Monday, March 31, 2014

Things You Need to Stop Saying to People

Considering how much I talk and all of the ridiculous things I say accidentally, I'm probably the last person to be giving anyone advice about communication. However, the fact remains that there are some phrases that we all need to eliminate from daily conversation.

Things You Need to Stop Saying to People:

1. "When you [x]." Admittedly, I may be oversensitive to this one, but if I could have a dollar for every time someone has said to me "When you get married..." The assumption being, of course, that the question of my marriage is just a matter of time. Granted, the older I'm getting the more likely people are to subjugate the clause with the word if rather than when, which is actually fine by me. 

Because my point is that you don't know what people's goals are for their lives, and by framing your comments from the position of when rather than if, you reveal your belief that this is the one action needed to bring your friend back into step with expectation.

When you go to college...
When you get married...
When you have children...
When you buy a home...

Normally when we say things like this, we're making jokey, throwaway comments intended to help our friends appreciate our struggles: "Just you wait until your turn, buddy." I totally understand. My purpose here isn't to make you paranoid but to help you see the flip side and understand that for some people, responding to comments like these can feel awkward. 

2. "You're so lucky that [x]." Another throwaway comment that can really backfire and cause a lot of unintended pain. When your toddler is attempting to crawl up your torso and chew your face off while simultaneously emitting troublesome fumes from his back end, you might be tempted to turn to your childless friend and say, "Aren't you glad you don't have to deal with stuff like this?"

But unless you're close enough with that friend know how he feels, you should probably stop saying stuff like that. I can't tell you how many times I've known friends struggling with infertility to be unintentionally hurt by other friends telling them they're so "lucky" that they don't have children yet. Friends with health issues who are told that they're "lucky" to be so thin. Single friends who want to cry every time people tell them they're "lucky" that they don't have a family complicating their schedules.  

I know your intention when you say things like this is almost always to encourage. 

Just be careful. That's all I'm saying. 

3. "Don't be afraid to be yourself." Frankly, you should be very afraid to be yourself. While I appreciate the intended sentiment and believe that we should develop as individuals (because the diversity of humanity is a representation of the image of God), I also know that people are awful--they're fallen and broken and wounded and selfish. 

So am I. 

That's why my goal is not to become more like myself. My goal is to become like Christ. Only then will I be completely myself, because I have been created to find my identity in Him.  

Friday, March 28, 2014

Time Travel for the Budget Explorer

Okay, so you don't understand the science behind time machines, and you haven't made the cut as a Dr. Who companion. (At least, not yet.) Plenty of opportunities for time travel still exist, even if you're traveling on a shoestring. (Pretty sure there's a joke about string theory in there somewhere, but it would take a better writer than I to land it.)

Time Travel for the Budget Explorer: 

Read - This is almost a no-brainer. The more widely and deeply you've read, the better you understand the events, literature, music, and art of any given historical period. If you read deeply enough, you will almost begin to feel that you've lived it yourself. This is the first step toward real time travel. 

Travel - Next, travel where you read. Stand atop Masada feeling the thump of the Roman battering ram. Walk London streets as the bombs fall. Listen for the cheering crowds in the Colleseum and the boots in Red Square. Stand still enough to hear "Th' inaudible and noiseless foot of time."

Dream - Devotions first thing in the morning, CNN running while you get ready for work, radio blaring in the car, earbuds in while you exercise, audio books while you clean, podcasts in the afternoon, TV time in the evening, and a book before sleep. All well and good, but when do you think? When do you pray? When do you process and question and dream?  If the answer is never, then you have a problem. 

Unpack your schedule and readjust, this time leaving some breathing room. If you can't do that, then you have a bigger problem than your inability to time travel.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Accepting the Mystery of Light

Photo by Bethany Buchanan
God is light. 

What an appropriate metaphor. 

Light brings energy, warmth, and life. It is not only visible itself, but it also reveals the world to us by making all else visible, both the beautiful elements and the grim.  

But although light reveals our physical world, we know that only certain wavelengths of light are visible to the human eye, meaning that much of the spectrum goes unappreciated by us. 

There is much more to the nature of light than we can see. 

The human appreciation of light is limited.

However, just because we can't see the entire spectrum of light doesn't mean that we can't see some of it; and only seeing some of it doesn't stop us from taking advantage of its benefits.

I recently spoke to someone about the Gospel.

"I don't pretend to understand all that," he said.

All that, he called it. Goodness. 

