Flannel

The flannel is

the closest

thing to comfort me

still me and

hold me

gently.

The flannel only

knows me

the measured breath

the covered breast

the fears and

the dreams

are kept.

The flannel has

room for

more than just me;

no jealous lover

yet exists

for me.

The flannel wants

not part of

me, my life or being.

If I come

or go

still

the flannel is.

(9/16, rough draft only, without revision)

Trust and obey

So often I only seem to manage to write here when I am stuck in an ugly place, and that makes it all the more refreshing to be able to write, occasionally, from places of noteworthy peace. Not, mind you, noteworthy energy or noteworthy answers, or noteworthy understanding. Just peace.

This is not a peace that comes from knowledge. I mean, my peace is “God has a plan.” But I’ve heard that and “known” the unceasingly. Sometimes, what we know becomes in a more full sense for us Truth: in the words of Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”

Since there is no new knowledge, it seems at times hard to describe to anyone else the kind of change that takes place. There was no sudden revelation or clear words from heaven. If I could partially attribute it to anything, I would attribute it in part to finally having a chance to digest some of the most difficult and unpredictable things I’ve ever gone through. Note that I did not say “going through those things”; I said digesting having gone through those things. There was very little peace in the midst of them, or even right after them.

In the space of one night, I went from my body functioning, to my body and my mind not functioning at all. When you cannot even depend on the body that houses you, so many kinds of uncertainty open up. This lasted months upon unending months. In one year, my health dipped drastically lower than it ever has, improved to higher heights than I can remember in decades, and finished the roller coaster by dropping once again. I am in the process of spending the better part of a year being essentially homeless, and driving north and south and east and west across this country, big enough to span many countries. In this rotation alone, there’s been more nights than I can count where I literally did not know where I was going to be sleeping that night.

I have said it before, but one seems to have to continuously re-learn: Sometimes having utterly all control stripped away from you leads to a greater peace when you finally have no choice, no option, no power or ability or determination to do anything other than trust.

And sometimes you don’t or can’t, and you just slog through weeks and months of misery. There’s that, too.

That’s why I feel like digesting all the hardness and uncertainty is only part of it. The other part — again, we are not discussing new knowledge, so my apologies if you were hoping for a revelation to change your life — is the growing conviction that God loves me. That God likes me. That He’s not arbitrary and distant. That He has plans for me — GOOD plans, not cold, calculating, take-your-medicine-and-stop-whining plans.

I can’t for the life of me tell you how or when that happened. Except, obviously, sometime between now and the last time I wrote. Again, no grand revelations. Just a quiet coming along side, you and Me — we’re in this together. He goes ahead to prepare. And it’s going to be okay. It’s going to be more than okay; it’s going to be good. I don’t know how or what or why or when. I just know it has to be good. Because He is good, and He is in control, and I have heard that all a million times before and sometimes it just turns into Real. My Lord and my God.

 

If I was a good writer, I would stop right there. Many a good work has been painfully burdened with an uncalled for epilogue that doesn’t display any trust in the reader. Even knowing that, I feel compelled to point out that “my Lord and My God” is what Thomas said after God rubbed his face in the fact that that he was not believing the things he needed to be believing. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much Job in a nutshell, too.

It continues to fascinate me how it is so much easier for us to believe the things that terrify us rather than the things that will comfort and encourage and strengthen us. Perhaps, for some select few, hope comes easy; but for most of us, it seems, it takes a good deal of audacity to hope. (This concept did not, incidentally, begin with a certain senators book; I dare say it’s been around a good long time, but you might enjoy reading this: http://www.theatlantic.com/daily-dish/archive/2008/03/for-the-record/218866/ ) I think that everyone can interpret the use of that word – audacity – a little differently. For me, it is the idea of, “Who am I, that I should expect any good?”

