On Prayer: 1 Peter 5:5-7

On Prayer: 1 Peter 5:5-7

This is probably the first year since I could hold a pen that I didn’t make New Year’s Resolutions. After recently taking the enneagram and discovering myself to be the “Reformer” (wing “Achiever”) this is rather surprising. I love goals and lists and plans and I work, practice, study, and exercise consistently. However, while I did not set any specific goals and am continuing along more or less as usual, I did realize a few areas in which I need greater consistency.

The first of these is prayer.

My morning devotions center on the reading and rereading of scripture. (I highly recommend picking an epistle or passage and reading it daily for a month.) Although I love digging into the Word and pondering its truth, I fear I sometimes err on the side of intellect rather than faith. Recently, I was accepted to pursue a master’s in “Theology and the Arts” at St. Andrew’s in Scotland, so I am thankful for my ability to read scripture as an academic. However, as I enter the final semester of my undergrad, new friendships and relationships, and look to a future that’s both terrifying and exciting, I’m confronted with things that go beyond academic analysis.

A week ago, as I tossed and turned at that dreaded hour (see “Three o’Clock in the Morning”), I realized that what I needed was (and is) prayer and, being at a loss for the words to properly express myself, I turned to the Psalms: the most honest, broken, beautiful, truth-bound poetry ever written.

I am not the best at expressing my emotions; as a generally happy person, I try to avoid showing any other side of myself. When I pray aloud with others and even in private prayer, I find myself trying to reason myself to happiness. While I am quick to worry within my own mind and heart, I am slow to present these anxieties to the One who will listen and heal. In reading the Psalms, it became so obvious that prayer, while so often comprised of and resolving in praise, is also manifested in lament.

Lamentation is a concept I’ve been turning over in my mind for several years, but ultimately it’s something that cannot be solely rationalized. It’s a deep expression of incomprehensible emotions, yet it is not all chaos. As an artist, the psalmist begins with broken materials but eventually shapes them into order through poetic exploration. Wrestling with terror and enemies and uncertainty, psalms of lamentation reorient to faith and praise, for they and their writer are upheld by truth.

Why, then, should I be afraid to pour forth even the most confusing feelings of my heart? After all, Romans 8:26 assures us that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Expressing emotion is not separate from studying and living truth; when even the most anxious of feelings are anchored in truth, they may be safely explored when in conversation with God.

Recently, I purchased a new journal (see “New Year, New Journal…But how to choose?”) and am finding it the perfect place to express and explore in prayer. Immediately upon writing and praying over the words (some of which made very little sense at all when put down) I felt a rush of relief. Worries are overwhelming when swarming in a sleep-deprived brain, but often once they are written in bright-colored ink, they seem silly. And they seem even tinier when presented before a sovereign God who promises to hear and help.

Before I set to journalling, one verse presided in my thoughts, but I feared I was misapplying it like some cliché cross-stitch pillow. But when I looked it up, I was struck to find it more applicable to my situation than I could have imagined:

“Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.”

– 1 Peter 5:5-7 (ESV)

“You who are younger.” 

Hey, that’s me! I’m 22 and I have to admit that Taylor Swift had it just about right when she sang that “we’re happy free, confused and lonely at the same time / it’s miserable and magical.” But here in 1 Peter are words written not only to capture how it feels to be young, but to hold my hand through it. Indeed, it promises that the might hand of God will uphold me and provide in his perfect timing.

“Humble yourselves.” 

I do not know everything. Part of my problem with prayer is that it requires me to admit this. It requires me to beg, to acknowledge that from God all blessings flow and that I can do nothing to earn them. As I journaled through this passage of scripture, I used this command to humility to write out my uncertainties and admit my limited vision in submission to the omniscience of God. It’s amazing how kneeling relieves one’s burdens. 

“The mighty hand of God.” 

Remember his providence. I love journaling because it allows me to read back through the arc of my life. Worries that once seemed insurmountable are now laughable. Hopes I once exalted were disappointed and replaced with much better things. Reader and Friend, praise God for his faithfulness. Admit your anxieties, but never forget that an authentic prayer is not only honest to your situation, but to that of a God who is constant and caring. Prayers without acknowledgement of God’s worthiness and faithfulness are sorely one-sided. The lament Psalms decry man’s state, but ever return to the power of the Lord’s hand.

“Casting all your anxieties on him.” 

I made a list as I contemplated this line. I dumped ever single “what-if-worry” that flapped about in my brain like moths. It was a bit like a game of “Worst-case scenario” where my hypothetical fears got progressively more and more ridiculous, but by the time I was finished, I was laughing instead of worrying. With my Savior carrying my burden, I felt able again to “laugh without fear of the future” (Proverbs 31:25).

“He cares for you.” 

