Calm hearts (in which I consider Psalm 131, contentment, and the sins of self)

Do we trust like this? (Photo: CKirgiss)
(Photo: CKirgiss)
Contented calm is not my natural status quo. I fret. I worry. I fuss. I fume. I meddle. I creep my fingers into the very middle of things and discreetly (or not) try to move the players and control the outcomes. That kind of life, as some of you may know, is an exhausting killer of joy, love, peace, relationships, trust, grace, and hope. Life itself becomes both a dead and deadly thing.

I do not want to live a dead and deadly life, or be the exhausted killer of all good things. So contented calm is one of my deepest desires, and has been for many years. Pursuing it is a long and painful process requiring penitent prayer, sacrificial surrender, and a willingness to embrace humility as one of the highest virtues of life in Christ. Repentance, sacrifice, surrender, and humility are as entirely unnatural for me as contented calm.

In other words: this process has high potential for total failure and minimal possibility for significant life-change. Except for the fact that I follow a powerful, forgiving, and transforming Savior. Otherwise, contented calm would be the least likely of fairy-tale endings for my life (and “they all – every single one of them –  lived contentedly calm” is a much better ending than “they all – meaning the prince and princess – lived happily ever after).

I want to be a Psalm 131 child (so much more than I want to be a Proverbs 31 woman, I confess). I want the Psalmist’s words to be a true description of me:

LORD, my heart is not proud (I do not presume that its motives are pure – I’ve dug down deep and seen the rot);

My eyes are not haughty (I know that I am not better or higher than other people – though I’ve often believed and behaved otherwise). 

[Note to self: a proud heart and haughty eyes are not just a “thing” to be worked on; cf. Proverbs 21:4.]

I don’t concern myself with matters too great or too awesome for me to grasp (in other words, I don’t play God because, Lord knows, every time I switch into control mode and try to orchestrate things to my own liking, it turns out badly. FOR EVERYONE. EVERYTIME.)

INSTEAD (an unexpectedly profound lexical marker of transformation)

I have calmed and quieted myself (not by my own power, to be sure, but by my own willingness to be shaped and molded and humbled by the Almighty God and Loving Father),

like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk (nothing against nursing-on-demand, something of which I’m a big fan – but a weaned child has moved beyond the need for immediate gratification and comfort).

Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.

[Note to self: we never outgrow being a weaned child, even when we have weaned children of our own. Weird.]

O Israel (and you too, Crystal)

put your hope in the LORD (not in money, success, fame, appearance, or really smart dead British authors)

now (this very day, this very moment)

and always (you know…ALL THE TIME).

Amen. And amen. Oh dear God – please let this be true of me.

***What are the traits of a content and discontent child – of any age – that can help you understand the deep truth of what the Psalmist is saying? For example: content children are trusting, know how to share, and enjoy discovering new things. Discontent children quickly become angry, are demanding, and often withdraw. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these lists – add your own words or phrases in the comments.

Thrifted yarn: (in which I contemplate unraveling, knitting, and redemption)

It’s been a long winter. A desperately long winter. A maddeningly long winter. A (re)learn-how-to-knit winter, because when it’s dark and dreary and snowy for days and weeks on end, there are only so many ways to keep from tumbling over the edge of rational existence.

Knitting helps.

Socks from thrifted sweater yarn (Photo: CKirgiss)
Socks from thrifted sweater yarn (Photo: CKirgiss)

But knitting – unlike me – is not cheap. So I am forced to thrift my yarn, which is to say that I rescue knitted things from the thrift store and then dismantle them into reknittable balls of lovely yarn.

Thrifted yarn (Photo: CKirgiss)
Thrifted yarn (Photo: CKirgiss)

The dismantling is neither fast nor easy.

These are the rules:

1. The knitted things must be worthy of dismantling. That is, they must be so out of style that they have no chance of being bought and worn. Or they must have a noticeable flaw – a big hole, a tragic snag, an irreparable run. Or they must be obviously unusable – a sweater shrunk to smithereens, a pair of socks stretched too large for Bigfoot, a winter scarf worn down to the weight of dragonfly wings – in other words broken, damaged, discarded. Knitted things in perfect condition are best left alone. They don’t want rescuing.

