Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Holes in our Souls

"We always pay dearly for chasing after what is cheap."  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

 A dear friend in Alabama, our former pastor Chris Goins, put up a verse this morning on his facebook page and I can't get it out of my mind. 

"They traded the glory of God, who holds the whole world in his hands, for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand." Romans 1:23 The Message Version.

Every time I read that I feel punched in my gut.  A question's been in my head all morning:

How often do I do this?


First, what does it mean?  From a historical perspective of the verse, in its context and very simplistically, it meant that the people of God had substituted false Gods...idols, images, statues of gods...for the real and true worship of the one God, the only God who has power. 

Idolatry, in the modern sense, is anything in our lives we give more power and place than God.  Money, work, entertainment, the gathering of stuff, ambition, power, books, shoes, True name it.  

I came across this quote which says it well:

‎"A careful reading of the Old and New Testaments shows that idolatry is nothing like the crude picture that springs to mind of a sculpture in some distant country. The idea is highly sophisticated, drawing together the complexities of motivation in individual psychology, the social environment, and also the unseen world. Idols are not just on pagan altars, but in well-educated human hearts and minds”
Richard Keyes

Of course God wants us to have money and work and fun and shoes and books and well, you get the picture.  But he does not want our lives so consumed with the externals that we lose our hearts or hoard all of our pleasures for ourselves and have no regard for the suffering around us. We will lose our hearts...our souls... if we sell them for the cheap roadside figurines that represent the "American Dream", all turned upside down with greed and gluttony and selfishness.  Or whatever might represent the idols in your own life. 

What do we gain when we go seeking the fake resin?  We get junk and debt, not just financial but emotional and spiritual and mental debt too.  The hole inside of us gets bigger because stuff can't fill it...not work or houses or cars or alcohol or sex or anything we can gain with our own hands.   I love these words from "Roll Away Your Stone" by Mumford and Sons:

"Cause you told me that I would find a hole...
within the fragile substance of my soul.
And I have filled this void with things unreal...
and all the while my character it steals."

So true.  I don't even want to think about the things I have attempted to fill the hole in my soul with...even recently. God knows them all.

We do indeed all have these holes in our souls.  If we keep stuffing in all our fakeness...our illusions...then our holes are gonna become ocean sized or SPACE sized and every day on this Earth will be misery.


We can give our soul holes over to God and let His glory fill us up.  What would that look like?  Unconditional love...I will never leave you or forsake you...NEVER EVER...nothing you can do would make me love you any more or less...honestly I still have trouble wrapping my mind around that, especially when I think about all the things I have done to try to fill up the hole in my soul. It means purpose and adventure and no longer being consumed with give life to others, hope to the means freedom from all the junk, inside and out, that possesses our lives. It would mean joy in the smallest things...a sunset or a rushing stream...things we can't own or hoard inside our homes or souls and there would be such peace at having a soul full of love instead of stuff.

Honest:  I am humble today and learning. It is not so much a life event as an every day and every moment kind of thing. Or, rather, it is a BIG life the heart over to God...and then an every day every moment kind of the heart over to God.

For some reason an old Newsboys song has been in my brain all morning as I have been contemplating and writing.  It is a classic by them, Entertaining Angels, but when I say old I mean Maise as an infant and living in our 700 square foot garage apartment in Elliston Virginia kind of old.  We saw them in concert in West Palm Beach six months after this song released...I met Peter Furler's dad at that concert...good memories and proof that all of life can change in an instant.

The song is on my mind because of the video my brain I can see the family in the video trading the roadside stand figurines for the glory of God.  Beautiful.  Something else that is beautiful- Phil Joel's hair in the video.  If pinterest would have been around back then, he surely would have been featured on a hair board for "Messy Buns While Shooting a Music Video"...yes? 

So listen and enjoy.  And consider your own soul are you going to fill it today?  Will it be with the meaningless or with love? 

Cheers. (Because there are some Aussie men in this video.)   And peace.   


