Meaning

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The speck on a speck

Monday, February 24th, 2014

I’ve heard it said that there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on all the beaches of this planet. And while we obviously can’t count either (trust me, I’ve done some very official Internet Research), I think that the point is that the universe is startlingly, overwhelmingly, mind-bogglingly gigantic – which makes me feel tiny. Smaller than tiny, actually. Indefinitely small. Infinitesimal.

In this knowledge, human beings shouldn’t matter; compared to the rest of creation, we should be negligible. There’s a hole in the bottom of the sea, and we’re the speck on a speck on a speck on a speck on a speck on the wart on the frog on the bump on the log therein. To make matters worse, just as the universe is constantly expanding into cold and infinite darkness, stars burning out into corpses along the way, we’re all racing toward death at a breakneck speed.

In case you’d forgotten, none of us are making it out of here alive. We are small, tenuous, and frail. It’s enough to make a girl despair – because does any of this, this world, this living, even matter?

Do I matter?

But then I remember that my nose can smell chocolate chip cookies, and my tongue can taste them. I think of the sky before a summer rainstorm, clouds the shade of polished steel, my eyes receptive to the hues. Sunlight hits the skin and warms it. On lucky nights, I can hear owls high in the trees of Jefferson Park, even if I can’t see them. We experience life in color. We encounter the world by way of our five senses, and we are constantly receiving through them. It didn’t have to be this way, but it is.

Doesn’t this feel generous?

And beyond what we see, taste, touch, hear, and smell, there’s even more. The rhinoceros is actually a thing. Photosynthesis works. Crack open a spaghetti squash and the flesh falls apart into tiny strands. If corn kernels are heated to the right temperature, they explode into soft, edible puffs. Whales sing. Words, invisible and intangible, have the power to heal or destroy. Yawns are contagious. Babies laugh; we all laugh. When we’re sad, tears fill our eyes.

This world is full of beauty and sorrow, and I don’t know which you’re experiencing today – but I’m combatting the numbness that often feels so easy. I am struck with the miracle of what it means to be alive, even on a so-called “normal” Monday. We may be small and our lives may be fleeting, but the gifts of this life are extravagant and lavish, and none of this is an accident.

Hope floats (not the movie)

Monday, October 10th, 2011

As one who grew up in the church, I have had moments in the last several years when I have wondered, “Why am I a Christian?”  Is it just because I was raised to believe what I believe – or is there a deeper reason?  Do I have faith on my own, apart from my family and friends and community?  If I was born in another time and place, would the core of what I believe be the same?

These are big questions, especially for someone who has never had much opportunity to separate God from the American Christian church – and I, like many others, have learned that the church is not always the best representation of what the Christian faith is about.

Come to think of it, *I* am not always the best representation of what the Christian faith is about.

Personally, I have struggled with a lot of cynicism and doubt, especially in the last couple of years.  I don’t doubt that there is a God, but I have wondered if he is, indeed, involved in an intimate way in our lives.  Did he create the world, set it spinning, and then just step back?  Does he really love us – not just in a “whole world in his hands” kind of way, but in a deeply personal and specific way?  When the Bible tells us that God says, “I know the plans I have for you,” does it mean that there is, in fact, a PLAN for our lives?  Is God truly in the details?  Does he care if I choose option A or option B?  Does God care, period?

I’m supposedly a grown woman these days, free to live as I please, and no one is making me go to church.  The stable home and family that I had always known has recently crumbled beneath my feet.  While my childhood and college years were spent largely in church-centric settings, I’m out in the “big, bad world” now, surrounded by plenty of kind and intelligent people who would not necessarily align themselves with the Christian faith.  So what is it about this Jesus?

Some days, when life hits me like an avalanche and I’m pummeled by rocks and snow, left jarred and confused and not sure which way is up, I can be at a loss for answers.

But in the midst of all of my questions, here is what I know.

