Monday, December 29, 2014

Crazy Girl: How Falling in Love with Don Miller Didn't Kill Me

Several weeks ago, I had this in mind to write but I was sick, overworked, injured, and otherwise making excuses. But it's been rumbling around the brain, and finally worked its way to my fingers. I'm tempted to preface this further, to cut off and counter arguments, but I'll leave it as is. Here.

I fell in love with him reading a book that had waited on my shelf for two years with the kind of patience possessed only by books and God. It had not cracked or whined as I'd opened its pages; there was no gruff introduction, no distance it kept as I turned one page and then another. I swallowed his words whole, or contentedly chewed them, like gummy worms, feeling the way they slid over my teeth. I smiled, and laughed out loud, and quoted him, and wrote notes in the margins--sometimes to myself, but more to him: replies, agreements, abbreviated mentions of memories and cross-references. Things to talk about one day. And he agreed with me, yes, but furthered and countered me, too. I would feel, at times, my brow furrow into hard curves--it's not like we never argued. Graceful question marks would occasionally bloom in the margins, causing me to return and reread and roll my brain around in the dark as we drifted to sleep, one under covers, one on the nightstand. 
But I didn't quite know it was love until I saw him. Does it count as love at first sight when his words had long since broken down walls stone by stone, spoke grace and commiseration and healing into me, saturated my brain like pancakes in syrup? The words he spoke from the podium were new but the same, and when my moment arrived and I stood at the table, I waited for him to recognize my connection, my attachment. His laugh was easy and disarming, and the photo we took was joyous--a meet-cute if ever there was one. I left that day, two more books in hand, taking care to remember my clothes (the corduroy jacket that smoothed my waist), the weather (clear, cold, breezy), the way I felt like the girl in the middle of the fairy tale, catching sight of the dream and reveling in it long before the hiccups were hurdled.
It's important to say that I knew I was crazy. I knew how ludicrous it was, how impossible, how unreal. But someone would end up marrying him, wouldn't she? And of all the millions of someones, why was it impossible for me and possible for her? Every time I called myself crazy, I was reminded of every crazy thing that fit together at impossible angles to make a life.
But you know how this story ends, I suppose.
Years passed, and like most unreturned love, mine banked and embered, flaring less and less frequently, glowing dimmer and dimmer. And one day a friend texted me to tell me he was married--to a normal, everyday looking girl. She even wrote a blog post about how impossibly weird it was that she married him. How crazy that was.
It would be easy, now, to insist it was just fascination, just obsession or "a weird time for me." My friends allowed all sorts of wiggle-room to let me say it was all a running joke. But that wouldn't be true. No, it wasn't "real" love, not in the sense of a real-life, hands-in-the-dirt, working-out-the-rough-stuff relationship, but I loved him as much as it was possible for a girl in Portland to love a man she didn't know in the other Portland.
I sat staring at the text and waited, with no small degree of trepidation, for the break. The tears. The heartache, the frustration. But instead of a hard wave, it was an easy tide, creeping up and over and then sloping back down and into the sea. The hurt brought something else with it: a sense of things being as they should, a gratitude for what love and imagination can give, and the open space left behind when the pipe dreams drip dry.
I write all that to say this: Falling in love with a writer on the other side of the country didn't kill me. It didn't send me to a psych ward, it didn't distance every normal friend I had, it didn't ruin me for all men. And I learned things--about me, about how love spills and plows through the brain, because of him. There are still vestiges of what we had--the inevitable fossils of any love that has dried and calcified into a shadow of itself. But though the stony edges aren't smooth, neither do they cut and hurt.
I wish him--and her, this crazy blogger--nothing but good. I wish them all the hard-but-worrth-it, the real-life, the dirty-hands rewards of love in this broken world. I wish her a constant remembrance of how crazy life is, and how realized love is a gift. I wish him the same--and that he would not wonder or step down other crazy roads, but blend his life and words to hers. I have nothing left but thankfulness to him, for sharing himself in words to me and ten thousand like me.
I remember those days like the remnants of a good story, snuggled in layers and pillows and turning page after patient page. His remains the only book I read in one sitting, never even getting up to refill my mug. His words still speak hard truth and gentle healing into me when I return to them. But he is hers now, and I am okay. Unbroken. Alive. Waiting for someone else's words, heart, life.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

This Christmas: A Real Story

Much-churched or not, the basics of the story are hard not to know: virgin woman, shepherds, wise men, star. No room at the inn, fear not, good tidings of great joy, lying in a manger, patridge in a pear tree. (Hang on, sorry... that's something else...) We know the plot points, to a greater or lesser degree, and the story isn't really an involved one. (Does it involve centuries-old prophecies, did it change the world, yes, yes, yes, but from a narrative point, it's pretty standard.) And like any basic story you hear over and over, the surprises aren't surprises anymore. You know what's coming at the page turn. The suspense, the mystery evaporates.

