How do you tell the story?

I am rather proud.

I hate limitations.

I carry around the burden of guilt.

I can be condescending. You don’t have to be perfect, but I am better than that, so I have to keep trying.

What is curious to me is how infrequently I notice these things about myself. Somehow, the PROBLEM is that I likely have a stress fracture in my foot, may have a vitamin D deficiency, am probably fighting off some sort of virus, and no matter how you cut it I need rest. I don’t see the PROBLEM in being that I have trouble admitting that I can’t just declare a list of things to do, and therefore accomplish it. I don’t see the PROBLEM in being that I feel guilty to rest, especially when “work” remains undone. I don’t see the PROBLEM in that I want to dot every “i” and cross every “t” in my schoolwork, even while I counsel other people that they shouldn’t be so hard on themselves.

I was thinking about it today, because today was a failure. I got up–well, sort of. I woke up miserable and not wanting to engage the world and feeling sickish and cold. So instead of eating my healthy, righteous oatmeal that I normally eat 5 days a week, I “bribed myself into existence” with candy-cereal. Today, I was supposed to finish a mid-term project, spear-head our team project, post to discussions, do chemistry homework, and do lots of assigned reading. Plus sweep the floor, and make bread.

Well, I made an attempt at the chemistry. I stared stupidly at review material, like it was written in ancient Greek with Egyptian hieroglyphics. I did not make it very far. I gave up on school work. I tried to clean my room, and got as far as dusting a book case. I attempted to work on music practice, but even the easy songs I had memorized didn’t seem to work. I attempted to make myself lunch. I stared at computer screen for a while, trying to think coherently about seeds for a garden.

I finally–finally!–“gave up.” I went upstairs to my bed, convinced our introverted cat she wanted to snuggle with me, and spent several hours in bed under the covers with a warm cat and a book that was totally unrelated to school work. And I said to myself, “Oh, well, today is a wash. Hopefully tomorrow will be better. I will be full of energy and my mind will be clear. And maybe my foot won’t hurt so much.”

But what made the day “fail”? My desire to be in control and all powerful and perfect, mostly and only. I didn’t get to do what I thought I was going to do. I didn’t get to be impervious to weakness. I had limitations I couldn’t push through. And I felt guilty that I couldn’t rise above it all–and do what I wanted to accomplish, and stop being mopey about a hurting foot, and never feel like my brain was full of static.

I defined my success wrong, and I defined my problems wrong, and I defined my day wrong.

Today I ate sweet chocolate-peanut butter breakfast. It was yummy. I sang a few songs in a way I never would have been able to a year ago before singing lessons. I looked at beautiful pictures of flowers, especially sweet peas. I snuggled for hours with a cat, who clearly has no guilt about resting, and wondered about cats and humans and God. I read a book that put a smile on my lips instead of a furrow in my brow. I was able to rest my foot, and consider about how resistant I am to resting that maybe God sent a broken bone to me to remind me to stop trying. And then I ate an awesome supper, surrounded by more people who love me fiercely than many people ever know in their whole lives.

I think maybe today wasn’t a wash. I think maybe today was a gift. I think maybe I should stop trying to value days by measuring what I “accomplished” in them, and I should start looking at two see the little presents snuggled in the corners.

It’s tempting to say, “It’s not like laying in bed with a cat and a book are more important than school work!” But who says? Do you know how life draining I have been finding my school work? And how reviving the cat and the book were? Maybe the point really is that I am much more valuable than what I “accomplish”. And maybe it doesn’t matter what I think is more valuable; maybe God is just plain old right in His assertion that the cat and blankets and book and rest were, truly, much more valuable than a doomed school team project, regardless of what I say. Maybe I need to stop pursuing telling God what is or was supposed to happen, and¬† start valuing the things He says are supposed to happen. Like an un-snuggly cat snuggling for hours. Isn’t that a minor miracle right there?

And also like feet that hurt. I’m still not sure how to accept this as a gift, or accept it graciously, or plain old accept it. I want to fight it, throw it off by my own power. I don’t understand the reason why I’m limping, and I want it to STOP. But it was given to me. And I’m pretty sure it will be there tomorrow. What do broken feet say?

What do sleeping cats say?

