Our Hearts Are Restless

How I wish the heavens would thunder for you. But I wait, as the world spins on and years peel away, for God to melt the heart of stone. I can wait a lifetime; God knows I will not see a better day than that one, when the Light, slowly bleeding in now, tears across your skies like a scorched gold sunrise. Yet I live between the teeth of fear and hope. Fear that sovereign goodness and justice will cross my poor, imperfect love for you. Though I have no standing before Righteousness, no counsel to give Wisdom, no sorrow that outdoes the hell of the cross and divine desertion, I fear His glorious design will shatter me. But I hope. Hope that His Kingdom will storm into yours and raise the blood-colored Gospel flag. Hope is a small, fragile thing but we are black holes without it. When will you tear this veil, O God? As long as He gives me breath, I will plead before His gates. Like the Psalmists of old, I will hammer the halls of heaven with every appeal my weak heart can muster. Then I will sit, and wait upon the Lord. And pray. That God may splinter the shadows before your eyes. That His words—I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life—which have prodded against the steel ramparts of your mind for so long may charge through spirit and soul with holy conviction.

We are dust, yet eternity presses on our hearts. We are feeble, yet our stories glisten with splendor. They say there is no meaning, or we cannot know it, or the pervasiveness of evil denies it—but why, why, why do our very bones tremble at grace and our blood thrum for glory?

Surely, surely, there is a God whose love is better than life.

“You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” – Augustine

40,000 feet High: Countdown to Landing

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…for lists. I was on a particularly long flight last week, and some of my musings in the air just happened to fit with the Weekly Writing Challenge. Thoughts?

5. Mortality

The odds of dying in a plane crash are 1 in 11 million, but mortality thunders a little louder when you’re hurtling over the Pacific. It’s in the sloshing water glass beside me, rattling in the teeth of air turbulence. It’s in the engine roaring, the constant hum of a tin can tearing through the clouds. Perhaps the odds are for us, but I remember again my frailty.

4. Sovereignty

Martin Luther said, “Every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing and his own dying.” This is peace: knowing He holds life and death, same as the stars bound up in the heavens.

3. Scars

Far from shore, in the quiet space between heartbeats, old scars resurface. Between dusk and sunrise, dead dreams and ghosts whisper, tauntingly.

2. Grace

Forgetting what is behind, and straining toward what is ahead.

1. Home

Where I’m from? Where my family is? Where I live? There are outposts, places of belonging, scattered across the globe. But Home—

Well, I’m not there yet.

 

A Bucket List for One

Travel, AustraliaWe don’t get a lot of time to shut out the world completely these days, do we? We stumble, bleary-eyed, to work or school after scarfing down a questionable breakfast, spend the day sitting with or talking to people, and often enough, social plans run a road straight through our evenings. We all crave social contact but we need personal time to recharge and rejuvenate. Yet, there are all these things we are averse to doing alone, because they seem socially and culturally awkward. Or we fear it makes us look pathetic. But I think there are a few things that are worth doing alone once, for the experience and for the unexpected ways we learn and grow from them. I wouldn’t call any of these profound – but perhaps they are not effortless.

Go see a movie alone. I know some people do this, but most tend to rally up at least one other person to go with. Admittedly, I’ve loved going to the movie for years, but I’ve only ever gone alone once. I don’t think it’s an opportunity you have to look particularly hard for: you’re bound to want to see some flick one day that no one around you does. So just go. Theaters aren’t great for socializing anyway, and watching a film is a perfect solitary activity. (We all do it at home; are we just afraid to look lame in public?) When I went by myself, I loved it. I felt oddly independent, and it forced me to get over wondering what the strangers nearby thought of me (which was probably nothing).

Spend a birthday alone. Not like hide-in-a-mountain-cave sort of alone, but don’t throw any kind of celebration. Try to free up your evening and just spend time reflecting on your year. I think it’s a humbling experience, because even if we don’t like to puff it up, we’re used to a culture of big cakes and party hats, and getting a pass on selfishness for one day. Spending your “special day” alone can be a bit of a jarring but necessary reminder that the Earth will keep spinning even without your big bash. No red alerts will go off.

