Mr. Rochester is a Creep

Maturity is a hard thing to assess in yourself, and is made more complicated by the fact we don’t mature equally in all things. Maturity in responsibility and action, for example, is quite different from maturity in relationships. Maturity with managing money is far different than the maturity to understand the societal systems in the world.

One of the things I have struggled with is the mild addiction to being useful. As with anything, we can speculate all we like on the root of such things. . .I used to blame it on my particular parameters of my upbringing, until I read “Grace for the Good Girl,” and the author had been raised in a wholly different situation and yet seemed at time to speak thoughts right out of my head. I suppose, on a most simplistic level, feeling useful makes us feel more secure. People don’t get rid of, or treat poorly, or forget about, useful things. People value useful things. Being useful seems like a good, safe, meaningful choice.

Ultimately, of course, it’s drinking poison. Any love you earn (or think you are earning, or feel like you are earning) can be withdrawn the moment you stop being useful. And in the mean time, after the initial rush of pleasure at succeeding at being useful, it breeds all kinds of resentment and hurt and loneliness, and a raw inability to connect with people on a real level.

It frustrates me to no end that it is exceedingly difficult to see maturity in relationships modeled in anything. It would be amusing to see if you could get a “5 stages of maturity” in relationships, as a corollary to the 5 stages of grief. . . although the biggest corollary is probably just that it’s been found that the 5 stages of grief are largely not stages nor limited to 5. But off the cuff, it’s not that hard to start scribbling up a list.

There’s the “rescue me!” and it’s equally destructive cousin “I’ll rescue you!” How many stupid, disastrous tales have been told like this? It’s easy to take pot-shots at Cinderella and Snow White, but how about Jane Eyre? I like Jane Eyre, don’t get me wrong, and in many ways she was very responsible and mature and what have you. But she was out to rescue Mr. Rochester, to reform him, to save him from his blackened ways. Oh, heavens. Jane got to live happily every after, since that’s what her author wanted, but how many abusive tales can you start with that “save him” line?

Having long had to hoist myself and my own responsibility, I rarely recall looking for anyone to “rescue me!” But I clearly recall telling myself a good many lots tons of stories of “I’ll rescue you!” Horribly romantic and terribly stupid, it really appeals to the nurturing core of many of us–someone damaged and hurt and broken, and then redeemed and restored and healed by the saintly little woman who tends to him so sweetly and gently and faithfully. We’re just so good we melt the badness right out of them. No, we don’t. Life doesn’t work that way. But we’d like it to. We want it to.

I would guess that next on the list is the painful pairing of “I want someone to be useful to me/to be useful to someone.” Although it seems strangely even more twisted, and harder to ferret out. I don’t think I’ve often fallen into the trap of trying to keep someone around just because they’re useful, but I’ve nearly drowned many times in the black well of wanting to be useful, as I’ve mentioned above. There are more sad stories than I care to try to remember of children who felt their mothers only wanted them as long as they were useful, or their fathers. I would suppose spouses, but if you look around at the fairy tales, it’s mostly parents or step-parents or adoptive parents.

I think this is because there is an inherent power differential here. I mean, there is in the first example, too, but someone needing to be saved is an assumption of weakness. Someone needing to be served is an assumption of power. To be useful, someone has to set the bar of what constitutes being useful enough.

I don’t know what draws us to this. I know that I know I’m good at being useful, and that there is a satisfaction and a certain amount of pride in that. I don’t know why I tell myself stories about girl-winning-guy by means of usefulness. Why would it be a life goal, or a relationship goal, to be “useful”? Like a toaster. Or an adjustable wrench.

Perhaps this is where the thought comes in, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” Maybe we think we won’t get anything better, so let’s go with this. But I find it terribly sad and still confusing, even though this is a place I still keep stumbling. Why do I need to be so useful? Why? For Pete’s sake, what do I think will happen if I don’t? Do I really think no one will want me around if I’m just “normal helpful” not “so helpful”? I can’t figure it out. But I do know that when I fall into the trap of “affection by means of usefulness” that I am always and continually smarting under the power differential. It’s not a healthy place to be.

There is also the “I want you/I can make you want me” pairing. Somehow, this one terrifies me the most, with no rational reason for that ranking. I know it exists, and that for some people it’s a drug, and maybe that’s the reason of my fear. I’m also afraid of ever getting drunk, and the lack of control that people who swear all the time seem to have. In my mind, raw lust equals lack of control, and being out of control of myself seems like a terrifying idea. Bad things happen when people lose control. All the more terrifying, then, that so many fairy tales (Disney or otherwise) are based off of nothing more than physical attraction.

The word “control freak” would not have been invented if fear of losing control were always a good thing. And the flip side to this issue, for me at least, is the strange conviction that “no one would ever look at me like that, anyhow.” This might sound more familiar as countless tales (most recently, I over heard it on Downton Abbey playing in the background) have this charming set up where the girl thinks she is too plain to be noticed and the boy thinks she is the most beautiful creature ever blessed with the breath of life. For every girl who thinks she is too plain to be looked at, there’s a death trap of falling for whoever insists otherwise, despite other completely unredeemable qualities. Insisting you are physically unattractive is not really a safe action either.

I guess with all of that, it might sound as thought I’ve bounced from one unstable and destructive relationship to the next, but no, not really. More the opposite, of prickling like a porcupine in defense and never letting anyone close. It’s just, as I see people all around me, all beside me, struggling to understand relationships, I feel more and more that we’re often shown all sorts of dysfunctional and destructive relationships passed off as “normal” and “healthy” and rarely are shown any sort of mature, respectful, mutually beneficial teamwork — something that is not about “winning” but is instead about building with each other.

One of the few examples I can pull up easily is the relationship of Wolverine and Jubilee in the first X-Men movie, were they just took care of each other. But that “doesn’t count” because it wasn’t good enough for Wolverine, who kept chasing the hot body (to his own misery). And I guess that’s the point. We all figure the hot guy won’t be happy without a hot girl, and the ordinary girl is just that — ordinary. Of course.

