Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Faith Strings

Every week at the start of my violin lesson, I listen to my teacher play an 'A' on the keyboard while I draw my bow across my corresponding string, turning the tuning peg this way and that until the notes match. Then 'D', then 'G', then 'E', finally playing them all together and nodding in satisfaction when they all sound together in harmony. It's a small, very simple act, but I do it every week before lesson, every day before I practice. Why? The rest of the time I spend playing would be a waste if I did not.

Because of temperature and moisture changes in the air, the wood of my instruments expands or shrinks a little bit depending on the environment. I'd have to stop breathing and keep away from anyone else who did to keep my violin from doing this. With every slight expansion or shrinking, the strings are pulled out of their correct tuning, and it is my job to re-right them.

What would happen if I didn't? Anyone with a decent ear would be in pain, including myself, if I failed to make sure my strings are in tune. I could play a scale and all my fingers would be in the correct places, but since the string isn't tuned to the right note, none of my fingers will yield the right notes either. I could try and correct my fingers to the untuned string, but that would be even more labor intensive, groping my way up and down the strings, hunting for the right notes, with no logical pattern or method at all. The intervals would be all wrong.

I could play an originally beautiful sonata without a note being in place. What should sound like singing would sound like a sick and dying animal.

I could do everything else I know to do, but if my strings aren't tuned, it's all in vain. What should be music is a disaster.

For followers of Christ, reading our Bibles and prayer is our daily tuning. We could have a fruitful devotional time on Monday and be in a great place, but if we neglect it on Tuesday and Wednesday, we get to Thursday wondering why our words are the painful, ungentle scraping sounds of complaining or accusation or unkindness. We may not stop and take the time to worship the Lord and then wonder why certain tasks in the day that used to be easy feel so overwhelming and impossible. We meditate on things other than God's Word and His promises and then try to bless others: in vain, it becomes apparent, eventually.

If I can't expect to make beautiful music without first tuning my violin to the correct notes, why do we think we can go about our days and do the Lord's work without first tuning ourselves to Him? Re-aligning our hearts, readjusting our perspective.

We are each a player in the symphony that God is conducting. It would be silly if musicians insisted on trying to play their parts without playing attention to the conductor, or without fixing their strings. They understand that to be in harmony they must continually go back and tune, go back and re-tune, go back and re-tune again. So must we, and it is not a bad thing.

Getting out of tune is nothing to feel guilty about! My instrument exists in a world where heat and cold and moisture tug and pull at it. Should it or I beat ourselves up for getting out of tune? No. I simply ask for the correct note and make it right. Likewise, we are souls in a world where sin still exists and the things of this world are constantly yanking at us and trying to pull us down. We grow weary, we lose perspective, we get off track. It's not the end of the world -- you just have to get back in tune.

Such a little thing, yet so crucial. I may know all the right notes, but if I haven't changed the tone of my string, that knowledge doesn't do a thing. Just because you've read that verse before or you've heard that story or lesson a thousand times doesn't mean it's not useful to you.

You and I are earthen vessels that must make themselves ready for the service of our Maker. Musicians in a vast piece that only the Great Conductor understand in totality, this side of heaven. So don't neglect meeting God in a quiet place daily; reading His Word, praising His name, being reminded of heaven and of the work God is doing. Don't frustrate yourself by trying to play in this spiritual symphony with an untuned soul. Don't overestimate your instrument and and assume you can keep going and going without the strings pulling out of place. And don't be discouraged when you know you're out of tune -- just crack open your Bible and find the right notes to sing again.

It is the little, faithful actions that set the foundation for beautiful sounds that minister and bless us, those around us, and He who sits on the throne.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Security of Insecurity

I can definitely say I took internet culture's (namely, the fandom/fangirl world's) cues in this, but in myself, personally, I've seen an over-glorification of insecurities. Awkwardness, faults, things we're not good at or afraid of.

There's an overall flavor of "this is who I am, deal with it, we're making insecurity cool so we can feel accepted in them."

