Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas 2011! With Thoughts on Baby Jesus and Chrismas Carols

I have something to say. It may be the same as what I said last Christmas, but I'm too lazy to check. First, Jesus came as a baby. The baby of a poor family who had to work for a living. Second, Away in a Manger and I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day -- good Christmas carols. Third, Merry Christmas. Now, I shall elaborate and/or repeat myself.

First, I made this point last year, but I don't think I made it well. In fact, I downright forgot what I was going to say during last year's Christmas post. Jesus came as one of the little people. By this, I don't mean elves, but I do mean babies and the so-called lowly people of society.

Society seems to view some people as less valuable than others. Think about fast food workers, invalids, or infants. Now think about scientists, surgeons, or statesmen. If you don't personally hold such a view, you can probably sense how the world holds the people in the latter list in higher esteem. They're considered more useful, they become more famous, they get far more pampered, and their deaths are more widely mourned. People dream of becoming like scientists, surgeons, or statesmen. People fear becoming like fast food workers, invalids, or infants.

Even I admit to thinking in this mindset sometimes. I tell myself that once I'm an engineer -- successful, rich, maybe even famous -- it'll show those people I hate, those enemies who'll never be anything but bad stay-at-home parents and unoriginal, unimaginative teachers and office workers. It'll show everyone I'm better than them. I secretly know it wouldn't really mean that, but I hope at least THEY think it would, and I hope it'll hurt them to see me held in society's high regard. I know this is really mean, and REALLY condescending to stay-at-home parents, teachers, and office workers, but. . . Well, I don't have an excuse. It's a bad behavior I fall into when I want to make myself feel better. I let myself think like society does, like some people are better than others because of their social standing.

People had such a mindset back in Jesus' time too. And God knew it. But He came as a baby anyway. Like everyone else, He was small, weak, helpless, and "useless" at one point. But that didn't mean He wasn't important. He was the most important figure of all time. He was poor and had to work a regular job that any other regular person could have taken over, a job for which he'd never be rich or famous, like frying burgers. But that didn't mean He wasn't important. It didn't mean He didn't matter.

You must be able to see that this can't have been a random choice God made, to come into the world as a baby, a poor person, and a blue-collar worker. I think He made this choice in order to illustrate His new Law, how we should help even those who can't help us back, serve ALL people, be merciful and kind, and respect the meek. Because they're important; they'll inherit the Earth. If the King of the Universe could be a Nobody on Earth, it proves that no one can be worthless because they are weak, useless, poor, or lowly.

This message, the one of Jesus coming as a baby, gets so much airtime because it's really beautiful. It means that no matter who you are, no matter how weak, useless, or lowly you are, you are important. You matter. Isn't that wonderful?

Secondly, my favorite Christmas carol is Away in a Manger, mostly for this line: "I love Thee, Lord Jesus." That line is just sweet, simple, and true. People are always talking about how great, glorious, powerful, and amazing God is, and it's all true. But how often is it just "I love You, Jesus"? Isn't that refreshing? Just spitting it out? And every single time I hear that line, I come to the wonderful realization that it's true. I love You, Jesus. It's such an intimate thing to say, and that's how it should be. I often feel distant from God, and it doesn't help when people talk about Him as a third person and His greatness as an abstract concept. It helps to say "I" and "love" and "You" in the same sentence.

Away in a Manger is written in the voice of a young child. A young child doesn't think about all the wonders of the universe that prove how great God is (although those are good things to think about). A young child loves someone for the right traits -- kindness and love. That's who Jesus is. I know it in my soul, but I'm often scared to believe it, feeling obligated to see God as some awesome unapproachable being. This song reassures me that God is comfort and warmth, which all children naturally want to have because it's good.

Therefore, the song makes perfect sense when the child entreats God with the following lines: "Look down from the sky and stay by my cradle till morning is nigh. Be near me, Lord Jesus. I ask Thee to stay close by me forever. . ." When I think of Jesus as a tender, loving God, that's exactly what I want to say. Grace me with Your presence. Stay with me. Protect me. Comfort me. Forever.

The song goes on: ". . . and love me, I pray." I feel like churches always ask Jesus for forgiveness, but not for love. It's almost like they want us individuals to think we're unworthy to ask for love. Well, I think we ARE unworthy. A lot of people feel that way, like they can't ask for love from anyone, let alone a perfect, all-powerful entity. But I think God wants us to feel worthy, and asking Him to love us is, not only acceptable, but good. This song reminds me of that. I am allowed ask a beautiful, perfect Person to love me and I am allowed to find my worth in that love.

This song gives an impression of love as a simple, perfect miracle, eternal and complete. The child loves Jesus because Jesus loves the child and Jesus is good. Goodness incarnate just fits like a puzzle piece in the child's soul, and that is love, and that love just IS. It doesn't need anything more added to it. It is. This is, in a way, one of the most romantic songs in existence.

