See What Happens if You Don’t Give In

She wanted to see what happened if she didn’t give in….

I saw this sentence as a headline on an article about losing weight. Oddly enough, the sentence was never spoken in the article itself, so I’m not sure if the person in question actually said it, but the essence of the sentence struck me.

We’re always told not to “give up,” but only regarding specific moral stances, generally told not to “give in.” What struck me was that most of the giving up I do is caused by giving in.

I give in to laziness. I give in to fear. I give in to fatigue. I give in to desire. To frustration and stress and rejection and bad moods and selfishness. To all the negatives that come both from without and within.

I also love the imagery of “seeing what happens….” It fuels my mind with visions of what might be if I would only let it—a real-life experiment.

Have I ever *really* “seen what happens” if I don’t give in? If I really don’t give in?

Because, y’all, the merest moments, the briefest snippets of times that I haven’t given in have produced wonderful things in me, both outwardly and inwardly, but they have been so fleeting.

I fall back to my old patterns. “I’ve done my duty,” I think. I accomplished something, held my temper, lost the weight. It feels wonderful! Then I sit back to rest on my laurels.

But what if I continued not giving in every day?

Oh, the places I’d go!

So, here’s to “seeing what happens if I don’t give in.”

What an epitaph that would be!

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These Small Beginnings

Last week, I was working on a big project, and my procrastination level reached heretofore unimagined heights. I literally lay on the floor, staring at the ceiling, after each tiny step. Got another snack. Took another bathroom break. Another coffee. Did laundry. Dishes.

EVERYTHING seemed easier than working on my project. Even things I really dislike doing. It seemed like I would never reach the end, and even if I did, would the end be worth it? Was it going to be good? Did it matter even if it was?

In addition to writing, I also create detailed collage art that never looks great until it’s basically complete. I can never tell if my writing or my art will be good until it’s done after hours and hours of tiny steps – one painstakingly ordered word after another, one tiny piece of paper applied with tweezers, then another and another and another.

Today the Lord brought to mind Zechariah 4:10: “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.”

So, I started looking into what was actually happening in this chapter. Zerubbabel was the civic leader the Lord had tasked with the completion of the temple rebuild. The work had lulled, and I think we can gather from the context that Zerubbabel was pretty bummed about the monumental task.

“The Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.”

Whew…before there is even anything to show for our work, God rejoices in it. Even when I’m just gathering the tools for the task he’s appointed to me, he is already rejoicing in my action. When you read the rest, it gets even better.

“This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel:
‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’
Says the LORD of hosts.
Who are you, O great mountain?
Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain!
And he shall bring forth the capstone
With shouts of “Grace, grace to it!”’

Here I am trying to eke out words and beauty by my willpower and my knowledge, but that’s not how my mountain becomes a plain. Zerubbabel’s mountain was a pile of stones that needed to be turned into a temple. Mine is a pile of words that needs to be turned into a book, a pile of paper that needs to be turned into a picture. And it’s worth doing because it is TOO BIG for me and my strength and my will. But it’s not too big for him.

And when I finish, I can shout, “Grace! This was all a work of grace!”

Instead of pressuring my day-to-day with the overwhelming idea of the finished product, I should not despise these small beginnings – the few words, the few pieces of paper adding to the picture. My job is to take up the small task each day. The book, the art, the temple is the Lord’s.

God Never Said You Were Good Enough

It seems like everyone out there is trying to be enough, convince themselves they’re enough, prove to everyone else they’re enough. And I’m over here thinking about how comforting to me it is to KNOW that I’m not good enough, but that IT’S OK TO NOT BE ENOUGH.

That’s where Jesus comes in. If any of us were enough, we wouldn’t need him. You don’t have to be enough; He does. And he is. So, give yourself a break and let him be God. I take great comfort in the story of Jonah – dude was angry, resentful and bitter all the way through, but God used him anyway. God uses the foolish to shame the wise; the weak to shame the strong. When you are weak and foolish, He can still use you!

“I’m good enough and I’m strong enough and dog-gone it people like me” sounds like a great mantra except that it’s not true. And when we do something and fail or regret our words or just can’t go on, that mantra comes tumbling down around us and leaves us disillusioned. And people may not like you. They certainly don’t all like me.

