“Clothe yourself with Christ.”– Romans 13:14
Getting over my resistance to love has been a process of fits of starts.
I hated the idea of love for a long time. What made it worse, I didn’t want to get over my cynicism.
But nearly 14 years into our marriage, every Valentine’s Day, Sheri and I always remind each other of a phrase we came up with early in our marriage,
“Embrace the cheese.”
Which means, the only way we can know Love is by caring more for embracing it than about resisting any taint of cheesiness. No hokey, sappy, mass-produced, hackneyed, gag-inducing sentimentalism could ever change the truth of what we all need most in this life. And we’re learning, slowly, because that’s what God designed for us. And we realize it more day by day, and year by year.
This Valentine’s Day, we still find ourselves haters of the adulterated, processed-cheese kind of romance. But we’re also more lovers of the pure kind that continually flows from the source.
It’s silly and even a bit ridiculous that an old flippant phrase could turn into our traditional Valentine’s wish to each other. But so? If it works, it works. And maybe our happy Valentine’s Day depends most on remembering that simple secret.
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free,
rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me.
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of thy love;
leading onward, leading homeward, to my glorious rest above.
“O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” by Samuel Francis (1875)
Insignificant as it might seem, this little phrase has become a huge gift to us. And that’s our choice–to celebrate it as a gift or to not.
Even with all that’s happened and made us haters, each new Valentine’s Day gives us the choice. Will you celebrate?
I say YES. And I don’t care if others think I’m cheesy.
And really, who can’t embrace cheese? It’s straight up delicious.
I’m off to find some confetti…
Sometimes, you won’t have a lot of time.
The words will just have to show up ready, preformed. Packaged.
That’s how it is in life. It doesn’t always send you what would thrill you.
I’ve had it happen enough times now though–you don’t always realize what’s going to make you happiest. And it isn’t only writing that’s like that.
Charlotte wrote her first book report on Chocolate Fever, a great book for a first book report, and on the little form that asked the questions to help her prepare her paper, the last question asked what she learned from the book.
“Well,” she said, cocking her little 8-year-old head reflectively, “I didn’t want to read it at first.”
“Why not,” I asked, shocked to hear this title wouldn’t intrigue her. Had she seen the cover with the melting chocolatey popsicle on it?
“I don’t know. I just thought it would be about something else. But it wasn’t.”
“Hmm,” I mused, sensing a teachable moment, “You had a preconceived notion. So is that what you learned?”
“Yeah,” she said, picking up her pencil. “You shouldn’t judge a book by the cover or the title.”
That’s my girl. And I didn’t even prompt that in the slightest.
This is the problem: we don’t know what we want but we really, really think we do. It wouldn’t be so bad not to have a clear idea of our desires except for the part where we believe we have it totally nailed down. And we have this from birth. We think we’re the ones who decide what’s going to make us happy.
What really kills me about this in myself is that now that I’m reaching the cusp of “real adulthood”–40–I’m only now becoming able to see just how often I’m dead wrong about what I want and how often I always have been. And that’s not to mention what I need. That’s a whole different overstuffed bag of stupid proof.
It isn’t only me, right? This is a serious problem that deserves some further reflection. But as I said, 5 minutes is it for now. So chime in if you know what I’m talking about.
There’s more on this to come…
amusement – an activity that is diverting and holds the attention; a-muse, lit. “without thought.”
I used to know how to have fun even if no one else around me did.
I’m not sure when exactly it happened, but I’ve grown up. It became obvious recently and scared me.
We went to a movie Friday night and it felt like I was in one. Two of my favorite people began 5th and 2nd grade this week and had earned free tickets for completing the library’s summer reading program.
So we sent mom shopping with the women and we went to celebrate my kids’ amazingness. We drove to the little retro theater downtown and it was a magical evening. I wanted to remember it forever because I’m a dad of the cutest girls in the world—and they’re exactly the age I imagined when I wrote that screenplay during my semester of film school in college.
I wanted to tell them about this because I thought maybe they’d want to know someday what was going on with their excited dad, and the truth is always stranger than we can know. Because the weird truth is, before they were born, I’d had the picture of them both in my mind. And they were this age when I wrote them into the story about a dad who’d left his big important job to begin an art gallery and worked too hard and had a gorgeous wife who was their mom and the two girls were really them.
Somehow, it was them. And I felt for them the way I remember feeling for Sheri, only purer and somehow, unthinkably stronger.
And I didn’t realize it until we were getting into my car.
But they were excited and tickling each other in the back. So I let them play a while. And then they continued…
I thought about how somewhere along the way, once again I’d gotten too focused on making sure things work. I can get so single-minded, nothing else exists for me. No hobbies, coffee with friends or extra little things like oh, eating, sleeping, and maintaining a life. This dream doesn’t come easy.
“Doo-wee, sha-gooo!” Charlotte was doing her favorite baby sounds and crazy nonsense, which she doesn’t get to do when Sheri’s around because she can’t stand it at all. And normally I don’t mind so much but just now, now that I want to tell them this amazing fact I’m sure will amaze and impress on them all kinds of mystical God-stuff, it’s annoying me. Ellie’s amused and continues tickling, so I just drive and figure it probably doesn’t really matter to them anyway.
I briefly debate with myself whether this is a big deal: can’t I enjoy the silly freedom for what it is—without judgment?