But why all these horrible cliches and stereotypes? Why is it that we think that fairy tales of princess and princes are more believable than functional, loving relationships? Do we know so little about functional relationships that we’re even incapable of writing them? We know there’s no such thing as a perfect relationship, but we’re so ready to accept terrible relationships as paragons. If any of my friends were hanging out with a Mr. Rochester type, I’d be telling them to get out now, and stop deluding themselves. Mr. Rochester is a creep, not a paragon of true love. Why can’t we imagine a paragon, even if we know we can’t achieve it? Why do we have to keep offering up really lousy things as though they were things to be chased after?

Maybe we don’t. I don’t know. I know the stories I’ve told myself have changed. And they’re getting harder and harder to tell myself, because when you grow-up out of the cliches, things are harder to imagine. It’s harder to imagine what a good team-mate would look like, because first you have to be able to honest with yourself about your own weakness are that you need help with, and honest with yourself about what strengths you have and how they actually should be used to help others.

It’s hard to grow out of wondering if you’ll ever be beautiful in someone else’s eyes, and into recognizing that you need encouragement to be brave enough to do the hard but right things. It’s hard to grow out of padding your relationship resume with how well you bake and the way you can handle minor home repairs, and instead understand that part of what I have to offer is really more about sitting down and having hard conversations. But the stories are about beauty and baking favorite cakes, not being too cowardly to do what is right and having to have hard conversations to clear up assumptions and hurts and miscommunications and differing priorities and values. And then somehow we wind up thinking we’re broken when we wind up having tearful conversations instead of baking sweets and singing.

It just makes maturity so much harder when no one wants to talk about what it is, and that turns maturity itself into a mystery. It’s hard, yes, but does it have to be a mystery on top of everything else? Maybe this is just something we need to talk about more, instead of leaving unsaid and left to nothing but speculation. Maybe we need more encouragement in what maturity is and how to move forward into it.

That is something

It’s a rather common experience to feel like everything is black and white, clear cut and concrete, when you are younger, and as you age, you begin to understand more of the complexities and confusions of a deeper understanding of life. I am finding myself mucking around in quite a bit of that, so much so that I feel like I have to question almost everything I once thought was plain. A friend of mine recently asked what love even is, and I felt horrible that I had no kind of answer. It’s something that I’m struggling with, too.

That seems so horrible to me, because it seems like, I don’t know, if that’s not a basic need, what is? Shouldn’t everyone be able to experience and know a basic definition of love? But it seems to me that love is yet one more mystery, and not always in the Princess Bride kind of wonderful mystery of untold depths of enjoyment and delight.

I’ve seen things called love that were not love, and things called not love that were, and most confusing of all is this thing called the love of God. If John can say in all honesty that God is love, and that God loves us, then it can only make ones head and heart hurt trying to understand this thing called love, and why people all experience life so differently. If you and I are both beloved saints of God, then why is one of us given the answers to a prayer or a longing for love and the other not?

The only answer I have is no answer at all: that love is a mystery. That there is so much our finite minds can’t truly comprehend. I’m near-sighted, and there’s much that I simply cannot see. And as much as we try to reduce complicated things into things that we can understand, I’m more and more convinced that the complicated things are simply too much to be reduced to human terms, and there absolutely no satisfaction in that.

Job called for a mediator and demanded and answer and was told he couldn’t handle an answer and went and put his hand over his mouth. And the biggest piece of confusion for me has always been how that can possibly be a satisfying ending to the story, how that could possibly justify all the suffering and mistreatment that came to Job. And why God deemed that it was a sufficient answer for us as human beings, instead of making us capable of understanding.

Paul said the clay can’t question the maker who forms it, and sometimes that makes me shy about asking questions like this. But as best as I understand it, if you are seeking to understand and know your maker, you will invariably wind up with questions of “why?” and “how?” and “what is this?” What does it say about God that life is the way life is? The hard part is staying curious instead of falling into judgment. It’s very easy to go from “why?” to “this is not fair, and God is wrong.” If you truly understand your own incapability, then it becomes fairly obvious the stupidity involved in judging God – like a child who thinks it’s parent is mean for not letting them walk barefoot on broken glass. But when life feels very unfair, the aching hole of “why?” is very hard to keep from falling into.

I know that the answer of action is the same: acknowledging that that God is who He says He is. That He cannot lie, that He is love, that He works all things for our good, that He is faithful, that He knows, that He is holy and perfect.

But the “why?” is still there. And though there is no satisfying answer for it, I don’t think we’re wrong to ask it. Jesus, hanging on the cross: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

And God didn’t answer. But the veil tore. Or maybe that was God’s answer. Come here, and I’ll tell you.

So much of this life is the waiting to be made whole. So much of this life is finding out again and again how broken we are. With death, with abuse, with lies, with disappointment, with insufficiency, with just plain emptiness. What do we have left to offer each other, in this time of now?

I don’t know. At one point I thought it would be clear cut, a list of “10 things we have left to offer each other.” Now, I wonder, because our desire to offer is different than our ability to offer, and our ability to offer is different than our ability to convince others to receive or reciprocate.

If there is anything that I still think I do know, though, it’s that we have to keep trying. That we’re never released from the obligations to seek God, to love, and I think to ask hard questions and admit we don’t have the answers. Even if the only answer behind any of those actions can only be boiled down to, “Because God said it was pleasing to Him that we do.” It’s a hard place to be, but I think a true place to be, and that is something.

It’s a Pity to be Human

I’m holding the door open for the cat. It’s raining out, but the handmixer is running, and she hates the sound of it. Caught between two miserablenesses, she hesitates at the door, her ears laid back. I feel sorry for her and her miserablenesses, so I just stand there with the door open, watching her.

