Commitment

I think I have to start writing more, but it’s hard when my brain so often feels like mush. How do you will a brain to un-mush? I don’t have any good answer, except to draw on my experience weight lifting. . .through sinus issues and migraines, bad days and tears. If I waited to get better, I was never going to get better. And if I wait for my brain to get better, it will never get better. It, too, needs to be exercised to un-mush, just like my body.

I have been tempted multiple times to subscribe to EPF’s subscription website, but always stop at the price. If I can’t find the means to write regularly (the universal advice for improving writing), what good will a subscription service do me?

I did go so far as to take her “stages of writing” quiz, which said I was at the stage of a hostess looking for guests. Insert eye roll here. Yes, obviously, I have no readers. Would I like more of a community? Yes. That is naturally the draw of a “community” website.  But do I have energy to chase around a readership? No. I can barely write, never mind chase people around.

Which leads me to the other thing. . .do I really want to be a part of her subscription website? There is a part of me that digs in my heels. No. I am not looking to monetize. I just want to write. Writing as a grace. Writing as gift. Writing as a thing given. Not a business. Do I want to be published? Yes, because I want to be read, and I want to be worth reading. Not because I want to make money off of it.

I recognize that my digging in of my heels might be misty-eyed sentimentalism. I mean, I would rather go buy a typewriter and do it the old fashioned way. Really have to put some thought and effort into it, some care and consideration, not just bang out words on a digital screen and hit ‘post’ because no one will read it so what’s the point of making it better?

I say I want to write under the banner of ‘I am a child of God first.’ But then today I went to try to go start that site and completely choked. Who am I to write under that title? And how can I while my brain is mush? Surely I need something important to say first, and since I am a drooling mess today, how can I say anything important? This is not an unusual sensation to me; why do you suppose I have filled spiral bound notebook upon spiral bound note book, but choke repeatedly on anything that has a hard cover?

Partly, I think I need to get over myself and write for a more public audience, however I need to get there. Partly, I find myself confounded by my innate refusal to make money. I do PT, but I am angry that it is a fee-based service. Shouldn’t it be a ministry? What’s up with this, if you pay me money, then I will care for you? If you pay me money, then I will alleviate your suffering? How messed up is that?

But now I drag that in to writing, too. Write a book about being a child of God? How could that be a thing that you are allowed to make money off of? I mean, fiction, sure; a research treatise, ok. But if what you are claiming is that you are speaking of your experience seeking and serving the Divine, how on earth do you justify being paid for that? Doesn’t the very act of asking for money diminish the truth and power of the things you have to say?

But then the practical part of me says, look, you don’t get to do everything for free. How do you eat, get clothes, etc? But the idealist in me is annoyed, because when have those things ever helped me anyhow? Wouldn’t I do just as well, as they say, chasing a bean around the table?

Always and always and always I come back to that I do not want to do this alone. Any ministry. I don’t want to do it alone. But then who do I do it with? That brings me back to loneliness and community, and feeling alone and abandoned. Of course I want that solved. More, even than I want a ministry.

But what do I do with the in between? With the the feeling alone and needing to write and wanting community and not wanting my job and wanting land to sabbath on and someone to share my hopes and dreams and efforts with and make decisions with. . . Sure, I could work on showing up and writing. But if I look at problems with my analytical mind, the first problem is needing to find my people. And I am resoundingly too exhausted to attempt and better effort in that direction.

Part of my frustration is that my analytical self wants to fix things. But my spiritual self recognizes that it is not with in my actual power. And that confuses me as to what my posture should be. I’m waiting for the sky to split and the path to be announced by a pillar of light and smoke, but it seems like my life is more like Joseph in the dungeon, cooling his heels and wishing to be remembered.

Strategy and planning won’t help me. Analysis and prioritizing won’t really help me. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with these things, but they aren’t powerful enough tools to wrest control from God. (Real true wrestling doesn’t work, either; see also: Jacob.) But I’m so tired of turning around in the same place, and don’t know what to do instead.

Unrequited

I have been struggling for a while with wanting a relationship with someone who probably does not want a relationship with me, or at the very least, has a different understanding of the meaning of relationship than I do. “Relationship” and “someone” being vague, I suppose I ought to define my terms better, but I used those terms on purpose. Someone who has acted as a mentor in my life, who has seen things about me before I have seen them, and believed in me when it seemed no one else did. I don’t want a friendship in a shallow sense of smiling when we see each other. And she is more to me than a vague acquaintance or co-worker.

The conundrum is caring in a deep way for someone who seems to only care for you in a superficial manner. And because you care deeply, you can’t seem to help but long for reciprocation – for the other to understand you, value you, respect you, maybe even be proud of you. Yet, again, because you care deeply, you can also see the other truths: a home life that was always manipulative, and continues to be; lies to placate being the way to restore peace; co-dependent relationships giving a sense of stability because someone needs you and that makes you feel safe; a desperate need for predictability and control; and someone who’s values and ethics are completely different from yours — with a far lower value on honesty, and a far higher value on entertainment.

Fourteen hundred miniature rejections every day. If she hadn’t been so meaningful and pivotal in my life, it wouldn’t matter so much. I keep waiting for it to stop hurting so much, but it never does. I keep praying for her to understand the true meaning of love, and instead I see her “helping” me, but with her only true motivation being hurting someone else she has deemed even lower on the totem pole, and in need of being punished. It’s grievous in the truest sense of the word.

What I want is to be as meaningful in her life as she has been in mine. What I am getting is that I am not entertaining enough to be valid in her life. I get put-up with at best. The blatant favoritism she shows toward others smarts terribly, because they visibly treat her badly. But she knows they need her. So it is a safe relationship, where she won’t ever really be rejected.