What does chocolate peanut butter cereal say?

And what will waking up tomorrow at 6am say?

I am certain there are things being said. I just think I’m talking past God, the way some of my classmates tell me they agree with me and then in the same post state the exact opposite of what I just said. We’re both there, but the communication thing is not happening. I need help hearing; receiving; accepting; valuing; believing. There is more going on than I am aware of, and only sometimes do I glimpse that.

Advertisements

The Lady in the Mirror is NOT Lovely Tonight.

A while back I wrote about how sometimes I catch a glimpse of myself, and I startle myself by the thought that there’s some beauty about me. I wrote even then that I was writing about it because it was noteworthy, not because the Lady in the Mirror is always so gracious. Well, tonight I’m writing about the more common occurrence–those days that seem to stretch on, end-to-end-to-end, where you catch a glance of yourself, and all you can really do is wonder if there is even one redeemable shred of prettiness anywhere at all on the other side of the mirror.

Talk is cheap, and we all know that. We are inherently suspicious of peoples’ comments about our appearance, because they’re only being nice. Polite. It’s not that we expect people to literally turn away from us in revulsion, but we secretly suspect that, in their own minds where no one can hear them, their evaluation of our beauty is really, “Meh.”

“Meh,” is a terrible and and wonderful word. It’s wonderful, because it captures so many emotions in just three letters, and yet horrible in it’s terrible devastation. It’s the complete dismissal of being unworthy of comment. How was your lunch? “Meh.” Not even worth talking about, people. How’s that boyfriend working out? “Meh.” You don’t even care enough to get upset. There is utterly no hope. How’s the job? “Meh.” You go into work disengaged everyday, and you come home disengaged everyday. It’s a void of existence in your day.

We would almost just rather our specific crimes be listed, so we could weigh things out. You have pretty eyes, but your nose is a little odd. We could chose to hold on to the pretty eyes; but the “meh” takes it all in and swallows it. Polite people say you have pretty eyes (and don’t mention your nose), and the etiquette of the saying hangs in the air, and you leave it all behind. It means about as much as “meh.”

So we find ourselves in front of the mirror, giving ourselves side-long glances, or perhaps frank head-on appraisals. What’s there, on the other side of the mirror? Anything worth while? Anything to be valued?

And we all know those phrases. . .”It’s who you are, not what you look like!” Blah blah blah. You’re comparing apples to oranges. I’m not comparing who I’m like to who other people are like. These are two totally different things, and right now I’m considering what I look like! So stop changing the subject.

A lot of people start immediately blaming the media, and I don’t mean it doesn’t play a role. Of course it does. So does society. But I do believe that if we were all alone, and always had been, we would still have an idea of beauty and we would still be trying to measure ourselves against it. I think it’s part and parcel of being made in the image of God, and yet falling short of it.

And what I really don’t think is that this topic should be avoided or taboo. As soon as we get started talking about beauty, everyone jumps on “but that doesn’t really matter!” Well, maybe it does matter–not as much as some other things, sure. But when the conversation is shut down, it means we keep our private fears just that–private. We struggle with it alone, instead of talking about it.

Do we have to be beautiful? No, we don’t. We can live without being beautiful. But why is it such a universal experience to desire to be beautiful, and what are we to do with that desire? Squash it? Cater to it? Veneer it with religiosity? I’m not saying that I have all the answers; I’m saying that these are valid questions that deserve to be considered.

The Lady in the Mirror does not look pretty tonight. Does this just mean that I’m looking for affirmation and affection? Or does it really mean just what I said–she doesn’t look pretty, and this is about nothing more than a yearning for beauty, aside from any other thing. Don’t you think there is a yearning inside of every person for beauty, in one form or another? A yearning to be a part of that beauty?

Beauty is hard to define, though. We might want “it” but what is “it”? Sometimes we go looking for “it” in pictures and people and ideas, trying to wrap some words around it. It never does quite satisfy, though, does it? And even when we see it, and say, “Oh, beauty!” –we’re still left with that hole inside of us, because we can’t change the Lady in the Mirror. Not really.

