“I want to know you!”

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There is a very friendly Venezuelan who works at my favorite coffee shop.

When I first arrived in Oxford, I quickly learned to love this coffee shop. It is tucked in a 700 year old beautiful meeting room, with the best tea I’ve had yet, delicious food, and, perhaps most importantly, it is a two minute walk from the library. I began to notice the Venezuelan in my second week in Oxford. He is a busboy, a master of his job, presiding over towers of tea cups with a look of triumph, and making his striped apron look cool and European.

One day, while my nose was buried deeply in a book about Jane Austen, I looked up to find The Venezuelan standing over my table.

“Are you done?” he said. He had an accent.

“Oh, yes. Thanks,” I said a bit sheepishly, having just emerged from my literary reverie.

“Just… don’t take the teapot!” I quickly added. I think any tea-drinkers will understand my concern.

He laughed, set down the tea pot, and flashed an amused smile. I did something with my face that landed at a mixture between a smile, a grimace, and a look of surprise.

Oh dear. I thought. I think he likes me.

From that point on, I didn’t speak to him for several weeks. I noticed he was always very eager to bus my table, and would always beam with enthusiasm as he did so, which I would respond to by politely grinning, and precipitously hiding behind a book. In my few short years, I sometimes find myself suspicious of friendliness, sometimes with good warrant. And there is a shy part of me that hates to manage the perpetually award realm of social flirtation. Something inside of me says… Can we just… not?

The ongoing non-interactive interactions became a topic of amusement for my friends and me as we all frequented this particular coffee shop. One day, as my friend got up to wash her hands, he introduced himself, and told me his name was Gabriel and that he was from Venezuela; he was in Oxford to learn English. I told someone in my dorm this, and somehow it eventually spread through our dining group that there was a server named “Diego” from Spain who had asked me out. As history becomes myth, myth becomes legend, and a Venezuelan named Gabriel becomes Diego the Spaniard with romantic intentions. There’s a lesson in there somewhere…

I hadn’t been to the coffee shop in two weeks, but today, after finishing a particularly grueling week of three papers, I decided to treat myself to a scone and tea. I enjoyed my scone immensely, and managed again to successfully hide in a corner behind my book, brooking an chances of making eye contact. The coast seemed clear.

As I walked out the door, I heard Gabriel say “hey! Wait.”

I suddenly felt an introverted desire to run away. I had the urge to pretend like I hadn’t heard him. That would be rude, said one part of me, this is going to be awkward! said the other side of me. What does he want? 

I paused for a moment, and before I could say anything he choked out “So, you would ever talk with me?” he gestured to a tea table.

I paused for a moment. “I’m sorry, Gabriel. No. I do think you very nice, but I don’t know you very well, and I don’t feel comfortable.”

He smiled his sheepish smile again, and looked sideways at his shoes. When he looked up, he nodded understanding and respect of my decision. Then, I could tell he was searching for words.

“I want to know you. I wish I could know you.

With that, I took my leave, and he looked resolved. To the relief of parents everywhere (probably especially mine… hi mom and dad! 😉 ) I managed to refuse Gabriel’s request (and PSA, Girls Everywhere, don’t ever EVER give your information to someone you do not know and trust. K? Thanks. Good. Moving on.) preserving both our dignities, but as I walked back, his last words hung in my mind:

“I want to know you.” 

What frank, honest words, and how rare. I began to think about the dozens of faces I have smiled into for the first time here in Oxford, the hundreds of hands I’ve shaken, the thousands of words I have exchanged in the forming of new relationships. Life sometimes seems a continual, almost frenetic network of connections. As I pondered, I wondered what it is we seek in these relationships? Do we want companionship? Affirmation? Social status? Knowledge? Romance? In the perpetual river of relationships that life rushes us through, I think we often approach eachother, desiring to know what we can get out of a relationship, and not who. How often do we look at someone and truly say, “What I want is to know you.

In Gabriel’s struggle to find the right English words, I think he perfectly expressed one of the deepest human desires: to know and be known.