It is frustrating for me to be able to see so many different layers of broken, and yet still be hurt. And yet still hope that, maybe today, she will value my presence. Of course she doesn’t. I am only valued in that I am useful, and I am only useful right now as a tool for her to flog someone else with, a role I don’t want. It is an exhausting situation for me, and I keep waiting for it to “resolve,” like a partial-chord with so much hanging tension.

But it doesn’t, and then I get angry with God. Somehow I have decided that it’s His job to make everything resolve while I watch, and His shortcomings on that account clearly show His lack of interest in me and my life, and point clearly toward nothing. ever. changing.

I keep praying He will show her what real love is. Because I want to be proven wrong. But also I am angry at myself for still wanting her approval today, even though I didn’t have it yesterday, and likely will never have it. I feel like I should be able to let it go and move on, but instead, there is that smarting again. And again. And again. Right when I am least ready for it, another slap in the face.

Reluctantly, I recall Jesus being betrayed by Judas, by His friend who ate with Him, traveled with Him, said he valued Jesus more than anything but didn’t mean it. I recall the Israelites turning again and again from the One who wanted a meaningful relationship with them. I remember, even, Adam and Eve, hiding in the garden, because they decided they didn’t value their relationship with God as much as other stuff. It’s not like I can really throw a convincing fit that God doesn’t understand what it’s like to be rejected every day, while the object of our meaningful affection instead courts the superficial and unhealthy relationships that give them more of a fleeting thrill, sense of control and false honor.

Still, I struggle with the sense of feeling like it’s pretty dumb to set up situations where you get to care about a person who won’t reciprocate to the same level. The temptation is not to try to learn from it (learn what? besides what being unrequited feels like?), but rather to want to leave: fine, then. Be that way. Be twisted and messed up, and not value me. I can leave, and then you can have your pretty little twisted up life to yourself. On an independent, humanistic level, this makes sense. Only, that’s not what God does at all. And if we are supposed to be little Christ followers, it makes sense only that we must imitate God. And that would seem to indicate continuing to show up in this woman’s life, only to continue to be rejected, possibly endlessly.

So then I want to demand the why. Why do I have to put up with this nonsense? What’s the pay-off? When will she finally come to her senses? Ad nauseam.  Having very little understanding of the ‘why,’ I mostly feel endlessly trapped. I find myself looking for a way to force resolution myself: me stop caring. Get her to care. Get her to stop pretending to care, when obviously she doesn’t really. Of no surprise to anyone, I’m entirely unsuccessful in any of those endeavors. And I am left to mope that I’m seeing very little of either my power or God’s.

Why God has put me here, I really don’t know. But my deepest hope’s desire, and so my continued prayer, is that He would be pleased to demonstrate His power, by teaching her what real love is. Through me or just in front of my eyes. But please hurry. This is a heavy burden to have pressed on my shoulders and it makes it hard to breathe.

o hope

I feel like I am being sucked into one of those places where I just don’t know what the point is any more.

You try to help people get better, but they don’t want to get better, or never get all the way better, or it comes and it goes, or they’re back for something else, or you can’t figure out how to help them, or — you know what? We still all die anyway.

Write paperwork that no one reads. Go to work with co-workers who couldn’t care less you fell off the face of the earth. Collect a paycheck with little more motivation than paying bills. Go to bed tired. Wake up tired. Do it all over again and again, with nothing but a slogging sense of endurance.

Why? For what? I can grasp around some philosophical and ideological reasonings, but no real concrete substance of why.

Ironically, one of the reasons I first got interested in this field was because, even if everything else went wrong, at least I would still be doing something meaningful: alleviating suffering and taking care of human beings. Never mind all the people who don’t seem to want to get better, the people beyond any of my helping, and the somewhat appalling sense of something close to selling oneself on a street corner: being paid to care. Not in a deep meaningful sense of community building and relationship growing. People coming in who you honestly truly cannot stand, and yet pasting on a terse little smile and a professional voice, and listen to them go on and on in the most objectionable way — not because you actually care, but just because you can’t kick them out on the grounds of being unpleasant to be around.

I sometimes find myself thinking that if I was working to — support my own house and land, or if I had my own family, or if I had energy enough to be passionate and involved in some of my (many) other interests — then the why of it would ease up. But I don’t really think that’s true. I’ve seen too many people with their own property, and their own families struggle with the why, and to my shame, too many people with health much more limited than I still find a way to be passionate and involved.

I feel a terrible loss of agency, and I tell myself fiercely, “Good!” I need humility, need patience, need to look to the hand of my Master. But somehow I feel like I am losing things I need to lose without also gaining things I need to gain, leaving me completely barren.

I tell myself I have a job, a good job. Many people don’t have that. I have food and clothes. I have mother and father and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and cousins. I have a grandmother. I have a few close friends. What else do you want? I rebuke myself sternly. What else do you really need? Would anything really satiate you, anything really make you happy?

I am angry at myself for trying to tell me I have no right to be unhappy with my circumstance, as though I ought to be content in that which is clearly lacking. Here I can see, to my shame, my arguing with the Potter that He doesn’t know what He is doing. But still, I protest. Where’s the plot? Where’s the fruit? Where’s the hope? Where’s the direction?

How many people, I scold, have spent their whole lives longing for a fraction of what I have? Well, yeah? How many people have more than I have? I know my defiance is helping exactly nothing at all, but still, it is there. Why should I not want more next year than I have this year? Just because I’ll always be wanting a little more seems no reason for complacency, for settling. Justifying my anger, justifying my dissatisfaction, justifying my victimhood. If there were more progress, I wouldn’t be so resentful.

