Don’t despise your differences

Hey all,

A few updates:

  1. I got a job!
  2. Cross stitching is coming along like crazy.
  3. On the whole, emotionally and mentally I am feeling worlds better than I was at the start of the year for about 90 billion reasons. Thanks Jesus!

The rest:

So, on occasion, I’ll get into these moods that I call “funks.” They’re usually triggered by something like being overly snappy or rude to someone I care about or going out places I don’t fit in for long periods of time. After the triggering event, I start feeling bad about myself (I’m such a jerk, I don’t fit in, why am I so weird, etc.) and then for a day or two following, I fall into this weird, overly critical, cyclical sense of despair. I avoid family and friends, find flaws in just about everything I do or am, sometimes cry, and generally just mourn over not being someone different.

Within the last week or so, I’ve been in a minor funk. I don’t remember a specific trigger this time, more a vague sense I don’t belong. Part of it has been a series of occasions on which my weirdness has been specifically pointed out, another part the fact that when compared with “normal” culture, I don’t seem to add up. This has been exacerbated by an increasing number of “normal” milestones for people around me, events which either seem impossibly far away or, perhaps more eerie, undesirable on the whole.

This sense of weirdness has been something that has plagued me for ages. In school I was practically broken up with by my best friend in kindergarten. It happened again in seventh grade after years of not keeping up. I jumped around a lot socially after that, feeling either like a novelty to be thrown away or an outcast broken from birth. I had a major breakthrough in my sophomore year that helped me find new value in myself through Christ and also helped me find the friends I have now, but even with that, I still feel weird. When I write, it’s hard to find markets. When I dance, my approach is different. I’m neither a girly girl, a hellcat or the girl next door, and just in case you think I’ve only felt or made up these differences, you’re wrong. I’ve also been told they exist.

“Normal people don’t have that problem.”

“You’re not most people.”

“You’re the weirdest person I know.”

Have these call outs always been bad? No, of course not. I’m often complimented or praised for my differences, admired for being unique.

Does this mean it hasn’t been hard? No, absolutely not.

See, I am different, and I don’t always fit in, and as much as I enjoy or even pride myself on these differences some days, other days it’s just hard. There’s incredible pressure to fit in and a natural desire to belong. It can be hard out here on the fringe. Some days you just want to be “normal.”

Except, God hasn’t made me to be normal, nor has he done that for you. He is infinitely creative, a God who desires to do something new (Isaiah 43:19). Just look at the variety of the world around us. The millions of species out there. Is that not enough proof to show we don’t have to be all the same? Worse still, why should we want to be? If He made me unique, shouldn’t I want to explore that? To see just how personal and unique He can be?

There are two great quotes from C.S. Lewis I’ve been exploring while trying to stave off this funk. The first is a quote from Aslan in  Prince Caspian: “Things never happen the same way twice.”

The second is longer, from his preface to The Great Divorce.

We are not living in a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the centre: rather in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks into two, and each of those into two again, and at each fork you must make a decision. Even on the biological level life is not like a river but like a tree. It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good.

In context, Lewis is speaking about choosing good or evil, how in the end, we must choose one or the other, but the line that has most stuck with me is the last one. “Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good.” It’s an idea he explores in Perelandra and That Hideous Strength as well, that the goodness of something can change depending on context. For example, if a sheep were to try to live underwater, it would be considered bad for the sheep, because it would die. It’s not meant to live underwater. For a fish to try the same however, would be natural and good for the fish because that’s what it’s meant to do. If either were to try to live in space, it would die, because they both need oxygen to live. If one gains oxygen through water and the other through air however, neither option is better or worse. It just depends on the species. I think the same can be said of people. Yes, certain things (like rejecting God) are always bad. Others (like someone’s ministry calling) can be dependent on the person. C.S. Lewis expounds on this idea (and the converse, in which all bad narrows into one) elsewhere, though the location escapes me right now. Point is, if I am different from you, that’s not a bad thing. It’s how God made me to be. And in fact, to compare myself to others would be for this sheep to wish to be a fish, an unnatural desire leading to unhealthy or deadly behavior.

Something God has really been speaking to me lately has been “Don’t despise your differences.” I’ve been struggling with feeling like a weirdo, and He’s really had to come in and remind me just who I really am. Different and beautiful for it, I am God’s creation. He knows what He made me to be. If I’m a sheep, keep me out of the water.