While accepting people the way they are and loving them isn't wrong at all, there's a false sense of security that comes in embracing insecurities and things we're afraid of.

I might be alone in this. *shrug*

But I know I've become secure in my insecurities. They are the things that I have let define me. They are the things that I let dictate how I live. They are the things I have used as a shield, an excuse, a safe place. An excuse so I don't have to face those problems, those issues, those things I should grow in. An excuse for going my merry way and doing what I want.

In some ways, I've let my insecurities take the place of character traits.

The way I'm terrified of interacting with people my own age. Honestly, nothing more scary than a roomful of other teenagers I'm expected to interact and fit in with.

The way I get self conscious about the way I look, different than lots of the people around me.

The way talking to boys makes me really nervous, by and large. I avoid that one at all costs. Or try to.

The way I feel really socially awkward and don't like to get out and meet new people and do things in groups and be adventurous.

The way I don't like certain unknowns, or the pressures of peer groups, or being in different societal groups.

The way I, bizarrely, paradoxically so, am afraid of being different.

These are things I have let define me, in some ways. They are things I have accepted as fact.

And you know what?
That comes back to bite you.

Because as much as you can find security in embracing your weaknesses, at the time you hate them. Again, maybe this is all just me.

But I can get insanely jealous of my friends who hang out with others their own age. And have fun doing things in groups; social events and other things. Have normal guy friends, or even boyfriends. Do things that are totally unique and beautiful and have confidence in themselves - not by being stuck up, but unapologetically being who God has made them to be.

And sometimes I can take that jealousy and hurt and turmoil of emotions and keep them inside. Leave them to simmer and grapple with them privately.

But sometimes, those friends are too close for me to do that.

And what are my insecurities that I burrow in and hate doing then?

They're coming out, at my friends, and instead of hurting only myself, I'm hurting a dear friend because I'm insecure and jealous of what they do. 

It's entirely unfair that I am mad at them for having more confidence than I do.

It's also entirely unfair that I am maintaining my insecurities instead of daring to grow out of them. Daring to see past my issues. Daring to get over myself and change the things I don't like about myself.
Daring to grow up and mature and be a better person instead of envying those who don't struggle in the ways I do.

I've gotten some glimpses of the ways my insecurities could hurt other people.

And my walls I hide in aren't worth doing damage to my friends. It isn't worth breeding jealousy and envy and discontentment in myself.

So, with the Lord's help, I'm going to try and do a very scary thing.

Actually find some confidence and stop using my fears and weaknesses as excuses.
Stop lying to myself. Stop exaggerating my bad qualities and dismissing my good ones.
Show grace and love to myself the way I show them to other people. Love myself as a child of God the way I know I want to show that love to everyone else.
Resist the lies of the enemy and lift my eyes to Heaven when I feel downtrodden.
Be selfless. Stop selfishly wallowing in the ugly familiarity of insecurities I've exalted. Stop giving the enemy footholds, leaving myself wide open for discouragement, discontentment, jealousy, depression, paralyzing bitterness. Selfishness is idolatry too.

My Heavenly Father is right there ready and able to help me mature and grow. He's right there to do it in me - I can't do it myself. I need His help, I need His steady hand, His steadfast love.

"This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him." 1 John 5:14-15

I want love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.

I want to look beyond myself.

I want to love others unconditionally.

I want to die to self.

I want to be secure in the Rock of my Salvation, not my insecurities.

I'm confident He hears that prayer.

And I'm encouraged that one day, I'll be better. And even now, I'm learning.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Abiding, which also includes home decor.

"We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him."

There's a picture in our downstairs bathroom of grapes on a vine. Beneath, it has the verse "I am the vine and ye are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit."

And for as long as I've regarded that framed text on the wall, my idea of abiding has just been....being. Like a plant growing, I suppose. Not very interesting. Not very vivid. Just being.

