Next, I find out

Once upon a time, I had time to think and time to write what I was thinking. I look forward to getting back to that place, but I also wonder how my thinking and writing has changed since then. Even when I’m not writing in the expected sense of “somewhat visibly,” I am writing, all the time. Some people wake up to a cup of coffee; I wake up to writing two pages in a spiral bound notebook.

It’s not great literature. It reads like you might expect from someone who is still waking up. Half the time it’s probably a rehashing of all the swirling to-do lists in my head. Always, the same themes get visited and re-visited and done to death. And growth is slow. I never felt different between one birthday and another, and yet in five years time can barely recognize the person I used to be.

The last seven years have been an incredible catalyst of change and growth, in big ways and small ways, and as I see — on the horizon — some sort of chance for the dust to settle a little bit, I think I am also scared. Scared, a little, to see who I am now. I was too busy changing and growing to understand what kind of changing and growing was happening, and so now, when things start to settle, I feel like I will be rediscovering who I am.

That sounds stupid. Not to you, maybe. To me. Because I’ve always felt like “not knowing who you are” is more (to my intellectual mind) a problem with not have the courage to own who you are. How can you not know who you are? You are who you are. You are you. What are you expecting to find?

I don’t know exactly how my thinking on this has changed, and by that I mean, I’m not sure what my current conclusions are. One of the most bizarre things from being sick, really sick, is this strange feeling I have now of only “inhabiting” my body, and not being “one” with my body. Previously, my body and me were pretty much inseparable. Me and it, it and me, you don’t get one without getting the other. But when I was at my most sick, things became more and more surreal, and I felt more and more often like I was watching my body in the third person. “Me” is still me, and yet this body thing, it’s very peculiar; it’s malfunctioning. “Me” isn’t malfunctioning, but the body I drive around is. How odd. How strange.

It lingers a little. And I begin to realize other ways in which I have been rather indiscriminatory between “me” and just the things really close to “me.” I like to characterize myself as a bossy older sister, but as I come back home again and again, I find that “thing” to be slipping away. We’re all older. And I don’t want to boss. And half the time it seems like my younger siblings know better than I do, anyhow.

My stories are more grounded. I don’t mean I don’t still tell myself stories, but it’s getting harder and harder to find the romance in them. At one point in my life, I could make being a college student sound glamorous to myself. I’ve seen enough of school to make me puke, and I just can’t squeeze any glamor out of it. The less you know about things, the more softly you paint them, and in more gentle colors. Traveling half across the country is both easier than you think, and also, less adventuresome. Not because I did adventure, but because, what do you know, you have to respond to your car breaking down on a one way road up mountainside, with wildfires raging through the state, the exact same way that you, well, respond to a broken faucet. There is a good deal less romance than you might think, and even a good deal less adrenaline, and a good deal more of trying to figure out the next reasonable little step to take.

It makes life somehow a good deal more accessible and also a good deal more boring. Before you get out there and muddle around, you can pretend how interesting and exciting it must be. After you muddled for a bit, you realize that where ever you go, you still bring you. And that shapes your experiences about as much or more as your experiences shape you.

But going through a lot of stuff that you just have to grit your teeth and wade through, because that is what you have to do, because that is life, also leaves you with much more defined ideas of what you do and do not like. The imaginative brush has been hardened, and there’s less of a fantasizing about what you might liked to and how you suppose something would be marvelous. When the dreaminess starts to get stripped away, you’re left with more of a concrete list of Wants and DO NOT WANTS.

Yet the clearing away of the ambiguity starts to also unveil another problem: it’s harder to just take what comes, or to just “go along.” And then I begin to discover that things that I thought were “me” were really just things that were happening in close proximity around “me” and I was just “going along.” And if that’s not really “me” then where do I go now? What do I do now? There is less ambiguity about me, but more ambiguity about where I really belong in the world. Where’s my place?

And some of the frustration is realizing that I have been through a lot, and it has changed me, and I’m not quite sure how yet. I’m still unpacking, literally and figuratively. Part of it is realizing, rather suddenly, really, how the people I’ve been the closest to haven’t been on this journey. Hardly at all. Not only have a grown in ways that they haven’t come along with, but they have quite likely grown in other directions. Unbridgeable? No. But it doesn’t mean we fit together the way we have before, or that we ever will again. Sometimes this is good growth, but it doesn’t make it any less scary.

People ask me what comes next, and I’m kind of afraid to talk about what I hope does come next. Because I don’t want to “go along;” that’s a brutal kind of hard. What I want is something that would undoubtedly still be hard, but it would be “Me.” And that makes it better, even if it doesn’t make it easier. But you kind of get two choices: Go Along or Fight Against. And fighting against is hard. It’s hard to swim against the subtle and pervasive expectations of All The Reasonable People, in their various camps. But it’s also hard to choke out the parts of you that have survived the crucible, the things that are now known to be Me.

That might seem straight forward enough, but it’s not. Because woven and tangled into that is realization that some of the Wants are just tendrils of trying to escape the Don’t Wants, and those two are not in actuality the same thing. There is a certain aspect of wanting to live honestly, and in that sense I mean not trying to be something you’re not. But there’s also a certain aspect of, I don’t like This; what is Not This? It’s hard to sort out.