If you can’t feel good about the world unless you feel “enough,” then your faith is in yourself, not God. I’m saying this from experience as a strong, capable, independent, stubborn, persevering not-enough person who took years to accept that I could not fix everything, could not be everything, could not, in fact, be perfect. I’m NOT saying that you should live in shame, belittle yourself, or treat yourself without love. I rather think C.S. Lewis’s quote says it best: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.”

All of that trying to be enough is energy we are wasting not allowing God to be enough through us because we’re always focused on ourselves, our failures, our aspirations. What if every time we were not enough, we took that not-enough-ness and handed it to God – then let it go, did not dwell in its repercussions, its recriminations? I rather think the result would be a beautiful brokenness that is the essence of the Gospel itself – redemption not out of perfection, but out of Jesus’s love and sacrifice, which we very much did not deserve.

God never said that you were enough. He said that he is.

I am not enough. And what a relief that I don’t have to be.

 

How Writing a Book is Like Raising a Child

On December 5, 2017, I completed the book I began in the summer of 2008. That’s nearly ten years of something just hanging around taking up my mental processes and time.

I don’t have kids, and I know that in 1,567,492 ways, writing a book is nothing like having a child. I also know that in a few ways, it is. I’ve heard writing a book compared to  having a baby, but in my experience was more like raising a child. Perhaps if you’re the kind of person who can (and has the time to) churn books out once a year, it would be more like birthing a baby – and maybe the more you do it, the more it becomes like that as opposed to my experience.

But for me, it was a long, stretched-out process of feelings of ineptitude mixed with excitement and fear and perseverance interspersed with procrastination and decisions I had a hard time making – watching it change and become something I didn’t exactly plan and had less control of than I understood.

Releasing it was kind of like I imagine it is to send your kids off to college. “OK, I’ve done my best with you; it’s time to let you go,” all the while, biting your nails and hoping he does OK out there in the real world.

But I still see all the other things I could have done to make it better, the mistakes I made, the hopes and dreams I have for it.

So, fly, little book, fly – go forth and inspire, delight, entertain.

(Hoping for siblings to follow faster, but not holding my breath!)

If you’re interested in reading my book, it’s sort of a cross between The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.  You can check it out on Amazon (paperback or Kindle): The Worlds Next Door by C.E. White.

TheWorldsNextDoor

 

Broad Strokes Paint Poor Portraits

I know this has been happening since time immemorial, but in the past year, I have been increasingly disappointed by seemingly rational people casting wide, sweeping generalizations of all sorts over all types, classes, races, religions, and genders of people. The Left is ________. The Right is ________. Gay people are ________. Evangelicals are ________. Millenials are ________. Gen Xers are ________. Men are ________. Women are ________. Feminists are ________. White males are ________. Black Lives Matter are ________. Police are ________. Christians are ________. Muslims are ________.

Things, unfortunately, are not that simple. I think viewing the world through the filter of Facebook has made it feel like a growing epidemic because 95% (this is not a real statistic) of the people on the internet say things that they would never say if even one human being from whatever populace they are discussing were standing in front of them. And therein lies the problem.

Broad strokes paint poor portraits. Anytime you try to categorize people, shove them into a box, make them fit whatever stereotype helps you make sense of the world, you are distorting them as individuals.

Because each of these groups of people is made up of hundreds of thousands of individuals who have hopes and dreams and mostly want good things just like you do. Whether they agree with what good is or go about getting it the same way you do is not the question. Disagreement does not even come into play in this discussion. We’re not discussing ideologies, but humanity and the intrinsic worth and complicated emotions and desires that come with it.

Portraits are unique and distinct. They are nuanced and shadowed and, in good ones, there is something intangible that helps you almost feel like you know the person portrayed. If you could look at the details, the histories, the loves, and the fears of each individual within any person your world view has tried to turn into a cliche, you would find a soul just as worthy as your own.

Our broad strokes are embarrassing. It is like drawing a stick figure and saying it is the spitting image of everyone in whichever subset you are discussing. This is not only rude; it is illogical. It is the thing children do when they are afraid. We are scrawling children’s drawings on people’s faces and turning them into boogeymen instead of human souls.