Travel alone. I think this one, more than the others, can give us a dose of real loneliness. Not necessarily in a bad way. Maybe in a semi-scary but thrilling way, when you step onto a plane alone and step off in an unfamiliar city where no one is waiting for you. It magnifies your senses. When we travel with others, we’re usually wrapped up in each other’s conversations and concerns. But by ourselves, we perceive so much more. We get snatches of conversations, pieces of other people’s lives. The smell of Auntie Anne’s. The flickering lights of planes in descent, mingling with the stars. The world is suddenly so big, and we are so small.

Being alone, doing things alone, humbles us. It reminds us that the world will go on just fine without us, and in these few hours (or days or weeks), no one really needs us. It’s good for our souls.

Oh, and one more thought. Dance to Taylor Swift alone. Around your kitchen in the refrigerator light. But I bet you all do that already.

Technology: Our Slave or Tyrant?

technology, future

Wearable technology is slowly but surely becoming the next Big Thing. We’ve got smart watches now, and smart clothes are making their debut, so we’ll probably all be buying smart underwear in a year or so. What a time to be alive. But it doesn’t end there – many predict that after wearables, implantables will follow. Technologies that will live inside of you. I was reading this article, which should give you a fascinating, or terrifying, view of the potential future tech landscape.

I studied Computer Science, but when it comes to technology, I’m less interested in banging out code than considering some of the more abstract issues the rapidly advancing field raises. Philosophy, morality, humanity – how does technology mold and shape our understanding of people and society? However fascinating technology gets, it doesn’t beat the startling intricacies of human nature. No surprise: God’s creations are infinitely better.

In literature, technology inspires all sorts of stories and bizarre futuristic worlds. It very well may be part of the reason dystopia has seen such a resurgence, in addition to the foolproof, mass market ploy of incorporating The Love Triangle. But the very best technology-inspired stories (I don’t want to slap on the science fiction label, because they don’t necessarily have to be) ask the hard questions. How do we hold security and freedom in proper tension when we have the ability to know and control too much through 360 cameras and chip implants? What, at the very raw core of our being, makes us human, when there are clones and emotionally intelligent robots walking the streets? And perhaps at the center of it all:

Is technology our slave or tyrant?

If you dig deeper, the question is really about the condition of our souls. Technology is a neutral thing, and it can be used for good or evil, just like nuclear energy or money. From a biblical perspective, it ought to be our slave. Our vocation as human beings is to subdue the earth and everything in it, and technology is a means to do that: to help us water the fields, keep the lights on, erect buildings, increase efficiency. It can absolutely be used and stewarded well (something I’m interested in exploring in my career, Lord willing). Yes, technology is improving the convenience and comfort of many aspects of life. I don’t need to leave the house for groceries? And here we were just thinking what a brilliant concept the supermarket was! 

But from the Fall and the corruption of the human heart, it will inevitably be abused. For every good use of tech, there will be unspeakably terrible ones. The issue is not that technology makes us better or worse, but that it exposes us, perhaps in new ways. How we approach it and how we use it reveals and magnifies our brokenness. These are 2 things we cannot halt: the advance of technology, and the decay of morality. It makes for some very good storytelling, yet some very sobering realities. Is technology our slave or tyrant?

I’m afraid many people think it’s our salvation.

Maranatha.

 

Thoughts? I have plans to write something of a follow-up to this on the interplay between technology and characters in literature. Stay tuned!

[image cred]

Twenty Seconds of Courage

the swing at the end of the world

How long is twenty seconds? In a conversation, a twenty second pause is ridiculously long, palm-sweating silence. When you’re counting down to a deadline, twenty seconds run away from you faster than a man hustling a mistress out the back door when his wife returns (sorry, I think I stole this reference from an obscure line in Suits).

My roommate and I watched We Bought a Zoo last night, and it was better than I expected. Nothing shockingly original or profound, but it was a sweet story. While most of it wasn’t terribly memorable, one line in particular caught my attention and flipped a switch in my head.

“Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.” – Benjamin Mee

I bet we can all think of those moments—those times we mustered up that courage and did something outrageous. Or profoundly stupid. Those stories that still make us turn as red as a plum if they happened less than two years ago, but are the best stories we have to retell ten years down the road. And we can all think of the other moments—when we let the twenty seconds slip away, replacing them with a haunting what if that hangs over our heads.

