None at All

It’s a positive and a negative, really.

Doesn’t happen all the time,

heck, it doesn’t even happen frequently.

But sometimes, I’m thinking of so many things,

have so many things that I could tell you,

that I pull my computer onto my lap

and have to just think for a bit,

until I decide just what I’ll write.

Write about how I’ve been missing France lately.

I’m an elementary education major who left a substantial part of her heart in Mexico, and who pines nostalgically after Paris.

I’m interested to see how God unfolds that lovely blend of emotional connection and passion.

Write about the paper I’m writing,

a rephrasing, really, of the worldview statement I wrote last semester.

Talking about the love of God;

intense, persistent, overpowering Love.

Love that I so often deny, turn against,

decide not to accept, sometimes.

Write about God’s provision in the little things;

pay attention, or you might miss it.

Write about this, write about that,

there’s so very much to write about tonight,

maybe I’ll write none of it at all.

~Natalia

Instead

Over and over,

again and again,

I run through the lists once more.

Sitting in class,

on my way to sleep,

just woken up;

anytime, really.

I live on to-do lists.

I write them down,

creating long epistles to myself of things to do and homework to accomplish.

I write them on sticky notes;

little pastel squares stuck on my planner, my books, my wall.

I write them in my notebooks;

single-column lists alongside class notes and bullet-pointed paragraphs.

I write them, and I think them, too.

I go over and over what I need to do.

The hour doesn’t matter really; I can plan whenever.

What matters is the plan I’m forming,

the way I’m organizing my life.

I repeat things to accomplish and places to go over and over,

systematically reciting to myself what I’ll do next, what I’ll do after.

It’s good to plan, good to think ahead,

but sometimes, I’m not just planning.

Sometimes, I’m pouring the rigid words of a Moody Bible Institute to-do list over my stressed soul as one pours healing medicine over a wound.

Sometimes I do that,

but not all the time.

Often, very often, I use the words I recite, the plans I write up,

to give me purpose, direction, and growth.

My heart and mind are racing all over the place,

and I’m not reciting the Word of God, soothing my weak heart with Scripture,

I’m insistently using my own repetition of mundane tasks,

yet-to-be-accomplished tasks,

to calm myself, to try to regain my balance, my footing.

My mind circles around and around neatly

as I tell myself where I go next, who I talk to, what I read, say, do.

My mind knows what’s up,

my mind knows what soothes my heart,

and my calendar-crazed body gears up for what’s next.

I’m addicted to repeating my own plans

because it makes me feel

like I’m pretty much God.

Obsessively going over my to do list, my homework calendar,

rehearsing over and over what I have to do from morning until night,

is an addictive habit that puts me on the top throne of my life,

my heart,

and leaves just about everyone- including God- out.

I love knowing what I’m doing at any moment of any day.

I love the sense of predictability, of power,

that I feel when I can narrate to myself my upcoming day.

But as a Child of the Almighty God,

my list,

and even worse, my obstinate determination that I know what I should be doing at any given time,

takes God’s sovereignty,

His perfect plan and will,

and politely and forcefully shoves them back to Him.

No, thanks, Lord. I really don’t need your will.

I don’t, honestly.

Look- I’ve crafted a lengthy list of everything I need to get done,

and I’ve been mentally running through,

mentally meditating on this list

since this morning.

Since yesterday.

Since months ago.

See, Lord? I don’t need your plan in my life- I already have a plan!

Surely clinging to my repetition is worlds better than following the will

of a God who I cannot see,

whose mind, unlike my own, I cannot slip into.

There’s security and comfort in do this, then this, then that.

But there’s strength and power and unbelievable joy in

His will, His to do list. His timetable of life.

He’s so far above, so far transcendent

over all I think, all I see, all I feel,

I have to trust that maybe I don’t need such control after all.

So maybe I’ll change.

Maybe I’ll lay down my comfort,

my clinging and clawing and passionate pursuit of steady,

and instead

cling to unexpected

rich

unbelievably rewarding,

His plan

instead.

~Natalia

This Floor

It’s different living on this floor this year.

We were all friends last year.

Hanging out on the floor,

in the RA’s room,

in the lounge.

We had our friends

and we knew where we fit on the floor,

where we fit in relationships.

But there’s something different this year.

We work together,

we live together,

we love together

more.

It’s not something we do,

something we ever could have done.

This has to be the hand of God, working in our relationships,

in our community.

