Hold Up

Today has been a winter wonderland of a day, which has both made me guilty for not stepping outside and also has quieted me and made me pensive. It is not always easy to be still — often not — but thickly falling snowflakes have a way of settling a soul.

I remind myself that frantic activity is often used as a way of hiding from thoughts and feelings and struggles that one does not want to face, or have the resources to face. As a generalization, being relentlessly busy is a means for a troubled soul to flee or else it is a burden that will very shortly cause a soul to be troubled. Or perhaps both, because life is never simple.

I picked a book up the other day, an expose of sorts of Laura Ingalls Wilder — her life and her writing career, and her fairly insane daughter. I’ve known since I was a child that her writing was “fictionalized” — cleaned up, edited down, showing the things she wanted to show, not the things she didn’t want to show. But every time a book purporting to tell the actual truth comes along, I find myself holding my breath about a few things that I am surprised to discover I am urgently hoping to be true. I feel like I can’t breathe until I confirm (once again) that yes, that part was real. One of those things is Almanzo and Cap riding off into the great unknown in a desperate attempt to save the town. That has to be real. It just has to be real — and yes, it is real.

In stark contrast, I was flipping through someone I barely known on Instagram. He is either an adrenaline junkie or at the very least, wants to fictionalize his own life to portray himself as one. Because there is a difference between recklessness and courage. There is a difference between risking one’s life for the thrill of it and risking one’s life for the sake of preserving others. To my sadness, it seems that both have been romanticized to the point that one has to do a lot of digging through societal cultures and traditions to figure out what is really going on. Risking one’s life for the trill of it has been lauded to the point I can’t tell whether this fellow really feels the way he says he does, or if he is just very nicely parroting the cliche that he’s been told is glamorous– and really is about as destructive as a drug habit. And risking one’s life for the sake of preserving others has been so romanticized that there’s a terrible secret fear it isn’t really true — just the stuff of fantasy and legends, and “heroes” that have been celebrated at the cost of fictionalizing the darkness they have really been through.

As I’m coerced into a bit of quiet and stillness and a chance at some reflection, I remember Paul encouraging people to take note of those who live admirably and to imitate them. That passage always struck me as odd, because are we not just to imitate Christ? Sometimes I think I get a glimpse of an understanding, though. We are by nature comparers and contrasters, measuring, weighing, judging, describing, naming. And even, yes, mimicers. And, if I am right (which well I not might be), the young man who has embraced the Red Bull culture of “adventure” has not so very much done it on purpose as much as what he saw, he mimiced. It appealed to some part of him, even if it was the part of him probing for a way to escape or turn away from something else.

The harder thing is seeing that which we admire — young men riding in to possible death in a gamble there was hope out there somewhere, the courage to take the risk to care for the vulnerable — and observing how very much we fall short. Examining where we’ve turned from that which we know to be good and true, and setting our face to press toward that which is hard, but valuable. It requires a good deal of humility to face up to the fact that it is not excusable to flee from hard things, as though it would be inhuman to actually do such things.

Being busy is far different than producing value. Being reckless is far different from sacrifice. Imitating others is different than imitating what is good. Holding standards is different that pursuing excellence. Both can break you. I guess in some ways, the question comes down to, is it really Worth It?

To determine Worth It, one must return to what is the authority of their life. Power? Logic? Pleasure? For those of us who claim to seek follow Christ, the answer must be God. But that is a humbling, humbling thing. It is one thing to mouth “You are my king” and “I surrender.” It is another to examine your life and recognize all the ways and all the places where you don’t get to decide if something is Worth It or A Priority. That instead you have to accept what God says is Worth It or A Priority or when you are done, or not done, or when you rest or when you don’t get to rest.

The thing about God is, it seems like He’s modus operandi is to be unpredictable. And as human beings, we don’t really seem to like unpredictable. Unpredictable means we aren’t in control. Unpredictable means we are small. I was reading in John and Jesus is doing these wonderful things — an abundant catch for struggling fishermen, a beautiful healing of a person who had been paralyzed — and the reaction is fear, resentment, and in many cases an irrational pushing away. Because the only other reaction is “You are a holy and I am sinful.” And that is hard.

When God says “follow Me,” He is also saying, “stop following all of those other things.” The chapter I was reading in John seemed to be saying a lot of, “oh my goodness, you people have such a pre-occupation with the things of this world. Don’t you realize how terribly fleeting is? Don’t you realize what an occupation you need to have with the things that come after, the things that are not passing away?”

