 11:30), and that He is with me always (Matthew 28:20). Furthermore, the Bible assures me that He can do “immeasurably more than we ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20)  Indeed, I believe that Eternity, seeing the Lord face-to-face, and the complete and utter defeat of evil is an incredibly satisfying end. However, I think that the Lord wants us to have victory and resolution before that day comes. If He didn’t, why would we be instructed in Philippians to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” (4:6)  Consider the Fruits of the Spirit- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self control. All wonderful, good things. Why would the Lord give us His aid, share with us His character, strength, and wisdom if He wanted to keep us in conflict? The Lord’s work is indeed the opposite. Said Jesus, “”The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free…’” (Luke 4:18)

These truths give me courage at a time when I am honestly waging a war for the belief that the Lord will eventually change my situation. Yet perhaps the most important thing I can do when it seems like my story has stalled  is to be reminded of the biggest, best, most beautiful story of all: that of an Author loving his characters with such passion that He became intimately involved in their plots, taking their conflict and making it His own- dying on the cross to rid me of it, and you of it, and defeating death three days later in the biggest twist in history. One of the things I love about Jesus, a God-man who was fond of stories, too, is that He can’t mess anything up.

And He doesn’t let anything stall.

An Update

Standard

I went back to my school about a week ago. I had crammed everything from the past four years that wouldn’t fit into two suitcases in a 5x5x5 storage unit a town over. Five months later, I finally found time to pick it up.

Although the brief visit was lovely, and seeing places and friends that are so very dear was a delight, there was a considerable amount of collateral emotion that I need to sort through; in short, the basic melodrama of change, starting over, and saying goodbye. I am bad at these things. I always have been.

I guess it’s important to provide y’all with some context. I graduated this May and moved back home, without a job or, seemingly, purpose. As much as I love my family and the town where I live, I was afraid to tackle the new dynamics returning to my childhood home would inevitably bring, loneliness, and the feeling that  I would spiritually suffocate in a place not so overwhelmingly Christian-friendly as the South.

After spending a summer back at the camp I so love, blitzing out my resume to corporations around my school, applying to jobs on campus, and sort of spilling my angst about the future onto anyone who would listen, I found myself still in New Hampshire. My tail was firmly between my legs, and I was ashamed and frustrated that to seemingly hundreds of companies, that I wasn’t “enough” or worth hiring. I repeatedly thought about how awful it would be to tell people that no, I wouldn’t be living in Charlotte like I planned; how others would undoubtedly be disappointed in my lack of “success,” and that I would live out my days as some sort of washed-up townie, perpetually wistful and dissapointed.

I was being self-centered and silly, and was selling those who loved me short.

God in His goodness provided. I had the absolute joy of spending a few extra weeks at camp during conference season, during which I got to know some great people a bit better who have since provided a social outlet for me. I realized how many friends I had in Boston or just a few minutes over the border in Mass. Women in leadership from camp, women whom I respect and love, reached out to me for encouragement, offered their homes and afternoons for coffee dates if I ever needed them, and emailed and texted me with their support. I am surrounded by awesome ladies and gents who love God- and who are also pretty fun, too.

I’ve been able to find a friend in my littlest sister, Britta, who is equal parts hysterical and precious. We’ve been out of step for too long. I love laughing with her or getting excited over the newest Nancy Drew game.

I was concerned about finding a church that was vibrant and passionate as my one in Davidson. My family brought me along to NextLevel Church, currently have services in my local movie theatre, and I have fallen in love. It’s laid-back, come-as-you-are-and-we-will-feed-you-big-time attitude has made me more excited to go to church (in jeans! I love it!) than I have in ages.

As for the big stress, the job, the Lord provided as well. I work at a jewelry store in town. It’s not a career- it’s a job to get settled- and I honestly cannot believe how wonderful it is. I feel as though I’ve been adopted into a fun family who takes really good care of me as an employee. It’s also fun-and I am so serious- to help people pick out gifts and offer my opinion on what goes and what doesn’t. My favorites are the beleaguered dads who are so overwhelmed at the thought of making fashion choices for their wives that they bring their little little daughters as sounding boards. They are so relieved to have help!