I sometimes wonder why we’re allowed to yearn for things that we can’t have. If we can’t have them, why can’t we have our desire for them removed? Why can’t we “squash out” our insatiable longings? And if we have to live with them, how are we supposed to do that? How do we walk, side by side, with wanting the things we can never have or be?

I don’t really think the answer is to be satisfied with what you have. And I don’t think it’s to give up on your longings, or pretend they aren’t there. There is something that runs deeper and wider and richer than all of those longings put together that is very important and worthwhile. . .but we tend to only hear the harmony notes, not the fundamental one. But getting rid of the harmony notes is just a way of destroying the notes that help us find the fundamental one.

What is beauty and why do you want it? Those are good questions. And the longing you feel when you look in the mirror is valuable, too. It’s just not very obvious what it really means–an echo of something even more true.

I saw a sign.

I saw a sign that said, “Enjoy freedom.”

I think it was on a Veteran Memorial sign, but it really caught me upside the face.

Do we have freedom? Yes, in so many different ways, we have a lot of freedom. Do we enjoy it? In so many different ways, it seems like we’re kind of indifferent to it. We don’t savor it. We don’t delight in it. We just kind of vaguely know that it’s there and get on with our lives, as though this is the way it’s always been, and this is the way it will always be–sort of like the weather.

This can be brought to mind my so many things. . .watching a movie set in the French revolution. . .reading the news about Ukraine. . .maybe other things first come to your mind.

I also thought of it in relation to my last post. God offers the ability to rest, but how often do we accept it? We have the freedom to be at peace, and yet we pre-occupy ourselves with worries and anxieties. We have many good things available to us, but how often do we enjoy them?

They say, “You never know how good you’ve got it, until you don’t.” I think that could be true, but I don’t think it has to be true. We can turn our eyes to the things we take for granted. Like the weather. And freedom. And grace. But maybe sometimes we have to be reminded to do that, to turn our eyes.

Remember:

  • Stop trying. Any thought I have to myself that starts with “I’ve tried” or “I’m trying” or any day where my goal is to “try”–well, for me anyway, it needs to stop. Stop trying, stop thinking it depends on me, stop wearing myself out on what I can’t do anyway. “Try” needs to be replaced with “rest,” with “trust,” with riding along with what God is already doing, not trying to haul God along. Trying is exhausting, and accomplishes nothing. Go with it.
  • That doesn’t matter. There is so much that doesn’t matter. Money. To-do lists. Being right. Having it figured out. Usually, I’m anxious about stuff that matters. There’s not so very often in my life (thank God!) where I really am worried about matters of life and death, about real pain and suffering, or about rending spiritual questions. I’m mostly worried about stuff that doesn’t matter.
  • Let go. Most of the time, it isn’t burdens placed on me. It’s stuff I’ve picked up on my own accord, that I don’t need; I need to learn to let it go. Expectations. Standards. Goals. Figuring it out. It’s not important to hold on to it; it’s important to let go of it.
  • It might not be as bad as you think it is. Yes, really. I don’t think God decides to check out while I’m in the middle of studying for school; I think I stop looking for Him. I wonder sometimes why that is. I think maybe I call some things pointless more because I’m not really looking for the point. I just don’t like something and complain about it, without ever even trying to find a point or trying to find God in it.
  • “What if’s” go in two directions. “What if everything goes wrong?” is a valid question; but so is “What if everything goes right?” Neither one is really all that likely; usually some things go wrong and some things go right. I do pretty good at giving the “what if things go wrong?” question a work out, but I’m pretty lousy about evening out that equation.
  • Be thankful for specific things. This is hard to practice, but can be surprisingly eye-opening. I read somewhere, can’t remember where now, about the idea that when we give thanks for our food, it often seems like it’s not important enough and so we start throwing a bunch of other stuff into the prayer just to kind of beef it out–as though being thankful for food wasn’t enough. I’ve started considering actually ingredients, which seems really silly–but has also really humbled me. We had tomatoes for supper. Real, true tomatoes, not processed in anyway–in the middle of January. Is this not a miracle? Is this not special? Huh. The things I’ve taken for granted.
  • All you have is now. All you need is now. How I worry over the tomorrows! Right here, right now–what is needed? Not much. I wish worrying was productive, because I do so stinkin’ much of it, I would be a whirl-wind of efficiency if it actually accomplished something. Strangely, it doesn’t.
  • He is here. I’m the one who’s loud and whiny like a two year old, not Him; so I’m usually the one making more noise. That doesn’t mean He isn’t there. Sometimes it just means I need to stop paying attention to me, and start paying attention to Him.
  • Respect what has been given to you. Like your body: there’s nothings stupid about things like taking care of my body–by resting, by doing nothing, by eating right, by trying out that oatmeal face mask. Same thing with skills and interests: they’ve been given to me. They’re a gift. I need to learn to respect and value that, not take it for granted or devalue it.
  • He gives: you have to receive. I have been thinking about this a lot. If I’m worrying about something, I’m essentially declining the gift of peace. He’s taken care of everything. If I accept that as true, I can have the peace He offers. When I worry, it’s because I’m not accepting what He’s extending–the assurance that it doesn’t depend on me. Focusing on what I’m holding onto in my hands keeps me from looking at what He’s holding out for me.
  • Rest is sacred. God started that, not me. Right from the very, very beginning. I often feel guilty for resting, and I don’t know why. It just feels like there’s so much to do, and if I was a good person, I’d be doing it! But I think I have to learn that God is happier when I rest, and let everything else fall to the wayside. Rest is more important.
  • If God is happy, why aren’t you? I often times get unhappy about how things are going, or how I perceive things to be going, or the things that make me anxious. . .but I usually get the feeling God isn’t the slightest bit upset. If He isn’t, why am I? Instead of trying to convince God there’s a good reason to Not Be Happy, maybe I should be trying to take His lead, and be happy. Maybe He has a better idea of how the cards are going to play out–that sneaky insider knowledge can make all the difference!