The verse up there in italics was the subject of a bible study last week. As a group, we sort of discussed what abiding (among other things in this verse and the surrounding ones) meant. Our pastor, whose house we were at, used his house as an illustration: he abides there: it shelters him from the elements, there's food in the fridge for him...

My brain took off from there. I glanced around the cozy family room we were in. This is his house. The furniture is arranged the way he wants it. The walls are the color he wanted them. This home is accommodated to suit him; the longer he and his family have lived here, the more it has become theirs. 

You can tell one lived-in house from another.

When one first moves into a place, it has considerably less personality, less markedness of the people that inhabit it, than it will even a few months, and certainly a few years, down the road.

Our living room may have been mostly devoid of furniture in the first two years we lived in it; but sixteen years later there are pictures of my family all across the walls, well-loved furniture that has been moved and moved again, books and pens scattered around, and today's mail on a bench near the door. There's no doubt whose house this is.

So too, when the Lord moves into the house that is you: the longer He abides there, the more things are going to get scooted around and rearranged to suit Him. The walls are probably going to get a different color scheme than the one you picked out. He's going to rearrange the furniture, or maybe even buy a new couch. He's going to hang pictures on the walls that please Him. And maybe a wall or two is gonna get knocked down and the entire kitchen remodeled.

And you know what?

The finished product is going to be more beautiful, more healthy, more peaceful, more joyful, and more satisfying than anything you could have dreamed up while picturing your dream house.

But you have to let Him call the shots. Don't argue about the color of the front door or the spacing of the couches or the type of sink He's putting in. He's better at this "making all things new" thing than you are.

That means you're going to hear things like this.

Hey, that dream you've been holding on to? It's going to go tonight. It's keeping you from me.

The way you color your words doesn't exactly reflect me. Let's repaint the way you speak.

You keep tripping on that stumbling block in the middle of the floor. I know it's going to take some tugging and pulling, but let's move that. Right out the door. 

You're hiding behind this wall. I'm going to knock it down over the weekend. 

That sculpture you're really proud of in the entryway? Your pride is keeping you from being useful. I'm going to take your accomplishment off its pedestal. 

It's not fun. It's not pretty. It's hard work.

But you're also going to hear things like this.

This space seems quite empty. I'm going to bring you friends brighter than the prettiest flowers to fill it up.

Your kitchen shelves are looking scarce. Open my Word - there's a storehouse there to sustain you. 

Here's some ministry and blessed times and memories and family to decorate the front of the fridge with. 

I have this fresh coat of paint. It's beautiful, and after I scrub your stained and scraped walls clean, I'm going to give them a completely new look. You're going to love it. 


There's something absolutely charming about a very lived-in house filled with people that love Jesus. There's something peaceful about it. Something fruitful. Something satisfying.

There's something absolutely charming about a person in whom God lives; someone who loves Jesus. There's peace. Fruit. Satisfaction.

Abiding isn't static. Every day your house, your bedroom, your closet, becomes more and more yours as you live life. Your intricacies fill them; no one knows your house better than you do.

God abiding in you, you abiding in God: they are not unmoving statements. It is Him living every day in you and making you more like Him. It is you getting to know Him, better and better, like knowing the way to the kitchen even when the lights are off.

Every day that you walk with God, be encouraged: you're getting more and more lived-in. He is abiding, being, living in you. Making you, you earthen vessel, you mortal temple, His habitation.

You've been His since the day He bought you and put His name on the title deed, and every day that ownership becomes more and more clear.

He is your God. And you are His delight.

And He that has begun a good work in you will be faithful to complete it. I promise.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Back To Screenwriting

Five years is too long to go without making a movie.

So, this summer, Lord willing, I'm going to throw together my first real short. It's an adaptation of a work of fiction by a beloved author: G. K. Chesterton.

And I can't try to sound serious and professional anymore I'm eating tater tots as I type this for crying out loud.