One of my brothers pushes past me, suddenly shoving his hand at her face, as though to scare her off the threshold so the door could be closed. She flattens herself to the ground, but doesn’t move.

“She wants to come in, but hates the sound of the mixer,” I explain, annoyed. I was busy feeling sorry for her, and he has no respect for my pity.

“Oh.”

But the ‘oh’ belies no understanding of the situations, because moments later, he steps past me and my open door, stands behind that cat, and nudges her through the door with his foot. Forced to chose one of the miseries, the cat dashes through the kitchen trying to escape the sound of the motor.

I am like the cat. I try to go outside to avoid the sound of the motors, and the people who are being morning people. It continues to rain, so I have to sit on the porch. Then a morning person comes out to be cheerful at me, and another brother comes out to start another motor (the ice cream maker), and my mom comes out, too, so she can offer helpful motherly advice.

“So much for my plot to escape the sound of motors,” I sigh, as the ice cream maker kicks on.

“Well, you can go someplace else,” my mom informs me. “The mixer isn’t running in the kitchen any more.”

“I know,” I say.

“The screened porch is cleared off now,” she continues to push.

“I know,” I repeat, irritably. I know. I helped clean it. The day I was practically doubled over with abdominal pain. You didn’t help clean it.

I am trying to escape the motors, and the rain. And also, I would like some pity, but these cheerful morning people have none.

***

Last night, my grandma came over, and asked me if I had a glowing halo. I stared at her at first, and then tried to cover my confusion by claiming full body luminescence. She was referring to the fact that I had just been awarded my doctorate degree, a fact so roundly ignored by people in this house that I had almost forgotten about it myself. My dad made a few jokes about it. One brother threatened to call me doctor, but I said he could only call me “doctor” while singing “Put the Lime in the Coconut.” He said it would be worth it to memorize the lyrics, but we both knew he wouldn’t. Mostly, two of my brothers will put in sly jabs wherever they can about how I would have to chose the degree with the most amount of school debt and the lowest salary.

Some of my family came up for graduation, but it mostly made the family dysfunction that much more apparent. A small handful of people, most of whom came along only because there was someone else to come along with, and a vague sense of guilt that they should want to be there. They spent hours upon hours sitting in a car, waiting through boring lists of names of people none of us knew, and cramming themselves back into the car. I got to see their miserable faces for a few moments, and I say miserable not as an adjective of the quality of their faces but of the expressions they were wearing.

Then I went to my friend’s graduation party, and sat quietly in the sunlight, watching her face light up again and again in the presence of her family and her friends. I watched her husband and her sister, dripping with pride and happiness. In the end, I walked myself back to my car a few blocks away, alone in a city that was both familiar and completely impartial to me.

***

This is normal to me. Not easy, but normal. Aside from precious isolated incidents, my memories of school, right from the beginning of my associate’s degree, are largely one bleak swath of loneliness. Of not fitting in with my classmates, and so always being the odd and awkward one in any group. Of my family not understanding why I would do such a thing, and only the more so once I moved a state away. The example set to me has always been, “if you move away, you’re the one making that choice; so you’re only getting the consequences of your decisions if it means you lose connection with people.”

I can’t say I really did any better with my brothers that went away to college. It seems far off, and your own life seems busy, and what do you say, anyway, when you’re a family of introverts who mostly socialize by sitting quietly in the same room? But I can’t say it’s an attitude I want to propagate.

This morning, my second attempt to get photos taken of me for graduation announcements fell through. And all though it hurt, I realized the feeling of a twisting knife wasn’t really about photos, or even about my imagined plans for my own little declaration of completion. It is more the pining to be understood, the pining to be celebrated, the pining to be noticed, the pining to have life go as I think it should rather than the way it predictably does. No, I don’t have a husband glowing with pride and happiness, taking pictures of me at my graduation party. No, taking pictures and sending out announcements is really no substitute at all. But it was something, and I didn’t want to have to fight for that something. Any more than I wanted to fight my family to come up and be miserable while they watched me walk across a stage and shake hands with a stranger.

***

The life we imagine doesn’t have us pausing hunched on the threshold between the rain and the tormenting motor. The life we imagine has a multitude of choices, some more pleasant than others, and always with the tantalizing assumption that if we’re very clever about dashing through the wet drops from the grey skies — well, that we’ll strike upon that golden scenario that is all smiles and no painful wincing. The life we imagine takes all of the best pieces we’ve seen from all the happiest lives, and mashes them together in this strange yet pastoral scene we tell ourselves is actually achievable.

The lives that we do have are pieces of joy and contentment that are beyond words, splintered apart by hurts internal and external, and wrapped up in painful obliviousness to what we are doing to others and even what it is that we ourselves need. And whether we like it or not, our brokenness is our humanness. We cannot escape the brokenness without superseding our mortal forms. Some mornings the pain seems more searing than other mornings, making our breath catch and our eyes unfocus in a lame attempt to ward off tears. But always it is there.

Maybe it’s faulty advice, but it is my advice: Don’t be ashamed of pity. Of giving it to others, of accepting it yourself, or even occasionally allowing the self-pity to wash over all of your raw places and then drip slowly away. You can even pity the cat sometimes. It’s okay.

What do you say?

You know what they say: Love Wins.

And if you are anything like me, “they” make you very frustrated and sad, because that’s jut a feel-good cop out that refuses to look at what love is. First of all, love is verb. People want to think it’s a noun, and I’ll dig around at that thought a bit more later, but the consideration of love as a noun is usually an attempt to avoid the difficult questions.

Love Wins. Love of what? Love of others? Love of nature? Love of self? Don’t try to squirm out of this – if you don’t confront that love is a verb, you are trying to pretend that those above choices will never be in conflict and that is demonstrably false. One of the most painful examples I have seen of Love Wins is people trying to use it to justify infidelity. It’s okay that I left the person I promised to love forever, because I love this other person, and Love Wins. Yes, that is “love winning” but that’s love of self winning. By dropping the direct object of “love,” it makes it sound very pious but is actually deeply deceiving.