Friday, February 24, 2012

Saying "Nothing" the Right Way

My facebook post from this morning-

"Sometimes I honestly have nothing to say.  Out loud anyway."

I have been gently admonished lately for possibly putting too much of myself out here on my blog, meaning I share the really deep and painful stuff of my heart and memories with the entire world. Thus I feel strangely vulnerable most of the time, as though my emotional guts are on display permanently.  The advice of my friend- to NOT put so much of myself out there...well, here...and instead let my heart speak through my fiction-  was well spoken and healthy.  I am trying to heed it.

 Fiction writers can often brilliantly put their internal "stuff" into a character and share their hearts through that medium.  It is honestly the best way if one is a fiction writer.  The closest and cherished few in a fiction writer's life will get to hear everything- all the deep real painful wrestled things straight from the writer's memory and heart.  But those deepest things should only be shared with the most trusted, as a general rule.  Seems I have been living that rule all backwards upside down and getting unwanted emotional stress as the result.  I am learning that the rule on its right side is where I must exist.

Truth- I have not created enough fiction yet to learn this skill well.  But we all must start somewhere.

So I have a lot to say this morning, it is all simmering here inside me, movie reels in my brain, a thousand moments music notes melodies harmonies covering them all, printed words library book pages computer screens handwritten words all strong curved true, sun glimmering off cold waves crashing spinning, young me crying singing running twirling, daydreams boats farms towering trees quiet rain, reality of cold winter glimmering snow knifing wind... all these words, elegant words never saying enough, simple words saying too much...if I love you is that a fact or a weapon...all these violent and grief filled words pushing threatening drowning the pure with wrong wrong wrong, clear pure light-drenched newness turning midnight brilliant white, causes true beyond myself my abilities my words my resources my feebleness my selfishness...hope always hope.

So much inside of me right this second.

But I will not say any more than that out loud.  There it is, a  glimpse of my heart and mind and soul and memories.  I will be a fiction writer today and use all these words words words for my stories.  I will not waste what is inside me on things I am not called to do any longer.  I believe in the power of story to convey truth.  Hint- God does too.  This is my write stories.  It begins. 

Does that mean I am going to stop blogging?  No.  I will still share many thoughts passions epiphanies dreams and hopes through this blog.  But I will be more selective in the future.  My very cherished few will get all of my deepest stuff...or all I am capable of giving.  Be glad- I will no longer burden you or me with my deep painful stuff that might not have meaning or purpose for either of us right now.  Smile.  This is freedom.

Stories bring us together. So does music. I will end with a song, its every word saying all I want to say today...journeying together into new starts new resolves new purpose...the passion of words and singing and playing conveying calling...we all have calling on our lives.  Purpose.  You know know I must say it:

Find yours and live it today.  And live it with as much passion as these British boys live theirs.  It doesn't matter whether you care for their style of music...although I love it, it reminds me of The Pogues and my Irish ancestry and of my childhood home in the mountains of Virginia.  Pay attention to the way they play...feel how much they love what they do.  May I write with this much calling purpose passion today. 

That's all.  That's enough. 


*Don't adjust your speakers, it takes a few seconds for the sound to come on. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The small things which shape us.

When I was in elementary school I used to go with my grandfather when he ran errands around town. In the summer evenings we would get ice cream at the Salem Ice Cream Parlor. We would take Papa's big black poodle Choo Choo with us. Papa worked for Norfolk and Southern Railroad and that's where the dog's name came from.  He was one of those gigantic poodles, fluffy and curly and coal black.  He was the friendliest dog on the planet and if it's true that dogs take on their owner's personalities then that explains it.

Choo Choo always got his own cone of ice cream, butter pecan. That was my Papa's favorite and I'm not sure Choo Choo had a say in his ice cream flavor so that's what he got too.  Butter Pecan, such a Southern flavor I doubt it's sold in Maine.  I always got Mint Chocolate Chip in a sugar cone.  All that lovely pastel and so green you could taste the mint just by looking at it.  My mom never let me get a sugar cone as she said it was "too much sugar" but Papa always let me. 