Also, I’m sure, many other things. But these are some things that I think I need help remembering, and sometimes writing things down helps me to remember them better.

Appropriate to what?

I had an academic interview  today.

I got as dressed up as I can, which is not much, and showed up.

All the other girls were so much more classy and sharp and professional in their appearance as I was.

Yet, to the best of my knowledge and observation, I was more confident, more enthusiastic, more able to present myself and my thoughts, and more passionate and committed to the field we were trying to study.

Always, always, always, this sticks in my craw and makes me think. Okay, so I wasn’t wearing some super-crisp jacket and quintessential pearls. So, sue me. Does it really matter?

People keep telling me over and over again that it really does. That first impressions are so important. That it reflects your professionalism.

Yes, I was neat. Yes, I was put together. No, I did not have a high-sheen polish. I was me, okay? Not a thin veneer plied on over who-knows-what. I was just me. I told them about the good and about the bad. I asked questions. I wore sensible, comfortable shoes, and I had cold hands.

I stand on this awkward place between two views: On one hand, I consider how one dresses to be almost an art form, or a communication form. You can tell people a lot by what you wear. On the other hand, I’m really mad that anyone would care more what my shoes looked like than how I looked them in the eye and answered their question.

Perhaps I’m not really so divided, after all. Perhaps what I do hold to first impressions, and I just want my first impressions to be truthful, not over done. The dozen of us were a wash of black and grey, except me. I wore green. Most girls wore tasteful, professional jewelery. I think my necklace probably was, but I know I was the only one who made hers the day before, because it amused her and it went with her outfit.

I want to be valued for who I am, and part of who I am is how I dress. I don’t want to leave you thinking, “My, what a sharp suit.” I want to leave you thinking, “My, she was engaging and passionate, and had some really good thoughts.” If all you remember is my clothes, than I’ve done a poor job dressing. What? you say. Doesn’t that mean you’ve dressed very well? No, because the point of clothes is to showcase the wearer. If the wearer is simply showcasing the clothes, than the cloths have failed–or rather, betrayed you. They stole the show and left you behind.

Did I dress appropriately? I suppose important experts could argue over it. But is that a relevant question? Did I do well at presenting myself to those that were interviewing me? I believe I did. Me, myself and I. You rather wish you were there to see it, don’t you? You’ve seen enough suits and pearls, and you know what they look like. . .

Ladies and Gentlemen. . .

