My 2011 Thanksgiving “Things I’m Thankful For” List

November 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

Last year I wrote and posted my first “Things I’m Thankful For” list, and the practice is healthy enough that I’ve decided to make it a personal tradition. I try to thank God for the good things in life every day, but it is nice to have a day dedicated to remembering and praising God for what He has done, and also for thanking those around us for the sacrifices they have made to give us Americans the ability to meet together in freedom and peace.

So, here is the (far from comprehensive) list:

  1. God’s patience, grace, and redemption: 2011 has been a year where I have been blessed to experience the mysterious and miraculous work of God on my heart and my habits. It has been painful, but in the process the world has taken on a color that I haven’t known in recent memory.  God forgives the poor addict–but He does not leave him where He found him! God offers strength to the weak, purity to hearts blackened by sin, and joy to those who can find none in themselves.
  2. The King’s Debate Society: after three years of investing every part of myself, my leadership in the debate society came to an end in May. I can’t begin to express how thankful I am to have played a part in such an excellent organization. I will look back on those three years as some of the most formative times of my life. I am also thankful to have been able to make a clean break with the debate society. No hovering, no politics – just watching a beautiful organization spread its wings and take flight.  I’m just as thankful for how God has blessed the organization with the leadership that it has. The current president is a fantastic leader with a heart of gold, we couldn’t ask for a better coach, and we have a team that is in love with the same vision that we’ve had since the beginning. I could ask for nothing more.
  3. My family: it has been a year, and the story is nearly the same. I still live thousands of miles away from my family, and I miss them and at times it hurts. I know that we do not talk enough. This year, there have been some big changes, some of which I do not like.  Yet somehow, strangely, I find myself more resolved to loving my family unconditionally. One reason for that is I know that they love me unconditionally. I’m thankful to have a family that loves me and is proud of me. If I were to fall ill and have only a few days on my deathbed, I would want to be surrounded by my parents and three siblings. I’m lucky, and thankful, because I know they would come.
  4. Tango: my feelings on this entry on this list can best be described in three words: “what the hell?” If you had asked me, at any point in my life, if I imagined myself devoting hundreds of hours to learn and teach tango, understand the culture and music, and end up with a whole new social circle of tango dancers, I would laugh. Yet here I am. God has given me the opportunity and privilege to learn tango, a dance I can best describe as a visual portrait of the relational dynamics between men and women. I could write a book about this (maybe I will someday), but this isn’t really the place.  All I can say is, I’m thankful I ran into Linda at Velvet that one fateful night in May. Otherwise, she would have never invited me to tango with her at Central Park, and my heart would have never been captured the way it was.
  5. My King’s education/graduating from it: There are no words that can describe how thankful I am to have gone to school at The King’s College. Four and a half years ago, I could never have imagined how transformative of an experience my education would be. I won’t even try to explain all that it has taught me or the way it has set my heart on making what is good, fighting for what is right, and enjoying what is beautiful.
  6. All of the small things: Art, music, cigars, dance, poetry, the rain, pretty flowers, pretty people, good conversation, a good cup of coffee – the list goes on.
  7. Women: there’s not a whole lot I can say here other than I am thankful for those marvelous, maddeningly complex creatures God called “very good.”  In fact, I’ve begun to suspect that God describing woman this way is perhaps the first example in the Bible of dramatic, humorous understatement. “Very good” indeed!
  8. The piano in the student lounge: I have no way of quantifying how many nervous breakdowns that piano has steered me from.
  9. My job: it has to take a place on here by virtue of its existence in these tough economic times. On top of that, though, I love my job. I get to serve an institution that I believe in, I have coworkers that I enjoy working with, a good boss, and hours that allow me to pursue other interests at the same time.
  10. I’m sitting on a laptop, in a warm home (thanks Doc), on Thanksgiving, enjoying good music (She & Him), thinking about the good things in life.  I think that qualifies for number 10.

XXII – A.E. Housman

November 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

I read this poem this morning courtesy of a Facebook post by a friend from college. Beautiful imagery, and a wonderful glimpse at the depth and expanse of the connection between people.

 

XXII – A.E. Housman

 

The street sounds to the soldiers’ tread,

And out we troop to see:

A single redcoat turns his head,

He turns and looks at me.

 

My man, from sky to sky’s so far,

We never crossed before;

Such leagues apart the world’s ends are,

We’re like to meet no more;

 

What thoughts at heart have you and I

We cannot stop to tell;

But dead or living, drunk or dry,

Soldier, I wish you well.

A Snowy October Pondering

October 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

The N train platform around midnight

As you can see by the photo on the left, October threw New York City a curve-ball. Most of us in the 5 boroughs woke up today to snow gently falling outside. I for one was happy, but I spent the rest of the day listening to friends talk about how much they hate the snow. The general consensus seemed to be that snow is undesirable because, although beautiful, it makes life difficult.  “It’s too cold,” one said. “I hate how dark it gets and how wet it is. I hate walking in the snow,” said another.

