Saturday, January 18

The Value of Confusion

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." ~Pablo Picasso

Lately, someone said an insulting thing to me. She said, "If you ever got your life together, you'd probably have nothing left to write about!" 

I took this year off from teaching. I needed to know if I still wanted to be a teacher. These days I sub, tutor, and write. 

One thing I didn't bet on when I chose subbing for the year: I am tired of pompous, tired of ironic, tired of sarcastic... tired of adults. And I am one of them. I miss earnestness, curiosity, and honest confusion. That is kids. I knew I'd miss kids. I didn't know I would miss them in this way, too.

It's a safety measure, I think. We adults: our pompousness, irony, and sarcasm. We think we need to know. We think we need to be certain of ourselves, our surroundings, the world. And when we don't know, we think we need to seem that we do. 

The truth of the matter is that I don't know ANY adults who have "their life together." To use that phrase is a falsity. I have come to think that true adulthood is when you feel comfortable  in knowing you will never "arrive," that attention always must be paid to being balanced in life. Adulthood is peacefulness in our own skins while charitably coaching ourselves to the next "new normal" in our lives.

Not so with childhood.

There are less self-coaching skills, less ability to be patient between the now and the not yet.

In childhood, everything seems huge. It is the first time things have ever happened, that changes have occurred. The feelings and disorientation can seem overwhelming. The first vaccinations, the first day of school, new friends/old friends, the first love... the part where your heart swells and you can't quite breathe because HE walked in the room. These are the normal changes, but they are a milestone, each a giant leap away from the world they used to know. For some children, they have had to deal with cataclysmically abnormal changes: death, divorce, moving schools, moving cities.

ALL changes are disorienting. ALL change takes us from paradigm to paradigm. It's confusing.

Whether we are adults or children, confusion is a clash between the heart, the head, and changing realities. Confusion means your heart rises up, wanting things. Wanting to be safe. Wanting to be brave. Wanting to chase what feels beautiful, feels free.

Your heart rises up, and gets itself tangled in the brain: How do I take care of my responsibilities? Can I find my way to a both/and point of view? Can I move on from this anger, from this grief? Do I want to?

A storyteller named Tommy Oaks once said, "Sometimes I think the best way to get well is to go ahead and be sick." This is what adults miss out on with all our sophistication. We think we need to know, so we pretend to. But confusion itself is beautiful. Confusion leads to action, forward movement. Allowing ourselves to be good and confused... to really NOT KNOW things leads to crying out for comfort, for wisdom. We cry out in our hearts, our heads. We cry out to friends for support. We cry out to God. Sometimes only letting ourselves feel the humility of being totally confused is the thing that will lead us to answers. And there will eventually be answers.

But before the answers, there is value in the mere questions, the confusion. There is a brightness in loving and wanting so many things at once. There is earnestness in being bent down to our knees and crying out. There is a connection to our own frailty that is precious. There is life.

So, fellow adults: When confusion comes, let's not smother it. Let's not pretend to have it together. Let's not shellac it with false confidence, irony, sarcasm. Let's let the moment be, as it is.

Let's be alive.

Friday, January 10


When I was a little girl, I had two hearts. One was a pink stone, shiny and swirled with white. The other one was a prism.

Tonight, I watched "Ragamuffin" for the first time. It's a film by David Leo Schultz, which had its premiere in Wichita. Wichita is where I am. Wichita is where I'm from.

Wichita is where Rich Mullins and his motley crew lived for about a decade, and they still live here. In us. The film is about him.

After the movie, some did not know what to think. Some said it was dark. And it was. Months before the movie, Kathy Sprinkle (an old best friend of Rich's) had made a point of telling me that it is more a story of brokenness and redemption set against the background of Rich's life than a biographical piece.

If you were to take the story of anyone's life, you could tell it in a multiplicity of ways. You could do this for any person, even for a single day. The story that is told here IS one of brokenness and redemption. Because of my long old years of friendship with Sprinkle, I knew the backstory, knew of Rich's darkness and brokenness, and that his story could be told this way, this redemptively.

When I was sixteen, I lived across the street from Rich. In an effort to scare up some fun one blank, eventless afternoon, Rich invited me to go watch a VHS. Rich said the show was a Broadway production, and had fantastic music. Five minutes into the show, he got a call and had to leave. Finish the show, he said. It's amazing.

