Tuesday, October 25

what's in a name?

Have you ever felt moved when a new acquaintance remembers your name after having only met once? Or felt valued when someone slips your name into a conversation with you? Why is it that I feel so excited to have someone know my name? Or why I take such great care to remember others' names when I meet them (perhaps it's partially because I am extraordinarily and embarrassingly bad at remembering names)...

I think there is something deeply important about a name.

There's a reason why, even when I was little, I began to call myself "Bree" instead of my full name (as beautiful a name it is). There was a perceived disconnect there. Something about that full name did not fully encapsulate my being. Or maybe I didn't fully encapsulate that name.

A name is meant to be representational. It is the piece of ourselves that is generally given to the world before any other information. It is the representation of a person, a sign of knowing them, of valuing them.

If I meet a stranger on a plane, we may chat for a good bit of the flight. We may share information about our jobs, our families, our history. And at the end of that flight, it's often the case that one of us says, "I'm so sorry, I didn't ask your name!" Or it may be that we part ways without exchanging names. I later recount my conversation, calling my acquaintance, "the woman next to me." And that's the end of it. Or I could say, "Caroline." And that name says something about our conversation. It says that I made the time to know her in a way that extends past our two hour flight, even if we never lay eyes on each other again.

For a writer, their name is like their face. Recognizable in a crowd. They will be known for their name; it's far less likely that anyone will pick them out of the crowd on the sidewalk. It is up to their name to represent them.

For me, my name goes far beyond "Bree." Even when I young and choosing to spell it "Bree" rather than "Bri," I was being called to another, longer lasting, name.

I have been, am, and will be called "Child of God." 

This is a name I cannot fully choose for myself but merely respond to in a manner pleasing to the Lord. It has been given to me despite not being able to earn it. It is a name I want to be known by and a name which I want others to know.

It is a name I don't mind sharing with as many people around the world as the Lord sees fit.

I pray that by His grace I will be worthy of it.

Sunday, October 16

walking in that cold rain

It's rainy season in BC. I went to sleep to the sound of rain last night and woke up to it this morning. I will catch the bus in the rain and get off and walk in the rain.

As I sit in a chair by the window, I open Facebook casually in between more serious work. At the top of my news feed, Facebook algorithms have thought to tell me, "Bree, it's raining in Langley. Stay dry today!"

"Stay dry," they say as a talisman in the rainy season. In the summer it morphs into, "stay cool" and in the winter, "stay warm." I hear it a lot. "Stay dry." And I say it a lot. Stay dry. Stay dry. Stay cool.

My roommates and I commiserate. We don't want to leave the house. We want to gaze out the window and ignore responsibilities. "It's rainy out there, go ahead and stay home. Drink some tea. You deserve it."

Our words speak more widely than their lexical frames. They say be comfortable. Be safe. Don't be out there with the elements.

But I'm beginning to understand that it's good to get wet. It's good to get cold sometimes, get a little over-warm sometimes. And of course, this goes far beyond just weather.

One of the things I learned owning a scooter for two cold winters, two rainy springs, and two very hot Arkansas summers, was resilience. When it was raining, I heard advice to not drive back home. Surely that would be uncomfortable. Riding that scooter made me realize that it was okay to get wet, to get uncomfortable. Because I also learned that I would dry off again.

So I say that it's okay to be uncomfortable sometimes. I'd say that often it's a great deal better to go out into the elements, the unknown, than to buy into our instincts. Our cocoons where the tea is warm and there is always a pane of glass between us and the outside. It's better to go out than to wait for the right weather, the right moment.

It'll be uncomfortable, walking in that cold rain, head down only being able to see the next step in front of me. But it'll be okay. I'll dry off. You'll dry off. Likewise, we may be uncomfortable, stepping out into the chill of the unknown, the land to which God calls all His children to at some point. The wind catches you as you walk out the door, stealing your breath. We will struggle. We may argue that it's really not a good time, really better to stay inside. But ultimately, there is an appointment, a divine meeting, which compels us to go.

And once we have been out there ,we realize that our clothes and skin and hair will dry again. We realize that the appointment was worth getting soaked for. We even want to do it again, this time flinging the door open into the rain, the heat, the snow, and running with abandon to the One who beckons us out in the first place.

