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Stuffed friends and Easy-Bake blogs

When I was a little darlin’, I used to host tea parties and invite my sock monkeys, porcelain dolls and action figures. When I sensed a lag in conversation, I would suggest relevant events and topics for discussion: the most recent Rocky and Bullwinkle episode, our upcoming family moves, forest adventures with my brother, etc. Yet even with such riveting subjects, my guests still were not particularly chatty. I wonder if they only came for my sweet-tea filled china cups and Easy-Bake Oven delectables. (Hmm..comparable to some unsociable, starving college kids?? Maybe.)

I couldn't talk about tea parties without a shout-out to Carroll and Tenniel...

Anyway, this whole blog thing makes me feel like I am talking to porcelain dolls and action figures again. Only I never felt obligated to talk to them or pour their tea in order to somehow be faithful with my talents (shout out to Dr. Nyquist) or invest in my future… [Sigh of reluctant responsibility] But it seems that “blogging” is completely necessary for the modern-day lover of media and aspiring writer. And if I ever want to be a big kid and have a portfolio that is a little more colorful than my MBI Alumni writing, then WordPress is basically an Easy-Bake writing experience that I would be completely negligent to pass up.

It took a few years of looking into marble eyes for me to get good at serving coffee and cakes. But hey, I have real people to do that with now! So maybe it’s okay that publishing “blogs” makes me feel like I am talking with imaginary friends–at least I have a creative outlet and an audience (be they sock monkeys or forced friends) to start reading the obscene number of unpublished drafts that I have been hoarding.

Anyway. Here I go with a head-start to one of a few New Year’s rezies. If you have a pulse, leave me comments or send me an owl to let me know what my writing makes you think.

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But, our favorite mirror! (Part One)

Hate slithered into a mother’s angelic song
Lullabies spewed the deepest chorus of her lying
“But nothing with me, daughter, nothing is wrong”
The daughter believed until the mother quit trying

Evil struck the foyer’s Mirror
And they were blinded from the Glory days
The mother’s face distorted in bitter tears
She writhed away from the Holy Gaze

The mother stepped from the Holy mirror, her reflection clouded in disregard
And her daughter was left sightless, allowing her pain to surmount
The mirror shattered to a million bloodied shards
And the daughter’s only Holy crushed to the pits of the Christmas House

The daughter had no face to see, no song to hear
The mother burned the bridge to Heaven
And gave to the daughter her own terrible fears
Left her groping under the scorn of a Felon

Halt, The dance of reflection at her scorching inhale
Her desperate reach now met by a veil
Here, a motherless girl who cannot exhale

Antique Imprisonment

[from The Christmas House: memoirs by Alexis Berry]

Her legs draped down the steps beneath her as she sat sideways in the steep stairwell. I stood at the bottom, watching her cry and mumble about the lesson I could learn from this paper.

What paper, mom?

“This is me, Alexis!”

She smoothed her hand over the ugly cream paper, the air pockets slid to the side of her palm as it swept across a gaudy floral design. Her hand stopped where a line of blue flower trails had abandoned the wall, revealing the wallpaper that it was meant to cover.

I still did not understand.

“Alexis, look at this—this original pattern. This beautiful farmhouse. Look at this paper!”
I reluctantly lifted my barefoot up to the blue carpet, which covered the hardwood staircase, and climbed the first two steps.

The Christmas House never ceased to astound me; even the eyes of her walls were enchanting. I pushed my mother’s scene away from the moment that the house and I wanted to share. The pattern was a rich, absorbent gold spaced evenly on an upright stage frosted in a more delicate gold. Oh, the stories this staircase must hold. The wallpaper carelessly strewn over it must shame those stories. Two fingers from my right hand touched the antique paper, wondering at the beauty. Why would anyone cover this wallpaper?