Yet most of my friends know that I enjoy weather that is dark and includes the elements. I love walking down the street late at night and feeling the harsh wind on my face, blowing snow into my eyes. I leave my umbrella indoors when it rains hard because I enjoy the unobstructed view of all that we’ve made being consumed in nature.

I realized tonight though as I trudged through the wind, water, and snow, that walking through the elements is something I love for more than the natural beauty present. I love fighting through the elements because it is, as so many complain, uncomfortable. There is something powerful about it that is simply much bigger than me. It is uncomfortable, mysterious, alluring. But what is it?

I have, for a long time, told friends that “God is in the rain.” (cliche, I know). The typical response is generally a smirk or a quick reminder that God isn’t “in” nature. God isn’t a tree, nor is He rain or snow. Of course, I agree. Yet when I let myself be consumed in the darkness, rain, the icy chill of the winter wind, or the breaking waves of the Pacific ocean, what comes to mind is Psalm 18:6-15, not some pagan philosophy. The psalm reads:

6 In my distress I called to the LORD; 
   I cried to my God for help. 
From his temple he heard my voice; 
   my cry came before him, into his ears. 
7 The earth trembled and quaked, 
   and the foundations of the mountains shook; 
   they trembled because he was angry. 
8 Smoke rose from his nostrils; 
   consuming fire came from his mouth, 
   burning coals blazed out of it. 
9 He parted the heavens and came down; 
   dark clouds were under his feet. 
10 He mounted the cherubim and flew; 
   he soared on the wings of the wind. 
11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him— 
   the dark rain clouds of the sky. 
12 Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, 
   with hailstones and bolts of lightning. 
13 The LORD thundered from heaven; 
   the voice of the Most High resounded.[d] 
14 He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy, 
   with great bolts of lightning he routed them. 
15 The valleys of the sea were exposed 
   and the foundations of the earth laid bare 
at your rebuke, LORD, 
   at the blast of breath from your nostrils.

The bright, midday sun does not, it seems, hold sole claim to display God’s character. God is in the clash and clamor. He falls with the blankets of pounding rain. He makes “darkness His covering.”  It is this aspect of God’s character that I find amazing: raw power, bigger than my problems, my complaints, my small worries. Bigger and more mysterious than my dreams or inner feelings.

God is in the wind that whips my face. He is in the rain that soaks me to the bone. He is in the darkness and the fog, and He is speaking. He is saying, “I am God, and you are not. I am in control. Let go.”

His message is, ultimately, an embrace of love and reality. Undeniable. Sometimes uncomfortable. Ultimately inescapable, and yet, very freeing.

The cold, wind, and discomfort is worth it, because it reminds that someone bigger is in control.

 

 

Stephen Clock: Wonder

October 19, 2011 § 1 Comment

My brother Steve is gifted. He’s been writing poetry off and on now for a long time. I’m not sure what he thinks about the verse that he writes, or if it expresses what he is feeling. Maybe, like me, he feels trapped in a prison of inexpressible wonder and emotion that comes along with the human experience. But, whatever success he has in expressing his feelings, it is to his credit that I connect deeply with his lines.

 They might not fully express his feelings. He might hate his lines – that often happens with people who are good at what they do. But in any case, his lines express the wonder I feel, and that is good enough for me to post. He has written a lot, and I’ll no doubt be posting much more on the “Selected Poetry” page in the future (you can find that over on that side of the page <—— ). Steve, thanks for letting me repost.

Wonder – Stephen Clock

 I’d see your heart as the Colosseum in Rome,

 broken and aware of itself

 and vacated for the better half of your life

 as your walls crumble around you.

And I’d imagine your eyes, blue

 a barrier reef flooded with aquatic life

 when you weep seahorses into being

 and shed them each time your ocean heaves.

But your fingers are miles of sand in the deserted

 rifts of your Grand Canyons,

 vast and unexplored pieces of you

 hardly quenching themselves on the nourishment of my rivers.

Yet, I see crows circle the halo

 of you, for your laughter is the Northern Lights,

 and in the equinox of your smile

 you become the celestial equator to which I’m drawn.

For, I’d imagine your freckles as the stars which shine

 over the Old City of Jerusalem,

 and in light of the sun

 they bloom and become great stretches of Greek islands.

And yes, I’d picture your beauty framed in the

 Hanging Gardens of Babylon,

 and your loveliness becoming a Golden Gate Bridge

 closing the space between us…

For in the elegance of your wonder

 I am but a grain of sand in love

 with unearthing the mystery of you.

Samuel Daniel: Repaying a Debt

October 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

I have a little book of sonnets I carry around with me for the train ride between Queens and Manhattan every day, and although I’ve read every sonnet in the book, I’m still surprised by a few of them when I come back to reading after a few months off. Every now and again, I find one that knocks me off my feet. “Repaying a Debt” is one of those, and is by Samuel Daniel, the man who authored my favorite sonnet, “He Can Write Only of Her.”

Not simple, but simply beautiful. I’ll hold off on the commentary on this one.

 

REPAYING A DEBT

Unto the boundless ocean of thy beauty

Runs this poor river, charged with streams of zeal,

Returning thee the tribute of my duty

Which here my love, my youth, my plaints, reveal.

