Resin Projects

This is a long one, but it’s full of torches, alcohol, disasters, recoveries, hours of sanding, soot sprites and some pretty cool resin projects!

 

I’m not sure how I first got interested in resin projects, but I think it was when I found these cool wood resin rings.

I also saw many, many cool moss bio-dome projects on the internet, and somehow the idea came to mind to combine the two and make a moss bio-dome preserved in resin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I decided to go for an easier project to begin with, knowing any kind of spherical mold is not going to be easy to work with, let alone the other complexities of such a project. I assumed my first few projects with resin would be learning experiences with poor results. Recalling a candle I had made many years ago as a birthday present for TT that had flowers preserved in it, I decided to make her a similar project using wild flowers preserved in resin instead of candle wax. 

Fortunately I am blessed to be able to walk through these beautiful fields as part of my morning routine, and in early June they are full of a huge variety of wild flowers. It didn’t take much time out of my day to harvest them as I went. (Supplemented by a few blossoms I stole from my Mom’s garden!)

I looked up many methods for drying and preserving flowers. Many of them involve flattening the flowers, but I wanted to preserve the three-dimensional volume of the flowers so I went with silica sand. Smaller than silica beads, this can fill in and support flowers as they dry, keeping their shape. 

One of the delights of this project – which unfortunately I did not capture very well – is uncovering these hidden treasures after the drying period. After drying they are extremely fragile – rather than digging, it is best to slowly poor the silica sand into another container as the sands slowly unveil the beautiful treasures you buried just days earlier. 

Tweezers and a very soft brush also come in handy. Some flowers held up very well, but others had to be grabbed carefully by the stem using tweezers. I kept them all in a Tupperware container with a lid for safe keeping. 

I read many dire warnings of the colors of flowers fading a lot when dried or preserved in resin, and while I did experience this to some extent, most of them turned out quite beautiful! 

I was seeing in my mind these flowers arranged in an artful, picturesque bouquet.  But when it came time to actually turn them into a resin project, reality hit me hard: I had no idea how to actually get that to happen.  Ultimate I chose the “charge full steam ahead” method so I could get the “learning from my mistakes” stage over as soon as possible, and just threw stuff into the three molds I had, poured the resin, and hoped for the best.

Did I mention I didn’t have a proper workspace? I was using some broken furniture thrown in the attic of our carriage barn. The broken table was not remotely level, so you can see I’ve artfully shimmed a board with some paper towels to rest my projects on so they would harden level. (Also notice the pile of disposable gloves – resin gets everywhere and is difficult to clean!)

It didn’t take me long to realize my first horrible mistake: resin is heavy. Flowers are light. They float. With nothing holding them in place, most of my flowers floated to the top of the open-faced molds (what would be the bottom of the final project)

 

In spite of this they came out looking alright. They also had a lot of bubbles – something I sort of anticipated, but I wanted to see how bad it would be.

Some people thought that enhanced the visuals; though it does obscure the view of the flowers. I don’t think it hurt these projects, but I could see how it would be problematic in the future so I decided to give it another shot with some different techniques to reduce bubbles:

  • A wide, shallow mold causes fewer bubbles as they can more easily escape
  • Using a torch or heat gun can eliminate surface bubbles
  • Pouring a thin layer of resin, putting the flowers on it while it is still tacky, then letting it harden before finishing the pour can “freeze” the flowers in place so they don’t float

First, time to collect more flowers!

 

I didn’t have a very clear vision for this next project. I also didn’t have time to find a mold. I frantically searched for anything that might be wide, flat, and circular to use that I also thought I could get the resin out of — rather than having it stuck there indefinitely.

In the end I found a disposable flower pot liner and started throwing in my latest dried flowers and leaves willy-nilly. I was afraid of over doing it and adding too much.

 

In a comedic cooking advice booklet I suggest trying to only cook the VERY BEST, MOST AMAZING MEALS:

If you  try to cook a pretty good meal and screw up, it will just be an O.K meal. If you try to cook an AMAZING meal and you screw up it will still be a really good meal. People will confuse “is a good cook” with “makes good meals” and think you’re
a good at cooking when in reality you’re just bad at cooking very good things!

I’ve found this principal to be immensely beneficial in any endeavor. Most people don’t even realize that, much like the first three, this project was also a horrible disaster – because despite how much I screwed up, it still looks good.

I’ll briefly, but not thoroughly, categorizes the many failures of this project:

  • As seen above, the mold had a leak
  • Because the mold leaked, the entire thing got glued to the board it was resting on. It was very difficult to remove without also breaking the resin cast. I had to use a system of many Popsicle-stick wedges, working them under the unstuck side at first and gradually moving them closer, until I was able to use a butter knife to break the cast free 
  • Also, the resin did not release from the plastic mold. It was difficult, time consuming, and frustrating to peal the mold off of the resin in shreds, spending hours trying to pick the last pieces of plastic mold off. 
  • Despite my best efforts, the arrangement of flowers still floated and shifted, “ruining” my original layout
  • Preserving the 3D shape of flowers worked against me here — I was trying to do a thin, flat pour. Instead it ended up really thick, AND some of the flowers still poked out of the top.
  • The torch, while effectively removing bubbles, also melted my plastic mold (duh) making it even harder to remove, but also making the final shape not perfectly circular
  • It dried too fast, meaning the resin dried out before it fully leveled, so the final product has waves and ripples of expanding resin instead of a smooth, flat top surface
  • Some of these flowers weren’t preserved well enough, and lost their color, got damaged, and fell apart during the casting process

My main takeaways were:

  • Always use a proper silicone mold, which will easily release resin and can withstand torch heat and won’t leak
  • The torch works wonders on bubbles
  • Anything you want to stay put needs to be secured in place somehow

These projects took me roughly three weeks in June, from collecting flowers to the final resin pour. 



 

In mid-July, after licking my wounds and ordering some new material, I ambitiously decided to move on to my dream project of a moss bio-dome,

While I did think I had learned some things from my previous projects, like many of my endeavors, I mostly chose to advance on to this project because there was a birthday coming up for someone who I thought might appreciate such a project. 

Step one, collect materials!

I had a difficult time balancing all of this on my arms, and got quite a hand cramp trying to hold on to things until I got home on more than one occasion! I collected a LOT of material from the woods for this project, because I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do. I wanted enough things to choose from that I could improvise as I got started.

 

I found this really neat mushroom that was as hard as wood and almost the perfect size to fit in my biggest spherical mold. Said person with a birthday upcoming recently had her tablet screen break and made light of it by saying it looked like Gandalf’s rune; which tangentially inspired the idea to paint Gandalf’s ruin using glow-in-the-dark paint on the back of the mushroom. (This had to be painted in many layers to get it thick enough. It was hard to find a thin enough paintbrush. I also one time accidentally touched it when wet and ruined it!)  I’d also been watching a lot of Studio Ghibli films lent to me by this person, and figurines from some of  Hayao Miyazaki’s films just seemed like they would be right at home in a little nature diorama — pictured above on the other side of the mushroom are Soot Sprites from My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away. 

 

In the first picture, you’ll notice clay in the bottom of the big mold. This was put in first so that, when removed at the end, the final cast would have a flat bottom so it could be placed on a shelf without rolling off. 

Next, I purchased some resin dyes and made a very dark brown/black resin mixture for the base poor. This is the “ground” that the moss “grass” will grow on top of. 

My cramped work space is becoming increasingly cluttered. 

I did learn some things from my first project. This time, everything was glued down. Early experiments proved that moss cannot be super-glued to resin, so I had to use hot glue for the first layer. Super glue was used in all other cases, as it works much better and more cleanly to affix all other items to each other. 

The big unknown was working with a spherical mold. They come in two parts, and I’d heard horror stories about them being forced apart or leaking during the curing process, causing a huge spill and ruining projects. 

To reduce bubbles, I did one poor over everything to seal everything organic so it wouldn’t leak air and fill in the cracks. I taped the edge of the mold to make sure the edge could be easily cleaned when it came time to put the top half of the mold on and finish the pour.

I was very pleased with how this one was coming out – I thought the concept and execution looked great – and I thought it was going to be amazing as long as the mold stayed sealed during the second pour. 

To build some anticipation for the final result, I’ll go on some brief tangents of some other complexities of working with resin.

This small butane torch was acquired recently by my sister to toast marshmallows for a baking project. It served me well as a bubble-remover on my resin projects.

The alcohol was used for clean up. I cannot stress enough that resin is very messy and well get everywhere and the cleanup process for each pour is tedious and lengthy. Each mixing container (inside and outside) and stirrer (the resin has to be stirred for ages before pouring) has to be cleaned with the alcohol, pictured above, as well as any surfaces it may have got on. 

My oldest brother was alarmed at the combination of a torch and alcohol, and advised I don’t use them in close proximity. (Lest I catch the fumes on fire and cause a fireball) Luckily the alcohol doesn’t come out until after I’m completely done using the torch. 

Using said torch to get rid of bubbles on my two bottom pours. (Bonus: in the backdrop you can see where my other project leaked and sealed to the board..)

My increasingly  messy setup, spilling over onto the chair and floor.

Concept for a secondary pour. 

I had only planned to use the biggest mold, and didn’t really have any particular ideas for how many or what to make except that I wanted to at least use the Soot Sprites, Kodama, and Totoro figurines. 

Many of my smaller pours, such as this one, occurred just because I mixed too much resin and didn’t want it to go to waste.

Now, for the result of my big pour. . .

 

Disaster.