I find in myself a desire to be known, a desire I think is innately present in human nature. We are meant to be known. To me, one of the most heartbreaking passages in all of scripture is Genesis 3:8: “They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” Before this passage, Adam and Eve are depicted as living in perfect relationship and harmony with eachother and with God; they were fully known. After being exposed to sin, humanity has found itself hiding, afraid of judgement. I think we still hide for the same reasons today, because we are afraid of judgement, because we are proud, because we don’t know what someone might say if they truly knew us. But the desire to be known is still there. It’s written in our DNA. It’s how life is supposed to be. I find that desire in me, do you?

Jesus knew that desire. I have always been effected by the words of the woman at the well “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did” (John 4). Or by the Psalmist who says to God “Oh, Lord. You have searched me and known me.” (Psalm 139). What a profound thing it is to be known by God.

But we also desire to be known by our fellow humans. As I look at the life of Jesus, I see again and again, that what changed people’s hearts was the startling reality that the Son of God knew them, their sins and their sucesses, their sicknesses and sadnesses, and He loved them. As I look at how Jesus loved, I am reminded of his call to “do as I do.” I know that in my life that I have been without a doubt most profoundly effected by people who have sought to know me.

I think that one of the best gifts we can give eachother is the ministry of knowing. Seeking people, not for what they can give us, or how they make us feel, but for the pleasure and the honor of seeking to know them. Really knowing them. Know their favorite icecream, their delights and their demons, to know how they feel about their family, to know their favorite TV show, to know the existential question they think about when they lay in bed at night, to know their story. I want to give the gift of knowing.

And, in that way, Gabriel’s words honored me. I will still hide behind my book, the next time I am in the coffee shop, and perhaps bring a friend. But, in the end, I find myself thankful for the compliment, and for the conviction, which he perhaps did not mean to impart, to be a person who truly wants to know and to love others, from a heart that has been known and loved by God.

And with that, I’m off to sleep. But, always remember, friends.

You are known.

You are Loved.

Peace, love,

Joyness.

Psalm 139:1-6

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.

You know [a]when I sit down and [b]when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.

You [c]scrutinize my [d]path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.

[e]Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O Lord, You know it all.

You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.

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Story Tellers

Trinity Library in Ireland... It took my breath away to imagine all the stories, lives, and ideas contained in this room.

Trinity Library in Ireland… It took my breath away to imagine all the stories, lives, and ideas contained in this room.

I started journaling on my 8th birthday. I remember that day because we were staying at a friends home near the beach, and it was therefore a day full of strange and wonderful experiences for an eight year old: I caught a crab, one of the kids in the home made a pancake in the shape of a “J” especially for me, and my mother gave me a cloth journal with embroidered flowers covered in brightly colored beads. I remember sitting at the kitchen nook table, my short legs hanging off the stool, and for the first time, feeling the thrill of the pen running along the clean pages… it was love.

I have since completed about 12 journals. Over the summer I took time to read through some of the journals, and was particularly delighted to find I still had my beloved, beaded, first journal. As I read, I had a good laugh at my youngster self, and was quite amused by my interspersed illustrations of family members, creative spelling of words and affinity for scattering punctuation haphazardly (a habit I have still not entirely outgrown.) My young self’s understanding of the calendar also seems to have been somewhat skewed as I found an entry dated “May 40th.” The pages were filled with accounts of my days, heartfelt attempts at poetry, and the occasional passionate entry of grievances regarding my brothers having hit me in the head with a frisbee or having insisted on eating my bread crusts. I read and laughed, but was particularly struck by that very first entry which ended like this:

“… I know Joel didn’t mean to hit me in the head with the frisbee, so I’ve forgiven him.
Oh, Journal! I do not yet know what the future holds, but I know God has great things. And he will use me. How exciting. Off to eat cake.”

There was something both humorous and profound in my passionate little entry. Humorous because of my tenacious surety that I was God’s gift to the world, but profound when I thought of the implications of the story I was telling myself as a little girl.

I was quick to forgive, quick to feel, and quick to imagine. I had an unquenchable sense of the adventure of life and my part in it. And yet, I also had a sense of my smallness and my dependence upon God. I wrote with an expectancy that held its breath waiting for the tomorrow God would bring to me. I often wish I could talk to my younger self and ask for advice.