As we come to the end of a year and the beginning of another — an arbitrary marking, but still, a human marking nonetheless — the urge to introspect on what comes next can be nearly irresistible. Oddly enough, the examination of the previous year is usually squirmingly avoided. It reveals all that is small in us, all that is out of our control, all that we thought we had the power to achieve yet could not, all that we didn’t see coming, all that we have no authority to change.  When we think we’ll plan what our priorities will be in the coming year, what we will accomplish, what life will look like in 1 or 3 or 5 years, we are essentially trying exert control. . .on that of which we cannot control. It feels good, because power feels good. But it feels bad, because we know it’s a lie.

Almanzo assuredly did not write in his New Years Resolutions: risk life to save town. The Insta-chap may well write: hike all the highest mountains in this state. You might say they are both admirable, but when we stop to think how we’d like to be remembered or what might survive past the end of the age, it’s the action that could not be planned that leaves us most humble, most convicted that we are not the humans we ought to be.

I did not plan on being sick from September through December, rotating through viruses like a child choosing toys. It ruined lots of my plans, and my human inclination is to assert I won’t be sick any longer, and my plans will work. I confess to being very angry and resentful that so much of my last few years has been confined and crunched to being sick, and yet, still, I assert: this year I will not be sick. I will do things. I will transform my life.

Yet when I look around at the people or traits I admire, it’s the people who have lived small, held loosely, and understood the holiness of the ground that they were on without striving for “better.” I want to seize control, but what I admire is actually obedience.

I don’t want being sick; I want being healthy and marvelously in control of my own body. I don’t want sitting quietly and healing; I want to tackle my to-do list and achieve my goals. I don’t want feeling lost and adrift; I want moving with a purpose and a plan that gives me joy and a spring in my step.

Yet here I am, admiring those who can bear the adversity of this life without complaining incessantly (like I do), who can accept the changes of the reality of their life without fighting (like I do), who can see the mercifully hand of good even as their dreams are crushed or are quietly withering.

God doesn’t care. That sounds harsh, but I think sometimes we do need our breath taken away and to actually look at the naked truth. We’re the ones with the pre-occupation with this world, not Him. He’s busy trying to call us out of it, and we’re busy trying to crawl into it. The things that we think matter, don’t. Our priorities are wildly askew. The change of focus from ourselves on to God is a thing easy to give mouth-space to, easy to commend to others, and a slippery intangible task for ourselves, full of backsliding and doubts and being tossed by every light breeze.

If I seem to have stumbled here and there and back and forth all about through this post, I suppose I have a bit. My drunken weaving is not because there is nothing of importance to be said, but because I know there are no simple 12 steps to figuring life out, to seeking God, or to assure that next year will be better, or I will be better. I don’t expect that I can resolve to live the coming year full of courage and humility.  There is the sobriety of recognizing that seeking God means deliberately turning from or choosing not to do a vast array of things (including many things that are good). But there is little simplicity in it; we want the one simple rule, the law to live by. Instead there is the continual seeking of Him who will never be totally found in this life time. Day by day, moment by moment faithfulness does not well chart and graph out over a serious of lists and plans and years. Very little in the way of profound words will actually make it easier to lay your head down, easier to pick your body up out of bed the next day.

If I have said anything at all, I suppose I have really just offered the reminder that this life takes humility, demands sacrifice and calls us to stillness that we often irrationally resent. And as we recognize other people fighting against God’s goodness, holiness and power, we would do well to ask ourselves what is we’re afraid of and why.

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I Cry Out

December 2008. Almost a full decade ago. Sure, let’s go for a whole decade. 2007. From then, till now. The things that have happened, the things that have changed, the things that haven’t. 22 through 32.

I was still being a “full-time sister.” My youngest sibling was 5. I organized the berry picking trips, made all the bread and pickles, ran the vegetable garden in all it’s sad un-glory, cut the hair of 9 brothers, helped care for my aging grandparents, taught myself pattern drafting for sewing, handquilted and learned to knit socks, cleaned house for a neighbor, and basically, was slowly losing my mind. This made sense when I was 16 and my mom was in the hospital for a month on strict bedrest, and I tried to keep the small but very full household running. . .but it had been making less and less sense with every passing day. 5 year olds don’t need their diapers changed. 7 year olds don’t need help dressing. 9 year olds don’t need to be watched to keep them from running out into the road. I knew this had to end, something had to change, but I didn’t know what, didn’t know how, and no idea how to start.

Guys, I just wanted life to make sense. I just wanted it to be meaningful. I just wanted to know that I was where I was supposed to be, doing what I was supposed to be doing.

 

3 jobs

3 degrees

7 clinical rotations

6 moves (2 of which were cross-country), plus about 10 weeks of being essentially homeless, sleeping on couches and never being quite sure where I was spending the night next week.