Life Takes Courage. Always.

Also, vulnerability, honesty, humility, compassion, discernment, integrity. And these things seem like cliché, because everyone says them, but unfortunately people mostly act like they would be “good” accessories to have. Not basic necessities needed for day to day survival. Yes, I did say survival. Without those things, we self-destruct. Where ever I go, whatever I do, it never seems like I have enough of those things.

And I leave that there as the ending, not because it’s an answer to the question. But it is a truth that co-exists with the uncertainty, and sometimes that is where you have to start.

 

 

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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.

Duty to Hope

It’s curious to me how we–or at least, I–so rapidly get sucked into the idea that it’s “responsible” to be afraid.

Afraid of missing deadlines. Afraid of making the wrong choices. Afraid of cars breaking. Afraid of old age. Afraid of regrets.

Because only stupid people aren’t prepared for replacing cars or retirement, right? Because only irresponsible people miss deadlines. Because you only get one shot at decisions, and they’re so weighty.

But if we plug our ears, for just a moment, to the world (and sing la-la-la really loudly), God never said “be afraid.” He said “trust Me.” He never said “fill your barns and prepare for your future,” He said “don’t you worry about that stuff–take care of people and look to the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Ugh. Find a job. How long will my loans be in deferment? If my car is 12 years old, how much time do I have before it dies? I don’t want to think about these things; I want to think about things like starting a food ministry. I want to think about how to reach out to the community I move in to. I want to think about where to find to find a choir to sing with. I want to learn how to build shelter for those who need it and see the awesome handiworks of God.

And while I’m lamenting the things I can’t think about, for all of the things I think I ought to be thinking about, I suddenly catch myself. The things I am saying “I can’t” pursue sound suspiciously like seeking the Kingdom of Heaven, and the things I feel like I “ought” to be preoccupied with sound suspiciously like “the worries of the world” we’re told to leave behind.

Why are we afraid of joy? Why are we afraid of dreaming? Why are afraid of the idea that the fire inside of us would be the truth?

Or me, anyhow. Because I am. I’m afraid of entertaining my dreams and hopes and passion as Truth.

Oh, I have them.

With my husband, that I don’t have. With my children, that I don’t have. With my land, that I don’t have. With my heart on fire for compassion, for hospitality, for showing the love of God to the people around me, with my delight in the creation of God and His gift of music–things that I do have.

But why do I think that that cars failing are more important than the things on my heart?

I don’t really know. There is a temptation to blame my upbringing. The bitterness and hopeless I saw in my father, and my grandfather before him. Or the small, inside facing circles that I perceived in my mother. But I really hesitate to do that, because, in my experience, well over 96% of what we want to blame on our childhood overlaps squarely with stuff other people do without even a slightly similar raising. So I am greatly inclined to see human nature as the cause of it all, not my own individual experience.

So I am only guessing. I am only feeling in the dark, trying to find the riggings. And I think. . .I think the more important the task, the more we are truly terrified–not just scared or worried or fussing over–we are of failure. If I fail to get a car I want, really, life will still be okay. But the hopes and dreams that seem to almost define the very meaning of life? The idea of “failing” at that hurts and haunts so badly that I don’t want to think about it. That I shouldn’t get my hopes up, and you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment, because life is not really like that. That I should content myself with — blandness, because that is really all my lot in life will ever be.

But do I trust God? Because it doesn’t take trust to live a disheartened life of bitterness and blandness. And I think if you do trust God, you have to fight to throw that off, no matter how impossible that seems. It’s not faith if looks rosy. It’s faith when it looks like a raging nightmare, and you get off the boat anyhow.

But really I still don’t understand why it takes so much bravery to chose hope. You’d think that would be the easy path. Not the road less traveled. But it is hard for me to travel it. To say, “here I come!” to the light, even when it seems like the darkness pushes in so close.

The thing is, this is not the first time I’ve written an anthem like this. Not the first time by a long shot. I keep going under the waters, and every time I come back up, I seem to re-write this, as though, this time, it will stick. This time, I won’t slip back into fear. This time, I will remember my duty to faith, and through that, to hope. Sometimes, these Sunday even proclamations even make it till Wednesday. How can it feel like so much certain truth some days, and a far away theory others?

I don’t understand.

 

 

Steady On

Ironic that after my last post was about how I missed writing, I again missed several days. I try to give myself grace about it, especially since it’s usually other very needed things, like sleeping all day. My body still needs rest. But I realized today that I’m at risk of losing this important part of rehab.

Because I do think that it’s rehab. The working on walking endurance is important, the strength and range of motion is important, sure the food is important, the sleep is important, being outside is important, and some where in there, yeah, school needs to get done. But also, I need to keep looking inwards. This is really important, and I really believe that, and I can’t let myself forget that.

