Hopeless

I just read two Holocaust memoirs.

The first, The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. Followers of Jesus, she and her family participated in the Dutch resistance during World War II and hid Jews in their home. She and her sister were arrested and sent to Ravensbruck. Corrie was eventually sent home, but her sister died there.

The second, Night by Elie Wiesel. He and his family, Hungarian Jews, were deported toward the end of WWII and sent to Auschwitz and Birkeanau. Elie’s father, mother, and baby sister all died.

Both horrific accounts of the depravity to which humankind can descend. Sickening, gut-turning depravity.

I don’t make a practice of reading these kinds of books because I empathize in reading so much more than I do while watching movies, or even in real life…is that weird? But I’ve wanted to read both for a long time, since they’re both so acclaimed and their authors beloved.

I cried.

I cried at the end of both books. But…they were very different tears.

When I finished The Hiding Place, I outright wept. I wept at the beauty of God’s love and the hope in Christ that sustained Corrie and her sister Betsie in the concentration camp. All the little ways he provided in kindness. The tender and miraculous ways he began redeeming the tragedy after Corrie’s release – even during her imprisonment, as she and Betsie were able to minister to their fellow inmates.

When I finished Night, though, I felt weightily depressed.

Ten Boom’s story is about finding God’s love in the midst of horror. Wiesel’s is the opposite – it is about the loss of faith, loss of humanity, loss of identity.

Night is hopeless. There is no redemption in it. No light. Just darkness. Darkness that, I’m sure, Wiesel felt the rest of his life – his life that he called the night that started the day of his deportation.

We need both stories.

 

Rebranding Monday

Mondays suck, amiright?

They’re the restart of the inescapable cycle – work, home, sleep, pray for the weekend to come quicker than last week.

Monday is in some serious need of rebranding. Can we really continue to take this heavy blow, week after week, insisting our existence is but sisyphean?

This morning I was inspired. Inspired not to sigh and cast my eyes down at the sucking mud around my ankles, but to look up the mountain and say “New Start,” not “Restart.”

God’s mercies are new every morning – could they not also be new every Monday? Could Monday be a chance to take a deep breath and start afresh? Could Monday not be a day of potential instead of perpetuity?

What new philosophy could you approach this week with? What new mountain could you climb? What new mercy could you let wash over you?

New Mercy Monday.

Make it a thing.

I chose a random cat at the shelter and she turned out to be just like me

The moment the shelter worker brought her into the room she plastered herself to the wall like only the best covert operative could. Her black bottle-brush tail as puffed up as she could make it, she slinked along the wall to hide behind the desk.

The first cat we saw was a rambunctious Russian Blue. This was a life of the party kind of cat, with his jumping and bouncing and his unfortunately bobbed tail showing off his even more unfortunate-looking freshly neutered half-balls.

The second cat was a tabby princess with a fluffy Persian face. She was a diva and wanted all the rubs and scratches and lovins. A cuddle monster for sure.

But this third cat wanted nothing to do with us and everything to do with the space under the desk behind the trash can. Some personality, eh?

After several unsuccessful attempts to lure her out with a temptingly friendly hand to sniff, or an exciting feathery toy, I finally reached under the desk to fish out the scaredy cat. I scooped her up and put her in my lap. She sat there briefly, frozen, and looked up at my face.

Then she went back under the desk.

That was it. Less than 10 minutes of interaction, and I made my choice. Scaredy Cat. Somebody would love Mr. Half-Balls, and somebody would adore Princess Purr. Scaredy Cat didn’t have the wherewithal to make herself interesting. So I would take her home.

She’s not a people cat. She doesn’t like to show off, or greet visitors, or be touched by anyone outside of a small circle of 3 people. She likes to be in the room with people, but she’d prefer if they ignored her.

When babies cry she runs up to them to make sure they’re OK. When loud music plays she rolls on her back in joy.

She hunts cockroaches and delicately places their shredded carcasses under furniture.

Her favorite napping spot is my Danish Modern chair. She sleeps there while I read, clean, cook, or watch movies.

The first night I took her home, I put her on my bed before I turned out the light – she was still small enough that to get onto the bed she’d have to claw her way up the overhanging bedspread.

