Life as Poetry

 Life as Poetry

Sonnet, Creative Writing ENG 230, Composed 12/10/2013

Lord, help me write this sonnet for Your name.

Not for good grades or fellow students’ praise,

Instead, proclaim the wonder from Who came –

My God is here to stay, no passing phase.

Lord, guide me in a life that shines Your glory,

A testament to Your unfailing love.

Yet, somehow I neglect to share the story

Of wondrous light that floods from high above.

I realize mistakes I always make,

Beloved people I forever harm,

Evading Your Name with each step I take.

The time has come! Compose in freshest form.

Make my life a poem of devotion –

Your fragrant rhyme, declaring my redemption.

Complacency or Peace?

In several of my latest posts, I have either directly or indirectly addressed the problem of complacency. This topic has been on my mind consistently in the recent months, whether over break in reflection on the fall semester, or in striving to be active in my Christian walk here and now. And as I was working through these ideas and thoughts, I began reading John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) for a second time for one of my English elective courses.

Okay, so, I knew I liked the tale. But geez, did I forget the simple beauty of this book! Oh, it’s been so much fun! Like reconnecting with an old friend… and realizing you did miss them even though they were not constantly in the forefront of your mind. Sheer joy!

Of course, it’s been since 8th or 9th grade since I last read it. At least four years later, I definitely have learned from and appreciated the work far more. And sharing that insight and joy with fellow, Christian, literary lovers? I am essentially walking on sunshine — in my soul, at least, because the weather here is ludicrous. No, Colorado, I do not treasure the -13 degrees on my way to class. Unfortunately, when I attempted to file a complaint with God, He told me to quit telling Him how to do His job, focus on what I can control, and grow a spine.

Anywho.

I want to share one of the moments from this piece of allegorical literature that struck me the most. For those who haven’t read it, understand that Christian has left the City of Destruction and traveled through the wicket Gate to find salvation. At this point in the story, we find him climbing a steep hill on his way to the Celestial City. As the hill grows increasingly difficult, Christian resorts to “clambering on his hands and knees” (46). He is exhausted and running low on physical stamina, however, he diligently continues to climb. Suddenly, half-way up the hill, the tired pilgrim discovers “a pleasant arbor, made by the Lord of the hill, for the refreshing of weary travelers” (46). Here, Christian takes a break to rest, as intended. However, he soon falls deeper and deeper into sleep, utterly losing track of time. In fact, he sleeps through the whole day, wasting good daylight hours. A voice awakes him, proclaiming Proverbs 6:6: “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise.” With that, Christian frantically races up the rest of the hill, encountering other pilgrims who are turning back in fear of danger at the top. He soon realizes he has lost his valuable scroll, which he received upon entering the Gate and seeing the Cross. Thus, he must turn back to retrieve the scroll. Readers are told that during Christian’s journey back down the path, “Sometimes he sighed, sometimes he wept, and oftentimes he chid himself, for being so foolish to fall asleep in that place which was erected only for a little refreshment for his weariness” (48). Nevertheless, in short, by the grace of God he finds the roll of parchment and rejoices by powerfully continuing his journey.

After facing menacing lions, Christian reaches the summit of the challenging hill, entering a lodge kept by Porter (I know, I know, the names are not creative… this is the point). Here, as well as in a place earlier in the story, Christian runs into the opposite problem. The residents, namely Charity and Prudence, ask him many questions and show him many things. However, all Christian can think about is moving on. Bunyan writes that, “on the morrow he got up to go forwards, but they desired him to stay till the next day also” in order to show him further glories and impart wisdom (58). After his time of learning is through, Christian begins traveling again. 

So what is the difference between these situations? In one, Christian’s supposed to enjoy it for a moment and move on, and in the other linger? What’s the lesson to be learned? Where the heck is the consistency?

This is where my nerdy love of analysis comes in, and I grow utterly excited. You see, Bunyan placed these two examples one after another in his book to display the differences between abusing God’s blessings of places of rest and refreshment, and recognizing longer seasons of preparation. In the first situation, Christian loiters too long where he should only take a breath, be thankful for the respite, and continue his journey. In the second, he is enthusiastically ready to depart, but the Lord knows he needs to prepare his heart and mind for the trials and temptations ahead.