I thought of it in light of journal entries from the more angsty years of my early teenhood. Somewhere in between growing up and growing foolish,  my entries began to lose that shameless trust and confidence in something bigger than myself. My journal entries often became less “I know not what lies ahead” and more “I know I have failed.” They became less about destiny and design and more about more about my foibles and flaws. My descriptions became less colorful, my forgiveness less generous. When I wrote of the future, it was less about the sweeping grandeur of the unknown adventure of faith I dreamed of as a child, and more of the safe and small realm of desires and disappointments… I began to tell my story differently.

In my very first proper communications class, I stumbled upon the idea of self narration in a textbook on interpersonal communication (by Julia Wood.) People tell stories to make sense of their lives, and the author points out that we all have a specific way of narrating our lives to ourselves and others. We are all in the business of story telling. Journals are particularly telling in this, but just think of how people respond when you ask them about their day. Immediately, people launch into storytelling, making their days, even the humdrum ones, daring adventures, woeful happenings, or delightful tales. People talk of their days with a narrative rhythm, highs and lows intermingled with colorful description and emotion. Often we have heroes and villains, quests and curses, victories and defeats, love and tension. Everyone tells their story differently.

Over years of practice, people develop a rhythm, vocabulary, style, voice and mood to their narration. And, slowly, as we narrate our lives, our very own narration begins to shape us.

As I study in Oxford, this reality is ever before me, and has made me realize that the way we tell stories is not nuetral. The drive to tell stories here is ineffable. We tell stories about history, philosophy, religion.. Lord of Rings… Volumes of History… plays…. poems…. Stories are everywhere. Stories serve to help us interpret the world. Sometimes stories oppress, sometimes they liberate, sometimes they open doors into worlds unknown. There is a reason that the brightest minds in the world often put their ideas in novels… Stories are powerful.

But how do we tell the right story of our lives. I have found that at some points in my life, I have encoutered events that I didn’t know how to interpret; parts of my life that are a part of my story, but a part I don’t know how to tell. How do you tell the story of a grief that hasn’t resolved? A relationship you wish you could save? Surely these things can’t be simply resolved by retelling them in a positive light, or by ignoring them altogether.

The Psalms are peppered with self narration. So often the Psalmists writes “find rest my soul” (Psalm 62:5) or “why, my soul are you disquieted within me” (Psalm 43:5).The Psalmist dig and get their fingers dirty to find the right story. They ask God if He is really there and faithful, remind themselves that he is, and let the story of God’s faithfulness inform their story. The element of narrative is especially noticable in Psalms where the Psalmist recalls things God has done in the past, reminding himself that he is still a descendent of that story. The Psalmist talks to himself and God, seeking to make His story the truest it can be. Numerous times the Psalmists write “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story!” (Psalm 107:2).

This morning, as I sleepily paged through my new journal, I felt God gently set my mind to wondering “What story do I tell myself and others now? How do I narrate my life?” Do I narrate as the defeated victim? Or do I tell a story in which I am able to cop out of responsibility? And how do I let God shape the parts of my story I don’t know how to tell?

This a thought I haven’t finished thinking, and a lesson I haven’t finished learning, but this week I stumbled upon a thought that has helped me in my story telling. I have been reading The Great Divorce for my tutorial, and at one point in the story, the guide to the main character says to the main character,

“They say of some temporal suffering “no future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, one attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory… the good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven.” (The Great Divorce, Lewis.)

Part of telling our story is learning to view it in the light of the Kingdom– in the light of eternity. I belong to a God who is making all things new. As I live, I must remember to tell my story in light of that greater story. The story that no matter what, I am God’s child (Galatians 3:26), being formed into his image (2 Corinthians 3:18), imperfect and alway loved (Romans 5:6-8), empowered to do good works by His grace (Romans 6), a part of a Kingdom story that is not yet completed (Hebrews 12), destined for glory (2 Corinthians 4:17). And the way I begin to fully understand that story is by reading scripture and letting it’s truths sink into my soul and shape it. As God’s story seeps into the corners of my soul, I begin to see my life in the light of the Kingdom; God’s story changes my narration, and that narration changes me.

