Going on an Adventure: Scotland, Pt. 2

You may remember that last summer my family and I took a trip to Scotland. We enjoyed it so much that we decided to return there this summer as our last European hurrah before moving back to the States. Our first visit to Scotland, we hiked around bonnie Loch Lomond for a few days but spent most of the time jumping from city to city: Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Saint Andrews. I’m so thankful I got to walk the streets of each of those, but it made for a pretty hectic vacation. This time, we spent eight days in one place. And oh, was that a good idea. Our days were calm and peaceful, and by the end we felt almost like natives of the region. (I’m sure the actual natives would have a fit of disgust at the idea, but shh, don’t tell.) I love the relaxed schedule and being able to explore in depth the land immediately around us.

We stayed in a little cottage in the hamlet of Glencoe. It sits on the western coast of Scotland on the bank of Loch Leven, twenty minutes south of Fort William. Even though it is a loch—a lake—because it’s so close to the coast, its water is salty and moves in and out with the tides. I couldn’t quite believe it when we walked on the rocks and grass lining the lake and found crab shells and seaweed tangled in amongst the moss and little pink wildflowers.

The beauty of the Scottish Highlands is indescribable. There’s this unique quality to it that I don’t think you can find anywhere else on earth. I’ve been to the Alps, and they are breathtaking, stunning, but it’s a different kind of beauty. The Alps feels timeless, whereas the Scottish mountains feel ancient. The Alps feels almost ostentatious, like they want you to gasp and applaud, while the Scottish mountains seem to take no notice of you, existing for something greater than we humans can see.

On all of our hikes, I struggled to find the right words to describe what I was seeing. I jotted on my phone:

the Highlands have this quiet understated grandeur that does not demand awe for rob of breath like the Alps but sits in sure / elegant / contented repose, unmindful of human opinion, laying itself before a higher King like gems before his throne, his emerald carpet

We spent most days hiking and made a few treks to Fort William, purported to be the outdoor capital of the UK. One day we climbed to the top of a hill—an almost-mountain hill—that faces Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK. Another day we tackled the Lost Valley hike, climbing along a waterfall up the side of another almost-mountain hill and arriving at the top to stand at the lip of a wide valley nestled high where several mountains together. It was utterly magical. Looking back, I wonder if I was transported to another world or if it happened at all, in any universe.

We also drove to the Island of Iona one day—or rather, we drove to a ferry that took us and our car to the Isle of Mull, which we drove across (shout out to my dad for handling with skill the one lane road with its endless twist and turns through the hills) to another ferry that took just us to Iona. Iona is famous for its ancient abbey where monks created the beautiful Book of Kells, an ornately illustrated collection of the four Gospels. I loved the history and how the island still maintains a calm, set apart atmosphere. Plus, it was stunningly gorgeous. The water around it was literally teal, and the grass blanketing the gentle hills was fresh, bright green and studded with yellow and white flowers. White curves of sandy beach ended in dark rock jutting into the sea. It was almost too much beauty. You can’t take it all in.

I thought a lot about beauty on this trip. I thought a lot about how desperately I want to capture the beauty I see in words and how impossible that is sometimes and how horribly frustrated that makes you feel. Maybe all those musings will come out in a later post. For now, one thing I do know about beauty is that it is meant to be shared. I hope you all can visit the Scotland someday and experience its beauty for yourself, but until then, I hope you enjoy these photographs. ❤

Some notes about the photos:

As always, click on one of the photos to bring up the slideshow where you can see the pictures bigger and read the captions. I didn’t edit any of them, which may be hard to believe when you see some of the colors.

At the bottom of the posts are included Mark Shultz’s instrumental song, “Highlands.” It’s absolutely beautiful, and I think it would be lovely experience to listen to that while you go through the photos. =)

 


Do you want to visit the Highlands now? Which of your favorite photos? What is your favorite type of vacation? And how has your summer been going?

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What It’s Like To Be an Enneagram Type One {Part One}

For the past several months I’ve been exploring the Enneagram, a personality typing system that’s become super popular online recently. It actually has a complex history, parts of which stretch back to ancient times, but the modern version of it has been around for about forty years.

“A personality typing system” is barely a flake of snow on top of the tip of the iceberg and I’m sure Enneagram experts would cringe to read that way of putting it, but the point of this post isn’t to explain what the Enneagram is. I’ll list a bunch of resources at the end that give a far better introduction to it than I but basically: it’s one of many tools to help understand yourself better, and it’s been an immense blessing to me recently.

I am a type one in the system, and I wanted to record some thoughts about what it’s like to be that type. I’m hoping to make it a series, with my Enneagram thoughts sprinkled in among my other more normal posts. Some may be factual, others more like creative writing. We’ll see what it ends up looking like. Maybe it will help people who are trying to figure out what type they are, or maybe it will help people understand the type ones around them better.

Big DISCLAIMER: you absolutely don’t have to know anything about the Enneagram or what a type one is to appreciate these posts. They’re basically just journal entries, snippets from my many musings.

Okay, enough intro. Lez do this.


 { what it’s like to be an Enneagram type one, part one }

crumbling-wall-broken-glass-little-defenseless-girl-photo-outdoor-42463017

A little girl in a wispy dress stands in front of a broken-down hotel.

A tall hotel. Stories upon stories, looming over her. Whole sections of walls torn away, as if gouged out by some monster’s hand. Wires and pipes spilling out like disemboweled guts, mangled and tangled. Windows with jagged teeth of shattered glass or completely empty, like the eyes of the dead.

