A Letter From Your Cell Phone

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Dear Owner,

We need to talk.  About your obsession with me.  At first, I was flattered.  I felt so popular as you eagerly picked me out at the store.  How you searched for just the right cover to put on me that would both articulate your personality and protect me from the copious amount of times you would drop me.  I enjoyed helping you organize your life with the myriad of apps you downloaded.  I loved connecting you with  your friends and family.  

But, there’s a fine line between using me and abusing me.  And honey, you’ve crossed it. I mean, just look at the statistics of how much time is sucked from the average American’s day looking at my screen (2 hours and 36 minutes daily, on average…)  It’s appalling, and yet, from the moment you wake up to the moment your drop me on your face because you fall asleep looking on Facebook, you are texting, playing, checking, reading, and tweeting.  

I was not meant to be your security blanket.  It never fails– you are in a social situation in which you feel out of your element.  You pull me out.  Having someone to text makes you feel more valid as a human, I guess.  When things get a little too real or uncomfortable, you casually reach for me and start pretending to check that “really important” email.  That panicky feeling you get when you realize you’ve left me at home— yeah.  I’ve got your number…. (pun intended)

I was not meant as a way to keep people at arms length away.  When you give half of your attention to the person across the table at the coffee shop; when you insist on letting the phone call interrupt a meaningful conversation; when you use me to communicate a less-than-interested attitude to that slightly annoying person at happy hour, you are choosing to stay in shallow waters.  More than that- it’s downright rude.  

I was not meant to be your sole source of entertainment and information.  Incessantly checking Facebook, Buzzfeed after mindless Buzzfeed, and the manic obsession with flinging Star Wars themed birds into various boxes… I have to ask– what effect is that having on your mind and soul?  Why are you trading sun and fresh air for the glow of a blue screen?

Nor was I meant to be the cause of discontentment and pride.  Flicking endlessly down your Facebook feed, you inevitably come to the conclusion that everyone else is living a happier, more glamorous, and attractive life than you.  And on the other end of things, what exactly is your motivation behind what you’re posting?  How often are you wanting to put up an image or update to portray an image that you think others will find appealing?  Why is that?

Don’t worry– I’m not “breaking up with you” so to speak.  But I am needing some boundaries.  If you can stop trying to use me to be a source of comfort or identity, I think our relationship would be a lot healthier.  And you’ll be a lot happier.  Maybe sometimes you can leave me in your back pocket.  Answer the text later.  It will be ok.  Rather than obsessing over documenting the moment on Instagram (just so that others can see how amazing your life is) just be fully present in the moment.  Keep the mystery of an unanswered query, rather than needing to know the answer right now and asking Siri.  Get lost. Go stargazing. Read that book you’ve been meaning to.  Take a deep breath and go talk to that person across the room who also doesn’t have anyone to talk.  It will be ok!  I’ll still be here.

Affectionately,

Your Smart Phone

 

About the Time I Was In Court…

Over a month ago, I was in a car accident.  It was my fault.

As soon as my car skidded to a stop in the parking lot adjacent to the intersection I had just illegally crossed I knew that with sickening clarity.  There was nothing to do but to accept it with honesty and as much dignity as I could muster in the moment.  I took my proof of guilt in the form of a ticket and apologized repeatedly to the other driver.  I owned up to it with the polished poised professional on the other end of the phone call to the insurance company and again when I relayed the story sheepishly to my friends.  “It really was a best case scenario as far as accidents go, and I’m so grateful that no one was hurt… but I just hate that it was MY fault,” is what I found myself saying over and over.