I Heard the Bells is a hopeful song that doesn't ignore despair. It was just a couple years ago that I really listened to the words for the first time, and they are so true to me. "And in despair I bowed me head. 'There is no peace on Earth,' I said." I may never have said that, but I felt that every single day. Not "there's very little peace," or "there's no peace in countries at war." There. Is. No. Peace. Anywhere. Anytime. All people suffer physically, emotionally, or both. No one ever has true peace. "For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on Earth, goodwill to men." When I first heard the words, it shocked and relieved me that someone else felt as much despair over it as I did.

Then, the song even continued with, "God is not dead, nor does He sleep." That's right. He came back from the grave. And you say He's conscious and attentive to what's happening here on Earth? "The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on Earth, goodwill to men." Sometimes, just hearing it out loud can reassure and comfort you. A little bit.

Finally, I wish you a happy holiday for celebrating the birth of kindness, love, truth, and all goodness, in the flesh. Merry Christmas!

(By the way, I saw my grades today, and it was the best Christmas Eve gift I got. I got three A's, two A minuses, and a B+ in chemistry. I'm going to keep my scholarship, and I'm happily surprised at myself, which is the upside to having low expectations. My family, by comparison, seemed to assume I'd get all A's, and they were congratulatory but not nearly as excited as I was. Still, I think I did wonderfully. Thank you, God.)

Friday, December 23, 2011

So Much Has Happened in My First Semester, Part 1

It feels like so very much has happened, but I suppose nothing life-changing has. I finished my first semester of full-time college, I'm very proud of me, and now I'm on Christmas vacation for three weeks. I have time to post! I apologize for my absence, but I guess I'll start by describing how freaking hard college is.

For the past couple months, I've slept an average of 2 hours every weekday night, and maybe 6 hours on weekend nights. I had most of my finals the week before last week (which was ACTUAL Finals Week), and I didn't sleep at all on probably three of those nights. My dad and brother acted like this was my fault. Well, I could have slept more. A lot more. But then I wouldn't have gotten any of my work done and I'd have failed my classes. I just had too much to do.

This semester, I took 16 credits, but I spent more time in class than that would indicate, because in addition to my five regular classes, I had one weekly class that counted for just one credit and three that counted for zero. Most of those classes were "lab components" that took 2+ hours.

When not in class, I worked virtually round the clock. I studied and did homework, taking a couple hours maybe every other week to do something strictly fun. Engineering is a hard major. It's easier for fast people, but I'm a slow person. That's part of why I haven't slept much lately, but hey, I've done really well for myself. I'm still waiting on some of my final grades, but so far, they look good. And you know what? I've loved it.

I loved working and learning and doing. I think I was meant to work hard, because I feel healthiest when I do. It reached a bit of an extreme this year, with the no sleeping thing, but I love having something to do. It just feels good. And I hope that one day, very soon, I can find a balance between physical health and hard work.

I needed the motivation college gives me, with the threat of poor grades, with people who expected to see me in class every day, and with a schedule that can't be pushed back or ignored. I still need it. I'm lazy on my own. Maybe one day, I'll find a way to motivate myself, but right now, I need college to do that. That's the main reason I ever went. I could learn on my own, but I need to be motivated.

I've loved learning, too. Did I say? I loved being challenged and discovering new things about the world, which is probably why chemistry was my favorite class. Most of the students hated it, and I do too. A little. It's hard. I did rather badly in it the first half of the semester, but I liked it even then. It was the most advanced class I took, with the most new information, and it helped me develop my recent interest in nanotechnology, which I'll get into in a later post.

Anyway, I loved being active academically, loved the actual working of problems. Even during finals week, I was so nervous while taking my tests, but as I got further into each one, I found myself having fun. I'd studied, so I kind of knew what I was doing, but it was still a challenge, not too easy and not impossible. I loved the feeling of competence, the exhiliration of surmounting difficulties.

One aspect of college I didn't enjoy was the teachers. Either they were nice but couldn't teach, or they weren't approachable, or they were downright insane. My writing teacher was probably the latter. I felt sorry for her, but she gave everyone bad grades until she (reportedly) got complained about enough and got in trouble for bringing down all her students' GPAs. She seemed so nice most of the time, but now and then, she'd say something that normal people just don't say. On my early papers, she'd give feedback that made little, if any sense, so I didn't know how to write to please her, which made it extremely nerve-wracking to write at all. I've always procrastinated writing, because I've always felt pressured to write really well, but I've always liked it too. She made me almost hate it. I'm definitely glad I'm done with that class.

Overall, though, I enjoyed the academic parts of life these past few months, even if I hated how little sleep I got.

To be continued in Part 2 . . .