The whole structure leans precariously. Maybe it will simply crumble and crush her.

But that’s not all. Inside? Inside, it’s worse. Dust clogging drains, mattresses torn apart, stuffing littering the floor, splintered chairs blocking doors, sinks so covered in rust you can’t turn the handles, curtains and sheets tangled together, heaps of broken wood and foul laundry and little bolts and screws hopelessly lost.

The floors sag in some spots. In others, actual holes yawn above piles of debris after one room’s content fell into another’s.

Maybe it was an earthquake. Maybe it’s a recently deserted war zone. That will have to be sorted out later. For now, the little girl stands before it.

In one hand, she holds a hammer. It is heavy for her, and her arm droops.

In the other, she holds a pile of nails. Maybe ten. Some are bent. Some are straight. It doesn’t really matter. Ten nails and two small hands are not nearly enough to make even one small dent in fixing this brokenness.

But she has to try.

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{ my favorite Enneagram resources }

Websites:

The Enneagram Institute (history, detailed type descriptions, overview of how the whole thing works)

If You’re Confused About Your Enneagram Type, Read This (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED—a great introduction and what helped me first realize I was a one)

Books:

The Road Back to You by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile (super funny and readable with tons of info on each type)

The Sacred Enneagram by Chris Heuertz (looking at the Enneagram specifically through the lens of prayer & the best way for each type to connect with God; some really great in-depth stuff but probably better after you have some familiarity with the system)

Podcasts:

Typology with Ian Cron; The Enneagram Journey with Suzanne Stabile; The Road Back to You with Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile (all of these feature interviews with people of each type)

The Sleeping At Last Podcast with Ryan O’Neal (Ryan is writing a song for each type and his podcasts explain both about that type and how he wrote that type’s song)

Other:

Beth McCord (@yourenneagramcoach) on Instagram (specifically Christian approach to the Enneagram; she picks one topic, like how to love well or what happens when you’re stressed, and does a separate post for each type)

I’m always up for a chat about the Enneagram, whether you know a lot or nothing about it, whether you love it or you hate it. =D 


make my messes matter

make this chaos count 

~ “Jupiter”, Sleeping At Last


 

Paris: Poems & Pictures

(Can we all just pause for a moment and bask in the alliterative glory of that title? Okay, thanks.) 

So two weeks ago we visited Paris. It was entirely spontaneous, and I’m still kind of reeling from the fact that it actually happened. I was going to do a big picture & general itinerary post for it like I did with London and Scotland, but while there, my thoughts kept running off to deep pools of metaphysical musings. Maybe the spontaneity shook up my linear thinking or it’s just the effect of Paris. For whatever reason, I’m glad, and I figured I’d share some of those thoughts with you. Whether they all constitute poetry or not you can decide. And never fear, I included plenty of photos as well. I couldn’t resist. =D As always, click on one photo in the slideshow to see them all bigger. 


The Trip Itself

We were planning on visiting Paris

 

But then we found out that train tickets for seven people 

__Were way too expensive

____And we figured that London was more than enough

 

But then my mom was reading a book about the Impressionists

__And she mentioned to my dad how sad she was

____That she wouldn’t get to see their paintings in person

 

So then my dad started thinking that trains aren’t the only way to go places

__And how maybe driving for six hours would be worth it

____And we could stay at a cheap military hotel

 

And then my dad remembered that he had a long weekend

__And our plan-a-year-in-advance mom suggested

____Why don’t we go this weekend?

 

And just like that

All of a sudden

We’re going to Paris!

 

There is so much about my life right now that hurts,

So many dreams in little piles of ash around the perimeter of these past two years,

But don’t let me forget this,

That we can just drive—

To Paris!

* * * 

Giverny

Before heading into the city itself, we stop at Giverny, the home of the famous Impressionist painter Claude Monet. We’ve been here before, nine or ten years ago when we were living in Germany for the first time. We took photos of my mom on the green bridge in his Japanese garden––you know, the bridge that’s the subject of his most famous painting. The bridge over the water lily pond. My mom loves that painting so much she has a tapestry of it. So anyway, we uploaded those precious photos onto the computer and then–– you guessed it––the computer crashed. We couldn’t salvage anything, and all the Paris and Giverny photos disappeared into the void of irretrievable computer data.

But now we’re back, this unexpected gift, and the sun is shining on this late April day. Tulip season is almost over, but there are many, many more flowers in Monet’s gardens than tulips. I’m snapping pictures madly, feeling that familiar frustration of not being able to capture what my eyes see. I want to remember—but if that whole losing-the-photos fiasco from last time taught me anything, it’s that you can remember without any pictures. Still, I rush around to record what I can. Photos may not be necessary for memory, but they sure do enhance it. And this time, we’ll back them up in iCloud. 

In Monet’s house, we step into the room where he painted many of his works. I get a little chill, inhabiting the same space he did as he brushed into being such masterpieces. Maybe some spark of his genius and creativity still resides in these walls. Maybe some of it will rub off on me.

Back in the gardens, the sun is bright and the colors brighter, and I grab my phone to record the words spinning around in my head. A riot. A riot of—of color, of beauty. A riot of life. A celebration of life. I’ve been to many gardens in Europe but I’ve never seen any like Monet’s. There is something special here, in the long rows laden with flowers upon flowers of all different kinds. It was like he couldn’t get enough, like he just kept tossing seeds, wanting more. More color, more variety, more beauty, more life. I keep coming back to that word riot. And the word celebration. Something not quite tame and certainly not prim and proper.