This isn't a bad thing, really--familiarity allows you to ponder on the details, to know it in your bones, to remember year to year. It lets you tell the story to comeone else, with your own language and emphasis.

This is what got me thinking about this post, actually. My awesome cousin wrote, several days ago, about my awesome goddaughter telling the Christmas story to a small audience, and giving plenty of screentime to parts we might otherwise ignore or glaze over.
(Jenny's full post, "The Gospel Is Socially Awkward," is pretty awesome, too--read it here.)
We hope the little girl would focus on the cute barnyard animals (freshly washing, lowing far quieter than in reality, smelling like a Disney movie), on the young girl (beautiful, peaceful, divinely separated from fear, pain, or stress), on the adorable baby (also freshly washed, also being far quieter than most, smelling like Johnson & Johnson's). Ruby, I'm sure, mentioned these elements, but she also hit plot points most of us adults forget: namely, how the legal king of that area was driven to unabashed violence by jealousy, ordering the murder of thousands, maybe tens of thousands of two-year-old boys. But, as Jenny points out, this is a part of the story that connects itself to Ruby right now: she has two brothers under three.

I've probably skirted around on this before, but I hope to be hit, to be surprised by the Christmas story every year. This is too shiny of a wish, too naïve, but I hope it's true. Even this morning, it struck me as a parade of school-age children filed to the microphone in my mother's church, each reading a line of the story as others acted it out.

Shepherds--loner, poverty-stricken men and boys--were out in a field, doing their thing. The sky splits open with light and noise and something outside of what their senses can perceive. And because that isn't enough, they explain that "the Savior--yes, the Messiah, the Lord [of everything, forever, no seconds]" will be found, not at the front of a long line of onlookers, not in shining gold plate, sword in hand... But "a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger" (Luke 2:11, 12). Not only a baby--that's hit on a lot, and I guess we've learned to feign surprise at that now, but wrapped not in new baby clothes, not even a nice blanket, but strips of cloth. In a cave, in a trough from which animals (smelling like a lot of things but Disney wasn't one of them) were only just eating.

Celebrated, austere, well-known men of wisdom and education came into Jerusalem and were seen by the aforementioned king. No appointment necessary, we deduce--or at least not much time spent in the waiting room. They come from hundreds, maybe thousands of miles away bearing gifts of astounding worth. "No, no," one of them must have to say, "we're not here for you. We're on our way to a suburb outside of town." The king, the only one on the turf, gets to listen to these know-it-alls request directions to "the newborn king of the Jews... [because] we have come to worship him" (Matthew 2:2). The only thing that keeeps their heads attached is his lack of information. In a voice that is nothing if not the Grinch, Herod asks them to report back "so that I can go and worship him, too!" (2:8). Given the choice, I'd "take the seasick crocodiiiiiiiiiiile..."

Mary was probably exhausted, and while the sight of her new baby brought peace, don't tell me it didn't bring with it all the unknowns. Joseph, my favorite of the pieces in this story, went without sleep more than a little in those first months. (As Ruby would tell you, Joseph was a good daddy and protected his son, taking him and Mary across foreign borders to keep them from Herod.) The animals did not neaten up before they arrived. The ladies of Bethlehem did not put together a diaper shower.

I don't say any of this to take away the wonder, the miracle, the magic of the Christmas story. I don't think remembering the details and realities makes it any less miraculous--in fact, after the year that 2014 has been I think I need that extra reminder that God speaks the astounding and the miraculous right into our normal lives, and even in the midst of it there are still elements we might have changed (anything from barnyard smells to murderous rulers). But this is the story--all of it.

