People

People ask me why I sleep outside in the tent instead of inside.

***

I step in the front door, and already I hear — the fridge in the gym, the fan in the basement, the computer in the gym running, the hum of a house that never really shuts down. And also, someone in the kitchen. Making noise, yes, but more importantly, will this person be grumpy, angry, sullen, sad — or even just try to talk to me in the middle of my waking up thoughts?

It’s Dad.

***

I hate talking about “negative energy.” It sounds so floo-floo. When they post those random, “You know you’re an empath when. . . . you walk into a room and you can instantly tell if the group of people is tense or relaxed.” Can’t everyone? Seriously, can’t everyone? Doesn’t everyone? Constantly monitor the emotional electricity in every situation? Doesn’t it wear you out? Don’t you ever wish you could be around No Energy so you could rest?

***

I get people, but not people’s rules. Which random professions you tip versus which professions you don’t. When you’re expected to give hostess gifts and who is supposed to be gifted at Christmas (the mail person? really?). And why do we do this lying game where we say “supportive” things to people we don’t respect, don’t like, don’t approve of? The social games, those I do not get.

But I do get people. I can tell at a glance. And I’m learning more and more to trust it. More often than not, I wind up comforting someone in tears. So I know I know people. What I don’t know is why it seems so hard to build an actual friendship.

***

I never would have said before that I have anxiety or social anxiety. But now I find myself playing things over and over in my head. But what were they really saying? What were they really thinking? What is wrong with me? Why do I put people off? And then the dark whirlpool of pleasing others and earning affection.

I don’t think I need to be everyone’s favorite. I hate the feeling of wanting to ask people what the other people are saying behind my back.

***

I suppose that is too much to ask.

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Relationships

Here’s a thing that I don’t get in my life: People I know, who I thought I was friends with, who go through major martial changes, keeping mum, and then afterwords send out a generalized “now that I’ve ignored any of your attempts to connect, let’s be friends now that it’s over.”

I get that when you are going through major challenges, you may be too overwhelmed or vulnerable to share everything with everyone. But if I know you well enough to know that something is not ok, and I reach out to you, and you literally ignore me with no response, and then after — after a divorce, after hooking up with the new guy, after marrying the new guy — you want to pretend that our friendship hasn’t been affected in any way and I should just jump in and be happy for you — well, I’m confused.

What is friendship? Is it not the process of sharing the good times and the bad? I don’t call a distant cheering section of spectators “friends.” If you can’t even do the dignity of a response — any response — (“I’m having a rough go right now, but not ready to talk,” counts, among many other things) then how are we even friends? How am I supposed to pick back up that supposed friendship I thought I had after you shut out any interaction with me? How is this not a damaged relationship?

I recognize that I have never been through a divorce, and I can’t speak to what that experience can feel like. I can only share my experience from this side: I’ve lost more friendships from cutting me out, ignoring my attempts to reach out, followed by a vague and generic group statement about how now I should feel happy for them. The temptation to make a biting comment about how relationships take work, and maybe the fact that you don’t seem to realize that is a factor in you dissolved marriage is definitely there. I don’t make it, but I realize that, whether words are spoken or no, I grieve the loss of friendship and move on.

It might not have been that the friendship was damaged. It might have been that it was only a figment of my imagination in the first place, and all I am grieving is my lost notion that there was a relationship. Am I owed an apology? No, but I don’t think I owe one either. If my presence in your life did not merit an acknowledgement, I am willing to accept that. But if there is no attempt to literally mend broken things, I’m not going to pretend they weren’t broken.

I’m saying this not to condemn the people who went through the dissolving of these relationships; I’m saying this because I can’t for the life of me believe that those people understand what it is like to be on the other side of these ignored-friendships. If you really think you can suddenly put up a generic Facebook post about what happened in the last year and we can pick up our friendship where we left off, you’re wrong.  If you think that just because you have had a rough year it automatically absolves you of any need to invest in relationships, you’re wrong. And if you think that being your friend means that I will automatically agree and support everything that you do, you’re also wrong.

I didn’t walk away from the friendship because you got divorced. I walked away from the friendship because you walked away first. I got tired of looking at your back. And now that you are all fake-smiley and waving, there’s not much to walk back toward.

unformed

I guess what I was trying to talk myself around to the other day, when I became suddenly distracted by the unrelenting desire for Sabbath land, is that I think I’ve drunk more of the wine than I realized.

The world of school is perpetual Deadlines and Doing. Perpetual. And it doesn’t matter if you have enough time or not, because, at the Deadline, the Work is submitted anyway. And there are rubrics and directions and we just talk about how you figure out how to do it and then you do it. Because that’s how life works. You decide what you want to do, you make a plan, you do the plan, stuff happens. It’s as simple as that.

Only it’s not.

I mean, if you are a citizen of this world, I guess you don’t have any other choice than to embrace that. But the perpetual doing blinds you to your inner self, and certainly keeps your eyes well off the things above and you can’t really function in a way that assumes the superiority of the heavenly places, because we aren’t there — we’re here, and we’re doing. It cripples you in your ability to hear, because you are too busy deciding and doing. They did make a little lip service to this with “reflection” assignments, but they, too, were a thing to Have Done.

So, after years of sickness, my biggest (yet subconscious) goal has been to get back to Doing. Planning, shaping, accomplishing. Deciding, doing.

After hurling myself repeatedly against that brick wall (and the harder I hurl, the more likely, it seemed, I would be getting sick again. And again), I am beginning to hear just a little bit that small, still voice. And am surprised to find it prodding me toward “spiritual formation.”