The idea is, any action goes, as long as it’s in the name of love, because love wins. There’s no condemnation with love. But that’s still avoiding. Love of what? Love of whom? Because the object of your love is the object of your worship. There is One who claims the noun of Love — God. And that’s exactly what it means: the love of God, the love through God, the love toward God: the worship of God.

That’s the love that made the only innocent and holy man take on the full wrath and judgment of God. Love of God. I’ve seen a lot of people say Jesus did that because He loved us, but I don’t believe that to be it at all. He did it because He loved God, more than He loved us or Himself. Love is so very often what leads to self-denial, the exact opposite of how most people are attempting to use the slogan Love Wins.

Love Wins. Do you not understand what hard things this means in the real life? If there is one who wrongs, and one who has been wronged, who do you love? And is it really for you to judge about wrongs and wronged? And this question requires that one be worthy of love. Is that love? How do you love awful things? People like to use Hitler as an example of all that is wrong in this world — so do we love Hitler? Have we judged that Hitler is not worthy of love? If we get to decide who is worthy of love, is that Love Winning?

The only way I can see for Love Wins to make any sense at all is to appeal to authority: what you love. If what you are really saying is Love for Self Wins, you justify your actions by yourself and what benefits or harms you. If what you are really saying is Love for Dogs Win, well, heaven help you, you are appealing to the authority of dogs for your actions. And if what you are trying to say is the Love of God Wins, then you have do this other thing: submit to the authority of God, even when it means self-denial.

That is what Jesus was called to do. And I think that is what we are called to do. I don’t think it’s easy, nor is it always pleasant or feel good. And in all honesty, I don’t think it is often easy to understand. But when you are caught in the struggles of understanding what the loving thing to do is in this messed up situation, the only way to make any sense out of anything is to admit that you do not have the authority to decide what love is. Only God does. Or whatever you have decided to worship as your god.

If love was easy to understand, or love was easy to do, there would be a whole lot more “love” in the world. Let us not do ourselves the disservice of pretending that the struggles of loving in this broken word can be distilled down to a catchy, dismissive slogan that requires not heartache or difficulty self reflection, or brutal examination of all that you believe and worship.

I was listening to someone tell me the other day of her raw heart ache and her feelings of not being worthy of love, and how she felt badly betrayed and mistreated by her most recent lover, who had rapidly moved on to someone else to love — better and more gently than he’d ever loved her.

And sitting there listening to her pain and her grief, I kept wondering what love was. Love, in that moment, it seemed to me, was just hearing her, and recognizing her hurt. So that was what I endeavored to do. But all the while, my mind churned. You keep going from lover to lover and you think you will ever feel “worthy of love”? You think love is both something we must be worthy of and something that is still worth it, as conditional as you seem to understand it to be? In light of eternity, is true love rebuking you — painful in the moment, but so life giving in the long run? What would the apostle Paul say? Probably something starting with “brethren and countrymen–” and I’m just not feeling the brethren and countrymen thing right now. What would Jesus say? How the heck can I know? Sometimes He rebuked and sometimes He said, “do not rebuke her.”

Love Wins? Love Wins what? No, truly, what is love winning? You can’t even remotely pretend that love makes this world okay. This world is coming apart at its seams, has been, will be, and cannot be patched back together with love. Love can be a balm in this world, a comfort, a refuge sometimes, but what does it win? And I say this in all seriousness, because if you are going to die for love, you had sure better know what it is you are winning. And if you don’t think love is something you’ll ever be called on to die for, what makes you so sure it’s winning? How do you expect to actually make a difference against darkness and hurt and hate if you aren’t going to have to sacrifice for it? Plenty of people have died in the name of love. (Jesus, for example, comes to mind.) You can’t love and be safe and not do hard things.

Love Wins. It’s called, “sticking two verbs together and pretending it makes a sentence.” It doesn’t. It’s a slogan to hide behind, but doesn’t actually do anything in the way of guidance or illumination of how to deal with the hardness and the brokenness of life, and the confusion we all face when we come face to face with the command to love and the ugliness of the fallen world.

I don’t have an answer back, and that makes some people angry. Don’t just criticize. Keep your mouth shut unless you have a solution to offer. But people, you’re missing a step. Don’t you open your mouth and pretend to offer a solution when it’s a solution you haven’t vetted. If you won’t do the work of vetting your own offering, don’t be surprised or offended when other people are testing it and trying it. Love Wins is a feel-good farce designed to belay guilt, accountability or authority. It’s the childhood chant of “I’m right, you’re wrong, ha, ha, ha” without actually having meaning or depth behind it.

Love is supposed to be sacred, so playing “love” is supposed to be the trump card. If you don’t agree with me, you’re just a hater. No, I’m not. I’m someone who’s desperately trying to love, who finds that all sorts of different definitions and objects of love are completely contradictory or antithetical to each other. Love Wins is not a solution to someone struggling to understand how to love guilty, condemned people who have done horrible things. Love Wins is not a solution to understanding how people can say they love you, and love someone who has wronged you, hurt you, torn you apart, and ripped your life to shreds. Love Wins doesn’t help you understand when you are loving someone, and when you are enabling them more and more into their own self destruction and destruction of others. Love Wins doesn’t bring people back from the dead or end suffering. Love Wins has never helped me figure out Love or Winning, and in all honesty, I’ve never seen it used as more than sickening expression of “I’ve Got Mine!”