My beautiful, carefully crafted nature diorama is indecipherable beneath the absolute hail of bubbles that appeared, except the baleful eyes of a few soot sprites staring out of the haze.  (Not to mention the expected stem and seam line)

I tried so hard to avoid this. Although I realized as I began this project I wouldn’t be able to use the torch once the top half of the mold went on due to the small opening, I still used other techniques to prevent bubbles: for an example, if you do multiple pours the bubbles are reduced. If you pour all at once, the bubbles at the bottom can’t reach the top before the resin cures, so I did smaller pours one by one. (Including the initial pour to seal everything) 

Secondly, the faster it cures the less time there is for bubbles to escape. The attic I was curing them in was so hot that resin cures very quickly, so for this creation I had let it cure in the much cooler basement instead.

All for nothing!

To top it all off, I was running low on resin and for some reason the resin stuck on a small part of the mold and tore a hole, so doing new pours was impossible. My deadline was also fast-approaching.

A panicked flurry of shopping, borrowing, and brainstorming I tried to come up with a way to salvage this creation and make new ones:

  • Borrow a Dremel tool to get rid of the stem and to grind down the sphere so that hopefully more of the contents are visible
  • Sander to flatten the bottom (the clay wasn’t level) and/or possibly help remove bulk amounts of resin from the sphere
  • Very fine grit wet/dry sand paper, as well as polishing agent and a microfiber cloth, to attempt to polish the sphere to a shine after removing a bulk of resin
  • Ordered more resin
    • I also did some research and found a different type of resin from a different supplier that was meant more for the kind of pours I’m doing. It turns out the resin I was using was meant for smaller or flat pours, not large solid objects. The new resin I ordered was thinner and takes longer to cure, so more bubbles can escape. This is a double-edged sword as I was quickly running out of time and was not sure I could make new creations in time with a slower-curing resin
  • Ordered a new mold
  • Ordered a mold release spray to treat molds to make sure it will release easily; to avoid future mold tears and/or trouble releasing resin
  • A sealant/spray that may trap more air in organic material to prevent them from releasing air bubbles and/or to spray the final product to make it shine. 

The process of sanding and grinding down the large sphere was very long and tedious. I had to repeatedly clean everything to check and make sure I wasn’t getting too close to any of the objects within; I didn’t want to accidentally cut into one of my Soot Sprites.

These large bubbles are problematic. I can’t sand them out without destroying said soot sprites. You can already see the tip of the mushroom as been damaged at the top. 

My smaller mold had similar issues. It didn’t look as bad at first, but after I ground off the stem and mold line, the bubbles filled up with dust, turning them white and making the whole thing look even worse. 

Here are the 6 layers of sand paper of decreasing grit I used to slowly polish it off. If you’ve ever sanded anything, you can feel my pain. If you haven’t, try it sometime – great exercise in patience and endurance.

The picture is misleading as I also needed to spend a decent amount of time with a larger grit sandpaper to actually take off a thick layer of resin evenly. Since I wanted this one to remain spherical, I couldn’t use motorized means like I was for the bigger sphere. 

A lot of patience and getting up early to spend some hours working on it.

Did I mention I was working on a different, time-consuming, non-resin project at the same time? More on that later!

Luckily, after rinsing off the dust, it appeared my labor was not in vain! It was starting to look pretty clear and shiny. 

But my bigger resin sphere had bigger problems — remember those big, ugly bubbles at the top?

I decided I need to fill them with more resin.

But how? I couldn’t remold it since it was no longer spherical. I could pour resin over the top, but then it would dribble out and drip along the sides; the whole thing would need to be re-polished. If I didn’t sand before the pour, would the rough surface be permanently encased in the resin?

I decided to just go for it and pour resin over the rough, unpolished surface to fill the gaps. 

It worked shockingly well – the pouring resin did a better job of “polishing” it than hours of sanding! It did result in drip lines, but I said to heck with that – looks good enough for me! The whole thing came out kind of misshapen and ugly, but the scene within was now clearly visible and time constraints pressured me into calling this “good enough”. I had to check how well the glow in the dark rune worked though . . .

Perfect! I rather un-humbly thought this project was insanely cool and was pleased with myself despite the countless setbacks and failures. 

Meanwhile, I tried my new type of resin and some new techniques to make a few more. . 

I absolutely love the contented smile on this Kodama’s face with the daisy in his hair, as he sits with his legs crossed in a shell from our recent Kayaking trip – and the ferns all about him like seaweed! 

And hey, guess what, this guy glows in the dark too! The way he lights up his shell home just looks amazing in person even though it’s hard to capture. Again, I was just too pleased with myself. My only regret is that due to time constraints and the other projects I was working on, I had to gift this one with the seam line and the plug at the top how they are in the first picture. (If you’re reading this, I can it back and fix it if you want!) 

And here we have Big Totoro and his medium and small friends! 

.. as well as another curious Kodama in the back!

I love the blue Totoro reaching for his fathers staff, and the three wide-eyed smallest Totoro’s huddling together for comfort. 

This little guy was made out of rushed extras, but it failed horribly because the dreaded moment occurred: the sphere mold came apart while drying and spilled everywhere. This made a huge mess and ruined the pour. But I just gave it away like this! It’s still kind of neat.. right? 

Here is the full cast together! 

Despite the imperfections, disasters, and incomplete aspects, I think they came out pretty cool.. what do you think?

I’m not sure how good of a gift they made – what exactly are you gonna do with them? – but they were fun learning projects, and it doesn’t matter if they didn’t come out great because they were totally shown up by my OTHER project, with Evan.. more chocolates!

Which leads us to my next project.. some hasty ordering of some cool dyes, and some rushed amateur carpentry,  and I was all set for my final resin attempt. . 

First I had to cover all the areas of my box I didn’t want to get messy, and use hot glue to seal EVERY seam so that the resin wouldn’t all leak out like with a mold!

.. on second thought, I should have taken further precautions. 

 

Dropping in bits of dye and swirling it around was really fun to get creative with. . .

. . . and the emerald and silver powders, too! 

 

The finish project! I say this a lot, but it really was better than it looks in pictures. I was very happy with how the resin on this turned out. 

… oops! It still leaked! This is is what I alluded to earlier. It hardened to the floor and I almost couldn’t get it off. That would have really ruined my life. Luckily, I was able to pry it up eventually without breaking anything! (Except peeling some paint off of the floor)

That’s sneak peak at the other project. Another post will be coming soon going into all the exciting details of our two latest chocolate projects since the last time I wrote about it


Sad Endings

A masterful artist can make you weep with songs that invoke sorrow and stories with sad endings. I find a strange comfort in these, in being able to see the truth in the sadness and weep – yet feel better afterwards, because the sadness isn’t ours, it isn’t real, so when the sad ending is over the hurt goes away we can see the hope, too. 

God is a masterful storyteller, but when the stories he’s telling are ours, the sad endings aren’t like this. The hurt doesn’t go away. It’s real, it’s ours, and we carry the scars with us the rest of our lives. Time may lessen the pain, we may heal a little, but it’s not something you can put behind yourself like the end of a book or a movie. You can never go back to the way you were before the hurt. 

That’s only true in this life. 

We have no sad endings in light of eternity. For those of us whose faith and hope is in Christ we have only happy endings and the sadness we bore in this life will be left behind. But it’s a sin inherent to being human, I think, to care less about the light of eternity than we should. We want to love and be loved, to be at peace, to find hope, to see joy under this light. But it is up to God to apportion these things as he desires.

Sometimes the portions he serves are so small we feel ourselves starving.

Why do we hurt? Why do we live with sicknesses that cripples us, blinds us, leaves us lame? Why do children die in the womb? Why do the people we love hurt us, not love us back? Why does it feel like God, too, only hurts us more the more that we love him? 

Were his disciples confused, just like us, how God works through pain and sorrow on that night he was crucified? Could they also not understand how it could be part of His plan as they scattered, wept and grieved? Did not even Job, who was restored to all his prosperity, still carry his hurt with him? When he had gained back more sheep and cattle than he had before, when he lay in bed at night could he not see the mangled bodies of his sons and daughters and hear their screams as they were cut down in the fields?

Yet in this life we are not even restored to fortune like Job. Nor as much as we plead to our God, like Martha, are our Lazerus’s raised from the dead. “If for this life only, we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied,” says Paul, and it’s easy to see why. Yet I don’t think Paul meant to make us focus on the misery of this life with this remark, but rather that the “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” 

To die is gain,” says Paul. That’s easy to see.

But what does “to live is Christ” mean? 

Does it mean if I’m not living like Christ – preaching the gospel, giving sight to blind, and turning water into wine — that I’m better off with the gain of death? What about us who, in the words of Rich Mullins, are just scraping to find the faith to ask for daily bread? Who are barely holding on, let alone have the strength to serve others?

Is the answer in the words of Christ when he said “Take up your cross and follow me” or in the words of Paul who says “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” ?

Could it be that when Paul says “to live is Christ” that even merely in suffering we are bringing glory to God and pleasing him? But who can bear it? How can anyone endure these present sufferings? Nay, not just endure them — more than that, for as Paul says, he rejoices in his sufferings!

One of the things I love about Rich Mullins, as he speaks for those of us who scrape to find the faith to ask for daily bread:

“Do you remember when You lived down here where we all scrape,

to find the faith to ask for daily bread?

Did You forget about us after You had flown away?

(…)

Did You ever know loneliness,

did You ever know need?

Do You remember just how long a night can get?

When You were barely holding on,

and Your friends fall asleep,

and don’t see the blood that’s running in Your sweat.”

…Is how effortlessly he answers his rhetorical questions if God hears our pain and our prayers by bringing to mind the Garden of Gethsemane. 