As someone who has long held (even without knowing this was what it was called) to sola scriptura, “spiritual formation” seemed like just a thing God did to you while you weren’t looking, like growing that half inch between birthdays. Growing up wasn’t a thing you did, it was a thing that happened to you. This was compounded by the fact I didn’t really get what “studying” meant. I mean, you were supposed to “study scriptures” but what did that really mean? What do you do, besides read the passage and think about how people smarter than you would probably see more in this line than you can. Fourteen million years of studying for school later, I have a few ideas. . . but I’m less sure than ever that “studying the scriptures” is really a main thing we are to do. Studying, I can say after much experience, is for facts. And I don’t believe that the Bible is just a dense packet of obscured facts for us to try to make some sense out of.

If God Himself describes the interaction of mankind and God as a relationship, then facts are not sufficient. There is something more about dwelling with God, walking with God, and seeking God than knowing facts about God. And so He cannot possibly have just meant that book to be as stale as a textbook, to be neatly repackaged and summarized in notes for easy regurgitation. I think that pretty thoroughly constitutes Missing the Point.

Well, my former self says, there is prayer. And there is His Spirit. Only, often I have no idea what or how to pray. And the Spirit seems something so elusive I more often than not have no idea how one hears It or communes with It or through It.

Still, my former self says, “spiritual formation” is contrived and a man-made concept. Only, with some peculiarity, as I read the New Testament, it seems like part of Jesus coming to this physical world, in a physical body — as we are, even now — was, for lack of a better word, for His spiritual formation. How else can it be said things like “He learned obedience”? He never learned disobedience, and He had nothing to repent of. So what does it mean to “learn obedience”? Somehow, though I do not claim to understand it very deeply at all, part of the Son coming to this world was also the shaping of the Son.

The problem for me is that so many discussion on “spiritual formation” are so effort driven, so contrived, so clearly reeking of the priorities and concepts of mankind. I am doing better now with words like posture and framework and a system of reminders and practicing remembering and training your mind to different reflexes and thought patterns and listening.

It’s not about improving ourselves, or making our spirits into different shapes. It’s just about practicing, again and again and again, turning our face toward God. And then being open and receptive to His changing, His planning, His deciding and His doing.

And to that I can say yes. Yes, yes, and yes. Because when the framework and mindset of life drives me away from God, what I have is life, with an after thought of God, and that has not been working out well at all. Cramming God into little leftover cracks and being frustrated when things don’t seem to be growing. And what I need is a framework and a mindset of leaning toward God, and life just being a part of the structure pushing me closer to that which is God.

Which is listening.

Which is drives toward: Mercy. Forgiveness. Repentance. Patience.

But it starts with listening, and the other things come out of it. It doesn’t come out of effort toward Mercy or Peace. It comes out of shutting the heck up, sitting down, and listening.

I still don’t really know what “spiritual formation” means. Right now it means being curious about what it means to other people, and listening. But from all the looking and listening, spiritual formation means following God on purpose, not as an assumptive after thought. And that means a certain amount of doing. Which itself seems obvious, something about faith without works being dead. But still a struggle for me to figure out.

This thought I lost. . .my brains wore out by the end of the day, and the moments from before supper to after took my last few coherent sentences from me.

I would like to not always be the caregiver and would like to have someone take care of me. And that sounds very cold, like I am not appreciative of all the things that people do for me. But all day I am a caregiver. And then when I come home, people ask me to give them care. And I don’t know how to fill back up. I am not even sure what I want, what taking care of me looks like. I am just so tired of majority of my conversations being about how I can take care of people or how I might suggest other people take care of themselves. Sometimes I just want to be alone, just so that no one will ask me for advice, tell me how they are hurting, or limp around in a self-martyring way because they won’t bother me even though they are dying.

It’s not that I’m particularly good about being able to share what is bothering me, or what I want or need. It’s just that I’m so spent from caring for others. It’s not that I think I deserve more attention. It’s just sometimes I wish we could talk about something mutually interesting, not about you, or even about me.

When I went over the things I did on a daily and weekly and monthly basis, I couldn’t find anything that actually engaged my brains, my thinking-deeper, my not-just-basic-problem-solving-and-organizing brain. My emotions are totally drained. I can kind of sometimes do things a little creative. But actually having a meaningful conversation with an exchange of ideas (not an emotive rant) seems to be out of the question.

I feel broken and un-tended to, and despite my attempt to actually work through a thought process today, it seems I have once again circled back around to wanting a sabbath and a chance to heal. I think I could be a friend and a human, if I could heal. But right now I feel too broken to even be a friend or a human. I am stiffly going through the motions, because that’s what you do, you do things. Why does everyone make it sound like it’s a virtue to push through? Why can’t it be a virtue to stick up for yourself long enough to get off the hamster wheel and re-gain your equilibrium and sense of direction?

I know that getting life just-so is not really an option. I know that we aren’t called to trust in God because it will be easy to get life figured out and in control just like that–that it is chaos and weakness that drives us to God. But I don’t understand why God so many times calls us to rest and then all the people around us seem to imply that’s a sin. I just feel sad and tired and empty and exhausted and I want to get better.

Where am I today?

I felt so strange the year after I graduated, like the person inside of me was so buried as to be dead. I kept calling, waiting, listening, watching. Long after the “threats” were gone, I couldn’t shut off the adrenaline of survival that had become my complete existence: getting through. Nothing but pure endurance. Head down, focusing on one foot in front of the other. And now, on the other side, I couldn’t stop.