Ok so I adapted the first chapter of The Man Who Was Thursday by good old G. K. into a short film set in the present time while still preserving the early-1900s air. Visually, it will look almost as if the characters are rehearsing a period play in full costume in a contemporary cafe. It's going to be so weird I can't WAIT.

Almost all of the dialogue is straight out of the chapter. I think it would make an intriguing short, and it's a way to personally celebrate an author I have recently been delighting in, from taking notes on Heretics late at night to doing dramatic play readings with friends over skype.

Want a preview? Ok here's a preview.

Do you guys understand that this means?I'll have something serious to blog about all summer! If it happens! And I think it's gonna happen. Alright. Update over. I'm going to go finish my tater tots now.  

Monday, February 17, 2014

Dietrich and Luther

I'm in the middle of reading The Cost Of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

I read this section this morning in the car before my math class, and I was so stirred that I wanted to share it with all of you, as well.

This section came on a small discourse on monasticism, but the emphasis that hit me was God's overturning of Luther's world, more than once, and how delightful it is, how glorious, when God shatters our worlds and pulls out from under us everything we stand on, and leaves us no alternative but His grace.

"By and large, the fatal error of monasticism lay not so much in its rigorism (though even here there was a good deal of misunderstanding of the precise content of the will of Jesus) as in the extent to which it departed from genuine Christianity by setting up itself as the individual achievement of a select few, and so claiming a special merit of its own. When the Reformation came, the providence of God raised Martin Luther to restore the gospel of pure, costly grace. Luther passed through the cloister; he was a monk, and all this was part of the divine plan. Luther had left all to follow Christ on the path of absolute obedience. He had renounced the world in order to live the Christian life. He had learnt obedience to Christ and to his Church, because only he who is obedient can believe. The call to the cloister demanded of Luther the complete surrender of his life. But God shattered all his hopes. He showed him through Scripture that the following of Christ is not the achievement or merit of a select few, but the divine command to all Christians without distinction. (...) The bottom having thus been knocked out of religious life, Luther laid hold upon grace. Just as the whole world of monasticism was crashing about him in ruins, he saw God in Christ stretching forth his hand to save. He grasped that hand in faith, believing that "after all, nothing we can do is of any avail, however good a life we live." The grace which gave itself to him was a costly grace, and it shattered his whole existence. Once more he must leave his nets and follow. The first time was when he entered the monastery, when he had left everything behind except his pious self. This time even that was taken from him. He obeyed the call, not through any merit of his own, but simply through the grace of God. Luther did not hear the word: "Of course you have sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolation of forgiveness." No, Luther had to leave the cloister and go back to the world, not because the world in itself was good and holy, but because even the cloister was only part of the world."

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Epic Music II by Jonathan Maiocco - Review

It is my pleasure and honor to have been given this album of music a pre-release listen, and a review. If you do not already know who Jonathan Maiocco is, do yourself a favor and acquaint yourself.

This album was sheer pleasure to listen to. Jon pointed out in a recent blog that the track titles spell out, by looking at the first letter of each, "To the great I AM." And indeed, Jon's music here is, and always has been, sounds of praise to our Creator.

I'm going to briefly splurge on each track, in order. Here we go:

The Greatest Story Never Told
This is a strong opening to the album: sweeping scope, momentum that gathers with a slow grandeur and leads to a fast-paced, high-combat air almost halfway through. The string lines about a minute to the end make one want to sing, or shout and charge into the fray with weapon held high.
The last minute felt to me like the tatters and tears after the bloody climax of an epic tale - as if all the glory was whisked away and you are left with but a single word, a fading image. It's gorgeous, epic, and tender at the end.

Yeah, have I mentioned this album is writing fodder? If you need an auditory writing prompt, something to kick that writing brain into gear, look no further. 

Organ Donor
The title is quite clever, as I realized. A blazing organ theme comes in at about two minutes - it has a whiff of steampunk and is high-energy. Like the track before, it has a simple ending that is not anticlimactic in the slightest.
What I love, always, is Jon's ability to paint a story with sounds. And that, in the end, the story is different for everyone that listens. It sparks the imagination and is gripping.