My claim was processed, I paid my deductible, and got my car repaired.  And life moved on.  Except for the unpaid ticket issued by the Kansas City municipal court.  The officers at the scene of the accident had left me hopeful that I could get the ticket dismissed, if I showed up to my court date.  Armed with that reassuring advice, I was hopeful that I would indeed get let off the hook, and I didn’t think about it too much until a couple of days before the court date.  I started to get a little worried.  All of a sudden, the thought of standing before a judge, trying to convince him that I shouldn’t have to pay a ticket for a wrong I did indeed commit, seemed absurd and humiliating.  I was going to have to plead “not guilty”… But I was guilty.  The advice and suggestions of others that I received in the days leading up to my appearance in court was mixed and unsettling to say the least.  (Everywhere from “Be professional, say ‘Yes ma’am” and you should be fine, to “Just be emotional… that might help” to “You might have to pay court fees, but if you type up evidence of why you are innocent, that just might work…”) Nevertheless, I found myself on Monday morning, walking into a dimly lit, wood-paneled courtroom, on a bench alongside other fidgety individuals, waiting.  I clutched my file folder, filled with my attempted defense and evidence of why I should not have to pay this ticket, practicing what I was going to say to the judge with my friend who had come for moral support.  “Your honor, as you can see from the research, intersections with pole mounted lights, such as the one at the scene of the crime… oh, no, don’t say that!  Clearly Your Honor, I am a very safe driver, and this momentary lapse of… “ oh geesh.

My nerves started to feel more and more frayed as other cases and individuals were called up to the bench one by one.  Finally, the judged called out my name.

“Allie…Heemstra?”

On shaky feet, I made my way to the bench, but before I went past the gate, he finished his sentence.

“Your case has been dismissed.”

Stunned, I froze mid-step.  “What?”

“Unless you want to argue your case….” he said with an amused smirk on his face.

“No!  I’m good.  Thank you sir!”  (oops, I should have said Your Honor…)

The heavy wooden doors to the courtroom barely closed before I looked at my friend with an incredulous look on my face.  “What just happened?  He means, I’m good to go? No ticket? My record has been cleared??”

“Yeah!  I think so!” my friend replied, looking just as stunned as I did.  Our relieved laugh echoed in the hallway, in contrast to the austere mood of the place.  It took several more minutes of shaking my head in unbelief before it sunk in.

“Obviously, you didn’t want to question the judge in the moment, but I almost wish you would’ve,” she said as we walked back out into the sunlit streets.  “I just wonder why he just dismissed the case, no questions asked!”

I probably won’t ever know the exact reasons, or if it was even out of the ordinary for the judge to just drop the ticket.  It was a small circumstance in the grand scheme, but it definitely made me think.  The matter of it is, I was guilty.  I had attempted to defend my case and appear innocent, but I didn’t have a case. Not really.  But I didn’t even have to try and defend myself.  The judge took away the penalty I should have paid.  Undeserving and unmerited, I was free.  It felt like something much deeper than just getting a traffic ticket dismissed.  It was a tangible picture of grace.

Which is something that has been a theme for me, particularly in the last few months.  Now, thinking about grace– unmerited favor, is not new for me, but how to live in light of grace, that has been somewhat of a paradigm shift for me.

An old friend of mine, (a cop with a dry sense of humor, and a bit of a big brother instinct in him) said that “The cop in me wants to say you got lucky, and to drive safer…” His point is a fair one.  I certainly have been more alert when driving these past few weeks, especially at intersections.  I want to resolve to be the The Safest Driver Ever, but in the wise words of Eeyore, “They’re funny things, Accidents.  You never have them till you’re having them.”  The thing is, as much as I would have wanted to promise the judge to never mess up again, in gratitude for him pardoning my blunder, I can’t promise that I won’t ever make another mistake behind the wheel.  In fact, I might  run a red light again someday.  I will probably get in another accident.

In moments that I have glimpsed God’s grace, my response is one of unbelief and gratitude, much like my interaction with the Municipal Court of Kansas City.  I want to accept it fully, and I want to respond to it appropriately.  I want to show my gratitude by cheerfully submitting to loving Him and serving Him and glorifying Him well.  I want to live up to the gift of grace.  I guess I want to become someone not in need of grace… perfect.

And I’ll bet you can guess how that’s going.

(Not well.)

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photo by Sunset Girl

The truth of the matter is, I will not cease being in desperate need of his grace until I go Home.  Awhile back, that realization crushed me.  I felt so frustrated by the reality and depth of my sin. How quickly I am to forget his love and look for acceptance elsewhere.  How deeply pride is ingrained in me.  Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the God I Love.   

