God help and forgive me, I wanna build something that’s gonna outlive me.

Hamilton.

A life-changer. Full of fun and humor, but its effect is no joke. I think it really might have changed my life. Hard to tell, after only five days. But… Non-Stop. The Cabinet Battles. Hurricane. It’s Quiet Uptown. I didn’t just hear these songs, they moved through me, and I was not the same woman when they were done.

Lord, guide the change, and keep it well in your own hand. I want no empty mark, I want no hollow legacy. There is important, and there is truly important. There is good, and there is your goodness. I would not tangle the threads in my fumblingly human fingers.

But what am I to do? I am no genius. If I held in my hand the power to shape the nations and shake the world, would I even have the vision to shape them? Would I even know which way to shake? I have no passionate vision for solving the world’s ills, or even aiding one ailing nation. What am I to do, even if I were to “write day and night like tomorrow won’t arrive, write day and night like you need it to survive”?

I feel more like:

I don’t even know what to do with those Romanian people who ring the bell and ask for money and food in broken German and if you give them anything they press for more and try to edge into the house. I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do for them, what’s right to do about them, so what am I supposed to do for or about the world?

I know what I want. I know I want sex slavery to end. I know I want to crush it. I want the situations that create fields ripe for the slaver’s harvest to cease, or to be better seen to afterwards. I want people to know what sex slavery and coercion can look like in a person. I want those who purchase sex to be driven to empathy, to compassion. I want refugees from any kind of disaster to know what exploitation looks like when it confronts them. I want exploitative brothels to be busted, and the workers to be freed. I want the freed workers to be looked after, cared for, to be given healers for the body, mind, and soul, and to be granted passage to a new life—which means being situated with a new community, and/or a new career.

I want to solve war.

I laugh, you laugh, we all laugh ‘til kingdom come, because until it does, there will be war and it won’t be solved.

Screw it. We are to see your will be done and your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven, and if we only pray it and never move towards it, are we in imitation of Christ? And therefore, are we Christian at all?

I want to solve war. I want to end it. I want peace. I want to change the way the nations think about conflict. And for that–for that to be a want, not a wistful wish–I must be educated. I’ve got to understand what’s actually happening, at every level. And total comprehension is impossible, but that doesn’t mean a person shouldn’t try to understand. From the trembling underpinnings of the universe, to the crux on which human history hangs, to the blood on the ground today, to the bird’s eye view, to the street-level view, I’ll seek understanding. What is wisdom, what is knowledge, if it can’t be applied to corporeal situations? I’ve long played in the ethereal and the theoretical, but what if the catch-22 questions and the big-picture dilemmas had real lives in the balance? Can I find a way to save any? Can I find the wisdom to cheat the questioners’ cheating questions?

God. God! I want to do something. I want to learn enough to do something. I don’t want to go before I’m prepared; to create more chaos. I want to be ready to do the right thing when I go. Go where? Go for what? We’ll see, we’ll see. What will I be true to in the weary light of morning? What resolution will hold past tonight? God! Let me be true. Let me seek your face, let me seek you here, and if this is the next way you’ve given me to do it, let it not slip through my fingers when this first burst is through.

And so now, days after I wrote the first passionate, nervous burst of words that formed the meat of this journal-letter, I still wonder. But I’m pressing in. How can I help the refugees? In the grand scheme, I don’t know yet, I’m still thinking. But I’ve discovered where I can help put care packages together. Would that be enough? I’ve written thousands more words of a novel, a novel that matters. Does it matter enough? Is it big enough? It’s what I can do. I’ve edited and posted this piece, here. On a backwater blog? A piece that doesn’t even know if it’s a prayer, or a call to action, a Hamilton advert, or another buzzfeed pop culture gif set-beset list? What will that do?

I don’t know. But if I can but do all things I can do, through Christ that strengthens me–that would be enough.

Turn, turn, turn!

Oh God, my God, how long is it since I have written so to you?

When the ebbs and flows of life leave me churning and restless, exhausted and sleepless at night’s middle, why do I not immediately turn to you, One Singer of life’s song, One Water for my thirst, One Friend for my loneliness, One Grace for my sins, One Physician for my ills, One God and Lover who can reach into the tossing, turning depths of my soul, and heal the crying breach.

Man shall not live by bread alone, nor anything this plane may readily offer, nor anything my body and mind might beg for. For is it not so, that even gorged, we are hungry? Even sated, we want? And when we lack and desire with depths of passion but loss of direction, why do we wander this plane—even we who have known better—in hopes that something upon it will fill our soul’s gape in the dullness and the dark.