I sat there for two hours and my sweet, innocent, sixteen-year-old face melted off while I watched "Sweeney Todd."

Today, my adult self will grant you that it is a riveting story with astounding music.

But my sixteen year old face did not understand at all. It is a story of gore, of evil. It is horrific.

I trekked to Sprinkle for my answer, an explanation. She told me something that seemed true at the time, but grows more true with every passing moment of my own frailty, my own weaknesses. She said that there are some people born that have unique aptitudes for the spiritual. These people are able to transport others to heights, they show God in cleansing, breathtaking, unimaginable ways... that they are able to scatter Light all around.

But that these same people, by virtue of their spiritual aptitudes, are capable of the same amount of dark as they are light.

And in the intervening years, I have learned so much about darkness and Light. A window is a fine thing. Clean, clear, straight shafts of light shine through glass. A bedroom I used to have had a sun room attached to it. Even in the numb-frozen winter, the light from the windows allowed me to feel soothed and warmed. A window's light is a fine thing.

But in order to scatter the light, that glass has to be cut.

Only when the glass is cut, only when it lies on the table shivering, wounded, can it be lifted up. It can be lifted up, and those straight lines of Light break. They rainbow and shimmer and dance and sing. 

The cut glass scatters Light.

Christ IS the light, in Him is no darkness at all. In the dark, if we allow ourselves to be cut, He subsumes our darkness. He takes it on Himself and makes done with it. Our cut, wounded facets start to glow.

And so it was with Rich. And so it can be here, now, in us.

When I was a little girl, I had two hearts.

One was a prism.

Thursday, January 2

My (Book) Love has Left Me

I can't read anymore.

In five months, I've only finished one book.

This is beyond disturbing. I spontaneously started to read before I was in Kindergarten; my brain was just wired to revel in the printed word. For my entire life, I have fed my imagination, mind, heart, and soul with words.

 My book loves have been highbrow and low art, epic and long-lasting, quickies in the bath. If I were to list the genres or titles, they would seem a mere list to you. But reading. My whole life, reading...

My laughs, entertainments, wonderment, and deep anchors for my soul have been found in all these book loves. The only thing I love more than reading is traveling. Yet all the places I go without moving an inch... books give me that.

And I can't do it anymore.

It could be the impact and grief of Granny Goo dying.

It could be not having a consistent job; just subbing and tutoring. There's a less clear delineation between work time and leisure time. If I don't have a consistent job, maybe I feel as if I can never really rest.

It could be living with a new roommate. I spend more time being social without leaving the house.

Whatever the cause, this has never happened before.

Oftentimes in my life, I break faith with my body. I don't take that walk. I don't drink that water or eat those veggies. I don't listen to my muscles, needing to stretch; my tiredness, needing to sleep. I don't give my body what it needs.

Sometimes in my life, I have broken faith with my God. I find myself unable or unwilling to pray. To breathe. To cry out. To become still. 

But I have never broken faith with my books. I feel as if I am without my bearings.

During the fall, I mentioned to a friend who is a similarly inclined that I am not able to read. He told me of a time in his life that he had the same experience. He was depressed, he said.

But I don't know that I am depressed. I'm pretty sure I'm not, actually.

In all things, I believe that sometimes you have to lie fallow. As a teacher, pray-er, and writer, I have had to stop and wait to feel my creativity, vibrancy, interest to return. I have to fill back up in order to experience these realities anew.

But reading has always been a way that I have used to fill up. Is it possible that I need to lie fallow... from books?

How do I travel? Laugh? Be entertained? Find wonderment? Give my soul the deep anchors it needs?

My only guess is to involve myself in the other things I sometimes break faith with. To pay close attention to my body, give it what it needs. To go outside. To revel in relationships with others. To anchor my soul back again and again into God. To literally travel. To garden. To sing. To dance. To gaze at the sky, the stars.

It might be like having lost a sense, for my book sense is a profound and much-used one, indeed. If I have lost that, might my other senses become more acute?

I hope and pray that my book love returns. But I will wait. And as I do, I will move myself deeper into life, into the things that bring me back to myself. Even if books are lost, I am not lost.

I hope.

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