Monday, March 31, 2014

This Too Shall Pass. This Too Shall Pass. This Too Shall Pass.

Guys, this past week has been a rough one.

A series of crazy scary life circumstances suddenly sprang up at me and Jacob out of nowhere and left me constantly tense, anxious, and on edge all week long. I'm still adjusting.

Sleep has been eluding me. I've been averaging 4 hours or so a night for the last week and a half. That doesn't generally help with life coping.

The whole World Vision fiasco happened, which I found so distressing that I had to run away from social media for a day because every time I read something about it it just made me sadder and sadder.

And depression is definitely back for a visit. And it is hitting HARD.

When depression happens to coincide with actually difficult circumstances, it can be just really, really hard to keep convincing yourself that everything will be OK. Other people offer you solutions and prayer, and it's easy to get cynical about it and think, "Sure, maybe things will work out for them, but everything will be bad for me forever."

I just have to keep telling myself it won't be bad forever.

Because it won't.

Pffft, it's not even that bad right now. I can deal with any one of these things that attacked me this week. It's just when they're all together that it gets overwhelming, and the depression grabs a hold of that and says, "You know how crappy you feel this week? That's how you'll feel for the rest of your life!"

But it's not true.

This week, everything that happens may be making me very sad, but at some point, someday, something is going to happen that makes me very happy. And someday, the things that are making me sad at this moment are going to seem very far away.


Maybe even by the time this blog posts.

If not, maybe by the end of the week.

If not, maybe by the middle of the month.

But it will happen, and I'll be OK.

(...Although if blog posts are a little scarce until things are OK, that's why.)

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Quest for Skye: Chapter 35

Recap: In the last chapter, Morgan and Tammy took Skye to Florida to reunite her with that dolphin she kissed way back when. Then the Hamiltons talked to each other a lot about how Skye is super nice and appreciates life and stuff and decided that was what Lance meant when he said she was the key to the whole thing. That made me want to throw my laptop across the room in frustration at the book. I did not, but I WANTED TO.

The chapter opens with Tammy waking Skye up and telling her they're going to get her hair, nails, and makeup done, which leads to an incredibly awkwardly-written moment where Skye asks if putting makeup on means she'll be growing breasts soon. Tammy quickly sidesteps the whole puberty question (which I guess is OK since Skye is probably going to be dying in the next couple weeks anyway) and instead says they're all going somewhere special tonight.

Tammy presents her with a dress, which Skye pronounces a "Christmas dress." We're given no description of the dress, so I'm not sure what makes it a Christmas dress. It's probably just red and green, but part of me hopes it resembles a horrific Christmas sweater with reindeer and Santa heads knitted all over it. Whatever it looks like, Tammy has an identical dress, so yay for matching.
The girls spent the next couple hours getting their hair and nails done. It was hard telling who was having more fun, the stylists, or the Hamiltons.
Well, uh, probably the Hamiltons. Why would the stylists be that excited about it? Except for the Pure and Untarnished Joy of Just Being Near Skye, I guess.
When they were finished with their girl-time, they continued to giggle all the way back to their room.
And this is one of those awkward writing details that sounds fine until you start thinking about it. There's no reason for them to be giggling. If they're giggling just from the sheer excitement of having visited a beauty salon, that excitement should have died down into a quiet happiness long before the time they're actually heading back to their room. Or have they been giggling throughout the entire appointment? If so, I can pretty much guarantee you they had more fun than the stylists. A women and a girl doing nothing but giggling at each other for no reason for like 30-45 minutes straight has got to be not only annoying, but kind of creepy after a certain point.

Later that night, Tammy reveals her new style to Morgan and he is blown away by how beautiful she is and wants to kiss her, but she won't let him because it's far more important that he see how beautiful Skye is. Turns out she's also gorgeous and Morgan compliments her, and Skye once more laments that she doesn't have the body yet to fill out the dress.

They go out to dinner, and the paparazzi papparaz Skye at the restaurant. The security guards get super aggressive about it, throwing the cameras on the ground and literally pushing the photographers out the door.
While eating, they discussed funny things that happened on the cruise and reminisced about more recent events.
Skye's really into reminiscing about this cruise. She reminisced about it while she was on it. Now they've all been living together for several months and must have other stories to reminisce about with each other, but, nope, it's all about the cruise again. The cruise that they were only on together for like a week. I get the feeling that if this was in the real world, it would mean that every other day Skye'd say, "Hey, remember that cruise?" and Morgan and Tammy would reply, "Sigh. Yes. We remember it. We only talk about it every day."

The Hamiltons then blindfold Skye and drive her somewhere in a limo, and it turns out that they got her tickets to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which just so happened to be playing in the same area as the Jamaican dolphin lived, so that's nice.
Too overwhelmed to speak, she jumped to her feet and threw her arms around her mom and dad.
And the people behind her were probably like, "SIT DOWN YOU'RE IN MY WAY!"

Oh, and then, the band invites her onstage to play one of their songs at the piano for them. So that's nice too.
Like a little lady, Skye moved in front of the piano bench , straightened her flowing dress, and sat down.
She used to be able to sit at a piano like a trained entertainer. Now her skills have been downgraded to "little lady." I guess she's out of practice.

After the performance:
Tears cascaded from her eyes as she moved to the front of the piano and bowed to the audience like a professional entertainer.
Oh, good, at least she can still bow like a professional entertainer. Bowing like a little lady would just be embarrassing right now.

The whole audience is crying because I guess watching a little girl they don't know playing the piano is some sort of big emotional moment for everyone. Skye gets to go backstage and meet the band after the show, and then they all go back to the hotel and wind down.
He, too, could still hear, The Christmas Canon. On this night... all is right... on this Merry Christmas night. This night... we pray... our lives... will show... this dream... she had ...  
Morgan smiled. This dream... his little girl had... had been met... tonight.
My mind just makes this sound like Morgan is wheezing out these lines while being extremely out of breath. Maybe he'll run all the way out of breath and he and Skye will both die in the next chapter!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I Dreamed a Dream...

This week has been kind of a crazy one. Jacob and I have been bombarded with illness, several nights of terrible sleep, crazy anxiety, and one awkward driver's license suspension thanks to some confusion about paperwork needed from us. Rawr.

Hopefully all these issues will be resolved by the end of the week, but in the meantime, the awesome well-thought-out blog I intended to have for today didn't get written. So you get a selection out of my dream blog for 2014! Not all of them, partly because there are a lot and partly because I am in the process of compiling all my blogged dreams into a purchasable ebook and I want you to have some new stuff to read if you purchase it. :-)

So consider these a teaser for when I finish pulling the book together. As well as just a fun midweek blog post.

* * *

I dreamed that I signed onto Facebook and got this message from the site:
"We have polled your Facebook friends and thought you should know the results.
1. 90% of your friends think your name is a silly teenage name.
2. 200 of your friends think that if you put on a little lipstick, you would then have the body of a Greek goddess."

* * *

I dreamed my school friend Josh was leading worship at my Illinois home church, but the entire worship service consisted of one song that had 45 verses. I was printing the bulletin and told him I couldn't print all 45 verses, so he told me just to print 22. Every chorus ended with him singing, "But we will still DOMINATE!" and on the word "dominate" he'd scream/growl the word like it was a heavy metal song.