She curled up near my knees, but not touching. I waited. She got up and moved up toward my waist, curling up again, still not touching. Still I waited. She uncurled and walked toward where my hand lay under the covers. She sat on it. She curled up. And she stayed.

That’s how we sleep, even now.

She’s my only cat, and she’s the only cat I want. She had a cat roomie for a while, because my roomie had a cat. Scaredy Cat was…ahem…displeased, but she got over it and befriended the little bugger. It wasn’t till we moved out, into a roomie-free apartment, that I realized she loves living alone even more than I do.

When I get home from work every day she runs to the bathroom sink and cries until I turn the faucet on for her, so she can play in the water.

She’s neurotic. She’s picky. She’s introverted. Other people probably wouldn’t like her.

But I do.

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The Examined Life (aka Priorities, Boundaries, and Setting your Sails)

Whoops.

I never mean to go long periods of time without blogging. Just like I never mean to go long periods of time without introspecting (see previous post).

I’m working on it, folks. Balance. Having time to do both the things I want to do and the things I need to do. Isn’t this what we all struggle with?

And then there’s those pesky things I should do…but as a friend and counselor of mine would say, “Stop shoulding yourself.”

There are necessary things, then there are good things, but there are also better things.

Am I making sense yet?

I was feeling guilty recently – shoulding myself, actually – when it occurred to me that perhaps I was spreading my net of responsibility (or calling, if you like) too wide.

Consider the below, expertly-designed-in-MS-Paint graphs.

World's needmy perceived responsibilitymy actual responsibility

If I literally cannot meet the world’s whole need, then it follows that I’m not called to meet the world’s whole need. This led me to ask, what need can I meet? Well, there’s a lot of things I can do. But what can I do really well? What do I feel really strongly about?

You might not know this about me – I hope you do, though, because it’s important to me. Ultimately important, actually. I believe that:

Few things are necessary;

really, only One.

Know God.

It’s on my About Me page. For a long time I wondered about my purpose in life, but I figured it out, about 10 years ago: Know God.

We can get more in depth about what that means later, but I touch on it because it’s part of the purpose of this post. Knowing God – seeking him, learning him, finding him – is my Number One priority, and when everything in me and about me fails, when I have lost everything and all of my ability and have nothing to give the world and no one to give me anything, I’ll still have this One Thing. I’ll still have him.

That kind of sets you free, when you think about it. It set me free, the more I thought about it in light of all the the Shoulds and Needs and Wants. I felt free to choose my priorities – to choose what was most important to me, what I felt most strongly about, what I felt called to. And, inversely, what I don’t feel called to. Or even what I feel called to but feel less called to than other things.

Because, our world is too full of people not having time for great things because they’re too busy doing good things.

Does this make sense? I feel like I’m rambling. I mean, I guess that’s ok because that’s what I do here, right? Rambling is wandering, and I wander. I wonder…

Ok, I’m sorry, I’m not going to leave you on that vague note. I wanted too, though. It would have been poetic.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is, I decided I don’t want to drift about aimlessly, juggling wants-needs-shoulds and never getting closer to my goals and often feeling guilty. I don’t want to live the unexamined life; I want my life to be examined. Purposeful.

In practical terms, here’s what I did:

I wrote down a list of what I wanted my priorities to be. I wrote down what each of these things – mind, body, family, creativity, etc – entailed or required. Sometimes I got to choose, sometimes I didn’t. Because, you have to pay rent, right? You have to make sure the cat has food, and you need food too I guess.

Then I wrote them all down on index cards. I put them in an order. I changed the order. I rewrote a couple of cards. I thought about it. I prayed about it. This took me several hours, actually.

Then I decided on it. I decided what I would be responsibile to and what I would feel free to decline if it conflicted with a higher priority.

Friends, this process might not be helpful for you but it’s been shockingly helpful to me. I feel a new degree of freedom, and a new excitement at pursuing my highest priorities. I have weight and trajectory for my goals. It even gives more meaning to more boring of the priorities – like aforementioned rent paying – because they’re a part of making the others possible.

Perhaps this Wandering has been helpful for you, perhaps not. It seems likely that you didn’t make it all the way down here to the bottom of the post, and I forgive you for that. You have more important things to do.