But, honestly, he makes a good point. Who actually does understand the Gospel? 

In a way, it's simple enough to grasp. Even a child can understand that the Gospel works and can exercise faith to believe. In another sense, the fullness of the Gospel is unfathomable, and certain aspects of how it works have been debated by theologians down through the centuries with little resulting clarification. 

But just because we can't understand all aspects of how the Gospel works doesn't mean that we can't understand some of it; and only understanding some of it doesn't stop us from taking advantage of its benefits.

Remember, God is light. 

And we don't really understand light.

No one does. Not really.

Did you know that scientists can't even agree on the nature of what light actually is? Sometimes it acts like a particle, and sometimes it acts like a wave. Right now light is classified as a form of energy, but great minds such as Max Planck and Albert Einstein have shown evidence to suggest that light particles have real existence, meaning that light may actually be matter. So what is light, really? Is it matter or is it energy? 

We know light, and yet we don't know. We experience light without fully understanding what it is, and yet not understanding it fully hasn't kept us from enjoying the benefits of its existence.

God is light.  

Yes, what an appropriate metaphor.

We know God, and yet we don't know. We've experienced him without fully understanding who he is, and yet not understanding him fully hasn't kept us from enjoying the full benefits of his presence.

Now this is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in Him. If we say, “We have fellowship with Him,” yet we walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth. But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:5-7 (HCSB)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Truths I've Learned from Korean Dramas

Sometimes people talk about guilty pleasures. While I try not to keep anything in my life that makes me feel actively guilty, I will admit to having a few embarrassing pleasures. One of them is my occasional indulgence in Korean Dramas. 

These short-run series each last about the length of one season of an American TV show, but unlike American shows, they will always encompass a complete storyline. And although these stories tend to be soap-opera-ish in terms of delivery, they're also rather chaste in terms of content. 

Fortunately, I have a friend wise in the ways of Korean dramas who guides my viewing so that I don't waste time wallowing in too much angst-riddled melodrama. 

Although sometimes the angst is unavoidable.

I tend to enjoy action or comedy: stories that make me wince and chortle and snort and roll my eyes.

And occasionally make me feel very, very nervous.

I will admit that these shows are often corny and cheesey and melodramatic and predictable. But hey, sometimes I'm just in the mood for a little cheese. When I'm stressed about real life or panicking over an uncooperative writing project, just knowing that I have an hour of predictable cheese waiting for me at the end of the night can be of great comfort. 

Plus, since subtitles are involved, watching a Korean drama combines two of my favorite activities: reading and staring at pretty people.  What's not to love about that combo?

If you've never watched any Korean dramas, I really don't blame you. But you really should consider doing so, if only because they teach so many wise truths about life.

Truths I've Learned from Korean Dramas:
  1. Time travel is real.
  2. It's easy to find a parking space in downtown Seoul. (As a matter of fact, who needs parking spaces? Just leave your car wherever. Nobody cares.)
  3. Speaking of Seoul, everything important that's ever happened has happened there. (With the possible exception of Jeju Island, the rest of South Korea might as well not exist. Ditto the rest of the world.) 
  4. Dressing up as a boy is easy to pull off, even if you still basically look like a girl. Short hair will fool anybody.
  5. Surprisingly, throwing up on your crush is not a deal-breaker.
  6. Sneaking around and spying on people is easy. You don't even need to bother hiding behind trees or skulking around corners! You can stand literally two feet away gawping, and nobody will ever notice. 
  7. When in doubt, drink alcohol. This is the best idea. (Or possibly the worst idea. The data is unclear.)
  8. You can be shot in the chest at point-blank range and be mostly fine in a day or two. 
  9. You really only need one or two songs. 
  10. Men: forget hand-holding. It will get you nowhere. Women are meant to be dragged around by their wrists. Such behavior is both manly and impulsive.  
  11. While we're on the subject, remember this: if you care about a woman who's just had a narrow brush with danger and is still shaking and crying from the reaction, the best thing you can do is yell at her. This shows how much you care.
  12. Ladies: you will be able to recognize your true love because he will have the best hair. (Or the worst hair. It all depends how you feel about hair. Either way, he will have the most dramatic hair, and that's how you will recognize him as your soul mate.)
  13. Amnesia occurs with startling regularity, but don't worry because it's easily cured.  
  14. If you're not sure why someone is doing what they're doing, just wait. If you leave them alone long enough, they'll explain their thoughts through a helpful monologue. 
  15. Concealing your identity is easier than you might think. 
  16. Crying on command is a Korean birthright.
  17. When in doubt, birth secret. 
  18. Brothers and male cousins must fall in love with the same woman. They have no choice. It's coded in their DNA.
  19. No injury is too small to require treatment at the hospital.
  20. All relational rifts can be overcome by eating ramyun together. 
  21. Fox Mulder was right all along: aliens do walk among us. 