But His grace covers that too.  His love is so unlike human love– he extends his reconciliation and grace to us, even knowing that we won’t be able to live in response to that grace perfectly on our own.  He is aware of our humanity.  Bill Johnson remarked that “he knows about my weakness, He’s figured that into the equation and He’s quite happy with the whole process. And I don’t need to beat myself up in the name of attempts to be humble because false humility will keep you from your destiny.”

Realizing just how deep the ocean of grace has been such a freeing thing.  The impulse and desire to respond to grace with obedience is not bad or wrong, but when I had this unspoken pressure to perform or live up to it, it subtly shifted into legalism.  Real grace is not that.  Resting in the Truth that I am fully known and fully seen in all of the different aspects of me, yet fully loved and accepted just as I am, I am free to step into who I was created to be.  It’s not a performance, it’s a becoming.  A simple, gradual, and messy process, something that mostly occurs without my awareness even.

 

Desiring Contentment

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Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?  –Mary Oliver

 

After the 4th of July, I feel a mix of sadness and urgency in the fact that summer is half over.  I can remember feeling this way, even as a little girl.  Feeling like my days of barefooted, sun kissed, sleeping in and staying up late days were numbered.  That I had to make them count:  There were stars to be gazed at!  Marshmallows to be roasted and fireflies to be caught!  Sights of Back to School sales would fill me with panic.

Sometimes the Carpe Diem mandate conjures up more anxiety than empowerment.  What if I’m not Seizing The Day to its fullest potential?  My soul’s cry is to live life abundantly, but it can quickly become this ambiguous standard to live up to, something that others around you seem to be doing, but somehow just out of reach for me.  Ironically, all of this angst over wanting to “embrace life” keeps me from doing just that!  Counting the days rather than making the days count, and all that….

So I’m in need of a mindshift.  The word that keeps coming up this week is contentment.

1. (adj.) mentally or emotionally satisfied with things as they are

2. (vb.) assenting to or willing to accept circumstances, a proposed course of action, etc

3.  (n) Peace of mind; mental or emotional satisfaction.”

I found this fascinating:  it is derived  from Old French, from Latin contentus  contented, that is, having restrained desires, from continēre  to restrain.

So, according to The World English Dictionary, being able to have peace of mind (i.e., security, rest, satisfaction) requires a proper relationship with desires.  Desires are a good thing, but when what you desire becomes your sole focus, the driving force behind all you do, inevitably you will feel unsettled, lacking, discontent.

Restraining desires feels counterintuitive when it comes to the pursuit of happiness, but what if it’s not?  What if, by bowing out of the endless chase, we find a deeper and more real joie d’vivre?

What do you desire?

A summer of living life to the fullest– full of summery adventures.

What does it look like to meld (or restrain) that desire with contentment?  

Slowing down and being fully present in the moment.  Holding each day with open palms and opening my eyes to gift of the familiar.  Choosing a heart of gratitude rather than fixating on what I’m “missing out on.”

Those two questions can be quite helpful for a number of things that I currently find myself desiring, and some great food for thought as I continue to live out this summer day.

 

How to Live Like an Artist

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photo by Adam Milligan

This has been one of the most life giving summers.  I have been given the gift of time with a summer break, and have delved into many artistic ventures–  and I am rediscovering it to be something that makes me come alive.  The rhythm and lifestyle that I’ve settled into in the past month have brought forth some really solid habits and practices that I want to carry into other seasons of my life, whether or not I’m creating art and blogging on the daily.  Here are some of the things I feel like I’ve been learning.

1.  Open Your Eyes

I’ve noticed how my perspective has shifted since I’ve been doing art more regularly.  Everywhere I go, there’s an awareness, paying attention to the details and seeing the beauty in the everyday moments.  The metaphors I think about as I’m weeding my garden.  An encouraging conversation that spark an idea for a blog post.  A wildflower that catches my eye.  Parts of the city that I could sketch in another I Love Kansas City card.  What a great way to live life- eyes wide open to the beauty of the moment.  

2. Trust Your Gut

Sometimes we spend so much time second guessing ourselves that the creative process never gets started.  I can spend hours on Pinterest looking for things that I want to create, but for fear that it won’t turn out right, all I have is wasted hours looking at a screen and envy at other people’s creativity.  Sometimes the act of creating is more important than the final product.  And running with an idea that comes to me ends up being perfect.  Or not– but the next try turns out better.  Excellence must be a fearless and persistent pursuit.  