* * *

I dreamed that on American Idol, Jennifer Lopez was being stalked and harrassed by an ex-husband of hers, so the other judges decided to help her. One of them started calling someone and said, "This guy is absolutely guaranteed to call her crazy. He's the giraffe noise guy."

Then the show cut to a shot of her husband waking up on a raft in the middle of the ocean. The other judges had put him there while he was sleeping. There was a little curtain around his bed, and when he pulled it aside to look out on the rest of the raft, there was a guy there making chicken noises at him.

* * *

I dreamed Bekah and I were writing a two-party comedy TV show/movie about Sleeping Beauty, but we had only written the first part of it and we needed money to film it, so we decided to go pitch it to Wil Wheaton and ask him to produce it and put it on Geek & Sundry.

We wandered into his office, where he was sitting at the Tabletop table and talking to a friend of his, so we waited patiently for him to be done. He was talking about how he wanted to put some money toward a new table for his show Tabletop, where he plays tabletop games with nerdy celebrities. He said he needed the new table because the current one was too small to fit five people.

"But, you know," he said to me suddenly, "you remember that time we did the show with that guy you went to school with? He was our fifth person and we couldn't fit him at the table, so we put him out in the hall with a folding chair and a laptop and just had him Skype in." I remembered seeing that episode, and we all agreed that that was a great technological way to solve the problem.

* * *

I dreamed I was watching some old version of Romeo and Juliet, in which they meet each other because they both show up at Juliet's aunt's house at the same time. Romeo burst into very flowery poetry, including a section where he referred to himself as "an ant-man," because Juliet made him feel small, but she thought it meant he was Ant Man the superhero and got all excited.

* * *

I dreamed Jacob and I were hanging out at HU before going to see a play there, and we ran into Jay (the head of the theater department at the school), who was on his way to the arts building. He started excitedly telling me about when they were doing load-in for the show, and he chased one of the students around with a stuffed black fish. He thought this was hilarious, though I didn't quite get it and just nodded politely.

Jacob made some kind of jokey comment about the fish being a REAL fish that cost $25, but the way he phrased it sounded like he didn't understand what Jay was talking about. Apparently this was really offensive, because Jay just stared at him with a look of extreme disgust on his face, then turned around and walked into the building without saying a word.

* * *

I dreamed my college roommate Laura was selling her car, so I told her I'd buy it. It had about 200,000 miles on it, and she told me she wanted to ask for a dollar a mile. I said this sounded fair and paid her $200,000 for it.

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Memory of Spiritual Community

New Life Drama Company made church much harder for me.

While some might assume that this happened because I went to so many different churches and saw so many that were messed up and got fed up with hypocrisy or something, that's not the case at all. Sure, I visited my share of dysfunctional churches, but that wasn't what made it so difficult to go to church when I went back.

It was the opposite, actually.

Being part of NLDC was the first time I felt like I was truly part of a spiritual community. Since I have spent a fair amount of time on this blog muddling through my current church struggle, I wanted to share a little bit about the one time in my life when I suspect I encountered what most other people encounter (or hope to encounter) at church.

There were two aspects to this, I think: the social and the spiritual.

The Social

The "community" part of this, the social aspect, came through in how unusually easy it was for me to connect with these people. There was such a strong sense of welcoming, of loving and accepting even the oddballs among us (and there were many of us).

When I first arrived and started meeting people, it was at first almost off-putting how enthusiastic everyone was to have me there, just because I didn't know what to do with it. These were people I had never met, but they were squealing happily as just the prospect of a new person being in their midst, proclaiming their love for me when I had barely spoken a word to them, and seeking me out to strike up conversations with me. It was overwhelming, but, I decided, in a good way.

As I got to know these people and realized their enthusiasm and eagerness to welcome me into their fold was genuine, it became less overwhelming and more like a huge, enormous support blanket. They got to know me and my personality quirks and didn't try to change them or make me more like them. They celebrated as I relaxed and came out of my shell more, but not because coming out of my shell was The Right, Extroverted Thing To Do -- it was because they liked me and like getting to know me.

I made most of the closest friends of my life here. It was hard not to. It's hard not to fall back on a support system that is so eager to hold you up, and it's hard not to want to provide them with that same support and enthusiasm and love.

This attitude was infectious. I was usually so reserved, but when we got a group of newbies joining the drama company, I found myself eagerly offering that same unconditional friendship that was offered to me when I first got there. I found myself opening up to people so much more quickly than I would in the "real world." While I typically take 2-3 years to build a friendship with anyone, I unequivocally called almost everyone in the group my friend in a matter of months. In this safe environment, building relationships became easy for me. We fed off each other and leaned on each other and cheered each other on.

I have never bonded so quickly with such a large group of people.

The Spiritual

This attitude of acceptance was very heavily in play when it came to our spiritual interactions as well.

NLDC was an interdenominational ministry. In recent years the ministry's become much more overtly targeted toward charismatic denominations, but when I was there as a quasi-Baptist (I don't know what to call myself, denominationally, I just know I don't speak in tongues) I never felt pressure to conform to any specific worship or prayer style. Everyone was encouraged to follow wherever God led them, no matter whether that meant jumping and dancing in the worship service or sitting quietly and just listening.

It was the safest spiritual place I'd ever been in my life.

While most of the time we were out traveling on the road, every ten weeks we'd come back into our homebase in Tennessee and switch up teams. Then we'd spend the week in Tennessee writing and learning new skits with our new teams.

Every morning during homebase week we'd start off the day with a half hour or so of corporate praise and worship after breakfast, and these are moments I remember vividly. We'd stand in a circle in the church building where we met. One person would be in charge of choosing the worship songs, another of leading us in prayer.

The worship format changed frequently, depending on who was leading. Some days someone played acoustic guitar, other days we played a worship CD and sang along. Some days we sang old church camp songs and 90s praise choruses, or hymns, or whatever Hillsong's latest songs were, or songs written by some of us. We sang and clapped and danced and closed our eyes and raised our hands and laughed and cried and prayed through the songs.

If I was unfocused that day, it could be chaotic with everyone doing whatever they wanted to do around me, but at the same time I felt such a sense of freedom to do whatever I wanted to do, because everybody was focusing on themselves and nobody was paying attention to me. If I wanted, I could stand with eyes closed and arms raised, not singing, just listening. I could sit down. I could sway back and forth. I could jump up and down. I could intersperse my own thoughts during the songs out loud, personalizing them so they could truly reflect what I wanted to say instead of what the songwriters wanted to say.

Prayer time changed structure as well, depending on the leadership. Frequently the prayer leader would briefly introduce the prayer "theme" for the day, if there was one -- "Today we're praying for our country," "Today I feel God wants us to pray for the church," "Today we're asking God to teach us something" -- and then everybody would pray, just all at the same time. There was a quiet, general murmur as people were earnestly talking to God, praying through memorized Scripture or asking for blessings or interceding on other's behalf.

Every minute or two, someone would feel something to pray publicly, and they'd speak out their prayer, loudly, with everyone listening and verbally agreeing. I didn't pray out loud often, but when I did, it felt unbelievably encouraging to ask God for something and have 25 or 30 other people all nodding their heads and saying, "Yes, God! Amen!" It really solidified that we weren't isolating ourselves and pleading our case before God all on our house -- we were all there, together praying for the same things and trusting that God would see all of our faces and hear all of our "Yes, God!"s and would answer our prayers.