I don’t know about you, but to me, that is an incredible comparison. I highly recommend you read it for yourself! As for the applicable side, be conscious of where God has you. When He blesses you with moments of peace and joy in the midst of hectic life, enjoy them! Simply be conscious to avoid growing complacent and taking advantage of God’s blessings. Conversely, do not grow impatient with seasons of formulation. As a college student, this is where myself and many of you all, my peers, struggle. We either focus too intently on having fun, or we grow anxious in wanting to change the world while God’s still busy doing His work to shape both our intellectual and spiritual educations. Personally, I’m still learning to tell the difference between moments of peace, moments of preparation, and moments of pathetic complacency.

Evaluate your circumstances. Did you take moments in the last week to enjoy God’s gifts of respite, and then continue diligently in your work and school? Are you recognizing the growth God is doing, or growing irritated at how long it is taking to “move on and get life started”?

“But I have trusted in Your mercy;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.” – Psalm 13:5-6 

My Real Country

Driving back to campus last weekend, after a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s break, Colorado threw one of its infamous weather temper tantrums. Most of you are fully aware of Colorado’s bipolar qualities, but let me explain the specifics anyway.

Leaving my house, the sun was shining and smiling brightly, warming Colorado Springs to 50 degree t-shirt weather. However, upon turning onto the main road from my neighborhood, I noticed dark, ominous clouds to the north and west. Thirty seconds later, rough winds began to pull at my vehicle from seemingly all directions. Soon after, before I had even reached the interstate, snow began to fall like rain – clouding my vision, but melting the instantly upon contact.  The clouds threw in some hail and the odd mixture of snow and ice that natives refer to as “graupel.” Meanwhile, the snow thickened to just above white-out conditions. This lasted for another twenty minutes of travel along the interstate before the snow was replaced with soft rain. Upon summiting Monument Hill, not only did the white expanse seem to lift, but the sky’s tears again withered under the sun’s rays. I basically encountered all four seasons in less than half an hour.

And I am thankful, because I will never forget that image, coasting down into the valley, gazing at the surrounding plains. I wish I could have pulled over to snap a few pictures, because words do the image no justice; nevertheless, I will do my best. Surprisingly large patches of crystal blue sky graced the horizon, met by puffs of cotton ball clouds rising from the mountain ridges I love so dearly. The clouds looked like the breath of the mountains, wreathing them in wonder and mystery. Through the haze, you could see browns and greens below their snow-covered heights.

Fittingly, Keith Urban began to croon through my speakers, “I’m alive and free, who wouldn’t wanna be me?” In that moment, I relished the beauty of God’s handiwork, as well as the nature of life. The clouds still loomed full of harrowing peril and fear, but now they stormed behind me, representing triumph in my rearview mirror instead of clouding my vision of the journey ahead. Leaving the danger, trouble, and caution behind, the rolling hills and glorious peaks stood radiant before me in the light of day.

And yet, while these thoughts were still forming in my head, I passed three lonely, driverless cars, along the right shoulder, covered in snow. Abandoned, whether in the face of the elements or mechanical trouble. I couldn’t help thinking those poor vehicles were so close. They almost made it to freedom, to joy, to the warmth of the sun. Instead, they stalled under the deluge of resistance.

They gave up.

I realized this is a representative of much of life. I’ve used analogies regarding steering and road trips in much of my previous writing, particularly when addressing the topic of surrender. However, in far more general terms, the Christian walk is about loving God and loving others, and glorifying God in that as we deal with the trials and joys found here earth. Unfortunately, many people do not succeed. They lose hope, forgetting the prize and the bliss that awaits those faithful to the Father. Their lives rest like empty shells, perhaps in tact on the outside, but broken where it counts.

I want you to do something that I, personally, am striving to do more frequently: think about what you truly believe. That the God of the Universe loves you like His own Son, whom He sent to die. To DIE, that you might have LIFE.

Because of HIM, this is not our home.

We’re made for a grander country.