Again, maybe not everyone struggles with that particular aspect. But while it is more frequent a topic to discuss “hidden sins,” most people don’t even seem to acknowledge another fault: hidden dreams. On first scan, it seems unnecessary to call it a fault. Wanting good things, verifiability good things, and not making a fuss out of it, hardly seems like something to complain about. But the problem, I have discovered (and to me, this part is new knowledge) is the “hidden” part. Because hiding implies that it isn’t safe or can’t be trusted. To “hide good things” is to in a way act as though one cannot be trusted with good things, or with us, or with our delicate hearts. Rather than dare to tell Him, “God, this is really what I want from the future,” I stash it in the corners and peek at when I pretend He isn’t looking. That’s not trust.

Upon reflection, maybe this piece has more to do with it all than I first realized. The last month or so has really been a time of me confessing my hopes and dreams and desires to God. I don’t think I ever before really understood how hopes and dreams could be involved in the same sentence as “confessing,” but I have been becoming increasingly convicted that this was an area that I tried to keep from God. That He could have His plans, and I’d make my little doll house plans, and if they didn’t happen, I understood, but I would have my own little doll house plans, that I would mostly try to hide from Him so He wouldn’t mock him. That’s not trust.

I do repeat myself. It’s important. Sitting there and saying, “You know, God, this is what I want,” is something that I actually continue to find to be incredibly difficult to do. But as with confessing sin, also strangely freeing. There’s a quiet resentment to hiding your dreams. And there is no guarantee that by confessing your dreams, you get them miraculously fulfilled. There is freedom in clearing the air and admitting freely that you do have hopes and dreams. But there is also that audacity of hope.

And that is when I discovered, when I bring the desires of my heart before Him — as is His explicit injunction — He doesn’t mock me. He doesn’t crush me. He doesn’t promise blank-check I’ll get everything I want, but (curiously!) there seems to be no offense in me saying, “these are my dreams.” I might not get what I want, but if I don’t, it’s only because He has something better planned.

I still wonder. I still want to know. But I am so much less afraid.

Oh, year.

There are a lot of people ringing in the new year, and large portion of them are bemoaning that 2016 wasn’t a good year. I feel a little like protesting – it’s not the year’s fault. The seasons still changed nicely. I’m pretty sure we still made it around the sun. Isn’t that what a year is?

And I know I am inclined to be optimistic about these things. Facebook just reminded me about a truly inspirational new years post I made 3 years ago, chipper enough that I wondered what the heck my 2013 had been like to inspire such words out of me. Plus also, I am a little bit cynical, and I think a lot of people are saying it was a bad year just because they didn’t like the way the election went, and you have to admit it was pretty horrible on all grounds, but that doesn’t mean that nothing else happened the whole year long.

Yet I must confess: 2016 was a hard year for me. Some people say a little wiser, and I suppose – and most definitely do hope – that is true. A little more broken, I am sure. Kinder? Maybe. But hard? Yes.

And there were a lot of hard things, and in a lot of different ways. But mostly because 2016 was The Year of the Sickness.

Mostly recently, I have been struggling with coming to the dreadful realization that I Am Sick. Not was. For the longest time I have been trying to ask things like “am I sick, or is it just hard to be homeless?” “am I sick or is it the winter?” “am I sick, or is this something else?” It was a better of a hammer blow when I suddenly realized not or, but rather and. Sick, and homeless, and tired, and stressed. And sick. Not or.

There was a brief month or two this summer when I didn’t feel sick; in fact, I felt awesome. Like when I was a teenager. Or maybe younger. And that made me stop and think. How long has this been building? How long have I been sick and thinking it was normal? When it’s all you’ve ever known, what do you have to compare it too? I don’t know what brought it on to boiling point, to spilling over the top and over everything. I do know that I can’t avoid it. I’ve tried, but even when kept at bay, it is still simmering just under the surface.

I have found, speaking of the new year, that actually doing things depends solely on motivations. Not on plans, and not on wants. You can want a thing until you’re blue in the face, and never really put the work into it. You can plan the most perfect plan, but never be able execute it. But when you are motivated, truly convicted within your soul, it doesn’t matter if you have a crummy plan or no plan at all, or even how much you might feel the thing is pleasant.