Oh God, my God, I entreat you to be once more my first answer, my first thought, for you are the first responder to my needs, if I would but look to you, see the hand in which you offer more than e’er I sought.

When I know not what I seek, let me remember that it is you. When I know not why I thirst, let me remember that it is for you. When I know not what is missing, let me remember that it is the fullness of your presence—only to be missed so long as it is turned from, for even misery is rich when you will grace it with your touch.

Pain becomes a portal to bliss; loneliness turns up the corners of my mouth when I remember my Beloved. Longing is our lot in this world, but not without comfort. And then, our souls’ very scream for you becomes a prayer of thanks for your presence. Even when I cannot sense you compassing me about, nor hear you in the silence and all creation’s groaning, I know your Love, and I know you’re Love, and I know it enough for me.

Oh God, my God, how long has it been since the fullness of my spirit bowed down before you, laid down before you all its pent-up miseries, put aside the world’s insistent distractions and the flesh’s insatiable desires, and simply begged for you?

It grows and grows, the pain and pressure, ‘stress’, it’s called, or weariness, or lack, or fun; frustration; satiation; habits; needs; amusements; callings; obligations; all of it dust worrying dust. All of it is vain distraction, idolatry and idolatry’s consequence, when it keeps my mind from you.

I’ve turned to you as a touchstone, brushing my fingers over the thought of you, knowing you deserved more, hearing my soul’s growing scream, but caught in the whirlabout land called “life” which is Death if you are not in it, my Lord, my Love, and my Salvation.

I knew I needed you, but my fingers were busied and my mind a-rush, whisking from one thing to the next, even if that thing was rest, calling it a necessity of so-called life, but when I do not take the time to deeply drink of your presence, my soul becomes ever more agitated, and nothing will settle it, not all the joviality and satisfaction and accomplishment in the world, for are you not greater than all these things? How, then, do I forget you? Forgive me, Greatest Calling and Highest Joy.

And Highest Joy you are, and Deepest Love, and Sweetest Peace, but I must tread the path of delayed pleasure to find it, and to my twisted human psyche, this often seems too great a sacrifice to make. Oh, wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of sin?

And when I so long forget to turn from these, so long forget to turn to you, I must also tread the path of the torn heart and the beaten breast, the path of tears and repentance as all the pettiness of my soul breaks against your Beauty and sees itself for the straying, pitiful wretch that it is. God! GOD! How do I do this time and again? Bless this restlessness that drives me from my bed like an iron against my soul, for without it, it seems that I would rest at an ever-emptier discontented status quo.

Drive me! Drive me quicker, drive me harder, in the future, to return to you! Let my mind, heart, and body burn as one with the horror of looking away from your Face! Let me know my want for what it is; a Want for what the seed of sin first tore from me long before my conception, a Want for the fellowship of the Cross, in its magnificence and mystery, restored.

All else I find upon this earth is a piece of your Story, all that you have created to sate the surface of my body, mind, and soul—that is the satisfaction you offer, seen through a glass darkly. And so long as I see you through it, so long as my daily bread is to me an echo of the Bread of Salvation, so long I know pleasure as an echo of Joy, art as an echo of Truth, and friendship as an echo of Communion, then these things will sate, for I will be asking no more of them than you set them here to give me.

Oh, let me cling first and ever to you! Let me set aside all to pursue you! Let me sacrifice all to seek your face! Let me remember the joy of your Kingdom before all! Let me turn from shadows and mirrors unto the Real, and by so doing, see Reality winking from the shadows and the mirrors.

No High and Fluting Sentiment

I’d do it o’er, I’d do it o’er,
If only time could be undone
My now dragged back into the past
My words unraveled, fights unwon.

No high and fluting sentiment,
No deep and luted sorrow,
No thought or heart or wish or word
Makes yesterday tomorrow.

I’d say it better, put it right,
Not put you down like seed in ground,
Not hold my peace when called to speak
Nor speak when peace would not be found.

No high and fluting sentiment,
No deep and luted sorrow,
No thought or heart or wish or word
Makes yesterday tomorrow.

With wisdom earned of time now lived,
Another chance, a blotted page–
Turn back the cost, but leave the wage;
I’d walk to circumstance a sage,

No high and fluting sentiment,
No deep and luted sorrow,
No thought or heart or wish or word
Makes yesterday tomorrow.

What little insight I have gained
Cannot be spent on past poor takes,
Nor can the scene be shot again
Nor what’s spoke now be what I spake.

