Thoughts

I don’t write because I have extra, leftover time and resources to write. I write because I’m losing my freaking mind, and I’m trying to salvage a few pieces of it.

I have  a lot of thoughts. About what kind of clinician I want to be when I’m done with school, about what it means to take care of our bodies and why we should, about how to try to fix my as-of-yesterday dead car. But I feel like although some of those thoughts may be interesting thoughts, they aren’t relevant thoughts.

Relevant thoughts are like the one I stumbled upon this morning:that while my car is currently dead-in-the-water, my future is up in the air, my health issues remain a mystery, and I’m not the person I want to be. . .my biggest current stessor is still the desire to excel in school work. Not just show up. Not just pass. Cross my t’s and dot my i’s and feel like I did an excellent job at that student thing.

And I feel like that is what I’m being asked to lay on the altar. Yes, take a bike ride instead of do school work. Yes, visit with friends instead of school work. Yes, agree to “fail” at schoolwork. Will I really fail? I don’t know. I never have before. Somehow God always gives me ludicrously high scores when I am least prepared. But it seems like that’s what I’m supposed to do — stop trying.

That’s hard, though. It’s hard, because the to-do list is long, and there’s not a whole lot of room for pairing down. And the list of things I’d like to do is even longer. Going to bed on time, eating decent, exercising every day (but one), and writing for sanity’s sake seems to take up 80% of time not spent in the classroom. But there’s still eating and cleaning and grocery shopping and cars breaking down and school assignments to be completed outside of class, and friends you won’t get to see for much longer and family’s waiting for updates and stuff, nevermind the wants or the creative juices or the interesting thoughts.

What I want is, I want a break. Not a, “sit on the beach in the sand and do nothing” break. I want a break where I get to be me for a while. “Me” is not a sitting, stationary, passive kind of person, so it doesn’t look like a break for a lot of people. But I’m not asking to stop doing, I’m asking to stop stressing.

I was talking with a friend a while ago about how I am suspicious that we have a lot more freedom than we ever take advantage of. As I’ve been saying and saying to myself, we’re never told it’s our duty and responsibility to be stressed, and in fact are frequently told to knock it off. Yet we don’t want to give it up. Why?

I usually brush it off as lack of trust. I don’t trust God enough. Bad me. Guilty me. Heave a huge sigh, but maybe I never will have enough faith to stop stressing. But I’ve also been challenged lately to look at the other side of that card a little more. Maybe I want the stress more than I want God. We all get indignant, because what?! Who wants stress? That’s foolish talk.

But maybe we want our pride, and that leads to stress. Maybe we want control, and that leads to stress. Maybe we want vindication more than we want God, and that leads to stress. Maybe we want praise, and that leads to stress. Maybe we want to avoid experiencing the disappointment or displeasure that others demonstrate toward us, and that leads to stress.

It’s easy for us to say we want God, but it’s hard for us to let go of our “and, also”s. And, also, I want to to do every scrap of my school work. I want God, and, also, I want to get on top of my to-do list. I want God, and, also, I want my life to fit together neatly like carefully chosen Lego-blocks. I want God, and also, I want to be beautiful, or at least fit. Coordinated. Graceful. I want God, and also, I want to be the one to tell Him what He should look like and act and decree.

And there’s a crux there, or something. I mean, if I don’t pray to Him about fixing my car, who can I ask? But I feel like that statement ought to be absolute. I want God. More than my car, more than a place to stay, more than health, more than restored function, more than a sparkling transcript, more than passing the course or program, more than a license to practice, more than a family, more than a lifestyle, more than my own views of what life is supposed to be like.

In the abstract, this can be agreed upon. In practice, it’s hard to hold onto in the midst of this militant demands, right in front of our face. “You HAVE to figure out what to do with your car!” “You HAVE to figure out what to do about the doctor’s recommendations!” “You HAVE to do lab prep!” Oh, right! Right, right, right! I’m coming, hang on! Just let me–finish this thing here, and attend to that crisis, and–” and before we know it, we’ve practically forgotten about God.

I keep wondering what it means to walk with God. Because I don’t think it’s about check lists of reading the proper amount from the Bible every day and praying enough prayers every day. I do think it has to involve a radical shift of focus from what the world says is important to what God says important, but I don’t know how to do that while, you know, living in this world.

I think this is where people generally insert a pious platitude about “only by God’s spirit and grace!” and heave a huge sigh. A sigh which is supposed to be relief, but somehow usually seems be one of regret and shame that we’re not spirit-filled enough to do what we ought. And I don’t think regret and shame is a way to walk with God, either.

The thing is, of course, how to “walk with God” is not ever going to be summed in a few brilliant thoughts, or a best-selling book. Even our own personal “ah-ha!”s can’t really transform others, because we are all in our own unique tumble of gem-processing, and rarely connect on the same plane in all the same ways.

But He does say that those who seek Him will find Him. Which prompts an awful lot of us to say, What the heck, God? If this isn’t seeking, what is? When do we get to find You? If this is Hide and Go Seek, come out already.

Cravings

I’m craving sugar and caffeine and I’m angry at the world. Possibly, these two things are related.

The rheumatologist today told me (in the sweetest way possible; he was a really nice guy–but, still) that I wasn’t his problem, and probably if I waited it would all go away.