I’m happy to see the trees change and eat apples and lose it like the fair-weather fan I am when the Sox win a post-season game. I love Boston being so close, and the ocean, too, and I’m telling you there’s nowhere better come Christmastime than the Northeast. I got a warm pair of slippers, painted my room egg-shell white, and have stacks of books everywhere. I’m also looking at the first at-home Thanksgiving in four years; mom might even (squee!!) let my little sister and I do most of the cooking! I’m saving money and working towards a car. I’m reconnecting with high school teachers that I adore. Pumpkin Muffins all the time. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: It’s the little things, y’all.

I’m not saying that I am in a perfect place. I’ve made some missteps with spending time with Lord and consistently being a friend to those who are far away; that is hard for me. I’m learning to be better at self-grace giving, and I have to understand that adjustments aren’t meant to be flawless; that “success” isn’t necessarily a big job and a shiny apartment, as I taught myself to believe at my very competitive undergrad. I really do need to reprogram and rest, and continue to listen to what the Lord says about me. I’ve been hearing and believing everyone else’s opinions for far too long.

The summary of this tangent is this: I was afraid of being home, and I am learning to relish it. The Lord provided in big ways; to Him be the glory!

Anyways. Being at school again was both great and incredibly sad. It wasn’t the place I remembered; I didn’t fit there anymore, and if I had gotten what I wanted- a job nearby or a fellowship on campus- I would be miserable. I suffer from Fear of Missing Out syndrome like nobody’s business, and I would feel as though I was dropped in the middle of some time-capsule, unchanging where everyone else went and did them. It was time to close the door.

But I couldn’t see that six months ago amidst the sentimental haze of graduation. It’s so so so right and wise and true when people say that God gives us not what we want but what we need. A friend in a beautiful sermon drew lines between this statement and the fact that the Lord sees our needs and how the stretch into the future; that our wants tomorrow will be different, and thus oftentimes our current desires have no place in the life God has ahead of us. I felt that keenly a week ago in Davidson, walking past all that brick. What I needed is this- home- my dog Darcy on my bed and that huge plastic Jack-O-Lantern glowing in the window and a Dunkin Donuts nearby.

I am comforted by the fact that my Savior knows my heart, my moods, my future, and it’s impact on all those things. I can’t pretend to have that kind of insight. As I sit typing this, I am thankful for closed doors and Davidson, and the good change that I am fortunate enough to experience. It means, I guess, that I am alive.

Standard

Newsflash, y’all: I am immature, over-emotional, selfish, and ridiculous, and I am begging God to allow me to realize He has made me enough (even though life right now is saying that I am a not.)

I’m preaching to myself here. The ellipsis of life (who wrote that? I wish I could take credit) is the absolute worst. But I guess it’s the suspense that amplifies the sweet satisfaction of a long- awaited conclusion; after all, no one like a story where everything happens rightly for the protagonists. Where’s the juice in that? 

 

 

 

Be Aggressive

Standard

I watch “The Passion of the Christ” every few years. As someone who has been programed to hear God best through movies and literature- coupled with the ability to learn visually- it’s a supplementary reminder of Christ’s sacrifice and a film that the Lord uses greatly in my life.

So I’m watching it today. And the beginning starts in the Garden (for you visual learners, it’s this part here.) And I’m amazed how new life started in a garden much like the old did- Gethsemane, Eden. And how our Lord got it right and changed everything.

And I am struggling with temptation and stress. It is comforting to see the God of All right there, right in the middle of the most overwhelming event in history, face splotchy with blood and sweat, and still talking to God. Still willing to to whatever it takes.

But what’s really hitting me is how Jesus deals with Satan.  When the devil shows up, Jesus keeps praying. He keeps conversing with His Father, whether He responds or not. He clings, emotions aside. This action speaks of knowledge and confidence in a truth that supersedes all.

When Satan asks whom He belongs to, Jesus is still praying, “Adonai, Adonai.” Father, Father. Sometimes getting rid of Satan is as easy is stating your identity- a child of the King.

When Satan semi-manifests as a snake, Jesus gets aggressive- literally stomping on it’s head with one decisive strike, not even giving it a chance to tempt (another rectification of Eden). We too can do this. One of the best things I’ve ever heard is Pastor Perry Noble instructing his congregation to tell Satan to “go to Hell, the only place he belongs,” when under temptation. Do it! It’s effective. Throw some Scripture at him. Be feisty- do not take him lying down.