It takes work to come up follow through with changes, even little ones, like “the expectation is, you’ll be outside as much as possible.” This shouldn’t be hard, and yet the temptation is to stay inside where the computer can be used most easily for things like school work and bill paying and other chores. I brought a chair out to the shade, and I’m doing fine, but it was a conscious effort to get out here in the sun and wind and birds and fresh air and the sound of leaves–and it shouldn’t be.

I find myself worrying a little even about my food–how will I eat better when summer classes are over and I’m back with my family? They don’t keep so many vegetables around. They eat pasta all the time, and so many sweets and baked goods. And I find myself dreaming–dreaming, literally!–about baked goods myself, which unnerves me, because it’s only been a week, and I really didn’t think I would notice or miss them being gone, because I really didn’t think I ate them that often. When did I become dependent on sweets? I guess probably when I used them as a way to compensate myself for rough days. But I still didn’t think I’d be dreaming about brownies with cherry sauce, compulsively eating them even though I knew I wasn’t done with my six weeks yet. It’s not the lack of sweets that has me disturbed, it’s the psychological impact that sugary things apparently have in my life.

Somehow, I’ve gotten on to a new kick of thinking about what my life will be like “after.” As though I can just blip over the remaining hard year of rotations, which will not be easy no matter which way I cut it. I try to remind myself of all the things that are not going to magically go away just because I’m done with school–dysfunctional family relationships, car problems, loneliness, lack of direction in life, fear of living my whole life without a family of my own, leaving behind the friendships I did make while I was up here–but still, I am happy, so happy, at the thought of being done with school. Never mind passing my boards. Never mind that my loans will go into repayment, and that I might not be able to find a job. I would be done with school!

And I can’t quite shake the feeling that, though my conscious won’t fess up to it, my subconscious is banking on starting a family after school. Not that there’s any plausibility in that right now, but just because, well, that’s what happens next, right? And because I want it, of course, but that goes without saying. I just get this sneaking suspicion that somehow, I am not just counting on “this chapter” being over, but also counting on what I must be inherently assuming is “the next chapter.” And I’m afraid that “this chapter” will end, but that “next chapter” is nothing like I assume it will be, and that after “this chapter” ends, instead of being happy and relieved and relatively unburdened, I’ll find myself sinking into disappointment, depression and a lack of hope for the future.

Other times I find myself thinking, “Well, if that were to happen, what would you do now to get ready?” And I can’t decide to myself which of these thought patterns is more healthy. Or least unhealthy. There’s a part of me that wants to say, “chose hope.” That I’m sure there will be plenty of things to get all in a tizzy about along the way and afterward, but one doesn’t need to get in a tizzy early, and in fact, are explicitly told not too. But being told not to worry is different than being told you’ll get everything you want in the here and now, so go right ahead and count on that.Wouldn’t all that hoping just make me more sad at a later date?

I go back and forth on this all the time, until it wears me out. I don’t know. How am I supposed to know? People keep telling me to live in the moment, and it gets me so frustrated. At some point, I do have to make decisions about this Fall. And the decisions we make now do shape what our future might be. I can’t figure it all out, no, but to pretend the future has no bearing on the present seems ridiculously, well, pretentious. Like if you pretend it isn’t there, it will go away.

Other people say, just enjoy yourself now. But again, enjoying yourself now can lead to misery later. Sometimes you have to be uncomfortable in the present for a much longer duration of happiness. And unfortunately, I just catch myself think, “I’ve put my time in.” I’ve done my stint of being miserable and exhausted and stressed, and telling myself I’m investing in my future and that this in normal, and what you have to expect out of life. I’m not expecting a bed of roses, and I realize I have been pretty well taken care of up to this point, but for lack of a better phrase, I’m ready for my luck to change. I’m ready for — what? Things to go my way? As though they haven’t been? I don’t even really know what I mean. I guess I mean that I’m done with plan B, and I’m ready for plan A already. It’s been put off long enough. I want “real life” and by “real life” I mean a husband, a house and some land of our own, and kids. That was all I ever expected to get out of life, and guess what? I still want it.

I waited around a while, trying to figure out what to do. I’ve take this seven, working on eight, year diversion of revolting amounts of schooling. Gosh, it was probably about five years of spinning my wheels and now seven years of school, and isn’t that enough? And I want God to relent, and say, oh, okay–and now, for what you’ve been waiting for all along: ta-da!

I want Him to a really lot. But the fear is, well, if He hasn’t relented in the first 13 years, who’s to say He ever will? And I want to protest–but I have changed and grown and matured in the last seven years. I really have. I can take it now. I’m ready now. Yeah, that’s what they all say. It really isn’t a matter of “deserving,” although it is hard not to look around and smart when you see all the people who have what you think you want. What have they got that I don’t?

But if it’s not about deserving, or earning, then what is about? Random luck? People say, “God’s got plans for you!” Well, great. I wish He’d share some of them with me. All I’ve got right now are different shades of pipe dreams, I think. The “raise a family” pipe dream. The “serve the needy” pipe dream. The “scribble calculations on the back of a scrap of paper” pipe dream, the one that tries to find a way to not let money make my life be miserable.

