End-of-semester gratitude

My first semester’s finals were yesterday. Oh, i am tired—and so, so grateful.

All last week i had reminders written all over my hands. Not reminders of things i’d need for the tests, but reminders that i would survive the process. Around my thumb and forefinger i wrote, “i have turned my back on my turning back.” Last night after my Hebrew final i collapsed into a chair and curled my fingers and saw how the words made a circle, turning back, then turning back again. And i had been telling myself over and over that i must not turn back, that as weary as i was i would reap a harvest if i did not give up. At that moment the words became true. i had turned my back on my turning back. It was accomplished. i knew that i had come far and could begin to gloan upon it. As we drove home afterwards, i could feel the semester receding behind me as if time was a place.

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i am grateful for:

  • Jonathan. Oh, Jonathan. He was on call all last week, and had finals and papers of his own (he has one final yet), but he took care of all our dinners (and the dishes) all week long so that i could study. He planned our Geek family night, too. Every time i cried that i could not, could not, could not, he told me i could. He prayed for me and pastored me and served me, my priest. Every day, he preaches to me the way of Christ to the church.
  • My beautiful Hebrew family, my classroom table-mates. Asher and i had an uproarious time studying together yesterday afternoon (we were both sleep-deprived and deliriously hilarious). Atarah brought us chocolate and little hand-written cards of appreciation last night. Gadi lets me mother him. i could not have asked for a better group of people. i never expected them. They are a gift of grace.
  • Dr. Dallaire, my Hebrew professor, has been an endless source of encouragement all semester long. Last night she gave me a hug i could live in and told me i’d better write to her in Hebrew while she’s on sabbatical. :-) She graded our finals before leaving last night and i had an email waiting for me when i got home. For the midterm and the final both she brought us food. And one of the questions was, “True or False? Dr. Dallaire loves chocolate!” :-) Again, i could never have expected her. i’m so grateful for her. Just knowing her (not to mention learning from her!) this semester was the best way to begin seminary i could imagine. She taught me that seminary is not scary, but an exhilarating, encouraging, enlarging adventure. i am keeping her forever.
  • Dr. Hess, my Pentateuch and Wisdom Lit professor. i learned so much in his class, and much of it was about myself. His style of teaching and grading stretched me, and is stretching me, and i am better for it, and i will be better yet. He was an instrument of sanctification in G-d’s hands. Again, it was grace that placed me in his class this first semester.
  • My darling amanuensis Rachel. i texted her crying so many times this last week. She prayed for me and brought me ice cream and ginger soda and hugs the night before finals. She wrote me haikus to keep me going. She shares my heart.
  • Andrew Peterson‘s song “Day By Day,” and Josh Garrels‘ “White Owl,” both of which tethered my heart and my mind as i studied. i played them for hours. Hours.
  • Pete Peterson and the Budge-Nuzzard. Pete’s witness that faith does not always end in despair gave me the courage to begin seminary. The Budge-Nuzzard, in ways known only to Divine Grace, became my own story as i struggled to finish my first semester well. The fact that the story is yet unfinished may itself have been a grace, as i was able to see myself in it without the distraction of pressure or fear regarding where the story was going. The first time i read Hind’s Feet on High Places, i was too afraid of resolution to finish. In the Budge-Nuzzard, uncertainty came alongside my uncertainty and helped me along. i know that a story this weird (but i am so weird!) is an unlikely candidate for spiritual direction and courage. But—
  • My merciful Abba loves me so well. He’s close to me when i struggle. He hides me in His heart. He rejoices over me with singing. He stoops down to make me great. i so often seek life everywhere but in Him. He is gracious, and He grows me in grace. He’s teaching me to rest in Him. And He knows that i am made to respond to stories; He made me that way. So when i cry out for stories to help me along, He never shames me for needing them but instead He provides grace upon grace, and gives me stories to enlarge my heart.

This sounds like an Oscars speech. But seriously—i am so deeply grateful.

My list of things to do today includes “read a poem,” “take a walk,” and “blat at someone.” i am eager to dive back into fiction-reading (and writing). i might take a nap. i need to buy groceries. Facebook will wait until tomorrow. Short-story-writing will wait until Friday or even next week (yeah, i never did any writing in November, and i am not really sorry). For today, the theme is gratitude and peace.