For a while, I could play the game of just-beyond. If I could just get through this class –! If I could just get through this semester –! If I could just get through this degree –! If I could just–! But now that’s run out. Welcome to the stale American dream of slogging. I tried my hardest to make the best of the journey, but now the journey has stalled at something that looked like a destination. And while I furiously lecture about how a new plot point should be right here, how I can’t do the same thing over and over without seeing some kind of fruit, how a course to a new destination needs to be set, I don’t see any way forward, or any direction or any path. Or any point.

And I know that people talk about the grass being greener, that satisfaction is an illusion and if we can’t find peace in the present, we never will in the future either, and so on. But the thing is, that’s a double edged sword. If the grass isn’t green now, how will it ever get greener? If there’s no peace or satisfaction and there never will be — what’s the point? Why get out of bed to go to work? Deeply ingrained duty and responsibility and the illusion that there is no choice can carry you quite a ways, but they don’t carry you on in joy, or in hope. Instead it brings with it the keening wail of “how long?”

I know that I cannot run on anger. But I also know that I cannot run without hope. And when mornings run into evenings and days blur into smudgy memories I feel grateful only to have made through. . .either the well of hope is not deep enough, or the rope on my bucket is just too short to reach it.

And I can think of a lot of things to hope about, for hope deferred, for later, for when-this-is-all-done. But I can’t find a whole lot of meaning or purpose or hope for – tomorrow. For the day after tomorrow. For next month. For why I am here. And the prayers that I pray seem to bounce and rattle and never really drive home.

There is something to be said, I know, for endurance. For faith without sight. But there is a lot to be said for hope, too, and hard to stand and watch it crumble into little more than an intellectual construct with little light to offer on cold days and short nights. Hope was supposed to burn.

 

Reassess

I’m pooped.

This would not be so disheartening, except that I badly calculated.

Rather than the 6-8 hours of manual labor I have some how remained certain I can coax my body to do, I planned on 3-4 hours. Yet after 1 hour of manual labor, I am drained utterly. Standing is work. Trying to do mental work is work. Planning is work. There is little I can do but sit and talk, after a mere one hour of physical labor.

At a different point in my life, I might likely have rallied around some cry like “rage! rage against the dying of the light!” Now? Now I recognize that, wanted or not, I am spent. Recalculate, but admit the truth. You can’t do practical things with faulty data.

It’s sad to me. It is a very real, in-my-face reminder that I cannot be the person I want to be. And a reminder of how often I drink that worldly wisdom in, without even realizing that’s what I’m doing. Isn’t becoming who you want to be the epitome of a life’s existence?

Only, in the moments when I am awake, I don’t believe that to be true. I remember again how it is spoken that Jesus was sent into a mortal body, to learn obedience. The One true, perfect, holy – to enact obedience. How much less us? Yet that is not a thing of our own planning or devising. This is sobering, and humbling.

I had just three goals for this not-winter season. (1) Finish painting the porch. (2) Make my garden into raised beds. (3) Go through my things and cull.

I thought these were very modest goals, achievable, and, whether I knew it or not (I don’t know), a way of clearing up responsibility so that I would be free to do whatever I wanted. No half-finished projects taking up familial space, no piles of belongings getting in others’ way. By the end of fall, or the end of the year at the very least, I would have a nice blank slate to spring board off of.

Instead, my health problems have continued in fits and spikes, the gifts being not feeling miserable, not a return to previous capabilities. I barely, sort of, mostly finished the painting of the porch, with help. I got maybe 1/3 of the way through the garden project. And perhaps 1/8th of the way through culling my belongings, or even knowing where my things are.

Emily P. Freeman says too often we think our limitations are thing to be fought against, rather than recognizing that limitations are one of the ways God directs us in His will. There was a time in my life where I would have thought that struggling against my limitations was almost a moral purity, a strength of character. I have tried that enough times that I have been forced to sit down and consider that, maybe, just possibly, Emily was right.

So I stopped fighting, gave up on the garden bed, and came inside. But that was maybe my one last chance to do anything with the garden this year, and I was incapable. So that’s the end of that goal for this year. I can still wrestle a bit with my belongings for the rest of the year, but in all honesty, I have to admit: most of what I planned to do this year never happened.

So: time to regroup and reassess. Oh, guys, I have no limit to the things I want. No limit to the things I want to do. No end to the plans I can make. And, after years of hard heart, closed ears and a forehead of flint: a brokenness that makes quite clear I have limitations. What comes next, then, cannot be guided by what I want, what might be able to be done, what I can plan for.

In my head, everything tumbles around in a jumble. . . half finished sewing projects I want to dig out. . .that novel I was 7 chapters into writing. . .the idea of writing a lectionary around the gospel of Mark, a scriptural patchwork quilt to enjoy. . .the watercolors and acrylics that astound me when I get them on to canvas or cotton paper. . .my dSLR camera sitting in a drawer, waiting for me to learn how to use it. . .the French course I’m half way through. . .the piano I want to learn to play classically. . .the tantalizing beginning of voice lessons I’ve heard. . .the almost grim (in the sense of admitting to real life) thoughts of house buying, and the giddy delirium of making a place my own. . .the conviction it is time to stay where I am working, and the aching sense of marginalization I feel every day at work. . .the consuming longing for a husband and the slightly guilty girlish dreamings of wedding gowns. . .the face and paws of springer spaniels, the only dogs that ever made my heart flip over. . . the quiet graces of household chores that, when rested, I actually find deeply satisfying. . . the idolization of making my body Work The Way It Is Supposed To. . .