I mean, at one time I was all hypothetical about going to school, too. That came to pass. Why can’t this other stuff? Apparently, going to school was God’s will, because He opened doors I didn’t even know where there. But how about this stuff? Do I get doors opened, or am I going to go back into the years of spinning my wheels? I guess what I mean is, I did my time spinning my wheels; I did my time navigating over really rough and exhausting terrain. Can I please now have the part where we go for a little bit of a scenic ride, and just have a really good time? There will be another chapter after that. I know I’ll have to gear up again. And I know that there will be plenty of challenges even there. But can we go there? Please? Can that be the direction we’re headed, and can I actually be excited about it, and can it be right and true and good?

Oh, Life

I’m feeling broken and small right now, and I feel the need to write through it.

I wish I could give a grand reason for it. Well, insert jaw dropping tragedy here just happened, and I am devastated, but bravely trying to cope. Chin up, lip tremble. Everyone marvel at my courage and resiliency. But none of that is true.

I think that sometimes I dismiss my own life happenings too out of hand, though. Sometimes I need other people to point out the obvious for me, but there is no one here right now, so I must point.

* my grandfather did die just a few weeks ago

* I did find out I will have to move, and I don’t know where to

* I am trying to switch churches

* my friends are all out of town

(wow, saying all these things out loud is hard)

* my clinical rotation is very difficult on me, emotionally and intellectually.

* I am about to turn 30, and I do feel like I’m mourning the dreams I never knew I had

(that’s a hard one to say out loud, too)

* I have not been able to pursue my own interests in months

(that’s a really hard one to admit)

* I feel like I have no control over my day-to-day life

* What I think I want most out of life is not in my control (my own family; relationships are not purchasable nor manufacturable)

None of these things are in my control, and many of them I do not anticipate changing. I admonish myself to cope better, but I think of “coping” as “muscle through life anyway” and maybe what I need to do better is consciously grieve so that I can move on. I just feel like a wimp, because it feels like all around me, other people are carrying heavier burdens more graciously. I know that I have been blessed a million times over, and yet still I’m crumbling. I feel like this is shameful, so I don’t want to talk to people about it. I have so much, and still I’m not happy? How ungrateful!

I’m sorry.

But I am crumbling.

It says in the Bible that He is mindful that we are but dust, that He knows our frame. I try to take comfort and courage in that.

But I am a fixer, and I want to fix things. I want to not wallow in misery, but make corrective changes and move on. I want to be stronger than the things that make me want to hide in my room. I want to go to bed every night satisfied, not frustrated, not discouraged, not self-berating, not dreading the next day, not feeling abandoned or forgotten or dismissed.

Many people seem to be able to present themselves well, to tell a good narrative of their story. I know that doesn’t tell what is going behind the scenes. And I know I shouldn’t be comparing myself to them, anyhow. But when I try to speak a narrative of who I am right now, it reads like one big pity party, and I shy away from speaking it out-loud. So speak it I must. . .

A woman who is terribly out of shape and very self critical is introverted and overwhelmed. She is getting older and older, but her introversion and lack of trust makes it hard to make friends, especially of the opposite sex. She is so overwhelmed by the banal things of life, like grad school and finding a place to stay, which makes her hide away from everyone. In her mind, she lives well–accomplishes many things, and forges the quiet but fulfilling lifestyle that she craves. But in reality, getting up every day is a huge task, and it’s hard to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. She is sitting in a kitchen lit only by the cloudy light coming through the windows, unshowered and still in her pjs, even though it is well after noon. She is writing into the void, to hear her own echo, and bracing herself for the renewing trial of life, Monday. She does not admire her own behavior, and so cannot imagine anyone else admiring it either. No single part of her life seems to make any sense at all, and life for the next several years seems only to be a thing to be endured.

Sometimes people talk about depression like they’re shocked to find out some people are depressed. What I always wondered is, who isn’t? And what’s their secret?

I think some people are less worried about me now, because I have a more “normal” life. Going to school is normal. Looking for a place to stay is normal.They can comfortably assume that after I graduate, I will continue to be normal, and get a normal job. What I don’t think they realize is that normal is excruciating for me. So what they see as a normal progression, I see as a crushing yoke I am desperate to get out from under. They think that after I graduate, I will re-join the world of 40 hour + forced labor. I am turning the Rubik’s cube anyway I can in an attempt to find a way out of that, including praying for mercy.

In terms of mourning dreams, some part of me assumed that by the time I was “grown up” – and surely 30 is grown up – I would be married and living in a little old farm house, or maybe even a cabin. It was okay to diddle around in your 20s; false starts and minor jobs are an acceptable part of life. But it was just obvious to me that obviously, life was about joining with someone in lifelong partnership and raising a family together. That was Life. That was the story I expected to be told in my life.

As people gently try to point out to me, turning one year older does not suddenly make all possibility of that happening simply evaporate. I know that, although that doesn’t stop the panicky feeling of time slipping away. But if that is how you’ve always (albeit subconsciously) viewed life, what sense does graduate school make? What sense does a 40 hour work week make? What sense does finding a place to stay make, when you won’t be nesting a family inside of it?