The term is over. The holidays have begun. (Yes, that’s a Lewis reference, although this semester break is only a foretaste.)

Baruch atah, Adonai.

Tomorrow, the end

Now, however, having squeezed from within me all that was happy and glad, I am left with my task at hand and the troubling knowledge that my wicked progeny is yet abroad. I can tarry here no longer, and lo, indeed does the road call to me now. I step upon it, and though I cannot see its end, I know that the Enthoovian, all arumpled and bescroached, awaits me whence it leads.”

“Tse el HaEnthuvi!”
— “Forth to the Enthoovian!” (my translation into Hebrew of this gleeful, if blearily confusing, encouragement from dear Jouncey most sage)

All this to say, my first semester’s finals are tomorrow. i wish for a Sha-Una of my own, salty taste or no. The Leapers Wee are gathering and i have no spiny pods to stay their menace.

Practice resurrection.
Practice resurrection.
Practice resurrection.

The Budge-Nuzzard and the coming resurrection

It hurts to die but each time I’m raised again and I’m something new, something I don’t recognize, something I never expected. I’ve gotten no better at avoiding the pain, but maybe, just maybe I’m getting better at trusting in the coming resurrection.”

I have indeed gone to action. That sweet abode of my arrival is now but a dollop of memory within my upper head. I must confess that in my weaker moments, I have longed for it and three times now have turned back to seek my solace within. But at length I have turned my back on my turning back and hence have come far and now gloan upon it.”

You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on You,
because he trusts in You.
Trust in the L-RD forever,
for the L-RD GOD is an everlasting rock.”

Finals are on Tuesday. i am tired. i am struggling to focus. i can’t remember why i began this journey, one which terrified me and thrilled me only three months ago and now just makes me bone-weary. How did the first half of the semester, full of excitement and voorish glee, turn into this slog? i wonder: Can i make it? i wonder: Do i want to?

“i hope it’s good for your soul.”

Well, you weren’t kidding. i wasn’t thinking at all of my soul when i started; that exhortation took me by surprise. i didn’t even burn everything i own, but it is hard anyway. And one of the most remarvelant surprises of this journey has been discovering what a source of strength and spiritual formation lurks in the ludicrous lobidiousness of The Budge-Nuzzard.

i do want to turn back. That sweet abode of my arrival seems so homely and comforting. But i will keep turning my back on my turning back. If there is a resurrection at the end of this, i want it. G-d is an everlasting rock and i can trust Him to help calm my mind and tempt it not to wander. And maybe, just maybe, one death at a time, i’ll learn to trust the coming resurrection.

Next week, i will have come far enough to begin the gloaning.

Tricksy hearts, Christ’s righteousness, and Holy Spirit indwelling

i was recently, and very unexpectedly, given the opportunity to serve someone i have long respected and through whom i have been greatly blessed. i am honoured and grateful to be able to come alongside him and minister to someone who has ministered to me. Today i asked him for prayer requests and he gave me a short list, and i was grateful for that, too. Then, because my mother-heart leapt up in a fairly predictable fashion, i indulged in a little exhortation.

The upshot is that i am now thinking about the ceaselessness of our need for Christ, even well after we have initially accepted salvation, even years into our sanctification. We never stop needing Him. We are insufficient to carry out the ministry He gives us, but He welcomes us into co-laboring with Him—it is a mercy and a grace that He gives us ministries we can’t handle. He wants to do ministry with us, like a father with His child. He is most glorified (and most proud of us) when we acknowledge and rejoice in our dependence on Him.

My initial thoughts about this were wrapped up in Christ’s sufficiency in us. We’re not sufficient in ourselves, but as we lean on Christ He works in our hearts a winsome gentleness and trustworthiness. i see this modeled in this particular person. i respect him not because i think he is perfect—i know he is not. He is appropriately, but unflinchingly, honest about that, and it is one of the many gifts i have been given through him. His own understanding of his weakness drives him to dependence on Christ. So the idea that someone who rests in Christ is, through Christ, trustworthy makes very solid sense to me. Reliance on Christ makes for a very different kind of leader than the type who will use and eat the sheep. Trustworthiness in a leader is not about brilliance and capability and ego. It’s about grace. A dependent leader is a gracious, humble, servant-hearted leader. And i said something like that, although very much abbreviated.