When prayer time wound down, there was a third component that often came into play: relating to others anything we'd heard from God. It wasn't uncommon at all for us to finish worship and have someone say, "I feel like God wanted to encourage me today," either to the whole group or to just a few of us.

Sometimes God would put a message on their heart to relay to somebody else. There were quite a few times when I came away unenlightened by my worship experience, only to have someone approach me and say, "I just wanted to let you know God put you on my heart during prayer time, and he wanted me to tell you he knows you're stressed and it's OK, he'll take care of whatever it is." And a good chunk of the time, it was exactly what I needed to hear.

It wasn't always perfect. Sometimes I was distracted or unfocused or stressed or just didn't hear anything from God during my worship times. But that was OK. Because the community nature of the whole thing was what mattered most. It mattered that I was there, joining in prayer and agreement with my fellow Christians, standing before God and asking him to bless and forgive and teach and change us, and even if he didn't speak to me that day, hopefully he spoke to somebody else and I had been a part of that.

...And Now There's Nothing Else Like It

I truly do feel like my experience in NLDC was probably one of the closest things to heaven I'll ever experience while I'm alive. Not everybody I knew from that time had that same experience, but for me, that sense of big-group community, camaraderie, and uninhibited love and support is something I've never felt anywhere else. Not in a church, not at school, not in the online communities I love. There was something special going on there.

Sometimes I feel almost a little bit cheated, like God said, "Here, this is what fellowship looks like! Now you'll never get that again."

Because it doesn't happen that easily anywhere else.

When I first came home from NLDC, I tried to make it happen. I tried to make connections and reach out to people and form friendships like never before, but I hadn't realized how much I'd been leaning on the reciprocal love, support, and enthusiasm of those around me. What had been a mutual cycle of fellowship in the drama company became, at home, me emptying myself out into everyone and getting nothing back. Not because the people around me were cold or distant or anything, but because in the real world it takes a lot more time and effort to build friendships. So I jumped in with both feet, used up all my energy, had nothing left, and burned out very quickly.

Sometimes I feel like I still haven't quite regained my balance.

Now What?

I know you can't go through life trying to constantly recapture the emotional highs of your spiritual life. It doesn't work that way. A lot of spiritual living is about slogging through the everyday muck of work and bills and doctor's appointments and, sometimes, going to church.

And yet, I don't feel like this is an impossible, unsustainable type of spiritual community to be seeking. I see glimpses of it all the time, especially when I do get a chance to spend time with the friends I made at NLDC. That strong bond we built during that time is still there, and time apart doesn't ever seem to shake it. Spending time in prayer or worship with these people is still a powerful and freeing experience.

I hate the idea of settling into anything less than that. But at the same time I don't have the energy I need to be able to ignite that kind of spark in anyone. Part of what made NLDC work like it did was that the dynamic was somehow ingrained across the board, with just about everyone sharing that common goal.

Once you've seen a glimpse of something that is so much more than you ever thought it could be, it's hard to accept that you may never find it again on that scale.

So for now, I attempt to do this with individuals, with the strength I have. I attempt to pour encouragement and love into the people around me, though I don't always do it well enough or often enough or for as many people as I'd like. But if I can't build an entire community on the shoulders of my experiences, I can at least be a good friend to a few individuals.

Thoughts? Responses? Have you found a strong spiritual community? What was it about it that made it special for you?

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Quest for Skye: Chapter 34

Recap: Well, last time, Skye had ANOTHER near-death experience, which reminded people yet again that they're supposed to be working to cure Batten. Also, Morgan is planning some sort of big surprise for her before she dies but we don't know what it is yet.

It's early in the morning, and Dr. Rozak goes to wake up Skye. He and Tammy tell her she's doing well enough that she can go on a trip with Tammy and Morgan, so she rushes off to get ready. They meet up with Morgan in the cafeteria, and Skye tries to figure out where they're going.
“Then we’re going on an airplane ride.” 
“Where, Dad?” 
Um, OK. What on earth are they going to do in Florida? Skye's never expressed any interest in going to Florida. Also, that's a LONG way from Leontiou Island. I had gotten the impression that this was like a day trip, but clearly not.
Moments later, the Hamiltons were on a helicopter heading to the airport in Athens. 
In Greece, they boarded Leontiou’s private jet.
OK, I understand if there's not enough room on Leontiou Island to keep his private jet, but it's gotta be awkward storing his jet in some other country's airport. It's not like he's even a Greek citizen. And a lot of the people in Greece are actually opposed to him. I feel like "the airport of an antagonistic country nearby" is not necessarily a safe place to stash your belongings.
Then she did what she always did when she flew, she ran up to the cockpit and sat with the pilot when they lifted off.  
When they were at cruising altitude, she came back and nestled between Tammy and Morgan.
Because every pilot's favorite thing is an incessantly chatty, overly bouncy eleven-year-old sitting in the cockpit with them as they take off. It is also the safest place for children to be. Not, you know, in a seat of her own with a seatbelt. What does "sitting with the pilot" even mean? Is she sitting, like... on his lap as the plane gets going?

I guess I shouldn't really be that surprised. I mean, Rothdiener established in the second chapter that he has a terrible grasp of appropriate child-on-airplane behavior.
To pass time, Morgan and Skye played their favorite game, checkers.
Checkers is... not a terribly good airplane game. The tiniest bit of turbulence and everybody loses.

Also, Athens to Orlando is like a 16-hour flight. That's a lot of checkers.
Morgan hated to leave the privacy of the island because usually the paparazzi harassed them, trying to get a picture, especially of Skye.

I really don't feel like there'd be that much public interest in all of this. I mean, do paparazzi harass Bill Gates and his kids a lot? It's not like they're entertainment celebrities. They're... doctors. Nobody reading tabloids cares about doctors. Or sick kids. They're not nearly gossipy enough.

But then again, if Skye is a cult leader as she seems to be, maybe it's just her devoted followers trying to steal some of her magic powers with a photograph.

They take Skye to the beach, but then Tammy worries that the sun is bad for her, so they leave and go to Sea World instead. During the dolphin show, the trainer singles out Skye by name and brings her down to touch the dolphins... and Skye recognizes the dolphin she kissed in Jamaica a year and a half ago.

She recognizes the dolphin.

Because it's not like dolphins look similar or anything, or that Skye only spent a couple hours max with the dolphin, and of COURSE this dolphin would have been randomly moved from Jamaica to Sea World in Florida, and Morgan would have been able to track them down by, um, going to Athens on a secret plane right in the previous chapter.

In the meantime, they worry that Tammy only has two shots of medication left for Skye. That's not two shots left for the trip... that's two shots left, ever.
Skye interrupted their thoughts. Holding up a stuffed dolphin, she exclaimed, “Mom... Dad, this looks just like Jessie.”
Yup. That's because it's a dolphin.

