Friday, November 27, 2009

City Love

Quote of the day: "I can't wait until Christmas when I have a man so we can walk around Chicago together and it will be so romantic." - Caroline

The whole family went downtown today for a “Welcome Christmas!” jaunt. It was delightful. I love the city. (Actually, I love pretty much anywhere, but I am indeed particularly fond of Chicago.) As soon as we got out of the car, Caroline and the girlies and I began composing a list of “Things I Love About the City.”

It was a beautiful day to be in the city. Blue skies, crisp, cold air and not too much wind. I like to look up and see a little patch of the atmosphere framed by imposing buildings of steel and stone and glass. #1. Tall buildings: reminders that the world is bigger than Taylor University.

We walked to Daley Plaza where the Christkindle Market was set up, filling the air with the intermingling smells of cinnamon-roasted nuts, bratwurst, and spiced wine. No really, it was glorious. And very crowded. #2. Black people, Hispanic people, Asian people, and people of all kinds of ethnicities mixed together. I love how you can walk through Chicago and hear ten different languages spoken within the span of ten minutes. #2½. Different languages and different cultures, mingling without blurring, interacting without opposing.

We inevitably entered the world of Black Friday craziness. MACY’S. Scary. Red and silver glittery balls, pestering saleswomen forcing samples of perfume on you, SALE! 30% OFF signs on absolutely everything (making me think that maybe nothing’s really on sale and they just put up those signs to make you think you’re getting a deal. Hm.) But we skipped most of that and headed straight to the lower level where the Frangos are. #3. Frangos. Now, this is a uniquely Chicagoan thing, dating back probably fifty years. Frangos are the most wonderful minty chocolates you’ve ever had. As I told Caroline, nothing brings out my girliness like chocolate. I defy many female stereotypes: I hate chick flicks, I’m mostly rational and very UNemotional in most situations, and I don’t find much pleasure in shopping. But chocolate—man, it’s in my genes. I. Love. Chocolate. And Frangos beat all. Don’t ever ask me about Frangos or you’ll see a totally different, obsessive side of me—and it might scare you.

After we spent about a half hour smelling the chocolate and FINALLY bought some and ate a few [dozen] of them, we headed upstairs to see the famous State Street windows. State Street is one of the famous north-south streets in Chicago, lined with great restaurants, pricey department stores, and exquisite theaters. Personally, I think the best part of State Street is the entertainment that lives on the sidewalk. #4. Street performers are amazing. The best time to see street performers is in the summer, around the end of June when Taste starts up. On every corner of Michigan Avenue you’ll hear the sickest beats. Maybe I like it because it reminds me of Africa (where I dream of going) because the high school-aged black boys sit in the city sun with shirts off, glistening with sweat as they bang on over-turned buckets with vigor, enthusiasm, and great rhythm. (Okay, I have a thing for drummers. I can’t help it.) They make me very happy.

But on the street corners, along with the sound of saxophone and drum beats you’ll hear “Please, ma’am. Can you buy me a sandwich?” “Can you spare a dollar?” “Spare change, sir?” Cardboard signs read, “Lost my job. Lost my home. Lost my hope.” “Help the homeless this Christmas.” It wrenches at my heart. “Things I Hate About the City.” #1. Wishing I could help and not being able. Yes, I can give my tithe or my donation to the Salvation Army, and I do. But when you hear intermingling shouts of “look at that cute coat!” and “spare a dollar, sir?” it’s overwhelming.

I used to go downtown every week during the summer and hang out for a few hours in Millennium Park with a frappuccino and a copy of Chesterton or McCullough. As I walked from Van Buren to the Starbucks on Michigan, I passed so many people who asked this randomly tender-hearted then-19-year-old for a few dollars. I never carried cash in the city (and it’s probably unwise to hand out money anyway), but I always wished desperately that I were a man so I could take them to lunch and hear their stories. There was actually one time I when I delightedly gave away a leftover ¾ of a pizza to a homeless man as I ran to catch my train, but the pleasure I had in sharing that was quickly crushed at the sight of two more homeless people on the next corner. What could I give them?

God, make me ever mindful of your children who are struggling, hanging on for dear life and for a sense of personal dignity as consumers wander about with bags and bags of new things on every arm. Let me do everything out of love for you and concern for your people. Humble me with your blessings and give me a heart that breaks for those hurting around me. And thank you for the city—its glory and its grime and the paradox of blessing and calling.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

For Caroline

Hiding--not anymore.
I won't stay if you don't play your part.
It's more than just me, it's more than you.
Falling in love needs two.