I am desperate not to have a meaningless life, so while one definition of Life is slipping through my grasp like dry sand, my other hand is scrabbling to find something else to hold on to. If I could just have a good enough goal, a good enough reason, to shoulder the burden one more time because it would all be worth it in the end. . .but what I have instead is two more years where I am essentially a slave, to exhausted to pursue what I want after doing all the things I seem to have no choice or control in, and after that, a giant, looming void. Nothingness.

I scrabble to fill that, because nothingness is terrifying. But shoveling rubbish or random things into a sinkhole does not cause it to make functional sense. When your one thought about “after graduation” is “please don’t make me work full time, please don’t make me work full time,” there is little to look forward to. What will you do, then? Anything! And I can come up with a long list. But the real problem is still that Life is not making any sense to me.

I catch myself scheming in my head that I will tell people it is part time until I am less burnt out. Part time to take care of friends and relatives, part time to create things. And then part time to teach classes and start my own little non-profit to help those who really need help. And then maybe to create my own little homestead. But what it really comes down to is that I’m trying to find meaning. I understand the meaning behind making a house a home. I understand about sweeping floors and little hands. And there is a sad part of me that realizes not everyone gets what they want out of life, but if I can’t have that, then I have to struggle to find some other little piece of meaning. And when I look at the hodge-podge of little pieces of meaning that I think I understand, I realize that even if I did all of those things. . .it would still be a plan B.

I don’t want to say it out loud, but today’s theme is “Say It Out Loud.” I was going to be an awesome mom. I was going to be an awesome wife, too, but I assumed I knew less about that, so the picture was harder to paint. I was going to be that person who was always there for you, who knew how to make you feel safe and cared for, who gave you the support and encouragement so you could go and do hard and amazing things. My life was going to be about loving you, all of you. All the skills that I had were going to be used to do that better and more. Without you as my purpose, what use are my skills?

One time I thought I heard that God only takes something away if He replaces it with something better. So if He really is taking away this dream, it will only be to replace it with something better. So I strain my brain, trying to understand what could possibly be better.

And I can’t do it.

It’s hard to both come to grips with what you most want, and have to mourn it at the same time. There’s no way I can reach out and take that.

Frankly, I’m scared of my future. There doesn’t seem to be any good choices, and I don’t know what to do. I’m afraid that no matter what choice I make, I’ll regret it.

Part of me is trying to figure out how to rebuild my broken idea of just being a humble country person living a simple life, and the other part of me is trying to figure out how to be brave enough to recognize I’m being asked to do more and to follow that. Part of me is vying for control, and part of me is mourning the life I thought would be easy to keep. But mostly, I am struggling even with the idea of tomorrow.

Hang on, People

I always think I’ll journal my way through the most turbulent and changing times of my life, the times of our lives that most shape who we are. In the end of it all, I wonder how anyone ever does that–because my reality is that it takes almost all of my strength and courage and dedication just to hang on.

That doesn’t sound like a particularly profound piece of life experience: “Well, mostly I just hung on.” But sometimes I wonder if anyone ever really does more than that.

I’m writing a little again now, but I know perfectly well that’s because I’m between waves. When the next one hits, I don’t know that I’ll have anything left to give to writing, again. But part of me says, “There is this little spark. It must be kept alive.” So between the waves, I make another little desperate foray.

What do I say to you, if anyone is listening at all? It’s not that I don’t have things to say as much as so many things seems to cut more deeply than words can express–or, at least, my ability to wield words.

I am learning to be grateful for things I never considered being grateful for before. Like dirt. Not even good dirt–rocks bound together by hard clay. For sore muscles. For people who help you eat cake. For dish clothes. For golden rod. For freezer space. For vegetables.

How do you explain this? It seems sometimes that it’s only when you feel the cut of lack that you rejoice to taste the joy of having it again.

I don’t have any intention of convincing anyone they should pine for sore muscles or be filled with wonder by the ground under their feet. It’s just that the earthquakes rending the landscape of my life have left me grasping for any things of value or goodness, struggling to sort out the rubble and find the things worth keeping. There’s more than a small amount of desperation in this–it’s no sea-side stroll of leisurely beach combing.  It’s confusing, and frightening, and opens up more deep and probing questions than I can count that I thought I had relatively settled in my mind–or never dreamt existed.

And yet the words are “fear not” and “I am with you” and “do not be afraid.”

The confusion has not abated, but the fear ebbs and wanes.

Don’t be afraid of the darkness, friends. There is a light that shines in it, brightly, and it is worth the following.

What really matters. . .

Something happened 6 years ago that changed my life. The funny thing is, I didn’t realize that until just yesterday.

You’d think that you’d notice when your deepest motivations are profoundly and permanently changed, but apparently not. I guess game changing events can be pretty subtle–in some ways.

The event itself was anything but subtle. The closest area of civilization experienced a “hundred-year flood” (which are becoming increasingly common, now that they don’t believe in dredging the river and still haven’t caught on that means other real estate decisions will have to be made as a result).