Or do I order things more properly by priority? Another tumble. . .taking care of my body. . . being creative. . .being outside. . .resting. . . professional development. . .relationships. . . preparing for the the future. . . learning. . . throwing it all to the wind and becoming primarily devoted to religion. . .

I could go on and on. But it’s not directive.

They said boy you just follow your heart 
But my heart just led me into my chest 
They said follow your nose 
But the direction changed every time I went and turned my head 
And they said boy you just follow your dreams 
But my dreams were only misty notions 
But the Father of hearts and the Maker of noses 
And the Giver of dreams He’s the one I have chosen 
And I will follow Him 

–Rich Mullins, David Strasser, Giver of Noses

What I most want is to join with my husband and go recklessly follow God. Of course it sounds romantic. Golly, if you can’t sound romantic about wanting a husband, do you even want a husband? But every time someone starts prodding me that, if that’s what I really want, I should go out and get it (one way or another), all I can think of is Sarah trying to force God’s promise to happen on her time. That trying to force and smoosh God into doing what we want only leads to greater heartache.

So here I am, sitting in the shambles of what I thought I could do (I couldn’t), turning over plans in my head that feel like settling-for-less, dreaming of things I have no control over. I have no direction.

When I started this year, I felt like my job this year was to listen and pay attention. I did pretty abysmally at that, too. It’s hard to feel like you have a way to move forward when it doesn’t seem like you’ve ever moved forward.

The strand of hope that I’m holding to is just that. . .when we don’t get what we think we want, it’s because God has something else that’s better in progress. That we don’t have to figure life out, because God already did, and His intricate and beautiful plans continue to unfold whether we realize it or not.

The problem, I suppose, it that it’s just so unsatisfying when we don’t realize. We God stays that still quiet voice we rarely hear, when we want obvious change and progress and fruit and plot arcs. But it seems the only word I’ve heard from God of late is, “Wait.”

And that wasn’t what I wanted to hear. Sometimes it feels like the only thing I’ve done with my entire life is wait. I want to start drafting plans or designing aesthetic principles, or something. I want to know what I should stop doing, what I should start doing, what I should focus on. Some way to clear out all the voices and fuzz in my head and have some kind of clarity about Next.

But if God says, “Wait.” What else can you say, besides, “Teach me to wait.” In calmness, not in fury, in joy, not in anxiety, in expectation, not in fear, in hope, not in anger. Eyes wide open, hands at rest and up-turned, attentive by ear, undistracted, and confident of the goodness of God. Maybe, the difficulty in waiting is because we try to wait unattentive, and then grow frustrated that our focus on distractions hasn’t yielded obvious change. Maybe waiting is so unsatisfying because we keep looking away.

I am afraid of waiting, because I am afraid it won’t produce fruit. I hate “practicing the pause.” I try to find every excuse away from resting. If I am anything, I am constantly frantic on the inside. Why do I not feel safe to be still?

If I have to be still, I want to know the exact reason why, the exact time it will be, what the pay-off is, and what I can do in the meantime. I don’t think this is an unusual want, but I do think it is unusual for it to be given. So it must mean that the call to “Wait” is not focused on the unwaiting, a thing God has already taken care of, but on the dwelling. The call to Be Still, and know that He is God, so oft repeated and so rarely headed.

I am not good at this. That may be why I need to practice. God help me.

Listening to yourself

I started this blog because often times I feel like I am still muddling my way through, well, more feminine issues. . .things that I don’t necessarily feel like a I can share with a wide or mixed audience.

I was really surprised by how badly I wanted in-put from my friend on my next round of work clothes, and the insecurity I felt — noticed, I’d guess it’s normally there — about my body and appearance.  Am I squeezing myself into too small of a size? Would this be a pretentious pair of shoes to wear to work? Are my arms too big for the rest of me? The picture taken from that angle makes me feel like I am a million pounds overweight. Am I trying too hard or not hard enough with my presentation of myself? Am I being honest, or attempting to present something I’m not?

(and, some of the flip. . .when I take the picture from this angle, dare I say I have a beautiful face? my hands look elegant and kind doing that. Maybe this dress is a good idea?)

I tell myself it’s just hormones, and while I’m sure there is a hormonal component, it also feels like there is something more than that. Why do we use “just” in front of hormones anyhow, as a way to dismiss what is going on? At the same time, it seems ludicrous to say, “no, this seems more momentous than hormones; there is something important going on.”

Still, I wanted this to be a year of listening. I did. I do. Part of listening is, you have to listen to all of the things. If you are already deciding what to listen to and what not to, you haven’t made listening the priority. I am not saying you don’t then make a discernment about what you have heard; I am saying if you decide — prior to listening/paying attention — what is worth listening or paying attention to, you’ve already missed the point of listening.

Only, I am finding, the listening and making up your mind about it go so close hand in hand that sometimes it is hard to tell where one ends and where the next starts. I think that’s why listening is so hard; you have to  be pretty vulnerable while you do it. Sometimes that means it seems harder to do that with anyone else around — hard enough to be that vulnerable even to yourself. Other times, it makes you really long for someone else, because you want someone to make you feel safe and understood while you try to figure things out.

I just spent an absurd amount of time looking at products I never knew existed to put in my hair and make me feel less bedraggled and hobo-like. And I want someone to say, “yes, that was important,” even though I can’t figure out why it was. I spend a lot of philosophical energy on how I’m not artificial and you just have to take me as I am, and yet I am being swept in a wave of wanting to be . . . more me. As though what I am actually isn’t what I’m meant to be.