Surely he does remember, and he has not forgotten us. When Christ calls us to take up our cross and follow him, it is not to carry it alone, but he walks with us on the road to Calvary.

How do we be at peace? How do we find hope? How do we grasp joy even in the suffering?

It is only possible through the spirit of God. He enables us to have faith that, just as we can see the beauty and worth in sad stories, God also has a purpose and a meaning in our suffering. Like a sad song or story, we see the truth in the sadness and weep, but we can also see the hope. We look backward to the day when, for the hope that was set before him, he endured the cross.  We look forward to the day Christ returns and all our stories have happy endings.

But it isn’t easy.

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

(John 6:60, NIV)

Crown Him with many crowns
The lamb upon His throne
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns
All music but it’s own
Awake my soul and sing
Of Him who died for thee
And hail Him as thy matchless king
Through all eternity

Crown him the Lord of love
Behold His hands and side
Which wounds yet visible above
In beauty glorified!

No angel in the sky
Can fully bear that sight!
But downward bends His wandering eye
And mystery so bright!

Crown Him the Lord of life
Who triumphed o’er the grave
Who rose victorious in the strife
O’er those He came to save!

His glories now we sing
Who died and rose on high
Who died eternal life to bring
And lives that death may die!

(2nd Chapter of Acts version)

The Gulf Between Us

I made a joke recently that the comparative self-worth of some of us younger brothers now relies on how much we talk with our friends.  It was a joke, but also not. Me and Evan both have this suspicion or jealousy that the other person is having more conversations, longer conversations, or more meaningful conversations. That if only we were as good at conversation as the other, we would be happier.

But that desire we share – we can call it loneliness –  is not so easily satiated. There is a gap between any two persons, the distance between knowing and being known – and casual conversation does not bridge that gap. It doesn’t get you any closer to being understood or truly knowing the other person. It’s just signing across the gap and feeling just as alone afterwards. 

“For if someone loves you without knowing your flaws, they are not loving you. They are loving a story you’ve presented. How easy is it to feel good when you’re “on top of the world”?  Of course you love that moment of fleeting success. But amidst the tidal wave of your insufficiencies and failures, that moment is insignificant and does little to define who you are. People are flawed; people are their flaws.” 

(My Journal, 5/27/2017)

But to know someone deeply requires vulnerability. And it’s difficult to make yourself vulnerable without a degree of trust and comfort someone. That trust and comfort is only earned, built, by having gone through moments of vulnerability together.

It’s a difficult process to start, and it doesn’t help that the kind of people who desire deeper connections are often introverts who also have a hard time making that first step, of being vulnerable to someone who they don’t already trust yet. Truly, when an introvert is trying to talk with an introvert, it’s a difficult thing.

“I’ll wait at the gates
Or is it a fortress?
I’m calling the blame
Just let me own it”

(Fortress by Bear’s Den)

“The guards are always at the gates
Turning everyone away
But you got through
Didn’t you?”

(You’re the One I Want by  Chris & Thomas)

I was complaining to someone about my poor conversational skills, and they remarked on the difficulty of not knowing whether someone wants their fortress scaled and the risk involved if they don’t

Indeed, what if the other person doesn’t want the gap bridged? What if their casual conversation, their signals of “how’s-it-going” and “how-was-your-day” across that canyon are as close as they want to get to you? What if an attempt to be vulnerable, honest, truthful, and open would be an offense to them?

To a pessimistic mind like mine, the presumption is always that they don’t want their fortress scaled, and the more badly I want to, the more certain I am that it would be unwelcome. As much as my mindset has improved as of late (I haven’t genuinely hated or wished harm upon myself in months!) I still have trouble imagining anyone wanting to know me. 

“oh dear clarity please come

show me what has just begun

with all the hopes and fears i’ve ever known

oh and faith come back to me

once convinced once believed

now a mystery i’ll seek alone

if i’ve learned anything at all about this life

it’s the things that scare you the most that are always worth the time

patience, hold me, let me feel this lonely

it’s the things that scare me the most that i know i need

there will always be these doubts

things that we can’t figure out

things that we’re not meant to know for sure

oh dear patience please be mine

this will surely take some time

with perspective i will learn much more”

(Patience by Brooke Annibale)

“How was your day?” is the worst. It’s not that I don’t genuinely want to know how your day is, just as much as I wished I could have been a part of it. But if you’re a fortress, “How was your day?” is your gate. Looking at those words every day, never getting any further, I’m stuck outside your walls. Maybe I just need patience. Maybe the things that are worth the time surely take a lot of time. 

I claim to want to have deeper conversations, but would you guess it from talking to me? I put up my own walls. I have my own gate and guards. It’s not fair of me to ask of you what I can’t give myself.

I would also claim honesty is the most important thing in a relationship, even if it hurts, but have I been honest with you? I am not even honest with myself, calling it discernment or kindness to not speak truth plainly.

Is this hunger and thirst for a deeper connection which can’t be satisfied in this life – a hunger for which is yet to come? Or if one of us or both of us just took a risk, a leap of faith, could we bridge this gap?

“He smiles politely back at you

You stare politely right on through

Some sort of window to your right

As he goes left, and you stay right

Between the lines of fear and blame

You begin to wonder why you came

Where did I go wrong?

I lost a friend

Somewhere along in the bitterness”

(How to Save a Life – The Fray)

Sometimes I try, but it just makes the distance seem further, and it makes me feel like I’m just losing a friend. Then I get bitter, and it shows. Then I feel ashamed, and guilty for expecting too much. Expecting what I’m not owed and I haven’t earned.

Maybe I just need that patience Brooke Annibale sings of, the patience to just let myself feel lonely

“I’m so afraid of saying something wrong

There’s a real danger of saying nothing at all”

(What Could Be as Lonely as Love by Amber Run)

“I cannot escape the feeling that we are not so far from each other, but there is oceans between us, a sea I cannot pass. If only God would bring us together that we might find the way to each other in all this darkness and all this grief, that we would not pass like ships in the dark left to float in the alone in the inky black until, after years past, our souls come to moor upon that shore in heav’n above. Won’t you please guide us across that sea? But I weep as I break the oars and burn the sails, as I lower the anchor and breach the hull. I know with you I can walk on water, I know you love and you’ll guide me home, so why do I have to work to harm all that could love me?”

(My Journal, 11/4/2018)

But my fear is that Patience is just another boulder I’m using to build my own walls. My own walls built out of fear, built from my own self-destructive habits that have poisoned me for years. 

Is it patience or am I hiding my light under a basket, and we’re two ships passing each other in the night, not even aware that we’re there — and I’m calling that patience?

“And it’s all my fault

That I’m closer to strangers than you”

(Closer To Strangers by Eden Wilhelm)

This distance exists between everyone I know; and sometimes I feel furthest from the people I’m closest to as if our physical proximity makes it even harder to to be vulnerable. Because then if we do cause hurt scaling a fortress there is nowhere to hide.

Or maybe because we know each other just well enough to know how much we don’t.

Our gates are too tall, the guards are turning everyone away, these fortresses seem impossible to scale (if we did, would we find the door was always open?)

The chasm between us seems impossible to bridge. There will always be these doubts, things that we can’t figure out, things that we’re not meant to know for sure.

It seems impossible. It would take a miracle from God. But God has answered my prayers with miracles before. So I simply pray he will answer this one too.

“At the end of my journal last year, I wrote “I wish that 2017 would go by as quickly as possible.” (…) I’m sorry to say my state hasn’t really improved, and a part of me hopes 2018 will go by in a similarly fast fashion. But my bigger prayer is that God would bring me to a place where I enjoyed life enough to wish it lingered, rather than hope for it to pass me by.” 

(My Journal, 12/31/2017)

Easter Chocolates

Evan asked me if I wanted to help him make chocolates and send them to friends this Easter. This was Evan’s initiative, but we split the work fairly equally (though he never did let me chip in for the cost) and I had a lot of fun participating.

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We tossed around the idea for a while and did a test run for Cadie’s birthday, but we didn’t start doing much serious planning until March 31st. The actual production of chocolates didn’t start until April 11th, we finished them on the 12th, and shipped them on the 13th. (Some lucky people got them that day, being close enough to deliver in person / by proxy.)

In total, we gave 7 families chocolates, sending out over 336 chocolates of 12 different varieties (recipes of Evan’s creation) packaged in 32 custom designed, hand-made boxes. We used over 20 lbs of chocolate, and that’s not counting any other ingredients.

Here’s how it came about!

Planning, Recipes, Logistics

Evan did most of this part as I was pretty busy with work at the time. Our two biggest discussions were how much complexity and variety of chocolates to make, and how to deliver them. Although some friends are close enough to have someone drop them off in person, we knew from the start that some would have to be shipped. We also had some shopping to do.

My opinion was that we could do more variety if we kept things simple. Luckily (since it turned out so well) Evan ignored me and opted for both high variety and complexity. He came up with the ideas, names, descriptions, and “recipes” fairly quickly; they all seemed good so I didn’t have a lot of input. My main concern was how we would simultaneously produce so many chocolates of different varieties over the course of two days without running out of room for storing it all or without having situations where one person needed something that the other person was busy using. But we decided just to let that sort itself out once we got started!

For shipping and packaging, Evan and I had a variety of greatly differing ideas, none of which we particularly liked. There were concerns about shipping costs and what size package we would actually be sending, concerns about how to keep the chocolates clearly labeled without them being mixed up during shipping, and of course presentation. One of the surprises of this project was that this all fell into place and turned out really well (in my opinion) as for a while I thought it was going to go poorly.