Do I believe in Love? Yes, but it’s not pretty and neat. I believe in the love and the authority of God. I don’t believe I’m worthy of love. I believe it is only the judicial act carried out against the innocent Son of God that satisfies a holy and just God to love, but as such, I don’t need to be afraid of losing that love. Because I never claimed it by my own action or merit anyhow; I was declared worthy by One in authority, and His declaration and intent stands. I can’t accept that love without also accepting that authority, and that means my measuring stick for love is not my own: sometimes, I’m called to love when I don’t want to, when I want to wash my hands of the whole situation. Sometimes, I’m called to not love when I want to, like when I want to love myself more than any kind of self-sacrificing love. I don’t get to say, “well, I don’t think that aspect of God is very loving,” because I don’t get to define love, because I don’t have the power to love. Not even as I think I should love.

I’m twisted, I’m broken, I’m weak. My love is tainted and fragile and without power. That means the only love I really have to offer is the love that God gives me, and that must therefore be defined by His authority. That really is all I have to offer you. Do I believe love will win? Yes, but winning is defined by God’s terms, not ours. And God was pretty blunt about saying that won’t be how we expected it or valued or how would have done it ourselves. So, no, I don’t really know what that means. I don’t know if I’ll be seeing my great-grandmother again. I don’t know what happens to people who seem to have broken other people by their inability to even understand what love is. I don’t know what the fullness of God’s love looks like; I only know I don’t have the authority to define God or His attributes. It is He that has created me, not I that have created Him. Love wins, in that love remains after this world has passed away. Love wins, in that it is Love that has sought to redeem us. Love wins, in that it is God who wields the love. Love wins, in that we can’t really commandeer it, and it will always be beyond our definition and power, as we echo faintly of what we’ve heard.

If I have to pare it down to a scant sentence, I cannot say Love Wins. I can only say, the Love of God will Win.

“God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

When Waking Up Doesn’t Fix the Problem

I have been staring at this computer screen, trying to get something out of it, and of course, getting nothing. I either need to get away from the screen or make something out of it myself, and my difficulty getting away makes me realize that I am actually avoiding dealing. So deal I ought.

The problem with the perpetual use of hyperbole is that it leaves you with no words at all when exceptional and extraordinary things happen. Those two adjectives are most frequently used as positive exclamation, but please recognize that they most certainly do not have to be.

How about when two people you know are arrested on charges of murdering their own son?

I can’t even.

See, people usually say, “That sweater is so cute, I can’t even!” You can’t even what? You can’t even come up with enough use of the English language to denote your happiness with it? How unfortunate.

How about you can’t even stop thinking about it? Can’t even figure out what you think or feel? Can’t even imagine something so horrible, but can’t even shut of the part of your brain that tries to play images of things in an attempt to process them. Can’t even stop talking about it, but can’t even figure out what I’m trying to say. Can’t even bear to read the reporting on it, but can’t even stop trying to figure out what is going on, as if in someway any of this could make sense.

Once, maybe about 7 years ago, something similar happened. A horrible shooting event in my home town at a civic center. And when it first happened, I confess to my shame I rolled my eyes at how the news stations tried to bring as much drama and fear-mongering into it as possible. How the media makes such a big deal out of these things, when more people are dying by the minute by things no one wants to talk about.

Partly, those things are true. Partly, I think, they are one of our coping mechanisms to try to keep the horrible things at bay. Rationalize, distance, talk about in cold clinical terms. It is only when those horrible things break through into our own personal circles that we have to face the reality of how devastatingly broken and unrepairable this world is. That did happen to me, 7 years ago. Unbeknownst to me at the time of my scoffing, one of the people killed that day was someone I knew. Not knew well; maybe even more so knew of. But the event ceased to be impersonal, and suddenly it was horrifying.

We know there are horrible things going on all around us. But we like the illusion that those things only happen to Other People. Maybe, in the backs of our minds, to Other People Who Probably Deserved It. We don’t like to admit that, and maybe we know it isn’t really true. But still, this idea that if we live our life right, horrible things won’t happen to us. That if we keep our nose down, make good choices, and be, you know, generally “good people,” then our lives won’t turn into living nightmares.

It’s a lie. A lie we try to use to comfort ourselves, but nothing we say or do will ever be able to influence the horror of suddenly losing a parent to car accident. The truth is, death is in the world. Some of us fight to hold it back, to delay it – but we never can prevent death. And death is in the world because sin is in the world, and that is rampant.

People say, “Look at all the beauty in the world!” Yes, there is beauty. There is beauty. But even the beauty in this world is a decaying beauty. It is corrupted. There are the tombs, and there are the white-washed tombs. We can turn a blind eye, pretend the horrible things happening Over There won’t ever catch us. We can be shocked when the horror breaks open in front of us. We can build our dreams and fantasy worlds as fast as we can, but we can never escape sin and death and horror.

And all the coping mechanisms of this world, all the ones I have found or heard of anyway, keep going for the rationalization, the clinicalization of the horror, to build a wall between you and it, to wash your own life of the horror and turn your backs on the ones being buried in it. But it doesn’t go away. The world is still steeped in it. You might be able to cram the monster down for a little bit, but it will be back. You can’t build a life bullet-proof to horror.

I know of no earthly balm. Creation itself is groaning for the redemption of humankind. The justice of this world will not stop the horror. The mercy of this world will not stop the horror. There are those who would wade out and try to stem the tide of death and pain and hatred and abuse and torture and need and desperation. But no one is strong enough for it; the horror takes you down, one way or another. The careers of paramedics are short, for example, because there are too many horrible things and too many limits to our powers to fight back. We can’t be good enough to stop the horror. We can’t fix it.

You’re not supposed to say “no earthly balm.” You’re supposed to say, “Help is available!” You’re supposed to say, “But, counseling!” You’re supposed to say nice things about healing and being made stronger. And about being a warrior who overcomes hurt and fear. You’re supposed to say, “It will be okay.”

But it won’t.

There’s no way to make horror okay.

And if you think there is, I deeply question whether horror has yet broken in to your own safe little circle.

I have been struggling with the concepts of mercy and justice. They seem to be entirely opposed, do they not? Both right and true, and yet a paradox of existence. Which do you long for? If you have been wronged, justice. If you have wronged, mercy. Which of us has not been in both places? But what if it is a wrong, but not against you? Do you have any right to ask for justice? Or for mercy?