It’s an odd feeling. Like when I feel so certain that the weight I am is NOT what I am meant to be; the guilt of being this weight is not a societal hand off but a strange sense of being in defiance of what I actually am. To say that seems both strange and awkward and somehow accurate. I need to lose weight, because that is actually who I am, and being who I am right now is sticking my fingers in my ears and trying to ignore who I am right now and also who I really am, underneath my going in a pigheaded different direction. It feels frustrating to say that, because I don’t really know what I mean by that or it’s implications: only that’s how I feel as best as I can hear it.

Looking at hair care products (or clothes or anything) that go right ahead and put “sexy” in the title doesn’t make me say, “yes, that is who I really am,” except kind of yes. It is a part of me that feels neglected. I am bogged down in bills, laundry and unpaid overtime, and there is so much of me that feels neglected, and yes, that is part of that. A part I am not quite sure what I mean by, what I mean by “is this dress a good idea?” It’s sassy and flirty and cuts a figure and I have no place to wear it while drowning in bills, laundry and unpaid overtime. Is getting the dress and putting in the closet sufficient? Is preparing for something that isn’t an act of faith or an act of delusion? And anyway, I really need to lose 5 more pounds for it to fit me better than a sausage casing.

It is a strange place to be, I think. Catching passing glimpses of maybe I could be stunning, but only stunning for what? Yes, you go right ahead and embrace stunning, and, and, and. . .don’t forget to sweep the stairs, and water the plants, and pay your taxes. Stay late doing paperwork no one reads.

There is a part of being yourself that feels awkward in that it is a denial of others. Throwing off (or gently prodding aside) the culture and expectations of others. With that comes an uncomfortable level of examinations. If I change the way I do my hair, everyone will notice and comment. At work. At home. I’ve hated observational scrutiny, from when I was 6 years old and losing teeth. Let me be invisible. Except also, let me be beautiful and unique, and kind of take your breath away in a subtle kind of way where you didn’t really expect it, but now that you look at me. . . This desire to be both seen and unseen is not one likely to be realized.

It is a thing that I think maybe is important, because it rises when I am full. When I am rested or at peace, I am more creative, more patient, more kind. . . and also more in desire of being aesthetically beautiful. When I begin to drown, creativity, patience, and certain amount of kindness go out the window. And so does my desire for aesthetic beauty, as survival quickly trumps any desire to present or attend to myself. It’s not like eating sugar that rises up as a monster as the stress swells inside of me. Nor is at grand plan that I plot for world dominion: it’s small things. Different socks. A different watch. A different way to twist my hair.

And then I stomp it all down because I am busy and struggling and who has time for that and dammit. Usually not that last one, but sometimes that is the only word I can find for how I am feeling. What do you want me to do, skip breakfast so I can do my hair before work?

It also makes me feel angry and frustrated, because logically, philosophically, it shouldn’t matter. It’s what’s inside the body that matters, right? Only we are still in bodies. And I’m not quite sure what that means. Only that even for all of the trying to ignore it, it still matters. It does. There is something here that is meant to be valued, by me. And that takes effort and defiance and hope. And sometimes hope is what I feel like I have the least of.

Nobody can do this for me except me, but in order for me to do this, something would have to be sacrificed. But what? And why is this important enough that “practical” things ought be sacrificed for it? And what’s the end goal, because I want to know what the point is.

Right now, all of that is beyond just listening.

 

 

Becoming Music

There’s some kind of powerful magic in someone who knows how to use their voice like it’s an instrument — not beat-boxing or what have you, but the recognition that their own voice is a powerful, potent creator of music. With the really well trained individuals, I find it’s not just their voice. Their whole body knows music, and at least how to play an external instrument or 2 or 7.

This is not something that is bound my music genre, and I’ve very nearly (and may yet) buy albums of music of genres I don’t care for, lyrics that don’t speak to me, only just because I hear the exceptional control and wielding of music moving through a human body.

There is something very important here that I want. I don’t want to make light of the word “sacred,” but nor do I want to understate the importance I find here: it’s something deeper than aesthetic. It’s something deeper than just skill alone. It’s something that is not a Pinterest/Instagram style romanticisation of music and those who make it. My own inability to speak well in the language of music leaves me feeling — not uncultured, but rather childish and lacking understanding of basic truth.

I keep circling around my failings in this matter. Surely some people are gifted more than others. Or had more opportunity than others. But really where I keep landing is looking full in the face of my own inhibition. To music (which is not a verb, yet the only word I know to describe the action), one cannot remain cloaked, clothed, withdrawn. Those two things are completely at odds with one another. Music, from a place of inhibition and refusal to be vulnerable or truly share, is just noise.

And I cannot. I cannot put aside the self-consciousness, the awareness of self and other, long enough to move to the music, let the music in me, through me. I keep thinking if I could just — get better, I wouldn’t be self-conscious. Or if I could just work with the music alone long enough, then I wouldn’t care who else heard it.

If you look deeply into anyone who is serious about their art, you will always find it turns into a spiritual discussion. I don’t think it is really possible to separate art and spirituality. Not from the poets or the painters or the sculptors or musicians or anyone else. Nor is there any religion that I know of that does not make use of music. And my difficulties with music do not come to “I’m not smart enough” or “I don’t understand” or “there is no way to learn.” It comes down to an essential human problem: how do you be vulnerable, and not die?

Some of us come into the world naturally less inhibited. Some find the need the chemically loosen up. Some of us struggle with our inhibited nature, knowing that inhibition is not always a virtue, but unsure of how to bridge the gap. Yet how can one engage in truth, in comfort, in beauty from a place of deep inhibition?