But I had plans. Seems I always do these days. I used to love being wild and goofy. My brother and I used to make each other crack up in that goofball way only siblings can pull off. When had that gotten lost? I used to cut loose as a kid and revel in not having to do anything, no process, no practicing, no pursuing anything. She wasn’t even bothered that I wasn’t laughing (we all tend to observe each others’ subtle emotional cues and inhibit ourselves accordingly). Though would that have been so bad?
She was just having fun.
We get to the theater and get out and time slows down. The air is warm and cool in that way it hints of fall. Why didn’t I open the sunroof? I think. Oregonians are required to use their sun days. I lock the car and follow them in where we stand in line and I hand the woman the tickets and we go in.
Before long we’re back outside and the sun is setting and streaming through the high trees in the parking lot.
I’m a little more relaxed now. I can see a bit better.
Later, I tell Sheri I think I’ve been working too hard, too long. “We were there for entertainment, a-musement and I couldn’t just go with it.”
“Too much purpose is a serious problem,” she says.
I wish I’d gone with the crazy wild Charlotte tried to bring. It’s so easily squelched. But doing it right (and silliness is an art) is so hard. But I won’t work on this.
Working on it is the opposite of pursuing nothing. The point is to throw out the rules and carefulness and just live. Julia Cameron talked about this in The Artist’s Way, and John Ortberg in The Me I Want to Be.
If you’ve forgotten how to play, you need to remember back to when life was fun.
I need to let in a little outside influence, the spirit of the in-spiration—the outside muse who helps us escape our dour, serious selves.
The next night we went swimming at the grandparents’ community pool and this time, and I was far less restrained.
I’ll tell them about their incredible prophetic dad some other day.
I’m thinking of starting a new habit—for all the time I get in “pursuit” mode, I want to seek out at least half as much time to cut loose and laugh.
Sure, amusement can be bad in excess. But if you can’t be amused, i.e. beyond your mind and without thought, can you really feel how alive you are?
Enjoyment, even in the midst of serious work is vital.
I’ve felt most fully alive on roller coasters, skiing, fishing on the river, sailing on a zip-line high above the forest floor, speaking to groups of writers. I believe it’s when body, mind, heart and spirit are engaged in the moment that life is at its amusing best–full of the muse at his most diverting creative self.
Seek out amusement today. And follow where it leads…
“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.”
If you haven’t been by recently, check out yourwritersgroup.com where we amuse ourselves silly writing for a higher purpose.
This morning, I headed down to the pond and caught a frog.
I'd never have seen her if she hadn't leaped from the wooden bridge. But when she landed amongst the rocks and ferns, I trapped her with the girls' butterfly net. She was big and made no sound, so I assumed her female, an orangey-brown wood frog with a white underbelly. I couldn't wait to tell the girls, so I wedged the stick with the net between the boards of the bridge so she couldn't escape and I hurried back up to the house.
When we got there the net was empty. My captive had escaped.
It had jumped like mad when I first caught her. I assumed once the initial fear passed, she'd calm down–aren't frogs content staying even in slowly warming water? Well, a net isn't water. And seeing water just below, she must have finally seen it and discovered where freedom was.
"Ah, I'm sorry, girls" I said. "That's disappointing."
"It's okay," Ellie said. She's wanted to catch a big frog for months. Always my gracious Elianna.
"Maybe it got through the boards," Charlotte said, showing me how the stick could fit between them.
"I think you're right," I sighed. "We'll just have to wait and try again."
The past few days I taught at the Oregon Christian Writers conference coaching novelists in revision. I wanted to inspire them to write over the long term, so I tried to share how stilling and seeking the water is all we need to get free. But I always question whether I should have spent more time on practical tips and trends.
It's true: desperation usually makes a bad cologne and writers conferences can stink. But turned in the right direction by staff and speakers–masterfully done by Jim Rubart and Cec Murphey this year–the aroma's greatly improved.
I've met so many writers and as a rule, we tend to strain against the stories holding us captive. I talk a lot about how revision is letting our stories still us so we can reach the end and experience the transformation.
I imagine that frog catching a glint of morning light on the water below, and finally understanding she could simply squeeze through the boards to head down.
Desperate for freedom, the water's call turned her in the right direction.
Life offers continual opportunities for revision.
"I kneel down to toss in the laundry. I set the dial to extra dirty. I stay on my knees and watch the water run into the washer, watch it splash against the circular glass of the washing machine’s front door, hear its gurgling fall. Down it flows. Down, always down, water runs, always looking for yet lower and lower places to flow. I watch water run and spiritual water must flow like this…always seeking always the lowest places—and the washtub begins to rock. I must go lower. I tell myself this, watching water run. That whenever I am parched and dry, I must go lower with the water, and I must kneel low in thanks.
The river of joy flows down to the lowest places.”
-Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts
I've forgotten this insight many times. But today a frog has helped.
Writing well requires the revision to turn our desperation in the right direction and go lower. We all forget, so we need reminders to still and seek the water.
We searched the pond but couldn't find her and we turned to pursue our daily business–me to my computer and the girls to enjoying the lazy last weeks of summer. But even up at the house, I'm down at the pond today, turning this lesson of the frog over in my mind, the freedom she figured out. When desperation for freedom turns to straining, stop. Seek the water and simply go down.
To all my new writer friends, you whose books need this too, think of the frog and her freedom won in stilling. I pray you find your way down to the water…