That made me mad, although I recognize it’s not his fault I don’t have a problem that he can fix. I’m just mad to be defied (yet again) answers, solutions, plans or assistance. And while I’ve heard that both sugar and caffeine can be addicting, my guess is that currently it has more to do like feeling like I “deserve it.” I had a rough morning; no news from the long awaited, greatly anticipated specialist visit, a cranky list of errands. And I was basically told that as far as my health goes, I’m on my own.

Which I think part of me already knew, but since I’m a loan suffering brave soul, clearly I’m in need of compensation. Clearly. And binge eating on chocolate and drinking coffee sounds like a good place to start.

And I tell myself that’s precisely why I shouldn’t eat it. Because I’m not saying, “I’m hungry, get me some carbs.” And I’m not even really saying, “I’m tired”–although I am — “get me some coffee.” I’m saying, “I’m grouchy and pouting and I don’t like all of the things, and someone should make me HAPPY!”

I didn’t enter into this diet lightly; in entered into it because I figured out in some part of me that as far as actually getting better, I was pretty much on my own. I’m not abstaining from sugar and caffeine because I’m all holier-than-thou; I’m putting myself on a 6-week course of “medication.” Eating the cheap chocolate I happen to know is sitting in the drawer beside me — or drinking that awesome chilled coffee I have yet to properly dump from the fridge (maybe I just like the idea that it’s there?) — sounds like a really good idea in the short term. Like, right NOW. But I’ve just spent 3 months in “relative” agony, and no one is going to help me. If my last ditch to regain some function involves not eating a few things for a mere 50 days or so, am I really going to chose another 6 months or more of agony over the temptation of cheap chocolate?

I mean, it’s Day 2. Anything could happen.

But I want the answer to be, no, of course not, stupid. No, of course not; you act as though I don’t even have a modicum of self-restraint, like I’m an immoral person, a base animal. But the truth is, I’m not sure if I do have a modicum of self-restraint, and I think perhaps I am a base animal. And what’s to be done about that, hmm?

I just think that a big part of all of this is considering the “why’s”. Why don’t I have any self-restraint when it comes to irrational anger or irrational eating habits? What’s my problem really, because I do believe it is something deeper than, oh, disappointment over no new news, or an environmental conditioning to sugar consumption. People bristle at the idea of us acting as base animals, because they want to feel good, and being described as a base animal doesn’t feel good. But there’s a good lesson to be learned from wound care, which is, sure, you can just slap a bandage on it and pretend it isn’t there. But if anything is going to heal, it needs to be confronted, exposed, cleaned, observed and regularly attended to. Saying we aren’t acting in very base ways is usually just a lie we tell ourselves because we don’t want to attend to the stinking, oozing wound that is screaming, “problem! Problem!! PEOPLE, WE GOT A PROBLEM OVER HERE!!!!”

I get that part of the reason why I’m craving sugar and caffeine is precisely because I told myself I couldn’t have it. The forbidden fruit always has such a dreamy aroma. But more than that, I think I just want to exert my own importance. Life sucks, but I’M THE QUEEN! My to-do list scares me till my stomach knots up, but I got da shuga! I have no control over my limited function, and the doctors are no use to me, but at least I’m full and happy! Everything is going wrong, so what is one way in which everything can be safe and all right? Good food.

The thing is, um, guess what. No, actually, you aren’t the queen. I don’t mean it to be rude; but it would be better to figure out how to live in your lowly appointment than to continue going around with delusions of grandeur. I mean, in the US of A, we tend to take things like out-stepping your authority pretty lightly–or applaud it, even. Places who take these things more literally, delusions of grandeur can get you killed. And my gut instinct is, like sugar, declaring you’re the queen feels good in the short run and kills you in the long run.

What’s the cure? I don’t know. I’ve just been thinking, if I’ve been abusing sugar like that (for goodness knows how long), it’s probably really good for me to take a break from it, regardless of it’s impact on my health. My hair may or may not get shiner, my teeth whiter, and my health ratchet up several brackets of stardom, but mentally, emotionally, psychologically, it’s probably time to step away from the sugar. So if the sugar problem is just an extension of the queen problem, then it’s probably. . .time to start practicing being small?

I will be bluntly clear that I don’t really know how. And that it probably isn’t fun. I’m not going to paint smiley rainbows over this. It really stinks that I can’t fix my health on my time frame, e.g. NOW. And it really stinks, the school work and the errands.

But. . .

This is the day that THE LORD has made.

Not the day that I made.

And the “I will rejoice and be glad,” sounds a whole lot more like submission, and a whole lot less like being the queen.

Speechless

I just feel like I’m mad and grouchy and done, and so far it’s only been one day of school. I wonder how I ever made it through the last semester, and I’m scared for the next six weeks. I tell myself things like “just make a list of what you need to do this evening and do it” and “at least you got some time to spend out doors. even if it was napping exhaustedly.” But what I really am is resentful that I’m back in class.

Back where people have the audacity to insist on evaluating if I’m learning. Back with the stress of needing to retain everything, to pass the licensing exam or to be a competent clinician. Back to literally watching the clock and begging to be let out soon. And back to the awkward dynamics of classmates who are friendly, but really won’t be my friends beyond school.

I’m just so tired, and I wish people would stop asking things of me. Even asking me to be sociable. I know it’s not good to isolate myself, and that avoiding all social situations only makes the awkwardness and loneliness worse. But when I feel like snarling and snapping and barring my teeth, I feel like it’s time to go. People seem to think that’s not acceptable behavior, but I just feel like I don’t have the energy for any thing else.