Tuesday, October 11

not merely a distraction

I reminded myself of something last week. I was in conversation with a friend. I listened to her experience echo my own. We are in the same classes, pursuing the same certificate, hoping to do similar work.

As I listened to her sharing about feeling as though she never had enough time for everything, I nodded. I understand, I understand.

And as I opened my mouth, the Lord spoke to me in my own voice.

I said that our schoolwork is not just a necessary activity we complete in order to get to the more important work. In our shared season, our schoolwork is the work. I am so eager to finish my assignments so that I can move on to other tasks or other activities. I am so prone to forgetting that this learning process is what my obedience to the Lord looks like. It is the very reason that I am here in Canada.

My friend and I, we have been obedient in our journeys. And listening to the Lord has led to this season: living in Canada, studying linguistics.

This is our obedience. We are called to this, in this moment. We are called to be good stewards of this work.

Sometimes, I feel as though I am standing at a distance from my own life. I observe all that has occurred and is occurring. I gather up the holistic picture into my arms and hold it there under my chin. And I see God's faithfulness in new way.

I see that He has moved in seasons in my life. From a budding disciple in the first formative years of my Christian life. To a deeper understanding of what he would have my future look like (while sparing me the details). To a deeper understanding of what steps it would take to get there. To graduation from university, orientation in my organization, and the season of understanding how to build partnership with those around me.

I can't believe what I've learned in the five years since my baptism. My transformation is almost unrecognizable. It's beautiful. And continuing while I'm here, sitting at a desk completing my Phonology assignment.

God's work has not been put on hold while I am here studying linguistics. The very opposite, I am learning about His world while writing phonological rules for a language I've never heard of.

There is worship to be had in the very moment you are in.

There is worship and obedience to be had in writing phonological rules. In taking the bus. In doing the dishes. It matters how you do these things.

I will do my best to live in this season until the new season comes upon me. I will appreciate linguistics as a sign of my obedience to the Lord. I will do my best to not see this season of education as merely as a distraction from more important work. Because this is the work right now.

Lord, help me to be joyful in my obedience.

In love,

Sunday, October 2

opening myself up to failure

I did something brave this week.

I registered for an art class.

My sketchbook
And it's scary. It's scary to lay your creativity onto the table. Exposing it to someone to pinch and prod.

What if I'm told I don't have any talent? What if the curtain surrounding art is pulled back, the mystery gone and the endless possibilities robbed? What if I fail?

What if, indeed.

When I was little, maybe about eight, I wanted to be a ballerina. I watched movies and read books. My mom even took me to see a touring ballet company. A ballet class was offered in the gym in my small town. I considered it. I agonized over it.

And in the end, I said "no." I decided not to take that class. I said no to my childhood's passion because I was terrified thinking about opening myself up to rejection. I was scared because I didn't know anyone in the class. I was scared that I would be in a beginner class with maybe younger kids. I was scared that my talent wouldn't match up with that joy my heart felt in just thinking about ballet.

I don't think I would have ever become a principal dancer. But maybe if I had taken that class 16 years ago, I would have developed confidence in myself sooner. Maybe I would have realized that it's okay to open yourself up to rejection. Even if you fail.

So this week, I did a brave thing. I registered for a class to refine a skill that I have been quietly nurturing all of this year. I made the leap to open my heart up to potential pain.

Which is more than I can say for my eight-year old self.

What happens if I end up being a major disappointment to myself? If I attempt something and feel like a failure? What if there's no natural talent, that mythical beast, waiting in me?

My local art store
Well then, I have to ask myself a simple question.

So what?

So what if I'm not a prodigy? What disaster will fall upon me if capturing the world in paint doesn't come immediately to me?

Liz Gilbert said it well. She wrote, "Let's try to wrap our minds around this reality: There's probably never going to be any such thing in your life or mind as an 'arts emergency.' That being the case, why not make art?"

My pencil and paint brush won't bring nations crashing to the ground. So why not make art?

In the past few weeks, I've made it more of a discipline to create even when it does not come out easily or into a particularly impressive product. It's been what I've affectionately called "bad art." It's art that is produced only for me. A type of experiment. I don't agonize over the end-product, I just paint. I'm creating bad art so that I can refine my skill. So that I can create good art, whatever that means for me.