Immune system badly weakened from what had happened over the last two years, I fell badly sick again, shoving me back into head down, one foot, one breath, suffocating, paralyzing, desperation to not cease to exist, feeling the inexorable slide toward just that.  I finally wound up sobbing uncontrollably in the office of a doctor I’d just met, saying over and over “I just don’t know what to do, I just don’t know what to do.”

The next 9 months or so was a muddy swirl of attempting, once again, to recover; followed by the brutal yet predictable slam of winter darkness that leaves me crippled with annual faithfulness.

Now, in the last few weeks perhaps, I am finally (I think perhaps maybe) making a few tentative steps away from adrenaline. I find myself observing in myself peculiar thoughts and outlooks that don’t seem like me at all, that I hadn’t realized I’d picked up in the last few years. I feel a queer sense of deja vu when driving flashes of my cross-country travels blinking across my subconscious, the strange sense that it is about time to skip town again. There is a unsettling sense of duality, the “me” that existed in the prior years, and the “me” of the intervening years, and the “me” now that seems to slide awkwardly between the two, no longer able to settle into either shape, and the almost-more-unsettling that it is time to create a new, third thing which actually is the shape of the me now.

The people I saw almost daily now seem to have no idea that I even exist. The people I tried to keep friendships alive with from before saw so little of the me-in-between that I feel almost as though I am faking when I am with them – they have no idea how I have been smashed and twisted in the intervening years, and without words to explain it, I resort to trying to be the same person I was before. But in the meantime, I keep trying to find a mirror capable of helping me actually examine my scars, assess my damage, and understand what I have become while I was too busy trying to stay alive to see any of the things on the inside.

Some things maybe are good. I don’t want you to think I am merely broken. Not that merely broken should be a phrase at all, as it is in our breaking we are made whole – although that does not make the breaking any more pleasant. I think there probably has been growth of good things, questioning of things that should have been questioned, and certainly there is no end to the need for humility.

Some things maybe are bad. I feel the scars, but even writing “maybe some things are bad” and I cringe away. I don’t want to look. It hurts, and I only go that way very gingerly, very cautiously, and unable to share in any kind of meaningful way when I can only look at tiny pieces at a time without feeling powerfully overwhelmed.

I don’t know what else to say except that I am yearning for healing. When I think what would I do, if I could do anything I wanted, without fear of judgement or condemnation or “reality” or “responsibility” (so often self-made concepts without real truth). . .I think of buying some land to have a sabbath year on. No schedules. No expectations. A time to be alone with God. A time to face up to damage and scars. A time to listen to the still quiet voice without the clamoring. A time to rest, o God, a time to rest.  I would come back out of it, I know; I have no ideas of being led to a purely hermitage lifestyle fleeing from the challenges and trials of this world. But some raw, earnest, honest, wilderness time, to learn (again?) how to breathe, to rejoice, to hope, to be alive. . .

People say we have to learn how to do that while in the midst. People say we’ll never have a life quiet enough to spend the whole day, or day after day, seeking, praying, meditating, reading, listening, singing, dancing even. They say you have to find it in the middle. But with sadness and longing, I see in the Old Testament God setting aside day after day, whole years even, to do just that. To rest and rejoice, and remember that He is God and we are not, and to be filled with courage for what comes next.

I am not at all sure I have the courage to withdraw. I am not at all sure I have the courage. Leave a job I should be lucky to have. Step away from the people I was waiting so long to be close to. Emptying hard earned money into rocky ground that will likely “never be good for anything,” if doing nothing truly is worthless. Shutting my ears to things that burden me with implied, implicit or explicit responsibility.

Yet I am also not sure what kind of existence I can have without a rest. A real rest. A prolonged rest. Surely, there would not be condemnation for rest, after all of that? But I say it with such tentativeness, because I feel such condemnation. Life is hard; you’re supposed to be harder.  But I am not hard. I am not tough. I’m sensitive. I cry. I carry the burdens of people I’ve barely met. And I am looking for the courage to hope. I’ve found a lot of different ways life can be harder. I want permission to learn a lot of different ways life can be more full and less parched.

I can talk myself into the truth and necessity of a real, long rest in my mind, in theory, in concept. The fear and anxiety and, honestly, terror, overwhelm me when I try to talk about it aloud. If I can’t explain to you my hurt and brokenness, how will I ever be able to convince you of my need for radical rest? But if I don’t have the faith for rest, how will I have have faith for action, for sacrifice, for growth, for living?

I don’t know. I didn’t expect today’s writing to go there. I thought this would be more introspective. But it seems compelling, I suppose, that no matter what path of thought I take, I seem to wind up here. And by “here” I mean, looking at land listings and wondering how realistic it is to buy some land as soon as possible, because why wait? But I also feel like I need someone to talk to about all this, to stop just hiding in my own mind, to find the courage to say the words out loud. To move beyond a place of ha-ha-just-kidding-we-can-dream-right? to the place of no-I’m-serious-help-me-figure-this-out.

My own level of avoidance can be rather self-shocking.

 

Listening to yourself

I started this blog because often times I feel like I am still muddling my way through, well, more feminine issues. . .things that I don’t necessarily feel like a I can share with a wide or mixed audience.