I say “closest area of civilization” because it really didn’t effect us at all. Water rushed down our hills into the brook in the valley, who swelled over her banks quite impressively, but receded demurely in a few days. There were some wet basements here and there, but no real damage. We heard of all the “major flooding!!!1!” in the “city”, but it was about 40 minutes away. We went about our merry lives, feeling maybe slightly sobered by what “those people” had to “go through”, but pretty much figured they were “dealing with it.”

We were quite confused when we got a phone call about a month later. A friend of a friend of a friend said that they were still in major need of volunteers. Wha-? It’d been a whole month! Weren’t they done with that yet? I mean, c’mon–a whole month, and everything isn’t back in order yet? (Just a tad naive, yes?)

So we got together a rag-tag group and trundled out to good-naturedly offer our services. I was 19. It turned into one of the most grueling months of my existence–emotionally intense and physically exhausting. My 22 year old brother was ever oblivious to the fact he was leading a crew of women and children (yes, really!), and set what he considered a “steady working pace.” The group we were working through referred to us as “The Army”, so clearly they shared more my view of our pace.

I was so physically exhausted afterwards that my body had totally lost appetite; it took days for me to feel like eating again. And I was strangely overwhelmed by all that I had seen and heard and done. I wrote very long (very–trust me!) emails to friends trying to process it all, yet was still unable to understand why it had touched me so deeply. I wasn’t sorry I’d done it–I knew it had been very important work. But it was a one-off. A once-in-a-life-time (it was supposed to be a hundred-year flood, remember?). A good story to tell your great grandkids, but not really a substantial part of your life.

But I was alive, then. I remember standing by the trash heap of the most depressing job we’d ever worked on, watching someone in a hot-pink snug-shorts running out-fit jogging by, and the contrast was powerful. This–what I was doing, was real. This was what life was really like. That? That was fake. That was pretending everything was okay, and ignore what this world is really about.

And since then, I don’t think I have ever really stopped looking, in the deepest parts of me, to be in that spot. Not standing by the rubbish heap of a crazy-cat-lady house, soaked in sewage and river water and abandoned for a few months, although sometimes it looks like that, I guess. But at the spot of knowing that what I am doing really matters and is why I am here. It’s tantalizing–almost addicting–even though it is so incredibly draining.

And yet so fleeting.

Although the raw desire to reach your arms out to help those with overwhelming need and show them that they’re worth your effort and sacrifice is very real, it’s frighteningly easy to loose under those things called “the cares of this world.” Yet the further and further I get from the reality of saying “yes” to putting value on the health, food and shelter of others, the more and more unhappy I get–and the more obsessed with stupid things.

I know I’m not looking for an easy thing. I know how tired I was; I know how burning with that kind of passion can threaten to consume you, burn you out entirely. But the more times I taste from that cup and then slide back into first-world worries (grades! exercise! eat “right”! change oil in car! ), the more I find myself wondering if this first-world kind of life is really worth it for me to live.

I don’t want to look back on my life and say, “Man! I sure did an awesome job keeping up with my laundry!” I see the saving charts showing the power of compounded interest, and they make me feel guilty. . .but dead inside. I don’t want to save up piles of money; I don’t want my life to be defined by money any more than I want it to be defined by laundry. I don’t want to have the nice job, with the nice house and the nice car and the nice life. Nice is such a shallow adjective, with so little depth. I don’t want to look back on my life and say, “well, it was nice.”

I want to say, “it was gut-wrenching, incredible, awe-inspiring, exhausting, breath-taking, intense, and full of more love that I ever knew could exist.” Not “nice”. Yet I feel inexorably pulled into worrying about tuition debt and how to plan for my next car and good grades and a neat little “just-so” lifestyle–even though it’s against everything I want my life to be like.

How do I harness the passion that drives toward “nothing less than the best!” in my grades–a complete waste of my energy–into the things that really matter instead? How to I change the endless planning and scheming from “organizing my life” into making a real change in the lives of thousands?

I know it could be done. I know my life could be so much more than it is. I have tasted it. I know its burn, but I also know how much more deeply satisfying it is.

But I’m scared.

Part of it is the desire to be in control. If I don’t take care of tuition payments, who will? And the car, and the new computer when this dino dies, and keeping my body healthy and All Of The Just-So Things that I somehow think life cannot be lived without. And there’s the other thing. Without. I want that realness so bad I can almost taste it, but I’m scared of they very real sacrifices that come along with it.

How about never really having a home? A life of constant upheaval? When you give and you give and you give, and it’s never enough? Being alone, really alone? Loving, and not being loved in return? Health problems a suburbanite would never have (dengue fever, anyone?). Being in very real danger that you can’t even pretend to your loved ones at home that it’s okay. Being hungry and being cold and definitely not having 2-day shipping from Amazon.

I think about it a lot, in my waking hours and my almost-asleep hours, and I keep coming back to one thing.

I don’t want to do this alone.

I really, really don’t want to do this alone.

Even as I say it, I some how hear the resolve that if I have to do it alone, then I will. But I don’t want to, and now more than ever I want to bargain with God. I’ll go anywhere, I’ll do anything, I’ll drink the bitterness and cry Your tears–but don’t make me do this alone. I don’t have the right to make that bargain, even if I really did know what I was saying–and I know that I don’t. But I know I’m thinking it.

