By the thousand words
Of well-meaning cooks…
To burn the food.
By the thousand words
Of well-meaning cooks…
To burn the food.
Today I have been thinking about insecurities. We all have them in some form…we aren’t tall enough, or short enough, or rich enough, or successful enough…our nose is a weird shape, or our left pinky has this slight bend in the middle that makes it look like it is broken….This is the natural ebb and flow to being human in a world full of..other humans. Most of these insecurities are natural and fairly harmless.
But then there are the deeper ones. These are holdovers from breakups, divorce, unsavory childhoods, parents who loved too much, or loved too little, backstabbing friends, failure, loss and just general knockabouts in life. These are the ones that maim us.
They leave nasty wounds that have burned neural pathways, defining the way we respond to life and others. They say we aren’t good enough, or smart enough, or pretty enough, or skinny enough, or healthy enough, or sophisticated enough, or talented enough. We aren’t outgoing enough, or funny enough, or we don’t know when to shut our mouths…Somehow, we just don’t measure up.
Many of us accept these limitations as a caveat of earthbound living. We are riddled with pain or some other life handicap, and we can do no better. After all, we are only human. Either that, or we believe these lies so truly about ourselves that we make them true. So we are so locked into our insecurities that we can never truly live up to our God given design and purpose. And so insecurity becomes this handy crutch that keeps us fallible and earthbound, in a manner of speaking.
But here is what I have learned through my experiment in community living. Everyone is prone to irrational insecurities. Everyone wonders whether people will like them, love them or push them away. Everyone is concerned about their image, about their joke falling flat, or saying something dumb. From time to time everyone wanders away from a conversation replaying it, and questioning themselves. Everyone has insecurities. This does not make us special, overly pained or handicapped. It makes us truly human and in need of grace.
And when we truly understand this, we realize that we are not special in our insecurity. We do not have the special, “but I’m just not _______ enough,” card that exempts us from living up to what God has designed for us to be, and destined for us to achieve. Even the most successful, popular people you know, will reveal deep insecurities when the moment is right.
And this realization is completely empowering. The things that have been holding you back because you somehow thought you weren’t “good enough,” are all lies. You are good enough. You are attractive enough. You are smart enough. You are outgoing enough. You are enough because God said you are.
So, what of the other side? What about when we legitimately aren’t enough? There are valid instances when we truly aren’t who and what we need to be in a given situation. This is my answer–when you walk confidently in who you are, you will become who you need to be. And God gives us grace for where he has placed us. And God’s grace is enough.
Fall is beautiful. Just exquisite. There are crimson trees just outside the front door that are the stuff of Robert Frost. I’ve been trying to take pictures of these trees for three days. I can’t.
It started Monday afternoon. On a walk through the parking lot, I was struck by their beauty. I came inside to pull out my camera, and my friend Brooke stopped me.
“Would you like to go pick pomegranates with me?” She asked.
There is also a pomegranate field on the property, and while having spent quite a bit of time here, I had never picked pomegranates. Pomegranate picking is a rite of passage for living on this property. How could I leave here and never have picked them? Besides, they would look picturesque as a decoration for our Thanksgiving table anyway.
“Sure,” I said. The light was fading, so we rushed to grab grocery bags, shoes and scissors (you need those to pick pomgranates, by the way) and headed out to the orchard.
It was just out of pomegranate season, and most of the remaining fruits had rotted and fallen off. But we searched through the trees, finding the last few here or there. All the way, I had this weird sense. It was a familiar feeling, and one I had trained myself to heed. It was a sense of poetry afoot. I knew if I tuned in, I would stumble across beauty, poetry, and above all, writer’s material. I was grativating around hippie ideas of simple living, farming, and beauty of nature. But nothing was really sticking. I decided to ask Brooke for input.
“So, what sort of life insight can we gain from our experience in the pomegranate field?” I asked her. Brooke loves to be deep, and enjoys when I invite her into such discussion. She thought for a moment.
“Hmmm,” she said. “How about how God is always pruning us?” She answered.
I nodded and we kept thinking and filling our bags with the mediocre leftovers on the trees.
“That’s good,” I said. These rows were all picked over, so we went deeper into the orchard. And suddenly, jackpot. Big splotches of juicy, red pomegranates. We cheered as we delved into the clusters with our scissors, careful of the thorns.
“How about,” she said, “Sometimes you have to hold out and God has better things for you?”
“Ooh, I like,” I answered.
But somehow it still wasn’t the blinding poetic insight I was feeling in my heart. There was something else. What was it?