After i sent that email i continued off and on to think about this. i am thinking of how this works in my own life. i am privy to the tangled mess that is my heart. Those whom i am given to love don’t know the depth of that mess. They can trust me partly because they see Christ in me, and partly because they are ignorant of the areas i’ve kept from Him or the times i rush in without Him. The more i acknowledge my weakness and need and lean on Christ’s strength, the more He’s free to unravel my tangles, but my need for Him remains ceaseless. Therefore, i cannot necessarily trust my own heart, even if those around me do. My filters and devices are a little too good. i can fake dependence. And, sadly, i cannot always tell that i am doing so. i must rely on Christ. This minister whom i love and respect is right to ask for prayer for his own heart. It’s true that we trust him and he’s demonstrated trustworthiness, yet he’s right to not settle back but to continually acknowledge his continual need. Meanwhile, i must remember to pray for him and for myself, and i must remember that he, like i, can only be trusted so far. We’re both in process. There’s only one shepherd who is completely trustworthy; that is Christ.

Summary: Don’t trust your own heart. Trust Jesus’ heart. Lean on Him and listen to the Holy Spirit. Surround yourself with people who will tell you the truth when you’re faking that dependence, and when they do so, listen. You are now the righteousness of Christ, even as He became sin for you. It may be a process to learn to live it, but it’s already true. The one who lives in you has conquered death; He can change your heart. He began that work in you, and He’ll see it through. Do not dwell on your depravity, neither rely on your own righteousness, but rather rest in Him.

Give me another day or two (month or two, year or two, decade or two) and i will probably understand all this a little bit better, if i am paying attention and listening well.

Note: i am writing this to those who have already placed their trust in Jesus as G-d and Messiah. If you have not yet done so, i would encourage you to find a local pastor and have a face-to-face conversation about how your heavenly Father loves you and what Jesus’ death and resurrection can mean for you. He can (and is glad to) work His righteousness in you as well, if you will surrender and rest in Him.

First death

This week i had my first opportunity to truly practice resurrection.

My first attempt at writing this post sounded much too heroically tragic. i came face to face with the wretchedness of my own pride on Tuesday, and it unraveled me. i knew i needed to write about it—to be honest. But my first instinct when i began typing was to glorify myself even in failure.

i am smarter than anyone i know. Call it perfectionism; say i am a high achiever and have high standards for myself, but the truth is that i am prideful. Tuesday my mental image of my perfect self was fractured by a grade i did not expect. It felt unfair. It felt surreal. Surely, it was a mistake. It was not. i failed to earn a grade worthy of myself, and in so doing i was forced to face what was in my heart that i should consider certain grades worthy of me, rather than humbling myself to make my work worthy of such grades.

When i began seminary—even as i was applying—i held clutched in my hands the hope of resurrection. i reminded myself that resurrection requires death. The first time i missed a single point on a quiz i told myself this. It is okay to die. Dying is a prerequisite for the remaking you desire. But even while saying this, i was working against myself. i had flung myself down the steep steps of seminary (see how noble that sounds?), but rather than allowing G-d’s grace to tandem jump with me, or to catch me at the bottom, or even to let me crash that i may be resurrected, i was blowing frantically at the ground as if i could keep myself aloft through my own effort.

To be blindsided by this grade was a grace. It sent me to my face, wracked with shame, and it forced me to acknowledge my pride. i wanted to be resurrected? to be remade? My redeemer (baruch atah, Adonai!) is so eager to redeem me that He will not wait even a whole semester before beginning the process.

As i lay on my face in the chapel, weeping into the carpet, i knew i had a choice. i could feel sorry for myself, even paint myself as a victim of unfairness. Or i could own my sin, celebrate this first death, and look forward to resurrection.

On my hands i wrote truth, truth that after repeated washings has not yet faded.

It hurts to die but each time i’m raised again and i’m something new, something i don’t recognize, something i never expected.”

Practice resurrection.”

Go now with me and define my becoming.”