When I hear myself thinking about the Just-So life, I hear myself whispering over and over. . .”it isn’t enough, it isn’t enough.” But when I think of my impending departure to grad school, butterflies fill my stomach and my chest grows tight. I can’t do this–I can’t do even this. In our third year, we have the option of going to Bangladesh, and I want to go so bad–and I’m panicking at the thought of moving five hours away.

I’m not strong, God. I need someone to do it with.

When I think about “after”–“after grad school”–I can see that the “smart” thing to do would be to work at a stable job for several years, building up experience and bank account. I dread that idea almost more than I can say. No, I’m done with that. I’m done with reasonable and prudent and safe and just-so. I need to do real. Would I be ready? No. Heck, no. I’ll never be ready, and if I wait until I’m ready, I’ll be looking back on a life of laundry and bill-paying–a slow, painful death of Chinese drip-torture of slowly killing every dream and passion. I can’t live for Fridays. It’s too big of a waste for me to stomach.

I’m scared, but I’ll do it–help me God, I’ll do it. I don’t know the answers, I don’t know how–but I don’t want my life to be defined by turning away from what I knew to be right and true because I was afraid. Of all the reasons to fail at really living life–why fear of trying to do the very things you believe the most to matter?

But it doesn’t do away with the fear, or the silent sub-conscious bargaining with God. . .

. . .just don’t make me do this alone.

Dresses and Dreams and who am I?

So one of my friends is getting married (friend, if you’re reading this, a disclaimer: your impending marriage has simply sparked further thoughts on my behalf, which is good and right. Don’t feel inclined to take anything personally or wonder what you said. This is a pretty general disclaimer, since I’m not really sure where this post is going yet. But I’d hate for you to over-analyze my wanderings, so–don’t. 🙂 ).  I didn’t squeal when I found out, which I’m pretty sure is the now-considered-norm reaction. I didn’t squeal, because (1) I saw it coming; it was pretty much a question of when, not if, and (2) it’s a relationship between two individuals, not a party. I mean, it’s about the marriage, not the wedding. It’s  not like, oh, I’m so glad you’re going to have a wedding, how long do you think before you ditch the guy? It’s like, oh, a marriage, and, incidentally, we’re going to celebrate it!

I expected the engagement. I didn’t really expect how I would feel with the wedding planning. Unsettled.

I’m good at planning. Actually, much to my annoyance, I have more than once woken up from a dream in which I am planning some gathering/event/celebration, and then couldn’t fall back to sleep because I had to finish ironing out the details. At this point, I don’t even really do much planning for a gathering of 30 people any sooner than the week before. So it’s not like I expected myself to have any odd feelings about talk of planning a gathering of, say, 90 people. 2-3 times bigger than what I typically pull together. No biggie.

But I did, especially when I saw her trying on wedding dresses, because suddenly I couldn’t put myself in her shoes. I have thought of myself at times as what I would be like as a wife or a mother, but I guess never really seriously thought of myself as a bride. In the abstract, I could totally put together my own wedding. In the reality of the moment of looking at wedding veils and talking about wedding colors, all I could think was I’d just elope.

Not for her. For me. I’d just be ridiculous in satin and sparkles. My nails are usually filled up with doughnut dough and potting soil; a glittering ring would never settle comfortably on my finger. All these gorgeous, statuesque dresses that I’d love to figure out how they constructed, and in reality? I want the tab that says “cotton dresses here.”

Venues and photographers and caterers–caterers? I confess to finding myself aghast at the idea of myself paying someone else to make food. How snobby, yes? I mean, my aunt even had Christmas catered this year; she just didn’t want the stress of it all and wanted to enjoy the people. Very reasonable and practical of her. But I don’t–you don’t understand–I’ve been cooking for 12 since before I was 12. I make vats and vats of food, regularly. Good food. Fantastic food. And for my wedding I’m supposed to pay someone else to cook it? I would imagine the feeling is similar to leaving your kids with a sitter for the first time, or something. I don’t have any kids, so I’m only guessing.

I can’t imagine. I really can’t. I can imagine “weddings” but I can’t really imagine “my wedding.”

The closest snatch I ever got was this fleeting glance of myself standing barefoot in the grass in a white cotton dress, serving homemade ice cream instead of a reception line, my groom at my side. But it was all fake, because there were lots of young kids running around in the sunlight, and all the kids I know are rapidly growing up. The guests weren’t real.

None of it was really real.

And if I were to get married right now, I probably would elope. No possible configuration of any of the elements is me. I didn’t see a single dress I wished I could just only try on. My idea of flowers is “whatever is blooming.” I couldn’t, I don’t think, feasibly host my extended family from both sides (cost, mostly, but also trying to imagine so many disparate people  together) , never mind his, so the guest list would be awkward at best, making eloping sound even better. No matter which way the list was cut, it would be a really awkward gathering. . .