Skye goes home and goes to sleep in the hotel, and Tammy and Morgan talk about it being their life purpose now to take care of all the kids with Batten and find a cure.
“I now understand what Lance meant when he said that Skye held the answer to the future of the world. It was not only the seriousness of the political situation at the time, but more the amazement of the young girl’s attitude, her zeal for life, her unconditional love, and encouragement. All qualities she demonstrated in every aspect of her life— she set the example. Now it’s time for us to lead. To lead by following her example.”
THAT was what Lance meant when he kept saying Skye was the key?!?

While Morgan was busy asking, "What's up with these conspiracies?" and "Why the Locked Door?" and "Why are we being stalked by reporters?" and "Is Doctor L. L. dead?" Lance's answer was essentially, "Let's all remember to be nice like Skye"?!?!?

There's no big answer to the mystery of why Skye is so important, it's just Lance trying to tell them (very vaguely, for no reason at all) to appreciate life?!?!?!?!?!?


Thankfully, this chapter is over, because that speech has made me CRAZY and I need to run away now.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Top 5, Bottom 5: Movies With Colors in the Title

Someone asked on the Flickchart Facebook group this week how many movies in our top 100 had colors in the title, so I figured this was a good opportunity for me to write up a quick Top 5, Bottom 5 list of my favorites and least favorites! This is out of 2065 movies on my Flickchart thus far.

Top 5
1. Moulin Rouge! (2001, #3). I can watch this movie over and over again without ever getting tired of it.
2. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985, #26). My second favorite Woody Allen flick of all time, with, as I've mentioned recently, an amazing performance from Jeff Daniels.
3. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003, #40). While this may be a bit too high for this movie, I still do really enjoy it, mostly thanks to Johnny Depp's uber-fun performance.
4. On Golden Pond (1981, #108). I owe this one a rewatch soon, as it's been way too long since my last viewing. I remember being captivated by Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn's performances.
5. Black Swan (2010, #124). King's Speech is a good movie and all, but this bizarre yet beautiful movie by Darren Aronofsky pretty easily gets my vote for best movie of 2010.

Bottom 5
1. Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, & Blonde (2003, #2055). The first movie was fluffy but forgettable, but this one... holy crap, it was painfully bad.
2. Far From Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog (1995, #2004). This is probably too low for this movie, as I don't remember it being painful... but then again I can't remember it at all, so it certainly wasn't good.
3. Ladies in Lavender (2004, #1969). Another one that is just mind-numbingly boring. I had high hopes for it and then couldn't even pay attention through most of it.
4. Aquamarine (2006, #1938). Whoo, this movie was dumb, even for a preteen romance.
5. Snow White and the Huntsman (2012, #1814). A dismal, ugly movie that became ridiculous the minute it tried to pretend Kristen Stewart was objectively prettier than Charlize Theron.

How about you? What are some of your favorite/least favorite color-titled movies?

Monday, March 17, 2014

How to Stop Competing With Others

One of the things that interrupts my happiness most often is the sense of being in competition with somebody else. People I haven't spoken to in years will drop me a line on Facebook in a chatty, friendly way, and I suddenly find myself desperately trying to prove that my life is as good as theirs or, if possible, better. Even after we're done talking, I will find myself thinking very defensively about my life choices, as if I'm trying to prove their worth to myself.

I'm sure it's connected to teenage insecurity. It happens most often with people from my high school years, which was... a weird time for me. That was when I was desperately trying (and miserably failing) to fit in with my peers. I was homeschooled and while I feel like it was ultimately a very good thing for me, it certainly didn't help me fit in with the people around me as a teen. I simply hadn't had a lot of experience socializing with people I didn't "get." And I didn't get the people around me. I didn't feel like we had much, if anything, in common. My passion for everything artsy and disinterest in almost everything else did me no favors in connecting with my peers, and trying to drum up an interest in shopping trips, concerts, and sleepovers just made me feel more disconnected than ever. My extreme introversion didn't help either. The sense got stronger and stronger: "I am not normal." I stopped speaking up in groups or even really with friends, hoping that if I didn't say anything, I could at least pretend to be normal.

My year in the New Life Drama Company did a lot to change that. There was a joke that everybody who joined the drama company was a little weird, and the normal ones didn't last very long. They were quick to embrace newcomers, make them feel welcome, and celebrate their oddness. I loved the unique and interesting people I traveled with and met through this group, especially those with bizarre social habits, frequently awkward questions, and unconventional opinions. I no longer felt like the odd one out. Instead, we were somehow all the odd one out together.

Following my year there, I began to really learn a lot about myself - what made me happy, what made me sad, what I wanted to do with my life. I learned that introversion did not equal brokenness, I learned how to really voice my opinions instead of just agreeing with people around me, I learned that my relationship with God frequently centered around artistic input and output.

I look at where I am now and where I was then, and I am truly delighted with my life.

...Yet somehow these people make me feel like I'm still a confused, timid, awkward teenager.

Me as an awkward teenager!
(Although now it looks like I'm saying I feel like I'm competing with the girl in this picture.
I'm not. We don't keep in touch much but I read her FB updates
and she has a lovely family and I couldn't be happier for her.)
The question is, how do I deal with that?

The answer is... I don't know for sure yet. So the title of this blog may have been a lie. But here are some things I'm trying.

1. Remind myself what I love in my life.

This is something I try to do on a fairly regular basis anyway, but it is really important any time I feel competitively threatened by someone else. Because, really, I do love my life. I love the people I know, I enjoy the freelance job I have (though hopefully someday I'll get to teach), the experiences I've had, and the person I've become. I feel incredibly lucky to have done the things I've gotten to do and to be friends with the people I've befriended.

Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of that when I fall into the trap of comparing my life to someone else's. But, honestly, I wouldn't have my life look like anyone else's.

If I'm feeling insecure about whether my life "measures up" to some invisible standard only in my head, it's always a good idea to review all the things in my life that make me happy. Once I start thinking of all that, I realize how much I'd rather have these things that make me happy than anybody else's list of things that make them happy.

2. Affirm their loves and life choices.

Sometimes I have a tendency to overcompensate in order to make myself feel better. If I'm suddenly feeling insecure about my non-domesticity, for example (I hate cooking and I'm not very good at it), it's easy for me to, in my insecurity, turn that around on the people around me who are domestic and somehow look down on them, like being good at cooking and sewing and crafts makes them less... something than I am. Which is ridiculous, because 1) being good at things is good, and 2) mocking them for that makes me a terrible person. And it doesn't even really make me feel better about myself.

The more I affirm the decisions others have made and the hobbies they have picked up that make them happy (while acknowledging that I have chosen something else that makes me happier), the easier it is for me to view our individual life choices as "YAY, we're both doing something we love!" instead of viewing one as "the right one" and one as "the wrong one."

Affirming life choices like when they get MARRIED and I get to BE THERE for it :-)

3. Focus on now, not the past.

Sometimes focusing on the past is awesome... but sometimes it means I end up accidentally projecting my past negativity about myself onto them. When I talk to somebody whose most frequent interactions with me were during a time when I felt terrible about who I was, it's not uncommon for all those feelings to come flooding back every time I talk to them. While part of me knows that that's genuinely not how I feel about myself now, I still feel like that every time I talk to them, and it just gets confusing.

