19 May 2009

In Honor of the Recent Graduation at God's Bible School and College

I've been thinking about the graduation at GBS...seeing pictures on Facebook...thinking back over my own memories...realizing that this is the first graduation I've missed in six years... So I decided to post my favorite bit of writing from my own five years there. Not very scholarly, but then, it was just a rather short personal essay. My essay, "On Clumsiness," was written in 2006 for Aaron Profitt's Advanced Composition class (personal favorite class and personal favorite professor ever). I tweaked it a tad because my writing style has evolved slightly in the last three years, but essentially, here is the single piece of writing from GBS of which I am most proud.

“Awkwardness is a more real disadvantage than it is generally thought to be; it often occasions ridicule, it always lessens dignity.”
Fourth Earl of Chesterfield, Philip Dormer Stanhope

I knocked over three perfume bottles this morning, one right after the other, in a sort of thoughtless process that hinted at my lack of skill in navigating a dresser top. My hand hit the first, and as it toppled, I just barely managed to catch it with all the ease and gracefulness of a three-toed sloth dancing the polka. Upon my retrieval of this bottle, the back of my hand brushed another, which managed to fling itself headlong from the dresser in an attempt to escape me. The third bottle was just caught by my elbow as I leaned down to pick up the suicidal one. As I placed the bottles back in their proper places the thought struck me that one may view my actions as clumsy.

I have always been clumsy in some way, it seems. Even as a very small child the age of three, I managed to trip while attempting to carry my father’s briefcase up two flights of stairs. After landing at the bottom of the stairs at the feet of my astonished mother, I established that I was uninjured and laughed about my lack of coordination.

In other cases I was not so fortunate, like the time when I smashed my bicycle into a very large cactus, broke my arm, and had to live in misery for weeks until it had almost healed, at which point I somehow managed to injure it again while it was still in the cast and had to spend an extra time recovering.

I’ve been clumsy in other areas of my life, as well. Throughout grade school, before the time when most kids reach the age of extreme clumsiness, I had a tendency to trip over my shoelaces on a regular basis. I was also the one who accidentally stepped on the backs of people’s shoes as I followed them in the lunch line at school, or when I walked behind my mom at the grocery store. Usually these mishaps were followed by an aggravated, “Heather, stop!” or a, “Quit being so clumsy!”

I was clumsy. I’m still clumsy. When I was in high school, my clumsiness on the volleyball court landed me in the hospital, where I soaked up the leisure while wearing a backless hospital gown and thin footies. This particular bit of clumsiness had long-term effects. With three torn tendons and shredded cartilage, my wrist sometimes causes me to do interesting things. Often it gives way as I am holding a glass filled with liquid. The glass tumbles to the floor, spilling every drop, and my hand dangles uselessly for a moment before I can get it back under control. I have broken more than one glass this way. It is accidental clumsiness, and involuntary, to be sure, but still a sloppy way to handle glassware.

Recently I’ve been thinking about clumsiness as it applies to a life. Could there be other ways in which a person can be considered clumsy – other factors and character traits that could allow a person to fall under that categorization? I think there can.

What about a person who is lazy? A lazy person, by definition, is someone who enjoys slothfulness and inactivity more than work or physical exertion. Prone to idleness, this person enjoys doing nothing, or doing things that qualify as non-important. It seems to me that a lazy person lives in a clumsy way.

Let us examine a lazy life. Slothfulness is more than just staying comfortable and cozy in bed each morning. It is a way of life, a pattern of thinking, which a person has embedded into his existence. There may be more to it than not caring about living life to the fullest; he may actually think he is living life to the fullest by lying around and not working.

It may seem to this person that idleness is the stuff good living is made of, but I stop to wonder how his pursuit of immediate pleasure affects other people in his life. Surely the people closest to the lazy one, the people who sustain his way of living, cannot help but feel rather frustrated with life themselves, knowing that while they work hard to keep food on the table, this lazy (and shall we say “clumsy”?) person does not seem to care that his idleness and greed cause stress for the people he says he cares about.

I cannot help but think that the lazy person feels no true joy in his lifestyle. For where does one obtain joy other than by working with one’s hands to achieve self-reliance and by fulfilling the command of God to “go to the ant, you sluggard; consider her ways and be wise”? Gandhi said that “indolence is a delightful but distressing state. We must be doing something to be happy.” I agree with him.

True laziness is akin to failure, or at least stumbling, for the lazy can learn to “be wise” and to make amends for his slothful ways. Just like a child fails to tie his shoelaces and stumbles over them, so the lazy man fails to tie up the loose ends of his life, and ends up stumbling in and out of ventures into which he doesn’t care to put much effort. Such is the life of a lazy man.