I tap onto my phone: exuberant, not taming nature but doing just enough to bring out its fullest potential. If I ever have a garden, I wanted to be like this: Nothing manicured or pruned to perfection. I want my hand be barely visible. I want the plants to dance together in this wild way. Exuberant. Joyous.

* * * 

Musée du Louvre

At the Louvre I walk around and look at all the paintings. Duh. Of course. What else do you look at in an art gallery?

Ah, well, there’s the question. I find myself looking at far more than paintings. My attention keeps getting drawn away from the people in the portraits to the people in this present moment, pressing around me. Sometimes, I’m aware of them because of how they annoy me. I mean, you are at least six feet tall, what on earth would possess you to stand in front of the pygmies like me?? If you stood behind me, you’d be able to see the painting just fine. And so would I.

But other times, when I’m tucked away in a corner and safely out of reach of bumping bodies, I feel kinder. I notice their faces, I notice who is in a group and who is alone. I try to notice, at least. It’s hard to truly notice anything.

Forget the mysteries behind Mona’s smile and the backstory to that crumbling statue over there. What I want to know is:

Which paintings catch your eye?

Why do you stop at the pieces you do and what do you see there? 

How will what you see here change you, inspire you? 

What other pieces of art will be birthed from this experience? 

How will you remember this place? 

What kind of mark will it leave on you? Will it leave a mark at all?

I want to know the story behind every closer look, behind every brisk gait, behind all the glazed tourist eyes, the rapt expressions, the bored-to-tears slouches. I want to know what you will do when you leave this place, out to a nearby café, back to your hotel room or house, into the coming years.

I want to know if any of this matters. I want to know how these smears of oil and chunks of rock touch living beings and invisible souls. I want to know what it means to leave a legacy, to change the world, to live abundantly.

I keep looking.

* * *  

Dôme des Invalides 

It is starting to drizzle when we enter the lofty church that houses Napoleon’s tomb. Inside, it is like most cathedrals—a soaring dome, grand pillars, smooth marble floors, a gold-encrusted alter at the back. But right beneath the highest point of the dome in the very center, where ordinarily rows of pews would sit, the floor gapes open.

We lean against the railing and peer down into a large circular pit, a well from which you can draw not water but history and legend. In the center of the crypt is a huge wooden coffin on a granite dias, all of it probably more than twice my height. The tiles around it are painted to look like a laurel wreath, and twelve tall statues of Grecian-looking figures face the coffin with somber, reverent faces.

I’m not prepared for how massive the coffin is, for how massive all of it is. Four huge, winding pillars of blue and white marble that looks like foam tossed on a windy sea surround the altar in the back, gold gleaming from their tops and bases. It’s just so…much. I hadn’t realized how highly the French people still hold him.

My shoes make small noises on the marble floor that get lost quickly in the vast dome above me. The weight of history hangs majestic here in the spaciousness. There is a reason why the Latin word for serious—gravis—also means heavy. We mortals rush about in jeans and sneakers clutching our Nikons and Canons, wondering what makes a human worthy of these tall temples, worthy of remembering in this way, worthy of remembering at all.

Napoleon is still very much remembered. Will he still be in 500 years? Does he deserve to be? Do I want to be remembered like this? Will there even be 500 more years?

We long for splendor, for legends, for heroes. I do not think those are wrong desires. But we also long to be gods. To be God. Do we know when we have crossed the line?

We exit the hushed solemnity, crawling like ants under the looming doors. No one pressed about the wall staring into the crypt notices us leave. Outside, rain stains the streets, and we hurry to catch the metro to have dinner with some friends who happen to be staying here for a while. They are studying the language to be missionaries here. We talk about what it’s like to live overseas and how God has a habit of disrupting our plans, to our discomfort—and to his glory.

Maybe Napoleon was glorious, but even he could not weave the fate of the world into a banner that displays his glory forever.

Words for the Holy Week

I wanted to write something for Easter, but it just wasn’t working. The well of words ran dry. And you know what? That’s okay. I don’t always have to say something great to commemorate a special time or interact with issues I care about or––well, basically, I don’t always have to say something, period. That’s something I’ve been learning recently. And I guess I did just say something by saying that. Oh well.

The point is: for this Easter, I’m showing up not as a creator but as a connoisseur. I selected some of my favorite songs and quotes for each day of the Holy Weekend. (Is that a thing? I know Holy Week is, but I’m not sure about the weekend. It should be anyhow.) Most of the songs and quotes relate directly to the events of each day, but some are a little more, idk, less obviously about Easter, especially for Saturday. But the cool thing about Easter story is how deeply it has permeated all of art, not just explicitly Easter stuff.

I hope these words can make Easter little more real and meaningful to you this year. ❤

i. friday | weep

For all the pain you suffered, my mama. For all the torment of your past and future years, my mama. For all the anguish this picture of pain will cause you. For the unspeakable mystery that brings good fathers and sons into the world and lets a mother watch them tear at each other’s throats. For the Master of the Universe, whose suffering world I do not comprehend. For dreams of horror, for nights of waiting, for memories of death, for the love I have for you, for all the things I remember, and for all the things I should remember but have forgotten, for all these I created this painting—an observant Jew working on a crucifixion because there was no aesthetic mold in his own religious tradition into which he could pour a painting of ultimate anguish and torment.

~ Chaim Potok, My Name Is Asher Lev


More I recall not, yet the vision spread
Into a world remote, an age to come­
And still the illumined name of Jesus shed
A light, a clearness, through the enfolding gloom­
And still I saw that sign, which now I see,
That cross on yonder brow of Calvary.