I am completely aware that some people fit stereotypes. That’s why they exist. But only the ignorant actually judge people by them. Because there are many, many more who do NOT fit the blanket categorization applied to them. No person is just one thing. They are infinite worlds unto themselves that we will never be able to fully comprehend.

Portraits are not something you create overnight. You must be engaged with someone in order to see them fully – to see them around corners and in the dark, behind doors and when the curtain is pulled back. It’s not always pretty, but let’s refrain from painting over three-dimensional people with our flat preconceived notions.

Not Perfect

Are you perfect? I know I’m not. I don’t even want to pretend to figure a percentage. I fail – a LOT.

When I was younger, I had some notion that I could manage any situation – that even if someone thought I’d done something wrong, I could work hard enough, spend enough time, say enough words, to make someone know I intended no harm or did the best I could. As I have aged, I’ve learned this is not always the case, and this is a HARD lesson. I really believed that if I tried hard enough, didn’t give up, all situations could be resolved.

Boy, was I wrong. No matter where the blame lies, you will never be able to make everyone happy, and this is a lesson worth learning early:

You can’t fix everything.

There will be people you can’t please. There will be relationships you can’t mend.

Sometimes, the relationships are worth mourning. Sometimes, they are not. Sometimes, you are at fault. Sometimes, you are not.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

You will disappoint people despite trying your very hardest. As someone who placed an inordinate amount of importance on friendships, I will pass on what I have learned:

You will lose friends if you have kids; you’ll lose friends if you don’t. You’ll lose friends if you’re too ‘Jesus.’ You’ll lose friends if you’re too secular. You’ll lose friends if you’re fat. You’ll lose friends if you’re too thin. You’ll lose friends if you drink. You’ll lose friends if you don’t. You’ll lose friends if you’re tolerant. You’ll lose friends if you aren’t. You’ll lose friends if you are true to yourself. You’ll lose friends if you try to be a chameleon.

Point is, no matter what you do, you will lose friends over the years, and this is OK, despite how it makes you feel.

I know.

It makes you feel like a failure. You think that if you were perfect, all of your friendships would remain hunky-dory and no one would ever dislike you or think you should do anything differently in your life, but that is NOT true.

I *sort of* finally accepted this.

Did you know Jesus was perfect and that some people hated him?

WHAT???

And since I know I’m NOT perfect, if some people hate me, why should I be shocked?

So, my conclusion?

Live Biblically. Love Biblically. And if people hate you, well, “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” John 15:20

You will still have nothing to regret. EVEN IF YOU’RE NOT PERFECT. Live the best you can according to your conscience – according to the Holy Spirit – and if you fail, Jesus sacrifice has still covered you, and if your friends, or family, or whomever, cannot not accept you and your failures – your struggles –  along the way, it does not matter. Keep going. The Lord knows your heart, knows you are not perfect, and accepts you anyway.

YOU ARE LOVED.

 

Truth is Truer in Narnia or Finding Transcendence in Art

 

I love good art not because it reminds me of reality, but because it gives me hope that there is something beyond the reality I see.

I love Picasso’s Dora Maar au Chat because it reminds me that even what seems broken can be beautiful. I love Van Gogh’s Starry Night, because his stars are the essence of stars the way I imagined them to be almost alive when I was a child – something magical and unearthly. I love C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia because reading them is like lifting the murky gray of our world and shining a light on it. Truth seems truer in Narnia the way the Technicolor version of a movie is more vivid than the real thing. I love Patty Griffin’s song, Making Pies, because the ordinary is the beauty within it.

Stripping away the facade of reality allows me to see the truths beneath the surface – truths I have grown incapable of seeing in the familiar, often harsh, face of world around me. I am blinded by my hurts, my fears, my prejudices, and my cynicism.

I catch glimpses of this transcendence in life and in nature, but usually only if I am looking, and most often when something has become its least ordinary self – a part of itself I have not yet become inured to. The sun at high noon in a cloudless sky is so common that it will rarely evoke any comment or reaction, but an extravagant sunset with cloud strokes patching the sky in yellows and golds and purples and reds? When I see that, I believe that God took up a brush and palette and painted the sky Himself – just to ravage me with beauty – the way a lover hopes his gift will bring his beloved to tears.