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After we had the recipes, a good deal of the shopping was done by Mom on the normal grocery shopping trip, but there were a number of other things we needed to order online, including (but not limited to) 20 pounds of chocolate. We really had no idea how much chocolate we would use (especially given the recipes were improvised/made up) so we tried to play it safe. When the 20 lbs of chocolate arrived, Evan said:

well I feel a little less bad about the chocolate now.. I doubt we will even use half of it (…) yeah, this is 20 lb of chocolate.. I think we will use between 7-10 lb maybe, at least we won’t have to stress about running out, or if we have some seize up
Spoiler alert: we used all 20 lbs and then had to dip into other chocolate supplies lying around the house. But we didn’t really have any seize up!
For the sake of any recipients who might be reading this post, I won’t say how much the project costed us if you combine ingredients, shipping and packaging costs, and everything else we had to buy! I was prepared to spend any amount of money and knew it would be a lot right from the start; but in the end, Evan kept the costs to himself– so it must not have been much, right? 😉

Making the Bases

Evan did some things on Thursday and Friday, such as dehydrating grapes and making strawberry leather, toasting some nuts, and so on. But for the most part production of the chocolates started for real on Saturday.

That Saturday was also Mom’s birthday, I got a bit of a later start because I had to finish wrapping my present (more on that later) and Evan and I had to share the kitchen with people making the birthday dinner and dessert.

For this stage we were making everything that would be in the center of the chocolates. This was a very different experience for me versus Evan, as Evan had a vision for each chocolate and made the “recipes.” I had no idea what he was envisioning some of them to be like and the recipes weren’t always clear, so I tended to get stuck with the “easy” ones. As is Purdy tradition, we did a generous amount of improvisation.

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Evan working on Prune Nougat while I work on Saturnine Turtle in a busy, messy kitchen

Generally Evan’s vision guided us both pretty well, the main concern was quantity and size. How much did we need to make of each? How big should the pieces be? There were also a few hiccups with particular chocolate types:

Coconut Chew of Énouement

We had some worries the texture would be wrong; but in the end it turned out fine. We definitely didn’t make too much — this is one we wished we had made a bit more extra so we could have done more snitching!

Cherry Morsel of Anemoia

The scale and guidance for the cherry part of this was a bit off and required a lot of improvisation, including an entire jar of Cherry jam we hadn’t been planning to use at all. The biggest issue turned out to be scale: it’s tricky to make a rice-crispy sandwich without cutting the treats too thin so that the jam would leak out. More on that later.

Mocha Truffle of Rubatosis

Evan made this one so I can’t say exactly how it went, but the concern with both Truffles was more in how to coat them. This one also turned out way too strong for Evan and I, but some people loved it that way!

Saturnine Turtle

I’ll admit it: I totally screwed this one up. I didn’t really understand Evan’s vision, but regardless, it accidentally turned out more like a pasty fudge and not the intended chewy caramel. The flavor was so good it still wound up being one of my favorites, but it isn’t what we meant to do!

Prune Nougat of Malneirophrenia

This is another one Evan did. We both new it was a bit weird. I think pretty early on Evan declared it a complete failure, the prunes had a funny taste and the cashew butter had (in his opinion) a nasty aftertaste, and it just didn’t really come together as intended. To our surprise, some people actually liked it!

Brittle of Lachesism

Evan made this one and was pleased with it!

Disconsolate Granola

Evan made this one. My memory is that it didn’t quite turn out how he intended, but it wasn’t declared a total failure like some of them.

Bereft Orange Chocolate

I made this one and didn’t really know what to do. As I was making it, I found out we didn’t have the orange extract oil that Evan thought we did (only a few drops) and after adding them, I thought the orange flavor was far too mild. The concern with adding other orange flavoring is that it might make the chocolate seize up. In the end, I found some extract (not oil) to add, and it didn’t seem to ruin the chocolate.

However, it still seemed like we had too little chocolate, but I didn’t want to thin it out by adding more when we had no more orange flavoring to add.

Titi suggested whipping the chocolate as it cooled to mix in air. This baffled and confused me and Evan. I’d never heard of such a thing, but I gave it a try.

I don’t know if accomplished anything, it may have increased the volume some, but regardless – in the end this turned out to strangely work despite having been written off as a failure at various stages of development.

Mint Cookie of Liberosis

The main issue here is that we ran out of time. I started this one at the very end of Saturday and Evan had to finish it on Sunday.

Strawberry Leather of Kairosclerosis

This was another Evan one! The biggest issue was rolling it. He wanted this nice, beautiful red and white spiral but it was hard to get that while the chocolate was loose enough to roll. 

Pistachio Nougat of Disquietude

This is another one Evan did, and was not that pleased with. The apricot flavor got overwhelmed, the sesame was too powerful, the texture wasn’t quite right, and the pistachio flavor didn’t quite come out.

Sepulchral Grape Truffle

We knew this one might be a bit weird (I still really liked it) and the grape flavor was not as strong as we wanted. It was also a pain to coat and kept leaking!

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Several finished bases; I’m rolling out the dough for the mint cookies

Coating

At some point we had to move down into the basement because of the aforementioned birthday-dinner cooking going on upstairs, where we continued on with the next step: coating each of them in chocolate.

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Here we are staging all of the bases for coating on two folding tables in the basement – I’m sandwiching cherry jam between chocolate Rice Crispy treats for “Cherry Morsel of Anemoia”, Evan is trying to separate stuck together “Prune Nougat”

Tempering Chocolate & Preventing Seizing

If chocolate is not properly tempered, it won’t harden to a firm texture — it will be soft, it won’t have a glossy look, and it will melt too easily at the touch and smear everywhere.

If chocolate loses it’s tempered state or seizes (which can happen for a variety of reasons) it can’t be used for coating anymore, and fixing it can be a pain and could result in lost chocolate. We were fairly concerned about this as we’ve had trouble working with chocolate before and figured we would have problems at some point, working with this much chocolate!

After researching it, Evan decided the best route was to use already tempered chocolate and melt it very slowly to avoid overheating it (ruining the tempering). Me and Evan both had our own vats of chocolate going over double-boilers on the stove. We would partially melt some chocolate, take it off the heat, and let the residual heat continue to melt the rest of the chocolate.

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It was a bit slow, but it worked — surprisingly, we didn’t have trouble with the chocolate (besides almost running out..) although we had a few close calls.

The biggest issue was aesthetics; it was very difficult and messy to dip the bases in chocolate and we kept leaving fingerprints on the chocolates. As a result, we’d often have to patch up holes after the first coating dried. This was especially an issue with any of the wet bases, such as the truffles and prune nougat.

The First Real Disaster

Although Evan exclaimed of ruination at many points, our first “real disaster” occurred Saturday night.

We realized although we were including certain friends in our mental delivery list, they weren’t included in the actual arithmetic we were using to determine how many chocolates to make. We didn’t have enough chocolates to send to everyone. This ended Saturday on a bit of a sour note.

In the end we “solved” this problem by dropping one family from the list (sorry cousin Mike!) and including only three of each flavor for some families, instead of four. This allowed us to add in the two families we had missed! (T’s and N’s)

The Second Day

By Sunday, we still had two chocolate bases somewhat unfinished: the mocha truffles and the mint cookies. We also had a lot of coating left to do, and we still had not printed or folded any of the boxes. I was cooking dinner (lunch) for Church, and Church was being held next door instead of at our house. Furthermore, some of the people receiving the chocolates were at church and we had intended it to be a surprise. We also wanted to finish the project that day (not only because we didn’t have Monday off, but also we hoped to finish some early enough to give to some people at Church that day).

Needless to say, there were some complications!

Boxes, Shipping & Packaging

Let’s rewind a little bit. Throughout the whole week, we had been trying to settle on a box design. Unfortunately, we were having a lot of very frustrating printing issues where everything would look fine on the computer, but when printed, it would look horrible.

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Originally we were going for a more minimalist design, maybe even a plain white box, but I wanted a bit of a nicer looking presentation, and I also wanted to bring in the theme of Easter a bit more instead of just being “Hey, we’re giving you chocolates and it just happens to be Easter.” So while we had to keep reprinting the box for technical reasons (working out the size, margins, material) I kept trying different designs as well. Eventually I found this graphic on Google and cleaned it up for use on the box.

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However, for some reason, this graphic is exactly what made the file stop printing correctly. A brief look at the files created trying to fix this problem gives a glimpse into the frustration and difficulty of fixing this problem.

god help me

This was the hardest and most frustrating part of the project for me. Admittedly, I got kind of angry, though some of that was residual stress from work. In the end, though, we successfully printed a box design I’m pretty happy with! We also included a little insert with the box.

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But designing and printing was only the first step!

The tops had to be cut.

Both the tops and the bottoms needed four cuts at each corner so the sides could fold down. Then they each had to have crease likes made for folding.

Then they had to be folded and glued.

These steps had to be done for more than 32 tops and 32 bottoms.

Luckily, this is where doing it at church came in handy! We had help from friends and family (including some people who were going to receive the boxes) — we had a little trouble getting the cuts right at first, but after a while we fell into stride.

Packing

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No, this is not all of the boxes, just some. . .

When we it actually came to packing the chocolates into the boxes, we ran into some sizing issues.. several of the chocolate types were far too big to fit in the boxes!

We had to make the painful choice to trim them down to size, which of course ruins our beautiful coatings, so many of them had to be re-coated at least on the side they were cut. Some needed to be cut down to size significantly, but many I also grated with a grater to slim them down.