I guess it made me feel a little sad. Like when you see people playing some game, and they make it look really fun–and you know that everyone would want you to come out and join them, but you know you’ll be awkward and ungainly and never have as much fun as they will. It’s fun to watch, but you can’t help but regret, just a little, that you’re only on the sidelines. I’m not saying that I’ll never get married, and I’m not even saying I’d never have a wedding. I guess it’s just the quiet realization that the princess lifestyle just doesn’t work for me, even for a day.

Maybe someday I’ll find out I’m wrong. Maybe I won’t. Either way, it’s okay, because what I said at the beginning is still true: it’s about a marriage, not a wedding.

Resolutions

  • Manage my junk better. Seriously. It’s embarrassing. How many years are you supposed to keep pay stubs and credit card statements? Oops, I think I already blew my cover. *blush* Yes, it’s bad. And it needs to get better. Not just this year, but always, so it’s time to start making a concentrated effort. MANAGE THE JUNK!
  • Text random encouraging messages. The last two years, I felt very isolated. I was working full time, but felt like I had zero support at work. A kind word was like manna.  I have way too many names on my phone of people I care about but never get in contact with, because I’m waiting for a reason. Maybe these two things should come together: Text people those words that we all need.
  • Create more. For no good reason. I have been feeling increasingly convicted about this. I’ve been discarding it as less important than “responsible” things, but I’m beginning to suspect I have it backwards. I have a miles long list of ways I like creating things, and then I run around most of the year just trying to survive. This is wrong. My surviving should be to feed my art, not to kill it.
  • Ease up on the electronic devices. Electronic devices are like baked goods: no way in heck am I going to swear them off forever, and they can be really, really good. Sometimes. But a steady diet of them actually starts to make me feel sick. I’ve been noticing I’ve been fleeing to the glowing screen a lot when I really need a nap. Or need to reflect on the day and how I’m feeling, instead of cramming it down inside until I explode. Or I need to be creating. Or really be part of the conversation. I’m not saying swear it off forever, but my use definitely needs to be curbed. Controlled. Cut back a lil’.
  • Use the Post Office more. This is sort of like the above text-messages one. I tend to shy away from the PO, because, hello? I’m totally broke. Free seems more appealing than paying. But you know what? As a recipient, I’ve found a handwritten card–an actual object I can hold–to be more meaningful than an electronic equivalent. And who doesn’t want to come home to find something “good” in the mail? It can (sorta) redeem a bad day!
  • Read more. I used to read all the time. I like reading. Why did I stop? I just got so busy. And once I got to be a “grown-up,” it was hard to find books that were at a high enough intelligence level without it seeming as though the authors all assumed that obviously now you are just interested in sex and violence. Um, well, I still think the range of human emotion and experience is a lot broader and deeper than that. Is there any way I could get in a good, satisfying, not-too-long and not-TOO-serious book that isn’t childish and isn’t all about the boudoir?  I’ll even taken non-fiction, if it isn’t too serious (read: depressing. I do enough of that on my own). One of the best books I actually did read this year was about two upper-crust young ladies deciding they were feed up with the pansies of upper-classness, and deciding to jointly go out to the middle of nowhere (read: no indoor plumbing) and teach school. It was an awesome story. Although I pretty much skipped the first half, where their upper-classness was detailed, and skipped right to the “live life!” part.
  • Wear more interesting clothes. I love interesting clothes. I don’t wear them, though. I’m not sure why not. I wore riding boots and a wool cape to my cousin’s Christmas service, and I felt awesome. I walked like a superhero. Why shouldn’t I wear awesome clothes? Well, it does take a little more work. Because it would mean making my clothes awesome. But also because for me it takes emotional energy to be noticed, and people are going to notice if I’m awesome, probably. I will have to start by being subtly awesome until I get used to it, I guess. Ha!
  • Take more pictures of people. I’m always glad when I do, but it’s such an effort. It’s so awkward sticking a camera in someone’s face. But once I get past the initial awkwardness, I get some really good shots that are always so much more meaningful to me than even my admittedly incredible scenery/stills shots.
  • Listen to music. Music I already have, yes, but also new music. This is like book reading. Somehow it is falling by the wayside, but it shouldn’t be. And I should be hearing new music all the the time, not stuck in musical ruts. Music is important.
  • Stop trying to make money. I actually hate making money. I only do it because I feel like I’m supposed to. Anytime I start thinking about saving money or making money, it kills whatever goodness the idea had to begin with. I’m only trying to make money when I’m afraid, and when I’m desperate, and when I feel like I ought, and when I’m scheming to rule the world. None of those are particularly good motivators–I mean, they might motivate you, but they’re bad reasons.
  • Wear shorts this summer. This one will actually be very hard for me. I might not do it. It’s actually called, “Stop being so self-conscious!”, but without an actual activity, there’s no real way to work on this. I don’t know why I’m so self-conscious, but I know for the last several summers, I thought it would be great to get the sun and wind and grass on my legs. But people might make comments. Or think things. What the heck? This summer, I’m going to try to wear shorts.

Well, I think this list is done, because now I’m thinking. Over thinking means they aren’t really true goals, they’re things I think I should want.

I didn’t make this list to try to become a better person. I made this list because I think it talks about who I already am. It’s a little time capsule of December 31st, 2013. . .

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