Friday, May 17, 2013

Faithful Friday: Love is Patient

The Bible continues to amaze me in its richness.  One day I may read only the surface of the text, gobble up whole passages and chapters.  Another day I’m gripped by a single verse or single word.  As language evolves it’s easy to take for granted the word choice, and oh so beneficial to take a closer look at those familiar paragraphs that are almost cliché.

Lately I’ve had the conviction to study, really study 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7.  We hear these verses so often at weddings: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 

Be truthful, did you skip the passage?  Skim it?  Droningly reread it for the umpteenth time?  I often have, until recently as the Spirit’s lead me to really re-examine what it means to love. 

Love is one of the most precious and sought after commodities, yet our fast paced and ego-driven society has cheapened it and all too often settles for likeability.  Love connotes unconditional acceptance: benevolence despite differing views, continual forgiveness, and self-sacrifice.  Oh how we long to be loved, and how we are overwhelmed to realize that to truly receive love means we must fully give love and therefore give of ourselves.  For if we do not return love we are either guilted by how much we owe or socially shamed by how we take advantage.

It’s tempting then, to settle for being liked, to seek approval instead of acceptance because it’s easier to be surrounded by people one likes.  There’s no commitment in liking things and therefore it is easier to move on when faced with disagreement, offense, or discord.  Instead of suffering through the discomfort of being out of sync or even disliked {ouch} by former companions, one is free to disengage and move on, citing irreconcilable differences.

Paul, however, timelessly urges us to remember God’s definition of love.  After some {uncharacteristically lengthy} reflection, I suspect he chose his word order carefully, citing patience before kindness.  I can think of several ulterior motives to be kind to others, but patience?  Patience without love seems frighteningly deviant and conniving.  Patience is hard, difficult to recognize within others; we so often equate it with slowness and the passage of time.  Kindness has more overt actions like charity, activism, and friendliness that are easily recognized.  It’s easy to claim someone is a “good person” because of his or her actions: charitable donations, volunteering, or amiability- and overlook the person’s motivation for doing so.  Quite frankly acts of kindness make a more immediate impact on others and make a person more likeable, but to see and appreciate the fullness of a person’s patience takes time.

To be patient means to be capable and willing to endure.  It's synonymous with characteristics like: calm, composed, easy-going, even-tempered, gentle, imperturbable, lenient, meek, mild, mild-tempered, philosophic(al), quiet, resigned, self-possessed, serene, stoical, tranquil, unruffled, and untiring.  Patience calls for action: accommodate, forgive, indulge, persist, not complain, understand; as well as submission, tolerance, endurance, and long-suffering.

To state the obvious: patience is TOUGH.  Patience is a Godly virtue that requires much self-control in a world that encourages self-indulgence and entitlement with emotions and reactivity.  We quickly label things as impossible, inconceivable, and unforgivable.  Yet the Truth tells us that nothing is impossible with God {Matthew 19:26, Luke 1:37}.  Instead, our limited perspectives make it easier to judge than to take time to understand, and the few of us who have experienced the fullness of forgiveness are quick to forget it in the heat of our emotions.  In a world of mixed messages and bizarre standards; where failure is not accepted in business, but cutting and running from all matter of difficult relationships is the norm; where we’re told to always look out for #1-but be family friendly when it gets you places- patience is difficult to master.  Loving patience requires us to let go of offenses and forget about getting even, but love doesn’t stop at tolerating and persisting under adverse circumstances.  Love is a great multitude of other actions and attitudes worth investigating further.

In closing, as I struggle with this task set before us to love one another as Christ loved us {John 13:34-35}, I'm reminded that it starts with being patient and kind with myself.  It's hard to love others when you don't love yourself.  So if I want to love others better, I'll benefit from being patient with myself: persevering, understanding my limitations, letting go of offenses, forgiving myself for shortcomings, and submitting to the Spirit as I allow God to change my thoughts and actions.