“Why would anyone cover this wallpaper?” she cried, pulling me back into her scene.
She sobbed as she wondered what flaw the paper was guilty of. Her cries grew louder as the wall’s flaw became hers. She wailed as the House’s flaws embodied all of her flaws (those flaws that were never her fault).

“What bastards would oppress such beauty?!”
Such reality, she wondered. But this wallpaper is exquisite and real—a part of the house.

The hideous blue floral lines spread across the cream nightmare was nearly murderous. And those lines were oppressing her.
The poor thing, my mother ruined in this stairwell, while the Christmas House silently watched. She was oppressed too.
The poor, wretched thing.

I watched, no more than ten years old, losing all of my wonder at the gold, now seeing her face in each pattern, completely oppressed. The familiar cry of her imprisoned self, every time I dared to look up at it.

Then. She had to free the House’s real beauty. It was up to her to redeem those walls. She wanted to free herself. No one else would do it for her she reasoned.

Her nails ripped desperately into the blue floral enemy lines and returned an unsatisfying patch that left adhesive residue on her gold frosted wall face.

“Help me tear this off!!!”

She frantically scratched for another strip of cream paper, trying to will me with her tears. But I stood frozen in the stairwell, watching her cry, hoping she would not drag me into this wallpaper liberation.

Whether I joined the rebellion or cowarded back down the stairs, I simply cannot remember. But I do remember wanting that pattern too. That pretty frosted antique character in the mysterious Christmas House. That House that blushed and curtsied in the spotlight that only a crazy woman and her confused daughter would shine upon her.

Hymns.

Sometimes I am actually grateful that I didn’t grow up in the church world (we’ll save why for another post).There are many other times, though, where I feel like I missed out. For example I had no idea who C.S. Lewis was until almost three years ago! Another example: hymns. What an exquisite treasure to Christianity we have in these profound works of literature! And save for those occasional and random moments when people decide to start singing an old hymn and I am left humming and trying to listen to the words, there are hardly opportunities today for us to really value the depth of hymns together-even in the churches. Tragic.

I’m not going to lie, most of the hymn knowledge I have so far has come from listening to Sufjan Steven’s during the holidays. I think I must have replayed “Come Thou Fount” for three days straight the first time I really listened to it. What better way to be exposed to such humble understandings of our relationship to the Holy God, than by way of banjo?

Have you heard of the Autumn Film? No? Well, you probably haven’t heard of their other musical endeavour then: Page CXVI (yeah C.S. Lewis reference). Basically they are trying to revive the spirit and practice of worshipping with hymns. I rather adore what they are doing.

So I know that “I’ve got the joy, joy, etc” isn’t a typical hymn that you would find someone appreciating for its musical or lyrical depth, but oh. my. word. What they did with it makes me say, “I feel ya, woman. I feel ya.” And then I praise Jesus.

And I can’t understand. And I can’t pretend that this will be alright in the end.
So I’ll try my best and lift up my chest to sing. about this. joy. joy. joy.
So I’ll be happy…

Warped [my dreams]

Paul K and I graced Warped Tour Chicago with our painfully cool presence. It was my first one ever. My assessment goes like this:

Dislike: I ate popcorn and Laffy Taffy to nourish my body. Later I washed it down with a $6 lemonade.
Like: Having a friend to finish the popcorn and lemonade so i don’t throw up. Thanks Paul!
Dislike: People with backpacks in the mosh pit. Really, fools?
Like: Feeling useful in operation: don’t let the crowdsurfers fall!
Dislike: Mike Poser
Like: There were hardly any Tooth and Nail bands that I would normally be stoked about. Instead we checked out bands that I hadn’t experienced too much of/at all. Good thinkin’.
Dislike: People not being concerned over the injured/ill musicians that they seem to care so much about. Maybe they did pay $40 and put up with NeverShoutNever’s screaming female crowd just to see Sum 41. But yelling “F**k you!” at Kevin Lyman, who I am sure was more bummed than you were? – Jerks.
Like: Bryce Avary’s cheer (and ridiculous talent) and Breathe Electric’s catchy dance parties.
Dislike: F**k at every rest and second-hand smoke from kids.
Like: Running around in a circle like a bunch of hooligans, dancing to We The King’s cover of The Middle.