We’re not perfect,

our community is not a collection of spiritual wonder girls.

We make mistakes,

are selfish,

hurt each other.

But God is doing something here.

He’s doing something with our lives and hearts.

Completely surrounded, completely steeped in this floor community,

I can look up,

look around,

and see growth in my heart,

growth in the lives of those around me.

We’re friends,

and we’re fast on the way

to becoming

sisters, too.

~Natalia

Sibling Day


There were whispers


that today is National Sibling Day.


Whether it is or not,


I love these three quite a bit.

~Natalia

Morning Chicago

It’s the same every morning.

Not quite awake yet,

don’t know what time it is yet,

but this I do know:

it’s morning in Chicago.

The window’s cracked four inches open,

and never is it louder outside than

seven o’clock in the morning.

Eyes open now,

I can see the bright white sky

behind layers of apartment buildings

and skyscrapers.

I can’t see the street from here,

but I can hear it.

Down below,

six stories under the open window,

Chicago’s going.

Going to work,

going to school,

going.

Buses wheeze up the street,

puffing tiredly as people stop on and off

at the bus stop across the street.

They are doing construction on the corner, too.

Heavy machinery systematically creating chaos

out of what used to be a neat intersection.

And the cars.

Cars rolling.

Cars braking.

Cars accelerating.

And cars honking. They honk and they honk and they honk.

Little beeps, encouragements to go;

go through the intersection, go through the street, go.

And long honks, too.

I can hear it up here;

drivers laying on the horn,

long, drawn-out shrills.

It gets louder, too;

it’s almost impossible for just one driver to honk.

Honking here is almost a language:

I speak, you respond.

I beep, you honk,

and the next guys lays on the horn so long I’m tempted to count the seconds.

Seven in the morning.

The sky’s bright.

And down in the street, everyone’s going.

Going, and honking.

Good morning, Chicago.

~Natalia

Not Earned

He stands just on the other side of the table, hands clutched comfortably in front of him. Conscious of his presence, our conversation continues. We’re not ignoring him; we know his patterns, his methods, and we continue our discussion.

Moments pass and he speaks. A teacher standing amidst five students in our group. Take a step back and there are twenty-five of us in this class. But right now, in this conversation, there is one teacher and five students.

Alright, let’s see your discussion prep work! He announces. Our conversation stops instantaneously, and there is a momentary pause. We’re all a little behind on the reading, and I’m the only one who did discussion prep; a pen and ink doodle drawn with scribbled lines on the back of a notebook page.

My self-satisfied contentment at having worked doesn’t last long. Seconds later, he’s talking about the reading and I raise my hand, I confess; I didn’t do all the reading.

He looks up at the other four; how many of you finished the book? His face is calm and serious, and no one raises their hand. The reading slipped, we did other assignments, other things, and now we’re caught. Completely caught and no way to get out.

We sit, five students with no homework to show for their reading, looking up at the one instructor who holds complete control over the class’s gradebook. We sit and listen.

So, when I mark this homework down, is it listed as complete or incomplete?

Look down, look away. He’s serious and ominous and the guilt for not doing what was so clearly expected of me, the guilt for letting down a teacher who I hold in such high regard, gnaws at me.

But the question hangs in the air and we mumble answers, avoiding eye contact.

Incomplete… We squeak it out.

He knows what he’s talking about and that we can do nothing. He’s speaking of a zero for this assignment; exactly what we deserve for not completing with the expectations we knew he had set. It’s a zero.

I am going to give you full credit for this assignment.

Ears perked, we look up, expectantly. There’s a stipulation, a second chance. There has to be. We didn’t get it right the first time, but with a little leeway and a little rush on our part, now we’re able to earn it back. Extra work. Late work. We can make it up; we can do this.

I will not accept any work from you.

If it wasn’t heartbreaking, it might be funny. He’s told us that we’ll get 100% for this assignment, an assignment we haven’t even completed sufficiently, and now we don’t even have to make up the work we missed.

He’s telling us wonderfully good news and yet I can feel hot tears beginning to swim just under my eyelids.

Because he’s given the gift of a perfect grade, but he’s also completely taken away any chance I had to earn the good grade. This is grace in action, grace in the classroom, and it’s knocked my sinful perception of the world to the ground.

Yellow chalk scuffles across the board and he steps to the side so we can read.

Grace is humiliating, embarrassing, perplexing.