. . .if you are to trade night’s worth of sleep for a night’s worth of introspection and half-formed dreams that tell you more than you really think maybe you were ready to know about yourself–well. Maybe it will be a productive night, but you won’t get much rest.

Goodnight, my imaginary friends. I’m going to try the whole “sleeping” thing again, and see if maybe tonight I have more luck or at least slightly less nocturnal elucidation.

Sincerely,

Me.

Just and Limitations

I subscribed to Emily Freeman’s newsletter, and as a result I got a PDF file of a “weekly guide” to A Million Little Ways. I’m trying not to read it all at once, because I find that I am having trouble remembering. I read something all at once, and then it’s drowned in the day to day life and only little crumbles remain. Still, I read day 1 and 2, both simply reminders of what was in the book: don’t Just, and don’t be afraid of limits, which serve to make you more creative and aware of God.

I Just all the time. I’m Just doing school. It’s Just physics. I Just did chores. I Just visited friends. I Just rested. I Just took a bath. I devalue everything I do with the Just–even when I don’t say the Just, I’m thinking it. And even when I stop saying the words, I have a hard time changing my attitude. I did Just do school today. Online school, at that. I struggle to see any kind of value in it, or to see anyway I might have had an effect on others, or even learned anything myself. In my mind, it has Waste Of Time stamped on it.

But yet I equally believe that God called me to it, and I have a lot of difficulty in squaring the two. I guess the idea is that I need practice seeing God at work. Even in the thing I call Just School.

The other idea is the limitations one. I’m all set to agree with this one, until she says stuff like failure, fatigue, grief and burnout can also be those limits we can accept as gifts. I’m NOT ready to accept that one. But she says limits help us draw lines, and limits help remind us to be human. In my mind, limits are something to overcome. But there is something kind of haunting in the suggestion that God speaks to us through limits. That not only can I NOT do it all, but that I shouldn’t be trying or valuing doing it all. That there is a value in refusing to try to do it all.

There is a part of me that feels like a failure for not being able to do it all–and do it all in a graceful, unstressed manner. There is another part of me that is desperate to be told that not only is it “okay” to not do it all, but that it is right, and good, and better, and true to not do it all. I’m scared to hope that it might be okay to not do it all, because what happens if I find out later that I’m wrong? If I find out I really failed by not even trying any more?

I want to rest, and I want to believe that God wants me to rest; I’m secretly afraid He’s going to be mad at me for slacking. What if He sent the limits? I am sure that He did. I am not sure how to hear Him.

Gloves that don’t fit hinder you more than you know

Clothes that fit make you feel beautiful.

I think it’s because of the psychological boost that comes from meeting the implied standard: you are exactly as beautiful as this piece of clothing had hoped. YESS!!! It sounds silly, but really, I bet everyone would feel more beautiful and happy in clothes that fit.

Also? If you dress glamorously, the task you’re doing feels glamorous. I know everyone says “dress nice for yourself!” More practically, though, no one tells you to get dressed up to put away laundry in your own bedroom. Try it. Seriously! I have been breaking in some heels by wearing them when I do laundry, and suddenly laundry no longer seems mundane.

I am not really a glamor girl, but I do not care for the slovenly way I’ve been dressing. The sad thing is, I know why I dress the way that I do. It’s hard to dress glamorously when you’re living a slovenly way. I don’t dress nice, because I don’t have a nice desk to sit down at. I sit cross-legged in an easy chair, and balance my laptop between my knees. Doing that in a skirt? Not cool.

Since one of my goals for this year was to stop dressing so slovenly, I’m trying to figure out what stand in my way. A person will always take the path of least resistance; so the the most obvious thing is to get rid of the resistance so you fall the way you want to go anyway.

Part of it is restocking my closet. Part of it is making sure what is in there is both comfortable and interesting. But along that same vein, part of it is trying to figure out how to do what I’m already doing, better. Maybe the problem isn’t that the process isn’t elegant (laundry); maybe the problem is I need to change the process. Because who’s in charge, here? Are you living life, or is life living you?

Sometimes it is a question of the chicken and the egg. Try wearing a dress (I wore one my grandmother gave me from when she was a young woman–cotton, but classy!) and heels while doing the dishes, and watch your motions change. Or–concentrate on your posture, and see how your attitude changes. Or–give up on life, and watch your appearance go totally to crap.