I have been complaining to God that He never seems to show up in the basement of school, where I have all my classes. People say He uses us like paint, uses us as His ministers, that He works through us in ways we don’t understand. But it’s hard to even pretend any of that, when your afternoon consisted of trying to find a way to stay seated for two hours. Not speaking. Not taking notes. Not even, really, learning much. Just trying one position after another in attempt to stay up right, because guess what? Sitting upright takes muscles, and I don’t have much of those left. Really, God? What’s that supposed to mean?

It’s not that I resent hardship. I do resent hardship with no apparent purpose. And maybe the fault there lies in the inability to see “apparent” things, I don’t know. Sometimes I think of Elijah (Elisha?) praying for the eyes of his servant to be opened, so he could see that “more are those that are with us than those that are with them.” The pointlessness and stupidness and unproductive and senseless nature of all of this has bothered me immensely. But just because I can’t see the reason, doesn’t, I suppose, mean there wasn’t one.

I know that on an intellectual level, but on a day to day level, I know I am frustrated and resentful. There’s a long line of errands to do tomorrow, none of them really that hard, and I guess the list really isn’t that long. But it feels that way, because I’m so incapable of handling anything right now. And all those things are going to be so hard tomorrow, and for what? Such a huge investment of energy of all the resources I have, with precious little to show for it. And that makes me made, because if I have to work that hard for it, suffer that long for it, I want to see something come of it. I want to see something.

And tomorrow is just an allegory–a metaphor?–for these next six weeks. Unreasonably hard and trying. Precious little to show for it. No real meaningful point that I can tell. Awkward and lonely and sad. Like the last semester. It’s not exactly that I’m desperate to get better as much as I’m desperate for either (a) less effort or else (b) more meaning. If it’s going to be meaningless, it shouldn’t be this hard. And if it’s going to be this hard, it should be meaningful. This feels more like, I don’t know, being flogged for a crime you didn’t commit.

Funny choice of words, that, since it’s exactly what happened to Jesus. Somehow He went through with it all. But I do feel so directionless, and it seems like Jesus was never directionless. Although it does say He often withdrew to pray. I thought maybe these six weeks could be a time of me withdrawing to pray, but I don’t even know what to pray, or how to listen. I feel like, well, I already said what I wanted to say. And He can answer whatever He wants, any time right now. So. . .what’s left?

That’s not very elegant. I know that. But it is pretty honest. The truth is, I’m like the mouthy son who goes off to work anyhow. I’m complaining, and I’m mad, but I am still trying to be obedient to what was asked of me. Sort of like Job, I’m complaining, look, could things please just make sense? Because none of this makes sense. But God doesn’t seem to answer those prayers. So it feels like maybe we’re not allowed to pray those prayers. But I don’t know what to pray instead. “Please stop hurting me,” comes to mind, but it’s kind of hard for me to get behind it, because I know that compared to the alternatives, I’m being quite protected.

God must have a plan. God does have a plan. But then why is it so far away from me that all I can see is trying to figure out how to sit relatively up-right, and how to go about getting broccoli? I want to be let in on the secret. “There’s a very good reason why you had to wait 3 months to see a specialist; here’s why:. . .” Instead, I feel like all I get is, “No, you can’t quit life. Yes, you really do have to get up tomorrow.”

Well, darn.

What else am I supposed to say?

 

Travels and Travails

Driving back up to school, I can see why travelers like to keep journals of their, well, journeys. There’s so much to see, so much you try to just inscribe in your memory.

Right now, I’m pulled over in a little parking area by a river, a small patch of pavement with a fishing access adjacent. I walked down by the river, and remembered the first time I’d driven up to school, the first time I’d stopped at this spot, the first time I’d sat down by this river. I’d cried. Cried with a visceral pain of leaving my family behind. It’s still there, every time I leave, though sometimes it is more raw than other times.

But there was also a feeling of fierce determination and deep conviction that this was needed. That I needed time where it was just me and God, and not my family. As good as my family is, being with them all the time made it really hard to hear my own thoughts, my own convictions, and to really pay attention to what God was trying to say to me. I needed time and space to understand who I was as an individual.

And I was right. Sitting again on the bank, thinking back over the intervening almost two years, I did really need that time and space. I has benefited me. It has allowed me to listen more to who God was calling me to be, who God has created me to be. But sitting on the bank also stirred up a feeling of, well, almost panic, I guess.

I’d fought so hard and long to get to school. To get time and space away from my family. And it has been really hard, and really good. But that time is coming to a close, and I don’t know what comes next, and it’s pretty terrifying.

I like maps. I like seeing the signposts as I pass, letting me know where I am, and I like looking ahead for the next signpost to tell me I’m still on the right track. The problem is, the map is running out. I’m passing the last few signposts I’ve known to look for, and next is: the great unknown. Uncharted territory. Blank paper instead of ink.

I guess some people find that thrilling and exciting and full of possibility and wonder. I just find it scary, and I find myself straining and straining for any sign of my bearings and of which way I should go next. It’s hard to know which are meaningful signs and which are really just deer trails, not meant for me to traverse.

I feel my heart sing while I drive over hills and through farm lands. I feel it sink with growing “civilization.” I feel the tension build with the sound of any motor; I feel it let go with music. I try to pay attention to every little longing and to confront the big longings, hoping there is some direction there. I try to catalog all the things that repulse me, make me sad, leave me feeling drained— in hopes that there is guidance there. I keep trying to tell God that He has to give me more clarity, that I don’t understand, that I’m confused and frustrated and so tired. It feels like I’m moving forward through time faster than there is any revelation of which way I’m going.

