Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Why "Yes" Is As Important as "No" (The Introvert Version)

It's raining as I write, so naturally I have Nat King Cole crooning to the household and a batch of warm muffins on the back of the stove. With the uncharacteristically wet winter we're experiencing, I'm slowly getting better at giving home the warm and comfortable touches that grey skies demand. Or at least I hope I am. The girls seem a lot more resigned to this batch of rain, but I think I have friends who invite us out for impromptu park dates to thank for that. Besides the pleasure of friendly company, getting wiggles out is almost always a wise move.

Stuck solid in my introverted nature, I'm always tempted to do my own kind of wiggle when we have plans in place - the wiggle out of them. And all the talk lately of the importance of saying no, of chasing the slow life, of being wisely stingy with the time we have has only served as supreme excuses for why this wiggle is justified. I mean, I completely agree that we all need the reminder to slow our whirlwind lives and pay attention to things (and people) we might unknowingly "blow over," so to speak. But as I sit here with all the cozy feels and the rain tapping a grateful excuse for them, I have to laugh at myself and wholeheartedly admit that we introverts might require an additional reminder:

Say yes to whirlwind moments too.

An old college professor of mine once spelled out introversion as nothing more than a personality that draws strength from the quiet and extroversion as one that draws strength from people. Helpful definitions, right? I guarantee it goes much deeper than that, but since I still have breakfast dishes in the sink (it's almost dinner time) and two dirty diapers to handle I'll just skim the surface of thought with this:

When Elijah ran for his life to the quiet safety of the wilderness, God spoke. Not out of a whirlwind, not out of an earthquake, not out of fire, but in a "still small voice." And then, that still small voice of God sent Elijah right back into the whirlwinding, earthquaking, fiery thing called life with its dem hard work.

Now, thinking about that definition I mentioned earlier, I do wonder if maybe introversion is just the deeper desire for the still small voice? I don't know. But I DO know (because I'm reminded all the time) that even if that's true, we still need to say yes to stepping into this whirlwinding, earthquaking, fiery life to let God do His thing in tumbling the sharp edges of our faith.

Because, I'll just go ahead and say it, those calm and cozy no's aren't going to necessarily get 'er done.

I'm preaching to myself more than anything here (borrowing that phrase from Ruth at Gracelaced because it's so spot on), but when things come up where the inclination to wiggle out is sparked, I think we Jesus-loving, Bible-believing introverts need to recognize the opportunity to persevere. Perseverance, my friends, is that uncomfortable but necessary flint that rubs against our character to produce the spark of hope that doesn't disappoint.

Let me clarify: Play dates, getting out of the house, large functions, etc. . . . none of these are the end of the world, or even really the "trials and tribulations" we can anticipate here. But to a personality that "draws strength from the quiet," it's definitely friction. Good friction, productive friction, faith-refining friction, if we lay it in the hands of God to be so.

So by all means, let's please do recognize the importance of saying no and chasing the slower side of life, but also not diminish the working space of God in our lives through those yes's too.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

One Simple Resolution For An Impactful Year

I'm willing to bet that we're all pretty nearly in the same position: looking at the blank calendar pages of 2017, pens poised to mark them up with fresh hope and resolutions.

Before we get too far along though, may I offer one resolution that we can all actually fulfill? It's simple as it is impactful, and I promise that when January of 2018 rolls around you'll be glad you added it in there with your "healthier choices" and "more exercise."


The one resolution for an impactful year is simply to read.

I promise this doesn't come from my believing the view of noses stuck in books more pleasant than that of noses pasted to screens.

I'm sure we all understand that reading is important to some degree or another, somewhere up there with "eat your broccoli and spinach," I suppose. Good gracious, we have all the reason and evidence in the world to show that children should be doing it (or we to them, as the case may be). But in these last couple of years some books have landed in my stack that broke open the idea of why it's vital to keep it up in adulthood. Some of it was the bullet points we all see and some of it was completely new and jaw dropping to me, but all of it was fascinating. I'm not an authority on the subject but just to light a fire beneath us all, here are just a few reasons I propose you make 2017 a year of literature.

1) There is no free society without literature

This was, by far, the most jaw dropping revelation to me. We've all been raised to hallow the "American Dream." It's the unique opportunity at life that our country offers - to rise above circumstances and expand the borders of our lives, so to speak.

A huge part of that has to do with expanding our vocabulary.

Northrop Frye virtually shouted in print that you can't cultivate speech beyond a certain point if you have nothing to say, and what you have to say is your vision of society:
There's something in all of us that wants to drift toward a mob, where we can all say the same thing without having to think about it, because everybody is all alike except the people we can hate or persecute. Every time we use words, we're either fighting against this tendency or giving into it. When we fight against it, we're taking the side of a genuine... human civilization.

With no communication, there is no freedom of speech or freedom of thought. Think about it. What are thoughts without words? When words are restricted or disappear into oblivion, our thoughts do the same (Thank you, Madeleine L'engle for pointing this out so casually). 1984 much?

"Men do to not long continue to think what they have forgotten how to say."

No thanks, Lewis, I'd rather that not be our fate.

2) Literature helps to better us

I think we generally see literature as something that betters us educationally, maybe more the in direction of everything I said above. Now that's all true and good of course, but not really what I have in mind. I'll let Sarah (formerly) Clarkson tell you what I mean:

No one has the ability to just 'be good.' But when you have an imagination crammed with secret gardens and kindred spirits, when you've wandered Narnia with a beautiful Lion, or traveled with Miss Rumphius to the most exotic places on earth, or spent an afternoon 'listening to all the things you can't hear' (as Pooh would say) in the Hundred-Acre Wood, you have a deep sense of goodness. To be grounded in such beauty is to know what it means to love, what is right, and then to be willing to stand by it.
Now I'm not saying that you absolutely must read the adventures of Pooh Bear to better yourself (though I'd argue that it would better you if you did), you can insert a good many book themes in those few poetic lines that Sarah offered. What I am saying is this:

Words build worlds. Worlds where we can be inspired to say, "hey I can do better, I can try to reach higher!" Then set down our paper worlds, and face reality with the courage and determination of a true hero or heroine.

Maybe what Chesterton said will best illustrate this: "Fairy tales are more than true: Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."

Which leads to my last point . . .

3) Literature reminds us that hope is a verb

I think this last election cycle has been a good reminder of this too.

While I know most of us are people of pretty simple means, that doesn't change the fact that we are people with the capacity for action, for trying, for hoping. You see what I'm saying? We simply don't have the right to look at the world as it is and say "I sure hope things change" without lifting a finger toward said change.

I hope Sarah doesn't mind my using her inspiring words here one last time, I just can't see fit to say it better:

"Hope is not a passive, happy feeling of comfort. True hope. . . is a muscled, active energy that sets to work to bring about the beauty it has glimpsed."

So whether you read one book, ten books, one hundred books, download a bunch of audio books, it doesn't matter. But here's to making 2017 a year that we lose ourselves (in one capacity or another) to the world of literature.