This. This is blessed assurance. I’m a logical person and need to be rationally convinced of most things. I’m not sure how to respond to compliments sometimes because of this, let alone respond to a letter that speaks so plainly of God’s providential love for me. I am overwhelmed, no longer with fear, but with awe. 

What amazing, never-failing grace. How can I keep from praying?

I will fail (over and over and over again) to go to my knees. However, I have a God who cares for me so personally and perfectly, that I am responding to that love by committing to more regular prayer. It’s difficult: I have to humble myself, admitting that I am not always in control, not always perfectly happy, and don’t always know what’s going to happen. But, as my choir director so often says, “practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does make permanent.” 

That said, I am committing to practicing prayer, using study and scripture as a guide for expressing that which cannot be put into prose and turning it to praise.

Poems and a Creek and Such (revisiting an old spot of time)

Poems and a Creek and Such (revisiting an old spot of time)

When I was a freshman in college, I had the not-uncommon experience of feeling 150682234% overwhelmed. It was honestly a feat of grace and strength that I stuck it out, but by the second semester, how happy I was that I did!

As that terrified, homesick 18-year-old, I went on a choir retreat and nearly had a complete breakdown which resulted in the composition of what I consider my first “real” poem. Now, I am not quite as proud of it and see its many faults, but here is the link to it just the same: Poems and Trees and Such

This past semester (my second-to-last as an undergraduate) has been a whirlwind, but it has also been characterized by a level of calm which I never thought I’d achieve as a freshman. Naturally, when I revisited the site of my first poem (written in that state of anxiety), I wrote more poetry in an outpouring of gratitude, mixed with a certain melancholy that the time has flown by faster than I ever imagined possible.

In the craziness of this semester, though, I forgot this scribbling and only just rediscovered it as I leafed (pun, as always, intended) through my journal. So, now that I have a bit of breathing space, I’ll share it:

This stream I knew is dry now
and its rocks are all laid bare.
It buzzes, stinging, where once it washed
with water and with tears.

The rattling, skeleton tree limbs
stretch but don’t quite reach
across the dusty canyon bed
or seasons since we first did meet–
I and this crumbling, crackling creak.

But still the lone lorn pools reflect
in their barren, dirty sheen,
the ghost of the girl gone and grown
who now returns to where she’d been.

I see myself in retrograde:
this fount is as I was.
I was first the barren stream,
the jagged soul with aching limbs,
and he, the babbling merry thing.

Then it was green and I was young,
but worn in ways I am not now.
I came to cry, but now to sing,
for here first from my heart did spring
a gush of poetry.

And, in being made so free
by nature then to nurture words
and, drinking of living water,
to be rewritten by the Word.

And now, although I have come back,
content as I was not then,
I find I cannot return that
happy favor to this friend.

My cup o’erflows and I’ve grown strong;
now I’m the one bubbling in song.
My ghost meets me in the creek-bed’s death
and, thankful, I draw in freshened breath;
Although we have now traded place,
I bless this stream and its gentle grace.

Non-Writing Writer

Non-Writing Writer

I was inspired this morning as I walked to practice piano for an upcoming recital… this would have been great, had I been inspired to practice. Rather, I was inspired to set the opening of Wordsworth’s The Prelude to music. 

My roommate (bless her) stopped me just in time: “Ryanne, if you write a melody and add lyrics, you’ll also want to add harmony and piano. You don’t have time!” 

Valid. 

But I felt strongly the annoyance of being unable to create due to the pressures of my ordinary, required pursuits. 

So I wrote a little rhyme to vent: 

A non writing writer’s a monster they say:

A little too frazzled and nearly insane.

She lives in an enchanted, storybook world 

Yet can’t venture in, for life is a whirl.

One single word leads to many and two-

Well, they multiply to be more than a few. 

And should she dare to compose a small line 

She risks the danger of falling behind;

The everyday life has no cares for the muse,

Though the poet’s soul, she hardly did choose. 

So cursed with a mind that brews up ideas 

And a heart that ever ceaselessly feels,

She stumbles about with a businesslike stride 

And forces her little brainchildren to hide

And wait for a time when life will relax 

It’s grip made of boring and ord’nary tasks-

So she might finally write them all down,

These inkling ideas that, impatient, abound. 

Dear High School Seniors… (an open letter from a graduate)

Dear High School Seniors… (an open letter from a graduate)

Dear High School Seniors, class of 2018,

I just had a weird dream. Maybe to you it will sound like a nightmare, though. I dreamt that I was back at my high school with a neatly-printed, seven-class schedule full of the AP classes and electives that I thought I had finally finished years ago. About to enter my third year of college, though, the dream was sort of comforting. It was so vivid. I saw my high school squad, my regular lunch table, my favorite teachers, the familiar hallways… And I knew that, at the end of the day, I would return home to my mom’s cooking, my brother and my dad shouting at sports on TV, my dog’s waggling tail…

Enjoy it.