But narrations are fluid things, and life sometimes seems exasperatingly ordinary. Life twists and turns, and my story continues. Every morning, I find myself asking God to remind me of my story again, asking to glimpse the glory that I will someday understand in it. Like Lucy in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader I desire to read the wonderful story that gets better with every chapter… but I’m not quite there yet.

For the moment, I don’t know the end of the story, but I am mysteriously invited by God to join with Him in storytelling. And you are invited too.

What Story will you tell?

The Importance of Playing the Saxophone

Feeling the wind rush through your hair on a country road... one of the many things I love about life.

Feeling the wind rush through your hair on a country road… one of the many things I love about life.

I love life.

I love apple cake. I love watching yellow leaves fall on a crisp day. I love the look on someone’s face when they let out an irrepressible smile. I love my favorite music a lot. I love the comfort of leaning on someone you love deeply, and feeling their sturdy self hold you up. I love sauteeing mushrooms. I love my ridiculously fat dog. I love Anne of Green Gables. I love telling secrets. I love the feeling of a new pen on a blank page. I love making people laugh. I love having a good hair day. I love sifting warm sand through my fingers and feeling the warm California sun freckling my face. I love kisses and hugs. I love loving people.

I love life.

Recently, I was lounging around late at night, watching an old movie with some friends. In the movie there was a scene at a swing dancing club. As I watched, I was swept up in the loveliness. There were swishing dresses, smiles, laughter, amazing dancers, and a very capable saxophonist.

“There are so many lovely things in the world to do!” I said “You can play saxophone, or dance, or be great at cooking!” 

One of my fellow watchers made a “pffpppht” noise.

“Or you could… you know.. do something important. Like like help dying people, or fixing war.

I immediately felt smooshed; a cloud of April showers had descended on my Spring time mood. Perhaps I’m silly, trivial, spend my love on meaningless things… who cares about playing saxophone?

I trudged up the stairs and knit my brows in thought as I walked into my room all shadowy with night. I flipped on extra light as I brushed my teeth, and as I did, my favorite corner of my small dorm room: my desk nook. In my little nook I have a menagerie of pictures, post cards, plane tickets, calendars, notes from my beloveds, tea and my favorite mug, cheeze its… everything that reminded me of home and beauty. Everything that reminded me of who I was. Everything that reminded me of who I love.

And that’s when I realized why playing the saxophone, dancing, and loving apple cake is important… It makes us human

We are constantly confronted with suffering and chaos. It is ever present through social media, television, and the generally media saturated world we live in, and the last few months have been particularly heavy. It screams at us and seems to cast a cloud of the pervading effect of sickness and sadness that we can’t seem to do anything about. In Communications they call this “compassion fatigue.” We are bombarded by the voices of the news that make us feel helpless and guilty. Surely with a world such as this we should do something important.

I believe this kind of world and mindset generally leads not to action, however, but to a kind of paralysis and dehumanization. We begin to see the world as the dead, dying, and distressed, but we feel powerless to stop anything. In that focus on darkness, we forget what makes the atrocities of the world so awful to begin with: the destruction of beautiful, potato loving, jazz music playing human beings made. Violence, illness, and war, try with all their powers to deny, discolor, and dilute the true, vibrant, colorful nature of life. When we proclaim the only important things to be “dying people” and “war” we forget why it is that we fight against these things: because life, in all its pulsing, hobby filled, giggling reality is beautiful and to be preserved.

This doesn’t mean that we forget the sad things that are happening, or that we don’t fight for what is right and true. It means that we do not accept darkness as the ultimate reality. It means we dance in defiance, and we sing when the music stops. Only light can put out darkness. Only life can defeat death, and life is made up of a thousand unimportant things. 

It reminds me of Sam and Frodo in Lord of the Rings. Near the final scene of the movie, when they have almost reached Mount Doom, all seems bleak and dry and dead. And then…

Sam: Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo? It’ll be spring soon. And the orchards will be in blossom. And the birds will be nesting in the hazel thicket. And they’ll be sowing the summer barley in the lower fields… and eating the first of the strawberries with cream. Do you remember the taste of strawberries?

Frodo: No, Sam. I can’t recall the taste of food… nor the sound of water… nor the touch of grass. I’m… naked in the dark, with nothing, no veil… between me… and the wheel of fire! I can see him… with my waking eyes!