And it's a really good one.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

This Christmas: Getting in the Mood

[Drafter's Note: I started the This Christmas series back in 2012--but, apparently, forgot about it last year. The idea was to get me thinking and writing more about this holiday I love so much, whether I'm feeling the love or not. So here we are again...]

Greetings, fair bloggy visitor! Thought I forgot about you, didn't ya? I'll be honest, it was kind of nice taking a few days' break--though, to be fair, I have done a little writing and a little revisioning in the interim, so I haven't totally fallen off the radar... Just the radar you can see... Which is pretty much the radar.

But I digress.

This post has been rolling around my head, and I finally decided to get off my duff (or, really, sit down upon my duff, but with purpose) and write it. It's December, which means holidaytime. For me, Christmastime. And for whatever reason, things have just aligned this year where I was ready and eager for some yuletide goodness. I was playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving (don't tell my grandma), I had my office and home decorated by the second of the month, and I cannot wait for payday to drop a good chunk of change on specialty groceries for baking goodness.

But, listen, I get it. There have been Decembers that have come and gone and never seen me really get to that place of contented, shiny holiday happiness. And I hear the voice--I have the voice--that says that we should grow out of this, that we should be mature and embrace what the holidays are really about: spending too much money, having parties with people we don't like, standing in line with hopes of hearing "store credit," collapsing back at home with the one or two loved ones we can still stand by New Year's.

And so, for you who are feeling a little too old for Christmas this year, I present to you

Chandra's Go-To Get-in-the-Mood Playlist:
Dean Martin, "A Marshmallow World"
A Muppet Christmas Carol, "It Feels Like Christmas"

Jason Gray, "Children Again"
[links to YouTube for your listening enjoyment]

Traditional, choral Christmas music is gorgeous, I won't argue with that. But my only beef with it is that most of it comes off as somber, funereal--boring, for lack of a better word. Beautiful, yes, but hardly anything to get jazzed about. I like little better than being snuggled up with snow falling, reading a book to the harmonic tones of "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" and "Ave Maria." But if you're looking to feel the thing, you need something with a little more of a pulse.

I love Dino. He had to make the list. If the holidays aren't the holidays without a drink in your hand, Dino's your man. Tell me he's not three or four in for this track.
I love Jon's song because it's realistic, true-to-life, but with that glimpse of special, even in the everyday. Sure, it's just weather and lights and music, but it's more than that--"Children wait for Santa to come / While the older ones bite their tongues-- / They can feel the magic in the air."
I love the Muppets... because they're the Muppets, for pete's sake, but also because they are allowed to cheese it up, and Christmas--any joyful celebration, really--requires cheesiness. Fact: to truly enjoy yourself, you need to be willing to look like a fool. Another fact: if you're truly enjoying yourself, you'll scarcely notice.
And Jason (mayhap I've mentioned my love for Jason's Christmas album before?) hits on what it boils down to, for me, anyway: that the wonder of Christmas is, indeed, something we grow out of, but every Christmas is another opportunity to take off our grown-up cynicism and put down the to-do lists and embrace the joy, the innocence, and the dependence on God that makes us children again in the best possible way.

Still not feeling it? A couple thoughts:
  - Sometimes it's just that kind of season. A few years ago, I was just plain annoyed about it, but I just could not jump-start my Christmas spirit. I don't know why, exactly, though some theories surfaced as the month went on. What I found myself doing, though, was taking the little bits of joy as they came, and embracing the magic of Fake It Till You Make It. No, I was never overwhelmed and besotted with Christmassy glow, but in the going through the motions--making gingerbread or singing to carols or whatnot--I found some glimpse of it that I wouldn't have otherwise. Children play pretend.
  - Resistance isn't futile. You can stay distant. You can elect to remain a grown-up. It's not a bad thing--grown-ups are good for a lot of things, and every once in a while I'm even happy I am one. And you can make it through this season--"surviving the holidays," as I saw on a poster this morning--without a hint of child-like wonder. It's absolutely possible. Not recommended, but doable. Children are terrible at a lot of things, and maybe it's more important to be good at those things. I'll pretend to understand.

I challenge you to embrace a little wonder, though. I challenge you to be a kid, just for a minute. How often are we allowed to anymore, really? Take advantage. Wear that Santa hat to work. Play that music. Bake those cookies (or just eat someone else's). Sing along.

'Tis the season, after all.