Like a little knife

Their little legs were covered in mud, due the wonderful summer-time pleasure of catching frogs in the swamp. A spray with the hose had already been employed, but it was clear more serious measures were needed. I filled the tub with a few inches of lukewarm water, and had them strip off their shorts. Once they were sitting on the edge of the tub, I gave them both a washcloth and soap, and then took a soapy cloth for me to help them finish off the job.

It was the easiest, most natural, instinctive thing ever. . .checking behind the ankles, cleaning between miniature toes. It was relaxing and calming and obvious. The strange thing was really how normal it was. They’re not my children.

I can feed sticky toasted marshmallows to children lacking the eye-hand coordination to get it there themselves. I can get two 7-year old girls to successfully share one large ice cream cone, without it melting all over the picnic table. I am a master with mittens and boots and coats. But they’re not my children.

I’ve changed diapers, coached with walking the first unsteady steps, learned to eat with one hand with a baby on the knee. But not with my children. I’ve helped those same children learn how to drive, helped them pick out their first suit, and prayed over their interviews. But they weren’t ever my children.

I don’t want to be a teacher. I don’t want to work in “peds.” I don’t want to run a daycare, or be a nanny or an au pair. I don’t want to open an orphanage, and I don’t want to raise someone else’s child.

I want my own.

I want my own.

I want my own.


I am losing my freaking mind

Ugh. Between my car breaking down and my cousins stopping in to visit for a few days, I got totally, totally derailed. I have managed, barely, to hang on to diet and exercise, but sleep, mindfulness, writing and more have gone totally out the window. I struggle to find a balance between “the expectation is. . .” and “show yourself grace.”

Tonight, I’ve got a boatload of homework to do, and I’m trying to keep up with my social circle since my remaining time with them is rapidly shrinking. I’m tried, but my mind is racing too much to sleep. Everything is a disaster, and I can’t cope.

So I’m writing. Because it only makes sense to apply the treatment before attempting to function. But so much inside of me is screaming out, “I don’t have time for this right now! Can’t it wait until I’m at least back on an even keel?” But “waiting” until life is right just means we never do it. It’s time to drop the cortisol, and trust God that everything will be okay, because no matter how I cut it, it’s not going to be okay.

There’s this girl in our class who is determined to be very involved in our profession’s professional organization. Honestly, it makes me feel sad for her. She’s purchased the wardrobe, the plane tickets, you name it. She’s campaigned for a position, and raves about the networking, of constantly shaking hands. She posts pictures of herself standing next to people “high up” in the organization. She makes no bones that she came from a “disadvantaged” background (which to me, the fact that one “claims” that title is almost more meaningful than what background they did come from, as perspective is almost all it takes to change the title), and she appears like she has decided to make it her life mission to leave it behind.

But it makes me feel sad, because I feel like she’s alienating herself from the people in our class, and is defining herself by association with people with prestige and power. I don’t get the feeling that it’s genuine; that she genuinely wants to advocate for our profession. Just that it makes her feel very special to go to assemblies in fancy hotels, and she really wants to feel special. She says it’s great, but it’s hard for me to believe her. It seems like a life built around pretension.

I know that I don’t want that. I know that I really want authenticity in my own life, which first above all else requires that you stop lying to yourself. I saw a post on facebook, about someone I don’t know who, “coming out of the closet” and claiming God want him to most be himself, and someone else tearing him apart about how God wants us to die to ourselves. And there’s a part of me that feels like, wait a minute guys, you’re both getting it wrong. There is hedonism, which says “if it makes me happy, it must be right” and there’s honesty, which confesses even sins and doesn’t hide in the garden. You can’t put both of those things under the title of authenticity, when they mean such totally different things.

People nowadays are saying “you do you!” You know, stop giving in to peer pressure. Be in charge of yourself. But it makes me cringe every time. For me, authenticity is not about not giving a damn what anyone else thinks. It’s about being honest about who you are, not about being rude. It’s about not lying to yourself, not about flaunting everyone else’s protocols. It’s not about defiance, it’s about vulnerability. It’s not about being the center of your own little universe; it’s about seeing yourself, in all your flaws and glory, and not trying to shamefully deny either one. And for some of us, we’re as shy about our “glories” as we are our faults, and find it easier to be public in our self-humiliation than our God-given strengths.