Sam: Then let us be rid of it… once and for all! Come on, Mr. Frodo. I can’t carry it for you… but I can carry you!

And that is why it is important to want to play the saxophone, and to love strawberries with cream, and to love knitting, and to kiss your baby, and to love gardening, and to like the Beatles, and to drink another cup of tea. It is important because it reminds us that we, and our suffering sisters and brothers, are not headlines, statistics, or liabilities; We are humans. Humans created to create. Given music to make music. Loved into existence that we might love.

We are Humans who love life.

And that is important.

Doubting Faithfully

IMG_0623“Sometimes I wonder if people knew what I really thought and felt, if they would think I was a prodigal?… that I’m losing my faith.”

The words fell out of my mouth quickly and awkwardly. I had waited many months to say them and felt an odd sensation at allowing their sudden presence in the room. I could not unsay them. They seemed fall with a thud in the heavy air and bring with them a shadow– a shadow that had hung in my mind for quite some time. Across from me sat my professor, leaning in, head tilted, hands crossed. I searched his eyes for a response- did he think I was losing my faith?  

For a moment, the words hung in the silence, and he did not reply. I couldn’t read his expression, it seemed sad, intent, but not condemning. I looked down at the notebook I had brought with me. Inside it were neatly written questions, questions that had begun to haunt me several months before, and that had begun to quickly spill in the margins of my journal no matter how hard I tried to push them out. There were no more questions written out; I had asked (or perhaps ‘confessed’ is a better word) them all in that office hours appointment. I thought I had said all I needed to say, but then…

“I want to be a Christian. I want to have faith. I did not ask for these doubts, but they stay with me. I wish I could just put them to bed and move on with my life and faith.”

I suddenly felt an unwanted lump emerge in my throat.

The “cloud of unknowing” as Madelein L’Engle puts it came upon me one January day. I had a miserable and feverish cold and had just made myself tea. I had arrived back at school a bit early for a debate tournament. My cold was a nasty one accompanied by my childhood bane of asthma, which stole my voice. So, I stayed home from the tournament.

I remember sitting down, sniffing painfully, and suddenly feeling a cloud descend on me. The first feeling of doubt wasn’t really an articulated intellectual question, but rather a general feeling of estrangement from my beliefs. Recently in that year, I had encountered a situation that shook me up in what I believed about Christians. I saw Christians saying one thing, acting another way, which is not so uncommon, we are after all fallible humans. In this situation, however, what struck me was the profound dissonance between  what they said they believed, and how their actions seemed to deny that belief as a possibility. It raised an awareness in me; was I doing this too? Did what I believed– and indeed who I believed in– really mean something in my life? And further from that, did God care about the inconsistencies? Did He care about me? Who is God? Why didn’t He speak to me?

It was like I had been swimming in a pool of what I had always believed, and I had gotten out for a moment, and observed the pool from the side.  It was cold there, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get back in. I wondered if I had always assumed my swimming pool to be the Ocean when it really wasn’t.

That day began a journey of months of searching. Though I never stopped going, church became difficult. A new question would present itself at each reading of my Bible. My eyes were suddenly opened to a thousand unexamined presuppositions that I held. And always, there was the attending feeling of isolation, as though I had broken up with a best friend.

I had often heard people say to me “When people doubt, its because they’re being tempted to sin, and they don’t want to think there’s a God to hold them accountable.” This may be true for some, and certainly and easy out to seemingly constricting morals would be to deny the maker of the morals existed to begin with. But, for me, this was not true. I had no boyfriend I was tempted to compromise with. I didn’t have a secret addiction. In my truest heart of hearts, I did not want to give up on my faith. I simply wanted to know that it was big enough. I wanted to know it was not a faith made in my own image– something that made me feel better but wasn’t really true.

One weekend, my mom came and visited me. We ate burgers on the pier, enjoyed the delightful ease of laughing with someone who really knows you, watched the sunset and then went for a walk on the beach. As we walked along the water, putting our toes in as the chilly waves licked the shore, I began to share with her some of my thoughts. She listened and held my arm. As we walked, the night snuck into the sky. In a rare occasion for the polluted skies of Los Angeles, stars began the freckle the darkness, and shine out optimistically. Our conversation paused for a moment, and we stood and watched and listened as the waves came steadily in.