We would get our ice cream and go sit at an outside table in the grass across the street.  There is a church there now.  That same church was there back then too so I don't know where the picnic tables were, but they are in my memory.  Papa would hold the cone and Choo Choo would lick the ice cream.  He had a regular cone.  I always wondered back then if dogs had to worry about "too much sugar" too.  When there was only an inch of cone left Papa would let him munch it down. 

Although the sharp details have faded over the years, I remember those ice cream eating nights. They have shaped my entire life concerning ice cream.  Mint Chocolate Chip is still my favorite flavor although I will sometimes choose Coffee or Black Cherry these days.  During my rebellious teen years I tried every one of the 31 flavors.  Bubble gum was the only one to hold my attention...I was mesmerized by chewing gum that stays in your mouth while eating ice cream that slides down to your stomach.  Quite the challenging combination for someone who has difficulty multi-tasking.

As for Butter Pecan, it's an okay flavor.  I will sometimes choose it if I'm missing my grandfather.  It is rare for me to order an ice cream cone and not think of my grandfather.  And I still feel a little traitorous if I pick Black Cherry over Mint. 

When we become adults we usually stop caring about the color of ice cream.  We are more focused on the price or the calories of it. If I asked my mom or dad about those ice cream nights, they might reveal that those endless-to-me summer nights only occurred a few times over one summer. Or how they lamented over the oodles of sugar my grandfather adored giving me.  Or worse- maybe those picnic tables in the grass never even existed...that Choo Choo really licked his ice cream cone in the dull gray parking lot instead. 

But the details are woven into the fabric of those experiences, even if my mind filled in some of those details on its own.  That's okay with me. I want my green and black of mint and poodle and golden yellow of butter pecan. I want my summer green grass under picnic tables and all that wonderful milk and sugar and my Papa.  I want those nights to be endless in the way only a child can comprehend summer nights. 

I feel those are the important parts because they represent relationship and story.  I am forever part of the unique story of me and Papa and Choo Choo and ice cream.  That story has shaped me into who I am.  And it isn't the reality-based facts of the story which have stayed with me.  It is all the small details.  

Which stays most in the mind- My grandfather took me for ice cream in the summer when I was a child.


My Papa took me and his fluffy, curly black poodle to get ice cream on summer nights at twilight, he bought me a mint chocolate chip sugar cone and a butter pecan one for Choo Choo and he would hold the cone while Choo Choo licked it, and we sat at picnic tables on green grass until the stars came out.

The details tell everything.  The first sentence says I had a kind grandfather.  But the second sentence says that I had a Papa, and he spent time with me and knew my favorite ice cream flavor.  And he loved me.   

You might say the details are important to me because I am a writer.  Perhaps.  But consider this:

"Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another. "
Ernest Hemingway

The details of how we live are more than just a list of facts on paper showing our jobs and homes and assets.  They are those small moments of daily life and loving gestures that make us who we are.  I love mint chocolate chip ice cream because my grandfather loved me and bought it for me on summer nights.  Our lives are stories and we choose the themes and settings and relationships every single day.  We make the details and the details shape our lives and the lives of those around us.  
I don't have a blinding send-off to leave you with today.  Just a quiet thought- Choose well today. 


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Strange Girl Post 3- Breaking down a song and breaking free.

Some of you may call me strange for finding God in a Queen song.  But it happened.

I want to break free...

The song clearly seems to be about a boy and girl.  Or perhaps a boy and a boy since Freddy Mercury wrote it.  We won't go there. The word "God" is in the song a few times but that's not what I'm talking about.  Ever since I heard it in a movie theater at the Mall of America during a Coca Cola ad, it has represented more to me. 

I've avoided writing about the song for years because of my fear of being misunderstood, judged, called strange, or just cheesy.  But I can't stop the critics and I shouldn't let them stop me.  Honest: I am growing a little fond of strange these days.  As for the cheese...what can you do about it?  It makes life fun.

