Sunday, July 31, 2011

The stories we live

I've spent the last week at home in Houston with my family. It's been great — we went to the beach for a couple of days, came home and spent two days with some of our oldest family friends, went to the lake in Crockett to celebrate my grandparents' 50th anniversary, and spent our Sunday together, just the 5 of us... we went to church, then lunch, then the country club pool, then we ate dinner in the car as we literally took a trip down memory lane, driving past every house we ever lived in, the old soccer fields we spent more Saturdays at than anyone could ever count, and of course our elementary school, where dad was the PTA president the one year that we were all in school together, Stephanie in 5th grade, me in 2nd, and Sydney in kindergarten ... and then we came home, ate ice cream and watched a movie. It was a great last day at home with my family.

My best friend Ashlee came over tonight to spend some time with me before I leave. Ashlee and I grew up together... we're kind of like cousins that aren't actually blood related. She's just always been around. Ash moved home this week because she just got a job teaching theater at a middle school here in Houston. For the last hour or so we sat here talking, reminiscing and asking each other, "when did we get so old?" Life certainly seems to be going by fast. But you know, there's something really sweet and comforting about having a friend who's always been there. There's not a single season of my life that I can remember that Ashlee wasn't a part of in some way... even if from far away and over the phone. (Or in more recent years, Skype. Thank you, technology.) We've just literally walked through life together. Bike rides, birthday parties, swim meets, New Years Eve's, 4th of July's, family trips to the beach, AstroWorld, packing...moving...packing...moving...packing...moving, first loves, first cars, breakups, tragedy, coffee dates — more often than not via skype, planning crazy roadtrips we'll never actually take... the list could go on, but the point here is that Ashlee and I have been through a lot together. And the funny thing is, most of it has not actually been together. We've just had a friendship that's lasted years and distance.

I'm leaving in the morning, and for some reason it already feels harder than it ever has been to leave. I think part of that is because my sister Stephanie just moved home, and I'm now going to be the only one far away. And Ashlee is here now too, and our families are really close, and it's hard to not think at times that I'll be missing out on something that's happening here. But at the same time, I'm excited to get back to Jonesboro, because that's where God has me right now and He is doing great things there that I'm so excited to be a part of.

I'm reading a book right now about stories. I know that sounds silly, a story about stories... kind of like looking at a picture of a picture... but it's actually really good. And challenging. It's a Don Miller book called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, and he talks about what makes a good story, and asks a lot of questions about the stories we live... and whether we're living good stories or not, according to these "elements of good stories." You can see how as a writer this book has been particularly interesting to me.

This past week, as I've been spending time with my family and my oldest friends, I've been thinking a lot about the stories I've lived. I've been touring the "set" of many of them here in the place that I was born and spent half of my childhood. And I've even been living a few funny stories that I'll tell some of my friends when I get back to Arkansas tomorrow.

So often when we think of stories we tend to just picture the "Happily Ever After" without the series of events leading up to it. But Donald Miller challenges us to embrace the journey up to that point... because who would ever pick up a book that said, "Once upon a time, they lived happily ever after" and then say, "man, that was a great book! What a story!" Of course they wouldn't... because there's no emotion in that. There's no following a character through ups and downs, getting to know them and identifying with them and falling in love with them. That's the stuff that makes a good story.

I talked to a friend of mine today who's just been struggling with some stuff lately. She's realizing she has some things in her past that she needs to deal with so they'll stop affecting her future, and she's struggling with feelings of fear and loneliness. We talked for like an hour, and the whole time as I just tried to listen and comfort her I couldn't help smiling and thinking, "what a story she's living... what a beautiful ending it will have when she beats all of this."

Because in our stories, in our conflict, we've already won. God has already won. He always wins. And when our hearts are his heart, we win. So we get to just go on, living the story, persevering with joy because we know how it ends. There's a whole chapter of this book I'm reading about Miller hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. They start off on this 4 or 5 day trek, and as they climb thousands of feet, looking down at the river, their guide tells them that if you just followed the river, it would only take 6 hours to reach Machu Picchu... but the emperor (however many years ago) made the Incas take the long way through the mountains. Miller reflects on how he believed the emperor knew that the people would have such a greater appreciation for the beautiful city if they had suffered along the way to reach that place. And he says he experienced that same appreciation. "The pain made the city more beautiful. The story made us different characters than we would have been if we had skipped the story and showed up at the ending an easier way."