We will spend an eternity in Paradise. An eternity. A forever. That’s always, y’all.

Unimaginable? Heck yes. This life seems so long, so central, that it is impossible for us to look beyond it. It cannot be that all this is temporary, right? Forever seems like so utterly far away. But how beautiful is it, friends, to truly ponder that we have so much more to look forward to? Does it not stir excitement in you, place your soul in a state of sheer awe? As wonderful as daily life gets, it is bland compared to the beauty of knowing Christ and praising Him forever. This is what the Great I AM has planned all along.

“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” – John 14:2-3

So when life is peaceful, use this hope to remind you why you have that blessing. When your days grow complacent, use this hope to renew your zeal. When life remains turbulent and difficult, use this hope to keep you going. We cannot forget it. We cannot forget WHY Christ made His magnificent sacrifice, and we cannot forget why the way we live is so important. Take a look at Revelation. Maybe, for once, don’t ponder the questions and debates of HOW the end will come, but take a look at the last few chapters that talk about the bliss He has so graciously promised. Remind yourself that one day you will break through the whiteout conditions and the hazy weather to see His splendor shining all around. And then we can declare like C.S. Lewis’  Unicorn in The Chronicles of Narnia – The Last Battle: 

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it until now…. Come further up, come further in!”

He-Focused

That’s right! After a blessed semester filled with new adventures, challenging courses, “you can sleep when you’re dead!” repeated too frequently, and convictions of complacency… joy of joys, break arrived! Three weeks of no school, no assignments, no pressure, no commitments… right?

Come on.

Of course not. Unfortunately, it took several shamefully long days for the reality of that delusion to fully resonate. In the meantime, I drove my family insane with “taking it easy” and “just trying to fit back in.” In fact, it took more than a few long days… it took both my Heavenly Daddy and my earthly Daddy knocking me into shape to realize the depth of my issues. After I quit bemoaning and grudging how uncomfortable their honesty made me feel… I took a look at what the Lord has been showing me all year.

Hi. My name is Bri, and I’m a self-addict.

My biggest concern in life is my own happiness, comfort, and success. And I loathe admitting it, but this is the difficult, buried truth: I’m pretty good at helping other people out, but if it gets in the way of my personal priorities or what I want to do? Ninety-percent of the time, you can forget it. Now, you have to understand, in general my friends reap the benefits of this, and my family bear the hurt. Because for some idiotic reason, I feel like helping my friends even when I don’t feel like helping my family. It’s not that I do not love or care for these people in my life. It’s the opposite, and my affection is immense! I am simply extremely self-centered, and poor at shifting my focus to the most important people in my life – the wonderful family the Lord gave me. I’ve lived this way for years, fluctuating between mild cases of improvement and slacking in my love and service again, whether it being simply doing the mundane things requested by Mom or going out of my way to make life easier for everyone in the home. However, returning from school was a huge wake-up call, like a bucket full of ice dumped down my shirt. I’m ready for a turning point.

I’m not minimizing the challenge that changing this lifestyle presents, but I am serious as a heart attack. I know I will continue to stumble, but it’s time to face the issue directly. Enough is enough.

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 2:3-5

“… No drug is so powerful as the drug of self. No rut in the mind is so deep as the one that says I am the world, the world belongs to me, all people are characters in my play. There is no addiction so powerful as self-addiction.” – Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

Not only have I slighted my family and other people precious to me, but in my self-absorbed world, my relationship with the Lord has been ultimately me-focused, rather than He-focused. I have made my pursuit of God about what I can receive from Him and how He makes me feel, rather than acknowledging those blessings while I pursue knowing Him. I can tell you there is absolutely nothing fulfilling about a one-sided relationship, and I am deeply thankful for a God who loves me despite my ignorance and abuse of that love. He is calling me back to His heart, and I am running because my life depends on it. May He continue to be patient with me as I learn to fully devote myself to Him and act on His promptings to serve the people around me… whether they be family, roommates, friends, or strangers.