What is this Hebrew Christ ? To me unknown,
His lineage—­doctrine—­mission—­yet how clear,
Is God-like goodness, in his actions shewn!
How straight and stainless is his life’s career!
The ray of Deity that rests on him,
In my eyes makes Olympian glory dim.

~ Charlotte Bronte, “Pilate’s Wife’s Dream”


He was pierced and scourged and mocked. He was cursed and raised up on a tree, but He was in that ancient pose of victory.

An old man on a hill, a blind man between two pillars, the God Man on a cross.

Glory is sacrifice, glory is exhaustion, glory is having nothing left to give.

Almost.

It is death by living.

The earth shook. The roof came down. The world changed. The armies fled.

That Moses kept his hands up.

~ N. D. Wilson, Death By Living

Last Words (Tenebrae) | Andrew Peterson

Today you will be with me in Paradise
You will be with me today

How Love Wins | Steven Curtis Chapman

This is how love wins
Every single time
Climbing high upon a tree
Where someone else should die

Mercy’s War | Jon Foreman

Oh, the wonderful blood of Jesus
Maker is unmade
Love succums to hate
Life himself is slain

ii. saturday | wait

“Belief isn’t simply a thing for times and bright days, I think. What is belief—what is faith––if you don’t continue it after failure? … Anyone can believe in someone, or something, that always succeeds, Mistress. But failure…ah, now, that is hard enough to believe in, certainly and truly. Difficult enough to have value, I think.”

~ Brandon Sanderson, Mistborn: The Final Empire


“All that is made seems planless to the darkened mind, because there are more plans than it looked for.”

~ C. S. Lewis, Perelandra


You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth of falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?

~ C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

God Rested | Andrew Peterson

So they took His body down
The man who said He was the resurrection and the life
Was lifeless on the ground
The sky was red as blood along the blade of night

Remember When It Rained | Josh Groban

Oh, remember when it rained.
Felt the ground and looked up high
And called your name.
Oh, remember when it rained.
In the darkness I remain.

There Is a Plan | Twila Paris

It was a very dark time
It was a very dark place
There was a visible force
And an invisible grace

iii. sunday | wonder

“Oh, you’re real, you’re real! Oh, Aslan!” cried Lucy, and both girls flung themselves upon him and covered him with kisses.

“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

~ C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe


For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.

~ J. R. R. Tolkein, The Return of the King


What seemed to the disciples the final acme of disappointment and grief, the vanishing of his body itself, was in reality the first sign of the dawn of an illimitable joy. He was not there because he had risen.

~ George MacDonald, Miracles of Our Lord

Alive | Natalie Grant

Alive! Alive!
Look what Mercy’s overcome
Death has lost and Love has won

Christ is Risen, He Is Risen Indeed | Keith and Kristyn Getty

For joy awakes as dawning light
When Christ’s disciples lift their eyes.
Alive He stands, their Friend and King;
Christ, Christ He is risen.

Hosanna | Andrew Peterson

You have crushed beneath your heel the vile serpent
You have carried to the grave the black stain
You have torn apart the temple’s holy curtain
You have beaten Death at Death’s own game

PSA: Andrew Peterson (who, you may have noticed, got a lot of showtime in this post) came out with a new album today, called Resurrection Letters, Vol. I. It’s all about the resurrection (no kidding) and I am insanely excited for it. He also released a five song prologue to it all about the crucifixion––I used two of those songs for Friday and Saturday here––and you can listen to them at this YouTube playlist.

Have you listened to/read any of these before? What are some of your favorite songs and quotes about Easter? How are you celebrating this year?

a thousand little things

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Photo by Roberto Nickson (@g) on Unsplash

Sometimes if I look at my life objectively I feel overwhelmed. Sometimes in those empty spaces in the day when I realize that this is my life and it is not what I had expected, I want to despair. Sometimes I wake up and swing my feet onto the floor and wonder how on earth I find the strength to get out of bed.

Sometimes I interrogate myself as if I am a stranger looking from the outside in, and I ask:

What is it that keeps you going?

It’s friends answering your pain with song recommendations, sometimes more meaningful than encouraging words. It’s those lists of songs that feel like a long-distance hug.

It’s exploring a new personality typing system and the excitement of diving into something new. But more than that, it’s the tears that come because you finally, finally understand what you are struggling with and why and how to fight it. It’s knowing that you are not alone and you are not crazy and you are not broken beyond repair.

It’s wrapping a blanket around your shoulders and it feels both like a hug and like armor.

It’s salads for lunch—healthy but yummy, something you can look forward to and not feel the least bit guilty about.

It’s little sisters asking you to say goodnight to them every night. It’s their cards hanging on your wall and their stuffed animals decorating the house and their voices filling the air. It’s what they never say but you always hear: We like you, just as you are.

It’s your room with everything put away, all the surfaces clear, everything clean and neat and the way you want to be. It’s a glimpse of perfection in this messy world.

It’s worn stone and moss beneath your bare feet, cold and smooth and somehow soft.

It’s the necklace that is exactly your style and makes you feel happy and pretty whenever you wear it. It’s the kind of thing you always wanted without knowing you did.

It’s biking into the driveway after a long day of work and seeing lights on inside. It’s opening the door to warmth and welcomes and the wonder of having a safe place to come home to.

It’s the sight of your bookshelf gleaming in the late afternoon sun.

It’s the little mementos around your room that remind you of loved ones and beautiful places and experiences you can’t believe you got to have.

It’s connecting with a friend you haven’t heard from in a while. It’s a friend writing you just when you realized it’s been a while and felt that old familiar guilt over not being a good enough friend.