My newest tactic is to try to acknowledge and then put aside the associations I have built up in my mind between my relationship with them (and myself) then and my relationship with them (and myself) now. They are different people than they were then, as am I, so it makes sense to try to think of my relationship with them in a new light. Holding onto old, negative feelings that were never my friend's fault to begin with just makes things murky and keeps me from being able to move on the way I want to.

These are a few of the ways I'm trying to reframe my thinking, moving away from some sort of competition-based mold and toward just doing what I know will be the best in my life. What are your thoughts? Do you frequently feel like you are in competition with others? How do you push past that?

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Quest for Skye: Chapter 33

Recap: Morgan has thought of something he "must do" before Skye dies, but mostly everyone's just waiting around for her to die. That's really about all that's been happening.
Morgan woke up early. The aroma of the fresh coffee seemed stronger than usual, but there was not even a whiff of sizzling bacon as he headed downstairs.
Well, that's probably because they're not tickling Skye.

Morgan gets some coffee and tells Maya that he's off to Athens. Tammy's still sleeping, and he tells Maya to tell her where he's gone. (Because, again, it's not like he needs to do administrative work. He can just sneak off to Athens in the morning without telling his wife anything about this plan.)
“Tell her... tell her I need to fulfill a dream.” 
“A dream... umm, that sounds exciting. Can I be part of it?”
...?! That sure sounds to me like Maya is hitting on Morgan. That might not go too well, though, considering that it took him meeting her twice to remember she worked for the Leontious. He's probably still a little confused as to why this woman in his house who makes him coffee wants to be part of his dream. But he cheerfully tells her he can, without telling her what the dream is, and shoots out the door to the chopper.

Then we get this really sudden scene:
While he was gone, Skye joined Tammy on her usual rounds to a few of the girl’s rooms. 
In Becca’s room, Skye was chatting non-stop with her friend. Suddenly she stopped talking and turned to Tammy, “Mom, I feel funny.” Skye collapsed.
Well, BAM. We are just moving this story along, aren't we? One second, Morgan's promising Maya she can help him fulfill a dream and enjoying his coffee, the next Skye has collapsed. And then, in the next paragraph, Morgan flies home immediately and Penni tells him the meds aren't working anymore. That entire fulfilling-a-dream-by-going-to-Athens bit seemed like it was going to be important, but there is NO TIME FOR THAT in this story anymore.

Not only is the story progressing fast, but so is Skye's disease. Like... to the point where she was fine this morning, but when she wakes up from being unconscious she'll probably be blind and with dementia. Because I guess if you've been staving off the symptoms for years, when it stops working, they just all attack you at once. So I'm pretty sure they now have to find a cure by like... the afternoon.
Tammy went to her office to get some needed rest, while Morgan spent the entire night in a chair next to Skye, waiting.
Was Tammy in her office all night resting? Surely you would think her bed would be a better option...

Then Morgan prays, which he says is "something he hadn’t done in years," but I am almost certain that isn't true. Yup! A little research confirms he prayed at the end of chapter 19, and they made a big deal of it then too. And it hasn't been years since chapter 19. Maybe he just forgot that prayer, although he really shouldn't, because it was answered with an audible voice. I don't know about you, but I think I'd remember that one.
Lord, I plead with You, please let her live a while longer. I have a dream to fulfill, a promise to keep.
He didn't even get to stay in Athens as long as he needed to, so he probably couldn't fulfill his dream!

Tammy then shows up next to Morgan, and he calmly tells her:
“Honey, I just figured out why we can’t have children.” His voice was strong, decisive.
His answer is that if they hadn't had a miscarriage, they wouldn't have gone on the cruise and met Doctor L. L.


Here's the deal.

I believe that God can and does turn bad, awful, horrible circumstances into opportunities. I believe he can take us from very dark places and use that experience to make us better people, to help heal others, to make a difference in ourselves and the people around us. But that is not the same thing as saying, "God caused us this pain SO THAT we could help others."

Even if I believed that was something God did regularly, it certainly wouldn't be comforting to hear it. It feels terrible when someone tells you that God not only hurt you on purpose, but that they, logically and rationally, have figured out why God hurt you on purpose. You just couldn't see it because you were too busy feeling things or whatever.

At first, Tammy reacts to this news with what I'd consider a completely appropriate response: sarcasm and frustration. But then Morgan logics her around to it by talking about all the good they're doing here and how, by sacrificing their own kids, they can give life to others around them (ignoring the fact that the Hamiltons haven't actually helped anybody yet -- these kids are all still just surviving on leftover meds from before the Hamiltons got there).

The book affirms that, yes, this must be God's reason, because suddenly Skye wakes up, miraculously coherent, and asks for chocolate.
Tammy added, “And Dr. Rozak, have Victoria call the team together. We have work to do. We have lives to save!”
Once again, Skye's near-death experience apparently reminds everyone they're supposed to be doing work. What if she's just faking all these seizures to get them to do their job because she knows they'll just slack off otherwise? Skye also tells Morgan that she comes back bearing a message from Jesus: that He heard Morgan's prayer and has a plan.

Zoom ahead to three days later, and Skye is not only not blind and not demented, but she seems to be completely healthy again. Morgan goes to Dr. Rozak and asks her if he could fly Skye around to do a bunch of bucket list things, and Dr. Rozak lectures him a little bit on not avoiding the fact that Skye will die soon. I can only assume he follows that up with, "Oh, right! She's dying! I guess we should work on finding a cure, huh?"

Dr. Rozak finally says Morgan can take Skye, but it's unpredictable:
“Her symptoms are not the same as a usual Batten patient because of the injections. She could test tomorrow and be completely cured, or the disease could be put into advance mode.”
Huh. So a sudden recovery wouldn't be all that miraculous, I guess.

Dr. Rozak wants to help Morgan fulfill his/Skye's dream too, so Morgan invites him out for coffee. I hope Maya goes too. She's probably been waiting for three days to find out what this dream is she's supposed to help Morgan fulfill.

Five chapters left. 35 pages. I'm beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

(Chapter 34.)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Movie Reviews by Jessie (Part 7)