The interesting thing to me is that these things are all inter-related. One does affect the other. You might not have control over one, but you might be able to use something else to “hack in” or “use the back door” and influence the other aspects. I could never try to tell you that if you dress well, your life will suddenly start to make sense. But I can tell you that dressing poorly certainly won’t make anything better either.

How much of a difference would it make? I don’t know; but I’d guess it depends on how consistent you were about it. Our surroundings influence us subtly, and we often don’t realize what a difference they’re making on us until we move into better situations.

Put on the dress fits, and see what a difference it makes!

 

 

I’ve still got it

My younger siblings are now well beyond the toddler range, and I have no children of my own. Somehow, several of my friends have acquired children before me. When I’m around them, I discover that I have latent kid-skills that I never quite realized I was developing–sixths senses for kids falling, climbing, or spilling; translating abilities; reflexive face cleanings, shoe-tyings, and drink-pourings. . .and the ability to scare the bejeepers out of them. (Not really. But how to say a ‘no’ that works.)

One toddler was attempting to eat batteries, and my friend requested that at the next attempt someone besides herself to interject a severe warning. I complied; in a voice I’d forgotten I’d cultivated–deep, clear, firm, severe– I said, “Hey! No!” She jerked back from the batteries, startled and alarmed, and backed up till she was closer to me. She didn’t touch them again.

It happened again today. A different toddler was pouting that he couldn’t eat fist fulls of cookies, and made to shove his real lunch on the floor. Caught in the habit of helping three different other children at once, and seeing the precarious plate of food, I again declared, “Hey! No!” He, too, startled and backed up toward me, plate still full of food.

These are the things that I don’t know you teach or how you learn. How do you tell someone how to cultivate a simple tone of voice that gets results–one that stops the offending behavior without alienating the child? I don’t know how I did. I remember it working for me for years, and never much thinking of it. I’ve clearly rediscovered that I’ve still got it. I’ve never had a child I told “no!” not want to come and snuggle in my lap, and I’ve rarely had to say “no!” to toddlers more than once on the same activity.

So apparently I’ve got skillz. And yet so few opportunities to use them. There are days that seems more than a little unfair. . .but I am learning new skills every day, even when I don’t realize it. Some day, I’m going to wake up and be surprised by that, too.

Roll with it

I think this year I am going to have to learn–or continue to learn–or learn better–about “rolling with it.” Not “frantically trying to keep up.” Not “doing what I have to do.” Not “letting the day live me.” Rolling with it.

Today was the first day of online classes, and hypothetically, I was going to get up early and pound out a lot of work. Because the idea is to get so far ahead in my online classes that once I’m doing that by the time all of my classes start, I won’t be rushing around and stressing.

Instead, I was still out of sorts from a giant move-your-grandparents operation over the weekend, and instead of dutifully doing homework all afternoon, I spent it tearing through my grandparents garage being nagged and guilted and complained at by my grandfather with Alzhiemer’s who kept insisting it didn’t matter if I didn’t find his medication, he just needed his computers.

So my plans for the day failed. By extension, I feel like I’ve failed the whole semester, and possibly ruined and future education plans. Yes, I am very tired.

But I also realize that I didn’t fail. I didn’t ruin. What is life, if it’s not giving yourself a tension headache while caring for your grandparents? And did I not just resolve that I was going to learn how to rest and take care of myself? Why shouldn’t I be tired after a marathon moving weekend?

Grandma and Grandpa are now 10 minutes away, practically neighbors. They will be wildly unpredictable in their need for help. I won’t have control–through this semester, through these wild, crazy changes I hope will take place over the summer. What can I do but enjoy the ride?

That sounds like fun, but it doesn’t come naturally. It doesn’t come naturally to let go. It doesn’t feel natural to laugh through the pain. The tension headache is normal. . .expected. Rolling with it. . .the good intentions are gone in five minutes. What’s the point?

The point is, God loves me, and pours out His love through me, and that is what I need to not lose sight of. Not even with nagging, mentally ill grandparents. Not even with headaches and ruined plans. He goes before me. . .He comes behind me. . .He’s all around me. Open my eyes, that I may see. . .