It’s the excitement of checking football scores, the gift of something just plain fun on cold, mundane January days.

It’s having to stay at work for a little longer than planned and realizing that you don’t mind, that you like being here, that this has become a safe place.

It’s someone who stops in their busy day to ask you how you’re doing. It’s someone who called you by your name and looks you in the eyes. It’s someone who smiles and waves.

It’s songs of lament that make you cry and then fade to silence and realize that there is a glimmer of hope that hadn’t been there before.

It’s washing the dishes after dinner, standing there with the warm water and sparkling soapsuds and your favorite band playing in the background. It’s the knowledge that being able to do this is a blessing, being able to stand here and work and make this corner of the world the little cleaner, a little better.

It’s inside jokes and shared memories and spontaneously breaking out into the same chorus at the same time.

It’s hearing someone on a podcast mention one of your favorite book series and you grinning like crazy, ridiculously excited that someone else loves it too.

What is it that keeps you going?

It’s a thousand little things seeping through the jagged edges of my life, finding their way through the cracks, forging a path in the dark—

It’s a thousand little things, and it’s one thing.

It’s grace.

For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. | John 1:16

in which I tell you how my year has gone & stuff I’ve learned

When you take AP classes, the test looms over your whole year, an ominous mountain in the distance you never lose sight of, despite the many hills of lab reports, essays, and projects. By April, it is huge, the only thing you see.

Like any other student, I was crazy stressed for all my AP exams (I had Biology, Calculus, and Latin.). But unlike most others, I desperately wanted to take them. Much as they fray my nerves, I love big tests like these because I relish the challenge. I wanted the satisfaction of surviving and doing well in something hard. A good score would be a validation of everything I put into the subject and the class. It had to do with my pride but also just my desire for all my hard work to pay off.

And it had been hard work. AP Calculus is challenging enough, but when picking up a pencil, much less writing with it, causes pain to shoot up your arm and embed itself deep in your hand, well, AP calculus is really really hard then. Eventually I had to remind my perfectionistic self that this time I had a valid excuse for not doing things as thoroughly as I thought I should.

essay-writing

In late October, when I began to accept that whatever was going on wouldn’t resolve itself soon, my mind flew over the upcoming months and settled on the second week of May. I imagined myself sitting at a desk in an unfamiliar school, bent over one of my AP tests. I remember thinking, There is no way that is going to happen. No way.

In January, I thought I wouldn’t be able to graduate. I’d lie in bed at night and watch my future and my dreams crumble around me. Before, I had wondered how far in education I’d like to go—a Masters or even, who knew, a PhD? Now I was concerned about simply finishing high school. I started judging how well a day would go by how much it hurt to brush my teeth after breakfast. Sometimes I would sit at my desk waiting for math class to start and cry, wondering how I would get through it.

In February, I had written out emails in my head to my teachers, explaining why I wasn’t able to take the exams. Even the week of all the exams itself, I still had an email planned to my Latin teacher, since Latin was the last test and also the one that required the most writing. I am not usually one to give up hope, but this year I was absolutely sure there was no way I would be able to complete the Latin exam—and probably not the others either.

In March, things began to look up. I was in less pain, I was doing things I hadn’t for a while. The terrible fear that I wouldn’t graduate stopped haunting me at night. For the first time in many months, I started to feel hopeful.

Then April hit, and for no explicable reason, things got bad again. It was worse this time, probably because I had experienced, very slightly and very fleetingly, what it was like to hurt less. Descending back into the pain after that was horrible. The shadow of the AP mountain smothered me in stress. Discomfort prevented me from sleeping well.

Camping

Enter the first week of May. I had arrived at base camp, and I was determined to everything in my power to prepare myself for the climb. That Friday, three days before my first AP, I decided to do something I had never done before: I skipped an assignment (gasp). I did it to preserve my arms, and I clamped down on my internal shrieks long enough to enter a score of zero. (In case you’re concerned, I emailed my teacher to explain the zero, and she was super nice and understanding about it.)

The next part of my get-through-APs plan was physical therapy. We had scheduled an appointment for that Friday morning. I’d been doing PT for several months now, and while it didn’t improve things permanently, it did prevent them from getting worse. But when we got to the office, it appeared there had been some miscommunication. Somehow, we didn’t have an appointment after all. Great.

I felt discouraged, but I resolved that I would simply stay away from any writing or typing for the next few days. When I was trying to figure out an activity that wouldn’t hurt my arms, it hit me: I could look through all my cards from friends and family! How fun and relaxing, and it didn’t involve a pencil or a computer.

An hour into the affair I suddenly realized that my arms were aching. With growing dread, I realized—way too late—that all the unfolding, refolding, and flipping through of the letters required just as much from my hands as typing would have. I felt sick to my stomach and behaved very much like Dobby. “You’re so stupid,” I told myself. “Stupid. Stupid.” I kept thinking that after everything I’d done to try to protect my arms, I had just blown everything. I had ruined everything I’d worked for this year. If I couldn’t make it through the APs, it would be my fault.

The next two days I was in the worst pain I had been in all year—and at the very time when I needed my arms to be strongest. Something in the back of my mind whispered, Maybe God is having all this happen to show you how strong he is. Maybe he’ll get you through it, and you’ll come away seeing how great he is.

But I was too frightened to believe it. Another part of my mind yelled back, God isn’t that good.