I just realized I hadn't written anything in this series since last July... and there are more Jessie reviews to dissect! Sadly, the pool is not infinite, but we should definitely be able to squeeze some more blogs out of them. So let's get going!
Swiss Family Robinson - i still have this movie and i remember i loved it because i always wondered what it would be like to be stranded on an island and this will show me what to do first hand if i ever encount any sord of tradgedy on a boat that they would have to strap me on to because i am afraid of sharks, tsunamis, and also shipwrecks ( i mean look at the TITANIC. ) there is nothin g very wonderful about being in a boat and i think that it is about time people realized that. sheesh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I really enjoy when Jessie suddenly discovers she has a vendetta she needs to air. In this case, she's pretty bitter about boats because of the Titanic.
The Phantom of the Opera - surprisingly i loved the newer version of the phantom of the opera and considering that it is based on this movie i think that it will be quite thrilling and just as much as a "omg i can not believe that that just happened ' movie.
This is about the 1989 version, which was the inspiration for the new version, apparently, rather than, say, the 1900s novel we thought the new one was based on. Also, considering they probably have roughly the same plot, is she really going to be astounded by its plot twists the second time around?
L'Auberge Espagnole - well this movie has a franish( french and spanish title mixed) title and that definietly gives it a little bit of cool points.
...Nope. Nope, that's all French. TAKE AWAY THE COOL POINTS!
Air America - well it looks ok but i mean mel gibson is a good actor and i will give him the benefit of the dought but every actor has a movie that blows. anyway they do not really give alot of info on this movie and so i will have to give it a......................
Considering how really really really supportive Jessie usually is of people who have 1) been in movies, and 2) been in movies with other people who have been in movies, this is practically a slap in Mel Gibson's face.
The Muppet Movie - well i mean i used to think that they were real but it is really stupid now to me.
A heartbreaking story about loss of innocence.
Anastasia (1956) - the disney version is s omuch better but when i did some research on anastasia i realized that it did not have very much truth to the real eventsthat happened. this one looks like it would tell facts closer to the real account.
What? Rasputin and his talking white bat didn't really unleash demonic magic on Anastasia and her family? HISTORY IS LAME.
Windtalkers - well nicholas cage is a good actor and i have this mvie but i am not sure what it is about. iam pretty sure that it is a war movie about him going through battle. well it is good and it has a decent amount of fighting in it. also it has a few funny parts in it and what i canremember was really good.
...Was she sleeping during this movie? She seems to be really uncertain about the plot. Even whether it involved war or not.
Picture Perfect - a chick flick and i live for chick flicks i mean what girl does not. well i can think of a few but anyway yea and i must complimate the actors/actresses involved on the cast list.
Complimate away. Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Bacon especially crave complimates.
Cats - well i have heard that it is good but sadly i have yet to experience a musiccal and want my first one to be a romance or comedy so unfort. i have no idea.
She's saving herself for the perfect rom com musical? That's... an unusual goal.
Don Juan DeMarco - well i think that the title is french and if it is i think that it is so interesting. i love anything french or british - i mean so far - anyway it sounds like something you would hear from too british gentlemen talking about how stupid the tourists are. also i love romances and this is french( i think ) so i will give it the benefit of the dought!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!111111
Oh, I'm sure my British friends can confirm that British gentlemen stand around all day saying French things like, "Tourists! Don Juan DeMarco!"

I also really enjoy the non-connectedness of the thoughts "I love romances and this is French."
Heidi - shirley temple was such a good actress in the OLD DAYS. i do not think that many people give old movies a chance and i love them but i am not sure that this one would be good because i never liked the book HEIDI but i think that she is so adorable when her curls bounce in the air!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I mostly just wanted to point out the bit about curls bouncing in the air and make some connection between that and Skye, but I couldn't think of how to phrase it so I gave up and posted this without a coherent joke.
Lassie - well i have heard many good things about this movie and i think it is an OLD family classic but i think i would like it. anyway i think that it is is a sad sord of really family movie so i think that i would like watching it alone or with my family so either way is fine with me.
"This FAMILY movie is for FAMILIES and about FAMILIES! But, whatever, I can watch it alone."
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - it looks really cartoon like and i am not really into all the animation they think is a good thing they are putting in these movies.
These crazy movie producers, filling up their movies with animation and stuff like that! I mean, really!

Monday, March 10, 2014

My Favorite Underrated Actors

I love watching good acting, but there are some actors who I think don't get nearly the credit they should for the roles they're in. So I figured I'd compile a list.

These are eight of my very favorite actors who I feel are unknown, or underappreciated, or have an undeservedly bad reputation. Roughly in order from "least underrated" (meaning they get at last SOME of the attention they deserve) to "most underrated" (meaning WHY IS THIS PERSON NOT EVERYONE'S FAVORITE ACTOR?).

8. Michael Shannon

He's lowest on the list because this guy actually does get a good deal of recognition an accolades... from people who know who he is. He's an actor who I will watch in just about anything, but he's most fun when he's playing people who are a little unbalanced -- he does that so well! My favorite roles of his are in weird little movies that most people haven't seen, although he's gotten a shot at some larger roles like in Man of Steel (which I have yet to see, but it's part of my movie challenge list this year so I'm looking forward to seeing him in it).

Favorite role: Bug. First thing I saw him in, first thing I loved him in.

7. Jesse Eisenberg

Eisenberg has his fair share of love from the crowd as well, but for some reason when it was announced that he was going to play Lex Luthor, the Internet FREAKED OUT. The old "He's basically Michael Cera" comment started making the rounds again (which I've never understood at all -- they project quintessentially different personas to me). Sure, he's done some silly comedies that haven't been great, but has he really not proven his acting chops to the American public with The Social Network? I for one love Eisenberg and look forward to seeing what he continues to do.

Favorite role: The Squid and the Whale. He easily pulls his weight in this movie up against some other great actors (one of which we will get to later on this list).

6. Jack Lemmon

Few people will argue with you if you tell them that Jack Lemmon is a great actor, but he never seems to be on anyone's "favorites" list either. Well, he's easily my favorite "classic" movie actor, but he also had some great roles in more modern movies as well, staying active as a performer almost right up until his death in 2001. He's one of those actors who are instantly likable for me as a protagonist, and he was so versatile -- I love how he could tackle both comedic and dramatic roles brilliantly.

Favorite role: Really, really tough to choose this one, but I think The Odd Couple wins. It just ever slightly edges out Some Like It Hot.

5. Tom Cruise

I used to think I didn't like Tom Cruise, but when he has a chance to do something really good, he nearly always delivers. Turns out he just also picks a lot of blah movies with one-note action star characters -- which, yes, he does phone in a lot. But just look at his work in Tropic Thunder, Magnolia, Rain Man, Vanilla Sky, Collateral, or even the awesomely ridiculous Rock of Ages (where he was easily the best part of the entire movie), and it's clear that he's capable of so much more.

Favorite role: Magnolia. Man, was that an uncomfortable character.

4. Jeff Daniels

Most people, sadly, only know Jeff Daniels as Harry from Dumb & Dumber, but OH MY GOSH, he is so much better than that movie. I've been delighted to see him getting recognition for his work in Aaron Sorkin's TV show The Newsroom lately, but I've been a fan of his since I first saw The Squid and the Whale in 2005. That was a situation where I saw him in that movie and instantly started looking up other things he's been in. In The Newsroom and The Squid and the Whale he plays the same sort of arrogant quasi-pretentious snob, but then you watch him in something like The Purple Rose of Cairo, where he exudes childlike innocence, or the TV version of The Goodbye Girl, where he's a passionate stage actor, and he's equally awesome in those.

Favorite role: The Squid and the Whale. He captures that character so very, very perfectly.

3. Toshirô Mifune

He's another one who is underrated not because nobody acknowledges his talent, but because he's relatively unknown. If you don't watch Japanese cinema, you'll have no idea who he is. I know him entirely from films by Akira Kurosawa, as he has played the main character in quite a few of them. He has a wonderful raw, rough energy to him that takes him far beyond the typical rugged action hero character and makes him captivating to watch, whether he's playing a hero samurai or a notorious outlaw or a wealthy businessman or Macbeth.

Favorite role: Seven Samurai. In an ensemble cast, he just exudes so much personality and is a delight to watch.