And one day recently, I had a terrifying thought. What if this bad art isn't you creating bad art so that you can eventually make good art...what if this is just bad art and you're always going to create bad art? 

So again I have to retaliate with, So what?

My art began as and will remain a conversation. A conversation between me and God. A gift which He first gave me and one which I am showing gratitude for by offering it up to Him, page by page. A quiet offering, with the knowledge that even if another human being does not appreciate my slow and steady struggle in a skill that someone else is always going to be "better" at, that the Lord sees. That he sees the exposed fear in the form of Prussian Blue paint. That he sees the long-term implications of allowing my sketchbook to be looked at my a professional art instructor and refined - humility, resilience, a willingness to try, a reexamination of failure.

And he gathers it as a holy sacrifice, the first fruit of my service.

Sunday, September 25

coffee date 9.25

Today, I am 4,000 miles away from most of you. But let's not let that little detail stop us from enjoying a coffee date, shall we?

The fact is, I miss you guys. I miss being able to catch up with you with a breakfast at Bob's in Conway...or maybe the Corner Booth in Hardy. I miss those conversations, unedited, unplanned, spontaneous in a way that all the newsletters, Facebook posts, or blog posts can't be.

So let's have a coffee date. I'll continue to post well-thought out blogs each Sunday, allowing myself to meditate on the lessons the Lord is teaching me and share them with you. But let's meet here the last Sunday of each month, and let's share a drink. Let's catch up on life. Unedited.

If you were having coffee with me, we'd sit at my dining room table. Surrounded by windows and yellow walls. I'd be drinking hot lemon water, but I'd offer you fresh coffee or perhaps tea. The sliding glass door would be open to the balcony and the sound of traffic and the 64 degree breeze would invite themselves in.

I'd tell you how church went. I'd tell you how daggum hard it is to become a part of a new congregation. I'd admit to you that I pray every single week for bravery to go there and for a blessing that good conversations and introductions would come about. I'd tell you that this, for me, is the most unfortunate part of being single - that there is no one beside me to alleviate awkwardness. It's just me, sitting in a pew hoping someone will join me.

I'd tell you that I'm tired of this cough that's been going on for like a week. That I sat in church and engaged in a cough-battle with some guy in the row behind me.

I would let you know how much I love BC though. That I am invigorated looking out the window at the bright yellow leaves, interspersed with evergreens. That I still get giddy when I see the mountains. That I'm learning so, so much at school and that I am loving this education.

Then I'd admit that I currently have more free time than I know what to do with. I only have two classes, the last requirements for my training track. Even with two hours of observation outside of class for one of the courses, I'm bewildered at my lack of commitments. I want to be honoring to the Lord with my time; I don't want to waste away these months on bad Netflix shows.

Which is why I'm considering taking an art class. I've asked everyone what they think about this, so of course I want to ask you too, across the table. I've been spending time at a local art studio (as part of my observation for Ethnography) and the more time I spend there the more that I wish to participate. After receiving the gift of art about 8 months ago, I want with all my might to develop it, refine my technique, so that in the difficult parts of years to come, I may access this skill as an arrow in my quiver. When will I have the opportunity or time to commit myself to this type of education again, I will ask. I'd like your thoughts.

And I'd let you know about the anxiety. That I fluctuate between bouts of thrilling bravery and hiding under my quilt. I'd tell you that I only have two months before the financial deadline which will determine if I go overseas in January. I will tell you how ardently I pray. How deep my trust in the Lord is. But I'll also let you know that every time a friend excitedly says, "Christmas is only three months away!" that my insides are turned to lead. I'll ask you to join me in my prayer.

And I'd say a lot more besides this. And I'd ask questions, I'd make eye contact, and pour more coffee.

I want to hear from you. Even if you aren't able to come visit and actually sit across from me, I hope that we get to have this conversation soon. I hope I get to hear your responses, your own life details, your own joys and struggles.

If we were together, I'd give you a hug. And I'd suggest that we meet again, same time same place. I'll meet you here.

Sunday, September 18

the purpose

The artist William Turner (1775-1851) is someone whose work you may not automatically recognize. He was a prolific painter and hailed as building the foundation for what became the Impressionist movement.

Image resultBut here's what you should know about Turner. When he died, he left over 19,000 paintings to the British nation. Over 19,000! This cannot even quite make its way fully into my brain. This number does not even include all of the commissions he made and sold over his lifetime.