“I once had many of those questions, too, Joy. And sometimes they come to me again. But in Jesus, I found some thing so big, so loving, and so true, that I hold onto him. He is big enough for your questions. He threw these stars into being, and He poured this ocean out on the earth like a cup of water. If you hold on, I know He’ll find you.” she said, with years of memories swimming in her eyes.

The waves crept over my cold feet. The Ocean beckoned me out. My doubt did not end there, but a new search began, the search for the Jesus of the Waves and Stars.

Something that truly helped me in that time, was reading the Gospels and the Psalms. In my time of doubt, I scoured my Bible for answers. Often, I did not find exact answers, but I found that my desires were echoed. In the Psalms I discovered that I was not alone. Before me, David and the psalmists had cried out to God, to know that He was there, that He cared about bringing justice, that He would speak and not be silent.

It was perhaps the Gospels that most profoundly effected me. In the Gospels, I encountered Jesus. As I read, there was a newness in the stories I had never experienced, and Jesus began to come to life from the page to me. He was strange, strong, and sometimes confusing. In His words, I found a deep down truth. I began to truly fall in love with Jesus… with his words, with his life, with his call to die.

It was somewhere in the midst of that process of that reaching, struggling, winning and losing battle to know the truth, that I found myself in the meeting with my professor, true words hanging in the air, silence unbroken. But finally, he broke it.

“They probably would think you were a prodigal.” he said, but his eyes told me that he did not think I was.

“Joy, doubt is never a good or happy thing. It is lonely and long. But doubt can be redeemed. In doubt, you go to the depths of yourself, but there you can find God. And if you find God there, your relationship with Him will be more deep and more strong than it could have been if you hadn’t have doubted. You may never put your doubts completely to bed. But for me, I find that I cannot get past Jesus. He is my bedrock that I fall upon no matter how deeply I doubt. In Him, I find the reason that Paul said “I have counted it all loss to know Christ Jesus and to share in his sufferings.”

I swallowed and managed out a smile. He gave me a list of books that would help me explore some of my more intellectual doubts. We talked about life and church, and as I closed the door to his office. I breathed out, and felt that the cloud was beginning to lift. I think God found me again that day. And I found myself willing to dive back in, not to the small swimming pool of my neatly ordered faith, but to the vast and reaching ocean, the “reckless raging fury” of God and his Love.

Walking through that season, and continuing to walk through life, I learned that God and his truth are much more than the swimming pool I had made Him out to be. And in fact, I think my beliefs about him were constricting and wrong.  Through research and thought, I have come to be able to truly and strongly intellectually support my faith, but I find that is only a very small part of my faith. It is not that I have sealed the deal on doubts, but that I have found Christ worth holding on to.

I learned that Truth is not found in a neatly ordered set of propositions, but in the person of Christ. I have not resolved every question I’ve ever had, nor have given up on them. But what I did discover is that doubting can be an act of faith. A sacrifice we offer to God, humbly and with quietness of heart, waiting for him to speak. And He does speak. In my places of doubt, I discovered the God of the ocean and the stars, who is bigger than my doubts. I do not always understand Him, but I know that He is good.

“I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait, And in His word do I hope.  My soul waits for the Lord More than the watchmen for the morning; Indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning.” Psalm 130

Ireland

IMG_3648Hello, World! This week my friend Rebecca and I went on an adventure. Spoiler: We went to Ireland. It was quite an adventure.. They say pictures are worth a thousand words… So instead of my usual verbosity, here’s 20,000 words. Actually just 20 pictures. And a few words in between. IMG_3703 We had quite a time getting to Ireland. Our day seemed to be evidence for the validity of Murphy’s law. When we finally got on the plane, they told us we got a window seat… you can see by Becca’s face that their idea of “window seat” was perhaps a bit different from our own. We couldn’t stop giggling. IMG_3739 One of the first places we saw was Saint Patrick’s Cathedral… as you can probably tell, we were just really excited to actually  have made it to Ireland. IMG_3712This small stone commemorates the first baptisms in Ireland. It was humble, covered in earth, almost easy to overlook. It seemed strange to me that it would be so small.. and yet all of Ireland seems a testament to Patrick’s influence on Ireland. It was a quiet and simple reminder to me that God uses the weak to shame the strong.