This is a struggle for me, a very real one, because I want outside affirmation so very badly. Someone to tell me I made the right choice. Someone to tell me I did a good job. Or not even someone, just bars that I feel I have to clear in order to be ‘sufficient.’ And I know that’s stupid. I know it, because when I clear the bars and and when people say so, I still feel dissatisfied and uneasy. That’s what you say; why should I believe you? It must be because the course was so easy; if it were really, truly hard, I wouldn’t have done so well. Comparison dominates. Am I as smart, as kind, as personable, as brave, as hardworking, as. . . and then you pick whoever you know who is at the top of their field for each category, and of course you don’t measure up to your ideal of the perfect person, a composite of a thousand peoples’ strengths.

And it scares me, because it still seems to have power over me. I have to . . .I must. . .I couldn’t. . . Or even holding back parts of myself because I daren’t have them critiqued. So much of my writing and creative efforts, I hide as much as I can. Because it’s not good enough to clear bars. It’s not good enough to see the light of day. Even as I mourn my grandfather burning most of his paintings because he determined they weren’t worth keeping.

What can be said? There but the grace of God go I? I’m not sure that I’m not there, just in a more stealthy, insidious manner. What do I want to say? God, have mercy on me, and save me from my own darkness, the one that keeps trying to be enough. I am not enough. Only You are, and I can’t seem to keep my attention on you longer than a sneeze. Come rescue me.





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.


Be Still

Writing is one of the few ways I know how to be “be still.” It’s not that I’m always moving, or always being with people. It’s just that I’m so often doing. But I feel like I have really been challenged of late to learn how to be still, so as I attempt to pick up the pieces of yet another week, I am coming back to this place of vulnerability.

A blog I follow recently had a beautiful post written on loving someone more than their own personal need to be remarkable, and on the terrifying nature of smallness. While I understood and empathized with what she was saying, I also winced with pain as I lay squashed on the other side of the coin.

I just wanted a small life. In my mind, my life would consist of a “low-skills” level job. I would pursue my hobbies and creative interests with curiosity and delight. Eventually (not too eventually), I would meet someone and we’d marry and have children. I would always be busy – but it would be with things like canning pickles, and teaching children, and striving after the elusive recommended amount of daily activity. I would be stressed, but it would be about things like “why is there no clean underwear for anyone in this entire house?” and how the car needed muffler work. I would still sometimes be lonely, because everyone is, but I’d be a good neighbor and a good friend. Sometimes I would fight with my husband, because that is what you do: you unintentionally hurt the people you care about most, probably because you trust them most to love you in spite of your flaws. But we would mostly be happy, and especially happy when we were together, even just sitting on the couch so close you couldn’t lose a piece of popcorn between us.

I thought that was what life was about. I waited for that life, and I certainly didn’t think I was asking for too much, because it was just a normal, small, unremarkable life. But that life didn’t come, and I still spend so much time asking myself what I’m doing getting a doctorate degree. I didn’t want a fancy education, an elitist title, a prosperous career. In fact, it feels very empty, compared to what I wanted. And as I struggle through trying to understand my own life and my own self, I feel myself pulled two directions.

On the one hand, I have yet to stop scheming about how I could get back to that small life. Nothing fancy, but pleasant. Just to be a good neighbor and a good friend, and finally get to the point I was sewing all of my own clothes, because it is fun. But that is twinged with the same pain of giving up your childhood dream of being a superhero. It still sounds nice, but it’s too late now to pretend it’s a possibility.

And on the other hand, I feel the tug and pull of an unseen force causing me to slide relentless toward Being Remarkable. Don’t these thoughts sound terribly melodramatic? Ahhh, I wanted to be the lowly miller’s daughter, and I’m being made into a princess against my will! Save me!

