On Becoming Hard

She’s tangled her lips into a burrowed frown again, staring at the morning’s news, clearly unimpressed. Nearing ninety, the elderly lady still has her opinions, strong and bold as ever. 

“Always has to be newer and better,” she grunts before stalking off with the newspaper crumpled in a roll underneath her worn and wrinkled hands. 

She is petite and aged, worn around the edges as some would say, garnered with a consistently furrowed brow and rough, weathered smirk. Lined and hard–hard to know and hard to be known. 

 

I hear them criticize — the new ways, mostly and the new people. The “kids” who are really adults and should be acting like “adults” even though they are “kids”. I sip my coffee, trying to choke back laughs and text inconspicuously, a book hidden in my purse for later.

But sure enough, they catch my phone with their watchful eyes and criticize me now, citing the evils of technology and of course, the utter ridiculousness of updating your friends on what you are doing at every single minute of the day.

They laugh at their jokes and complain some more — about the hard chairs they’re sitting on, the hard days of work, the hard block of frozen spaghetti for lunch, currently de-frosting on the table. Sipping more coffee, they continue to talk in their hard, foreign ways, as I slip out the door. 

 

I notice him smile as I say good morning. It’s just a slight smile yet it brims to the corners of his mouth. I never remember noticing it before — I always figured he was just a grumpy, no nonsense type of older gentleman. 

But I notice the smile, soft at first, again and again and again, growing warmer just like the sun on these hot summer days. Soon he’s returning my good mornings and hellos. I wonder if I was wrong about him back then when I proclaimed him ‘no-nonsense and grumpy.’ 

His features are still weathered and hard and I bet he could tell me a lot of stories of a long life of labour and toil. But he smiles at me through the lines of an aging face and I see the life that’s in him still, that’s in us all until we die. 

 

They probably married young–those ladies sipping coffee on hard chairs. Eighteen, nineteen, twenty, or maybe twenty-one. My age, they were all blooming young brides, basking in the light of their bride grooms’ gentle smiles. All white, beautiful, beloved. Love softens us, they say. 

But before that date, they were even softer, waiting for love. They must have grown from soft, pink baby to bright eyed little girl, pig tails flying, to a fresh and beautiful young woman, long hair clipped up. They must have picked flowers, memorized words for spelling bees, baked birthday cakes for younger siblings. Went to church in their best dresses, and blushed when the handsomest boy winked in their direction. 

And then when the handsome boy met her at the alter, she likely smiled more than ever. The babies came soon after–soft, pink, and fresh, with the life we’re all created with, the life we hold till we die. The life that was meant for eternity. 

I realize that this is not all there is and was. The complaining and criticism of youth, and hardened smiles. At one time, they were as youthful as I — probably smirking at their own parents’ and grandparents’ harsh commands and comments. 

We are all born soft and pink, fresh and young. And so I wonder, what makes us become hard? 

 

Months pass into a year. I’ve matured a bit — hardened even, myself. But I have more patience, endurance, and even, love. Does that come with being hardened? 

I become privy to different, harder conversations. About walking an hour to town, houses falling at the bombs of the enemy, little legs flying to bomb shelters, and loved ones dropping dead. I suddenly see so much within the lines of their hardened faces, and wonder how I once missed what is now so evident. 

Hardship. Pain. Utter devastation. 

That is how we harden. 

Experience. Endless toil. Death and desperation. 

That is how we harden. 

Long suffering. Tears left unwiped. No conclusions for our grief. 

That is how we harden. 

Yet within the lines, I now see a surprising beauty and a long hidden joy. It’s mixed with a new found courage and bravery and I develop respect and admiration, the more I notice. I see the softness within, still there after all these years — they’re still the babies, the flower picking girls, and the June brides, little boys longing for adventure, and winking young rowdies as well as the hardened women and men, living a midst the pain and continual tread of life. 

 

The softness lies within. You will find it if you look hard enough. 

The hardness has become a shell to protect, in many cases. A relief, a disguise. But behind the hardness, there is a garnered wisdom. A learnt renewal, and a cloudy resurrection to come. 

How do we become hard? The tread of years, the changes, the griefs, and unanswered prayers. 

But do we ever really become hard? We are all children in God’s sight, and His softness and mercy can be enough for us. 

Time

Sitting in his office that sunny spring day, my prof told me it — my goal of becoming a physical actor — would take time.

“It won’t happen overnight,” he warned. “You have to work at it.”