The only place where I see them coming together is in redemption.

When you redeem a soda can, it’s not that you’re getting free money. It’s that someone already paid for it. And when there is redemption of souls, it’s not that mercy is being poured out without cost or consequence. It’s that justice was paid by someone else: the innocent Son of God, who bore the just wrath of God against sin and corruption and horror.

But when you redeem a soda can, you give it up. It will be made new again for a purpose, but first it will be destroyed. If a soul is redeemed, it is given up. Life is no longer ours to live for ourselves. Our bodies will be destroyed, but will be made new again for a purpose. And that’s the only way I can see mercy and justice for this world: redemption, which will only come through destruction and being made new. You can’t have the justice without the destruction, and you can’t have the mercy without being made new.

This is the hope: not that tomorrow, I will wake up and there will be no more horror in the world or in MY world. But that someday, there will be redemption. There will be justice and mercy. There will be destruction and being made new.

Well,then what of today?

And every time I ask about today, I hear, “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial, in the wilderness, where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, and saw My works forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.’ So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’. . .exhort one another daily, while it is still called ‘Today.'”

So Today is the time of trial and wilderness and forebearance. Not that Justice will never be, and not that Mercy will never be. But like the beauty, the corrupted beauty, the justice and mercy of this time is only an echo, only a foreshadowing, and never enough to satisfy. Never enough justice and never enough mercy, because now is not the fullness of redemption, of destruction and being made new. The hope for today is not that it IS the rest, but that a rest does exist and is coming, and we have something to hold onto in the midst of the horror: all things made new.

We can’t make the horror okay, because inside of us all is a piece of the horror. Trying to make the horror okay now denies the truth. But the truth is not that we are good enough or can be good enough to escape the horror or defeat the horror. The hope, the joy, the desire is really for our own redemption, when the horror will be purged out from inside of us and we will be made new.

So today is the time of bearing the burdens and the heartache and the trial and the wilderness. And by bearing I don’t mean fixing, or moving beyond. I mean holding fast to the living God, in spite of all the terrible, horrible and wretched things of this world. It is because of God’s great patience that we exist, that we will find Him when we seek Him. And His patience is still working out, as long as it is still called Today. And this calls for endurance and faithfulness. And recognizing that we don’t get to be done with the horror, not in the world or in our world.

We can’t fix the horror. We can’t make the horror go away. We can’t be safe from the horror.We can only cry out with creation, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

 

Importance

Last night I listened to two people talking, and realized we were practically from different planets. She was raised with nannies — the first was from a town of only 300 people, can you imagine? (yes. . .yes, I can). The rest were from England. Of course. Don’t worry, she then became an au pair herself in France, 45 minutes outside of Paris, for 2 years.  Mummy dearest has bright red nails and an accent, and can’t imagine living in a small town for even two weeks, is a bonafide work-a-holic, and is considering getting a second home in Hilton Head, or if her brother buys a boat, anyway.

It makes my brain cramp. Because our lives are so different, yet we’re still just people. It’s not that their lives are charmed. Tales of divorce, counseling, drinking, endless streams of intimate relationships ending in broken hearts, longing for reconciliation, loneliness, and endless activity to avoid accidental self-reflection.

It leaves you thinking a little, what do they have that I don’t? Anything can happen in life. And then you realize, oh, yeah. What they have that I don’t have is money. I can’t just go home and buy a new car. I can’t just eat grass fed beef because it’s better for me.

It’s not that I’m without privilege. I do have privilege. I don’t have to start working the second I’m done with school, because I have family I can stay with, who will shelter and feed me. They have before, and likely will again, lend me the money to buy a car, which will be a far better deal than taking out a loan from traditional sources.

I just always wonder how far to push those resources. Because for a certain while, it makes sense, and after another certain while, it feels like taking advantage of someone. And it’s also a struggle, because it comes with a certain lack of identity. And both of those things eat at me.

I’m not saying I have to pull myself up by my own boot straps in order to be legitimate, although certainly there are temptations to be that way. But you don’t take things without giving things, and the more “support” you take, the more “autonomy” you give away. You have less and less control over living situation and environment, what you eat, who visits and when. It is further complicated by the thing about being alone vs being around people who care about you.

So this morning I started thinking about things like, how much money saved up is enough money? Is it better to rent or buy? How terrifying to buy. And things like, good glory, the amount of debt I have for my schooling could buy me 3 great American dreams. And that opens up the whole struggle I have about the school debt: when you know you will likely never pay it off, do you try? The pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps says yes, but it’s hard to convince yourself that in light of canceling any other aspirations for life.

I like life binary. I like right and wrong. Be simple and clear cut. It makes me so highly annoyed when I find out life is complex and confusing, and without straightforward answers. You might not get a diagnosis; you might just be stuck managing your symptoms. You might not get your dream lifestyle, but wind up living 15 different versions of making do, longing, and scheming to try again. You might get your education, but always wonder if it was worth it, or if it should have been went about in another way. (Right now I don’t think that, but ask me when I’m confronted with making payments.)

When it all comes down to it, I sometimes think I just want to stop being confused by life. I want someone to say, “this choice is the right choice, this choice is the wrong choice.” Armed with irrefutable conviction, I could then accept the consequences and carry on. But there is a niggling part of me I keep fighting with, the part of me that says, you can do a lot of the things you want, if only you had the guts to take the risks. And the risk adverse part of me says, “risk is stupid.”

I’m sick of doing what I’m supposed to do, and want to be reckless and do my own thing. But that is at war with the part of me that says conventional wisdom is both conventional and wise for a reason. There’s no good reason to not work for 2 to 3 years.