I'm gone--until you realize
I'm gone--if you can see it
I'm gone--but don't you fear.
I've left you in stronger hands.

If you look, you'll see me waiting
Hoping you'll take a second glance.
Because that light in your eyes?
I can see it from a mile off.

We talk lightly of love.
Some even call it a game.
I hope you win every time
But what if that means I lose?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Back to the Beginning

Now that I'm finally back home for Thanksgiving break, I'm automatically picturing myself elsewhere. (The curse of Homewood, a.k.a. "The Bermuda Triangle.") Actually, I'm looking more thoroughly at seminaries. SCARY. I can't believe I'm really applying to grad schools (or starting to do so). In six months I'll be graduated. Goodbye Taylor U.

I feel as weirded out by the concept of my future as I did back three years ago when I was applying to undergrad schools. Some things have hardly changed: I have no idea who I'll ask to be my pastoral reference, the idea of rejection is as intimidating as ever, and I don't know when I'll have time to visit all these schools.

And some things have changed beautifully--I know myself. I've come more fully into an understanding of God's direction in my life. I know how I'm gifted. I know my weaknesses and yet I have confidence that I only feigned back in high school.

Every year, my faith becomes more and more my own. Every time I'm forced to look back in simple self-reflection, God shows me His faithfulness. I often think, "You've taught me everything. Now all I have left is to serve you." And each time, He laughs and says, "Child, you hardly know what I still want to reveal to you. You who think you have Me all figured out, just wait and see."

So I'm faced with uncertainty, and confidence. CONFIDENCE. I think I've come into a better understanding of that than ever. Confidence doesn't come in knowing yourself, but in knowing your Father and how He is working in your life.

It's a funny thing--with God, we perpetually have new beginnings. It's a new paradox for my mind to play with, horrible and wonderful at the same time: wonderful because the horror of our sin is perpetually wiped away, leaving a clean slate and a new beginning; horrible because the wonder of our Savior will always be incomprehensible, beyond our understanding, and beckoning us to seek Him out.

I will soon be beginning a new chapter in my life. Unknown, unexplored, unimaginable. Intimidating, frightening, unreal. Potential yet unrealized. Promises waiting to be revealed. Hope of something new, building on what He's already given.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Wheelbarrows and Schedules

On the Myers-Briggs Personality test, there are a couple questions that I particularly like. For example, "You prefer to read a book than go to a party." Actually, I would prefer to read a book at a party. "You know how to put your time to good use." Yeah, I know damn well, I just don't do it. "You are consistent in your habits." Actually, yes, I'm very consistent--in my inconsistency.

It's that habits one. I can't figure myself out about it, actually. I like to be busy (active, rather), but I can't stand to have the same schedule every single day. I like variety, but I like consistency. I like consistent variety. No, varied consistency.

Anyway, I do find myself in a rut sometimes. I'm like a wheelbarrow that finds the straightest distance between two points and goes with it for a while, then discovers that, whether it wants to deviate from the path or not, there's a six-inch-deep furrow that entraps the silly wheelbarrow in monotony.

Not that my life is monotonous. (The people keep it interesting.) But there are two things that have become my six-inch-deep rut this semester. First, lots and lots of people have commented that the Union is my new home. It's not really a problem, I guess. I just like being in the Union. It has people, and windows, and WiFi, and coffee. Everything I need, in that order. And yet, I don't like being "that girl" who's always at the Union. Granted, it's not so bad when you're not an anonymous creeper; I know about half of the people who come in and out of the Union every day and usually have conversations with most of them. But it's like, "Oh. Elena's here. AGAIN." I don't like to be bothersome.

Other potential problem: this is kindof a good problem to have, actually, but I am very consistent in going to the prayer chapel every morning. I wake up at 6:30 every single morning and I go to the prayer chapel before breakfast. But when do your habits become mere habits? Not that I don't enjoy going. I love it. It's the highlight of my day. I just don't want it to be something that I do just because that's what I do. I want it to maintain that beautiful and special uniqueness, despite the comfortable consistency it has developed. I want it to be like a marriage that doesn't grow stale by "forever," but holds that spark and freshness, like the first night of the honeymoon, except better.