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Trinity Library

Trinity Library was one of my favorite stops. I could almost hear the countless voices of centuries echoing in the halls of books, many bound before the printing press was made. IMG_3714 And they had the coolest staircases EVER… IMG_3723 The street artists and musicians were amazing. IMG_3743 This man was playing the hammer dulcimer. It has such a haunting celtic vibe. For a taste of its beauty here is a video of Rich Mullins, one of my all time favorite musicians, playing the nicene creed. 

IMG_3741 Half way through the day we met two lovely friends. As you can tell, we were all very excited about being in Ireland. IMG_3742“Dublin is a city of chancers and cheaters and back stabbing snakes.” Can you name the movie? … You got it. “Leap Year.” This is the bridge from a scene near the end of the movie.

The real Mr. Darcy

The real Mr. Darcy

FUN FACT: This man, Thomas Lefroy, was the basis for Jane Austen’s character of Mr. Darcy. They fell in love while staying at a mutual friend’s home. His family thought Jane was too poor and separated them. No wonder Austen could write so many dramatic novels… she seemed to have lived them! I must say, I think Collin Firth has him beat in looks.

Rebecca looking pensive...

Rebecca looking pensive…

The next day, we hopped on a train and simply trained up and down the lovely coast of Ireland.

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A question I sometimes ask myself…

We found this sign along the way. It made me laugh.

From the train...

From the train…

The coast stole my heart… IMG_3761 We had a picnic on a grassy cliff overlooking the ocean and hills. I could have sat there for the whole day. There was a sweeping beauty that seemed to have a deep wisdom in it. I wish I could have stayed longer to hear what it would have said to me. IMG_3768 Mother nature graciously added to our picnic with these lovely wild blackberries that were growing on the cliff. IMG_3760Apparently the elves lived in Ireland. Yet another reason its delightful. IMG_3781 After a long day of adventuring, Rhubarb pie and lattes hit the spot.

Goodbye Ireland...

Goodbye Ireland…

Well, there are some of the highlights of my most recent adventure. I want very much to go back someday. Well, it’s back to the academic grindstone! I can hardly complain, though, as about to go read a novel for my tutorial. Much love, Joyness

The Problem with Nice Little Girls

Miranda-Waterhouse

“Miranda-The Tempest” by Pre-Raphaelite artist JW Waterhouse. The Pre-Raphaelites painted women in a way that showed their beauty, strength, and dignity. I like that.

While I was an RA last year, bright faces peeking through my door asking if we could talk was a common occurrence. I loved the girls on my floor, and was so inspired as I watched them stretch, struggle, and grow… and they helped me grow so very much as well. (If you are a Riser and you’re reading this… hi! I love you. 😉 ) As the semester wore on, I began to notice a recurring phrase running in the vocabulary of how many of the girls talked about various situations (family troubles, pushy boyfriends, tense friendships):

“I don’t want to seem mean…pushy…needy…judgmental.”

Here were some examples.

“I feel really uncomfortable with how he is acting… but, I don’t want to seem mean.”

“I feel very mistreated, but I don’t want to seem needy.”

‘I think what they are doing is really wrong and could hurt them, but I don’t want to seem high and mighty.”

And as I began to notice this trend, I began to notice similar tensions in myself. I began to see that lingering in the back of many girls minds, whether consciously or not, is the idea that we ought to be what I like to call “Nice little girls.” We admire girls who are “kind,” “sweet,” and “nice.” Negative reactions to people—feeling pushed, hurt, indignant, doubtful—are often perceived to be “bad feelings”– feelings we ought to suppress and pray about because we are not “thinking the best of others.” I think perhaps the line between honest and mean is much thinner for girls than boys. There is something of a pleasant passivity expected of girls; be honest, but not too honest. Have you experienced this?