So Monday morning arrived, and with it the AP biology exam. I sat down at a horribly uncomfortable desk. My feet could barely reach the floor (yeah, I’m kind of short), and to get high enough to write naturally on the desk I had to sit on the very edge of the chair, since the seat started in a valley in the back and rose up steeply from there (who designs these things anyway?). I picked up a pen, felt the pain, and thought, like I had all year, no way.

But I guess when God says that his ways are above ours, he really means it. And when he says he’s the God of the impossible, it’s actually true. Because I got through all three AP exams. I not only finished them, but I did my best on them.

hands

Friday night, when my last AP exam was over, I went into my room, closed the door, and whisper-shouted at the ceiling: “You did it!!” (I rarely use multiple exclamation points.) Then, in awe, “You did it. You did it. You got me through.” It was almost a question, not of doubt but unfathomable wonder. From a human point of view, there is no way I should’ve gotten through those tests, nine hours of holding a pencil, not to mention the other assignments I also had that week. But then, when were we ever supposed to look at things from a human point of view?

Guys, God is good. He is so good. He is so powerful. He is so above us in the best of ways. The whole point of this story is to say—to shout at the top of my lungs, to sing to all the world—that God is good. That when you are your very weakest, that is when he is strongest. That when everything looks impossible, that is when he reaches down to make it happen. That when you reach the coldest, loneliest part of the night, that is when he tells the sun to rise.

This whole year—well, my whole life actually—I have put limitations on God. I have told him that he can’t do things. Not directly exactly, but when I looked at that mountain and thought no way I can climb it, what I really was saying was no way you can help me climb it, God. I assumed that the only way for me to be able to complete the APs was by my own strength—by my clever planning, by all the appointments and exercises and remedies. Instead, God had every single plan of mine fall through. He set me in the middle at what appeared to be a worst-case scenario and then said, Watch what I can do.

I’ve always loved quotes like “the shadow proves the sunshine” and the verse about “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” But until this year, I’ve never truly lived them out. I’ve never experienced to them for myself.

This year has felt in some ways like a nightmare. I’ve always had a ridiculously low pain tolerance, and often I couldn’t believe this particular trial was happening to me. But if it hadn’t happened, I would never have experienced all the love I have. The love of my family (which deserves its own separate post) and the love of God have colored these painful days in strokes as glorious and vibrant as a sunset. When I think about last week, the week that haunted these past few months, my heart can’t stop dancing. I feel his smile all around me, and I keep thinking, “You did it!!

Our God is so much bigger than we let ourselves dream. And this is coming from someone who calls herself a dreamer. I used to feel like it was presumptuous and arrogant to ask God for things or to believe he’d really forgiven me. He has helped me and forgiven me so many times, who am I to ask him for more?

But I am learning (quite slowly, granted) that that’s just what he wants us to do. He wants us to keep coming back, keep asking for help and forgiveness, keep trusting him to do great things. Who am I to tell him he can only forgive me so many times? Who am I to limit God’s help to a finite number I determine? Isn’t this the place he most wants us to be, on our knees begging him for salvation? I’ve got to pound it into my head: he wants me to depend on him.

I’m graduating this week. It’s certainly not the senior year I was expecting; it was far harder than I could have imagined but also so much better. This quote sums up what I’ve learned—or really, what I’m learning:

[God’s] love disposes him to desire our everlasting welfare and his sovereignty enables him to secure it. {A W Tozer}

What a good God we have.


God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn.

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. {Psalm 46:5, 7}

I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever. I will praise you forever, because you have done it; and in the presence of your saints I will wait on your name, for it is good. {Psalm 52:9b-10}


So my arms are still fried from APs, but once school finishes this week, I won’t have to use them for much. Your prayers and support have meant so much. ❤ It would be such a blessing if you kept praying that my arms will completely heal. The hope is that by resting them this summer, they will heal enough for me to go to college this fall (more on college another time). That will require a lot of self-control on my part, and if you guys have any ideas of activities that don’t involve too much repetitive hand movements (like knitting xD) that would be awesome. =D

Okay, enough about me. I want to know how you are: How has this year been for you? What are some things you’ve learned? Am I the only one who thinks of God as way too small (please say no xD)? What are your summer plans?

there is a kind of poetry in pain

silvestri-matteo-176500.jpg

I read a blog post the other day encouraging writers to write. Like, don’t ignore it because you’re busy with other hobbies or projects or life because if you’re really a writer, it’ll hurt you, body and soul, not to write. It’s unhealthy not to write.

But what if you can’t, literally can’t?

There are twin wings of fire stretching across my back, searing into my shoulders. 

The thought comes to me one day, one of the bad days. I like how that sounds, twin wings of fire. I imagine them stretching behind me, devouring my days in a smoky haze of hurt.

I take a shower and let the soothing warmth cascade down my burning shoulders and start composing a poem in my head about twin wings of fire. There are many different kinds of pain, I am learning. When it’s bad, I like to describe the pain mentally with the most vivid words I can conjure. They’re good poems, these ones inscribed in my mind.

I wonder if I’ll ever write them.

I discover that every part of me that hurts is also a part of God mentioned in the Bible.

My hands scream after holding a pencil—but He has a mighty right hand, and I am held in His palm.

My arms throb—but He has everlasting arms (teach me to lean on them).

My shoulders ache after only an hour of work—but His shoulders, they bear the weight of kingdoms.

These comparisons comfort me, they get me out of bed each day and quell the cries of terror at night.

When I scroll through blogs, I feel a cold ball settle in my stomach. With every word I read, I feel a dart of pain shoot through my heart. I should be happy, should be encouraged by my friends’ words, should rejoice over their art. But I don’t. Instead, I feel sick. Sick with jealousy. I want to write, I want to create, I want glowing comments on my blog. And then I feel sick at myself. I’m a horrible friend. I’m a horrible person.

