A Story of Identity

There’s a beautiful article on Yahoo about a man who has fought for years to bring together parents and children that were born to kidnapped women and then illegally adopted. After 33 years of searching for the son he never knew (his pregnant wife was kidnapped and presumably killed), the father and son finally met last week.

I think the most profound thing about this story is that the son never felt like he belonged in his “adopted family.” He always knew something was wrong, and he finally confronted his adopted mother, who admitted that her abusive, murderous husband brought him home as a newborn. He now refuses to go by the name of his adoptive family, choosing instead to claim the name his father intended him to have.

So, so, so beautiful.

Read it here.

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100 Items

Last week sometime, I sent out a tweet asking for suggestions for the 100th item on my List. The List stands at 99 right now, and I knew that whatever I added as #100 needed to be epic.

I got some great suggestions–meeting Joss Whedon, staying at the Grove Park Inn where F. Scott Fitzgerald stayed, and some others. But I decided on something a little different. Something necessary that will enable me to accomplish some of the items in the first 99 items.

#100: Get a passport.

It’s a big step, right? All the traveling that I desire to do, and I don’t even have a passport. I plan to make this happen very soon, and then I’ll be ready for some serious traveling.

So there we are. 100 items on the List. I’m eager to see how many of those items get marked off this year, and I’m super excited about what the next 100 items are gonna be.

The Tension is Here

On Friday, Chris and I will be driving to Lexington, Kentucky, to attend a school for conversion at a new monastic community called Communality.

New Monasticism is a movement among Christians to live in intentional community with one another, to share resources, to encourage one another, to help the poor and oppressed, and to bring the Gospel of Christ to this world in a real, tangible way.

The seminar, if you will, that we’re attending is called “Introduction to Christianity as a Way of Life.” It’s called a “school for conversion” because they believe that conversion is not a one-time event. In order to fully live the Christian life, we must constantly be in a state of conversion. Changing, adapting, renewing ourselves.

We’ll be studying the 12 marks of a new monasticism (see the link above for a full list). These marks are essentially the tenets of the new monastic movement. Each community is different in how they function because each community exists in a different environment. What works for Communality may not work for The Simple Way in Philadelphia or Rutba House in Durham, NC.

This week has been tension-filled as a result of this impending trip. The tension has been incredible. This week, as I’ve been reading for the school and as I’ve been almost constantly reflecting on community and new monasticism, it seems as though years of my life are converging all at once.

For instance, the Greek work for community is koinonia. It’s meaning is vast, but the word is often translated as fellowship or communion. The first time I ever heard the word was six and a half years ago, in my first English class at NGU. Dr. Bruce wanted our classroom to be a community–koinonia. It is his voice I hear as I read about community. That first mention years ago was already setting me up for the life I’m attempting to live now.

Three years ago, I read Shane Claiborne’s book The Irresistible Revolution, and I was intrigued and terrified by his experience and discussion of new monasticism. I desperately wanted community, but I wasn’t ready to devote that much of my life to it yet. This week, as I’ve been rereading part of that book, I realize that my life moved in that direction anyway. I’m living in community, attending a church that seeks to live deliberately in community, to live life together. I recognize threads of my own life in Shane Claiborne’s experiences.

Additionally (yes, there’s more!), this week, Valerie, Harvin, and I (and perhaps others) will begin meeting weekly, striving for community together. I haven’t been a part of a consistent small group in about 8 months, and the absence has caused me to realize how desperately I need people to fight alongside. Tuesday night, we’re going to have dinner and intentional community. It’s gonna be awesome.

Even the Scripture readings for Lent are aligning with what I’ve been reading to get ready for the school for conversion. This week has been huge in the way that God has revealed to me that my search for community has been in his plan all along. Seven years. And it’s all converging on an otherwise ordinary week in February.

I’ve had a few discussions this week with people who want to know why I’m visiting a new monastic community. What is new monasticism? Am I converting to some extreme religion? Am I gonna come back from Kentucky? (I think that person was joking…)

Some of the discussions have been wonderful. A few people have been really interested in this journey, this idea. Others have questioned my sanity. One friend was even offended, believing I looked down at her because she didn’t accept that I believe this intentional search for community is the life that God has created us for. We had a long discussion about the American dream and cultural Christianity and faith; the conversation did not end well. I’m hopeful that we can revisit the conversation one day, but I don’t anticipate changing her mind. She likes her life and doesn’t think anything is lacking in her faith. That’s fine. We each have our own journey.

These conversations, however, have raised a huge tension in me. I want desperately to seek community, but I also want seclusion at times. My selfishness often gets in the way of the life I should be living. Questions about my future have been arising. Are my dreams and ambitions selfish, or are they legitimately the path God has planned for me? What are ways that I can bring the Gospel to people who need it…without getting too uncomfortable?

My selfish nature is battling with my spiritual nature. It’s terrifying, to be honest. The tension, however, is honestly great. Because it’s on my mind so often, I’m conversing with people about it. I’m seeking answers that may not arrive for a long time. My life cannot change, and my faith cannot grow, without this tension. God will teach me incredible lessons and reveal Himself to me in so many ways because of it. It’s impossible to be complacent when I’m constantly reflecting and considering how God is working in my life.