I was really surprised by how badly I wanted in-put from my friend on my next round of work clothes, and the insecurity I felt — noticed, I’d guess it’s normally there — about my body and appearance.  Am I squeezing myself into too small of a size? Would this be a pretentious pair of shoes to wear to work? Are my arms too big for the rest of me? The picture taken from that angle makes me feel like I am a million pounds overweight. Am I trying too hard or not hard enough with my presentation of myself? Am I being honest, or attempting to present something I’m not?

(and, some of the flip. . .when I take the picture from this angle, dare I say I have a beautiful face? my hands look elegant and kind doing that. Maybe this dress is a good idea?)

I tell myself it’s just hormones, and while I’m sure there is a hormonal component, it also feels like there is something more than that. Why do we use “just” in front of hormones anyhow, as a way to dismiss what is going on? At the same time, it seems ludicrous to say, “no, this seems more momentous than hormones; there is something important going on.”

Still, I wanted this to be a year of listening. I did. I do. Part of listening is, you have to listen to all of the things. If you are already deciding what to listen to and what not to, you haven’t made listening the priority. I am not saying you don’t then make a discernment about what you have heard; I am saying if you decide — prior to listening/paying attention — what is worth listening or paying attention to, you’ve already missed the point of listening.

Only, I am finding, the listening and making up your mind about it go so close hand in hand that sometimes it is hard to tell where one ends and where the next starts. I think that’s why listening is so hard; you have to  be pretty vulnerable while you do it. Sometimes that means it seems harder to do that with anyone else around — hard enough to be that vulnerable even to yourself. Other times, it makes you really long for someone else, because you want someone to make you feel safe and understood while you try to figure things out.

I just spent an absurd amount of time looking at products I never knew existed to put in my hair and make me feel less bedraggled and hobo-like. And I want someone to say, “yes, that was important,” even though I can’t figure out why it was. I spend a lot of philosophical energy on how I’m not artificial and you just have to take me as I am, and yet I am being swept in a wave of wanting to be . . . more me. As though what I am actually isn’t what I’m meant to be.

It’s an odd feeling. Like when I feel so certain that the weight I am is NOT what I am meant to be; the guilt of being this weight is not a societal hand off but a strange sense of being in defiance of what I actually am. To say that seems both strange and awkward and somehow accurate. I need to lose weight, because that is actually who I am, and being who I am right now is sticking my fingers in my ears and trying to ignore who I am right now and also who I really am, underneath my going in a pigheaded different direction. It feels frustrating to say that, because I don’t really know what I mean by that or it’s implications: only that’s how I feel as best as I can hear it.

Looking at hair care products (or clothes or anything) that go right ahead and put “sexy” in the title doesn’t make me say, “yes, that is who I really am,” except kind of yes. It is a part of me that feels neglected. I am bogged down in bills, laundry and unpaid overtime, and there is so much of me that feels neglected, and yes, that is part of that. A part I am not quite sure what I mean by, what I mean by “is this dress a good idea?” It’s sassy and flirty and cuts a figure and I have no place to wear it while drowning in bills, laundry and unpaid overtime. Is getting the dress and putting in the closet sufficient? Is preparing for something that isn’t an act of faith or an act of delusion? And anyway, I really need to lose 5 more pounds for it to fit me better than a sausage casing.

It is a strange place to be, I think. Catching passing glimpses of maybe I could be stunning, but only stunning for what? Yes, you go right ahead and embrace stunning, and, and, and. . .don’t forget to sweep the stairs, and water the plants, and pay your taxes. Stay late doing paperwork no one reads.

There is a part of being yourself that feels awkward in that it is a denial of others. Throwing off (or gently prodding aside) the culture and expectations of others. With that comes an uncomfortable level of examinations. If I change the way I do my hair, everyone will notice and comment. At work. At home. I’ve hated observational scrutiny, from when I was 6 years old and losing teeth. Let me be invisible. Except also, let me be beautiful and unique, and kind of take your breath away in a subtle kind of way where you didn’t really expect it, but now that you look at me. . . This desire to be both seen and unseen is not one likely to be realized.

It is a thing that I think maybe is important, because it rises when I am full. When I am rested or at peace, I am more creative, more patient, more kind. . . and also more in desire of being aesthetically beautiful. When I begin to drown, creativity, patience, and certain amount of kindness go out the window. And so does my desire for aesthetic beauty, as survival quickly trumps any desire to present or attend to myself. It’s not like eating sugar that rises up as a monster as the stress swells inside of me. Nor is at grand plan that I plot for world dominion: it’s small things. Different socks. A different watch. A different way to twist my hair.

And then I stomp it all down because I am busy and struggling and who has time for that and dammit. Usually not that last one, but sometimes that is the only word I can find for how I am feeling. What do you want me to do, skip breakfast so I can do my hair before work?

It also makes me feel angry and frustrated, because logically, philosophically, it shouldn’t matter. It’s what’s inside the body that matters, right? Only we are still in bodies. And I’m not quite sure what that means. Only that even for all of the trying to ignore it, it still matters. It does. There is something here that is meant to be valued, by me. And that takes effort and defiance and hope. And sometimes hope is what I feel like I have the least of.

Nobody can do this for me except me, but in order for me to do this, something would have to be sacrificed. But what? And why is this important enough that “practical” things ought be sacrificed for it? And what’s the end goal, because I want to know what the point is.

Right now, all of that is beyond just listening.

 

 

Becoming Music

There’s some kind of powerful magic in someone who knows how to use their voice like it’s an instrument — not beat-boxing or what have you, but the recognition that their own voice is a powerful, potent creator of music. With the really well trained individuals, I find it’s not just their voice. Their whole body knows music, and at least how to play an external instrument or 2 or 7.