3. Work Hard and Rest Well

I feel like some of the best advice, although cliche, has rung true for me: Inspiration will come, but it has to find you working.  So much of what I’ve created this summer was just out of trial and error, and continuing to create consistently.  I would have to ascribe any of the talent I have as a writer to the 20+ journals that I have filled.  Any major artistic project has had a moment where I chose to stick with it, pushing through and continuing to work when I just want to walk away and watch Lost instead.  My creative desires have ebbed and flowed over the last couple of years, but the times I am most successful as an artist are the times that I make consistent and quality time to create and stick with it.  Equally important to that stick-to-it-ive-ness is knowing when to take a break.  When to leave the mess and go to get frozen yogurt with a friend instead.  It can be a dance of pushing in and releasing.  Both are necessary and good.  

4. Surround Yourself with Inspiration

As I started doing art and blogging more, I am always looking for a creative muse.  I have happened upon so many sources of inspiration, both as a writer and artist, and I have made time to soak in those encouraging words and looking at other artist’s brave and talented and beautiful creations.  It has also been such a delight this summer to find myself surrounded by delightful and inspiring people that have been so encouraging and empowering.  As the next school year starts, I want to continue to surround myself with people and words and things that bring life and light.  

 

5. Be Courageous

I have been surprised at how much bravery it has taken to share what I create.  I have been making art for years, mostly in journals and for my own home.  I have also filled dozens upon dozens of journals– filled with thoughts and poems and rambles.  I can look back at my own journals and am often quite encouraged by the wisdom I was discovering at that particular season, but that encouragement stays with me as an individual.  This summer, a lot of what has been on my heart has been shared with whomever happens across my blog, as well as my art- now out there for the world to see.  It’s scary!  It’s easy to start thinking that the validity of my thoughts are directly correlated with how many views my wordpress stats page shows each day.  That my worth as an artist depends on how much money I make on Etsy.  When I can debunk that lie, I can say with honesty that, right now, in this season, I want to continue creating.  Even if no one read my blog, and if I never make a sale on Etsy, I love doing this and want to continue.  However, I don’t want fear of failure or the insecure whisperings of being irrelevant, pretentious, too much or not enough to paralyze me.  If one of my friends shared the same insecurities I am battling, I would share this quote:  

“There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” –Marianne Williamson

Living out the truth of who you are bravely is what I love to see in my friends and loved ones.  It’s what I find so inspiring in the other artists and bloggers I have come to know this summer.  I must not shy away from doing the same!

6. Know That Your Identity is not on the Line

On Saturday, I went with my roommate to the First Weekend Flea Markets in the West Bottoms.  I spoke to several store owners about the possibility of selling my art at their stores… As I brought out my sample journals and cards to show the owners, I felt very vulnerable.  My art is very much an extension of me.  What does it look like to share and sell that art with others with freedom?  It means creating and sharing with confidence, but with the wisdom that my worth has already been established and is not up for grabs in any interaction or transaction or lack thereof.  I was very encouraged by the feedback and potential business opportunities that I received on Saturday.  I was beyond thrilled when I made my first official sale on Sunday.  I can celebrate those victories, but that joy doesn’t have to terminate on a self-congratulatory pat on the back or momentary feeling of worthiness.  Rather, I can be filled to the brim with wonder– what must my God be like that he invites me into this creative expression and gives me the desire, ability, and opportunity to make beautiful things?  That living this life can be a form of worship that glorifies Him?  Wow.  

 

Wow, that Self Help Book Solved All of my Problems… said no one. Ever.

So, I was in Barnes and Noble the other day and wandered over to the Christian literature section. Mixed among the books on Christian Theology and classical works of our faith were titles such as Eat the Cookie…Buy the Shoes: Giving Yourself Permission to Lighten Up and Have a New Husband by Friday: How to Change his Attitude, Behavior, and Communication in 5 Days.

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Barf.

That is what I said, out loud, between the bookshelves. (Turns out talking to oneself in public is a hard habit to kick… So I’ve just surrendered to it… but that’s beside the point.)