I think this is further compounded by some of the most popular ideas of what biblical femininity ought to look like. I’ve heard many well meaning sunday school teachers admonishing girls towards “gentle and quiet spirits,” without regard to the other necessary and admirable facets of womanhood. What about the quality of Wisdom, personified as a women, thoroughly rebuking the fool? Does that fit into a framework of gentleness and quietness? It is good, noble, commanded, and desirable to have a gentle and quiet spirit– something I want and need to grow in– but, what do we mean by “gentle and quiet”? In the absence of a robust and Biblical understanding of these words, we resort to lauding a shallower version of woman: “the nice little girl.”

And it is in this that I find myself and many other young girls faced with a tension of two strong forces pulling for mastery over our actions: Image Management and Self Management.

Image Management:

To be nice or not to be nice, that is the question. Whether tis nobler to do the right thing or to look like you’re being really nice…

The problem with the idea of “the nice little girl” is that it is based primarily in perceptions rather than reality. When the worry is “I don’t want to seem mean,” the focus is shifted away from acting in a way that shows integrity, affirms self value, demonstrates a developed sense of moral culpability, corresponds with reality, and has the best in mind for all parties. This causes young women to worry more about being perceived as agreeable than actually being a mature and godly person. This quite ironically contradicts the idea of the verse that it is supposedly supported by, in which Peter admonishes the women to cultivate “the hidden person of the heart,” a reality which exists apart from outward perceptions. It does not matter how you are perceived if you have not developed a true “hidden person” to begin with.

And image management has devastating effects.

Because of the belief that they should always hold to a standard of “nice-ness” have seen girls submit to pushy men because they felt like they were “overreacting” by telling them they were going too far. I have seen people stay in hurtful relationships in which they were enabling ungodly behavior because they didn’t want to be mean by standing up for themselves or others. I have seen people do things they regret because they felt like they would be perceived as judgmental to stand up for what they believed.

I think, with some evaluation, it is obvious that these are warped ideas of womanhood, but they are prevalent and powerful, and they have got to stop.

Self Management:

Once, while meeting with a mentor, I told her about some tensions with a friend I was struggling to navigate with integrity. Was I doing the right thing? Will I seem mean? Will I seem judgmental? What do I do? It was an issue we had talked about before, and I was going in cirles: I knew what was right, but hated to be cast in the light of the “bad guy.”

“Joy, you are trying to manage your image; it won’t work. You must seek God, seek the wisdom of others, and do what seems best. You cannot control what other people will think of you, you must trust your integrity to God.”

Her words that day have stuck with me ever since. A sometimes frustrating reality of life is that you cannot control the actions, feelings, or perceptions of other people. You can, however, manage your own actions, feelings, and perceptions. I say manage, rather than control, because human beings are complicated, even, and sometimes especially to ourselves. Instead of trying to constantly be in control, we must learn to submit ourselves to God and others in a way that helps to strategically manage our sinful selves.

This doesn’t mean recklessly embracing an attitude of ungracious candor, but learning to understand our emotions, manage our reactions, and act in a way that has integrity. But how do we begin to transition to living a life of self management rather than image management. 

As I consider how I want to mature as a woman, I want to live in pursuit of gentleness, godliness, wisdom, and love, in my “inner person” rather than in my self as perceived by other. I think of it as an exercise in being. I want to be wise, by surrounding myself by wise people, investing in scripture and books, learning from my past mistakes. I want to be discerning, by growing in understanding of myself, pushing beyond the feelings I have into the causes for them. I want to be kind, learning to value people, seeking to know their story, asking God to shape my heart with love, practicing real kindness based in integrity rather than image management. With each experience, morning devotional, conversation, and book I read, I hope that I am developing a framework of how to act and react, a wealth of wisdom to draw from, and a heart practiced in responding in love.

Nice is not enough.

When we tell ourselves to be “nice” we are only allowing for shadow of the women we could be. After watching the girls on my floor grow and flourish this year, I have been thoroughly convinced of the beauty and power God has in mind for the fully developed heart of a woman he loves. We must redefine our understanding of what it is to be gentle and feminine in search of God’s true and magnificent design. I hope that we as woman are constantly reminding ourselves of that fullness, and never settling for a smaller, weaker image.

She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.
 She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.” 

-Proverbs 31:25-26