Regardless of what I believe, or what you believe, or what anyone believes, humans ask the eternal sorts of questions.  Where did I come from, and where am I going?  What is my purpose?  What is good and what is evil?  What will happen to me after I die?  All of us have wondered these things – they are the deep and primal questions of the soul.  Why would we long for answers if there wasn’t a supreme truth?  This makes me trust that there is a God, and that there is an ultimate answer – and that even if the details might be fuzzy and confusing now, I believe that one day we will see the truth clearly.

When I think of my own path, and how many times I have been tempted to give up hope – for little specific things, or in an overarching way – the moment hope returns is nothing short of a miracle.  I mean it – it’s a miracle.  It’s not by my own doing – I cannot will the hope back – it’s not the “triumph of my human spirit” (because trust me, my human spirit isn’t that strong – currently, it’s shriveled up and ugly, like newborn Benjamin Button).

But hope just keeps coming back.  I can’t shake it.  And every time it returns, I think that there must be a God who loves me, Annie – and maybe he even has a plan for my life.  Maybe he’s somehow steering the course, despite my anger and doubt and fear, and all of the times that I’ve thumbed my nose at him.  Maybe I don’t have to believe that “everything happens for a reason,” but maybe I can get behind the idea that “nothing is ever wasted.”  Maybe there is a purpose and a design to the apparent chaos of my current world – maybe it’s actually getting me where I’m supposed to be.

Maybe it’s less about “being a Christian,” and more about knowing Jesus.

I may not have all of the answers, or see the truth clearly.  I know that many who read this don’t believe the same things that I do – and I’m not going to try to convince anyone of anything.  This blog is not a tent revival (yelling and sweat have never really been my thing).  But in the words of Frederick Buechner:

A Christian is one who points at Christ and says, “I can’t prove a thing, but there’s something about his eyes and his voice.  There’s something about the way he carries his head, his hands, the way he carries his cross – the way he carries me.”

That’s all I know.

Clean slate

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

You have no idea how symbolic this bumper is of my life right now.

A fresh start?  A clean slate?  An empty void?  A hella fine backside?

Maybe just pure potential?

Interpret as you will.  Private Self is asserting herself these days.

But I can tell you that in one way or another, it has something to do with this.

Also known as “antagonyms”

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

A few months ago, PZC taught me about auto antonyms – although I think that I prefer their less-popular name, contronyms.  Any non-word-lovers out there can just call them self-contradictions (but I will judge you).

What is an auto antonym?  It’s a word that can mean the opposite of itself.

IMPOSSIBLE, you say.

NOT WITH JESUS, I say.

Or, just, it’s not impossible.  Because it’s truth.  Look at this whole list of auto antonyms I found – and tell me that you aren’t captivated.  I mean, SOMEONE besides Pauly and me must find this word-nerdage fascinating?

Words!  That mean one thing!  AND!  The total opposite thing!  Auto antonyms are the “choose your own adventure” of vocabulary.

The next time someone calls me lurid, I’m giving him a kiss on the lips.*

*not a promise.

Makes everything else seem so small

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

As I lay in my bed last night, sweltering and un-asleep, my thoughts bounced back and forth from the mundane to the life-and-death.

“I need a pedicure.”
“It’s so hot.”
“I hope those journalists are released.”
“What if there’s a nuclear war?”
“I can’t forget to buy toothpaste.”
“Cancer is so evil.”
“Who will take care of Wendolyn?”
“Ugh, I hate gnats.”

How can I have the capacity for such a spectrum of considerations?  To swing from orphans and illness to weight loss and shoes?  I mean, when I am made explicitly aware of issues like poverty and starvation and war and death, how can I spare a thought for something as diminutive as the trailer for “New Moon”?  When I think of American women being detained in North Korea, or little Haitians with no one to love them, or a dear friend who is battling a horrific lung cancer, how can I think about vacations and dating and music?

And yet, here I am.  Caught between the temporary and the eternal, the physical and the spiritual – spinning my wheels wondering if I am pursuing the “right” (often selfish) things when I know, deep down, that life is only meaningful if given away.  Carrie Underwood sure got it right: “When you figure out love is all that matters after all, it sure makes everything else seem so small.”