In addition to Philippians 2:3-5, I have the following slogan playing on repeat through my head: Jesus, Others, You. JOY. As cheesy as it sounds, I learned this little acrostic in fifth grade, and I have never forgotten it… I have, however,  failed to apply it. But trust me, I am far too well acquainted the emptiness and joyless pits that result from a life centered on self. After these last few weeks, where God is leading me in step-by-step growth in selfLESSness, I have found for millionth time the genuine fulfillment and joy that comes from following Christ’s example in putting others first.

I do not make “New Year’s Resolutions.” I believe we should always be examining our lives, asking the Lord to work in us and spur us to change us in ways that only He can, instead of only worrying about it for a few days at the beginning of the year. However, I am thankful for the transition and the way the Lord uses human tradition to refocus my life when I drift away. I believe that goals are important, whenever they are established, so that we do not float through a life bereft of growth. So, a few weeks ago, I asked the Lord to break selfishness in me. And since then, my visit home has been truly wonderful. He is turning my shame and personal preoccupation into motivation! I am already amazed at the difference in my attitude in doing the littlest things for others, compared to my previous disgust at the insignificance of sweeping Mom’s floor every night. I guarantee you this enthusiasm is not rooted in my humanity, for my soul is still clutched by fingers of selfish desire. Even when, still, the last thing I want to do is get up off the couch, the Lord is slowly prying those selfish fingers apart. Their death-grip loosens as I follow the urgings of the Spirit instead of ignoring it in favor of myself.

Abba, in place of continuing in selfishness, I ask to learn love. The love of others that replaces the love of self. Because when I’m living selfishly, I’m lacking in genuine love…  but when I focus on cultivating love, only in selfishness will I be lacking. Teach me to love You and love Your people as You love, absent of conditions and the need for reciprocation. Teach me to cultivate a heart of service and humility. Pull me closer and take me deeper. I fail constantly, but in my soul, I now truly desire that when people look in my direction, they will not see me on my pedestal, striving for earthly nothings that will bring me temporary pleasure… they will see a person changed by Your magnificent handiwork, a testament not to how much I love myself or even how much I love You… but to the expanse of Your love and grace. 

My love for God and others has been utterly skewed, viewed through a lens that tracks my personal profit. I’m finally listening, prayerfully long-term, to the voice of the Spirit pressing me to refocus. I want to be able to say: Hi. My name is Bri, and “my life”? Psh, it isn’t about me at all! I’m addicted to Someone so much bigger than myself.

How about you?

The Truth About Christian Schools

I know, I know.
As a “blogger,” I recently… perhaps not-so-recently?… committed the unthinkable.
I haven’t posted in over four months.

Please, withhold your obligatory gasp of pseudo-astonishment

Honestly, I’m more upset because I didn’t sit down and write at all in those months aside from college essays and often-hurried journal entries in my times with God. I could plea that courses, ministries, campus activities, building friendships, developing community, and completing ever-present homework occupied my time. And in those pleas rest the whole true; however, they’re no excuse. I cannot claim that I did not have the opportunity to write, that I was not given the chances, the inspiration, or the ideas. I simply opted for other, arguably equally fulfilling, activities. Sitting down to write for the JOY of writing collected dust on the shelf of my priorities.

I do regret that decision, but not because I regret the relationships I built instead! Rather, I broach the topic because I treated a more important aspect of my life with similar disregard: my devotion to cultivating a relationship with the Lord.

Now, do not misunderstand me. From the outside, my walk likely did not appear to differ. I still had my morning time with Him, talked about Him, learned about Him, worshipped, prayed, encouraged, attended church and chapel, and DID all the right things… but it all felt shallow. The actions were not meaningless, but they did seem forced. I craved the depth of intimacy I had previously reached, but my mind repeatedly wandered. When I paused my busy life enough to think about it, I knew I wasn’t giving the Lord the time nor the attention necessary to reach the results I desired. I was not faking my love for the Lord, but there were fewer days spent intentionally cultivating it than otherwise. I was lulling myself into a false peace, but hey! I was having a great time. Like in my writing, I had all the opportunities and right ideas. But instead of carrying them out, I’d turn around and distract myself with “more exciting” things.

As if anything could be more thrilling and satisfying than Christ.