That’s really my only reason for writing this letter, to tell you to enjoy every seemingly-eternal moment of your final year of high school. You’re probably rolling your eyes at me right now, thinking your senioritis is already bad and you’ll have no fun aside from prom this year.

You’re wrong.

I had senioritis like crazy; in fact, I think I caught it my sophomore year of high school. But that is no excuse for letting your senior year slide by without working hard and making memories.

Study hard. You’re going to hate it and pray for the end, but study hard. You’re teachers have likely already told you that college is worse, but you’ll find that college can be surprisingly manageable if you push yourself in high school. You don’t have to load yourself with AP classes like I did (I said “work hard” not “stress yourself out”) but show up, take notes, turn in every assignment, and prepare for tests in whatever classes you do take.

Connect with your teachers. Not only is this helpful for getting letters of recommendation/references for your resume, it can be fun! Strange as it sounds, with each graduating class, teachers get senioritis too. Laugh at it and enjoy getting to know your teachers as more than just lecturers with red pens. One of my favorites brought us peanut butter and bologna sandwiches, swearing she used to love them in college. They were terrible, but it was a fun memory and I’ll never forget that literature class.

Stay connected with your friends. I admit that most of my high school friends have become just Facebook friends. I still care for them and pray for them and love seeing what amazing things they are up to, but I have only a small circle of high school friends that I still talk to regularly. Hang onto your best friends for dear life, but don’t stop making new friends just because it’s almost the end. Three of my best friends I did not truly get to know until my senior year and two of them I barely spoke to until the last three months. Still, we ended up becoming a #Squad. 😉

Go to prom…or don’t. I didn’t want to go to prom and to be honest, I did not enjoy the dance. If a loud, sweaty room full of screaming peers appeals to you, go for it. But one of the best nights of my high school existence was eating ice cream and playing board games with my squad after spending only twenty minutes at the actual dance. Either way, make memories and be safe. I know, I sound like a mom, but I had to say it.

Keep volunteering. Sure, you’re leaving and probably wishing you could be up and gone already, but don’t stop giving back to your school and community. Volunteer for choir council, set up for events, go on outreach days, help at tutoring. Don’t just do it to fill up hours on your service record, do it to leave your school a better place. Love it or hate it, your high school has been your home now for almost four years; show it and its members some kindness.

As you count down the days until graduation, try not to just breeze by, zoning out and wishing the seconds would go faster. In three years, when you’re about to head back to your out-of-state college, you’ll find yourself (almost) missing the days when the farthest from home you had to drive was ten minutes to school, maybe fifteen if you went for snacks afterwards.

Maybe you read all the way to the end of this letter or maybe your senioritis kept you from skimming past the first paragraph. Better, maybe you’re saving brain power for essays. Either way, just know that this might end up being one of the best years of your life. I sincerely hope that it isn’t the best year, because there is a vast, exciting world out there beyond graduation. But, I promise that if you keep your head in the game (High School Musical becomes cool again in college…no lie), this year will zoom by and, before you know it, you’ll be walking off the football field with your diploma in hand and your future ahead of you.

Have an excellent year, class of 2018! Finish strong!

Sincerely (and a bit nostalgically),

A class of 2015 grad

 

Students Starve as College Cuts Pizza from Menu

Students Starve as College Cuts Pizza from Menu

Tens of students at a local college are suffering from varying degrees of starvation as the school dining service recently decided to cut pizza from its daily meal offerings. 

“I just don’t know what else to do,” sobbed one student, his stomach growling in agreement. “I mean, what am I supposed to do? I’ve been living off of French fries and this weird greenish stuff for the past week!”

Upon further investigation, it was found that the “weird greenish stuff” was kale from the cafeteria’s salad bar. 

“We are just trying to promote healthy eating,” explained the head chef. “We felt that contantly offering pizza was not encouraging a good -” 

At this point, the chef was abruptly cut off as a mob of hangry (a term meaning both hungry and angry) students tackled him, chanting “Pizza! Piece of pizza! Peace for pizza!”

Tackling the chef was not exactly “peace for pizza” but it was one example of the intense activism that is cropping up throughout the student body in light of what is being called “The Great Pizza Famine of 2017.”

“I don’t know, man,” said one student. “2016 was bad enough, so we had high hopes for this year…but this…this is too awful.”

Tweets by upset students such as “Make our cafeteria great again! Bring pizza back! 😖 #ThanksTrump” and “Give us this day our daily pizza!” are becoming a norm. 

Time will tell if the school dining coordinators will cave to the demands of their students. In the meantime, the number of students who have succumbed to starvation in the absence of their daily pizza is steadily rising. 

In the meantime, YOU can help! One concerned and wealthy community member has started a charity to ease the pain of the crisis! Simply text 555-555-PIZZA to donate 4.5 slices of pepperoni to hungry college students.