Our stories are full of uncertainty. But aren't the unpredictable books and movies always the best ones? My sister's story has brought her to Texas, and she has no idea what will happen next. Ashlee's story has brought her home... and besides having a job, her life is one big question mark right now. Part of me isn't ready to leave tomorrow because I know there are new stories to be written here with people who are such central characters of my story. But the story God has me living in right now is in Arkansas, and I've got to say that I'm so excited to get back and continue living the adventure He's got me on.

I'm a senior. I have no idea what the future holds. There's uncertainty. There's so much change ahead. There's a little bit of fear... but mostly just anticipation of what's to become of all the unknown. But I'm confident that there will be a good story at the end.

It was a refreshing week at home. Sweet to revisit some of the stories I've lived. Sweeter to write a few new ones. It's safe to say there will be tears in my eyes as I board a plane in the morning.

Cheers to the stories you're living... to the conflicts you overcome and get to tell about later... and to the relationships that seem to appear in all of them.

And don't be afraid to get a little creative in your story... I plan on going on some new adventures this year. :)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Pick up your spoon.

Wow... it's been a while since I've written. To be completely honest, I haven't felt super inspired to write much this summer. Don't get me wrong, it's been a wonderful summer. Full of blessings — overflowing with them, even — but it's just been so routine. Work. Summer school. Jonesboro. (No offense, Jonesboro... I do love you) It's my first summer in Jonesboro... the first time I haven't gone off and done something adventurous. But God's been in it, and He's showed up in some of the sweetest ways. I think He's teaching me to grow up a little... I've learned some tough lessons this summer.

He's disciplining me, because that's what good dads do.

One thing I've learned this summer is that there will be seasons of my life when people are pouring into me and I won't have to do much in order to be fed... and those seasons are wonderful! But there will also be seasons when I have to work harder to feed myself, and I've been in one of those seasons this summer. I was talking to God one day recently, telling Him I was kind of frustrated with the way this summer has gone for me spiritually. It just hasn't been as rich and abounding with growth and purpose as summers past... and then I realized I was kind of complaining as if it were His fault or something. So I stopped and began to tell Him I'm sorry that I've not been spending as much quality time with Him lately as I'd like to. And then I remembered a conversation I had with my "yoda" Eve Sarrett probably two years ago...

"Sara, how old were you when your mom stopped feeding you?"

"Umm... like actually feeding me with a spoon? Without my help?"

"Yeah, do you remember it?"

"No... I don't. I assume it was when I was much too little to remember stuff like that."

"Why do we think we need to be spiritually spoon fed then?"

"Hmm... I don't know. Good point."

"Sometimes I just want to tell kids to pick up their damn spoon."

... Pick up your spoon. It was like God told me that the other day. And that's not to say that we don't need people pouring into us, and challenging us and helping us grow. Community is HUGE. But I think it's so easy in Bible Belt America to just go to church, attend a Bible study, let somebody else do all the work and not have to really put much effort into our relationship with Jesus.

Why do we do that? There was a period of probably 2 weeks this summer that I was so frustrated, knowing that what was missing was a closeness to the Lord, something I have complete capability of changing, and I just kind of let it happen... being in a bad mood, being mentally and emotionally exhausted, probably slowly becoming less enjoyable to be around... and I was just coasting along in that state of being. Gross! Who wants to hang out with that!?

And then I picked up my spoon. And the best part about a God who's a God of grace and unconditional love is that He never withholds anything from us. The sweetest thing about Jesus is that even when I'm stagnant in my pursuit of Him, He is always pursuing me. And when we come back and we say, "Dad, I'm sorry I haven't checked in with you in a few days/weeks/months, etc..." He just says, "I've been waiting for you... just so I can tell you I love you too."

What constantly blows my mind is that even though I go through these selfish seasons of, "God, why don't I have ______? Don't you know that I need it?" ... He still wants to pour out blessings as soon as I realize that He's bigger than all my worries, frustrations and wants.

He's a good dad. That's why He disciplines. That's why He teaches us to pick up our spoons. And when our hearts are aligned with His, He also blesses us... because He's a good dad.