The last month of the fall semester, I started breaking through – emphasis on started. Simply making more of an effort, spending more time in His presence, tasting His beauty. I finally began investing in what should have been my priority, not only in words but in deeds, from the beginning. The answer to my problem was obvious, but I was too self-absorbed to pay any attention. As a result, the Lord is doing some serious work on my heart this winter break, pruning and hacking at the parts of me that are not in tune to His glory. With this revelation comes motivation to address a dilemma held not only by my peers, but by many high schoolers preparing for collegeSo, please, listen to someone who wishes she would have taken this realization to heart prior to her first college semester.

You can falter in your faith just as easily at a Christian university as at a secular school. 

I don’t know about in your circles, but in my last years of high school, I had to answer the big question concerning not only what I wanted to study, but in what kind of environment I wanted to study it. At first, I claimed I did not want to attend a Christian university, because I wanted to “get out in the world” with my faith. I stood on a strong foundation, and part of me desired to rebel against the Christian bubble. However, the Lord led me to realize I still had an enormous amount of growing to do spiritually, and even now I am convinced Colorado Christian University is where He placed me to flourish under Biblical influences while breaking out of the bubble (a topic for another day). My point, nevertheless, remains: the distractions and temptations may take different forms based on the environment, but the struggle is identical.

Let me explain. At a secular university, the major concerns for Christians appear in the forms of drinking, smoking, doing drugs, sexual immorality, getting “caught up in the wrong crowd,” and abandoning the principles of Scripture. While these are legitimate and lethal worries, an equally dangerous pitiful exists at Christian schools: apathy.

Here is where you might stop reading, because you have all heard the complacency plea before. Which is why I desperately need you to keep reading. You can get in just as much trouble living in an overwhelmingly Christ-centered community as living in one void of His light. Not because you fall into sinful things, but because you might worship the blessings and not the Bless-er. Surrounded by other people with the same focus as you, it is easy to obsess over the people and not their Father. It grows normal to stay out late every night, laughing and enjoying community, instead of taking extra time to enjoy HIM. I’d push off reading that one passage that had been on my heart, and by the time I got to bed, I knew I’d never stay awake through class in the morning if I didn’t fall directly asleep. I began to feel justified in missing just one quiet time, because I’d worship, pray, and hear the Word in chapel later that day. A few times, my morning devotions with the Lord were hurried, but that was okay, because I knew my wonderful professor would pray and bring Christian application to the center of American Literature. My faith became more public and shared with the people around me… a positive aspect of fellowship and community… but in the process, I began losing the intimacy, the personal walk with my Creator who loves me so dearly. I talked about Him quite a bit, but didn’t talk to Him regularly, outside of a passing greeting or the occasional appeal for “zeal.”

I acted as if I didn’t need the one-on-one time, because I was thriving in the where-two-or-three-are-gathered-time on a daily basis, whether that involved explicitly talking about Christ or simply getting to know my new friends better.

Please, PLEASE, do not twist what I am saying. Christian community, Christian schools, and Colorado Christian University are wonderful blessings for spiritual development. I do not regret my decision to attend CCU in the least. I am thankful God woke me from my wanderings before I did an overwhelming amount of damage, and am looking forward to a spiritually fruitful spring semester in addition to the courses and friends. I am not saying the community, the splendid friendships I’ve built, or the activities are wrong. Rather, I ask you to heed my warning, that you may not abuse those blessings as I did. My desire is only that, whether you are already a college student, or a high schooler dreaming of the future, you remember that your walk with the Lord centers on the position of your heart, not on your surroundings. A “Christian university” will not make it easier to keep your focus on Him, it simply provides access to tools and godly influences – ones that will offer immense spiritual help and encouragement, but can also be abused if you are not in pursuit of Him.

Thus, if the Lord places you in a secular university for your higher education, I urge you to devote your time to living and loving Him there. If He places you in a Christian school, do the same. Because the truth is, whichever “type” of school you attend (and there are opportunities and benefits to each!), you must be intentional in your focus. You must declare that neither worldly things nor comfortable apathy will keep you from the ultimate goal: loving God.