2. The knitted things must be the best of knitted things – “best” referring to how they are formed and made, not to their perceived social value – because only the best of knitted things can be dismantled, unravelled, and unmade with any success, for only the best of knitted things are formed with carefully shaped individual pieces held together with elegantly envisioned and precisely placed sinews.  Knitted things made from violently serged pieces that were cut from larger shapeless swaths are best left alone. They don’t want dismantling.

3. The knitted things must have redeeming qualities (in addition to redeemable faults: see #1). A beautiful color. A pleasing texture. A warm weight. A light caress. A workable thickness. Look beyond the ugly sweater, beyond the misshaped scarf, beyond the worn cap, beyond the tired skirt to see the underlying grace and inherent value. But beware: the most exclusive and haute couture knitted things, if made from stiff, stubborn, and abrasive threads, are best left alone. They don’t want disrupting.

Thrifted yarn (Photo: CKirgiss)
Thrifted yarn (Photo: CKirgiss)

I’ve become an expert unraveller of sorts, which is to say I’ve done a fair bit of unravelling this winter. All of that unravelling has set me to thinking.

These are the thoughts:

1. Unravelling hurts. If my rescued knits had feelings, there’d likely be a whole lot of crying, complaining, weeping, and whining going on. A whole lot. Because being unmade is neither easy nor natural nor fun. Being unmade is neither glamorous nor enchanting nor sexy. Being unmade is not something after which the masses clamor. Rather, being unmade is uncomfortable. Bothersome. Tedious. Humbling. Emptying. This being entirely unmade, piece by piece, row by row, stitch by stitch, thread by thread – entirely, thoroughly, completely unmade – is not the stuff of fairy tales.

2. Some things cannot be salvaged. The process of unmaking reveals things beyond repair. Things that must be cast aside. Things that must be left behind. Things that must be discarded.  Every now and then, the process of unmaking does more than simply reveal things beyond repair. Sometimes the process of unmaking leads to new unsalvageables. Sometimes a thread must be cut – completely severed – in order to unravel and salvage many other threads. Sometimes a whole section must be sacrificed – completely given up – in order for another section to be saved. If the standard unravelling causes discomfort, I suspect the necessary severing and the intentional sacrificing causes pain – deep, biting, shattering pain – that seems beyond surviving.

3. Glory! The uncomfortable, bothersome, tedious unravelling and the deep, biting, shattering pain are not lasting things. Rather, they are the early stages of transformation. The beginning of the new. The start of the grace. Going from broken, damaged, and discarded to beautifully remade requires more than simple rearranging and resorting. It requires restoration. Going from unmade to made new requires more than simple patching and repairing. It requires transformation, re-creation. From the bottom up. From the inside out.

And that is my life. My wholly broken life. My totally unravelled and thoroughly tangled life. My undeservedly, gently, lovingly recreated life.

I am broken, then rescued. Discarded, then chosen. Dismantled, then transformed. Unmade, then remade. Pruned, then sanctified. Dead, then alive.

I am created anew.

(Knitting is indeed a finely spun truth.)


Freely dependent hearts

This tumbled out of my backpack the other day when I was with a group of friends:

Little blue capsule (Photo: CKirgiss)

There were a few gasps. A few giggles. A few tsk-tsks.

Apparently, none of those people had a real childhood. Else they would have known this little blue capsule was nothing to tsk over. They would have known it was a Magic Capsule. They would have known the thrill of watching a seeming blob of nothingness be set free by a cup of cool water.

I like to keep these handy for the under-10 crowd. Or me.

Last night I decided to set it free.

At first it looked like this –

Magic Capsule (Photo: CKirgiss)

– which is just boring. No action. No magic. No change. Except that it’s afloat – resting gently, suspended weightless – rather than hidden in unseen corners of the dark and closed world that is my backpack. Encapsulated-but-afloat may not seem like much, but it’s a beautifully far cry from dark and hidden corners.