I nodded in mock patience. I told him that I could do it because I wanted it enough.

022

Time.

It is what I don’t have these days. And what I’ve never had enough of.

Sundays are currently my only day off and only full day at home. I have 24 hours. And it seems they all get wasted somehow. The clock ticks, the timer dings, my break is over.

Homework, rehearsals, commuting, walking from class to class. Eating, sleeping, scrolling through blogs, reading my Bible. Cleaning my room, ironing, taking a sip of freshly brewed coffee. Wondering, questioning, learning, seeing, waiting. Loving and living. This is what constitutes time.

And I wish there were more of it. Or that certain things took less time. Or something.

At the end of the day, I’m tired, worn out, fed up with the time I’ve spent, wasted, and worked.

 

But then, there is a different kind of time. Or a different view on it, at least.

When we wait or after a while of working towards something — after time itself has past — we start to reap time’s harvest.

A friend sits down across from me just to talk.

I finally take a risk and go with my impulses while doing a scene in Acting class. I allow myself to fail boldly and it works.

I start to feel at home with university friends. I start to open up and share, to laugh naturally, smile spontaneously, learn and love.

These are little things. Mundane acts, perhaps to you. But to me they are monumental.

Because I have been working and waiting and wanting to find them. I put the time in and I reaped the rewards of patience and work. I wanted them so badly that I was willing to wait the time it took.

And I realized that it was time all along. The friendships didn’t come in the first week and the response to impulses didn’t happen at first read. They took time. Like anything worth having would.

This is the beauty of time, I think. The hard work, perseverance, the rewards. The life we can only get from waiting weeks, months, or years.

The clock is ticking. I have homework left from last week that must be done by Tuesday. My tomorrow is full and my head is weary from the week. I feel the heaviness of the clock and the fact that there is never enough time.

Yet time, I’ve learned that time is burdensome and beautiful all at once. So, I’ll try to embrace the beauty as I go about my busy days.

Because time is a beautiful burden. We carry time like a weight from day to day, but at the end, we come to see the beauty that would not exist without the time it took to get there.

What are the beauties and burdens in your time today?

Compassion

One of my dearest memories from childhood goes like this…

My family was taking care of our good friends’ two children. Their oldest son was practically my best friend at the time. We did everything together.

I was about five-years-old then and I refused to take naps when the others did. So, while my friends and sister got to stay up “late” and have a snack, I was confined to my pajamas and lights out in the bedroom.

I was sad and moping to be sure when my friend crept into the room. He was four-years-old — a year younger than I. He knew I’d wanted some of the snack.

“Here, Liz,” he said, reaching out his little hand. “I brought you some.”

My friend didn’t have to bring me a treat, but  he did. He showed grace for my bad behaviour and risked getting into trouble for me. He was generous and giving of himself. I call it compassion, when I look back on that memory now.

However, compassion can oft be hard to give. Whether it’s an irate customer or a hard-to-work-with-co-worker, a younger sibling or an distanced friend, I deal with a definite choice everyday. Will I roll my eyes or shall I show compassion today?

Because compassion is hard. It isn’t just about “being nice” or making friends. It is much, much more.

It is patient. And gentle.

Compassion is generous, not withheld love.

It is not proud nor does it envy.

Compassion is full of grace. It is about giving second chances and forgiving and remembering the blood of Christ. It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs or repay evil for evil.

At its fullest, compassion is unconditional. Agape love. We call God compassionate and so He is. This is the model we live up to.

 

I wonder if my friend still remembers that time when he brought me a treat — probably not. But I sure do. And that compassionate gift made a profound affect on my little soul. Because even today, a five-year-old’s compassion inspires me.

So let us live lives of love. Let’s fill our hearts with compassion for the world. For everyone.

I Am An Artist

He referred to it as “your art.” And I always smiled.

He meant theatre, really. Theatre was what I did. I was an actor. And he, the man with the thick Dutch accent who sat in front of our pew, got to know me because of it.