2. Kevin Kline

While most of the actors on this list are known for their dramatic work, Kevin Kline is an actor who I love most in comedic roles. His serious stuff is fine, but give him the right comedic role with plenty of opportunities for hamming it up and he will find all the right line deliveries. I particularly enjoy him when he's playing someone a little bit pompous and over-the-top, and he does that a lot. His portrayal of Cyrano de Bergerac (unfortunately opposite the truly awful Jennifer Garner) is probably my true favorite role of his, but it was a TV show broadcast rather than a movie... and he's certainly been in plenty of movie roles I love as well. If he's in a comedy, I'll make a beeline for it.

Favorite role: A Fish Called Wanda. So many little moments that crack me up -- he says all his ridiculous lines with such certainty.

1. Sam Rockwell

The more I see things with Sam Rockwell in them, the more I really do have to ask myself why he hasn't gotten ALL THE LOVE IN THE WORLD. From EVERYONE. I can only assume because, like Michael Shannon, he does a lot of low-profile flicks that aren't mega blockbuster. I've never seen him in anything where I didn't absolutely love him -- he might just be my very favorite actor at this point. He's got this crazy energy about him, but he's not always big and over-the-top like some of the others on this list -- sometimes it's just that you can see that crazy energy simmering just underneath the calm surface. He pulls off dramatic stuff and comedic stuff and takes on roles that I can't possibly see anybody else doing right.

There was a meme going around on Facebook a little while ago casting American actors as various incarnations of the Doctor from Doctor Who, and he was one of the options. That was actually the meme that made me decide to write this blog, because nobody else seemed to be nearly as excited I was about even the hypothetical made-up imaginary idea of Sam Rockwell as the Doctor.

Favorite role: UM. THIS IS HARD. I think I'm going to have to go with Seven Psychopaths. But I could happily choose three or four other roles, because he is so good in everything.

What do you guys think? What underrated actors would make it into your list?

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Quest for Skye: Chapter 32

Recap: Skye got sick last week, so now everybody at the lab is REALLY going to try to find a cure for Batten. Not just fake trying like they apparently were before. But pretty much Skye is going to die soon, so that's nice!

This is a short chapter and I could probably bundle it with the next one, but four pages of Skye are just about all I can take for this week.

We open with Morgan once again doing nothing vaguely administrative, just flying kites with Skye on the beach. Seriously, we haven't seen this guy do work ONCE.
“Dad, how high do you think heaven is? I mean, do you think we could reach it with this kite?”
Oh, precocious kids' questions. How adorable.

Skye goes on to say that she has actually seen heaven. Morgan is skeptical, but Skye talks about that painting behind The Locked Door that shows her and the Leontious all chilling in heaven, and she says she had a dream about that right before they went on the cruise, but then she gets quiet and doesn't want to talk about heaven anymore, so she babbles about the wind for awhile.
“Isn’t the wind strange? It comes and goes, but nobody really knows where it comes from or goes to. I mean, where does it start? And when does it end? How does it start, and how does it end? Maybe it’s always there. It’s like that old saying, ‘If a tree falls in a forest when nobody is around, does anyone see it?’ Right, Dad?”  
Morgan thinks this is hilarious, corrects her idiom to "If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" at which point she reveals that she knew that's what the real phrase was, she was just joking with him! HA HA HA HA HA!

Now, to be fair, I feel like that could be the kind of ridiculous joke an 11-year-old would think was hilarious, but that is because 11-year-olds have terrible senses of humor.

Skye then gives a sermon on how "words are like windows to the heart," which basically means if you're a jerk, you use jerky words, and if you're a nice person, you use nice words. Morgan is amazed by this wisdom. He clearly has never thought of this.

Then Skye twirls around for awhile with her arms in the air, reciting the "they will soar on wings like eagles" Bible verse. So that's nice.

And then they laugh at cloud shapes.

And then Morgan asks her what she'd do if she had one wish, and she says she'd play piano with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, or:
“Or play Christina in The Phantom of the Opera.” She started giggling again. “With Justin Bieber as the phantom.”
How does this girl get into Phantom of the Opera and not know that the lead character's name is Christine, not Christina? Who else does she want to play, "Eponina" from Les Miserables?

I'm allowed to scoff at that because I WAS into musicals when I was eleven or twelve and DID want to play Christine, but I knew the names of my characters. Of course, I was also not casting Justin Bieber as my leading men...

Tammy shows up and sits with them, but then the kite string breaks and the kite floats away. Morgan tries to chase it, but Skye gets all panicky and asks him to stay with her, and Morgan suddenly realizes once again that soon Skye is going to die.
Suddenly, a thought came to Morgan. Before that day arrives, there is something I must do.
I can only hope he is planning to stage a clinic production of Phantom with Bieber as the Phantom. And all the names pronounced wrong.

(Chapter 33.)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Resting in God

I got a Facebook message from a friend this week asking me what I thought was a really interesting question that related to some of the blogs I've been writing about church and my relationship with God. I asked them if it would be OK if I wrote about their message and my response in my blog this week, and they said sure.

So here's what they asked:

Hey, I have a random question. I'm at a place where I think I just want to kind of "rest" in God. I don't want to worry about pouring into other people or hopping into ministry commitments, I just kinda wanna recharge spiritually. But I also don't want to just sit around doing nothing. What I think I want to do is set aside a weekly "date" with God, where I just spend time hanging out with Him. No obligations, no "I need to study this" things, just getting to know Him and rest in Him. But... I'm not sure what the best way is to DO that. Do you have any ideas on how to? Do you have any experiences of ways that you connect with God without feeling forced to follow a specific method? I don't know if my question makes any sense, but I figured I'd ask. I guess I feel like I've done everything over and over and I'm just looking for something new, if that makes sense.

This, essentially, is something I've been trying to cultivate in my own life in the past six or seven years, especially as I've been on-and-off withdrawing from church. Sometimes I've been successful at keeping this element in my relationship with God, other times not so much, but I definitely have lots of things that I've tried and loved and found to be really helpful in my time with him. So I'm happy to share my experiences here.

Now, granted, these are just my experiences. Some of these things I tried and didn't like, some may only work for me -- everyone's relationship with God can and should look a little different. So none of this should be taken as a "THIS IS HOW IT WORKS" blog.

1. Eliminate distractions.

Whatever this means for you. For me, it often means being someplace where I couldn't hear other people's conversations or where I could talk out loud without being heard. If I couldn't physically get away, I'd at least put on non-distracting music loudly enough that I couldn't hear the things going on around me and I'd face away from people so I wouldn't feel the urge to people watch. Library study rooms are great for this, as are quiet corners of parks.

2. Do things with God.

This may sound like an incredibly vague suggestion, but for me, I found that one of the best ways for me to really get a sense of God's presence and resting in him throughout the day was to do things I loved to do, and invite God to do them with me. They didn't have to be spiritual things in and of themselves. I just had to have a sense of doing them with God there beside me. I remember watching Annie Hall one time -- one of my all-time favorite movies -- and getting a sudden sense that God was there with me, watching it too and enjoying our time together. It was a wonderfully intimate time with him that didn't involve any of the usual churchy things I'd think of when I thought of "spending time with God."

Since then, I have made more of a conscious effort to invite God into the things I'm do, particularly when I'm really enjoying them. It makes me very aware of the small blessings God places in my life and heightens my awareness of Him in general.