It is essentially fear and pride that hold me back. There is no way to move deeper into music without also confronting fear and pride. I do feel that the phrase “spiritual practice” is over used and under understood. But one does have to understand the problem to move toward any solution. The problem I need to tackle is not one of having an ear that is not trained enough or a lack of practice. The problem I really need to tackle is that I recognize deep value in those who can avoid fighting being an instrument, but I am more concerned with my own protection, and I am too cowardly to move forward. Both humility and courage are needed, and I think that is a definition of grace, a definite quality of music.

What we don’t know that we know

Sometimes people surprise the truth out of me.

One time was when, as I was struggling a mystery illness and frustrated by the lack of answers, one of my professors turned around and asked me, “But what do you think? What do you think is at the root of it all?”

I blurted out an answer I had never thought of, never considered, never reasoned — and to this day I still think it’s best explanation for what I went through.

It happened again the other day, I think. A friend asked me, if I quit my current job, what would I do?

Without hesitation, I was shocked to hear myself say, “A sabbatical.”

I’d never considered that, on purpose and deliberately. But as soon as I heard myself saying it, I knew it was the truth. I don’t have a baby to rise up inside of me, but my heart did. Yes. Please, yes. It’s been about a decade of working hard and being broken and I just want to rest and I’m over-due. Isn’t it supposed to be every seven years?

What, I wonder, do most people think of when they hear sabbatical? It seems most people I hear use the term sabbatical in a more modern concept always seem to travel during their sabbatical. I would guess they feel the need to escape the places and people that come with an undercurrent of responsibility. For me, I want to get away from mankind and closer to God, and the best way I have found to do that is to get closer to God’s creation. Truly, closer.

Lay on the ground. Sleep in the sun and the dew. Get wet and cold. Eat food from the ground. Singing with your own voice.

Does that not sound entirely comfortable? I am not sure that a sabbatical is supposed to be entirely comfortable — perhaps a vacation is. But a sabbatical, I think, is supposed to be life giving. And while sleeping on the clay ground doesn’t sound comfortable, you would be surprised to know how my breathing deepens and slows just thinking about it. God, and His creation, runs at an entirely different frequency and rhythm than the rest of the world, and my aching soul cries out for it.

I don’t want to tell people how seriously I think about quitting my job. It feels like a failure. It feels like not trying hard enough. It feels like saying, “you all go on ahead being adults; I quit.” But also, not thinking about quitting just feels like an exercise in delusion and denial. But if I quit, what next?

If I let go of the taut reins of “realistic” and “responsible” and “feasible” and “reasonable” and listen to thing I can best call my heart’s cry, rapidly I am thinking about buying a plot of completely undeveloped land, and living on it. Something like 5 to 10 acres that haven’t been used in long enough that it is mostly woods, with some clearings, and obviously there is a fickle stream. Preferable said land butts up close to state land. I want to save lots of money and NOT spend it all on the land, because that’s probably the money I’ll be living on a for a while, and besides, you have to save money to drill a well at some point probably, but for now my mind is already tracing rabbit trails of what containers would do well for hauling and storing water, what kind of cooler chests would keep wild animals out, the reality that I would probably still have to have a phone of some sort, and could I squeeze out three seasons if I built the equivalent of a wooden tent?

Around this part, I start rebuking myself for romanticized pipe dreams that everyone has, and no one lives, because hello, there are serious flaws with these types of things. But I wonder — why does everyone have them, if not because the life around is killing us from the inside out and we all know it?

It’s not like I think I would live out there forever. It could always be the sabbatical land. The largely undeveloped (I still think a well would have to happen at some point) fleeing-place, the land of refuge when this broken and ill world wears me (or others) down to the point that withdrawal must happen. I figure after a year or two, I would get it out of my system for a while and make another attempt at re-entry into society. Not that I would never leave the sabbatical land — how else would I take voice lessons, and pottery lessons, and learn how to swim, and mushrooming lessons, and unload pictures off my camera, and get more milk because how is a person supposed to live without milk, and see my family and friends, and get more books from the library, and more canvas to paint? Maybe, if reality intruded too much, I could even do some per diem work on the side, just to keep my cursed world skills and connections from rusting too much. But after that, after resting and restoring and learning and creating and Not Trying, maybe after that I could work a part time job and try again to find a rhythm and a balance that I could sustain. Where I didn’t cry my way home, didn’t wake up praying that this was a weekend not a weekday.

I’ve analyzed the problem from every angle I can imagine, and the root cause I come up with is: me. I’m too introverted to make this current course ever be successful. I can get about half-way through the week, and then I am peopled out and faking it, and by Friday I am gritting my teeth and hating it, and then on the weekend I want to just huddle and hide and not see anyone, because how else will I regroup enough to face Monday?

I tell myself if I can just make it to three years, I will have more options, more flexibility, more ways I can approach life. But if I push myself to three years, there will be no option left but to rest and leach out the miserableness. Some days, many days, I don’t even know if I can last that long, only then I go look at the prices of land and scare myself silly, and wonder what land is really worth, and if I’m crazy or if this is really the way the compass is pointing. Sometimes I think there’s no other possible way, and stopping my ears up to it is the greatest foolishness.

But the joy I feel at the idea of sabbatical is not without sadness: I thought I could do this, and I can’t. I wanted a family of my own, and I don’t have it. How meaningful can this time be, if the relationships won’t be lasting and I’m just trying to grit my teeth and save up money? There is a sense of loss, of mourning, of failure, of not being good enough, of (paradoxically) being rejected, of not being able to join with others, of not meeting standards. I want to run away and hide, but I know that act itself is so radical that it will push me so far from the socially accepted bounds of inclusion that few people will be able to relate to me.  I don’t want to be isolated; but I do want to be alive. I’m not sure that I have the courage and fortitude necessary to make the scandalous choices that bring me closer to being alive.