Here I unclasp the book of my charged soul

Where I have cast th’accounts of all my care;

Here I have summed my sighs, here I enroll

How they were spent for thee: Look what they are.

Look on the dear expenses of my youth

And see how just I reckon with thine eyes:

Examine well thy beauty with my truth,

And cross my cares ere greater sums arise.

Read it sweet maid, though it be done but slightly:

Who can show all his love, doth love but lightly.

Puritan Prayers: Woman’s Beauty

September 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

God filled the world with beautiful women, and I’m glad He did. Still, as a Christian living in New York City, the beautiful women I see around me pose a challenge.  Sexuality in this culture is not appreciated. It is not cherished. It is consumed. Take one glance down 34th street and you’ll know what I mean.

On second thought, guys, don’t look – just take my word for it.

I’d love to say that it is easy to reject our culture’s common debasement of the feminine mystery.  I can’t. Consumption and lust reach out and whisper promises of fulfillment. But experience puts those promises to rest. All that they offer is pain and separation from God. This prayer explores the struggle between proper appreciation and its corrupted form: lust.

~~~

LORD,

Thou art the source of all beauty,
And the crafter of every good thing.
Thou hast clothed thy creation in splendor,
And lavished thy likeness upon us.
When I see the midnight moon
shine on the cool nights’ relief,
Or feel the sun’s dazzling warmth
as it leaps from watery reflections,
I sense thy presence just around the bend.
Thy beauty baffles, charms, entrances, and allures me;
all that thy hands have made…

Especially woman.

I need no philosophies or theologies to know
that she is the crown of thy creation.

I feel it daily.

Where in an instant her smile softens me with its warmth,
I feel the sting of her eyes
as her complexity fills me with wonder,
and the ache of distance.

Yet I am aware of my wickedness and compulsion.
My flesh would seize hold, distort, and destroy.
I pray thee, guard my eyes from lustful endeavors.
May I always appreciate her beauty,
But never grasp it.
Let thy wonders always move me, silence me,
humble me, and orient me to thy face.
Let the consoling touch of woman’s charm
lead me away from the pit that yawns daily before me,
and nearer to thee.

Let me wonder at thy creation,
And remember its’ Creator.

Puritan Prayers: Desires

September 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

Today was a day of days in a week of weeks. I lost a lot of very beloved things. My dad quite abruptly moved to Saudi Arabia to teach English – I don’t recognize my family. I lost a trusted friend, mentor and boss to a change in professional direction – now I don’t recognize my job. To top it all off, some of my closest relationships changed today in ways that, if they don’t still hurt as much as they do right now when I wake up tomorrow, will certainly require faith to make sense of.

Today was, in short, a very hard day in a very difficult week.

Yet it is clear that God uses difficulty to teach us and to fashion us into who we ought to be. Difficulty, especially in achieving what we want to achieve, or in ‘getting what we want’, can do a lot to point us back to our first love.

I want my family to be ‘fixed.’  I want my job to continue including meaningful relationships. I also want flourishing friendships, an active social life, and someone to share life’s joys, struggles, and most of all God’s beauty with. Are those all good things? Sure. Does that mean though that right now is necessarily the time where I’ll see that happen? Perhaps an even more important question to ask: even if my desires are good, is my vision of these desires really the best that God has for me?

It is past 4:00am, and I’m afraid I’ve slipped into the common writing habit of being vague and telling versus showing. It is so often my inability to articulate myself, though, that gets me back to reading this little book of prayers: The Valley of Vision.

This author has some beautiful perspective on how to think about our desires.  All I can say is in a tough day like today, this prayer was wonderful to have access to, and so I share it with you. God is good, even when we don’t get what we want or the carpet seems pulled out from under us. God give me faith to believe it and know it.

~~~

Desires

 O THOU THAT HEAREST PRAYER,

Teach me to pray,
I confess that in religious exercises
the language of my lips and the feelings
of my heart have not always agreed,
that I have frequently taken carelessly upon
my tongue a name never pronounced above
without reverence and humility,
that I have often desired things which would
have injured me,
that I have depreciated some of my chief mercies,
that I have erred both on the side of my hopes
and also of my fears,
that I am unfit to choose for myself,
for it is not in me to direct my steps.
Let thy SPirit help my infirmities,
for I know not what to pray for as I thought.

Let him produce in me wise desires by which
I may ask right things,
then I shall know thou hearest me.
May I never be importunate for temporal blessings,
but always refer them to thy fatherly goodness,
for thou knowest what I need before I ask;
May I never think I prosper unless my soul prospers,
or that I am rich unless rich toward thee,
or that I am wise unless wise unto salvation.
May I seek first thy kingdom and its righteousness.
May I value things in relation to eternity,
May my spiritual welfare be my chief solicitude.
May I be poor, afflicted, despised and have
thy blessing,
rather than be successful in enterprise,
or have more than my heart can wish,
or be admired by my fellow-men,
if thereby these things make me forget thee.
May I regard the world as dreams, lies, vanities,
vexation of spirit,
and desire to depart from it.
And may I seek my happiness in thy favour,
image, presence, service.

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