{Next up on my soap box: Love is Kind}

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Neocolors & Neophytes

Neocolors {above} are fantastic. I first used them in a college drawing class.  My professor teased us with color for one project and brought out a huge box of neocolors, water soluble crayons.  I was enchanted.  A few years later my parents gave me a pack of 15 for Christmas and they've been one of my favorite mediums since.   Neocolors are smooth and waxy and they mix together well.   You can make bold designs with heavy handed application, or the faintest washes with light application and more water.  I like to use a water color brush with a water reservoir {above, teal}, which allows me to easily change the amount of water I use by how much I press the reservoir.   To change colors I just scrub out the tip with paper towel {or the back of my hand} and move on. 

Together, this handy brush and the neocolor pack provide a multitude of colors and possibilities.  They don't require sharpening-although you could; they can be used wet or dry, and they're portable.  The neocolor 15 pack is about the size of a CD case and the brush is slightly larger than an average pen.  As with other watercolors, I also bring along a trusty pencil, eraser, and alcohol-based pens.  I prefer mechanical pencils in my art for the same reasons I preferred them in school- less issues with breaking and the mess of sharpening.  I've found I also prefer retractable erasers because they're less messy.  The ink pens {ZIG Drawing Pens- water-proof pigment ink} I've been using came from the drafting section of Hobby Lobby.  The drafting section had many more options than the art section in terms of line width, so that's my handy tip- check the drafting sections.

Neocolor II + pen on watercolor 5.5x7.5"
So here's a work in progress using neocolors and ink in an old watercolor notebook I made.  I started doodling sails and sail boats and thinking about my soon-to-be nephew and my other nephew.  I hope they grow up with big imaginations and curiosity.  I hope they think outside the box.  I hope they see the world with wonder and play make believe, tie a sheet to a sapling and make a sail; find a paper towel roll and make a spyglass.  I hope they dream big dreams.

Monday, May 6, 2013

This morning my mind is filled with reflections on sisterhood, sorority, and all it's meant.  Later today I plan to attend the funeral of a sorority alumna.  We only met once, at a sorority event at the FSU Alpha Chi Omega chapter house.  We were active collegiate members of two different chapters, in two different states, in two different eras-but the bonds of national sisterhood brought us together as alumnae.  As the chapter celebrated my and two other girls' engagements, our late sister and I discovered we went to the same church and thereby connected by an even stronger bond.  In my brief meeting and by all accounts, she was a terrific lady and so those of us who can will later pay our respects because if there's anything a sorority should show it's solidarity.

I attended a small private college in North Carolina where sorority recruitment is done in the  "fake break" between January term and spring semester.  I nearly backed out of recruitment all together, but ultimately I did complete the grueling week.  On the third day I asked a young woman in what would later be my sorority a pivotal question.  I wince as I recall how I brazenly asked, "So I do this thing for the next three and a half years, and then what?  What are the benefits after graduation?"  And that's when I learned about alumnae and how no matter where I lived in the States, I would most likely be near an alumnae chapter which meant I would always have connections.  To my freshman self that read "safety, security, home, friendship" no matter where I was.  They had my attention.

My parents were weary of my decision, until I came home wearing this bid day shirt. {Left} I suppose they were reassured that I hadn't joined a cult by the shirt's renouncement of the stereotype that the sorority would try to change me into some perfectionistic clone.  They embraced the individual that was me- a somewhat awkward, idealistic freshman.  They had diversity in intended major, personality, and practically every ethnographic measure.  While they didn't seek to make me a clone, they did change me- for the better.
Through Alpha Chi Omega I met my "Big" and "Little" {sisters} and several other women of faith who were lifelines to me in the years when I stepped away from regular involvement in the church.  I had opportunities to flex leadership skills within a community where I felt safe to explore who I was and wanted to be.

Yes, as a collegiate sorority woman I engaged in a lot of outwardly frivolous activities, but the majority were packed with meaning.  Beyond costume and toga parties, Greek-week dance, step-shows with NPHC, paying for t-shirts that announced I had friends, formals and semi-formals, and arts and crafts projects galore there was also community building, networking, community service, and learning.  So. Much. Learning: learning about how large organizations operate, learning to be a leader in formal and informal ways, learning how to be lead and be part of a team, learning how to support one another, learning financial responsibility, and on and on.

