Sunday, May 7, 2017

Silence

I can't remember the last time I actively prayed.

There. I said it. It's been something I feel I've had to say out loud for some time, but never had the courage to. Or, perhaps in this case, write it out loud.

Maybe here and there I have the frantic "God, the salt trucks haven't made it out to this highway yet so you better be sure I make it to my destination through these icy roads in one piece" prayer. But.. what Chicagoan hasn't?

Outside of the few church services I make it to these days, I never find myself praying. Even when I do find a rare Sunday morning when I don't have to work and I make it to worship, more often than not my eyes start to glaze over and my mind wanders during public prayers.

Yet, this started to happen long before my current work schedule came into place. I remember when I worked in the church, most Sunday mornings I glossed over the words of the liturgy. The prayers I led for the youth group became trite and compact. I knew the right words to say for the situation and that was that and then it was time to move onto the next thing on the agenda.

There was a time when this wasn't the case. Not to say I've ever had the most active "prayer life" as some would say. For years I attempted to have daily quiet times to myself to read and meditate. If my mind wandered as I drove my car I tried to move my focus into conversation with Jesus. When I was alone in my dorm room I took a stab at saying impromptu prayers out loud. None of these things stuck with me. At least I tried.

In fact, there were distinct moments I even remember hearing God. Maybe not an actual physical voice, but at least three times I heard God talking back.

Once, it was during a Bible study. I remember looking over at the guy I was currently pinning over. (And let's be real - the entirety of my non-existent love life has been me pointlessly pinning over some dude.) The word "wait" popped into my mind. I needed to wait. I can honestly say I did wait, and I still am. For who or what - I have no idea. But I know God still has me in this "waiting" stage.

Another time, it was over a period of several weeks when verses from the book of 1 John kept on appearing in my life. In chapel, in class, conversations with friends, etc. Over and over again I was being reminded of how I needed to love people. While, yes, it was everyone's calling to love one another. It was a specific calling to me and my life, and it was what God wanted me to do. I'm not sure how well I succeed in this, and I view it slightly differently now than I did back then. But, it's something I have taken to heart. Enough to even have the phrase from Les Miserables tattooed upon my arm "To love another person is to see the face of God."

A third, was when I sat at the church where I worship now, years ago, and I looked across the aisle to a friend of mine and the words "This is your church family" popped into my mind. It was strange, because this friend and I weren't necessarily all that close yet. We had the same circles of friends and spent time together, but we weren't quite friends with each other yet. Now, almost a decade later, I do see her as my church family. She's the one I seek out each Sunday morning and we sit in our little section. She's the one I go out to lunch with when worship is done. We talk and text through the week and miss one another when the other can't make it on Sunday morning.

So, I know there is communication with God, and he speaks to us sometimes.

Now, there is silence.

Part of me wants to say God and I have been giving each other the cold shoulder, but I don't think that's quite it. It's not like he and I had a big disagreement and decided to stop talking over a grudge.

It's more like two friends who have lost touch. Not because neither one cared. But because someone moved away, or started a new job, or began a relationship. You keep meaning to have that Skype call or that coffee date... but it never happens. Yet, you know the other one is still there, ready with open arms whenever you do have time.

Maybe that's a bad way of looking at a relationship with God... but there it is.

I know my salvation isn't based on how often I pray and go to church - so please save the Lutheran lecture of "by grace alone..."

I've been reading a lot of Lauren F Winners this year, and in her book Girl Meets God, this is the part of the relationship she would describe as "brushing your teeth next to each other." You're no longer fascinated with each other and every little move you make, finding everything exciting and new. It's that time when you go through your routine, and brush your teeth next to each other. We know all of each others stories (or think we do) so the day is filled with silence. You're both there, but it's not quite the same. Not good or bad, But there it is.

One of my closest friends is in the stage of her faith where she's falling in love with God. I hear her talking about how she's reading the Bible in a year for the first time, all of the things she's learning, what she's praying and thinking about, sharing with me the worship songs which have touched her heart. I love hearing her talk about these things, and it makes me miss the openness and wonder I used to have.

As I read Girl Meets God a couple of months ago, I came across this:

"I am not sure that I have the passion to fall in love with a religion again. How to fall in love is not, now, what I need to learn. What I need to learn, maybe what God wants me to learn, is the long grind after you've landed." 

As much as part of me wants to be back in that passionate love again, I read this quote and feel a resounding "yes... that is me."

Then, in the book written by her which I'm reading now, Still, she expresses how she had stopped praying as well.