It started with some advent monologues that I did at church one year. He commented on them and we began to talk. He came to my plays. We continued to talk. About theatre, church, opera, God, and…art.

~~~

When I first entered university last September, I heard the word ‘art’ again and again.

The art department had their pictures in the hallways. And my friend was an Art major. She was taking Art 181.

But I was in theatre. And I took Acting and Theatre classes and went to see plays.

Yet I always heard the word ‘art.’ Theatre artist. We are theatre artists.

Art must be specific,” one particular prof repeated, again and again.

I had to take a history of music, dance, visual art, and theatre class. And we were all there because somehow, we — freshly emerged from high school, recently uprooted from the only familiarity we’d ever known as we were — were considered artists.

Next semester, we discussed what art was, whether it was subjective or not, what good art and bad art was, how art could be considered kitsch and so on. We even had to do projects, in place of essays, in which we created our own art.

I didn’t understand it all at first. I’d never considered myself an ‘artist’ before. I was just someone who liked acting a lot. Art was for people who painted pictures and created masterpieces — not little old me.

And time and time again, the question came up… what is art?

And to be completely honest with you, I still don’t know.

~~~

My Voice and Movement professor had us make short scenes in which we did things from our daily lives: getting up in the morning and talking on the phone. We presented them to the class.

I worked and worked and worked on a monologue. Night after night and day after day. I wept over it. I laughed and learnt. I tried to hide and then let myself go, I brought people in to watch and give me suggestions. I rehearsed. I auditioned with it one night in late March and gave it all that I had and I lost something strange and good and scary and gained something more.

I learned how to move in a Shakespeare monologue. I developed a physical score that scared me to death but gave me new life. I did it for my class and a friend told me that was when he knew that I wanted to be an actress. An artist.

I look back and I think, “Well, maybe I do know what art is after all.”

~~~

I remember the last conversation that we had — it was about art. He leaned against his walker, talking swiftly in the usual way. He spoke of my art. He praised art and  said that it was important and part of God’s purpose.

I smiled. These were both new ideas to me, which I’d come to realize, through tears and aggravation, in my first year of university. Yet this was what my friend had been trying to tell me all the way along.

I don’t think we ever talked again. The man with the thick Dutch accent who talked about ‘my art’ went into the hospital soon after. I always meant to visit him, but I homework piled up and I never did. I regret that.

He died before my final exams began. Before my first year finished. And a few weeks before, as we spoke about art in the fellowship hall, I never would have guessed.

I couldn’t even go to the memorial because of exams. And so, it doesn’t even really seem that he is actually gone.

It makes me sad to confront his loss — so I try to forget sometimes. But when I’m at church, I see his empty spot and the tears creep in and it is hard to sing.

Yet he gave me something that I’ll never forget. He left a precious gift on earth for me to cherish and learn about forever.

The man with the thick Dutch accent, who used to sit in front of us at church, called me an artist. And he said, just like the Lord said when He created the universe, that it was very good. 

As Iron Sharpens Iron

Tonight I’m thankful for one of the greatest and most lovely gifts that God has bestowed upon us–friendship.

Friends aren’t perfect. I’ve been betrayed and dissapointed by the closest and kindest of friends. People aren’t always what I want them to be and I have been hurt many times. My friends have lied to me, told my secrets, and let me down. And I’m no perfect friend either–I’ve done all of those things and more.

But still, there is a beauty in friendship that cannot be denied no matter how imperfect it is. It is a beauty so great that it makes me cry, and a gift so wonderful that I could praise God for it forever.

Because of…

These awesome friends who I’ve never met but who leave encouraging comments for me on my blog.

The friend far away who hurt me but taught me so much at the same time.

The beautiful girl who I can count on to hang out with me whenever, build me up, and keep my secrets.

My friends in Mexico who I’ll never see again, and the wonderful team that I shared the experience with.

The people who encourage me every day, and all of my beautiful ‘little sisters.’

My amazing gang of girls who love me for who I am, and always encourage me.

The group that I’ve known forever and ever and see sparodically but with whom I connect better than with anyone else. They make everything from singing VBS songs in front of the church and wearing sailor hats to making Bolivian food and going to the park fun, and I’m always myself with them.

My actual little sister who (unfortunately) knows how to get me mad but also knows my sense of humour and what I like perfectly.

My dear friend that I’ve known for life, almost the exact opposite of me but who I could talk to forever.

That great girl I go to Starbucks with–she knows my likes and dislikes, and talks to me for hours on end.

The awesome friend that called me when I was sad, and who I always look forward to seeing.

The one who shared so much of my childhood who I still love to be with.

The two that I’ve known for a short time but just make me smile at the thought of them because we’re “kindred spirits.”

The really, cool  friend with the same name as me who goes to the beach randomly.

My wonderful friend who is always so considerate and constantly makes me feel better about myself.

The astounding friend that I have in Jesus, the creator of all these wonderful people!!!

As iron sharpens iron, so one friend sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:17

What do you love about your friends?