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A tree grows in my room

Hello Darlings!

I want to tell you guys about a really great idea my friend Alma told me about. It’s called a “prayer tree.” For Alma, it’s a tree she made out of painters’s tape on her wall with branches representing things/people/needs/etc. she wants to pray for and leaves representing her (and occasionally others’s) prayers. She told me it’s like a map to her heart because it shows her what’s on her heart and what she prays for most, as well as what she doesn’t. I’ve been trying to find something to help me in my own prayer life on many levels, and I really liked the idea because:

  1. I can get super distracted in prayer, so having something visual to remind me what I’m doing might help.
  2. Having a visual way to keep track (I REALLY hate using the phrase “keep track” or “tracking” but I’m going to use it throughout this for lack of a better phrase) of requests will hopefully help me be more disciplined about actually praying for people when I say that I will. (Not that I don’t pray for them at all, but sometimes things just slip.)
  3. It’s not a checklist. God’s not a vending machine, so while I do want to be mindful of things to pray for, I don’t like the idea of having a bunch of tick boxes to approach a relationship with God.
  4. Having a visual way of tracking prayer requests over time is a rewarding way to see God moving across many lives and areas of my life, as well as a reminder to me of where God has been faithful in the past.
  5. I am increasingly finding value in using the actual physical act of creating something as a way to connect with God, whether that’s drawing while worshiping, journaling with pen and paper or drawing and taping things on/to the wall.
  6. I like the idea of using something natural and organic and changing with prayer. I personally have to be very careful of setting up systems and rules for myself in many areas, including connecting with God, so having something so fluid is comforting.
  7. The thought of infusing a part of your house with prayer is kind of neat. Not like I would worship the tree or anything, but the idea of creating a holy space where prayers have been drawn, written or focused. I think it’s neat.

So, anyway, once I heard the idea, I wanted to make my own. I toyed with how to do this because I wasn’t sure that the prayer tree that Alma has would be as good of a fit for me as it is for her. She doesn’t take down leaves unless she moves out, and I wanted to be able to take down answered, or perhaps expired, leaves. I also wasn’t sure a tree was exactly the best fit because I didn’t want it to look like I had everyone’s needs placed over the head of my bed (the only reasonable place to put it), I have traditionally been terrible at drawing trees, and thought maybe there might be a more Abby-specific version I could make, like a bookshelf or something.

Anyway, I thought about it and talked to my mom about it, and she suggested some modifications that ended up being exactly what I wanted. I now have penciled-in branches to represent areas of my life (my “wishlist”, gifts/talents, fruit of the spirit, family, friends and causes/issues/organizations), roots with important verses written next to them at the bottom, a trunk for my relationship with God, penciled-in leaves to represent specific people/responsibilities/items in the branch areas (ex: my fruit of the spirit branch has leaves for love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, etc.), and different colored discs of paper to represent the prayers as fruit. The different colors show me what kind of prayer it is (dreams/goals, finances, health, safety, relationships, provision, self-improvement, clarity/guidance, etc.), which is super neat because I can see what kind of prayers I pray for my friends, for myself and areas in which God is moving (#trending?). I put dates on one side of each fruit and the request on the other, tape them near their leaves prayer side facing in for privacy, and when they get answered, I can take them down, put a new date on them and put them somewhere for future viewing. I finished it today, so here’s what it looks like (I took this with an average intelligence phone, so sorry the quality is not the best):

prayer tree

What I like most about my mom’s fruit idea is that it lets me jazz up or focus my prayer life. I can pray for just one branch of the tree, pray for one specific color of the tree, or pick and choose related things without being worried about forgetting everything else. Sometimes I can get into LIST ALL OF THE REQUESTS mode when I pray because I don’t want to forget anything I told people I’d pray for, so it’s nice to be like, hey, you don’t have to pray for everything at once. Cool it. It’s a conversation, don’t be a time hog, you can pray for that later or tomorrow or next week. You won’t forget, it’s right there.

I’m still trying to figure out how not to make this just a different kind of checklist and remember that it’s about conversation and relationship, not requests, but we’ll see how it goes.

So, what do you think? Neat idea? Another system? If you made one, would you do it like this? If not, what would you do? Let me know! (Oh, and I also figured out a way to do the bookshelf now that I’m done. Whoops. Oh well. Maybe another time.)