Family Mistakes SoCal University for Resort: Stays for a Week

Family Mistakes SoCal University for Resort: Stays for a Week

Friday, February 24, 2017: A family of four awoke to the terrible realization that what they thought was a luxury resort was actually a university. 

Above: Kale McBirkenstock upon finding out she was at a school. “Take a pic of me looking studious so I can post it on Insta!”
“When we did not receive a wake up call for our yoga class, we knew something was wrong,” said Açai McBirkenstock, wife of Chase McBirkenstock and mother to daughters Kale (19) and Chia (21).

Upon further investigation, the family found that what they had taken for a concierge was- in fact- the resident advisor of the dormitory they had mistaken for an inn and suites. 

“How were we to know?” moaned young Chia. “After all, they had everything we wanted in a resort.” 

Miss McBirkenstock and her family perhaps had reason for their mistake. The school, in attempts to live up to their mission statement of “#AmenitiesNotAnxieties,” had all but done away with potential causes of discomfort and stress. 

“We wanted to create an atmosphere of ease,” said the school’s dean of admissions. “After all, that’s how it is in the real world and it is our duty as an educational institution to prepare our students for this world.” 

The school has taken active steps to promote their goal, as the McBirkenstocks discovered firsthand. 

“They had everything you could ever want in a resort,” sighed Açai. “Oil tastings, made-to-order food, hammock rentals, housekeeping…even our dog Princess was welcomed and treated like a queen!”

“Truly a wonderful place,” agreed Mr. McBirkenstock. “It’s really too bad it ended up being just another educational institution.” 

Although the McBirkenstocks had to cut their vacation short, students at the university are sure to continue to enjoying their stays and the administration promises to “never rest until their students can only rest.”

“Goodbye Home, I’m Going Home”

“Goodbye Home, I’m Going Home”

I hate packing, as I said about a million times today. And yes, it’s true that I loathe sorting through sweaters and deciding which jeans to take and DON’T get me started on trying to figure out how to carry all of my books. (I used two messenger bags and two backpacks and I’m still leaving behind so many favorites!) However, while packing is probably one of my least favorite things ever, it has two plus sides:

  1. It is a valid excuse to binge watch Netflix. I must have rewatched at least twenty episodes of The Office today.
  2. It provides a rare opportunity for reflection.

The second plus is much more intriguing than the first. Not only does packing make me evaluate what I really need, it causes me to reflect upon myself. Admittedly, though Michael Scott & Co. were getting up to shenanigans in the background, I was not paying them much attention. Rather, I was looking through my books, old journals, stuffed animals, decorations, etc. I was learning the meaning – no- the feeling of the word “bittersweet.”

I may be twenty years old, but I still had my dad come help me pick out a couple stuffed animals to come back to college with me. And, looking through them all, I remembered their names and the games I had played with them growing up.

Then I stumbled upon binders full of scribbled maps of the imaginary country I had made up for myself and my brother when we were children. All of our adventures seemed so real at the time and now, looking through the remnants of our creativity, it still seems incredibly real to me.

My journals of course are full of the major events in my life, but, more than that, show my personal evolution. My handwriting matured, the ink colors changed, and the topics I chose to write about shifted. Friends came in and out of my life and a few stuck around. I can look back on moments of fear and laugh.

I scanned over my walls and bookshelves next. I rested my eyes upon postcards from family vacations, paintings I used to be proud of, the glow-in-the-dark stars that still are stuck to my closet ceiling, the typewriter picture above my actual typewriter. And my bookshelves, two floor-t0-ceiling models that are my pride and joy…covered in books of all shapes and sizes, in front of which are tiny crystal pianos, a tiara, teacups, and a magic wand.

And then, as I continued packing, I realized I could hear my mom downstairs, making dinner, and my dad watching sports in the other room. My brother’s room was oddly silent since he went to camp for the weekend. My dog would bark periodically and my mom then shout at her to either “get off the table” or “drop it!”

Overall, I was struck by an overwhelming sense of home.

The memories made, the souvenirs collected, the family members who were always there, all of the people and things that have made me who I am… Surely this was home!

But then, not five minutes later, I remembered with a thrill of excitement that tomorrow I am driving back to college in California and was shocked to realize that my cozy dorm and roommate, my music friends,  a certain person whose smile I miss greatly, my favorite practice rooms, my little church with its stained-glass windows and adorable choir… All of these make Biola as much home as my house in Arizona.

It’s confusing, realizing that home can be divided between two places, and I have written my share of angsty poetry because of it. But it is comforting to think that one can both leave home and go home in the same one-way trip. As I said at the beginning of this ramble, it is a bittersweet experience; though the departure from either place is never easy, the homesickness for one is softened by the anticipation of arrival at the other, and both places are all the more dear for this.