When did Christianity get demoted to a tool to use in America’s obsession with self improvement? When did we mistake the God of the universe for a means to achieve the American Dream of consumption, happiness, and material wealth? We become sedated by busyness and a constant barrage of noise from the media, that the trade for Abundant Living happens without our noticing. We believe the lie that the world doesn’t want a Jesus that is quite so scandalous. So we try to make him more hip by publishing books like The Beer Drinker’s Guide to God: The Whole and Holy Truth about Lager, Loving, and Living or the new Lego Graphic Novel style bible: The Brick Bible: A New Spin on the Story of Jesus. In a culture increasingly made up of more and more niche subcultures, publishers and the powers that be think that we need to market Christianity to all of these sects by tacking on our hobbies and interests to what might otherwise become Old News.

That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The truth is that our hearts yearn for Something Real, for an identity that goes deeper than our temporary obsessions and outer personas. We long to find wholeness and security that lasts. And heaven knows we aren’t going to find that in a self-help book, no matter what banner it is under. When we stop and come to a place of honesty, we are weary and messy souls longing for a Savior.

The word gospel literally means Good News. The kind of all consuming joy that floods your soul when you find out your loved one is cancer free, that you got the job, that the war is over… It’s Life-Giving. Anxiety-Relieving. Party-Inducing. The Gospel begins though, by telling us the truth about who we are: broken, messed up, sinful, helpless, in need of rescuing. Wait– how is that good news? That doesn’t make me want to dance.

Hear me out— in the midst of your broken, messy, life-in-shambles ache– haven’t well intentioned people tried to comfort you by telling you that “You are special!” and “It’s all going to Work Out fine” and “You can do anything if you just believe in yourself and (insert some five step self-help process here).” And how has that worked out for you? In those moments of rock bottom honesty, those platitudes feel more like a slap in the face than anything. Because you’ve already tried to just Try Harder, and it doesn’t work. And sometimes it doesn’t work out fine. Because as humans, we have a tendency to screw things up. We know from experience that we cannot fix ourselves. And while it stings, there’s something relieving about hearing the truth about ourselves.

Good news gospel tells us the truth about ourselves, but doesn’t end there. It proclaims that Someone perfectly loves us, even at our worst ugly moments and made a way for us to be Whole Again. To cast out all fear and to end all striving. Now that’s good news. And it’s not something you’re going to find in a cheap dolled up version of pop-culture Christianity. It’s a truth that has been proclaimed for thousands of years. It’s a truth that doesn’t need to be given an Extreme Makeover.

Confession time: Fake and hypocritical Christianity does make my blood boil. I feel like I’ve witnessed so much hurt and damage done in the name of Christianity, and most of that is under the context of churches that feel more like Country Clubs and Christian truths that have been misconstrued in unloving legalism. So many people that I love dearly have been hurt by the church or disillusioned by the fakeness wafting from those that claim my same faith. Out of embarrassment and a deep desire to not be associated with a group that is seen as hypocrites and jerks, I confess that my response has been cowardly. I avoid conversations about faith, fearing that words that have been tainted with patronizing cliches and self-righteous arrogance will turn people away. So I have rationalized my wimpy inaction with St. Francis’ misused quote of “Preach the gospel, if necessary use words.” In wanting to make it clear that I am not “one of those Christians” I have often disowned the Bride of Christ. My actions, at the root have the same motivation as those who would try to market Christianity as “cool”. A fear of man and a desire to fit in.

There isn’t a definitive answer… and it can be so easy to throw the baby out with the bathwater. On the one hand, there might be some really great truths in The Beer Drinker’s Guide to God. And there is wisdom in being in how we approach sharing our faith with others. There’s a time to stay silent…. and there’s a time to speak. But this I know: freedom is not found in looking to our culture for how to live. It is found in the gospel. And another thing– the gospel speaks for itself, it does not need help, because it is what was written in our hearts from the beginning of time. I don’t want to trade feeling relevant and accepted by any and all for a life lived rooted in the acceptance of the one who made me. From that secure place, I want to speak the truth with all my heart. That’s where I’ll find “My Best Life, Now!” (Joel Osteen… gross!)