The Unexamined Life

Do you ever stop, just to check in with yourself, and realize you haven’t done that in a few weeks? Maybe even months?

And you suddenly feel as if all that time that’s passed since you last introspected, you weren’t really living? Like your brain switched to autopilot and your Self took a nap.

Do you grieve that time? Do you feel like you’ve lost days you’ll never get back? Even though you lived them – you have vivid memories of them, you had fun, you were productive – still you feel like you only just now woke up.

This happens to me sometimes. More than sometimes, but not quite enough to be often.

Does it happen to you?

The Beautiful Secret behind Social Media Voyeurism

“Did you see Kylie Jenner’s latest instagram?”

We humans are inarguably more interconnected now than at any previous time in human history. We are in constant, instantaneous contact with one another – and not just with the people we know “in real life,” but with our favorite (and least favorite) celebs, public figures, and even random strangers whose sole claim to fame is their social media presence.

“YouTube Star”

“Instagram Celebrity”

Louis XIV used to allow people to come watch him eat, sleep, even go to the bathroom. I remember learning that in elementary school (long before the social media age) and being shocked (and giggling about the bathroom part).

My friends, we have gone farther. So, so much farther.

We are a culture of voyeurism.

A culture where one person’s outfit is bigger news than a suicide bombing.

We peer into people’s lives – we follow them, truly, following them around as much as they let us.

We want to know.

I think we all understand that this habit is not the healthiest. It breeds false intimacy, perhaps even to the exclusion of true intimacy with those who are actually around us. It can set a standard of experience (“my life will never be that cool”) that’s often manufactured, an illusion that will sow discontent in our own hearts. It gives us self-centered goals – to have this person’s life, to have that person’s instagram. To be so socially “loved.” Everyone has a “chance” to be famous and admired, and I am someone who “deserves” it.

But in all of this voyeurism, all this jealousy, all this discontent –

there is one kernel of beauty.

People care about other people.

Okay, so, anybody who’s ever read the comment section of anything on the internet knows how nasty humans can be to one another. How uncaring, how cruel. So when I say “people care about other people,” I want to clarify: I mean that people want to know.

They want to see.

They want to understand

and be understood.

The blog Humans of New York is probably the best most shining example of the heights to which social media voyeurism can rise. An opportunity to find compassion and solidarity. An opportunity to see someone else’s life – sometimes a life very different from your own – presented with personal vulnerability, even authenticity.

Does this mean every person featured on HONY is 100% telling the truth? Not necessarily. But I think most of the time people are telling their truth. And we love it – we love seeing the world through their eyes.

“Us vs Them” is such a prevalent, ugly attitude right now. Us vs the other candidate, Us vs immigrants, Us vs government, Us vs the other religion. And some people are so broken, so depraved that when they meet “them” face to face their ugliness only increases.

But in my experience, when you actually know “them”, they’re not a “them” anymore.

They’re a person, just like you. With highs and lows and griefs and joys, choices they’ve made, things that have happened to them.

That’s the redemption of social media. It has the opportunity to vanquish the concept of “Them.”

Does it always take that opportunity? Overwhelmingly, probably not.

But at least it shows that we have that desire, innately, to know and understand other people’s lives.

And that, I think, is beautiful.

 

Gentrification: The Good, The Bad, & the Ugly

rose & sword

DSC_0246THE BAD

Gentrification is a loaded word. And depending on your socioeconomic or ethnic background, you may define it differently. This disagreement on definitions has led to much misunderstanding.

So what is gentrification? Webster’s definition begins with:

“the process of renewal and rebuilding…”

Sounds pretty good to me. But wait there’s more:

“…accompanying the influx of affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.”

Sounds pretty bad in reality.

My question is: in Birmingham, is it possible to seek the good aspects of renewal and rebuilding while actively fighting the harsh realities of displacement of the poor? 

THE UGLY

I hear lots of talk about gentrification these days. As a young, white business operator in a predominantly low-income, minority neighborhood, people have lots to say to me about the word.

My husband and I moved into the neighborhood in 2012. As newlyweds, we were excited to start out new life together…

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