A social psychology professor once pointed out to me {and my class} that in our culture we lack ceremonies that celebrate the commitment of friendships.  But that is what initiation into a sorority {or fraternity} does.  At it's best, it celebrates the commitment to uphold communal values, to protect one another's character, to rejoice with one another, and- in cases such as today- grieve with one another.
For me, choosing Alpha Chi Omega has meant that when I meet alumnae from around the country, women whose collegiate experiences and backgrounds may be vastly different than mine, we will share a bond of common values.  I can, rather reliably, hope to find that at the core of each woman is some amount of ambition, a woman who values community and holds leadership potential, a woman who understands responsibility and loyalty and has interests that expand her personal horizons.  When I moved to Tallahassee, I had no one and nothing, except Alpha Chi Omega alumnae who, sight-unseen, offered to help me get a roommate, job, and any resource I could imagine.  They immediately offered me friendship, involvement, community, and a sense of security and stability.

 As I've "grown up," I've moved away from many of my closest friends in the sorority, primarily those from my new member class.  Even though I've become a "shady sister," one who goes a bit M.I.A., whenever I re-surface and reach out I'm always touched to find that those bonds are still there.  Despite the many miles that now separate us, we still share the laughter and excitement of our milestones as best as we can.  As we hit our mid-twenties and start the backslide to thirty we increasingly rejoice in engagements, marriages, and babies.  My Little and I now live on opposite ends of the east coast, yet we still randomly keep in touch with ideas and memories.  My Big, now expecting her first child, is still a pillar of strength and encouragement whenever we can align our schedules.  And now, I've been adopted by wonderful local Alpha Chi alumnae.  These women inspire me by their commitment and how they balance work, life, and mentoring the current collegiate members.  
I'm blessed to have joined an organization that matched my needs, provided room to grow, and meets my maturing needs.   I'm blessed that when I think about my sorority I'm not just nostalgic for those collegiate years, but also able to consider my participation in the present and future.  I am blessed to be able to celebrate the lives of my sisters and to show our support to the end.


Friday, May 3, 2013

Faithful Friday: For When I Am Weak, Then I Am Strong

I've missed the past two "Faithful Friday" posts, but not for a lack of words or experiences.  Rather it seems everything is an experience bent on my spiritual growth.  However, those experiences-well- they're part of a story that's not entirely mine to tell.  I can only tell you how I'm learning.

Last week was a roller coaster. I cried tears of sorrow and tears of joy, tears of self-pity and tears of humility.  In the end I cried because I love and am loved in return.  How humbling it is to know that one is loved despite all of ones flaws and failures, to be loved for ones quirks as well as talents.  How beautiful it is to realize that it is a gift to be able to grieve because it means there is something or someone worth grieving.  How comforting it is not to have to feel all of this alone.

On Sunday a friend- one of those rare kinds with whom you can have those chance, intimate, soul-baring conversations that has a lasting impact but with whom you only have passing, casual conversations for the rest of your relationship- sought me out to tell me that {though we hadn't seen each other in months} I'd been coming to her mind during her quiet times.  I was only able to confirm that yes, there were things for which she should be praying.  My priest, practically simultaneously, also took me aside to offer his support.  As I fought to keep my composure I realized I wasn't upset because I'd been reminded of my struggles, but touched, affected because I'd experienced the compassion and love of God through my community.  Through these words and actions the still small voice whispers, "I am with you."  I am reminded that I am not alone, to look for the blessings within the hardships.  

Another friend of mine likes to think that I'm strong.  I am not strong. God is strong.  As Paul wrote (2 Corinthians 12: 9-11): But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions,in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

May you walk with the Lord and let Him be your strength this week.  May you love deeply and allow yourself to be loved with the divine balance of humility and boldness. May you experience the kind of love that gentles hearts and renews souls.  May you love with the freedom of a child, the wisdom of the aged, and the compassion of Christ.