I guess that’s one good thing that’s coming from this: I’m realizing how weak I am, physically and spiritually.

i watched the city burn

these dreams like ashes float away

Your voice I never heard

only silence 

/

where were You when our hearts were bleeding?

where were You, it all crashed down?

never thought that You’d deceive me

where are You now?

why

I have asked this question many times.

why why

But I have found that it only leaves me drained, full of more despair.

why why why

It leaves me focused on the darkness. But oh God, I need to see the light.

So I have been trying to say thank you instead.

thank you that I can get out of bed by myself, dress myself, feed myself

thank you that I can hear music

thank you that I can see the faces of people I love and ink on a page and sunlight through trees

thank you that I can taste chocolate

thank you that I can smell the air after a rain storm

thank you that I can touch my soft sheets and my little sister’s cheek

thank you that I can think, that I have a good mind, that I can learn and analyze and ponder

thank you for friends that pray for me and laugh with me and help me keep on dreaming

thank you for a family where we say “I love you” to each other and make up after fights, for a home that’s a safe place

thank you for You, for Your crazy promises that You’ll never leave me and You have a plan

emre-gencer-15152

Nothing is wasted, sings Jason Gray.

And my dad says to me: God will restore to you the years the locusts have eaten.

I guess, if I really needed to write right now, I would be able to. But I’m not. So God will get me through another way.

One day, I was sitting on my bed, crying, and the fragments of poems I’ve drafted in my head whispered through my mind, and I thought of all the poetry I’ve been memorizing recently because that at least is something I can do, and it hit me suddenly, a Truth so much stronger and truer than the reality of my current affliction—

there is a kind of poetry in pain

I jumped off the bed and scribbled it on a piece of paper, and it lay there on my desk for days, a silent shout of defiance.

Somehow this pain is opening my eyes to deeper truths of poetry and art and beauty and how they are all woven into our lives, and someday it will help me create poetry that is better and deeper and truer than it ever could have been if I had been fine.

I read, once, that all great artists have some kind of tragedy in their lives, and I used to be anxious because I’ve really had a great life, so I probably would never be a great artist … but now, I’m suffering. It’s not a tragedy as horrific as many others have endured, of course, but it’s suffering all the same.

And I believe that God will use this taking away of my art to eventually enable me to create even better art.

Your heart is full of broken dreams
Just a fading memory
And everything’s gone but the pain carries on
Lost in the rain again
When will it ever end?
The arms of relief seem so out of reach
But I, I am here
/
I am with you
I will carry you through it all
I won’t leave you, I will catch you
When you feel like letting go
Cause you’re not, you’re not alone
/
And I will be your hope, when you feel like it’s over
And I will pick you up, when your whole world shatters
And when you’re finally in my arms, 
Look up and see: Love has a face.

I want to create art. It’s what I’m called to do, made to do. I can hear my soul crying out to add some beauty to this world.

But I can’t draw or write or play an instrument, I can’t create art, I can’t

A quote rises from the mists of my memory, from Henry Hames’ The Portrait of a Lady:

“Don’t you remember my telling you to make your life a work of art?”

It’s one of those moments when I know God is speaking directly to me.

I may not be able to create art of paper or pen (or screen), no, but couldn’t I make it of my life?

Could me praising God in the pain be my painting, with  brushstrokes of thankfulness and a fierce, shining, defiant joy?

Could me treating my siblings kindly, with respect and care despite my own problems or agenda, be my song, with notes of love and grace?

Could my every breath, my every mundane task, my every falling and being forgiven be my poem, etched in my actions for all to read?

Could my life be art?

What a masterpiece a life could be, so far beyond one small novel or sketch. Maybe by taking away my original dream, God is showing me one far greater.

Of course He is. That’s the kind of God He is. I put limits on Him, told Him He couldn’t use me to make something beautiful if I couldn’t write.

But whoever heard of God not being able to do something?

 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

~ 2 corinthians 12:9-10


So I’ve been on break this week, and it’s been so wonderful to write two whole blog posts. Now that I’ll be diving back into school, I might disappear again, but I will be back eventually. Oh, and *hands chocolate to the wonderful unsplash for the photos*

Thank you as always for your comments and likes—I love hearing from you all, and I honestly feel blown away that you guys are still around after my sporadicity (word?) and silence. Don’t forget how fabulous each of you are. *hands you all some chocolate too because y not chocolate is da best*

We Cannot Reach Him

We cannot reach Him.

We have tried. Oh, we have tried.

We built Babel, in a vain effort to touch that which we worship, to transcend this mortality, this immorality.

We crafted idols, straining desperately to bring our gods near. (But though they were physically present, they could not bridge the gap between divine and dust.)

We sent men to the moon—how great are we now, this race that can conquer the stars! And yet whenever we stare into space the smallness of us, the loneliness of us, the frail futility of us is all that is reflected in the vast alien expanse.

We stand on the moon and find that we have not reached Him. Instead the yawning divide between us and Him screams out in the blackness, in the infinitely distant galaxies. Stare into the telescope and face the void humanity ever rebels against, the void humanity ever falls short of crossing.

We work and learn and build and theorize and fill our lives with words and ideas and goals and tasks just to hush the haunting ache inside that whispers from the day we were born: We cannot reach Him. 

And still His siren song sings. Come to Me. 

How? We cannot.

We cannot come to Him.