I know I need to live a God-centered life, but that seems so hard when it seems like God doesn’t want to reveal Himself or His will.

I was trying to explain to a friend last night that even with all the uncertainty and lack of clarity about how to even get through the next six weeks and the rest of this program, I didn’t really doubt that somehow, some way, I was going to get through it. The really terrifying thing is, what next?

I’ve spent so many years trying to understand myself as an individual, and who God really is in my life; I can’t now go back to living with my family. I love them. I miss them. I want to live near them. But I can’t have my life defined by co-existing with them. I just can’t. But the path to anything else seems non-existent, mostly impossible, and quite far-fetched.

God, I know You don’t give us the full map. You never do; that’s not Your way. But I need the next step. I need to know I’m moving in the right direction, even if I’m not there yet. I don’t need to know All Of The Things; I just need to know You haven’t forgotten me out here. I am just looking for that deep-seated conviction that, even if this is hard, it is right and true and good. That even through the tears, You are here. And I feel like You’ve withdrawn, held Yourself away. I know that is Your right; I know I can’t demand You show Yourself. I know our hope is supposed to be in You alone, not the things down here.

But I just don’t want to be lost. I don’t want to be alone. I want to know that You are God, and that I am Your disciple, and that being called as such means something. I want my life to take shape around You, but I still want it to take shape.

You brought me this far. Don’t leave me here.

Wilderness

I never used to understand why there were so many people writing online about their “health journeys.” I understand better, now, I think. It’s not so much about wanting others to hear, but about trying to process things yourself. And maybe a little about wanting to be heard, actually; being sick can be very isolating and make you feel very lonely and misunderstood. Do we want sympathy? Maybe; what human doesn’t want a little sympathy?

But, for one certain thing, it’s not because I think it’s in any way interesting to anyone else. It’s not. Nor will it be scientific or instructional or informative. It’s venting, that’s all, and trying so straighten out one’s ability to meet it head on.

It’s a bit peculiar, I suppose, but I’ve always felt like this was a spiritual problem more than a physical problem. I mean, yes, my body is physically affected. But when I first started getting sick, I though, “well, here we go; you knew this was coming.” I mean, I knew I couldn’t let go of school, knew I couldn’t let go of perfectionism, or try-hardism, or trying to prove myself as good enough. There were warning signs that was a lesson I needed to learn, and I tried to learn it, but I couldn’t. I knew it would take something more drastic, and isn’t this just?

And I’ve always felt resigned going to the doctors. I’ve never felt like they could really fix anything. Just hoops I have to jump through. But really, I’m not going to get better until I learn. I mean, I’ve cried out for mercy, and for wisdom for the doctors. But I’ve just never been able to really convince myself that my REAL problem is my perplexing health issues.

I’ve schemed a little about “rehab,” about fixing my problems. But they’ve been flat on the lips. I’ve tried data collection, which “seems” smart, but for me seemed pointless. Collecting physical data on what you know to be a spiritual problem is not going to be particularly helpful.

I don’t mean that in the sense of “my problem does not involve physical atoms or biology.” I mean, I don’t know – I think we have a pretty poor imagination regarding how the spiritual world and the physical world interact. But I think the point of it is, the real point of it, is that I do need to learn something that is very hard for me to learn.

People talk about making “accountability” pacts with each other, but that still doesn’t ring true to me. I don’t really think we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, discipline ourselves into being “better” or “more spiritual.” I think all we can really do is recognize our lack and seek God. And when I think about how to do that, I don’t think it’s about devotionals or the proper frame of mind or attitude (gratitude, guilt, etc). What I think of is Jesus: withdrawing to the wilderness to pray.

It is tempting to think that changing my diet and aggressively sticking to an exercise regimen will be helpful in alleviating my symptoms. But if it’s not of faith, what will it profit? To me, this is not about saying “everything is of faith, so never mind the action.” The point is like what James says: faith leads to action. Words (or actions) without faith profits little, and “faith” without action profits little.

I do think I can’t just keep sitting around moping. I just think that it has to be in a conscience choice to chose things as more valuable than school, not in a desperate attempt to selvedge school. I just think the point can’t be in hoping that an AIP diet or fasting or whatever is going to “fix” me. It has to be about, for lack of a better explanation, about withdrawing to the wilderness.

Into the quietness. Away from the people who tell you what you are supposed to be all about, about what is approved. And into the presence of God, who so much more often speaks in a still, small voice rather than the whirlwind or earthquake.

And I guess this is a slightly lengthy introduction to part of that for me, which is writing. I write a lot all the time, but I have a lot on my plate right now, and a lot to think about. I guess I just want to set aside this place to remind myself carefully (over the next 6 weeks, at least), that this is not about the “doing” but rather the “being.” To spend time looking at my thoughts and heart, and to try to seek and listen and pay attention to what God is doing.

I really want to commit to trying to taking care of my body, a temple long neglected. I really do think that exercising and giving my digestive system a break would be good steps. But I want to stay focused on the fact that those things are not enough, and aren’t the point. That they’re ancillary to the fact that I need to seek God. But that claiming to be “seeking” without really putting anything on the line is just faking it. It’s one thing to say, “Oh, I know this happened to me to get me to chose something other than being good enough in school. I know this happened to get me to listen to God.” But if you don’t actually make the chose to do the other, to say, oh well, school, I’m going to attend this temple–of what use are all those “knows” to you?