It was getting dark, so we went home, shelled the pomegranates, and then drank apple cider and played a silly board game that made us all laugh. Life is good.
The next day it rained. It doesn’t really do that in Northern California. This is confusing to me coming from south Texas. The rain lives in the very air we breathe, and comes and goes just as naturally. In the summer, it catches the subtropical sun, and filters its punishing waves into a miserable sauna with the heat bearing down with searing incision.
Every 5-10 years the whole city goes underwater. The newscasters battle for ratings by standing in what looks like the middle of a lake and then shouting, “I’m standing in the center of this major freeway. You can see the sign up here…” Every newscaster in Houston lives for this moment. This is life as we know it. So for a rainy day to be an event is quite the anomaly. But such is the custom.
The rain was the event of the day, and it was also freezing. I love cold rainy days. I burrowed deep inside my sweater, and then said with glee, “I’m so excited! It’s winter.” The room silenced and everyone stared at me.
Caitlin is from Denver and the first to talk, “You mean, fall.”
Brooke is from Kansas City by way of Boston and chimed in her agreement. “Yeah, fall,” she said.
I shifted my eyes, and my lips rose sheepishly.
“This is as winter as Texas ever gets,” I admitted.
“Wow,” Caitlin stared me down.
“You can get through a Houston winter with a good, solid hoodie,” I explained.
“Whoa,” Caitlin responded. “That sucks.”
She and Brooke started talking about the latest in snow boot fashion. I looked out the window at the dreary drizzle and floated into the kitchen singing, “It’s wintry,” as I made hot tea.
The next morning, I woke up late. The lazy, cozy pace of a Thanksgiving Wednesday….I stretched in my covers and then padded down the hall to make my obligatory coffee. (I think I may have a coffee problem). I busied about the kitchen pondering my free and open schedule. There was baking tonight, but today….hmmm….then I remembered my fall tree photos. That’s it. Today, I would take the photos, and then write poetry about them.
I made coffee and breakfast, which seemed to be laden with mishaps. The coffeemaker wouldn’t work, so after much consternation, I turned to a pour over. Then my cinnamon rolls, which should have been, pop the can, and throw then in the oven, turned out to be much more complicated than I expected. Then they stuck to the pan and I tried to scrub the goo off and finally resorted to soaking the pan. Finally, after an hour of working in the kitchen, I sat down to breakfast.
Then Caitlin was making this gorgeous Thanksgiving centerpiece. It is a thankfulness tree. She gathered branches and arranged them in a vase, and then gathered pretty leaves off the ground. Each of the leaves has been painted with a single word…something we are grateful for….coffee. Waffles. Friends. Arms and legs. Socks. Showers. Creativity. Mexican food. Mountains….everyone in the house has been coming up with ideas and now she is taping the leaves artfully onto the tree branches. It’s a great idea, and super creative and cute. I shared a cinnamon roll with her and chatted with her on her progress. I gave her a few more ideas for leaves.
Finally, I finished my breakfast and grabbed my camera. I got outside and let the cool breeze set me in a pensive mood. The rain has stripped many of the trees, and so I search for a full red one. I finally spot one across the street. I think I can catch it with my zoom. I positioned my camera, and was zoning in on the shot, and then it went black. The battery was dead.
I went back inside and charged the battery. It was then I noticed the memory was full anyway. I groaned with frustration. So, I opened my laptop to upload the photos, and found my computer was dead. I couldn’t find the computer cord for a while, and then finally saw it buried in a bag. I plugged in the computer, uploaded the photos, and then deleted them off the camera. Okay. Finally, tree time.
I went back outside, wandered around, and get a few good ones and went inside to upload them and write poetry. I was headed for the iPad when my friend Daniel found me in the hall. I’ve known Daniel on and off for about twenty years. He now lives in our building with his pregnant wife and two toddlers. Right now, they are in the “this beautiful mess,” stage of parenting and family life. Today, he was as frazzled as I’d seen him in a while. Three year old Joe climbing all over him.
“Do you have..the sheriff is here,” he rubbed his face. He pointed to another building on the property. “The security alarm went off over there…and I gotta…..I gotta…go..deal with this. Can you watch him for a few minutes?”
I smiled at Joe. “Sure,” I said.
“Thanks,” Daniel exhaled and then he bounded out the door to the two waiting squad cars.
So Joe and I chilled and played pool and made monster noises and he is a really great kid. Finally, Daniel came back and I went to my poetry.
