Month: May 2017

Hobbit Birthday Party, Round Two

Welcome! Tomorrow is my birthday, and in true hobbit tradition, I’ll again be giving out virtual presents to all of you to celebrate. This was so much fun last year (stop by for that post for double the gifts), that I decided to do it again.

Unfortunately, there will be no fireworks. Haven’t quite figured out how to make that happen.

Pretend I actually made this cake. Just for you.

These are various fun things I’ve found on the Internet over the past year. Hope you enjoy them!

Galadriel: Because I can picture elves being crunchy hipsters (and they’ve got the subtle brag thing down).

Frodo: Because you have to remember what’s worth sacrificing for.

Smaug: Because he could use a crash course in riddles.

Grima Wormtongue: Because I have no idea how he even became advisor with a name like that.

Boromir and Faramir: Because even brothers disagree sometimes.

Sam: Because basically everything about him is heartwarming and wonderful.

Bilbo: Because he needs a little help dealing with difficult dinner party guests.

And finally, a short speech.

I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve….

Kidding. Wrong one.

As some of you know, I’m a youth group leader at my church, and this year we’re doing a few fundraisers for summer camp. I thought I’d join in on my birthday blog. If you’d like to help pay for meals and s’mores and scholarships for our teens, I’ll be sending fun thank-you gifts to anyone who donates. It’s basically a bake sale, but where I am pawning off random artifacts of creativity instead of cupcakes. Here’s how it works:

If you give at least $5: I will send you a hand-crafted, limited edition Calvin and Hobbes postcard and a personal note of thanks.

If you give at least $10: I will give you access to three amusing one-act plays I wrote. (And the Calvin and Hobbes postcard.)

If you give at least $20: I will write a short story with you (or a person of your choice) as the main character. (And the Calvin and Hobbes postcard and access to three one-act plays.)

You can give more if you like, but those are the only levels I’m assigning thank-you gifts to, because otherwise I’ll be making rewards until Christmas. The card and one-act plays will be delivered within a week or two. The short story, obviously, will take longer. I’ll work out dates depending on how many requests I get.

If you’d like to support our camp fund (or, you know, just receive fun gifts), here’s how in three easy steps.

Step One: Go to my church’s giving website and donate your chosen amount. Since you have to select a fund, choose General Operations, but be sure to write “Donation for Youth Camp” in the memo line.

Step Two: Go to this form to let me know that you donated.

Step Three: Wait for the postcard/note to arrive in the mail, for the one-acts to be delivered to your email, and/or for Amy to send you an email to work out a short story possibility.

If you have any questions for me, ask them in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Thanks for another great year, friends. I am immensely fond of you all, and eleventy-one years is too short a time to live among such excellent and admirable hobbits.

When Life Is Hard, Sing

Sometimes it takes me eight years to answer a question. And every now and then, I do a good enough job of keeping track of the unanswered ones that I can find them again.

Let’s go back in time, to high school Amy coming home after a concert rehearsal. Somehow, she’d managed to con her way in to the advanced choir class without being able to read music (shh, don’t tell). This is what she wrote eight years ago:

“I’m wondering something,” my classmate announced, after waving his hand around in the air for a few seconds until my choir director noticed. “Why are our competition pieces either Latin church songs or spirituals?”

“That’s a good question,” he said. “Does anyone want to offer any ideas?”

I thought about that for a second, and the contrast hit me for the first time.

Some of our songs were high-arching, floating hymns, written hundreds of years ago by monks in a language that no one ever uses. The harmonies were pieced together with the exactness of a stained glass window, and, when done right, they sounded like sunlight streaming through one, creating a rainbow of echoes in the atrium. Gilded and formal, they were the most difficult to memorize and perform.

The others were spirituals, written by slaves bent over in the fields, despised by everyone and singing through the sweat of the afternoon heat. Without formal training or written music, the original singers managed to create something that resonates—that sounds like it was a part of our history too. The words, the dynamics, even the harmonies, stir something in us that goes deeper than what we usually feel, a corner of our souls that still knows what it’s like to suffer. The music is telling a story. You can feel the whip, taste the tears, and, sometimes, hear the faint sound of a land of hope beyond the river Jordan.

These are the two types of songs that are considered the best of choral music.

Why?

One of the sopranos offered an answer that went something like, “they’re the hardest,” or “they sound cool.” But I knew that wasn’t it. Oh, all that was true, but there was more. Whether chanted in the dank coolness of a stone monastery or repeated over the dry cotton fields, these were the ones that lasted, the ones that mattered, because they meant something.

These songs ——.

 

That’s where the entry ended. With no conclusion whatsoever, only dashes to hold my place until I could come back, eventually.

(more…)

When It Is Not Well With Your Soul

Sometimes, when I sing songs in church about God remaining faithful in hard times, I can’t relate at the moment. My life is good, and it feels almost dishonest to sing about how I can still love God in spite of suffering. Does “It Is Well With My Soul” mean anything on sunny, happy days? Maybe, but certainly not as much.

So you know what I do?

I sing those songs to the future. I say the words with everything in me, almost like I’m pouring them into a bottle and wedging in a cork. Saving them. Waiting.

Then, when the hard days come and I’m struggling to believe that God loves me and acts justly in a world that is very, very broken, I take them out again. Because on those days, I cannot sing those words and mean them. It is not well with my soul, the name of the Lord is not blessed, and while he may give and take away, I cannot praise him for it, not yet. I’m not strong enough, not brave enough.

Which leads me to think faith is not always what we think it is.

It’s not dispensing pithy Christian sayings or having an inspirational Bible verses to answer every question. It’s not a gritted-teeth determination to be happy despite pain. I don’t even think it’s always being serenely at peace with everything that happens, although that peace may eventually come.

Real faith sometimes has to use the bottled praise. It clings to the memories of a distant promise, even when nothing around it seems to fit with that promise. It tries to sing, but when only laments come, those laments are still worship, because they contain a courageous defiance that says, like the psalmist, “I will yet praise him.”

Faith is falling to the ground with worn places in your soul, exhausted from crying, and letting yourself be carried by your brothers and sisters. Carried to the throne of God when you’re too weak to come to him on your own or too angry to want to.

I call that “faith” and not “general emotional collapse” because the person being carried believes in the character of God even when she absolutely does not feel it or feel like loving God for it. And that’s a beautiful thing.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

“And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

These are the promises we hold on to when everything is falling apart. We don’t apply them like a smiley-faced Band Aid to a wound. We speak them, read them, pray them, and let them heal us. Sometimes, it doesn’t happen right away. If Job and the Psalms teach us anything, it’s that there’s a place in the Christian faith for lament. So we wait, and that’s faith too.

In a world that is so deeply broken, it’s hard to believe in a God who is not broken, who is perfect in justice and love. So we do the best we can, and it is difficult and it takes courage and I believe God, weeping with us, understands that.

Until we go to a place where there are no goodbyes, our partings are going to hurt. When we are living in a reality without death and suffering and pain, our praise will be more consistent. We’ll see the full story and experience the realities we once recited in creeds and confessions. We will be able to both give sincere praise and feel the truth of the words we sing.

But for now, we’re living in a broken world, trying to learn to be brave and asking for God to make it well with our souls. Waiting with bottles in hand.

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