That I have to do, yes, but that it really, really matters why and how. And that I need to stop obsessing with the raw desperation to do and attend deliberately to the why and how. And I, personally, cannot do that without writing.  I need to do–I need to not kinda, sorta, a little bit plan on doing. I need to commit, I need to follow through, I need to do. But it cannot be divorced from the other, and I need to do both or it will turn terribly bitter and wasted.

Lord, be with me.

 

 

 

Surfiet

There is this pervading thought that we don’t have enough. Not enough time to attend to everything, for one thing. But the more I think about it, the more it begins to seem that it is really about having too much; or, perhaps more accurately, about trying to have too much.

I am often frustrated that I don’t have enough time to learn all the things I want to learn; but really it is that I have more opportunities to learn than I can truly take advantage of. I feel like I can’t do all the things, but the problem really is that I am trying to do too many things. What we really need is not more, but rather an acceptance of less.

I think about this particularly now as I think about Christ came into and lived on this world. We say we want to do All Of The Things. He was a carpenter. I don’t think that being a carpenter is somehow more holy than, say, being a farmer, or a metal smith, or a potter, or a weaver, or any other number of things. But, while Christ was here on earth, He made no attempt to do All Of The Things. He was a carpenter, amen. He willingly accepted that limitation of His existence, even though He was and is the One through whom all things are made and have their being. He, of all, had the right to do All Of The Things, and yet accepted the limitation of doing just one thing.

I want to know All Of The Things. I hate not knowing. I hate being in the dark. I hate not understanding. He, of all, had the right to know All Of The Things. And He gave it up. He accepted the limitation of not knowing–even to the point of being a baby, without knowledge. I hate being powerless; we in this world strive for power–even if it is only control over our own situations. He gave up His power to accept the limitation of, yes, being a baby. Dependent on others for food and warmth and comfort.

He knows, more than any of us, what All Of The Things really means. And yet He, more than any of us, worked out willing acceptance of limitations given to Him..

We look around us and see so many good things (although Christ has seen many more good things), and yet we were not called to all of the good things. Christ was called to be a carpenter, not to embody every single good skill that ever was. That we see good things does not mean we were called to them all. There is only a specific role to which we are each called. Even Christ, when here on earth, said that He would not do All Of The Things, in His bodily presence, but that “even greater things” would be seen and done in the lives of His disciples.

It is humbling and sobering to me to realize that many of the things I have been struggling with–in some ways, boiling down to trying to do it all–is actually reflective of the fact that, unlike Christ, I am grasping to be in very nature like God. I am not willing to accept being sent for a very limited role; I am trying to figure out how I can discipline myself and pull myself up by my own bootstraps until I can grasp all the things I want to grasp.

Overcoming obstacles, subjecting yourself to hardship until you achieve success, diligence and discipline. . sometimes we think of all of these things as very good things. Maybe even “godly” or “morally good” things. It’s hard to accept, for me anyway, the standing of it all on its head: It pleased God to severely limit His son, and to call Him to a very specific and narrow life on earth. He was not called to the study of every language known to man, and was not called to play every musical instrument ever created, and He was not called to set up a university, hospital and manufacturing plant. Not that any of those things are wrong. It’s just that God was pleased to have Him learn, only, the trade of carpentry.

And maybe not even a good carpenter. No offense. But I’m pretty sure He was called to devote a lot of His time and effort and seeking to things other than being a carpenter, and you’d think that if He was setting the mold of what a “good” human being was like, He’d be darn good at His chosen profession and career. I’ll have to go back and re-read the gospels, but the feeling I get is more that He got good enough at it to pay the bills, mostly, usually. And not only was that “good enough” it was also precisely what God wanted. Because apparently, the epitome of human existence is not about success or skills or a life that makes sense or being un-boundaried or clever or making something of yourself or retiring well off. We glibly say that God has not chosen the wise things of the world, and then promptly spend a lot of time wishing and desiring and trying to figure out how to be wise.

I am not really sure that I have gotten much of anywhere. I guess I am mostly contemplating, again, what it means to follow after Jesus. I guess that is a topic that one can never be finished with contemplating.

Therapy and Counseling for the Self

I have to do something I really don’t want to, and I am going to allow myself some self-administered therapy first. It is one thing to agree one has to do something difficult, but that doesn’t mean one has to be cruel about it; grievance counseling can ease the pain.

I have to go into debt. Way, way into debt. This is against everything I’ve ever wanted. I’ve always thought I’d live a simple quiet life, with just enough to get by and no real high aspirations. I don’t need a lot. I just wanted to be creative and take care of people.

Instead, I have found myself compelled to go on to higher and higher levels of education, and in a few scant weeks, I’ll be beginning my doctorate degree. Don’t get me wrong–I love the field and I’m interested in the coursework, and I’ll be glad to keep working in the field when I’m done. And I truly do feel compelled–one of those, “you will have to answer before the throne of God if you refuse to do this” kind of situations. I don’t really feel like I could sleep at night if I didn’t do this, and doors have been opening up left and right. Other doors have been closing. Just today, in the midst of it all, the nice, practical, local university officially turned me down with finality. The mega-ouch expensive university is waiting for their payment, due this Friday.

Somehow, with all the doors being opened, the money one is not. And while, as I said, this goes against everything I want or think is reasonable or wise or fair–I don’t really find any evidence that it was ever my privilege to be spared it. Instead, I find things like Abraham up rooting himself from everything he owned and knew, and wandering as a stranger. I see Jacob being a slave for 14 years just to get his wife, and Joseph being first sold as a slave and then thrown in prison, and Moses hiding in the wilderness for 40 years before being called to lead his people, and I see David as a penniless vagabond for years while an insane man tried to kill him.