Here’s their recap:

(Don’t worry, concerned citizens: we were not in Every Time I Die’s crawl of death)

After all of that perfectly weathered, healthy-paced craziness, though, I have to say that I am infinitely inspired. Every under-dressed, over-painted young person I saw reminded me of why I am in Bible school and working with youth. Every piece of literature I saw (especially the ones in need of editing) encouraged me to stay on the Print Media track. And the endless hours I’ve spent reading interviews and watching tour blogs gave me this concern for all of the vagabond band members that I know God will let me work with and do something snazzy with one day. Gaahhh the love. I just wanted to hug every person I saw (except for the guy that purposely cut two layered V-necks all the way down to display his chestpiece, his rib cage and his belly button; Ew. no hugs from me).

Poor Paul. The entire day I was rambling and beaming about all of the crazy ideas I have involving youth, media and music: a concert venue (that offers affordable water) and really loves on their guest bands; kids getting to know the band members and writing about them, being all creative and making their own influence…Oh, and me writing features and reviews that are infinitely inspiring…and, and, and…

Thanks for the day of churnin’ churnin’ youthful dreams, Warped Tour. And for carrying around all of that Willy Wonka candy and jumping around like a crazy fool with me, thanks Paul.

Growing Pains

is a favorite. Remember?.

Roughly 4.8% of the people in my life know how terribly disappointing the month of June was for me. Those same people give or take a few also knew how eager I was to flee Chicago for a week and get my summer sunburn. Always such great expectations.

After I stayed up the night before doing absolutely nothing legitimate, Leighanna and I met at the airport and flew from Chicago to Houston.

Annoying society observation: people refuse to sit next to strangers until made to do so. Why is it necessary to leave a seat in between, making it difficult for families (or sisters) to sit next to one another? C’mon.

Neither one of us paid attention to our baggage claim info. Our parents are good for that stuff and we were on their time now. Ah…and there they were laughing at how alike we looked (drowsy and unintentionally matching) Leighanna gets mom hug, Alexis gets dad hug. Switch. Jarhett arrives. More hugs. Switch. And onward to the mom-cooked food.

What do the “grown-up” kids and their empty-nesting parents do for a vacation? Water park! We stayed at the Schlitterbahn Resort and were a bit more excited about the legendary water rides than the little children running around the park. Lined and talking time ‘a plenty.A couple days, some lost sunglasses, way sketchy food and a jelly shoe funeral later, we spent the 4 hour ride home discussing politics and economics. Talking time ‘a plenty. Another day later, we rented a boat and sped around the gulf bay, stopping every now and then to get out the raft and own some waves. By the end of the day, the Texas sun owned our skins…And before we knew it, everyone was whipping out his/her own way of saying goodbye. Texas talkin’ over.

...or the waves take them.

Begin journey back to Chicago. “Leighanna, I don’t know how I feel about what just happened…”
And thank you God for a sister to have a completely necessary conversation with. We talked of creative freedoms, individual viewpoints, family ideals, purpose, biological dynamics, knowing each other, etc. and that it’s okay for those things to not be understood between parents and “kids.”
I struggled with the thought of us not agreeing as we form our own opinions, afraid of the thought of some root of dissension or judgment between everyone. What if we become one of those families that just debates over everything? Ick. And, even though my parents have always supported my pursuits (though they never fully understand why I’m going for those things), I still fear that what I aim for in life will mean less if they don’t get it and share my zeal for what I’m doing. But those aren’t fair expectations for them or for me.

I like talking through the growing up things with Leighanna.
Thanks, sister.