Don't miss:

Still to come: 

*Truths I've Learned from Action Movies

*Truths I've Learned from SciFi

Friday, March 14, 2014

Pros and Cons of Shopping at Wal-mart

  • Pro: It's the sort of place where it's okay to shop in your pajamas. Need to run out and pick up some ibuprofen or a gallon of milk but don't feel like getting dolled up? No problem! Wal-mart maintains a healthy come-as-you-are policy. 
  • Con: It's the sort of place where it's okay to shop in your pajamas. Enough said.
  • Pro: They're always cleaning the floors and re-stocking the shelves. It's nice to know that Wal-mart cares enough about your shopping experience to keep itself in a constant state of freshness. 
  • Con: They're always cleaning the floors and re-stocking the shelves. Every aisle you need to access has either a pallet of boxes blocking it or a wet floor.  Or both.
  • Pro: Since everyone shops there, you're sure to bump into someone you know. Forget to call Miss Daisy from church and remind her about the potluck? No worries. You'll run into her in the cereal aisle. Skip the last Parent-Teacher Conference at your child's school? Not a problem! You're bound to run into your child's teacher the next time you're at Walmart.
  • Con: Since everyone shops there, you're sure to bump into someone you know. When that happens, you will be buying something unseemly, like adult diapers. Plus, it's really embarrassing to be seen out in your pajamas.
  • Pro: There are many, many checkout lines. Who doesn't love having options? Wal-mart's vast array of fifty checkout lines is both pleasing and impressive.
  • Con: There are many, many checkout lines. Unless it's December, only two of those fifty lines will be open. The rest of them are only there to mock you. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Ten Reasons to Write a Novel

Photo by Bethany Buchanan

1. Novel writing is a fun and exciting way to spend a few years of your life. It will in no way make you feel like ripping out your own hair or clawing off your own face.

2. It's a good excuse to drink as much coffee as you want.

3. In your novel, the people will mostly do what you tell them to do, unlike in real life. Okay, sometimes people in your novel do things you don't want them to do, which is a bit more like real life. But still. The point is that you're more in control of the people in your novel than you are of the people in your life. At least in theory.


4. It's a good excuse for why you talk to yourself so much. "I'm trying out some new dialogue," you can say. "Now stop interrupting."

5. It helps account for why you are missing large swaths of time. You weren't napping or skimming the internet or zoning out. You must have been writing. Yes, that's it. You were writing. 

6. Daydreaming is no longer considered a waste. If you're writing a novel, it's called "plotting."

7. It accounts for some of your more endearing quirks. Everyone expects creatives to be a bit kooky. Trailing around the house in a kimono, spitting sunflower seeds on the floor, only ever eating the top half of a banana, insisting that the smell of cut grass gives you writer's block, or dancing in the lawn by moonlight to Chopin's "Nocturne" are all perfectly acceptable behaviors if you're a novelist. 

8. Novel-writing makes you mysterious and glamorous. (This isn't necessarily true, but based on the interactions I've had with a fair amount of writers, they seem to think it's true. And that's what counts.)

9. The good news is that you will never feel driven to rise from your bed in the middle of the night to wrestle with a particularly tricky bit of punctuation. You will not go back and forth between a period and an exclamation mark until you've practically lost your mind. That literally almost never happens.

10. If you can finish your novel and find an agent who can find you a publisher, then you may eventually get paid. 


If not.................... 

oh well. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Life Is Not a Game (Except It Kind of Is)

"Life is not a game!"

How often have we heard that sentiment expressed?

While I agree on principle, there is a game that actually does remind me of life. No, it's not the Game of Life. It's a card game called Fluxx, and it's almost exactly like life (only nobody dies at the end).

How Fluxx is like life: 

1. The rules are always changing. There are four types of cards in Fluxx: keeper cards, action cards, goal cards, and rule cards. Every time a player puts down a new rule card, the way the game is played changes. You can make plans all you want, but you still never know what's coming next or how you may need to adjust in order to deal with the changes.