This is not something that is bound my music genre, and I’ve very nearly (and may yet) buy albums of music of genres I don’t care for, lyrics that don’t speak to me, only just because I hear the exceptional control and wielding of music moving through a human body.

There is something very important here that I want. I don’t want to make light of the word “sacred,” but nor do I want to understate the importance I find here: it’s something deeper than aesthetic. It’s something deeper than just skill alone. It’s something that is not a Pinterest/Instagram style romanticisation of music and those who make it. My own inability to speak well in the language of music leaves me feeling — not uncultured, but rather childish and lacking understanding of basic truth.

I keep circling around my failings in this matter. Surely some people are gifted more than others. Or had more opportunity than others. But really where I keep landing is looking full in the face of my own inhibition. To music (which is not a verb, yet the only word I know to describe the action), one cannot remain cloaked, clothed, withdrawn. Those two things are completely at odds with one another. Music, from a place of inhibition and refusal to be vulnerable or truly share, is just noise.

And I cannot. I cannot put aside the self-consciousness, the awareness of self and other, long enough to move to the music, let the music in me, through me. I keep thinking if I could just — get better, I wouldn’t be self-conscious. Or if I could just work with the music alone long enough, then I wouldn’t care who else heard it.

If you look deeply into anyone who is serious about their art, you will always find it turns into a spiritual discussion. I don’t think it is really possible to separate art and spirituality. Not from the poets or the painters or the sculptors or musicians or anyone else. Nor is there any religion that I know of that does not make use of music. And my difficulties with music do not come to “I’m not smart enough” or “I don’t understand” or “there is no way to learn.” It comes down to an essential human problem: how do you be vulnerable, and not die?

Some of us come into the world naturally less inhibited. Some find the need the chemically loosen up. Some of us struggle with our inhibited nature, knowing that inhibition is not always a virtue, but unsure of how to bridge the gap. Yet how can one engage in truth, in comfort, in beauty from a place of deep inhibition?

It is essentially fear and pride that hold me back. There is no way to move deeper into music without also confronting fear and pride. I do feel that the phrase “spiritual practice” is over used and under understood. But one does have to understand the problem to move toward any solution. The problem I need to tackle is not one of having an ear that is not trained enough or a lack of practice. The problem I really need to tackle is that I recognize deep value in those who can avoid fighting being an instrument, but I am more concerned with my own protection, and I am too cowardly to move forward. Both humility and courage are needed, and I think that is a definition of grace, a definite quality of music.

Stars in the black, black night

I had a hard December, following a strong of hard months, years. I finally had a two day reprieve, and in the space I had to breathe, I said in my head,

“That was hard.”

And instantly was the response, one part words I have said over and over to my patients and all the parts from God,

“Yes. It was supposed to be hard. If it’s not hard, then you don’t get stronger; and then it is a waste of time.”

It gave me a little hope, a very little hope. That maybe it wasn’t for nothing, that maybe it would bear fruit, that maybe it wasn’t pointless suffering, that maybe there was a plan.

But in my two day reprieve, I also saw the thumb screws being tightened down on someone I care for, and to the best of my knowledge, has a ways to go before she has a reprieve. And I know of no way to help her.

And I am still left with that hole. What’s the point? What for? Why all the pain for no reason? People talk about alleviating the suffering of mankind, but the true suffering of mankind is the suffering that cannot be relieved.

It is technically and philosophically easy to say that suffering has a purpose. But when you are in suffering, it is far harder—in part because you don’t get the suffering and the fruit at the same time. When the fruit comes, even if it is sweet or sustaining, it comes long after the bitterness and pain. There’s no spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down; there’s just begging for mercy.

So what do you do when someone is begging for mercy beside you? The obvious answer is beg along side of them — for mercy for you both. But there is also a reason we all tend to ask for “practical implications.” There are lists out there for what to do when people are going through hard times. . .being there, “holding space,” offering practical solutions of what you could do to help, not avoiding conversations about the thing, etc. And sometimes those lists are helpful, and sometimes they just shine the light on the other problem: it hurts us to see others suffering, and we would like to know how to alleviate  our own distress. Sitting quietly with someone while they sob does very little to comfort us.

When you walk on the other side of the road, it is mostly to protect you from the mess of human suffering. It is easier to bless, be warm and filled, than to drink down suffering with others. Because sometimes, it’s not even about not wanting to “do” something about it, or physical risk or sacrifice. It’s the internal pain of confronting the fact there is un-savable pain and suffering in this world: it’s broken, it sucks, and there is nothing you can do to fix it. Looking away feels preferable.

The saving that we want is for more than just the current moment; we want the world to be fixed such that there is no longer meaningless, pointless, stupid suffering. Not just her. Her and her and him and everyone. But when God gives justice and judgement, He also gives grace and blessing. And though the world has been judged, and cries out for redemption, still He sends blessing: rain, sun, food. And, I hope I am not too rash in suggesting, His people to carry His light, and to serve as beacons for people to find, not the relief from the suffering they are currently in, but rather the suffering that is yet to come. Do not, He says, put your light under a basket, safe and protected and secure, but bring it out into the darkness.

The very reason that we most want to look away is the very reason we must move closer to suffering.

And the practical application of that, if I may, is that when we know why we must do what we must do, and who sends us to do it, we have greater courage and strength and comfort to carry out the hard and unpleasant tasks that need to be done. I am moving toward this person and this suffering, not because I have the answers, can fix things, know what I’m doing, am more capable than they are, or like suffering. But because God said, “You have My light, and I am sending you into this world, and you need to trust that I will have My light be seen in you. I’m at work and will be at work, and I told you that, so you need to believe it.”