So for now, as Switchfoot tells us, “the tension is here”…between who I am and who I could be, between how my life is and how it should be. (Thank you, Jon Foreman, for once again being entirely relevant.)

I’m praying that this trip will be life-changing. In many ways, it already has been.

Krik? Krak!

“Until we moved to the city, we went to the river every year on the first of November. The women would all dress in white. My mother would hold my hand tightly as we walked toward the water. We were all daughters of that river, which had taken our mothers from us. Our mothers were the ashes and we were the light. Our mothers were the embers and we were the sparks. Our mothers were the flames and we were the blaze. We came from the bottom of that river where the blood never stops flowing, where my mother’s dive toward life–her swim among those bodies slaughtered in flight–gave her those wings of flames. The river was the place where it had all begun.”

-from “Nineteen Thirty-Seven,” Edwidge Danticat

* * *

This book is the one I chose for my final, big project for Caribbean Women’s Writing. I finished it today, as we have a proposal due soon in preparation for that final project.

The book is beautiful. It’s a collection of nine short stories that take place in Haiti or in America in the lives of Haitian immigrants. Danticat herself is from Port-au-Prince, and on the back of this book (which was published in 1995), the Washington Globe states, “If the news from Haiti is too painful to read, read this book instead and understand the place more deeply than you ever thought possible.” It seems almost prophetic that this quote is from 15 years ago.

The title, Krik? Krak?, comes from the Haitian oral storytelling tradition. The storyteller asks “Krik?” and the audience responds “Krak!” These stories are about a variety of different characters: Haitian sisters living in America, lovers who have been separated when the man sails to America on a raft, a girl who models for a painter and dreams of leaving a legacy, a woman who desires a baby so bad that she “adopts” a dead baby, and many more.

The above quote is from a story about a woman who flees her native Dominican and watches many other women, her own mother included, be slaughtered by soldiers. She swims across a river full of blood and bodies into Haiti and freedom. The story is told from the woman’s daughter’s perspective. The woman has since been imprisoned, both physically and mentally. Her daughter is the one now who must find her own freedom outside of the constrainsts of her mother’s history.

In another story, “Seeing Things Simply,” the main character Princesse models for a painter. Princesse desperately wants to learn to paint so that she, too, can leave a legacy behind. Something about her dreams and desires is so universal. It’s wonderful that Danticat can write a story about a Haitian girl that I, a white American girl, can relate to.

I’m so excited about having chosen this book. I’ll probably read it several more times before the semester is over, as I work on my final project. Have I mentioned that I’m seriously enjoying Caribbean writing? 🙂

* * *

“It struck Princesse that this is why she wanted to make pictures, to have something to leave behind even after she was gone, something that showed what she had observed in a way that no one else would after her. The sky in all its glory had been there for eons even before she came into the world, and there it would stay with its crashing stars and moody clouds. The sand and its caresses, the conch and its melody would be there forever as well. All that would chagne would be the faces of the people who would see and touch those things, faces like hers, which was already not as it had been a few years before and which would mature and chagne in the years to come.”

-from “Seeing Things Simply”

“Lives are throbbing in those stories.”

“For me, each life is an illustrious story that deserves a patient hearing because its mere evocation cuts the thread of time and builds tomorrows. Lives are throbbing in these stories. Unfortunate lives of the nation’s minor players, returning on their knees from trenches where heroism, its deeds and its medals, lie rotting. Anonymous heroes who have given their entire youth to France and who have been accorded only grudgingly the leaven of glory.”

~on old veterans telling war stories, Exile According to Julia, Gisele Pineau

* * *

“What time is it then? Here time is not a matter of the clock. Time is written in the sky, the early morning darkness, the fickle sunsets. The days lengthen or shrink according to the seasons. Men’s time is borrowed time. And the day unwinds quite naturally if you listen to time trickling within you like grains of sand in an hourglass. Time settles on time, and if you wait for evening, one hand under your jaw, you will not see anything passing.”

* * *

My first class at Gardner-Webb is a class on Caribbean Women’s Writing. I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy this area of fiction. The stories that come out of the Caribbean are haunting and deep and thought-provoking. I love so much that I work hard in grad school by reading and analyzing great books. 🙂

This book, Exile According to Julia, is a translation from the French. Julia is a grandmother whose husband is mean and abusive, but she puts up with it because that’s what women in Guadeloupe, during her time, do. Her son, however, kidnaps her, in a way, when his family moves to France, and Julia lives in France, essentially exiled, away from her homeland, for six years before returning to the island.

For Julia, home is the fruit on the trees in her garden, her old husband who is haunted by his military service to France, the chocolate tea she brews, the French Creole dialect, and the tropical weather on the island. It is not pure French language, or sophistication in Paris, or the “better life” that her son and his family search for. Julia is homesick, illiterate, and lonely. Only when she returns to the island, to her imperfect life there, is she fully herself.