The amount of devotion towards his art is commendable. This was a man who dedicated his life to the canvas. He once wrote that he deplored artists who marry because their attentions become divided between their family and their art.

And the Lord has been teaching me something in Turner, a lesson which began before him and will end after him. How enviable, to have lived a life so dedicated towards one's craft, to leave a lasting image. No, not just a lasting image, but thousands upon thousands of them. How tempting to be consumed in my own art, putting all of my energy into making an artist dead 165 years proud.

But though the ways in which our lives can be spent, the pursuits in front of us, are numerous, they are at the same time remarkably limited. I can serve my God in many ways. I can work in language documentation in Asia. I can be married and have a family. I can be a student. I can write. I can minister to the under-resourced of Central Arkansas. I can paint. But to suppose that I can make all of those the paramount focus of my life, and I have suddenly opened myself up to disappointment. Something will fall to the wayside. One of these skills will remain underdeveloped, overlooked while I put my energy into the pursuit of another.

I can marvel at William Turner's life, for it was certainly a visionary one. But his life was one pulled only in one direction. He did not marry for the sake of his art. His relationships were limited for the sake of his art.

I was not called to his purpose. I was called to work for the Lord of Lords. And so my time is also called to be spent in a certain ways, pushing towards a certain goal. This doesn't mean that I can't spend time writing, painting, ministering as I go, studying as I need. But it means that these in themselves are the not the entire aim of my life. Even language documentation, a role which I have long been waiting to take up, is not the entire aim of my life.

My life is ultimately called giving glory to God, however that looks in my life in the current season. This is my purpose. This is your life's purpose as well, if you are a believer. 

And so may I take this lesson to heart, and may it be brought to mind often, as I run this race, as my eyes are focused only on the prize of the Gospel and the pursuit of holiness.

Wednesday, September 14

taking the leap

Lately, I've felt like a broken record. Relaying the same lessons, repeating the same stories. I have no profound truth which is waiting underneath my nail bed ready to be poured onto the keyboard. No word from above which I feel is sure to inspire. I have only the ongoing words of God, the daily walk hand-in-hand with my Father God which I cannot make more exciting or romantic than the daily that it often is.

And then there is profoundness in even that, isn't there?

The Lord has been imparting the same lessons that He has been working on within me for months and years. He is teaching me bravery. He is teaching me how to take a chance, even in the small things. He is teaching me that even when I said to Him years ago that I was willing to spend my life in whatever way He willed, that's not the end of the conversation. It's barely even the beginning.

And it turns out that, at least for me, it's not the big decision to give my future over to a cause which takes bravery, but the million small steps after that big decision.

It took a great deal of bravery to take this step of moving to Canada. It wasn't so much the stepping onto the plane which took my strength, but stepping off it. Stepping into the immigration line. Wondering if I would recognize who was picking me up at the airport. Wondering if I would make friends and meaningful connections.

And just as my comfort zone morphs and molds itself to fit a new situation, it must undergo change once again. So it must be.

This term, I'm taking two courses in order to finish my training track for Language Survey. One of these classes is called Ethnography. Part of Ethnography trains us to be good observers, to be participants in a culture which is foreign to us. And part of our requirements is that we have to observe an interactional setting for a few hours a week for about nine weeks.

Even before the class was underway, I knew where I wanted to observe. Having already marked out various cross-cultural religious worship centers because of time constraints or travel-issues, I thought on the thriving artist community in this area.

There is a studio which offers art classes to any proficiency levels nearby and I was in love with the idea of being able to be in the presence of artistically-knowledgeable people.

But I immediately wrote it off. They won't let me observe, I told myself. Not when students pay good money to be there. So I researched other options. Each became more disheartening than the last. But still, I told myself it was pointless to try the studio, they would only reject me.

And it was time for bravery.

Sitting on my bed after days of Googling businesses and clubs in my area, a voice came to me. A sudden calmness overtook my anxiety.

Just call them. 
But they might reject me.
Exactly, the worst they can do is reject you. 

So I called them. I explained. The woman on the phone agreed without reluctance. I was written down for observing an afternoon class. Done.

I sat back and let my heart beat a little faster.

I might have missed out, simply because of misplaced fear.

What small bits of bravery are needed for such great rewards.