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Evan couldn’t bear to watch, and had to leave the room! We thought our beautiful chocolates were going to be ruined, but it had to be done.

In the end it was sort of like Jesus feeding the 5,000 in that there were twelve baskets of shavings left over. Although in this case it wasn’t from a miracle, but just because we made so many chocolates, and had to trim some of them down considerably. (Though I think the recipients will agree with me that the final serving size was still pretty generous!)

Conclusion

The miracle is that everything actually turned out really well!

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Besides having to miss out sending some chocolates to one family, there were no major disasters. No type of chocolate was totally ruined. The boxes came out great. We finished on time and shipped everything. There were no major problems making the chocolates and despite the gigantic scale of the project we finished the bulk of the work in two days.

Some people got theirs the day we finished, so we started to get reactions pretty fast. I can’t speak for Evan, but it pretty immediately made it worth all the work and expense! It was a lot of fun getting reactions and reading what ones people liked. But even apart from that I find a lot of satisfaction in big projects like this. (It’s what I originally wanted to write about here.) The only part that wasn’t fun was some of the printing errors.

Evan sent out a poll to some of the people who received them where each chocolate could be ranked 1-10. Here are the results (14 responses) ranked in order along with some of my own thoughts!

The “Flops”

75 points: Sepulchral Grape Truffle

Coming in last place, the Grape Truffle. Personally I liked this one since I’m a sucker for concord grape, but we both knew this was one of our more unusual flavors. We also fell a little short on the execution, though – I believe if we tried again, we could do a grape flavor people are happier with.

This was one of the more annoying ones to coat since it was pretty runny (even after freezing) so they leaked a lot of there were any holes. We had to do a lot of patch jobs!

85 points: Prune Nougat of Malneirophrenia (1 lowest, 1 highest)

I think we both expected this one to rank in last place.  Not only was the idea weird, but the execution fell short. It was also a pain to coat due to how wet and sticky it was.

85 points: Pistachio Nougat of Disquietude (2 lowest, 3 highest)

Tied in second-to-last, we also expected this one to be unpopular. Similar to above, not only was the concept weird, but it didn’t turn out how we wanted.

86 points: Disconsolate Granola (1 lowest, 1 highest)

Barely a point ahead of the Prune and Pistachio, the granola didn’t quite hit the mark in our opinions, though the granola was better fresh. This one was easy to coat, but some of them did turn out too big and had to be grated down to fit in the box.

89 points: Bereft Orange Chocolate (3 lowest, 3 highest)

Despite a rocky start, I feel like we actually executed this one pretty well! It just wasn’t too some people’s liking, which is fine — I think a good box of chocolates has to do some daring things for the sake of variety. And it was still loved by a decent amount of people.

It was also too tall for the box and had to be filed down. As a plus, we managed to get sort-of-orange speckles decorating it! We had planned to do more aesthetic touches like this for the others, the fact we didn’t manage too was one minor let down in this project.

The “Okays”

102 points: Cherry Morsel of Anemoia (3 lowest, 4 highest)

Actually among me, Evan, and some of our early snitchers this was a favorite. The fact it placed this low is more of a testament to how good the rest were, I guess. It was a bit of a pain to coat since the cherry leaked, and they came out far too big and had to be significantly trimmed and filed down to size.

105 points: Brittle of Lachesism (0 lowest, 2 highest)

Surprised by how well this one did! It was a bit of a weird one; spicy peanut-butter brittle with hot cayenne pepper. I guess we got the balance just right, and kept it from being too spicy for some people!

This one came out far too big and had to be filed down to size with a grater significantly.

106 points: Mint Cookie of Liberosis (1 lowest, 3 highest)

Who doesn’t like mint! This one did well but it was kind of uncreative. Part of the reason it turned out too well is because this one was more by-the-recipe instead of invented by me or Evan.

Some of these were also too big and I had to find a way to trim them down while keeping them circular and then file them. Plus when we were coating them, we let them sit on a surface that they stuck too, which broke some of the cookies and ripped off some of the coating so they had to be re-coated. We also didn’t finish the base Saturday and had to rush them on Sunday.

The “Favorites”

111 points: Strawberry Leather of Kairosclerosis (1 lowest, 7 highest)

This was Evan’s creative genius at it’s peak. We both don’t really like white chocolate and were pretty hard pressed to find a way to use it in one of these chocolates.

We had a bit of trouble with this one, because if we tried rolling the sheets of strawberry leather covered in white chocolate too soon, the white chocolate would all slide off and pool up. If done this way you would end up with some pieces with no white chocolate and some that were all white chocolate. But if you wanted too long, it would be too firm. We had to keep a careful eye on these and check them constantly to roll them at just the right point.

The first one Evan tried, he was disappointed and thought it was a bust because it was mostly white chocolate — which he doesn’t like! However my experience was different, and by and large what I think most people experienced: a wonderful fruity flavor and then a burst of quick-melting white chocolate that makes them feel so juicy.

It might not be my favorite, but I think it was the best concept and the most well executed!

116 points: Saturnine Turtle (0 lowest, 7 highest)

Not much to say here. I screwed this one up, but it still came out tasting great! It was easy to make, and while they were too big, they were easy to trim and re-coat.

119 points: Coconut Chew of Énouement (1 lowest rating, 7 highest rating)

My favorite! I love coconut and toasted nuts! We had some fears of the texture turning out wrong, but everything turned out great and it was easy to make. Only needed to be trimmed a little! Not surprised it’s a favorite.

120 points: Mocha Truffle of Rubatosis (0 lowest, 9 highest)

Me and Evan were not the biggest fans! Too strong! But I’m not surprised it’s popular. Coffee and Chocolate are a common paring, and even though it was strong, it was a good flavor.

That’s all for now! There was a lot of details me and Evan forgot because we didn’t document the experience and it was a while ago, but the post was long enough as it is so maybe it’s better.

I have some other projects in the works and some I still need to write about. I’m sure Evan and I will team up again soon for another crazy project!

weathering a storm

Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them”; and it was so.

Today, walking among the trees of a quiet forest on a day lit with warmth and sunlight, I’m struck by the ordinary beauty of an everyday glade. There is no mountain view, no glimmering lake, no glowing sunset. Just goldenrod, grass, and ferns. But at that precise moment, it captures the eye as a scene beautifully and perfectly crafted by God. He created the earth; but the hills and mountains and trees and plants that he brought forth when he spoke life into existence are not the ones we see now. The trees that grew in that day have since fallen to decay, wind has shaped mountains, and the flood rendered unimaginable changes to the whole face of the earth. But just as he created, he sustains all life. Every plant, tree, and flower in the woods I roam was grown and tended by God with him knowing I would be here at this moment. Knowing that I would view it from this angle so that the composition, met with the right lighting and the gentle stir of wind, would startle in me the sudden recognition of the glory of Him reflected in the beauty of nature. To see it brings hope, and makes Christ feel near. Just as God created nature but also maintains and sustains it, so also he did not only create our spirits, but also sustains them. Perhaps he didn’t so much carefully craft the beauty of the moment, so much as stir my soul to see what is always there. 

Not all of my time in nature is so joyful. Whether a sunset is joyful or sorrowful depends on my faith that it will rise again in the morning. There is beauty and majesty in the power of a summer thunderstorm, and I can even find beauty in winter. The beauty in both shares that same hope that the sun will appear again. Another walk I was feeling loneliness and despair as I walked the woods. In hopelessness I was feeling as if that which I wanted most was also the most impossible thing to happen. My feet carried me with my eyes blind to the beauty of nature as I prayed, until it came to the turning point of my journey. I awoke where I was standing to see a single purple flower in a field of pure yellow goldenrod. I took this solitary flower as an answer. A promise from God. For me this walk was as much a spiritual journey as a physical one. Some might say there was nothing special about this flower, I just happened to pick it and arbitrarily assign it my own special meaning. Maybe that’s true. Or maybe these foolish feelings are how God works in us and speaks to us, sometimes. Whether the flower had meaning or not, God was working in my spirit to give me hope. Hope I did not often have, and badly needed. Such is how my walk with God has often been: long periods of dark hopelessness where I wondered if the sun would ever rise again, if the storm would ever be over, if my life  — on this side of heaven — will ever have it’s Spring. But God has seen fit to sprinkle in these moments of light and hope through nature. Moments when He opens my eyes, and I can see He is always there and has always been there. These moments haven’t always come when I’ve felt like I needed them most, but they come.  “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.” When I look out across the valley, twisting away into the vanishing horizon of the folding and crossing hills, I think about this verse. As if heaven is a physical place Jesus flew to, and if I could sprout wings and fly across the valley, I too could reach it . . . 

“But the mountain falls and crumbles away,

    and the rock is removed from its place;

    the waters wear away the stones;

    the torrents wash away the soil of the earth;

    so you destroy the hope of man.”