I guess that Jesus said something along those lines, too.

So simple.  So radical.

Good for the soul

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

There is only one thing that would be enticing enough to make me skip “Lost” and pay $36 to go on a date with myself, by myself.

I mean, barring an NSYNC reunion tour.  Obviously.

Last night, I came home from work and changed my clothes.  I reapplied makeup.  I fluffed my hair, and wore my cute shoes, and took myself down to the Belcourt Theater.  I ordered a glass of wine, found a seat toward the middle, and proceeded to wait for the show to start.

If I’m going to take myself on a date, I am definitely going to be punctual.  Excessively punctual.  BECAUSE I’M WORTH IT!  (I might have been an hour early.)

But the show was worth the wait.  Matraca Berg (wrote a little ditty called “Strawberry Wine”), Gretchen Peters (wrote a little something called “Independence Day”), and Suzy Bogguss (looks as good today as she did in 1995) played a round.  Matraca is coming out with her first album in 10 years, and she played some of her new material; it was heart-stopping.  Suzy’s voice was effortless, strong, and true.  And Gretchen… well, in recent days, Gretchen has been my favorite writer (a position continually jockeyed for between Patty Griffin and Lori McKenna and Matraca and Gretchen).  When she sang “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am,” I couldn’t breathe – and didn’t realize it until the end when I finally exhaled.

Songs like these are my heart and soul – moments of definition in my often nebulous life.  Per Heather’s recommendation, I watched this fascinating piece, and loved hearing that “the mind of God is music resonating” (“…through 10-dimensional hyperspace,” but let’s not pretend that I know what that means).

It reminded me of this, which I had totally forgotten that I ever wrote.

I hope that you can do something that you love today.

Craigslist furniture = translated

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

Vintage = old and expensive
Antique = rickety
Shabby chic = scuffed edges
Contemporary = microfiber
Charming = country plaid
Romantic = wicker
Cute = tacky
Wrought iron = purchased at Hobby Lobby
Retro = bizarre
Art deco = belongs in a Miami hotel room
Spectacular = always an overstatement
Comfy = ugly… but has such a great personality

Living in the present tense

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

I spend a lot of time in the past and in the future. I think back on how things once were, and I look ahead in anticipation of what might eventually come. It’s hard work to dwell in the present.

I am often tempted to look at my “present” as being on a merry-go-round. Life can be so daily, round and round it goes, and the humdrum nature of the mundane lulls me into a daze. I walk around like I am only half-alive, simply going through the motions: driving to work, answering emails, shopping for groceries, eating, walking, sleeping. And then I wake up the next day and do it all over again – trudging on the treadmill of life.

It’s so much easier to dwell in the concrete, already-happened reality of the past, or to dream about the limitless possibilities of the future. When it comes to my thought life, I often adopt the mindset of “Anywhere But Here.”

But the present is the only time that we can experience God’s love. The present is the only time that we can forgive. The present is the only time that we can accept grace. We can remember God’s faithfulness in the past, and look forward to it in the future with great expectation, but this moment is all that we really have. It is all that we are really promised.

Today, I am thinking about things in my past – the good, the bad, and the very, very ugly. I am tempted to allow these things to dictate my present state of mind – whether it is longing for the way that things once were, or harboring un-forgiveness for a time that I was wronged, or wishing to reverse some major regrets. But God says, “Behold, I am doing a new thing” (Isaiah 43:19). I want to open my eyes to the new thing – the now.

I am also thinking about things in my future – the hopes and dreams, as well as the fears. It’s tempting to immerse myself in the unknown, and spend up all of my energy attempting to anticipate things that I really have no control over. I want to figure out what my future holds, and then plan for it – emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually, financially. I want to have it all mapped out, so I won’t be thrown for a loop. But Jesus says, “Don’t be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself” (Matthew 6:34). I want to take the energy that I have been spending on worrying and planning, and devote it to living fully in this present moment.

The present is not a waste of time. The present – this moment, what I am doing today, my tasks and activities and relationships and interactions – hold huge, miraculous meaning. And I want to start living like it.