20 lbs on, off, on, off and on again

3 close compatriots married off, plus a sibling

3 grandparents died

1 life-threatening illness that no one can satisfactorily explain

3 friends divorced in one year, and one more almost did that year, too

1 aunt and 2 family friends died

A family acquaintance accused of murder now living on bail in my family’s house

A tornado through my aunt and uncles property

My brother and his wife having multiple miscarriages. Also, a friend miscarrying

Also, my brother and his wife in their third trimester, and more friend babies than I can count

2 cars

2 car accident plus breaking down in the middle of South Carolina mountains full of wild fires

Cooking for 14 to cooking for 1

never having my own room and never having a space to think and yet being alone to being two days of long travel away from anyone who even knew my name, and being alone and then back again to no space at all.

being white knuckled with stress and terror just driving to my grandparents to driving across the country and staying in a random stranger’s house

the majority of my fertile years

friendships tentatively forged, now distanced by miles; friendship that used to be close now waning even as the space between contracts once again.

 

. . . and back to living with most of my family. A different house. My youngest sibling is 15 now. My commute is 40 minutes. I don’t know how to take care of my body or what I can eat. I feel lost, like a fractured dream, where everything feels both real and wrong. Some things feel so familiar, yet so disconnected. Superficial and fake, but with a hidden meaning somewhere. I feel almost more disassociated from my body than I ever have before.

You guys, I’m tired. And confused. And somehow no closer to find that elusive thing called meaning. I feel like an indentured servant, perpetually. Almost all of my somedays have never happened, and so much time has passed by that I struggle to hold on to any hope that my somedays will ever happen. Somewhere in the middle of all this, I thought I just had to survive, get through to the other side, and then everything would sort itself out and make sense. Only now I’ve gotten through to the other side, hung on and survived, and nothing makes any more sense. And in some ways, I feel like I’m running out of the hanging on, the trust that somehow things will coalesce and make sense. Slogging through only works when you see the end in sight, and I can’t imagine any end anymore.

And I don’t even know who or how to talk about the things that burden me any more, I don’t even know how to talk to myself. Yesterday, as I flushed, I thought, “well, there goes one more uterine lining down the drain. I wish I could be the one to decide whether I wanted to keep it or get rid of it.” And then I stood there in the bathroom running through name after name and trying to decide if there was anyone on earth I could actually say that to. (In the end, I just had a quiet internal conversation about how we talk about how important it is to preserve a person’s choice – their autonomy – and yet there are so many things, like age, that feel like a loss of autonomy because you have no choice – that is, you are mortal, and low in power.)

I’m so frustrated to have gone through so many years, so many things, and still be struggling with so much of the very same things. Other times I suppose that probably one of the consequences of staying so busy you forget how to breathe is that you never really deal with all the deep-down struggles, and so they just resurface uglier than ever whenever you do happen to manage to come up through the water. And I’m somehow saddened that now, unbidden — this never happened before, ever — I find myself considering over and over how maybe one of the main points of this life is just to get us so wearied of it all that we are looking forward to leaving the tabernacle for the permanent dwelling. That it’s like my mom, complaining that the third trimester is there to make you look forward to labor, and just being done. That maybe this life isn’t about finding joy and rejuvenation, it’s just about pouring yourself out until there literally is nothing more to pour and the drink offering is found to be an acceptable sacrifice.

I don’t know any more how to ask for the things that I’ve asked and asked and asked for, and never heard an answer.  And I feel like I’m just getting better at slapping a smile on my face and not sharing what’s inside, or just withdrawing moodily. Because what can anyone offer? Humiliating pity or a belittling assurance? We all know that there isn’t really any answer. That’s why “questioning the meaning of life” is such a cliche. It’s something everyone struggles with, no one really has the answer for, and all of us are at least a little tiny bit afraid of.

Maybe we should be more quick to share the tears that brim and roll, and less inclined to lock away and hide. Maybe there is a fellowship in sorrow as much or more than in joy. But in the moment, when you’ve had more than you can bear, it’s too much to try to also manage the response of others, whatever they may be. When one more breath is an effort, so is one more thought, one more sound, one more word, one more expression, one more silence. So the grieving is silent, but no less powerful.

o, my life! what are you? not what i expected. not what i hoped. not what i thought. not what i meant. but what i was given. and that is something, even if it is not any of those other things. . . something to be respected, something to be treasured, something to be held. but still. . . a burden at times a heavy one pressing down hard. the third trimester, the drink offering, the prayer in the garden, the bitter gall that gives you the strength to call out, “my god, my god. . .”