Even before lightning is flashing snapshots of dark silhouettes and thunder is booming, there is power and majesty in a hot summer’s storm. An uncanny dark envelopes the world and an awed hush falls as the calm before the front moves in. The wind picks up and you can smell the rain before you hear it, hear it rushing over distant hills before you see it, and see coming down the hill in waves before you feel it. I haven’t lost my childhood love for thunderstorms and floods, for following hurricanes and earthquakes. But now I wonder what bitter thoughts and little comfort come to the minds of those whose lives have been destroyed by floods when they see a rainbow and remember God’s words: “Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.” We’re volunteering for flood cleanup and the faces of the hopeless people looked as empty as their houses we’d just gutted. Even that of nature which is not destructive — stars on a clear night, or the brilliant colors of the setting sun — have this duality for me. When hopelessness has made its home in my heart, sunsets only remind me that good and beautiful things last only a fleeting moment in this life, and the stars taunt me with how alone I am and how far away God feels.  I silently scream into the dark starry night, hoping a reply will echo back. When younger, I would take walks in the woods and imagine, when I came to a fork in the trail, that to walk one branch was to follow Satan. To choose the other was to follow God. I would hear a whisper – “But what if you tried the other path, just to see? It’s just a game, after all.” But it didn’t feel like a game. The fear was as real as the comfort I felt from choosing to follow the path that leads to God, despite the tempter’s voice. But still I wondered, was it just a game? Or, like the lone purple flower and the beauty of the everyday glade, did it have a spiritual power in spite of its physical insignificance? The game is less fun now, when every path seems to lead to Satan. I run faster, hoping to escape him, hoping to escape my sin,  hoping to catch up with Jesus or at least see a flash of Him walking between the conifers. Hoping to meet him coming down the path to embrace me in spite of what I’ve done. But I never see him. I pound the ground with my fists and cry out, I look across the valley, but the view is covered by fog and I can’t see the way to fly to heaven. There are no flowers in the field. I know the sun will rise, but it will rise to uncover my shame, and I’ll beg for the cover of darkness — God can still see me through it, but at least I can’t see myself. The sun sets to leave me; it rises to taunt me. 

I think the contrast between the beauty of nature and it’s destructive, judgmental power is something of what Rich had in mind when he wrote Awesome God:  “Judgment and wrath He poured out on the Sodom, Mercy and grace He gave us at the cross.” But when you are experiencing the judgement and wrath, that mercy and grace can seem hopelessly out of reach. “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us,” but that can be a difficult truth for us fragile men to delight in when our hope is being crushed.  The story of Job ends with Job restored and blessed twice more than he was before his misfortune. I also want to be so restored in this life. But I know that not all Christians are restored to riches before they pass away, though nor do we all end our lives in chains and then beheaded like Paul.  The hope of the gospel is not that we will be doubly blessed in this life. Our hope is in the kingdom to come. But does that mean we can’t or won’t ever have good things in this life? It’s not that I ever lacked for hope in heaven; I just hoped that I might hope for something to look forward to in this life, too. If I am all but a sinner, naked, covered in sores, living in the dust of the ruin of all that I had — well, that’s when depression kicks in, and it’s just hard to want to live. God does not owe me happiness in this life, or life at all. But we fickle, greedy, unsatisfied men. We are not content with our daily bread as we wait for that day, we also want it to not taste bitter in our mouths. We want for our teeth to not rot as we chew it, to not vomit it out in our hopeless pit of despair.  We want the sun to rise in the morning, not to live in eternal darkness as we wait for death to bring us to a brighter place. Sometimes I’m drowning in a flood, sometimes it’s an unquenchable thirst for hope in a summer’s drought and oppressive heat. There is no beauty in nature now, because it speaks of a happiness I cannot share. 

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

he leads me beside quiet waters,

 he refreshes my soul.

He guides me along the right paths

for his name’s sake.”

Just as the sun sets, the sun rises, and the Son has risen. That scream into the starry sky has finally heard it’s echoing reply.  How sweet are those quiet waters after so long a thirst! Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning — I have not flown to heaven, nor have I embraced the physical manifestation of Jesus walking in the woods. There is still a season for everything. A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to plant and a time to harvest. But I have peace now, knowing that even when it feels like all paths lead to Satan, God will keep my feet on a trail that leads me instead to Him. The earth looks more beautiful knowing that. Rich wrote another song about our awesome God, one less about the judgement and one more about that beauty:  

“I heard the rocks crying out:

Be praised for all Your tenderness by these works of Your hands

Suns that rise and rains that fall to bless and bring to life Your land

Look down upon this winter wheat and be glad that You have made

Blue for the sky and the color green that fills these fields with praise”

That is the peace I find in nature: that it not only stirs my soul to see the beauty and power of God reflected in it, and so lift my spirit up in praise of him, but that it also seems that nature itself is crying out in praise of God as I gaze across green hills and blue skies.

No matter how many miracles God blesses me with in this life, no matter how many prayers he answers, I’m never quite expecting the next one when it comes. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me! Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. I used to think there were so many love songs written just because love is such a universal and powerful emotion. But that’s only part of it: the other half is that when you’re in love yourself, it’s too personal to be truthfully captured in words from someone else. Praising God after deliverance is the same way. There are hundreds of psalms and hymns to quote, but none of their words fit my own personal relationship with God.  I feel compelled to praise Him for his goodness and mercy and deliverance, but what words can I use? The struggles themselves have been beyond my ability to share with words, how much less can I put to words the praise that comes from being delivered from that which I cannot speak of? So I offer praise in another language, for those that share it: the praise of the rocks crying out, the praise of a glen, a single purple flower, a sunrise, a valley view — the beauty of nature, lifting itself up in praise of God.

Faith, Hope, and Love

Faith, Hope, and Love. . .

An anonymous friend (whose name starts with a ‘D’ and ends with a “errick”) asked me a multitude of open-ended questions about Joy. (18, questions by my count, aided by 7 ‘perhaps’)

Lacking specificity, intent, or context to his questions I decided to answer him however I pleased. . .

I’m keenly self-conscious about my own negativity and self-depreciation. Not with the intention of being ironic, I often hate myself for it and find it to be pathetic, especially in as far as it might give the appearance of self-pity. 

It leaks out, anyway, possibly as a consequence of bottling up inner turmoil. Sometimes letting it out in a sarcastic and exaggerated fashion is a defense mechanism to mask any actual feelings; sort of a deliberate “boy-who-cried-wolf” that is deployed in order to prevent anyone from caring or being alarmed when the wolves are actually devouring me. For that reason I held out from turning this blog (back when it was drawings and humor) into what it is now, not wanting it to become a swill of pathetic self-pity, cynicism, depression, and venting. 

One of my many heavy-hearted longings is to become the sort of person who is joyfully radiant, to be that sort of person who invariably lifts your spirits for the moments our lives intersect — maybe you know the type. I’m not that kind of person. Despite my efforts, I’ve found myself unable to change anything about my own character, in this way and in many others ways — even when it is very important to me, or even (in other aspects of my character) when it is the most important thing.

When I loathe myself, I struggle with the bible message “Love your neighbor as yourself” — the intent of the scripture is still clear, but when you have this poisoned self-image it can feel like God should have written it as “Love your neighbor better than yourself” to account for cases such as this. (Alternatively, you can read this passage as promoting self-love.)

To hate oneself is not Godly (no more holy than hating others – God made us both) but even believing God forgives me, it is still difficult for me to forgive myself. (Emotionally speaking, not to imply that I have the right to forgive my own sin) In a way, I suppose, this is the sin of self-hatred: a disrespect of the forgiveness God has freely given in Christ. 

Another verse I reflect on is “Faith, Hope, and Love” — “especially love,” or however your particular translation finishes. (I always hear Cheri Keaggy’s voice when I read those words…) 

Of course I struggle to live out each of them as do all of us, living in this broken world.  But in this writing I draw emphasis to the middle one: Hope.

What is hope?

Every now and then my Dad repeats one of his little rants. While I don’t quite have his same masters-in-English level of enthusiasm with the semantic and historic meaning of words, I do always like this: the bible version of Hope is not in the way the word is often used today as some sort of synonym for “wish” — “I ‘hope’ it doesn’t rain this afternoon!”  — but rather a confidence in the promises of God, certain but yet unseen, a product of faith. Hope is eagerly awaiting creation to be reborn, for the New Kingdom to come, for the return of Christ Jesus: things we do not wish for but rather have faith in, and thereby Hope.

To me, that is Joy: the product of this type of Hope.

It is easy to get Joy mixed up with Happiness and to confuse Emotion with Faith and Hope: to confuse the heavenly with the worldy. That is, I wouldn’t say that I struggle (exceptionally) with hope and faith in the context of God’s promises. Rather, I would say that in all ways I am too preoccupied with this life and that my struggle with hope and happiness is in that worldly sense in which Hope means Wish: I Wish my life was better, I’d be Happier if it was, and I lack the Optimism (or ‘Hope’) that it will ever get better — in this life, anyway, and too often I’m just concerned with “this life”. 

This, too, is my struggle with self-hate and difficulty with forgiving myself (emotionally) as God has forgiven me (literally) — because the forgiveness of God doesn’t mean much (so it can feel) in this life, because we still go on sinning. I can take Joy and Hope in the forgiveness of God in light of eternity, but not Happiness and Optimism that I won’t go on to sin again tomorrow. 

Not to overemphasize this in an essay where I’ve already recognized the irony of hating my self-hatred, but I say this as a confession. Maybe just as Faith produces Hope, and Hope produces Joy, so also Joy should lead to happiness. Or, at the very least, the Faith and Hope should dissipate the self-loathing, which may lead to happiness.

I’m not presenting discontent with our sin or unhappiness with this life as sin directly.  I wouldn’t say the emotion of sadness is inherently sinful. 

But God’s promises are not wholly divorced from this life. God is glorifying himself even now, and his work is being accomplished in our lives as we live them out. Therefore, that Hope and Joy ought to present in our lives now as well.

I’m not very good at this.

Too often, my heart is captivated by a dread that there are things I want out of this life that I may never get, and sometimes to know that I ought to rejoice in these trials in light of the promises of God is not enough to wash away the sorrow.