Take going to graduate school, for instance. I didn’t really want to, I just became fully convinced that it was the thing I was supposed to do. Fully convinced. Utterly planless, away I went. Sometimes things didn’t work out until the very last minute, like applying to school hours before they closed the deadline for accepting admissions, or finding a new room to rent on the day my previous lease ended.

Other things, I have “wanted” to do for years, decades, even. Or planed, with really ornate plans. And these things haven’t fruited, or if they have, it has been in stilted, stunted and half-formed manners.

So the question isn’t what do you want out of the new year, or what do you plan for the new year, but what are you utterly convicted to do?

For me, I have two things:

  1. Graduate. I am so sick of going to school that I would do nearly anything to stay on track and graduate this spring. And I proved that last January and February and March and April and May and June: showing up for classes nearly out of my mind with sickness, propping myself up with special chairs and pillows and finding a place to lay down for the 20 minutes in between, sometimes barely able to keep my eyes open and sometimes shifting restlessly in pain. But I showed up, and I did the work. I’m not quite sure how, but I think largely it was from a pure desperation to be done with school. The end is almost in sight now, and my eyes are fixed on it like a hunting dog on a rabbit.
  2. Figure out how to manage my sickness. And I don’t even know what that means, for certain, except that I am pretty sure it means social isolation. But I’m past the planning and past the wanting, and I just Have To Do This.

It might seem strange to think that figuring out how to take care of your malfunctioning body would be part and parcel with social isolation, but it is. Because it means eating differently. And there is truth that fellowship is found in sharing meals. And the people around you – they won’t eat radically different, just because you discover that you have to now. And sometimes it seems like – it would just be easier to not be around people at all, than to be with them while they eat in a manner that you no longer can.

This sounds so very melodramatic. There are millions of people with all sorts of food allergies or diabetes or other dietary restrictions, and they survive just fine. But the hard part of 2017 is the finding out. I know that if I radically strip my diet, my body is much happier. But I don’t know what it is that I’m stripping or adding in or doing differently that is bringing relief to my body. I don’t know what I can’t eat. I don’t know what I can eat.

That means, 2017 is the year of turning myself into a science experiment. And I don’t want to. There is nothing appealing about experimenting on yourself, to the isolation with interactions with family and friends. But the alternative is that this goes on. That I keep making myself miserable, with no clear idea of why.

And it scares me, because I don’t have any idea what the outcome will be – one ingredient, a host of restrictions, a stringent diet for the rest of my life? And I don’t know what it means as it affects my future. If I really find that it is more than an ingredient and is truly a way of life, what does that mean – about many things? About what you do when you go to social engagements like weddings and friend’s houses and people offering to take you out to eat. About how affordable your food may or may not be. About living with other people or living by yourself.

And it’s that last one that really gets me. Because I am so tired of being homeless. I’ve been tossed about, over and over. I want to get grounded. And there is some hope in the idea of rest: whatever else the future holds, after I graduate, I will go and stay with my family for, at the very least, some while. So I can rest while I figure out what comes next. So I can stay put for a while, with people I know and love, and with trees and dirt and air.

But if I can’t eat anything that rest of my family eats, what kind of torture will it be to sit down with everyone else to eat, and to not eat? To not eat homemade ice cream, or brownies warm from the oven, or pizza just pulled off the stones or even the ambrosial homemade pesto? Every day a battle of refusing fellowship by making my own food and trying to ignore the proclamations of delight from a host of feasting family?

It’s not much to look forward to; neither is living alone. I need answers, I need to take care of my body. . .but it’s not really what I want. And what I really want is not something that can be planned for. (Like having my own family, for instance, but I think I harp on that rather often enough.)

Mostly, I don’t feel like I have a lot to offer 2017. I feel like 2017 is a salvage year, when you mostly try to pick up all of the pieces and figure out how they fit together now. Maybe in 2018, I’ll be back to being full of optimism and plans for the future and grand schemes, but for now. . .I just want to stop hurting. I want to stay in one place. I want to have the autonomy to make some choices about how I spend my days. I want what I am going through now to be over. May I be granted that grace.