But I want to be in control. I don’t want to be riding on the waves of societies expectations and  social systems. I want to be busy being me. And when I talk about it as a defiance of society and the world, I feel so holy and I think I should find courage to make risky decisions. Other times, I wonder if I’m just fighting God. I want to be in control. I don’t want to be told what to do with my life. I don’t want to do those hard things, I want to do MY hard things.

I mean, just for supposing. . .suppose I turned down lucrative full time employment, in hopes of finding something part time? That’s a luxury only achievable by support of others. If I took full advantage of that support, and defiant risk in the face of all that’s responsible adulthood, I could do that. But I feel like I owe my support better than that. I feel like I owe my support a faster pay back than a part time job, too. And I’m not sure which is worse, feeling like your life is being ruled by money or emotions, but having it ruled by both at once sure does stink.

So while I try to resign myself to the idea of seeking full time employment. . .I also find myself looking for the silver lining. How fast could I save it up if I stayed with the support system? Could I outright buy a place I would want to own, and skip renting or mortgages? Would I feel too guilty not spending more toward school loans? Would I be able to save that much while paying back borrowed money for a vehicle? Could I manage the relative lack of autonomy for another two or three years?

And behind it all is the persistent longing that my life could be defined by more than my job. The one area where I feel like I have no control at all. I pray about it a lot. But I still have so little idea of what God has planned or why He has it planned. I don’t know why we wander, and I don’t know why we so often have to wander alone. I feel sad about where I am, but also certain, in some part of me, that God is good and gives good things.

Is that enough? I don’t know. But I think it’s the most important.

 

 

 

First

I am a child of God first.

This became my mantra this week. It began to grow out of a conversation I had with a friend.

I have just been thinking that a lot of my stress comes from feeling insufficient, and if I just work harder, I’ll be more sufficient. I’m trying instead to look to God, who alone is sufficient, and declares us sufficient by His blood But I lose sight of that every other minute.

Lord, let us find our satisfaction in You, instead of in ourselves, and let us receive Your grace, a grace unknown and unoffered by this world.

Do you see the outgrowth? I feel insufficient. . .as a student, a friend, a practitioner, an adult. But! I am a child of God first. So when there is a person or situation that is standing there, making me feel insufficient and incapable, I remind myself that I am a child of God first, before any other thing or occupation, and that it is Him only I am living to please. Not others. And not myself.

But it has been a very sobering mantra. I am a child of God first. It seems almost like a feel-good cliché. Instead, it has been revealing to me how very little I have thought about what it really means to be a child of God first. What does it mean, really? In some aspects, I think it means we have to pay attention even more to what God says about Himself, because, as His children, He is also saying it about us. A complex thought which I am afraid of being misunderstood, but bear with me.

To paraphrase Rich Mullins, “Jesus didn’t come and die so you could live a comfortable life.” Okay, yes. But you cannot always define things by what they are not. Why did Jesus come and die? The most succinct answer I can give is, “To be about His Father’s will.” Jesus prayed a multitude of times for the cup of suffering and judgment to be taken from Him, yet, “not as I will, but as You will.” What He did, He did not out of self-fulfilling joy, but out of deliberate obedience to the Father, and the work the Father meant to accomplish.

I think that puts us, though perhaps not to the same degree, in the same place. It matters what God is doing, if we’re His children. Not children in the sense of spoiled royalty who get whatever we want. His children that are about the work of their Father.

What that has revealed to me this week is how very much I am not interested in being about the work of the Father, but rather how much I’m drinking the wine of this world. Its cares, its values, its priorities, its reason, its logic, and a pervasive desire to figure out how to get along with its people, its systems and its social rules. It has shown me how very much I have been trying to figure out how to get comfortable, and how to paint my favorite fairytales–how so very much I have been trying to create my life and lead my life, two things which are very acceptable by this world and contrary to a life of obedience to something much, much higher than you are. The first step to acknowledging the greatness of God is a deep humility in regards to yourself.

The more I try to define what a child of God is, the more I find I have been running the other direction. Not deliberately putting myself up against God, but fearing created thing (humankind) more than it’s creator. Avoiding speaking the the truth to avoid conflict, because sure, judgment is coming sometime, but. . .I mean, that’s between them and God. Well, the judgment is, sure, but how about the truth that we are supposed to bear witness too? I don’t want any type of conflict, but. . .isn’t light and dark supposed to be in conflict? If it were a novel, we would all be desperately hoping that the powers of light wouldn’t be giving way to the powers of dark, wouldn’t be accommodating, wouldn’t be trying to fade into the background and fit in. We’d be hoping they were putting up a strong resistance, because they would be the only hope of a happy ending. This would be horrifying, and isolating, and offending so many people. . .and possible only if you really acted as child of God first, knowing that this world and it’s forms are passing away and God’s word is enduring forever.

I don’t mean that we should go around deliberately trying to offend people. But Jesus was an offense, and warned us that if they were offended by the master, how much more so by the servants? He testified to the truth; He was the truth. He was perfect in every way, and utterly and completely rejected by this world. And if I am honest with myself, I very much would like to avoid that rejection.

I will try one more time to say it, to clarify what I am trying to get at: we can’t serve two masters. We will either please the one and anger the other, or anger the one and please the other. Yet at a certain level, I’ve been trying to please both. It doesn’t work. But committing to one most certainly means rejecting the other.  “Fleeing” to the place of affirming my identity as a child of God de facto means that I have to take a position of enmity toward the ideals of this world, which are resolutely set against God. Their god is their pleasure. Not so for the Child of God, who prayed with blood and sweat. Not so for us, if we truly go to join Him. There is a joy and a peace in following God, but it is not the comfort of this world. We cannot honestly pursue both.

And I am a child of God first. And still trying to learn to understand what that means.

Light

I grew up under the rather Puritanical mindset and teaching that life is miserable, and you had better just start getting used to that now. In classical fashion, my first growth beyond that mindset was rebellion against the bitterness and anger that so filled the people who accepted that mindset. Being angry at anger doesn’t solve anything, but sometimes it is our first step in waking up.