“Love.”

Today i was listening to Sixpence None the Richer—the album which came out as i was beginning my undergraduate, the most beautiful album i’ve ever heard, an album soaked through with despair and grief and pain and, yes, hope of healing—and was met again by grace.

The Harvester is near. His blade is on your skin
To plant a new beginning: Well then, let the cut begin.”

Resurrection requires death. But death, if i trust His good intentions more than my own sufficiency, will always result in resurrection.

Let the cut begin.

The first round of short stories begins

This summer, i set myself a goal of writing a short story for every class i take during my graduate studies career. Now is the time to start making that happen. Midterms are over and November is upon me. The plan is to write both shorts this month, taking advantage of the community and momentum that NaNoWriMo provides, although as long as they’re finished before next semester starts i’ll call it good. It took me awhile to come up with my projects, but here they are.

For Hebrew, i am actually going to write a story in Hebrew. i’m pretty excited about this. ‘Round about week three of class, when all of my vocab words started sounding alike, i realized how much opportunity there is here for wordplay. Asher (the name) sounds exactly like asher (a pronoun meaning who, which, or that), and shares sounds with yashar (upright/straight) and rasha (wicked) and ashir (rich) and rasa (to make or do). That week i had to make sentences just to help me keep all the words straight. Asher yashar; Asher lo rasha. “Asher is upright; Asher is not wicked.” Asher rasa kesef; Asher ashir. “Asher made money; Asher is rich.” (i love saying Asher ashir.) Jonathan said my sentences sounded like a Dr. Seuss book, so that’s exactly what i’m going to do—write a picture book full of wordplay in Hebrew. To make all this even better, one of my tablemates (we’re divided into groups of four) goes by the Hebrew name Asher, and has a two-year-old daughter. So fictional Asher will learn numbers and colours and other words, and have adventures, and render my readers tongue-tied in the process.

For Pentanteuch and Wisdom, i had a much harder time coming up with a story idea. All the ideas that were presenting themselves were based directly on the stories we were reading, but i am not interested in writing Biblical fiction. i wanted to write a story inspired by the class, not simply drawn from the reading. My exegetical paper was on one of the Lady Wisdom passages in Proverbs, though, and she fascinates me—but i didn’t know what to do with that. The solution turned out to be both simple and unexpected, and it’s going to be a lot of fun. We’ve spent a fair amount of time so far this semester talking about how Israel adapted the literary traditions of neighbouring nations in writing their own history, creation myth/account, and even legal codes. Our professor broached the question of how far a Christian can go in engaging and adapting cultural forms in our own setting. And so i’m going to try something i’ve never thought to do before—intentionally adapt a cultural storytelling form towards which i would not naturally gravitate. i’m going to write a superhero story. i’ll seek to conform to the genre’s conventions, while inverting some of the themes and cliches. So far, my protagonist is about half-created. Her name is Hélène Hokma, named for my Hebrew professor (Hélène Dallaire—the name Hélène means “light”) and Lady Wisdom (Hokma, or Hokmot, in Proverbs). i’m still stuck on a nom de guerre and a concrete array of powers, although i do have some ideas and the beginnings of a costume. As for setting and theme, she’s going to live into a dark place like Gotham and do what Batman wishes he could do but can’t: Inspire hope and actual transformation of the city. Oh, i have ideas. You’ll just have to wait.

A poem for the journey

i found this tonight while looking through a file of story ideas. i wrote it before school started, and i meant to come back to it but never did. The peace in it is striking when i remember what turmoil i was feeling when i wrote it.

“i hope it’s good for your soul.” O remind me, Adonai, to keep my eyes ever on You.

At the edge of graduate studies

i begin now a long journey.
And who shall i be when i arrive?
Go now with me
and define my becoming.
You, my soul’s hope,
my beloved,
my joy,
be for me my only goal
as You make and remake me
as You desire.
Build me as a cairn,
year by year,
class by class,
stone by stone,
and make me a sign-post.
When i arrive,
i will look out across the summit
and wonder at Your majesty,
and glory in Your creativity,
and marvel at what You have made me,
and open wide my arms
and laugh
and set my feet upon the path
of our next great journey.

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