Genre grammar

I am increasingly coming to find that storytelling is the main lens through which I understand the world. Knowing storytelling has helped me better understand my relationship with God, appreciate the lives, gifts and stories of others and advance my singing and acting ability, limited as that might be. Essentially, if you can explain something to me as it relates to storytelling or writing, it’s probably going to click. In keeping with this theme, I have recently realized that everything has grammar.

See, I’ve always had a sort of rogue-ish disregard for grammar. My attitude has pretty consistently been that I only need to know the rules well enough to know when to bend or break them, and while I’ve always instinctively written well enough to support this rakish, cowgirl attitude, I’m starting to see through other things in my life just how important those rules are (still can’t list them out on paper though).

For example, I’m reading The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. The dialog is firmly seated in the way those in the depression-era South would actually speak as opposed to how proper grammar would dictate, and while that makes the writing “wrong” grammatically speaking, it is correct from a story perspective, much as his “in between” chapters as I think of them, vignettes chronicling the lives of other non-Joad characters, may be correct despite bending or breaking grammatical rules, the car salesman chapter, which struck me as just a little too long if we’re being honest, coming chiefly to mind.

What strikes me about this book in regards to what I’m talking about is that Steinbeck obviously understands proper grammar. As a reader I understand when he says “fust” instead of “first” it’s not a typo an editor missed, it’s a choice to depart from proper English rooted in an understanding of proper English. You can tell because of how clean the rest of the writing is. It’s the difference between someone unknowingly saying “to” instead of “too” in a Facebook post and someone saying “to” instead of “too” when writing about someone posting. There’s a certain amount of jazz to writing, and while you might be able to “get by” on instinct (and who wants to do that?), knowing those rules is what allows a writer to tighten up a decent story and turn it into a masterpiece. It’s the common thrum of understanding through which language players pick and strum.

It’s not limited to nuts and bolts sentence structure and commas either. While yes, I can exclude a comma, or as is far more likely, add a bunch, this idea of rules extends to the length of paragraphs, formatting, genre specifications and, as I’ve just realized, non-writing things. I came fully to this conclusion on Thursday while talking with a friend of mine about a new story I’ll be attempting which takes place in the depression-era South (hence the Steinbeck. Research, research!). I was concerned because I’ve never planted myself firmly in real Earth life. I don’t know that I can think of a single creative thing I’ve ever written (besides maybe a few autobiographical papers for school) that’s been limited to the rules of the world we live in, primarily because it’s easier for me to make things up–besides being more fun–and secondarily, now that I’ve given it some thought, because regular Earth stories have never been the best way to tell what I’ve wanted to tell. Even my stageplay, set in a world very similar to 1940s New York is not actually in 1940s New York. It just has that vibe to give the audience some markers to cling to, like commas pointing the way to where a character is pausing to think. There are points of common understanding within society, genres and language in general. Respectfully, I can take advantage of these, using what I know an audience or reader knows or expects to support, surprise, question or inform. A good example of this in action is the ending of the exceedingly popular Disney movie Frozen, which I won’t spoil here, but was surprising because of its build and eventual turn of expectations. The Decoy Bride, a chick flick starring David Tennant (hence my venture into the chick flick genre, ground rarely tread by me) was also pleasing for its divergence from chick flick norms.

So, how does this transfer into non-writing activities?

Well, using another prevalent example in my life, think about dancing (my musings on working storytelling into dance going hand in hand with the depression-era South story to bring about these revelations). What grammar is there in that? Technique. Besides the more obvious differences between the feel and approach of Swing, Smooth and Latin, there’s also a lot of play in each dance. Foxtrot can be classy, smooth and romantic or sassy, jaunty, bouncy and mischievous. Sometimes both. It depends on where I’m dancing, who I’m dancing with, what the music is like, what cultural assumptions or influences I’m drawing on or from, and of course, the story. Rumba, likewise, could be a sultry championship run with two young folk or an intimate slow dance between that couple who’s been married forty years and barely knows the steps. Each is an equally valid story, the difference in why and how they’re being told, with the rules of the steps as the exact same base for each. If you want to be able to dance both a jaunty foxtrot and a romantic one, if you want to do competitive or social, you have to know the base. The same goes for creating a new play for your basketball team, stylizing anatomy, color or materials in art, making a new recipe or really, anything else. Know the grammar first, then play.

Thanks for reading!