This isn’t even my favorite story that I’ve read so far, but it’s wonderful. Caribbean women have a knack for asking hard questions: what is home? How do people define themselves when they leave the island they were born on to search for education and a better life? What happens when they try to return?

I can’t wait for the rest of the novels we’ll be reading. I love Caribbean literature. 🙂

Child Heroes

Today, CNN had a link to an article on Techland about the best child heroes featured in films. It’s a great list (and I’m so stoked that they included Dumbledore’s Army rather than just Harry himself).

A lot of those heroes, I’ve noticed, originally appeared in works of literature: the DA, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, the Pevensies. So I decided to make a list of my favorite literary heroes who happen to be under the age of 18. I’m putting them in alphabetical order because deciding which one is most important would require too much decision making. 🙂

Anne Shirley: the hero of quite possibly my favorite literature series, Anne of Green Gables saves Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert and the whole town of Avonlea from dissolving into a bored, lonely life.

The Boy: Cormac McCarthy’s unnamed character in The Road. He carries the fire–and the hope for a future.

Jack: the young bard in Nancy Farmer’s The Sea of Trolls. Jack battles ogres and Vikings and all sorts of fierce, mythical or historical figures in order to get himself and his sister Lucy back home.

Jonas: the Receiver of Memories in Lois Lowry’s The Giver. He lets the memories escape and reveals the true essence of humanity to a people who have only known conformity.

Leisel Meminger: the protagonist of The Book Thief; she holds onto hope throughout all of WWII that peace is coming and that knowledge and a future are worth fighting for.

Lucy Pevensie: sure, the Pevensies were all mentioned in Techland’s list, and they’re all worth of hero titles. But without Lucy, the Pevensies never would have found Narnia, much less become kings and queens.

Meg Murry: her love is the secret for moving through that wrinkle in time and getting her father, Cal, Charles Wallace, and herself back home.

Stargirl: the hero of two Jerry Spinelli books. Stargirl is unique (and even strange) in a town full of average high school students. But she enchants them, and falls in love with one of them, and changes their lives, even though they reject her in the end.

Todd & Viola: the protagonists of Patrick Ness’ brilliant Chaos Walking trilogy (of which only the first two books, The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer, have been released). These two thirteen-year-olds fight an army of truly evil men who not only physically control every town they conquer, but who also control the thoughts of every person they rule. I’ll find out in September, when the final book Monsters of Men is released, how Todd and Viola’s story ends.

Winnie Foster: from Natalie Babbitt’s beautiful novel Tuck Everlasting. She doesn’t drink the water.

This is in no way a complete list. These are just the first ten who came to mind, and you should know by now that I do like my lists in groups of five or ten. 🙂

Fasting from Facebook

Ash Wednesday is this week, and the day marks the first day of Lent for 2010. Last year, I celebrated Lent with an established community–we supported each other, encouraged each other, and had the best celebration I’ve ever had on Easter Sunday. For Lent last year, I gave up caffeine for the 40 day period, and the experience was really good. I was more focused and less dependent on caffeine to get me through the day. But more than just the physical fasting, I strove to give myself and my desires over to Christ, particularly the overwhelming desire that I have, as most single females to do, to be in a relationship. Those 40 days were a struggle. I never realized how much time I spend letting my mind wander…imagining how conversations could have gone differently, overanalyzing text messages and phone calls, asking “what if” questions that end up destroying my mindset. At the end of the Lent season, my heart had been transformed.

This is not to say that all is perfect. I still struggle often with those same issues. However, I’ve noticed a marked difference in the way that I perceive relationships. Less angst. More waiting. More hope.

This year, I’m approaching Lent in a slightly different way. The emotional fasting, if you will, will be the same. Can I surrender every aspect of my life to Christ? Can I surrender control? Can I spend my time in ways that reflect Christ’s glory? And can I encourage others in this same journey?

But the physical fasting will be different. I honestly don’t want to give up caffeine again. I know part of it is fear, but my life is so much more hectic now, and caffeine is often the best stimulant I have to get me through those superlong days. However, I will be giving up two things that are quite important to me: Facebook and Twitter.

I anticipate several outcomes of this. First, more time. For homework, for friends, for Jesus. 🙂 Second, I expect that I’ll need to find alternate ways of communicating with people, of seeking community. The Twitter updates that are sent to my phone are often the way I keep up with friends who don’t live in my apartment, and that’s not good enough. Those updates will be turned off, and I’m deleting the Twitter number from my phone until after Easter. Facebook is even worse–I know so much about my friends’ lives because it pops up on a computer screen, not because I’ve talked to them. For 40 days, it will be a challenge to seek community. [Note: I will be checking in on Sundays. But just once for Facebook, and I don’t plan on checking Twitter at all.] Third, I expect to blog and journal more. I use Twitter as a virtual scrapbook of things that happen in my life. If I go 40 days without sending a tweet, I’ll need a record of all that.

That’s my goal for the next seven weeks. If you need me, comment on my blog. Email me. Call me. Or–shocker–come see me! We’ll communicate the way the old folks do! 🙂