2. The actions are unpredictable.  An action card could upend everything the players have been working for during the last few rounds, prompting many players to consider ending it all with a big, dramatic table flip. There's no predicting how other players' actions could disrupt your plans.

3. It's impossible to tell if you're winning. Because the goal cards change constantly (sometimes multiple times per round) it's impossible to anticipate the end of the game. Often games will end rather abruptly, with other players scratching their heads and saying, "Wait, wait. What just happened? You won?" The upshot is that it's impossible to tell if you're winning. The goal is just to keep playing the game until it's over. Maybe you'll win and maybe you won't. 

That sounds a lot like life. The rules are always changing, people's actions are unpredictable, and although you have moments of success and failure, it's usually impossible to tell if you're winning overall. 

Of course, while the parallels between playing Fluxx and living life do sound striking, they're only coincidental. 

Life is not a game. If only it were that simple. 

Most games have set rules and definite standards to judge whether you're winning or losing, but life doesn't necessarily feel like that. Although I may joke with my friends that I'm "winning at life," I know that such boasting is empty without considering one important element: life's ultimate goal.

For the Christian, life's ultimate goal is to give glory to God. It's important to remember that the opportunities to do so come through our failures as well as through our successes. Success means little if it hinges on moral or spiritual misconduct, and failure can become success if we allow God to use it to work in us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

Remember that in one sense, winning and losing are relative terms. It's possible to gain the whole world and lose your own soul. It's also possible to lose everything and still have it all. 

Want to feel that you are winning at life? Don't place too much weight on the standards of success that society uses. 

Remember that in living the Christian life, faithfulness is success

Monday, March 3, 2014

Eight Helpful Comebacks for the "Why Are You Still Single?" Question

If you're an unmarried Christian person past your twenties, you are going to be asked why you're still single.

You are going to be asked this a lot.

That's because everyone knows that Christians are supposed to line up two-by-two like animals on the ark, and woe betide anyone caught without a partner. The wrongness of the single state is so obvious that I don't need to convince you. It's fundamental. So fundamental, in fact, that your single state entitles new acquaintances to ask you deeply personal questions right off the bat. Which is only fair, because there's obviously something inherently wrong with you. 

You then face the challenge of answering a complicated question in a thirty-second sound bite. To be honest, that's hard to do without seeming flippant. 

Every once in a while, I'd like to trot out some of these responses just for fun.

Eight Helpful Comebacks for the "Why Are You Still Single?" Question:
  1. "Because nobody ever asked me, okay!? Are you happy now?! Is that what you wanted to hear?!" Then run away crying. This descent into melodrama does seem a bit unfair, but such a response could possibly break the cycle of people asking this question as if there's a pat response. 
  2. "I'm still single?!" Furrow your brow, tilt your head to the side, and blink a lot. Seem genuinely shocked. Then wander away, muttering. 
  3. "I. Don't. Know." Stare at the questioner with huge pop eyes. Do not break eye contact until the other person speaks.
  4. “Oh, I don't know... Why are you still married?” Lol. 
  5. "That's a good question." This is what I said in the classroom when students asked me questions that I didn't know how to answer. I would then change the subject, and I suggest that you do the same.
  6. "What do you think?" Turning the question around is another helpful teaching tactic, but I suggest that you only ask this one if you are very brave or have a bullet-proof self-esteem.
  7. “The love of my life dumped me when I was nineteen and broke my heart and I have never recovered from the pain... but thanks for asking.” Look off into the middle distance. Allow your eyes to well with tears. Allow the silence stretch forever.
  8. "I have a deep, well-hidden flaw that you have overlooked but that is obvious to anybody who gets close to me." This is a pleasing response because it will confirm their secret suspicions. 

The truth is that I actually don't mind when people ask me why I'm still single. I know that as a general rule, people ask because they genuinely care or are legitimately curious. 

I just don't know how to answer them. 

What I usually wind up doing is deflecting the question by launching into some quirky stories about the times I've been hit on by strangers and it's been creepy, awkward, outlandish, or some delightful combination of the three. These stories serve as subtle reminders that I'm not single because I'm undesirable or or because I've never had any options. I'm single because of the choices I've made with the options I've been given. 

This isn't my pride speaking (at least, I don't think it is) but a genuine desire to help people see singleness as a viable way to live a happy, fulfilling life that glorifies God. Perhaps if more Christians lived singleness to advantage, it would be seen as more than "pre-marriage" or as the consequence of questionable choices or the default setting of losers. 

Why am I still single?

Because I just am.

And that's okay.