All I can think is that maybe this will flame out after the winter. Maybe things will be more clear after the spring comes. But deep inside, I do know I already spoke the truth, and I am just scared to act on it.

Defined by whom for what?

Enneagram.

So popular, so famous, so trendy, and, so far, the most complex and therefore accurate personality test I’ve stumbled over.

For me, the use of these are very limited and often result in little more than ego stroking or justification of one’s reactions to unpleasant stimuli. Somehow, I can’t resist taking them, always wondering how people see me, I guess, a preoccupation I’ve had for too long and still can’t let go of. Yet I rarely remember the results, because it doesn’t challenge my understanding of myself or how I should approach my life. Accordingly, I can’t really tell you if I consistently get the same results, even if I’ve taken the same test many times throughout the years.

Today I stumbled on my Enneagram results, because although of all the Types, Type 4 did not seem too off base, I resented what was described as their fundamental struggle — their basic fear or basic desire: That they have no identity. Worse than that, they basically said that the fact that Fours are swamped in too many shifting emotions is the root of what leads them to feel as though they have no stable identity.

I don’t want this to be true of me. But I think that it does ring true. This means that I have to grapple with it, the first time I think a personality test has actually done that for me.

I’ve long wondered whether  I was just a product of my environment, or if I were actually a stable entity of my own. I wish I felt like I had my own defined sense of style, my own home environment. In “real life” I am too busy keeping my head above the water, and those things don’t come together, but I always want them to. I have wanted to have a well defined role, except that I hate being defined as one thing, and I am much more complex than that. One of my biggest stumbling blocks is that it seems like there is no direction to my life, no arcing story line, no actual cohesion. In fiction, everything is so much more neat, or so it seems to me, since I don’t understand the context in which the Author is writing.

The thing is, I don’t think it’s healthy to spend your life looking for “an identity.” That’ s not what I think life is “supposed” to be about. Don’t judge yourself, they say. Accept yourself as you really are. The problem is, when all you see is fractured tiny pieces of nonsense, and no idea how any of the pieces go together, well, nothing is big enough to hold on to long enough to accept. That’s how it feels, anyhow.

Do I think that getting good at something would give me peace? No. Or a relationship, or a home, or defined sense of style? No, of course not. But do I envy the people who seem to have a strong arc, a strong sense of who they are, what they want, and the path that they are on? Yeah, I do. Well, would you like a different set of life problems? As we say in health care, would you like to die of cancer, dementia, or frailty and falls? No one ever said it was going to be pretty.

And I can’t escape the dogging feeling of needing permission to do what I need to do. What I most want permission for is permission to be weak. To stop trying to force myself to be responsible, dutiful, reasonable and hard working. To stop trying to go along with society’s expectations. And yet one of the things I most resent is when it seems like my identity is slipping into that of Invalid.

So what do I do? I read the blog of Christian woman with bi-polar disease, and I marvel at how much of it seems to apply to me. Not the symptom descriptions; the coping with life descriptions. The “actually, I can’t work full time, I am an artist, and it’s ok to go to bed early.”

It’s hard for me to say, “I can’t help you today, I don’t feel well.” But I don’t feel well. But couldmake myself do it? I mean, I could. I’m not dead yet. I have several people in my life who view not “making yourself” as laziness, as lack of commitment, as being weak, of having no discipline, not sticking to things.  So I want someone to say, you don’t look like you feel well. Because apparently I want someone to validate how I feel or otherwise it’s not the truth? But otherwise I’m fighting this guilt that I’m giving up too easily, have no will power or perseverance, no grit. This was not how the war was won.

I guess I am trying to shift my mindset to what I have experienced to be true, but it takes energy to fight all the voices (people, society, habits, previously held stances) that scorn that mindset. It’s hard to leave things behind.

But if my life is a novel. . .I’m beginning to suspect that I’m not the Heroine. Or that I have to learn how to write a different kind of Heroine. Because I’m not strong. I’m tired. I’m not the center of the story; I want to hide and to heal. I don’t make the world go round; I struggle to get through each normal boring day. I’m not leading anyone anywhere doing anything, although sometimes I remember to put tremendous effort into small actions to Not Be Part of the Problem.

“Not Quitting” is offered up as the gold standard; but maybe yeah, do quit? Not life. But maybe what life is described as. Where do we get this stuff from, and why do we believe it? I understand why some people want to take the path of minimalism and strip everything right down and see what still holds. So much garbage and so hard to see what is real hard truth buried in it all. We’re all dying, in that none of us live forever, but that’s not as clarifying as one would think it would be. Maybe, for some of us, quitting certain things takes more courage and bravery than Keep Going.

If none of this makes much sense to you, that’s ok. It’s the muddled meanderings of someone feeling feverish and sick, but not so feverish and sick that she can’t make herself go to work tomorrow. Not all introspection is either healthy or conclusive.

 

o so tired

One of the things that makes me angry about work is that I feel like it demands to be my god. I don’t “get to” show up for work; I “have to” show up for work. I don’t get to decide what is important enough to do. I get told what I have to do. And the rest of my life? The rest of my life gets the “leftovers,” after work has made it’s demands and I am ragged and thin and unable to really apply myself.

 

This is where most people roll their eyes and make a cutting comment about how being a grown up is so hard and welcome to the real world.

 

I don’t glamorize the tiny house movement, because in all actually, living in tiny cramped spaces is fairly unpleasant. But the truth is, living for work is really unpleasant, too. It might be a bit dour to say that most life is about choosing which unpleasantness you want to live with. I want to be able to structure my life around the things that I matter most, and work generally equates itself to money in my mind, and money is so very, very low on my list.