Maybe it sounds like a little thing, but the grace I’ve just experienced is straight out of the Bible, and it cuts my heart with a cold shock. Shock not because I receive grace; I’ve heard of that, I’m know that. Shock because I cannot, I am forbidden to, do anything that earns this grace.

This grace, experienced in a classroom, but initiated by the Lord of All, is true grace. This grace looks at me and says, I see you as you are. Incomplete. Chaotic. Steeped in sin and dragging around 20 years of poor choices and mistakes. I see that and I choose to give you a perfect score. I choose to die for you, love you no matter what, and when you die, I promise to bring you to Heaven.

I know that story. I know that story and I’ve even added a part of my own. I see this grace, receive this grace, and I turn around and get to work. Work to meet expectations. Work to make people happy. Work to make God proud.

I work and scurry and work some more because I like it that way.

It makes me feel like I’m earning my salvation. Makes me feel like I’m earning grace.

But I don’t earn grace. I never will. I’ll never earn the grace He pours out on me day after day. The truth of the statement knocks my knees out from under me in praise; it cuts my heart of guilt and a hard-hearted legalism that longs to say that I had some part in my salvation.

But I didn’t. I’m completely humbled, completely stripped of prideful pretenses. Because I see now how truly incapable I am of earning this grace.

~ Natalia

SEE

It’s moments like these, days like these, that make me wish I was a professional blogger. Or maybe “professional” isn’t exactly the right word, but you know what I mean. I wouldn’t be a college student who wrote a blog, I’d be a blogger. I’d write every day, maybe even more than once a day. I’d talk about my life, my heart, what I’m learning.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying this because I feel extra special, or because I think I have enough amazing thoughts that I need to be endorsed to write blog post after blog post. It’s not that at all.

Times like this make me wish I was a professional blogger because maybe then I’d have enough time to write down everything I’ve wanted to say recently.

I’m not always full of words. My mind’s not always quietly spinning with mental snapshots of beauty, mixed together with a conversation, a moment, a memory; things I don’t want to forget. I don’t always rush to the computer, eager to tell, yearning to tip my heart and mind upside down over the keyboard and watch as my thoughts and wonderings take shape in words and sentences and paragraphs.

I don’t always feel like this, don’t always have something to tell you. But tonight I do. I have things I want to tell you. Thoughts I’ve been thinking, things I’ve been learning, stories I’ve been treasuring up. But will I have enough time? Will I ever have enough time?

Enough time to tell you about the train ride back into the city from work. Skipping up the cracked, rusty steps minutes after the southbound train blew through, I settle in for a long wait; CTA worker says the next train’s in 12 minutes.

I talk on the phone and pace back and forth, feet absently wandering almost the entire length of the mostly deserted train platform. Pace and talk, back and forth, and soon, I can see the fuzzy white headlight of a train in the distance.

And I settle into my seat on the train, the first of three I’ll ride that evening. Settle in and we’re barely out of the station when I’m captivated by what I see. I’m next to the window and I peer through the thick glass, past my own sharp reflection, and out at the passing world, dark buildings and yellow-lit streets zipping steadily by. My eyes pulled back in, the window doubles as a mirror, and I alternate watching the world pass with stealthily watching the people coming on and off the train.

Then we pass a little shopping center, with dark windows illuminated by “Closed” signs and still-lit advertisements. And above it all, above the little collection of low-slung commercial buildings, is a billboard. I have time to read the billboard, but I don’t. At least, not the whole thing. One word grabs my attention, one word in a paragraph on a billboard.

SEE

And I’m suddenly more motivated than ever before to see. Exhorted forward by a bold billboard, I pull my focus back into the train car once more. I’m in this car and my mind and heart are taking snapshots of the life that is all around me. I’m not sure why, but I’ve been told to see; I long to see.

And the guy across the aisle is slipping sideways glances at the woman sitting next to him, and I wonder if he’ll get the nerve to speak to her. Or even look at her face. And the woman with the potato chips and the couple chatting in Spanish and the young business man whose just spent some quality time at Target.

And the train moves on, and souls get on and souls get off at every stop. And the man never speaks to the girl and the woman brushes potato chip crumbs off her shirt and the man behind me is listening to Katy Perry.

I didn’t see it all and I never will, but I like sitting on the train, watching. Sitting on the train, seeing. Seeing what God created, what God made, seeing and being motivated to talk to them, to talk to Him. To learn more and grow more and maybe, be able to see more.

There’s other things I want to tell you. So many other things. But tonight, right now, just see.

~Natalia

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