I think I just said a lot of stupid words to a person I don’t think I can help, who has some heavy burden laid on her that she cannot/will not even explain. Her suffering is so palpable it makes my heart hurt, like a physical sensation inside of my chest, and there is nothing, nothing, nothing I can do. If my confidence is in me doing the right thing, this is a hopeless situation.

God have mercy; God stay true to Your promise to put Your light into Your people as You send them into the world, and let me be faithful to Your spirit. There is no hope unless You are the one at work; and let me find comfort in knowing Your work is being accomplished — in me, through me, beside me, around me, and toward the world. Bless us still.

What we don’t know that we know

Sometimes people surprise the truth out of me.

One time was when, as I was struggling a mystery illness and frustrated by the lack of answers, one of my professors turned around and asked me, “But what do you think? What do you think is at the root of it all?”

I blurted out an answer I had never thought of, never considered, never reasoned — and to this day I still think it’s best explanation for what I went through.

It happened again the other day, I think. A friend asked me, if I quit my current job, what would I do?

Without hesitation, I was shocked to hear myself say, “A sabbatical.”

I’d never considered that, on purpose and deliberately. But as soon as I heard myself saying it, I knew it was the truth. I don’t have a baby to rise up inside of me, but my heart did. Yes. Please, yes. It’s been about a decade of working hard and being broken and I just want to rest and I’m over-due. Isn’t it supposed to be every seven years?

What, I wonder, do most people think of when they hear sabbatical? It seems most people I hear use the term sabbatical in a more modern concept always seem to travel during their sabbatical. I would guess they feel the need to escape the places and people that come with an undercurrent of responsibility. For me, I want to get away from mankind and closer to God, and the best way I have found to do that is to get closer to God’s creation. Truly, closer.

Lay on the ground. Sleep in the sun and the dew. Get wet and cold. Eat food from the ground. Singing with your own voice.

Does that not sound entirely comfortable? I am not sure that a sabbatical is supposed to be entirely comfortable — perhaps a vacation is. But a sabbatical, I think, is supposed to be life giving. And while sleeping on the clay ground doesn’t sound comfortable, you would be surprised to know how my breathing deepens and slows just thinking about it. God, and His creation, runs at an entirely different frequency and rhythm than the rest of the world, and my aching soul cries out for it.

I don’t want to tell people how seriously I think about quitting my job. It feels like a failure. It feels like not trying hard enough. It feels like saying, “you all go on ahead being adults; I quit.” But also, not thinking about quitting just feels like an exercise in delusion and denial. But if I quit, what next?

If I let go of the taut reins of “realistic” and “responsible” and “feasible” and “reasonable” and listen to thing I can best call my heart’s cry, rapidly I am thinking about buying a plot of completely undeveloped land, and living on it. Something like 5 to 10 acres that haven’t been used in long enough that it is mostly woods, with some clearings, and obviously there is a fickle stream. Preferable said land butts up close to state land. I want to save lots of money and NOT spend it all on the land, because that’s probably the money I’ll be living on a for a while, and besides, you have to save money to drill a well at some point probably, but for now my mind is already tracing rabbit trails of what containers would do well for hauling and storing water, what kind of cooler chests would keep wild animals out, the reality that I would probably still have to have a phone of some sort, and could I squeeze out three seasons if I built the equivalent of a wooden tent?

Around this part, I start rebuking myself for romanticized pipe dreams that everyone has, and no one lives, because hello, there are serious flaws with these types of things. But I wonder — why does everyone have them, if not because the life around is killing us from the inside out and we all know it?

It’s not like I think I would live out there forever. It could always be the sabbatical land. The largely undeveloped (I still think a well would have to happen at some point) fleeing-place, the land of refuge when this broken and ill world wears me (or others) down to the point that withdrawal must happen. I figure after a year or two, I would get it out of my system for a while and make another attempt at re-entry into society. Not that I would never leave the sabbatical land — how else would I take voice lessons, and pottery lessons, and learn how to swim, and mushrooming lessons, and unload pictures off my camera, and get more milk because how is a person supposed to live without milk, and see my family and friends, and get more books from the library, and more canvas to paint? Maybe, if reality intruded too much, I could even do some per diem work on the side, just to keep my cursed world skills and connections from rusting too much. But after that, after resting and restoring and learning and creating and Not Trying, maybe after that I could work a part time job and try again to find a rhythm and a balance that I could sustain. Where I didn’t cry my way home, didn’t wake up praying that this was a weekend not a weekday.

I’ve analyzed the problem from every angle I can imagine, and the root cause I come up with is: me. I’m too introverted to make this current course ever be successful. I can get about half-way through the week, and then I am peopled out and faking it, and by Friday I am gritting my teeth and hating it, and then on the weekend I want to just huddle and hide and not see anyone, because how else will I regroup enough to face Monday?

I tell myself if I can just make it to three years, I will have more options, more flexibility, more ways I can approach life. But if I push myself to three years, there will be no option left but to rest and leach out the miserableness. Some days, many days, I don’t even know if I can last that long, only then I go look at the prices of land and scare myself silly, and wonder what land is really worth, and if I’m crazy or if this is really the way the compass is pointing. Sometimes I think there’s no other possible way, and stopping my ears up to it is the greatest foolishness.