No high and fluting sentiment,
No deep and luted sorrow,
No thought or heart or wish or word
Makes yesterday tomorrow.

These bits and mites of priceless coin
So pinched from moments lived a-wrong
Can but be spent on moments met
Once one has walked from thence along.

No high and fluting sentiment,
No deep and luted sorrow,
No thought or heart or wish or word
Makes yesterday tomorrow.

And then—and then!—I cry my woe,
So small indeed is knowledge known,
When held to wisdom yet unwon
To thoughts unthought, unreaped, unsown.

No high and fluting sentiment,
No deep and luted sorrow,
No thought or heart or wish or word
Makes perfect now and morrow.

So day by day, I earn my way
The stumbler seeking feet like hind’s,
The fool by wise-ish foolishness
Seeks understanding, nearly blind.

No high and fluting sentiment,
Can halt past rents from tearing
No deep and luted sorrow now
Buys morrow’s faultless bearing.

And much is hurt and healed and made,
Is broken, beaten, lost, and found,
But though the road dips humbly low,
I move through time to higher ground.

Though thought and heart and wish and word
Cannot make perfect now or then,
I’ll think, and feel, and speak, and hope,
And hold my peace, and step again.

The Empty Brainchild

There are stories wandering purposeless circles in the wilderness of my mind. There are emotions devoid of meaning playing like a handful of broken records in my heart and belly. There are neural pathways of entertainment worn so deeply in my mind that they have become muddy ruts in which my imagination can only spin its wheels.

Let me explain. I want a constant stream of entertainment in my head. I want never to be bored. I want a ceaseless stream of emotional stimulation. I want to feel something, and then another thing, and then another.

In order to accomplish this, I tell myself stories. Now, plenty of good has come out of self-story-telling. I’m a writer; I would not have become such a one without a love of stories. But there is love, and there is… dependence. There is enjoyment, and there is… addiction.

These little machinations of my imagination have become to the emotional what masturbation is to the sexual. I’m in it for a hit of feeling, a high of intensity. I’m in it for the sadness longing love loss joy amusement confusion fascination awe hope despair anger fury forgiveness bitterness happiness connection friendship pain hunger intimacy sensuality fear shock wonder glee gloom ANYTHING, anything, so long as it comes to a climax of intensity.

It’s fan fiction, usually, cross-fic, often but not always with self-inserts. I play with my favorite characters from all fandoms, and put them in situations that make them feel things, and ride those surrogate waves of emotion. I shoot up with little stories I tell, and retell myself, in my head.

I wouldn’t describe it in such harsh terms, would not even think that any kind of a problem (just such mucking about has in the past turned into the stuff of novels and blog posts) except that–

–I have come to see that it’s a button I hit in favor of participating in God’s greater reality. All the time. Dozens of times through the day, even more lying abed at night or in the morning.

And then one night, I thought, “Nay, I’ll set aside my bedtime stories this once, in favor of praying for those I love.” And like a toddler denied the same, my inner self started pitching a royal, screeching, panicking fit.

BUT I NEED MY STORIES. I WANT MY STORIES. I’M BORED WITHOUT MY STORIES. I WON’T SLEEP UNLESS YOU GIVE ME STORIES. I CAN’T SLEEP WITHOUT STORIES!

The irony of that being, it’s these very scenes that I play out, searching for the next emotional climax (it’s never really enough) that keep me awake for one hour after another.

That scared me. That internal insistence that I was dependent on these fictions. That it was no longer an activity that I chose to participate in, but a habit that had dug its roots so deeply into the matrix of my mind, my brain went into full-scale, physically-wracking withdrawals when I chose to do something else.

And I believe I was frightened rightly.

BUT IF YOU STOP TELLING YOURSELF STORIES WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO YOUR CREATIVITY? IF YOU STOP TELLING YOURSELF STORIES YOU’LL STOP BEING A STORYTELLER. WHAT KIND OF WRITER BRIDLES THEIR IMAGINATION? 

The irony of that being, so much of what I do is repetition of the same old idea. I’m not in it for the creativity; I’m milking what little creativity I began with for every last drop of emotion I can get out of it. I only look for a new idea when the last one cracks like parched earth. I don’t want to have to work too much for it. I want it cheap and easy.

If my mind didn’t run to this pattern almost without fail, I would have more time to dedicate to creativity in my actual works, actually. I’ve found myself having to work to drag my mind away from “What would happen if Sherlock Holmes encountered the Doctor, take 227–this time with John wearing a green sweater?” to figure out what happens in the stories I’m actually writing, in the work I have actually been given to do!