"I want to break free.  I want to break free.  I want to break free from your lies you're so self-satisfied, I don't need you...I've got to break free."

Who do I see as you in this song?  Hmm.

I see me. 

I see the other Gollum in the Two Towers when he finally stands up to the other side of his personality which has kept him miserable so many years.  I see the part of me bound up in lies about my worth and chained to all the cants I've wrapped around myself since childhood.  The untruths society and self-judgement place on us are arrogant and strong as steel. They bind us and we can't move.  Numbness sets in.  Apathy.  "I can't change anything, things are the way they are...there is no use in trying."

I see Satan too, the thief and destroyer of all that is good and life-giving in our lives.  He wants us to hate and destroy ourselves because we are God's beloved. He was once God's most cherished too, but he rejected that free and perfect love.  All of humanity has been paying the price for his arrogance and pain ever since.  He says to God, "If I can't have you, no one will...I will destroy what you love most, the humans."  Okay that is my paraphrase but it fits.  Anyone who has been in love and rejected knows love is a very small step from hate, and hate is all pain.

"God knows...God knows I want to break free."

Well, yes, He does.

"I've fallen in love..."

And how!

"I've fallen in love for the first time, this time I know it's for real...I've fallen in love."

Maybe you have fallen in love with a person...your other half, your complete me.  It is breathlessness and poets and you search for words to describe its glory. 

I've also fallen in love with Jesus who rescued and redeemed me. He was God's answer to Satan's attack on humanity. The sacrifice of his life redeemed me from all the bad, shameful and stupid I have done. 

"It's strange but it's true, I can't get over the way you love me like you do..."

His love is breathtaking which is a little different from breathless.  It is all freedom and light, no burden.

"But I have to be sure when I walk out that door..."

Ah, there it is.  I cringe a little when I get to this part every time.  I know what's coming up and I know my heart.

You see, I am fickle.  Human.  My insecurities and fears push me away from Jesus, who said he is the lover of my soul.  Such intimacy, so excruciating with its beauty and never leave or forsake.  That is not my experience in this life.  Probably not yours either.  Everyone leaves in the end, through free will, forced choices or death.  To never leave...can I even really comprehend that? 

"Oh how I want to be free..."

We all want to be free.  Many times we believe the wrong things are gonna save us- a person, career,  dream, addiction...the list is endless.  Freedom is so easy...seems too easy.  After all, surrender is not seen as freedom, it appears weakness.

Jesus is freedom.

There I said it. I usually don't go right there in my blog because I know I have readers of many different faiths and some of  no faith at all. But if I am speaking of soul freedom I must speak of Jesus.

Getting that freedom is as easy as falling in a pool of water, falling in love...falling off a cliff.  But with perfect hands to catch you at the bottom, no scraps or pain or snapped spines.  Or shattered hearts. Only complete and absolute contentment.

Isn't that what we really want at the end of the day?  Happiness comes and goes, like sunshine and clouds,  part of the cycle of life.  No one is happy all the time.  If they appear to be, they are faking it.  But contentment, deep contentment in our souls, well that is possible.  It is the most peaceful place our souls can find on this earth. 

"I can't get used to living without you by my side..."

The next part of the song is more of the same as before...wanting freedom and being too afraid to reach out for it. 

We get used to our lies, denials, and wishful hopeless thinking, don't we?  They are familiar.  Comfortable.  They are known.  The unknown can be frightening as death.

Truth: We settle for comfort every day even when it is not all that comfortable.  When it is killing us, draining every ounce of life and hope out of our souls.  Our purpose becomes forgotten and our creativity atrophies.

 Why do we do this to ourselves? 

Stop it.  

Stop being comfortable and BE FREE.  Live the life you were created to live.  I am saying this to me.  Be brave Val.  Be free. 

Ponder it, won't you?  Peace.