Thoughts, not worth a penny

Social Need vs Introversion

On some level, I am a social creature that desires connections with people. A feeling that is largely unsatisfied, and can be both the cause and effect of some spells of melancholy. Often I seek to fulfill my social need when both my social desire and my depression are at a peak. If I actually enter into a social situation during this time, my inability to have what I perceive to be a normal, healthy, or beneficial interaction with another human being is the exact opposite of what I was desiring so strongly. As two  magnets with like poles, the repulsion flings me further into the depression and the feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Aside from other mental infirmities, this is somewhat a product of introversion: what Introverts often desire are few, but deep relationships. On the other hand, they are repelled by being around people they are not already familiar with, especially in large quantities.

But these deeper social bonds only grow over time, they are not things you spontaneously acquire at some social gathering. But during these heightened moments of social desire, the introversion affect is amplified, and I also have a greater repulsion to surface-level social interaction, especially with individuals that aren’t already comfortably familiar. 

When I’m foolish enough to endeavor to pursue a social opportunity (ie, Wednesday night cell group) the extreme difference between what I need and what I get propels me in the other direction, ensuring I never stay in that social setting long enough to grow those deeper social bonds. The social situation just serves to make me feel subhuman, like a piece of furniture.  I’m a rug; you can walk all over me. 

Realism vs Despair 

A certain brand of realism sounds like “because it’s realistic to be miserable, it’s foolish to try and do anything to try and improve your situation”. Suffering is the human condition, this is the season of your life. Wait in despair.

Waiting for a Miracle: Apathy vs Sovereignty of God 

No, don’t despair, just don’t think that you can manufacture your own happiness. By no amount of toiling can save yourself .. rest your hope and comfort and God!

… is that not working out for you yet? Well, I guess just collapse and wait for a miracle to lift you to your feet – either God works in you, or he doesn’t! 

“Called by God …”

A Phrase People With a Lot of Confidence Use to Describe Their Gut Feeling; That Voice in Your Head is Something Different.

Random Word Association (If You Believe in Random)

Fear of failure vs fear of never trying; precious and few are the minutes of life. Analysis paralysis, fear of missing out, greener pastures, you can’t get the time back you spent worrying about these things — and what a lot of time you’ve spent. Am I worried about that? No, what worries me is my indifference. Wouldn’t it be nice to start a year without wishing it’d be over before you know it? I’ve got all the time in the world; but only some of it here, and I’m not sure what to do with it or where I’ve misplaced it, or what it’s worth. Maybe I’ll find out later I didn’t have as much as I thought, and I’ll have wished I’d used it more carefully — but that’s not the motivation it ought to be to do better with it now. Did I think that thought yesterday, or was it last year, or the year before that, or the year before that, or the year before that, or the year before that? Yes, I did, and I will again. See you soon, Winter. 

Thankfulness

God has blessed me richly. There have been so many prayers he’s answered directly, not in some mysterious, unknowable way, or like some Genie trying to pervert the meaning of your wish in some way that you have to admit is still a granting of your wish. But directly, just how I asked. Maybe it’s foolish, but I number them and thank for them individually. With a guilty conscience, I try to remember them equal to the ones I still pray.

I remember the horrible feeling of interviewing at Raymond. I knew I had to grow up, I had to get a job — I regretted how I was spending my youth anyway, all of this — all the skills I was developing, all my projects finished or unfinished, all my obsessions .. a hollow waste of time I had nothing to show for. But there was a true hopelessness in the thought of existence being merely finding the right shaped plug for the holes in the metal, so the machine could paint it without paint getting where it shouldn’t. The job requires standing up all day, they told me. Standing up all day can be surprisingly hard, they said. They asked if I thought I could do that – stand all day? I said I could. Maybe they could hear the lack of confidence in that answer.

I remember my first call with Ivan. How few words it took for me to get that job.

I talked as if I was worried roofing would hurt my back. I’m not sure if the hurting was what I was really worried about. 

Hanging off the roof by my jewels with a safety rope, there is an interesting combination between a fear of falling off the roof, and the thought that it might be more comfortable than current circumstances. Work was slow half out of fear, half out of an attempt to find a working position that wouldn’t turn your almonds into almond butter. But when I think about that job, I remember less about the bad heights and more the 8 hours of hauling garbage cans of old roof refuse the dumpster, with little to occupy me except for my thoughts. I remember sitting alone in the spray foam truck, the barrel pumps hissing slowly and ominously, building up to a shattering bang (devices, I imagined, that were the closest thing on earth to hell for Mom, to whom a balloon popping was bad enough..) my sole task being to make sure the barrels didn’t run out, and maybe adjust the pressure, and wait for something to inevitably go wrong.

Maybe there was some hope that a job would scare me into deciding what to do with my life. It didn’t work. The heights didn’t bother me as much because they had a way of really occupying your mind. But those times cleaning up the trash created by the real men working, or those slow moments during spray foaming .. my mind had all the time it needed to think about how maybe this was the best life I could have.

I went to college with the half-hearted hope that I could find some more maintainable, profitable hell — even if I didn’t mind the pain or the heights, I figured it would be unsustainable. It’s not that my mind was always blackened with this despair, but it certainly wasn’t that my roofing job made me decide what to do with my life. It was just the path of least resistance — to what end, I didn’t know. 

But God blessed me with things I didn’t even know to pray for, and now I have what I never knew I could have. 

I remember my brother laying face up on the pavement, blood bubbling out of his mouth. When he was conscious he was in a fever dream, he couldn’t speak coherently, his arms flopped awkwardly like an animal in death throes. I don’t think I believed he would die; but I knew there were things other than death that I didn’t want to happen to him. I don’t remember what I prayed, but I know that whatever it was, God answered it. 

I felt such a relief leaving campus on my last day of classes. Not just because my first semester was over, not just because I was finished giving my class presentation, but because I’d made it through the winter semester without wrecking my car on snowy roads — the car that was, itself, an irreplaceable answer to prayers. All I had to do was make it home without wrecking my car. I would drive with extra caution. 

These thoughts mocked me as I started to fishtail. 

Such anger I felt, as I tried to figure out how to get out of the remains of my car and clamber out of the ditch, to walk the remaining half-mile home.

Prayers I may never be brave enough to share, this house, this church, prayers not only my own good fortune but the good fortune of those around me .. I thank God for each of these prayers answered, one by one. 

And a pray another, hoping he will answer this one, too.

Prayer

I had a dream one night that around our two long tables, at every plate there was an old rotary dial phone. Before we ate, we each would dial God’s number and leave our prayer on the answering machine. It was a funny dream, but prayer sometimes seems that way — you’re talking to God, but he’s not around, so you’re just leaving a message. Sometimes I think I might be dialing the wrong number.

I mentioned how discouraging pursuing God can be for me in my last post, but in the past couple of years Prayer has been the exception. It comes easily to me and it often brings me a real sense of comfort and peace. But I think about prayer a lot, or, more specifically, our rituals surrounding it.

Growing up we used to have family bible studies in our living room, the (at the peak) fourteen of us packing into the three sofas. Fitting more than four people to a couch was a tight fit, but we were used to tight fits, the lot of us crammed into that tiny, one-bathroom house. Our dining room table extended partially into the living room.

Needless to say, in summers the living room would get quite stuffy with a lot of us packed into that one little room. Bible studies were never the most riveting thing as a child, but our bible studies would often have long silences, stretching on for what I would swear was literal hours. As the silence stretched on, squeezed between two people in the sweltering muggy summer smog, it was a struggle just to stay awake.

When bible study was over, it was time for prayer. For reasons I still don’t understand to this day, when it was time to pray we would all get on our knees, face down into the couches, covering our faces with our hands. Yes, even on the muggiest days of summer we would shove our faces into the the dusty depths of the couches, dampened with sweat and scented with years of passed gas – the couches that, to my knowledge, we never cleaned, though we kids would sometimes make a game out of beating them with a stick to see the cloud of dust that would fill the room.

And let me tell you, we did not pray quickly. Much like our bible studies, there could be silences that would stretch on for hours. Usually, if not always, Dad would start with his prayer, aloud. And then, after a silence, someone else would start up. I could never figure out how someone knew it was their turn, or how we avoided two people starting up at once. With our heads covered and suffocating in the sofa’s depths there was no visual queues, and I never had to pass on any kind of nonverbal message by nudging the person next to me. It seemed like a purely mystical, spiritual process — I thought maybe the holy spirit just went around the room letting each person know when it was their turn, and the silences were just when whoever’s turn it was just decided to pray to themselves instead of out loud.

Whatever the case, sometimes a whole bunch of prayers would be rattled out in the first few minutes, but then there’d be a silence that would drag on minute after minute, hour after hour, the air in those musty humid couch cracks becoming more and more difficult to breath.

As a kid, I never understood why we had to cover our faces and close our eyes any time we prayed or, at family bible studies, close our eyes, cover our faces, and stick them into the couch. After we read the part in Exodus where Moses’s face was radiant after seeing the Lord, I reckoned maybe it was because the presence of the Lord filled the room with a blinding light while we prayed, and that we ought not to look at it. I didn’t really think it was true, I didn’t have any reason to believe it was, but the curiosity killed me. There wasn’t much else to think about when those silences were stretching on. Guiltily, I remember peaking a little bit to check — opening my eyes, letting a crack form between my fingers, lifting my head out of the couch just enough to let some light in. I didn’t take a full look, so maybe there was an angel of the lord standing in the middle of the room holding a flaming sword, but the light that came through didn’t blind me with the Glory of the Lord, anyway. It was just ordinary sunlight. I remember wondering if, by the mere fact that I tried to peak, I was damned to hell. I decided if God could forgive me for all my other sins, he could forgive me for that one, too.