Laziness stems from other bad character traits, I think, and a lack of self-control is not least among them. When I consider a person with no self-control, I see a person who is stumbling, just like the lazy man. Ben Franklin, a man of no little wisdom, said that to teach your children self-control is to abolish much misery from their futures and much crime from society.

Self-control, and more specifically a control over your attitudes and temperment, is a virtue all people need to cultivate when they are young in order to help them in their future relationships. II Peter 1:5-6 says to add self-control to your faith. The book of Proverbs says over and over that a person who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and that a soft answer turns away the wrath of others. I think that God cares about the relationships we have with other people, just like He cares about the relationships we have with Him. Could the person with no willpower and no self-restraint be living in a clumsy way when he refuses to curb the temper with which he angers and attempts to manipulate others?

What else can create a clumsy life? What about poor communication skills? When I was younger, my father always told me, “Communication is key! Always communicate effectively, and you will have a much smoother life.” During my teenage years when my mom and I argued, as we often did, somebody, usually my younger sister, would point out to me that perhaps Mom didn’t mean exactly what she said (or exactly what I thought she said). When I began to think about it, I would usually find that I was in the wrong. Because Mom and I did not say exactly what we meant, but only used angry words and bitter statements, we caused problems for ourselves. We did not communicate effectively.

But sometimes poor communication may be saying exactly what you mean. When I was twelve years old, a close family member angrily told me that I was “single-handedly ruining the entire family.” Crushed and feeling a burden no girl on the threshold of her teenage years should feel, I carried the weight of that comment for years. I found that I could trace every family problem back to myself. If my parents argued, I felt like it was my fault. I was shy; I didn't like revealing myself to people; I cried more than I can explain - but I never went to that person and told him how his lack of discernment had affected me.

That family member communicated poorly. Instead of saying that he was disappointed with my behavior or attitude, he made accusations that he probably did feel and think about me, but ones that shouldn’t have been stated. That statement has caused me no little grief, and that person still has no idea that what he said causes me to this day to question my relationships with other people, with God, and with myself. I came to realize that he was simply having a very human moment, and it reiterates to me that poor communication can result in years of heartache. Saying exactly what you think may not always be the best way of getting across the desired information! Saying hurtful things causes others to “stumble,” and will most certainly damage a person’s relationships with other people.

So now I’m wondering: have I been living in a clumsy way? Have I said unkind things? Have I caused others to work harder than they should simply because I failed to do my best and to work my hardest? Have I had the proper amount of willpower needed to “turn away the wrath” of others? How else could I be living clumsily? By not being dependable or by being dishonest? Through a lack of gratitude or by poor stewardship?

I wonder if, just like stepping on the heels of my classmates in the lunch line at school, I could be stepping on the heels of the characters and spirits of the people God has placed in my path. My thoughtful journey through clumsiness has been a hard one, to be sure. I now have more questions and loose ends than answers. But I want to make sure to live in a way that is not clumsy.

I have the distinct feeling that my perfume bottles are not the last I shall knock over. I feel with certainty that I shall drop at least one more glass in the future. And while I surely hope that I shall never again repeat the experience of falling down two flights of stairs while carrying a briefcase that is too large for me, I cannot absolutely know that. But if I can live in a way that is not hurtful to me or to others, I shall be content in knowing that physical clumsiness is only temporary. Spiritual, mental and emotional clumsiness are different things altogether!

Thanks for reading!!

xoxoo That girl in Switzerland

06 May 2009

Freedom Meant To Be

We should comfort our hearts with the belief -
Stop the disbelief for one moment in time -
That all this is not in vain,
These days upon days,
One after another,
Piled in stacks (our lives,
yet who can predict how tall our stacks of days,
each so different?)
Swaying to a soulful tune
(saxophone, perhaps)
That winds along - a slow dance.

We can believe (in truth -
never in despair)
That these myrrh-drenched
Days and thoughts and hours
Were not placed in disgust -
Nor were even mindlessly thrown -
Here into existence.
The Creator who thought it all -
Planned each note and sigh -
Loved each heart into lives,
Carefully stacked each day - mine, yours -
And, with precision, placed them
As He wished.

We can believe -
Not with anxious breath held tightly inside,
But freely -
That we are not colossal
Mistakes of a godless universe,
That the love placed in our hearts is good.
That we ourselves can be loved.
The daisy-flowers by the wayside -
They too were placed with care, each one,
And the wind that blows our wayward hair
Breathes sighs of relief for
Freedom meant to be.

I, too, love the daisy-flowers,
The life-dance, the unplanned sighs,
The soulful tune that sways 'round
My feet with the clover,
And the plump hyacinth
Which eventually fades
(as does all earthly life),
Turning grey with age.
Mystery fills my days,
And I breathe it in -
Breathe along with my Creator
Who planned it all, loved it all,
Gives me the breath,
And - as the wind fills the earth -
Fills my life with
Freedom meant to be.

That girl in Switzerland