A young man walking across a street will not impress, but seeing a young man take the arm of a blind stranger after exchanging a few words, and then watching them cross together? Suddenly, I have seen beyond the ordinary to something beautiful – something that I hoped existed all along, but in which I hardly dared believe.

Too many of us, myself included, usually experience this hope only when something is so startlingly breathtaking we cannot help but notice, and then, we are like children greedily snatching candy from a curmudgeonly schoolmarm, as if God only dispenses these moments in his most expansive moods.

Art and hope have this in common: they both help you to see and believe in the beauty that is too often hidden in the real world. Good art is an exercise in hope – it reminds you how to use it. I also believe that they both begin with imagination.

So what is this hope, and can I immerse myself in it instead of only stealing these flashes of ecstasy and existing in mediocrity the rest of the time?

And here is where the imagination comes in. If I am hopeless, it is because I have stopped imagining a world or a circumstance where things can be better. The hopeless lack imagination.

In the Bible, the word “hope” is often interchanged in various versions with the word “wait.” If I give up hope because I do not have or see something now, I very much misunderstand the idea of hope, because why would you need to hope for something you already have? Romans 8: 24 says, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

But there is one more component, and probably the most difficult one: belief aka faith. Waiting and imagining will eventually send you spiraling down in to despair if you do not also have belief, because the longer you have to wait, the less your imagination will be able to sustain you. Ask any adult. And let me be clear – what we are believing for as Christians is not in this world. If we are only living based on the circumstances of the moment and not as if there is something transcendent, then we are living as any secular person.

Have you ever read what is commonly known as The Faith Chapter in the Bible? Hebrews 11 begins: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” It goes on to commend those who have lived extraordinary lives of faith. Verse 10 says of Abraham: “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Verse 13 says: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.” Verses 38-40 are so powerful: “…the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

I ask you not to skim these verses as we are so often tempted to do when we believe we know them already or we don’t think we care what they say. Go back now. Reread them. Note the phrases:

  1. “still living by faith when they died” – interpretation: they had not received their promise yet and they died. If you give up while you’re still breathing, you’re not gonna make the Faith Chapter.
  2. “world was not worthy of them” – interpretation: when you are tempted to think you must have done something to deserve your hard life or maybe that God is not doing his job, think of these people who wandered in deserts and lived in caves and in holes in the ground and remember that the world was not worthy of them. Don’t give up hope. The world won’t be worthy of you, either, whether it knows it or not.
  3. “since God had planned something better for us” – interpretation: something beyond this world: “…the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God…” because we are “…foreigners and strangers on earth.”

In Mere Christianity, Bk. III, Chapter 10 (unsurprisingly, the chapter titled “Hope”), C.S. Lewis says this: “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Thank God.

The recipe for Hope: Imagine, Believe, Wait

Or in longhand:

To live with a constant feeling of expectation for a certain thing (Isaiah 40:31), a thing which you have not yet seen or experienced (Hebrews 11:1), you must trust that God is faithful even when this world is full of suffering (Romans 8:18), and you must remain in a state of expectation that His promises are true (Psalm 27:14).

Hope: hōp/ – noun

  1. a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

Im·ag·i·na·tion: iˌmajəˈnāSH(ə)n/ – noun

  1. the ability to form a picture in your mind of something that you have not seen or experienced

Be·lief: bəˈlēf/ – noun

  1. trust, faith, or confidence in someone or something.

Wait: wāt/ – verb

  1. to remain in a state in which you expect or hope that something will happen soon

 

And a song for your parting thoughts:

Imagination

Music by Jimmy Van Heusen

Lyrics by Johnny Burke

Imagination is funny
It makes a cloudy day sunny
Makes a bee think of honey
Just as I think of you

Imagination is crazy
Your whole perspective gets hazy
Starts you asking a daisy
“What to do, what to do?”

Have you ever felt
A gentle touch and then a kiss
And then and then and then and then
Find it’s only your imagination again?
Oh, well

Imagination is silly
You go around willy-nilly
For example I go around wanting you
And yet I can’t imagine
That you want me, too