And you know what? I still don’t think that’s fair. Sure, God wound up putting Joseph above every nation and saving the world from devastating famine–but, gee, don’t you think He could have found something more productive for Joseph to do besides cool his heels in the slammer, utterly forgotten about by everyone? I know that He made Abraham the father of many nations, but why did He have to make him an outcast to do that? What use did David accomplish, running around and hiding in every cave and desolate place? Clearly God intended for him to rule the nation, and yet first He thought it was a good idea to see just how miserable He could make David?

It’s not fair. But if that’s how God set the lives of the patriarchs, why should I be counted any different? See, now at least it sounds holy. But agreeing to stoop and take over $200,000 worth of debt on my shoulder, debt that I have no idea how I could repay, debt that I think will crush every dream that I have–It’s hard to make myself do. I still want to say, “It’s not fair; it shouldn’t be that way,” and by the power of my declaration, cause a different way to come into being.

I guess, in a way, I am agreeing to take on suffering. And in reality, our human nature drives us away from suffering. It is the last thing we want, the thing we most want to avoid, and the thing we feel we most ought to be spared.

I have thought about people who say that you have tot take big risks to have any kind of real pay off. That was an empty cup. I have to accept this debt realizing that it could mean NO real pay off. It could mean just a plodding life I don’t want, living life just to pay off debts. That’s a reality many face every day–a very real possibility of what the outcome could be, and I have to acknowledge that, not pretend it doesn’t exist.

I thought about how, if God owns all the money in all the world, there really isn’t such a thing as debt. He moves it from one of His hands to the other. It did not help much, either. The money is somehow winding up in my debt account, and I feel guilty and responsible over it. I get that, in the abstract, at the end of the ages, no one is going to care about how much of this meaningless cash I moved around or had at my disposal or owed to various creditors making money of my interest. I am still living in the here and now, and the here and now sears. I feel like my head is going under the guillotine.

And I think still about the people who say it will all work out, and that is the most convicting. Abraham did beget a son and a nation; Jacob did take his wife; Joseph did save and rule the nations, with his family bowing before him; Moses did lead his people to freedom; David did become the king that he was anointed to be. It seems like an awfully stupid, backwards way to go about accomplishing things, but “He makes foolish the wisdom of the world” and it did all work out. And so while I stare down what appears to my eyes as being a terrible, terrible thing, the doom of my life and existence, I am fiercely challenged to accept and believe that this, too, is good–even though I don’t want it. I desperately do not want it.

I said to one of my friends that I didn’t think I had enough faith for this. Even as I said it, I heard the echos of other knowledge inside of me–that muscles and bones do not begin to grow stronger unless they are overwhelmed, and cannot meet the burden. We pray for more faith all of the time, and then feel like our request has been disregarded as we find ourselves in situation after situation where our faith is just not enough. How rarely do we make the connection that this is the answering of our prayers, the opportunity for faith to grow. Without the over-burden, our faith would stay week. To cause us to grow, He must try us.

We think about how people like Joseph and David were so strong in the faith, but somehow want to focus on how they were such godly powerful men, sitting on thrones. Yet how did they get there? It wasn’t the thrones they sat on that made them men of faith. I think about how even Jesus was tested and tried, and how does that make any sense? He was the perfect son of God, and yet it says that He, too, had to learn obedience. Had to learn how to say yes to the hard things, the painful things, the dark things in which there seemed to be no good. Even He had to pray, “if You are willing, take this cup from Me,” and even He had to hear that the cup would not be taken and He would drink of it.

I don’t want this, I don’t want this, I don’t want this. That does not make it unholy. I can see nothing coming from this but disaster and pain. That does not mean my eyes are opened to the truth. I am scared to go on, and it seems foolish to do so. Then why do I go? I can only go on one thing: the faith that it will be pleasing to God if I do, and displeasing to Him if I do not. My suffering, real or imagined, my debt, real or imagined, can only be undertaken as a sacrifice to Him. I have to do this, not as an exercise of my own wisdom, but as an exercise of my obedience.  I do this because my life is not my own, to be spent by my understanding, but is bound in service to the One who formed my every cell and breathed my existence into me.

The terrifying part is that once I accept the loans, I am officially out of control. But the comfort is I’m moving closer to the truth, because I never was in control–I only lied to myself that I was. I am scared; God is not. I am afraid, not because I am moving in to greater risk, but because I must learn a greater trust of the certainty of what God has spoken about Himself. Daniel in the lion’s den was safe; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo were safe in the fire. There is not–cannot–be any increase in risk; there is only moving closer to God, closer to the certainty of who He is.

I am both scared to grow, and desperate for it. Faith is when you do not see, do not understand–and do it anyway.

I do not see, do not understand–God, grant me the grace.

 

All You Need is Love

That was a song we had to sing in choir this semester. (I think we did a lousy job at it, by the way, but that’s another story.) I was thinking about things this morning in a half be-fogged, am I awake or asleep kind of state. There are a lot of things I’ve been reading that have been helpful, but ultimately unsatisfying. Emily Freeman wrote some books I really like, a lot about courage and God putting inside of you these yearnings and limitations. I read Ann Voskamp’s 1,000 blessing, and her blog is mostly more of the same. I tried to read “Desiring God” by John Piper, but he liked too much to hear himself speak, and even though he had some really good things to say, I couldn’t make it all the way through. There’s a big simplicity-less-is-more movement going around.