In the many years that have passed our rituals have changed, but I still wonder about it. What makes a prayer a prayer? If we don’t close our eyes, bow our heads, or follow the right rituals — does the prayer fall on deaf ears? I’m being tongue in cheek, of course, as an omniscient omnipotent sovereign God, he hears every word or thought or subconscious feeling of our hearts. But what makes it a prayer instead of.. just a thought? Just that it’s addressed to God, or must it have the right postage?

I often think to Daniel chapter 6, where there is a law against praying to “any god or human” but Daniel still kneels and prays in front of an open window, facing Jerusalem. Why didn’t he just pray privately? Was the ritual of kneeling and facing Jerusalem a necessary part of what made the prayer a prayer? I think that was more about not denying God in the face of fear and persecution than it was about the correct way to pray, but I often think that I wouldn’t be as brave as Daniel, and I wonder if I hid prayers they just wouldn’t count.

I’m sure we can learn from biblical examples of how to pray, but you can take that too far, too — I don’t think that we ought to just recite “The Lords Prayer” word-for-word from Matthew 6:9-13 every time we pray. How much is the way prayer is shown in the bible — even how Christ himself prayed — should we take as an exact model for how it must be done, down to the kneeling, bowing your head, and sweating blood?

Corporate prayer is strange, too — another thing I used to do when I was younger is recite the words of whoever was praying in my own mind, as if I wouldn’t count as a participant to the prayer if I didn’t do so. In another example more recently I’ve caught myself thinking that if a mother is tending to a child and clearly not bowing in silence with the rest that she is somehow cast out or excluded from the group prayer — whatever that even means. And how big is the radius? If I’m in the other room when a group prayer starts, do I still have to stop what I’m doing and bow my head, or am I out of the area of effect?

And what about holding hands during prayer at dinner time? Up to a certain age I just didn’t think about it, but at some point I realized we had to explain this ritual to guests who where over for dinner (even if they were already Christians) and I realized it was not something that we did for other prayers. Was it necessary to channel our spirit power through our linked hands, or did we just do it for the fun of it?

I have lots of these funny little thoughts about prayer, or just observances — like when I catch myself making request after request in prayer, so I feel guilty and throw some thanksgiving in there just to balance the checkbook.  But these aren’t burning questions, just idle thoughts — prayer comes pretty naturally to me, and I don’t think the details and rituals matter so much. But maybe I am too casual about outward acts of worship. I think that I ought to take baptism more seriously than I do, but that’s a topic for another day. For prayer, I think to Romans 8:26-27:

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

Sometimes when I’m praying in anguish and I don’t know how to form the words for what I’m trying to pray, I just pray silently, taking comfort in knowing the Spirit is interceding for me though wordless groans.

 

Solve The Problem

I was around ten or eleven years old, I decided to read the entire bible front to back in as few days as I could, working systematically from front to back. Spurned on by feelings of spiritual inadequacy, I guess I had the misguided hope that it would solidify my faith. Maybe I was feeling self-conscious that I couldn’t quote as much of the bible off the top of my head as elder family members, or guilty at the thought that there were books of the bible I hadn’t read yet.

I don’t remember where exactly I stopped, but it was in the new testament. I figured anything from there on I had definitely read before, and by that point I was disillusioned. It was evident that spending hours upon hours reading the bible wasn’t causing me a spiritual epiphany or evolving me into a holy man. These forced readings felt dishonest, done out of obligation and routine rather than by desire for God or out of faith. It seemed counterproductive.

I went through the same phase with prayer. I made myself pray before bed whether I wanted to or not, whether I had anything to pray about or not. This was worse than the bible marathon. Praying out of routine without any heart or faith in it felt more personally dishonest towards God than the bible reading did. After a while, I realized the only reason I was still doing it is because the idea of stopping made me feel guilty.


That was years past, but I still see the same mentality in myself. I see the inadequacy of my faith as a problem to be solved by some means – prayer, bible study, meditation, or just self control. And when I run into a problem, I don’t look for help or put it off for later. Solving a problem can become an obsession I use for escapism, something I can’t let rest and tunnel vision in on.

This might be a strange comparison to some, but that’s a big reason I like playing and, most of all, making games. Modding (or game development) is a constant string of problem-solving, each problem unique from the last. From scripting or programming to art and level design, I’m constantly solving problems of varying complexity using a wide variety of skills. There are easy problems to boost my mood, harder ones to give me a challenge, and I’m always improving and learning. Likewise, this desire for problem solving and improving makes me enjoy competitive activities.

But nothing is more demotivating then when you practice your heart out and never improve, or run into a problem you just can’t solve. I’ll read the bible every day for a couple of months and be just as sinful as when I started. I just don’t seem to “religiously improve” no matter how much I try to practice being Christian. It’s like playing a game I just can’t win, it’s discouraging.

So I quit; giving in to apathy and depression.

But my spiritual battles ebb and flow like the tide, and my sinfulness builds up and boils over, and I seek out God again — motivated less by faith then I am by my determination to solve my wrongness. But fixing myself is a problem too difficult for me to solve. In a vicious downward spiral, my problem-solving is no longer an obsession of escapism that that precedes peak depression – instead they fight together, my obsession with fixing my depression meeting constant failure right from it’s initiation. But I am a problem solver. My inability to find a solution – even a partial solution – makes me even more determined, yet all the while increasingly despairing.

Failing to fix myself, I want to find someone — or some people — who will fix me, which is really just another form of trying to find a solution myself. I try going to bible studies, hoping that some of the God in other people will rub off on me. Paradoxically, it is at this point at which I feel most alone yet least want to be around people, and it is during this time I most need someone to talk to but least want to speak to anyone.  Obsession naturally isolates me from others; depression makes me shrink away, yet I want them to help me solve the problem.

But I am apathetically and pessimistically obsessed, not truly believing anyone else can fix me any better than I can fix myself. But I feel I should try, no, I must try, because the problem is still there, and getting help from other people is one of the few things I’ve never tried.

But instead, I rationalize and justify my continued isolation by the simple fact that God is the only one who can save me (and other people are surely not his tools.)  It’s not that I truly think I can manufacture my own salvation, or that I don’t look to God as my savior. But I acknowledge that only God can save me not as a means of admitting defeat, not insofar as to actually cast away responsibility or give up the fight. If the solution to the problem of Me is God, that just switches the problem I’m trying to solve to getting God to show up. Do I need to pray more? Plead more? Read the bible more? Weep, tear my clothes and heap ashes on my head, and fast?

It simply changes the goal from fixing the problem myself to willing God into it; but somehow the onus is still on me. Yet hard as I might pray, God doesn’t seem to manifest any more clearly in me.


I say this all tongue-in-cheek, knowing how silly what I’ve written sounds. I can’t say that I actually think of my own sinfulness as a problem I personally have to solve, I’ve just noticed that my actions make it appear that way. While in reality I’m a bit more self-aware of my helplessness and total reliance on Christ, it doesn’t stop me from trying to “just do the right things” to save my soul.

Knowing I can only be saved by God would be a lot more satisfying if I could see some fruits of it. Emotionally, acknowledging only God can save me feels like a cheap way of blaming the problem on him to escape responsibility. Somehow, I just can’t commit myself into God’s hands without feeling like I’m just using it as a blank check to stop trying, and be as sinful as I’d like.

In the end, it comes down to the discussion we’ve been having in our church about the sovereignty of god and free will. Someone else in the church has been struggling with these questions, and it’s something I struggle with myself. But we struggle in very different ways; I am more selfish than her – I am not upset for others, but for myself, trapped in a sinful body. Here are some (edited) thoughts about journal that are no less silly then what I’ve written here, but written in some more heated moments of despair:

“Sacrifices and burnt offerings you do not require, but a broken and contrite heart.” But my heart isn’t broken and contrite enough, so damn me to hell? “Saved by faith through Christ alone.” But I don’t have faith even as large as a mustard seed, for if I did, I could tell a mountain to throw itself into the sea and it would.

(…)  “So repentance comes from faith, and faith comes from God, and God hasn’t given me any of either so damn me to hell? It’s so easy to feel that God has given me up to Satan and left me so completely alone. I wish so badly that if God wasn’t going to give me any repentance, any healing, any faith, that if he delights in glorifying himself by making me wallow in the depravity of my own sin, that I could at least feel that He is close, at least know He is there.

(…) But now I sound like I’m blaming God again. Surely not, Lord. I say these foolish things to illustrate to the contrary – why I feel like something is required of me, why I must change and repent in spirit and in truth – for I surely cannot blame God. But that’s a contradiction – I don’t believe in salvation through works. Yet doesn’t faith bare fruit?

It’s not hard at all for me to believe we don’t have free will. Every day I do things I don’t want to do. As Paul says in Romans 7:15-23:

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. (. . .) For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (. . .) So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.”

I theologically believe only God can save me, but emotionally, I want to improve, I want to bear the fruits of the spirit. After all, Paul also says that the grace of God doesn’t mean we should go on sinning. So what is my role in this? Free will or not, I’m still a living creature.

feel like — though my salvation is in God’s hands, my faith comes from him, and he alone will save me — I shouldn’t stop striving to live in a way pleasing to him, even if I fail every time. But I just get so competitive about it.  To quote Paul again: (1 Corinthians 9:24-25, NIV)

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. 

I feel like I’m training for that race, but I’m never improving my times. And that’s just so discouraging that sometimes I lack the discipline to keep trying.

I’m compelled to give a fitting conclusion to this aimless ramble, but I guess that’s a problem I can’t solve either.