It’s still a struggle for me, though. That’s why I’m writing here under pseudonym. The people I grew up with would still be quick to tear all of this apart as “too optimistic” and “naive” and even “delusional.” Maybe. Maybe not. Sometimes I think people stay in the darkness because it seems safer. If we already expect the worst, we can’t be let down. And so they proclaim this darkness as “truth,” but it’s a self confirming bias. If you only take note of all the horrible and dark things that happen, than it certainly seems like “truth” is that life is made up only out of horrible dark things. These dark-livings then loudly proclaim that they have the truth, that everyone else is too childish to deal with. Maybe. Maybe not.

Even if we were to grant the dark-livings that they have the truth, or a portion of it, even, there is still this: But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love. And truth didn’t make the list. And if you put truth in the same category of fathoming all mysteries and knowledge (which I think is how the dark-livings are using the word truth, in that instance), then it gets the slam that it’s worth nothing without love. And love, we have plastered everywhere to the point that further words on it are at the moment rather unmeaningful, ought to be casting out the darkness.

But setting aside that worn path, what about faith and hope? The dark-livings would say that “if in this life only we have hope, we of all men are to be most pitied!” clearly implies that there’s NO hope for this life. It’s only in the ever-after that that there is hope, or fruit from faithfulness.

And there I part. There are a lot of hard and horrible things in life, and that I do not argue with at all. But they abide. Faith, hope and love. Now AND later. Some times you read about or witness or go through yourself some hard and horrible things that seem to be so pointless and endless. Other times, hard and horrible things and yet you can see the faith and hope and love shining through the absolute shit (in it’s literal meaning). If we are not the ones called to faith and hope in middle of all the darkness, who is?

So Faith is here. Hope is here. That is still hard for me to understand. I don’t think that hope means getting everything you want. But it has to mean something. And I think of the pillar of light leading the Israelites. Not everything was light. But there was that pillar, and it was bright. You have to have faith, though, or else you won’t follow it. The pillar of light goes wandering off, and you stay put, gritting your teeth for the darkness, now that the light is gone.

I’m not trying to imply there aren’t times when it seems like all goes dark and the veil is rent, and that is all. What I am saying is, when we do see light, do we shield ourselves from it, and from what it might mean? Or do we follow the light in faith and hope?

It’s easy to say the second. Not so easy when you have lived or seen others live through being so happy to see what looks like light, and then having their hopes dashed. What do you say? My faith is better than yours, so the hope that I have won’t be disappointed? That’s why this is such a hard topic for me to write about. How can you claim hope for yourself when you know other people have hoped and seen no fruit from that hoping?

And that’s where the anger and the bitterness come from. I understand that a little better now that I did before. But I still don’t think it’s right. We are no where called to be angry and bitter. So understandable or not, we have to reject the mindsets that inevitably lead us there: they aren’t really truth, in it’s ultimate sense. They can’t be.

Understanding the hurt that can and does exist can make us more fearful and doubtful of both faith and hope and even love. Yet even a fool can see that the greatest faith and hope and love is that which has withstood the greatest fears and the deepest darkness. So it cannot be naivete that causes us to stumble after the light, but rather courage.

I read the works of Emily P. Freeman once, and to paraphrase, she was putting forth that sometimes God uses both our human limits and our deep-seated desires to guide us, to actually lead us into what He had prepared for us to do. This both at once had the sense of being very liberating and a ring of truth, and also, completely against everything I have ever known. You fight and wrestle with human limitations. You are always called upward and onward toward more. You are never enough and must always keep striving. And you should put to death any of your desires for pleasant things, which you wouldn’t get anyways, and besides you don’t really need them, and besides, it’s probably just your fallen nature seeking after things you shouldn’t really be wanting anyhow.

Not that there’s any bitterness there at all or anything.

Ok, lots.

The thing is, it seems to me, a lot of darkness-living people are doing a lot more gritting of their teeth than they are praying. Not even asking for things is different than respecting the authority of God to have a better understanding than you of what is good. The darkness-living winds up being a lot more like the un-prodigal son, who is mad he never got to have party, even though he never asked. Or like the miserly servant who refused to do anything with his talent because it would all be taken away from him anyway.

And asking is different than setting an ultimatum. One of the most wondrous passages I’ve ever read is when it says that those who seek Him will find Him. And it seems to me that if we are finding Him, then we are finding His will. And it seems to me that part of seeking is asking. So if you have this desire in your heart, how do you know if it something you should be following up on or not, unless you ask?

And if you keep asking for clarity and direction and understanding and discernment, and the same thoughts keep coming up again and again, at what point do you allow that maybe the desire is the answer?

I don’t know the answer to that. But it does seem to me that the important step there is the seeking and the praying about it. Only you won’t ever do that if every time the thing that you want pops up, you stuff it back down because it’s obviously too good to be true. And if you accept the teaching that life is all about not having what you want and always learning to live with doing things you don’t like and are hard for you, then you don’t ask.

I have sometimes seen this line of thinking shortened down to “the desire is the answer.” That I do not mean. That implies that you wouldn’t be wanting anything, unless it was God’s will to give it to you, and I don’t agree with that at all. But what I have found is that instead of feeling frustrated and angry when the minute I get a free moment, my thoughts invariably fall toward some of the same old familiar topics and themes, what I should really do is take it seriously. Think about it. Pray about it, very specifically. And be at peace that if it stays, you keep praying about it. And if it goes, you got another kind of answer.

But it staying is a kind of an answer. You can’t really in good conscience pretend something isn’t important when the same thing keeps coming up over the course of your whole life. Even if it is what looks good to you. It’s real. It’s important. It deserves prayer. It shouldn’t be dismissed. It should be treated with faith and with hope even more than it should be treated with logic and rational thought and emotion. God is still leading, sometimes with a pillar of cloud, and sometimes with a pillar of light.

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.