I sat down at my iPad and silence my mind. Then, I pull out the photos and try to tap into the creative stream. And I had nothing. I had cops. And the clang of pool balls. I have Thanksgiving crafts and pomegranates and cinammon rolls and rainy days and goofy girls late at night. I had life.
It reminded me of a radio interview I heard once. I was about ten when Amy grant wrote her landmark album Heart in Motion. She was talking about how she and the producer were trying to write in the living room. They were working on a song called Passion for Love. In the midst of it, her infant daughter kept crying and her toddler kept needing things. Finally, she stopped the session. “I don’t have a passion for love.” She said. “I can’t write this.”
She turned around and began writing what was real to her. It turned out to be a semi successful song called Hats where she talked about juggling the responsibilities of being a wife and a working mother. “One day I’m a mother. One day I’m a lover. What am I supposed to do? Working for a living all because I’m driven to be the very best for you.”
It’s not a partiuclary insightful song, but at ten years old, the story behind it was some of the best artistic advice I’d ever received. Sometimes, in the quest to write what we think we should, we can miss the material right in front of us. Be true. Be genuine. And let your heart write the piece.
And that’s what I learned from my tree photo day. I think that’s much more interning than whatever poetry I may have come up with today.
My life is full of journeys. This one is almost over. Today in the wake of Thanksgiving week, I am thinking about journeys. The paths that wind and twist this way and that. The thing about journeys is that they are always temporary.
I’ve been reading this book called, Through the Painted Deserts, by one of my favorite authors, Donald Miller. It’s kind of an old storyline. Jack Kerouac did it with On the Road and The Dharma Bums, Robert Pirsig did it with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenace, and from what I hear, it’s behind The Motorycle Diaries, the story of Che Guevera.
But it’s still a good story. A couple of people, sick of the commercialism of modern life, travel the country on a shoestring budget to find out what else there is. Along the way, they meet interesting people, have car trouble, ponder life, and try to keep the trip going as long as they can before the money runs out. Miller’s is unique because his characters ponder God, looking for him in all things. The classic storyline certainly includes spiritual inquiry, but usually concludes with some sort of adaptation of Eastern philosophy and/or socialism. Miller’s just ends with having a more concrete understanding of his own faith.
I had read Miller’s most famous book, Blue Like Jazz, several years ago. But I had forgotten what an excellent writer he is. His narration is sheer poetry. Beautiful descriptions and not overly showy either. It’s something of an encouragement to me as a writer. Sometimes I get so caught up in calendars and deadlines, that I forget that my writing could be that way if I took the time to do it.
Anyway, this book has gotten me thinking about journeys and paths. All life is a journey. I’ve always loved this part of it. But the problem comes when you enjoy a part of the journey. Then your heart is torn that it’s time to say goodbye. But we move through life like the waves, ebbing and flowing through one another’s lives. Laughing, loving and moving through it all. Each phase of the journey we grow closer to our destinies, to whom we were created to be. And that’s what makes the journey so beautiful.
I am excited to see what’s beyond this bend. It’s hidden behind the brush and as I float along, I can’t see what lies beyond. I simply have to trust that God is there. Watching. Waiting. A steady, strong hand through it all.
There is an elaborate web that lives between you and me. It’s a tangled weave, a sticky mess, deftly spun of suspicion, mistrust and paranoia. A stranger’s due harvest, no doubt. Yet it still catches my gentle words.
Stuck in its grip, the web spins them this way and that. It doesn’t stop, until my words are twisted, convoluted. Distorted, like an effects filter at an amusement park photo booth. Then it spits them back out. It is only then that my words find your ears. An empty carcass. Devoid of value. Devoid of breath. Devoid of life.
Then I stand called to account for things I never spoke, and to repair cuts I never sliced. Confused, I am left but to babble in defense. Even my incoherence jumps back at me, a fraction of what I meant. And then you curse me for the gentle words I tried to say.
This is how I feel about Paris, and the plight of Syrian refugees. I have no tears left.
I recently attended a church service where a missionary couple to Africa spoke. As they talked about the plight of the people, the poverty, the need, the disease….I found myself throwing up walls. Not that I didn’t believe them. I am sure the need is unbearably great. I am sure that the poverty is real. I am sure the desperation is real.
But, our hearts can only break for others so many times. There are millions of terrible stories in the world. The poor, the downtrodden, the hopeless…From teenage girls kidnapped and forced into prostitution, to every neglected and abused child, and the desperate poor all over the world. I can’t take on the emotional burden of sadness around the world.
I can weep for every child beaten and denied food by cruel parents. I can weep for the poverty stricken Thai girl who dreamed of a better life when…
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