"I can paint my walls with slogans about staying faithful to the spiritual disciplines, about formation and habits to carry you through, about how wonderful it is that we Episcopalians have this great incomparable liturgy that keeps us tethered to prayer when our own heart's awandering, but the simple truth is that when you don't know what you believe and you don't know where you are or you think you've been deluded or abandoned or you've glutted yourself with busyness and you are hiding from yourself or the day has just been too long - if that is who and how you are, prayer sounds like a barefoot hike from Asheville to Paris; it would be nice if you got there, you are sure there is a nice glass of wine and a nice slice of brie waiting for you at some cafe somewhere, but there is really no way you can imagine actually making the walk."

When I read the words of her books, I can imagine she and I being friends sitting down side by side, sharing our experiences and thoughts on faith. Neither of us truly having any answers or ways out of the rut we're in. But nodding our heads in agreement saying "yes, I know what you're talking about."

There's a certain camaraderie in simply understanding the questions and knowing someone else has gone through the same thing, even if they can't answer the questions. It is it's own special sort of comfort.

I'm not sure the purpose of writing all of this is. I think, I read about someone with whom I could relate when it came to this topic, and I wanted to share that "hey... this is me." Maybe someone else will be able to say the same thing.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Christmas Cards

To the right of my desk, I have a cork board. Through the year I pin up different memories I've had. Movie ticket stubs, favorite photos, programs from the theatre, etc. In December I clear it off, place all of the items in a box labeled for that year, and then begin placing new items up on the board. I put all of the Christmas cards I've received on first, so I have them up all year around.

Since 2017 is brand new, the only things, other than a couple wedding save the date cards, I see are Christmas cards. Having them sent to me through the month always makes me smile, and reminds me that I have more friends than I realize sometimes. I love see their life updates and happy faces looking out at me as I work on my computer on whatever project I have going at the moment.

Then comes the guilt.

Every year I intend to send out Christmas cards. I can find a favorite picture from the year, mail it out to my friends, and give them a quick update on my life.

But what would I say? What picture would I send?

"Merry Christmas! My dog Bandit is one year older this year. Isn't he adorable?"

Which... he is adorable and I'm sure people would love to see pictures of him.

Or maybe I could say "Look at how many books I've read this year! Isn't it so impressive?"

Which... yes, my 124 books I've read this year is impressive. But really?

When I see photos of exciting vacations, new babies, weddings, and job offers... these updates seem a little less than impressive.

It's a classic case of comparing myself to others, and the more I think about it, the more I delay gathering cards and addresses and sending them out. Then more Christmas cards arrive in the mail and the whole cycle begins again.

For the last 12 months, we've all been lamenting at how awful 2016 has been. Politics, deaths, terrorism, 2016 has been a doosey. It's sucked.

The thing is though, is that I've sucked too.

This isn't a statement of low self esteem or anything like that. I'm awesome and I have the potential to be awesome.

BUT I WAS NOT AWESOME THIS YEAR.

My 2016 started with my breaking my knee. Which, compared to some of my other injuries, it really wasn't that bad. I was in a lot of pain the first night, but by the next day it was tolerable and I didn't fill my pain killer prescription. I didn't have to stay overnight at the hospital, and I didn't have to have surgery. Yes, being out of work and not bending my knee for two months wasn't fun, but all things considered things could have been a lot worse.

For those two months I read. And read. And read. And read. Makes sense, since I didn't have anything else to do and couldn't walk.

Then my knee was healed and I went back to work. But I didn't return to the real world.

Instead, I just kept reading. I avoided hanging out with friends, and dove further and further into myself and my fictional worlds.

Part of this was also working on my novel - which I'm proud of. I wrote and wrote and wrote. Then, I learned that there is such a thing as writing too much. Apparently, for debut authors, literary agents won't even look at manuscripts which are over 700 pages long.

Go figure.

And that was my 2016 in a nutshell.

Not to say that these are bad things, and I did have some wonderful moments. I saw Hamilton in Chicago. I met many of my other Internet book nerd friends at BookCon and YallFest. I also met some of my favorite authors. (Becky Albertalli who wrote Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda now follows me on twitter, which is kind of awesome.) I went to weddings and was able to celebrate with my friends and family with their big moments.

Then the Christmas cards come. And I notice that my body is acting weird and randomly losing weight for no apparent reason. And I see people I haven't spoken to in years. And friends from college die. And the holidays have this weird way of forcing you to reflect on the past year and your life and everything that's wrong with it.

For me personally, I sucked.

I did not reach my full potential for awesome. And there's a lot of potential there. I want to get that awesome back.

I'm not going to stop reading and writing - obviously. That would be tragic if I did.

But I also need to make room in my life for all of the other awesome things and people around me too. I want to actually accept invitations from people when they want to hang out. I want to pay attention to my body and what it's telling me and be sure I take care of it. I want to actually talk to my friends instead of only reading about their lives through a Facebook status or the once a year card or letter I get from them in the mail.

And maybe, just maybe, next year I'll actually send out those Christmas cards to show you all how much I love you too.

Happy 2017.