I also love that Satan is the only thing here that receives Jesus’ wrath. Notice how he peacefully goes with the soldiers came to arrest him, who taunt Him. Instead of throwing lightning bolts, he heals after Peter’s violence leaves one ear-less. “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword, ” he says with all the patient exasperation of a parent. Yet remember how the Armor of God includes the Sword of the Spirit (“the word of God”; Ephesian 6:17); our aggression is for the evil in the spiritual realms. If Peter really wanted to help, he could have stayed awake to pray as Jesus had asked.

Lastly, I found it powerful that here Satan is depicted as using simple taunts to depress Jesus. When describing the futility of Christ’s mission and his ability to succeed, Satan just says, “No. Never,” unblinkingly and with incredible focus. Satan, who (for lack of a better term) sucks, knows our weakness, can hone in on them with the precision of heat-seeking missile, and oftentimes works in really simple ways to throw us off. Indeed, he is a roaring lion waiting for the opportune moment.  (1 Peter 5:8, horribly paraphrased.) The good news? He will not win. The only place for him is Hell and that is where he will stay eternally. Jesus wins! Remember this, cling to this on bad days. It’s true!

While “The Passion of the Christ” is by no means a replacement for the Bible, I see it as a conduit to spiritual understanding and growth. The knowledge of our Lord Jesus can be found anywhere, I believe; we’ve just got to look.

My prayer is that you revel in the beauty of our Savior Jesus this Easter.

All my love,

Courtney xoxo

Study Break

Standard

Today. Wow. What a day. Work. Act. Drink copious amounts of Diet Coke to stay functioning. Eat on the go. Repeat.

But I’m taking a study break RIGHT NOW and making a joy list. Of good things that I’m reveling in today. Er- of yesterday, (what? when? how? so many question words!) rather.

Ahhem. (Voice clearing noise).

1. I discovered how to make sweet tea in the Union. Not rocket science, I know. But I did it, I feel like a genius, and it has brought a bit of instant summer to my day.

2. Singin’ in the Rain

3. Laughter. Today was full of laughter.

4. This is probably one of the best things ever.

5. 8tracks. If you have not been, go. It’s what gets me through papers, room cleaning, and the process of getting ready for stuff when my own music just won’t suffice. It is better than Pandora, it is better than Spotify- just go.

6. To the person in Greece who decided one day, “Hey, let’s make some yogurt,” I thank you. Seriously, what.an.invention.

7. SPRING IS COMING.

8. “Remind Me” and “Defying Gravity” on full blast.

9. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. Exodus 14:14

10. The encouragement of friends.

11. I am alive and breathing and here.

Love y’all- back to work!
xo,

Courtney

Long Time, No See (Here’s Why)

Standard

Ever bitten off more than you could chew?

Me. I have. (cue frantic waving hands) If you’ve had a convo with me of late, I’ve probably looked a bit harried, mention how my thesis is driving me up a wall, and then employed some creepy voice to assure you that I’m doing okay.

Because I am! I love the busy; I love feeling like I could burst with over-activity, and I love having the moments like this that are more precious because they are rare: sessions of pure me-ness, where I can write or read for pleasure or laugh with friends.

And y’all, I am not doing this crazy season of life alone. I believe with all my heart that my strength, patience, focus, and joy right now comes from my Father Jesus, and it’s on Him that I am leaning on to get me through.

It’s kind of cool to be here, this tension-filled place: if anything’s going to get done, it’s because God did the doing.

One of my activities for sanity these days has been reading through the Bible. It’s funny- I love books, but I haven’t completely read the only one that really matters. I’m excited to experience it whole, and am ready to learn and grow. I’ll be posting thoughts on each book once I’m done (key phrase: #ifIhavetime); I want to keep track of my thoughts, (hopefully) encourage you with them, and do something for me- blogging makes me happy, and so do words.

Hey: I love y’all. It’s a good day to be a Wildcat, it’s a good day to be alive. As my beautiful sister Gretchen likes to remind me, “be joyful always.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16)

xo,

Courtney