And so, instead, He comes to us.

He reaches us because we could never reach Him.

He destroys our Babel so that we would find Him here, down here on this fetid earth. He overthrows our idols so we would not be content with lifeless, life-sucking lies. So that we would want Him, the life-giving truth. He sprawls out the cosmos so unattainably wide so we would have to confront our smallness.

So we would stand on the moon, facing the frigid night, and then turn to gaze back on Earth.

Earth, where he showed us Emmanuel.

God with us. 

From the stars to the stable, from glory to gore, from infinite to infant. For a people that once spit on the gift of His presence and still rebel, still try to reach Him on their own.

Earth, where he showed us Jesus.

Savior. 

On the cross in the shame and the pain, He forms a bridge. A path appears above the gaping canyon, a way lights up through the void, a hand reaches into your life.

We cannot reach Him.

So He reached us and now when He says come, we can, because He came.

the people walking in darkness have seen a great light // isaiah 9:2

 

i want to know your story

so we were traveling a few weeks back and one thing I love about touring cities and just being in new places (or old ones, for that matter) is people-watching.

and no, I’m not a Whovian but I have friends who are (which I guess is almost the same thing?). 

peoplewalkingcity

I look down from the bus, see one gray-sleeved arm hanging out of the car window next to us

draped casually, holding a cigarette

one seat over, two pale hands clasped, thumbs moving nervously, restlessly

shiny black leather coat, teal scarf, blonde hair in a messy bun, glasses, green-blue eyes, narrow chin, clear skin

looking out her window, face turned slightly away

he has a gray sweater, short “hair-colored” hair, staring out straight ahead

calm but not peaceful

the car is a black BMW, very nice, shiny silver controls on a black dashboard, pulling a trailer behind it

dirty old trailer behind shiny new car

what is going on behind your calm face, casual arm?

why do your fingers fidget and fret for peace?


in the square, I see a girl in a blue coat, smooth, sleek, felt-like, above her black tights

her face, hidden deep within the hood, is very pale

she stands, hands shoved in that lovely coat’s pockets, looking off to the side

I think, “Aloof. Affected.”

then, she smiles

eyes light up, bright blue, like her coat, the smile sliding across her whole face like a sunbeam across a polished wood floor

I look for who or what her eyes have lit upon, and I think I see her, a friend

laughing as she crosses the square

brown hair, round face, joyful

does she know how she makes the other girl’s face, once cold, even frightened, light up like that?

does she know she has the power to part the clouds over a human soul?


who are you

where do you come from

what is your name

what do you seek

why do you cry

what makes you laugh

what fears flood you at night

why do you get out of bed each day

who are you

i want to know your story

after all,

we are all stories in the end

love letters

I like to think of all the blessings, little and big, that are woven through my days as letters of love from God to m.e Each one is rolled up, tied with a ribbon, and laid somewhere that I’ll stumble upon in the midst of my daily routine. Sometimes I miss them. In fact, I’m sure I miss most of them. But here are some that I have found.


  • the red squirrels here in Germany, with those adorable ears
  • Nutella crepes
  • Nutella
  • holding hands with little sisters
  • elibraries
  • music that sends shivers down my back and makes me say “Yes. Yes!”
  • finding just the right word
  • the various shades of red, orange, and gold on trees, mingled together into a kaleidoscopic harmony
  • gazing deeper into the woods, tree upon tree

fallwoods

  • YouTube videos that help with science experiments
  • playing games at night as a family
  • a break from school
  • old Christmas decorations in a new house
  • colored pencils gleaming in the light
  • listening to Christian music while working out
  • family jokes
  • falling asleep to the kiss of cool from my window
  • my calculator
  • memorizing and quoting poetry—an activity I love that doesn’t hurt my arms
  • carpets of leaves
  • sweeping a messy floor & the gratification of actually seeing something cleaner after you’ve worked on it
  • cold cheeks
  • fingerless gloves
  • moss
  • emails from friends just when you needed them
  • knowing you’ve encouraged someone
  • looking through old photo albums as a family
  • the chirping of the cuckoo clock each hour
  • beautiful posters of characters in one of my favorite books
  • mail days

stacks-of-letters

  • Skype calls
  • notes from my mom
  • hugs from my dad
  • stockings hanging by the fireplace
  • family movie nights
  • my dad’s pancakes
  • admiring the graphic design on college brochures
  • Van Gogh’s paintings
  • the sight of my bookshelf, rows of shiny, colorful books, books upon books …
  • VidAngel
  • the Flamkuchen restaurant
  • the bakery down the street
  • the supermoon
  • cards hanging on my wall
  • finding the perfect pair of boots (they actually fit my small feet, gasp)
  • “teaching” my sissies ballet
  • alone in the house for an hour
  • Christmas music playing while working on school
  • warm showers
  • stretching tight muscles
  • my favorite snack of craisins and cashews
  • Bible verses on scraps of paper
  • a stash of new books to dive into
  • a home where stuffed animals are valued and technical appliances have names
  • playing games by flashlights and eating dinner by candlelight when the power went out

dinnercandlelight

  • my dad reading The Chosen to us every night
  • the happiness of my favorite football team winning lasting the whole day (well, week, actually)
  • nerdy classmates
  • Studio C
  • working out a Latin passage till it’s perfect
  • my Sherlockian coat
  • foggy early morning runs
  • birch trees tall against the autumn sky
  • walking in the rain at night
  • forgiveness, again and again and again

Thank You for Your love.

what are some love letters you’ve found? Happy Thanksgiving, everyone (even if you aren’t in America)!