3. Pray.

In contrast, this may seem like an obvious one, but prayer is a great way to spend time with God. The key here is to not worry about developing prayer so much as a discipline -- "now I will confess my sins, now I will pray for my needs, now I will thank God," etc. Just talk to him. About anything and everything. My most intimate times with God would probably look crazy to the people around me because I'll often be chattering away for awhile, and then I go suddenly silent as I listen or mull over what I think God is saying.

4. Listen.

Along with the whole idea of talking to God, this is often followed (for me) by time for just listening. This can also take many forms. Journaling is great -- it lets me write down thoughts I think God might be putting in my head, or write out verses that seem to be speaking to me. Then as I stare at them on the page, I find clarity.

One form of listening that has been incredibly healing and restful for me comes in the form of music. I connect with God very strongly through music, and I have playlists of songs that fall under the "things God says to me" category. Some of these are overtly Christian ("A Little Longer" by Brian & Jenn Johnson remains one of my favorites) while others are decidedly not ("I'd Give It All For You" from Songs for a New World has long connected with me as a sort of back-and-forth love song between myself and God).

I have a vivid memory of one time a few years ago when I dutifully went to church, found myself overpeopled very quickly, and sneaked out the back door to go sit in the church's back yard under a tree. I had my iPod with me and spent the hour-long church service just listening to these songs that spoke to me. Not singing along with them or analyzing, just listening and letting them be the words God was saying. I remember crying, I remember a sense of peace washing over me as I let God's love flow through me, I remember sitting in complete silence for about 15-20 minutes at the end, perfectly content to just sit there with God.

5. Create.

This one may be more specific to me, but I do urge most people to try it at least occasionally, because I think it can be an invaluable part of worship. The idea is to respond to God and his goodness and his love with some sort of creative outpouring of my own. Don't create for anyone else, don't create with a set of standards in mind, just... express yourself how you choose.

For me, I wrote song lyrics. Many were not good, many were not even coherent, but it became a tangible expression of my response to God, one that didn't have to hit the right words or the right chords. For others, this may mean bringing a sketchbook or a digital camera or finding a place where you can dance freely. Too often we just absorb the creativity of others or repeat their prayers, but there's something really beautiful in creating something of our own to give back to God.

6. Keep a list of things that work for you.

These are some of the things that I do most often while seeking a time of just "resting" in God. There are more -- reading psalms, meditating on hymn lyrics, taking walks, journaling, focusing on thanking God for specific people in my life -- and every time I discover something new, I write it down. I have a list of techniques that I know have sometimes connected me to God in the past, and although it's not like each one of them works each time, I have options to go to. That way, when I want to have some downtime with God, I can escape, looking at my list, and ask, "What do I want to do most with God today?" Then I let impulse (or, hopefully, the Holy Spirit) speak to me. It means I don't clear my schedule and get away only to find myself thinking, "Now what?"

These are a few of the techniques and methods I've used over the years to incorporate resting in God into my life. They've been helpful and productive for me and given me some amazing times alone with Jesus. Hopefully some of these will do the same for some of you, as well as inspire you to find new and unique-to-you ways of connecting with God.

How about you guys? Do you have any suggestions? What are some of your favorite things to do when you just want to rest in God's presence?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Sometimes Going to Church Is Like Eating Broccoli

So you've been told your whole life that broccoli is good for you. There are whole books written about how important it is to eat broccoli. Your family ate broccoli together several times a week growing up, and you'd just always assumed broccoli was vitally important and you'd continue eating it several times a week forever, even after you moved away. The effects of the broccoli might not be immediate -- you might not eat it and suddenly gain superstrength like Popeye with spinach -- but it would make you healthier long-term.

And then, one day, you start realizing that you really don't like the taste of broccoli. Which is a little disconcerting, because of course you like broccoli, you're a good healthy person, everybody who eats healthily likes broccoli, that's what they do. But you realize, with a sudden shock, that you don't think you've ever liked the taste of broccoli. But you keep eating it because broccoli is good for you, your family still all eats it all the time, and if you stopped eating broccoli just because you didn't like it, everyone would be very confused.

But then a worse thing happens: You start feeling a little sick every time you eat broccoli. Not really sick, you're not throwing up or anything, but you're a little queasy and achy and don't have any appetite left, so you don't eat much for a day or two. Unfortunately, by the time you're feeling better, it's Broccoli Night again, so you eat more broccoli and you get sick again, and eventually you're just always feeling queasy and you're so tired of broccoli and you miss other foods but you can't ever eat them because you're always so nauseous from eating that broccoli.

So one night, when your mom goes to put broccoli on your plate, you politely put out your hand to stop her and say, "Actually, would it be OK if I didn't have broccoli tonight?"

She shrugs and says, "Sure, that's fine," and scoops some onto everyone else's plate. She's OK with you skipping out on the broccoli for at least one night, and you enjoy that night's meal more than you've enjoyed a meal in months.

The next couple days are great, too. You'd almost forgotten what it was like to not feel sick all the time, and you'd forgotten how much you loved other vegetables. You joyfully scarf down peas and carrots and corn, delighting in their taste, which you hadn't noticed in ages, and reassuring yourself that they must be at least as good for you as broccoli would be if it didn't make you sick all the time.

So you decline broccoli again... and again... and again. You've never felt better in your life. Eventually people start finding out you don't eat broccoli anymore, even though you try not to make a big deal out of it, but they want to know what's going on. When you say, as honestly and politely as you can, that you're taking "a break" from broccoli for awhile, they instantly start telling you how good broccoli is for you.

"I know," you say, "but it makes me sick."

"Well, maybe you need to try it with cheese. Have you tried it with cheese?"

"I have. I get a little less sick, but still sick. I'm eating a lot of spinach though!"

"No, that's not enough. You really need to eat some broccoli. Didn't you parents ever tell you that you need to eat broccoli regularly if you want to be healthy? All the health manuals say so. Besides, you should stop being so selfish. What, when everyone's eating broccoli you're just going to hide in your room secretly eating cookies all day? It's not all about you, you know."

"Thanks," you say politely, wondering how they got from "no broccoli, thanks," to smuggling cookies into your bedroom. As they leave, you wonder to yourself: How can it make me healthy when I feel so sick all the time?

Several years later, you're tired of all the broccoli arguments. You make the decision to eat broccoli now, mostly because you don't want to make your loved ones look bad for not being able to make you eat broccoli. It still makes you queasy and destroys your appetite -- you really miss corn, but haven't been able to stomach it for a month or two now. When people see you at the store buying broccoli, they rush over to say hi and give you an approving thumbs up. You smile and say, "Yes, I'm back to eating broccoli," because any more of a commentary than that straight statement of fact would be a lie.

You can't say, "I'm feeling better."
You can't say, "I missed this."
You can't say, "Broccoli is awesome."

Because while everybody else is apparently healthy because of broccoli, you're busy figuring out how to stay healthy in spite of it. Maybe someday you'll find the right balance, but right now you have a suspicion you'll have to balance out a year of eating broccoli with a year of abstaining. When you eat it you'll feel terrible but won't feel so guilty, and when you're abstaining you'll have to come up with constant excuses to avoid broccoli but you'll have energy and enjoy your food again.

All you can think is, If I could only ask all the people who wrote those dietary books... Because this can't be how they meant for this to be when they suggested everyone eat broccoli.