But more disturbing than even that is what set me upon this recognition: that when I try to turn my mind to loving the Lord my God with all my heart, all my mind, and all my strength, and loving others as myself, this gets in the way.

It has become an impediment to not only my sleep, but worse, my work, and worse yet, my relationships with others, and worst of all, my relationship with God himself.

I have fallen into dependence upon the shadow of the great Reality. It is time to turn towards that I truly desire, the natural longing that beget this unnatural degradation of desire.

“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”
-II Corinthians 10:5
(Contextual? No. Meaningful? Heck to the yes.)

And so, this coming Lent, I am denying myself all of what I’m calling “extracurricular” storytelling. If it’s part of my work, I can mull it over. A lot of being a writer is staring blankly out the window as gears spin this way and that in your mind. But 95% of what I’m doing is the other thing.

This Lent, the wind-up-toy-stories stop. And I can only beg God to fill the daily-dozens of cracks in my being that those hollow-eyed creations were failing to fill. Minutely grace for minutely need.

Pray for me.

Let Temptation Roll Like Thunder

With Lent quick approaching, I thought I’d recycle some of my thoughts on last year’s Lent–the first time I participated. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but this is what I got.

*****

…During Lent, I may have mentioned, I was fasting from sugar. Sugar has been a subtle and insidious drug for me, an addiction that always seemed so innocuous, so unimportant, I didn’t really need to do anything about it… about the fact that, (unless I had an all-consuming writing project at the time, in which case I would severely under-eat,) I could and would binge unhealthily on the stuff whenever it was available, and I would find ways to sneak it if it was unavailable. A whole package of cookies I would down alone, in one sitting, even after I tired of the taste. Even if I didn’t like whatever was available–sub-par “chocolate flavored” bars, for instance–I couldn’t stop myself from eating it.

I knew I had a problem, but it was a problem that no one took seriously when I told them (except my mom, but she’s a health nut; give her an inch of admission of unhealthy eating and she’ll take a mile), because I possess a resilient body that showed none of this abuse. I’m sure it would take years for a form as strong as mine to start breaking down under the sugar intake, for sugar is a slow-working poison, but no less a poison. I had (and have) a muscular, slender figure, so if I started saying that I was worried about sugar, people would be all “Psssh, you’ve got nothing to worry about.” And I’d be like, People, it’s not about my body (just yet), it’s about the fact that I have an addiction and this is bad.

So I fasted from sugar for 40 days. It was interesting. I didn’t go into heavy physical withdrawls, to my surprise and interest, but I was often psychologically pained by the refusal of freely offered sugar. No more sweet coffee drinks at Starbucks. No more doughnuts at church in the mornings. No more cakes or cookies at parties. No more desserts. No more stopping to get ice cream with Dad. It was painful in a small, constant way. Rather painful.

The most striking moment of all of Lent, for me, was when I made brownies. It was Father Carlos’ birthday, and I decided to make brownies for him. A batch of mint chip, and a batch of mocha. It was a strange experience, standing there with my mouth watering, my brain reeling, just rinsing thick chocolate batter off of spatulas and spoons, never once licking a thing. Smelling the warm chocolaty scent filling the kitchen and house, with overtones of coffee and mint. Pulling it out and letting it cool, cutting it into squares and brushing away all the crumbs, not tasting a one. Minutely grace for minutely need. Man shall not live by bread alone. I can do all things through Christ, which strengthens me. I can do all things through Christ. I can do all things. I can. Christ. I can. Christ!

It was ethereal. I felt waves of need wracking my body–a lick, a bite, a little bit–and I let them roll through me like earthquakes. I felt so calm; even as my body was screaming, I was surfing my own desire like a 30-foot wave, saying, I see you. I hear you. I feel you. You’re not getting your way. And that’s okay. Because I have what my spirit needs. I have what my spirit wants. I have more in this painful moment than sugar could ever give me, than surrender could ever gain me. Contrary to what you feel, my flesh, contrary even to what you may think, my mind, I have everything. I have everything. 

The moment was laborious, painful, and even mundane, yet somehow also thick with glory. It was, I might say, divine.

*****

I’m planning on staying my hand from sugar once again, this year. The addiction has been reasserting itself of late–and I want to die to it. And besides that, I have have a minutely need, but I have been failing to minutely remember it; I long for the constantly pressing consciousness of my dependence on my Lord. It’s not easy, but it’s good.

But that’s not all. Stay tuned for part II of my Lenten Resolutions: The Empty Brainchild