 

You have to eat, people say. Bills got to get paid, they say. But as anyone who looks around with even remotely half an eye open, some people manage to do that a good deal more frugally than others. Would I take living on rice and beans to actually be able to prioritize my life in an authentic manner to what I truly believe? Yes. In a heartbeat.

 

I wish I could not be so angry about this. I wish I could be a hopeful dreamer, a persistent laborer with the goal fixed before me. Instead, it seems I find myself stealing myself to do something both drastic and defiant. I don’t care what you think, I don’t care what you say, I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care. Which only explains exactly how much one does care. Defiance usually is an expression of fear, and I will confess I am that.

 

I’m afraid of quitting a job I labored for countless years to get. I’m afraid of what would be next. I’m afraid there wouldn’t be money for bills. I’m afraid I’ll be found an idealistic fool, who was incapable of doing basic math. But also, I am terrified of this crushing feeling of being trapped, a growing case of claustrophobia; a situation where everyone simply resigns themselves to being victims of fate. I hate that: vicitimhood and fatalism combined in one toxic dose.

 

That does sound a bit like childish idealism, doesn’t it? I know. I worry about that. I am enough of a responsible big girl to know that nothing is free, and this world down here is not heaven, and it is all laced through with the burden of the curse. But I also loathe the hypocrisy of saying I value one thing and then lamenting that I can’t actually live in such a way as I claim to hold to “because I can’t.” That sounds like a cop-out, the coward who is not willing to make sacrifices for what they believe in — and if you aren’t willing to make sacrifices for it, do you really believe it?

 

I don’t think major life changes should be motivated by anger, fear and defiance. But stopping doing the responsible thing in the witness of the whole world takes a tremendous amount of courage. Especially when you are currently more defined by what you don’t want than what you do want.

 

I have been thinking about life as a process of editing. Somewhere along the line, I swallowed the thought that becoming an adult was about having things in your name. The more I have actually tangled with real life, the more I find that the “things” are actually mostly silly. The grandiosity of the things of this life can’t actually hide the reality that we brought nothing into this world and it is certain we cannot bring anything out of it. In our mindsets, I think it would be healthier to consider what needs to be brought along for the journey than settling down and stock piling.

 

There’s a little bit of terror to not having enough and to running out. There’s also a little bit of terror to not being in control and running out. And, I think, for some of us, there’s a terror in living a lie or lying to yourself. I have a growing determination that after three years at my current job, I’m quitting. It makes me happy to write that, even. But I’m scared to say it outloud, because I’m afraid my unhappiness with my current situation is deluding me into thinking that something irrational is rational, something foolish is wise, something entirely selfish is God-led.

 

I don’t care, I say. I’m quitting. But who am I saying “I don’t care,” to? My employers, my co-workers, to whom I can offer no real explanation except that, “this isn’t for me; I’m done.” My family members, who are already incredulous that I took on legal responsibility for untold thousands of dollars of debt for a job that would never make sufficient money to clear the debt. My own self, who cannot bear the idea of walking away without some kind of understanding of what I am walking toward.

 

Then there is the quiet and intimidating question of what is faith. Is faith laboring for years and incurring large loans just to walk away? Is faith stepping away without know what you are stepping toward? One year down, two years to go. I have time yet to figure this out, to move from faith instead of angry defiance. It scares me a little that I have so much joy in the idea of quitting and no hope at all in “making it worse.”

 

But I also cannot deny that every time I hear my brother talking about me being in the profession for 10 years, I silently affirm that will never happen, cannot happen, will utterly kill me if I do. It makes logical rational sense to him. I know it will not be. I know it.

 

It would make rational sense to quit working for formal employers, be control of my own destiny via self employment. But I’m not at all sure that is right, either. From everything I have heard from small business owners, the small business tends to consume them from the inside out. I don’t really see my clouded glimpses of the future as one who becomes a motivated, “successful” business owner. In part because I don’t see myself as being defined by any one thing. Will my profession still have some role in my life, in some shape or form or quantity? Probably. But the whole point is that I refuse to be defined by my profession, self-owned or otherwise.

 

What, then, do I see my future looking like? It’s undefined nature is a large part of what leaves me tossing and turning and fidgeting within the shell of my current life. I have struggle with my share of 3 and 5 year plans and found they don’t really hold water with me. I dislike the unknown, but I find there is little in planning like that besides self delusion. Sometimes, I still try to peer through the fog and see what comes at me, vague ideas of what should be, what is worth coming into being.

 

— I want to put time and energy into feeding and growing meaningful, lasting relationships.

— I want God to be the intentional center, not the squeezed in leftovers.

— I want to be able to be more fully in the present, more aware of the beauty and grace created in each passing moment.

— I want to read, I want to create, I want to sing, I want to maintain less objects with more care.

— I want to attend to my own personal rhythms, resting when I am sick, being still to listen, and working with a great fury and passion only some of the times.

— I want to learn.

— I want to stay away from ambition and work hard on compassion

— I want to cook more, to nourish in all of it’s meanings.

— I want less hustle — meaningless hustle — and more texture and depth

— I want to grow and move

— I want to be outside more, more in communion with the creative handiwork of God.

— I want to have less things, a more edited, curated life that knows what to hold on to and what to let go of.

— I want time to reflect and recharge.

— I don’t know how much of that can be had in this life.

I Cry Out

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

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

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

 

3 jobs

3 degrees

7 clinical rotations

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

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

3 close compatriots married off, plus a sibling

3 grandparents died

1 life-threatening illness that no one can satisfactorily explain

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

1 aunt and 2 family friends died

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

A tornado through my aunt and uncles property

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

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

2 cars

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

Cooking for 14 to cooking for 1

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

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

the majority of my fertile years

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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