After about 30 minutes, it looked like this –

Magic Capsule (Photo: CKirgiss)

– which is just creepy. Like a mutant beetle struggling to shed layers of slimy skin. Or maybe like a heart that’s been smashed and caged and suffocated for years inside a soul that is lonely and lost and brittle. The inherent inner beauty can take a mighty long time to reveal itself.

After another hour or so, it looked like this –

Magic Capsule (Photo: CKirgiss)

– which is just weird. Like a cockeyed baby pterodactyl screeching in its very first flight. Or maybe like an unfolding heart that is learning to trust and breathe sweet air for the very first time. The steadied balance can take a mighty long time to discover.

A little later, it looked like this –

Magic Capsule (Photo: CKirgiss)

– which is just confusing. A plane? A sword? An inverted mythological thunderbird? Or maybe a bundle of unknown possibilities, like a heart that is just starting to unfurl its wings and sip the promises of love and life and re-creation.

Finally, it looked like this –

Magic Capsule (Photo: CKirgiss)

– which (as best I can tell) is a magically-capsuled-sponge-version of the delicate miracle known as a dragonfly.

Its proportions aren’t quite right. Its details are sorely lacking. Its shape is rather fuzzy. Its color is all wrong –

– much like my heart that will need a lifetime of pruning and shaping and transforming and refining before resembling anything close to what it was originally meant to be.

The more I learn of God and draw near to Him, the more aware I become of just how tightly and terribly encapsulated my heart really is. What a bittersweet irony.

But what a sweet opposing irony is this: the more dependent on Him I become, the more free I really am.

The end result of my heart’s transformation is a lifetime away. Until then, each and every stage of the process – whether sorrowful or sweet – is a miracle of my re-making.

Welcome to Love. Welcome to Life. Welcome to Freedom.

© Crystal Kirgiss 2013

Psalm 23 re:mix

I know nothing of sheep (Psalm 23) or vineyards (John 15), but much about music lessons. I believe the heart of God is revealed just as beautifully in the best attributes of a piano teacher (and so many other roles) as in those of a shepherd or farmer.

The LORD is my piano teacher, I have nothing to fear.

He starts me on the easiest songs so I can make true and simple music even as a beginner.

He teaches me my scales (I hate them, I do!) so my fingers know when to cross and tuck, over and under, and I will be ready for the difficult music that lies ahead.

When I stumble and cry because the music is hard (but I practiced! so much and so long!) he comforts me, then breaks it into smaller pieces that I can work on little by little, one by one, over and over and over again. He never ever tells me I am hopeless, untalented, and a waste of his time (like some other teachers do). But neither does he stop challenging me, stretching me, and molding me into a real musician. (Truly, it would be much less work for him if he didn’t care so much about my progress, if he just let me twiddle around in Book I, playing what I already know, never moving beyond 4/4 time signatures in the Key of C.)

When I stumble and err because I did not practice (but I was busy! so very, very busy!) he patiently waits while I mumble my excuses, then helps me get back to work so I can someday make a joyful noise. He never, ever slaps or slams the piano lid on my fingers (like some other teachers do). But neither does he look the other way, pretend all is well, and say “well, well, you are truly wondrous” just so I will feel happy. (Indeed, it would be much less work for him if he didn’t care so much about his students, if he just enrolled them methodically, lectured them dispassionately, listened to them unaffectedly, deposited their monthly tuition checks promptly, and called it even.)

When I play well – and it does happen now and then, miraculously, only because of all he’s taught me – he doesn’t offer cheap, worthless prizes (oh joy…another plastic bust of Liszt) but instead gives me new, more beautiful, more exciting, and more difficult songs to learn.

He is not content that I simply be a piano player. Instead, he molds me into a musician who loves music from deep inside my heart, makes music from deep inside my soul, and hears music from deep inside my being.

Sing! Shout! Make a joyful noise! The LORD does wondrous things for even such as I!