They all have some good and interesting things to say for the moment, but none of them have ever radically changed my life. At the end of a couple weeks, I feel more like I’m holding onto a “one quick trick!” then I am something that really changes my outlook. I don’t think the authors mean them that way, and I’m sure they were very real epiphanies and experiences of growth on their behalf. But God didn’t tell people they had to keep a numbered list of His blessings in order to be His followers, and many of His people don’t have paper or even know how two write, you know? So as helpful as that exercise may be, it’s not like it’s the “key” to figuring out how to follow or serve God.

As I was complaining aloud about these “one-quick-fixes” I also asked the rhetorical question of, “I mean, it’s not like You talked about any one, simple thing!”

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.

Der. Yeah. But I meant, besides that.

It doesn’t really answer my in-the-now questions (do I just take any apartment, because a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, or do I hold out for something that will really make me happy?), but it did kind of clarify for me why I had been finding so many things to be ultimately unsatisfactory. It reminded me again of my own given understanding of “the meaning of life” was: Expressing the love of God, while it is still called Today.

That doesn’t always give me direction, but it is usually helpful for giving me perspective. I still don’t know what to do about an apartment. . .but I realize that as much as it seems to really matter–it doesn’t. Where you lived for 6 weeks really doesn’t matter. The attitude you give while searching is actually more likely to matter, because it’s people you’re dealing with. The thanks given to the people who turn you away. The warmth you show to the people that you would rather not stay with, but might have to anyway. It’s funny to think that the bubbly pleasantries I do without thinking mean more than the the agonies I endure over All of the Things, but I think it’s true.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Being responsible isn’t as important as being loving.

Being joyful isn’t at important as being loving.

Being right isn’t as important as being loving.

Having things figured out and being on time isn’t as important as loving.

Having the right amount of stuff or exercising three times a week doesn’t rate, either.

Some could argue that some of those things flow from loving, and maybe there is some truth to that, some of the time. But the point is, you have to go to the source. Being responsible doesn’t making you loving, even if loving can make you responsible.

People, I am still stressed and frazzled. I still just want to know where I’m going to live, please and thank you. But on top of that all, I don’t need the extra stress of trying to figure out what “following God” looks like, or what shape that “should” be taking, or what I really “should” be making time for. Following God looks like loving the way He loved; it takes a different shape in everyone, but I should still be making time for it.

I don’t have to “get this right” as much as I need to “get” His love and the grace to share it.

It’s liberating, my friends. Not because love always feels good; sometimes it’s terribly brutally difficult. But because it means you can take your gaze off the inward. What should I. . . what will I. . .I want. . .I wish. . .I can’t. It doesn’t matter. It is, but it doesn’t matter. I still want. I still wish. In the grand scheme of life, it doesn’t matter. And it does matter every single last time I showed love today, no matter how small or fleeting.

And I feel like I’m speaking truth that I don’t fully understand myself, yet I feel like I have to speak it anyway, even just in an attempt to grasp it myself.

You might want a very lot of things. But all you need is love.

Lukewarm Seeking Isn’t Worth It

“God will take care of you!”

What the heck does that mean?

Seriously, what does it mean?

I know what I mean when I say “take care of”. Also, I know that my idea of “take care of” and, say, my mom’s idea of “take care of” are totally different, and my brothers–haha! Yeah. Definitely a different idea of “take care of”.

You don’t really stop to think about what “take care of” means, until you feel like you need someone to take care of you. And then all of a sudden, it becomes really, really important.

God will take care of me. Yeah, okay; now tell me how God views “take care of.” What, exactly, am I supposed to be trusting Him to do?

Pretty quickly, I get myself into an endless loop. God’s definition of “take care of” is obviously the ultimate definition, so He will definitely fulfill His promise to “take care of”.

And, yeah, this is like humanity’s longest standing dilemma. If God takes care of His people, than why does He let bad things happen to His people? The given answer is that His ways are higher than our ways (going back to the ultimate definition thing again). And I can kind of see that. Who doesn’t know of a little kid who is convinced we’re being cruel and horrible when we’re doing something for them that really is in their ultimate good? Like potty training. Seriously, I have seen kids crying over that, but it totally definitely really needs to be done.

But here’s the thing. I am in a physical body, with physical needs and physical perceptions. I perceive needs. (I say ‘perceive’ because again–yeah, I’ve been that kid and am that kid and will always be that kid.) Yet–if they are my perceptions, not necessarily reality, then I cannot always trust God to meet my perceived needs. What, then, can I trust God to take care of? My real needs! And what are my real needs? Well. . .I guess I find out when they get met, and anything that doesn’t get met must not have been a real need.

So when I, in this physical body with physical needs and physical perceptions, feel in need of being taken care of, what is my assurance? My suffering is all in my imagination? My God will always be right, so shut up and sit down and be grateful? He will definitely, totally be doing things that I can’t see or feel or be comforted by?

It doesn’t sound so very much like comfort or assurance, does it? Me, neither.

These are some things I do know: we’re called to seek and to ask and to test and to find. I’m totally supposed to be asking these questions. God does love me and nothing can separate me from that, not even varying definitions of care. I do believe that my Mom loves me and that my brothers love me, even though they have totally different ideas of what “care for” looks like.

And one other thing, too.

That God never separated “caring” and “suffering”.