Texas was actually a good break from my expectations, to say the least.
I appreciated the dad hugs, the mom food, brother-sisters time, and the thought-provoking talking. These are things I was ready and eager for. But I’m even more grateful for everything I was sent away thinking about and processing. Sigh. Growing up. It’s so not what I pictured when I was wishing for adulthood at 10 years old.

grace shatters my beaded yokes: confessions of a self-oppressing artist

The Lord has promised good to me. His word my hope secures. He will my shield and portion be, As long as life endures. Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail, And mortal life shall cease, I shall possess within the veil, A life of joy and peace.

Some nights you might find me cross-legged in the center of my bedroom floor–my black tank again wearing through the red stitches it’s been mended twice with, my green scrub pants reminding me of the smell of bleach we wore together at the boarding home. Don’t try to approach me though; you might slip on the sea of glass I’ve tried to make for myself. My beads drown the carpet in deep, twisted hues while I add to and string them together–So walk lightly if you must, and take care to not find one stabbed into your heel.

What began as creative devotion for me turned into a consuming need that chained up the freedom I had through expression. The beads were for my Love, painted for him, to shimmer around his throne. As I set my hands to them, losing sleep over them, I moved with no desire besides offering them to the Artist of eternity. But now, as I work through the night, catching a passionless reflection in the window pane, it’s hard to picture these beads adorning anything lovely besides my bones.

When I loved my beads too much and caught their reflections of praise, I began to resent them, but could not resist a need for making worth in them. So I let my attention shift to the mirror where I could better accommodate the want for worth. As I stare at my spiritless frame, I love the lines, the dramatic structure complemented by deeply painted drops of glass. For all of the flaws I so easily find in my appearance, these jewels make up for it. They dazzle the skin that stretches at the base of my neck and smooths over the collar bones that hold the weight of a thousand beads.

So I add to my collection daily, fashioning heavy glass necklaces that twist and tangle across my chest and drape over my shoulders. They form the most impossible knots anymore–hence my glistening bedroom floor. But I still need them. I need to keep creating them, because if I stop I fear that that the creative devotion they began with will never be recovered. And I need them to see and to touch and to be able to show others and to show God. What if I don’t have them anymore? Where will I master beauty without them? What will I say without them? Further the thought of my neck being exposed to the unpredictable breeze, once again touching my skin, is terrifying.

Recently something that Paul wrote caused me to close my eyes and look at myself: This girlish, prideful island in the middle of a sea of sinful beads was what I saw. I saw that I am horribly guilty of an obsession with control (feel free to sing Mutemath here) and blatantly disregarding a truth that scares me: For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

God revealed to me the skewed intentions of my works and their inability to result in anything good apart from his work. What begin as devotion and expression, I often let become a requirement and expectation for goodness, resulting in an obsession and yoke that eventually wears me into exhaustion. And my anxiousness about expectations and pursuits that, at the end of the day weigh nothing against the glory of God, only spit in his saving face. My arrogance and independent insistence says, “That thing you did on the cross? Thanks, but uh I got this covered here today. I like my [limited] perspective here where I can see things that You are obviously missing from where You are…”

But I don’t want to be the prideful wretch that turns away help and life, thinking she needs to do everything better and on her own. I have been set free and I can no longer shut my eyes to this and try to make my own freedom, my own life, my own beauty. Paul says that our freedom comes through faith in God and His grace to us (Gal 5:4). So, he tells us to live like it means something to us, For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. (Gal 5:5)

It’s a sin for me to add to the mess of beaded burdens around my shoulders. They cascade in their own bitter splendor and spill onto the floor as a sea of unmanageable glass. So here I draw the line and say that what I create and what I pursue are never things to be consumed by. My worth and my righteousness are in no way dependent upon or even reflected by these things. And when I let my art, my education, my volunteering, my anything become supreme in my life, I hope that I will hear these words again and again reminding me that I have peace with God through Christ and that this is eternally freeing and never oppressing.