But the joy I feel at the idea of sabbatical is not without sadness: I thought I could do this, and I can’t. I wanted a family of my own, and I don’t have it. How meaningful can this time be, if the relationships won’t be lasting and I’m just trying to grit my teeth and save up money? There is a sense of loss, of mourning, of failure, of not being good enough, of (paradoxically) being rejected, of not being able to join with others, of not meeting standards. I want to run away and hide, but I know that act itself is so radical that it will push me so far from the socially accepted bounds of inclusion that few people will be able to relate to me.  I don’t want to be isolated; but I do want to be alive. I’m not sure that I have the courage and fortitude necessary to make the scandalous choices that bring me closer to being alive.

All I can think is that maybe this will flame out after the winter. Maybe things will be more clear after the spring comes. But deep inside, I do know I already spoke the truth, and I am just scared to act on it.

Bodies

Bodies.

We have such trouble finding any peace in them, even though they are our only real homes while on this earth.

Mine has been giving me troubles for a few years now, long enough that I have discovered a distance between self and body that I didn’t really understand could exist, previously.

When you discover that your body is a “thing” itself, and is not actually your own Self, the next discovery is a temptation to change it. I don’t like this; this is not actually me; how can this be changed? And if you are distanced enough from yourself, you don’t think about changing yourself; you think about how you can change the organism that you are riding around it.

The benefit of being this detached in this way is that it allows for a small amount of objectivity rather than emotional fervor. Why do we have bodies, anyhow? What are they for? Why do we care what they are like? What’s the point? What do we even know about bodies, and how do we decide what is valuable about them?

I’m not normally a list-y kind of person, but I am finding sometimes it is useful to strip down to the bare essentials, no puns intended.

  1. God made these bodies, and He put us in them. I think this packs a whole lot that needs unpacking to really fully understand it, and could be picked apart for quite some time. Maybe a whole book.
  2. He did a bang-up job. We still don’t understand half the mysteries of the human body. What we do know is incredibly complex, highly attuned, and strikingly resilient. We take these features for granted almost every minute of every day.
  3. When we find ourselves lacking, we look for things to blame. I didn’t say this was a mature, healthy or godly practice. I just pointed out that we do, and it takes great awareness and concentration to turn from it. If there’s no one to blame but ourselves, often our bodies are the things getting the blame. Even if the thing we are resenting is lack of omnipotence, still, it’s our body’s fault for being limited and mortal. This makes me squirmy, because of how often I do this.
  4. God sees the inside. Human beings definitely see the outside. Often, the changes we want or the things we value have to do either with what we perceive, or (not to be too meta) what we perceive others will perceive. There’s a reason we talk about things like dressing for power, attraction or even “dressing to kill.” And this dressing extends even to our bodies. When the bodies are in disrepair, we feel closer to worthless. When our bodies are highly functioning, we feel the glory. We both perceive ourselves differently, and perceive that others relate to us differently as well.
  5. We don’t want to take responsibility for our bodies. When we say, “the body God gave me,” it’s usually a phrase of giving up or excusing. We tend to feel like our bodies owe us something instead of us being responsible to care for our bodies. The caregiving of our bodies is work, but we want our bodies to work for us, not the other way around. But, if you circle back to Thing Number One, God made these bodies and put us in them. That doesn’t belay encouragement for letting the temple crumble and paying no mind to the landscaping.
  6. Our bodies are formed by the lives we live. You don’t get a 20 year old’s body when you are 80 for a reason. Our bodies are shaped not only by physical injuries, but also by the griefs, joys, labors, priorities and the people in our lives. You can’t divorce your body from your life, and trying to causes a lot of strange things. Like fad diets trying to undo the damage high stress, mish-mashed priorities, and binge eating to put a little salve on grief. The life and the body go together (see again Point One), and what happens with one affects the other.
  7. Damage is fast. Healing takes so much time, and an incredible amount of energy. When we finally concede to admit our body is broken, we want it fixed Now. We have little patience for healing. There is so much beautiful grace in how our bodies were made to heal (see: List Item Two), but we don’t want to accept either how long it takes (current estimations are at least 3 times as long as you were dysfunctional) or how excessively much energy it takes. Instead of marveling at the grace, we often stew in potent (impotent?) impatience. Though our bodies are blessed with grace, we don’t accept it, because it’s not in the form we wanted it in. Narrow-minded, much?
  8. You don’t get to chose. Despite what a lot of catch-phrases would have you to believe, you don’t get to chose. Only God does. Once you see enough freak accidents, enough un-diagnosable illnesses, enough obscure genetic malformations — gradually you have to come to terms with the fact that you don’t get to chose all that happens to your body. The body (see again: There’s a Reason I Put It on the Top of the List) is a sacrifice to God. Not to you.
  9. It will pass. Although God did put us in these bodies, the bodies were cursed and this isn’t a permanent state. It will take constant care to keep the bodies from composting, and regardless of effort: it will eventually pass. Often times people will say that they’re not afraid of dying, but what they really mean is that they aren’t afraid of death. The process of the body failing, falling apart, and kicking you out can be quite excruciating. When people say that they don’t like being old, what they really mean is they don’t like their body failing. As with all of our existence here, there is the tension of holding loosely. Yes, taking care of it, owning it, living in it . . . but also being aware that that you will need to give it up. No amount of effort will keep you young or immortal.
  10. There is no winning. I feel as though this is mostly a re-cap of all the previous statements, so I suppose it is good as an end-cap: There are some deep seated inclinations that if we work hard enough at trying to fix the organism, we win. We feel better, we have more power, we’re in control, we met our goals, we’ll be able to keep it that way, we’ll be able to do what we want, our bodies will behave, we can stop trying so much. Not only is none of that true, none of that is the point. When our thinking is sliding toward winning, we’ve lost sight of the First Thing on the List. What is the point of having a body? Circle back to Thing One, and realize how much thinking you have to do on that first point alone.