To me, it seems like a no-brainer. If you care about something or someone, you don’t let it suffer and suffer. But right at the very core of everything, God loved His very own son more than anything else, and let Him suffer more than anything else.

That doesn’t make any sense to me at all. What worth is it to trust in being “cared for” and “provided for” when it seems those terms mean exactly diddly-squat?

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

As one of my brothers would say, what the fickle? This person is content, not because all needs have been met–he feels the hurt, feels the need, feels the want, feels the lack and the empty places–and has learned to be content in it all anyway.

So if being loved and being cared for has completely zero to do with being spared the dark and the hungry and the want and the hurt. . .

. . .than what is our trust and hope and assurance and comfort?

Some say, we don’t have it here. It’s only in the life after. Here, we’re just screwed.

I don’t believe that. He learned to be content, not grit his teeth and bear it. Gritting through it is the easy way out; being content and rejoicing through it is the hard thing, the beautiful thing, the true thing.

I am hitting a spot of raw need, unlike anything I have ever had to personally bump across before. When I’m in my car, I am finally alone enough that I can talk to God, and by talk, I don’t mean tea-and-crumpets. I mean, “what the frig are you doing?!” I let it all out on the 10 minutes down to my grandparents, and I let it all out on the way back.

The only response I heard was the refrain: trust Me.

Trust You to do WHAT?!

It’s like signing a contract without being allowed to read it. I guess that pretty much does describe “living by faith” and I’ve heard it said that faith grows by being tested and tried.

I am not sure that I could say that I have peace or contentment. I am agitated and fidgety. I wasn’t promised that the things that I feel and perceive as needs would be attended to, and I admit I continue to turn those holes over in my mind.

Is resignation faithful? There is a part of me that says, “Fine, okay, whatever. Trust You. Those are my marching orders; I go.” Is it maybe like the disobedient son who told his father, “Heck, no!” but then thought better of it and went anyway? Still not the right response, but better than staying put?

But it really grates on my human understanding of fairness. If I am doing what You want me to be doing, why aren’t You providing for what I need to do that? You brought down the walls of Jericho; yet for me, You’ll pelt me with pea-sized hail, just to see what my reaction is? It’s not fair.

Forgiveness of sins isn’t fair, either; you don’t want God to be fair. I know, I know, I know.

But don’t you see, my original question still hasn’t been answered: If I can’t trust God to meet my perceived needs, and I continue to feel and experience those needs–what the heck am I supposed to do? The desire is to go attend to them myself, since God can’t be bothered to address them–but I haven’t the resources. That’s rather the definition of ‘need’, you know. Pretend I haven’t got a care in the world, when–HELLO!!!–really I do? Flagellate myself that I’m unworthy to have my requests heard? That’s a tempting one, let me tell you, but no life in it.

Keep praying, because to be found not praying is a shame? Yes. Ask, seek, knock? Yes. Trust?

Trust what?

Letters. . .

Dear God,

I have, literally, no idea what you are doing. Like, none. Every time I think maybe I understand what direction you’re headed, I find out I’m wrong.

Love,

Your Confused Daughter

Understanding is not the pre-requisite that many people seem to think it is.

Dear God,

People say it’s impossible to screw up your plan. Is that true? Because this seems pretty momentous to me, and if I’m totally messed up, I think the rest of my life will be, too.

Love,

The Cowardly Lion

Wait, you mean this life? This tiny, fleeting thing? That’s what you’re worried about?

Dear God,

Is it wrong to want to be able to enjoy life? It’s not that I’m scared of working hard; it’s just that I don’t want to be sad and miserable all the time. Is it okay to just have a good time?

Love,

A Recovering (hah!) Perfectionist

What’s stopping you?

Dear God,

Some people act like worrying about money is a really bad thing, but then other people act like keeping our “house” perfectly in order and controlled and planned is the only holy thing to do, because otherwise we’re being bad stewards. Am I being a bad steward if I don’t know how the money is going to work out?

Love,

I Didn’t Win the Lottery Yet

It’s all mine even if it doesn’t look like it’s all yours.

Dear God,

Am I throwing away my life by taking a chance on something I don’t understand, or would I be throwing away my life by staying safe?

Love,

I Don’t Want to Waste This Thing

None of my followers are safe in the world, but all of them are safe in me.

Dear God,

How am I supposed to follow you if I have no idea where you are?

Love,

Wandering

Keep looking.

Dear God,

Why don’t you have an email address? Because I keep checking my email looking for answers, and I’m not getting any.

Love,

Email for teh Win

Maybe you’re asking the wrong questions.

Dear God,

You know what? Some days I doubt my ability to even be a human. What am I doing here being a human if I can’t even do a reasonable job at that?

Love,

Feeling Defective

I made you a human. I define what a human even is.

Dear God,

I know you’re all-powerful and everything, but then how come we don’t see miracles all the time?

Love,

Waiting for the Explosion

Maybe you aren’t watching.

Dear God,

Everyone gives these very pat, trite little answers about you, and try to simplify you down to one concept or idea. They aren’t very satisfying, but I need answers.

Love,

Still Confused.

You do?

Dear God,

What if I screw up?

Love,

At the Precipice

I’ll save you.

Dear God,

Why don’t you save now?

Love,

Still Scared.

‘Now’ is a very interesting concept. . .

Dear God,

Can you at least tell me if I’m headed in the right direction?

Love,

Lost with a Really Crappy Map

You’re writing to me; so, yes.