Those are the big things. But it also got me to thinking: sometimes, it takes an insane amount of courage to do something small too. Because I don’t think anyone lives in a perpetual state of bravery. We’re all cowards sometimes. Or most the time. So I thought I’d come up with a brief list of things I—and you—could do with twenty seconds of courage. They’re not all big things, and something great may not always come of it, but I think they’re worthwhile.

  1. Make someone new feel welcome. Whether it’s at church or a party, there are always these huddles of people that stick together. Step outside your comfort zone and talk to someone new, or just someone who might be left out. Lay aside convenience and comfort. You might turn someone’s day around. You might make a lifelong friend.
  1. Hang out with someone very different from you. Maybe it’s background, beliefs, age, personality—someone you typically wouldn’t be friends with. Take the initiative and ask them to lunch or coffee. If they ask you, say yes. Learn something, and give them something to think about too.
  1. Share the Gospel with someone. You can go cold turkey, or you can finally open up with the friend you’ve never told. You probably can’t get it all in in twenty seconds, but it’s enough of a start that it would be more awkward to run away than just finish after that.
  1. Tell someone how much he or she means to you. You don’t have to wait until you’re writing Christmas cards, or until their birthday rolls around. Sometimes I think we do that because it feels safer. You and I are not promised tomorrow or our next breath. So go knock on their door or pick up the phone now. Or on October 12. Or on the most random date you can think of.
  1. Show genuine kindness to someone who hurt you. I guess I subconsciously ordered these by how close someone is to you—and it’s those who are closest who can hurt you the most. So swallow the perfect insult that’s poised on your tongue. Being nasty is easy, but you will regret cruelty. You won’t regret being too kind.

These aren’t things that will make headlines. They’re more in the vein of storing up treasures in heaven than here on earth. I realized all of the five points contain the word “someone.” Doing any of these things makes you more vulnerable for the benefit of someone else. Because courage and selflessness are two sides of the same coin: it is turning away from self and focusing on others.

How long is twenty seconds? Long enough to do something brave.

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire

I am not a writer.

At least, I would never introduce myself as one. It’s a label that might be more lightly tossed around today, but it feels weighty to me and comes with a whole host of expectations. I have neither the credentials nor creations to show for it. Yet, here I am, starting a writing blog.

Because you have to start somewhere, and I’m too impatient to stick one toe out at a time. So here I come, hurtling out of the closet straight into public judgment. (I could say YOLO here, but I think that steals from my nonexistent credibility.)

So, who am I? 

I’m a working professional in my early twenties, currently in business and technology consulting. That sounds better than recent college graduate attempting to figure out her life, though that is also an accurate statement. Then, like all human beings, I’m a bundle of paradoxes and apparent contradictions. I’m a Christian, and our culture may call me intolerant, but I believe Love rejoices with Truth. I have a background in technology, but in my spare time I would rather spin tales than write code. I’m a realist in living, but I prefer my happy endings in storytelling. I’m an introvert, but I’ll be your friend as long as you’re willing. I give my friendship easily, but my trust sparingly. If I could have more of one virtue, like the Cowardly Lion in Oz, I would choose courage because sometimes I fear too many things too much – and like C.S. Lewis said, “Courage is the form of every virtue at its testing point.” I love to laugh, but often at things that aren’t funny. You may think I’m mad, and you might be right.

That’s me in a nutshell, if I’d fit in one.

What’s this blog all about?

There’s not much in my background, schooling, or job that screams writer. My love for writing grew out of my love for reading, and it has always been a hobby, or something I do on the side. But I’ve written a fair amount over the years, and I have an assortment of topics around books and writing that I could go on about. I jotted some of them down recently and realized, I have things to say. Not earth-shattering things (read the Bible for that), but seeds of ideas here and there. Some of them may be ridiculous. Some of them may inspire you. Who knows.

Hence, the birth of Pen and Fire. These are two things I think a writer a needs – a pen to write with and some fire in you to fuel the words.

Here’s a rough sketch of what I’m planning to post on here:

  • Musings on writing, books, ideas, and other related topics
  • Short stories
  • Snippets from my longer works
  • Poetry / lyrics
  • Book reviews
  • Links to good posts elsewhere

So come have a conversation with me. Write back when I write. Tell me what you really think, in all the glory of brutal honesty. Here’s to truth, adventure, and good stories!