 

Last night it was a full moon; as far as my minimal poking around can tell, it was the Moon of Get Ready, Winter is Coming, by various names. In the winter, after the holidays, with the the new year . . . many of us are thinking about our bodies, how well they are functioning or not functioning, what they are looking like or not looking like. I think it’s good to go into that with perspective — not dour depression and hopelessness and not saccharine platitudes and unrealistic expectations; rather, a complete reframing of the matter at hand.

Why?

Defined by whom for what?

Enneagram.

So popular, so famous, so trendy, and, so far, the most complex and therefore accurate personality test I’ve stumbled over.

For me, the use of these are very limited and often result in little more than ego stroking or justification of one’s reactions to unpleasant stimuli. Somehow, I can’t resist taking them, always wondering how people see me, I guess, a preoccupation I’ve had for too long and still can’t let go of. Yet I rarely remember the results, because it doesn’t challenge my understanding of myself or how I should approach my life. Accordingly, I can’t really tell you if I consistently get the same results, even if I’ve taken the same test many times throughout the years.

Today I stumbled on my Enneagram results, because although of all the Types, Type 4 did not seem too off base, I resented what was described as their fundamental struggle — their basic fear or basic desire: That they have no identity. Worse than that, they basically said that the fact that Fours are swamped in too many shifting emotions is the root of what leads them to feel as though they have no stable identity.

I don’t want this to be true of me. But I think that it does ring true. This means that I have to grapple with it, the first time I think a personality test has actually done that for me.

I’ve long wondered whether  I was just a product of my environment, or if I were actually a stable entity of my own. I wish I felt like I had my own defined sense of style, my own home environment. In “real life” I am too busy keeping my head above the water, and those things don’t come together, but I always want them to. I have wanted to have a well defined role, except that I hate being defined as one thing, and I am much more complex than that. One of my biggest stumbling blocks is that it seems like there is no direction to my life, no arcing story line, no actual cohesion. In fiction, everything is so much more neat, or so it seems to me, since I don’t understand the context in which the Author is writing.

The thing is, I don’t think it’s healthy to spend your life looking for “an identity.” That’ s not what I think life is “supposed” to be about. Don’t judge yourself, they say. Accept yourself as you really are. The problem is, when all you see is fractured tiny pieces of nonsense, and no idea how any of the pieces go together, well, nothing is big enough to hold on to long enough to accept. That’s how it feels, anyhow.

Do I think that getting good at something would give me peace? No. Or a relationship, or a home, or defined sense of style? No, of course not. But do I envy the people who seem to have a strong arc, a strong sense of who they are, what they want, and the path that they are on? Yeah, I do. Well, would you like a different set of life problems? As we say in health care, would you like to die of cancer, dementia, or frailty and falls? No one ever said it was going to be pretty.

And I can’t escape the dogging feeling of needing permission to do what I need to do. What I most want permission for is permission to be weak. To stop trying to force myself to be responsible, dutiful, reasonable and hard working. To stop trying to go along with society’s expectations. And yet one of the things I most resent is when it seems like my identity is slipping into that of Invalid.

So what do I do? I read the blog of Christian woman with bi-polar disease, and I marvel at how much of it seems to apply to me. Not the symptom descriptions; the coping with life descriptions. The “actually, I can’t work full time, I am an artist, and it’s ok to go to bed early.”

It’s hard for me to say, “I can’t help you today, I don’t feel well.” But I don’t feel well. But couldmake myself do it? I mean, I could. I’m not dead yet. I have several people in my life who view not “making yourself” as laziness, as lack of commitment, as being weak, of having no discipline, not sticking to things.  So I want someone to say, you don’t look like you feel well. Because apparently I want someone to validate how I feel or otherwise it’s not the truth? But otherwise I’m fighting this guilt that I’m giving up too easily, have no will power or perseverance, no grit. This was not how the war was won.

I guess I am trying to shift my mindset to what I have experienced to be true, but it takes energy to fight all the voices (people, society, habits, previously held stances) that scorn that mindset. It’s hard to leave things behind.

But if my life is a novel. . .I’m beginning to suspect that I’m not the Heroine. Or that I have to learn how to write a different kind of Heroine. Because I’m not strong. I’m tired. I’m not the center of the story; I want to hide and to heal. I don’t make the world go round; I struggle to get through each normal boring day. I’m not leading anyone anywhere doing anything, although sometimes I remember to put tremendous effort into small actions to Not Be Part of the Problem.

“Not Quitting” is offered up as the gold standard; but maybe yeah, do quit? Not life. But maybe what life is described as. Where do we get this stuff from, and why do we believe it? I understand why some people want to take the path of minimalism and strip everything right down and see what still holds. So much garbage and so hard to see what is real hard truth buried in it all. We’re all dying, in that none of us live forever, but that’s not as clarifying as one would think it would be. Maybe, for some of us, quitting certain things takes more courage and bravery than Keep Going.

If none of this makes much sense to you, that’s ok. It’s the muddled meanderings of someone feeling feverish and sick, but not so feverish and sick that she can’t make herself go to work tomorrow. Not all introspection is either healthy or conclusive.