Thirteenth Hour
This one begins with a mesmerizing ticking and has strong use of percussion, strings, and vocals. Again, fast-paced like the steady, dramatic countdown of a story's time clock. A track that's easy to get lost in (in the best of ways), and in my opinion, it's only fault is being too short. The best songs always are. This is why the repeat button was invented.
Again, excellent writing fodder. The mastery of it is that the sounds are not overwhelming, the drama not overdone - it is perfectly balanced to strike one's emotions and imagination in a tasteful manner.

Hope In Our Midst
This is one of my favorites. It's fit to make your heart soar. The spirit of high adventure at its finest - pure, bold, untainted; perfection contained in just over three minutes. It whispers to you to seek out the unknown, to brave an adventure. To find courage. This one leaves me breathless and near tears. I am not in the year 2014 when I listen to it. This song is like the best kinds of books. You can be anywhere or be anyone when you are in it.

Extra Celestial
This one begins tender and vulnerable coupled with a sense of wonder. Possibly the most grand of the album and an easy favorite. The scope and depth is astounding and I wish I could stay in it forever. It is, indeed, heavenly, though it carries a serious gravity about it as well. Both beautiful and solemn, to me at least.

Gun Control
Someone decided to have major fun with sound effects on this one. Grim and intense, after floating amongst stars in the previous track, this one catapults you to earth and places you in a crossfire - between the beauty of music and the deadly sound of bullets firing. It's a treat for the ears and is seamless, but it's no walk in the park. It's a risk to incorporate sounds like that into a musical track like that, but it definitely worked.

This one is just too much fun. More fun than should be allowed. Pardon my dance background, but it would make a riot of a tap and jazz number. Personal opinion.
Almost purely percussion, you'll be tapping nearby surfaces and possibly nodding your head to the beat in no time. It doesn't go so long as to get old, and it's a nice breather before the solemn...

Earth Forgotten
Another one of my favorites. Can you tell I like the slower, serious ones?
It's hard to find words for this one. It's gorgeous, that's for sure. Hauntingly so, or perhaps in the way of an almost-completely-faded memory. There are vocals in this track as well, and they are masterfully used and don't stand out like a sore thumb the way I've noticed vocals can in instrumental tracks like these. It takes its time, builds, and carries you to the peak of a mountain range and shows you glory before fading away again in a grave farewell.

Always And Forever
Is atmospheric the right word? This track has a bittersweet air, another one that is easy to get lost in. Superb in its emotion, it's slowly hopeful, like a smile gradually earned through tears. Dare I say romantic? Aye, it's romantic, but not sappy in the slightest. Gorgeous, in a word.

That Feeling Of Falling
Heroic. You can practically visualize the hero sweeping in to save, and the impending peril. Definite excitement and intensity. Driving down the freeway blasting this one would make such an ordinary thing epic for sure. In case y'all are like me and you listen to music while you drive.

Into Battle
This one sends you reeling into combat, for sure. It's almost hummable which is a bonus. Again, not overkill in the intensity department, perfectly balanced. Stirring with bold lines of heroism and the feeling of now-or-never.

Anger Management
Reminds me of those epic trailers we've been seeing these days: giant ships looming over cities, tower toppling, people running around... you know, cool stuff.
Seriously though, this track is just. Well, epic.

And here it is, the stunning close to a glorious album. Epic music, indeed, and this one tops the whole listening experience off. Mesmerizing, it paces itself, growing like a giant rising to his feet, and we watch in awe. Utterly breathtaking. It rises to an epic climax and then goes somewhere special - a place of praise, in wonder of the Creator, the maker of music. If there was a way music itself could lift its hands and declare the vastness of God, this is it.

Okay now. You're gonna go give this album a listen or two, right?
Here's a link:

Many thanks, Jonathan. And praise be, always, to the Great I AM, who makes beauty like this conceivable.