My horoscopes (a.k.a every variant of personality test I’ve ever been made to take or have taken for my own amusement) assures me that I am highly unusual, an advocate for mankind, a firey fighter of pain and injustice. Plus, they add in a more practical tone, you have such annoyingly high standards, you’ll never be happy working for anyone else and you might as well get used to the idea you’re going to be self-employed.

What? Whaaaaaat! I sit here once again in the bitter ashes of prophecy. All my life, people have declared over me what I will do or become. I have fought the back, sometimes bitterly. I’m not that kind of person; that’s not what I want; you don’t understand. Invariably, whatever it was that was said comes to pass and I’m the one who is wrong–about her own self. Do I commit my life into the interpretation of an online personality test? No, of course not. It’s alarming only because it pulls up the echos of every single voice that has ever said that to me over the last decade. Over my protestations that “I’m really not interested in running my own business!”

There is a bit of a sense of resignation I see beginning to creep into my mindset. Fine. No use trying to avoid it any longer. I might as well just get it over with. The plan post graduation may as well turn directly into self-employment. Any thing else is just putting off the inevitable. Whether I want it or not, that will be where I wind up.

The sensible people – the ones not declaring prophecy over me – hear my protestations that I don’t know what I’ll do after graduation, and respond sensibly: well, you’ll get a job, of course. Then I stare at these people as though they’ve sprouted a third ear (poorly placed). They clearly did not even understand the words coming out of my mouth. Upon reflection, though, the problem really is that I don’t understand the words coming out of my mouth.

What I mean to say is: even after all this, I still want that small life. I still want my biggest hurdles to be how to run a homemade ice cream stand with my children, and I still want to figure out how I best fit into the curve of my husband’s arm, and I still want to be relatively Unremarkable. But I don’t seem to have a say in that matter – any of those matters. And I’m scared of the ideas I have inside of my own head. They sound good, when they’re up there in my head, but I’m afraid that when I try to bring them into the real world, they’ll shrivel up like tender greens on a hot pan.

I’m scared that I’ll not get what I think I want, and I’m scared of trying to become the person I think I’m being called to be.

I don’t think, and have never thought, that a person ought to be motivated by fear. But I do think that the Truth invariably invokes a certain amount of Holy Fear. Fear, itself, does not tell me I’m on the wrong track. The pain is that the accepting of one appears to be the mourning of the other.

People say that we tend to make God too small. That we declare things impossible, when He steadfastly maintains that no such thing exist. That we give up hope long before He wants us to stop asking. These are true things, and things that I wrestle with. But I am also wrestling with another truth: Not my will, but Yours. We do okay with “my will and Yours,” but with when it comes to “not my will, but Yours,” things get pretty dicey. I feel like the question being posed to me is, “Will you do My will, even if it means giving up on your own?”

You can’t fake this question out. You can’t say, “Oh, probably. I’m sure if push came to shove I would, but we can find a way to work this out so we’re both happy.” Abraham didn’t get to say, “Oh, probably.” The three men sentenced to deathly furnace didn’t get to say, “oh, probably.” I did pick those examples for a reason – in the end, lives were preserved. But it wasn’t by people holding on. It was by people taking the action and the commitment to say with their very lives, “Not my will, but Yours.” Even if, in the end, God declares that I will have the thing that I dread to be impossible, I still have to bow my knee and be willing to say, “I want to do what you want me to do, more than I want what I want.”

And that’s why her post resonated with me. In some ways, we are saying the same things. We’re saying it’s scary to give up our “rights” to have dreams, in favor of an unknown thing we did not ask for. And on some level, we know we’re fighting it, and on some level, we want to repent. But it calls for great trust, and trust is not even an easy word to write.



Oh, Life

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

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

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

* my grandfather did die just a few weeks ago

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

* I am trying to switch churches

* my friends are all out of town

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

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

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

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

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

(that’s a really hard one to admit)

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

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

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

I’m sorry.

But I am crumbling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I can’t do it.

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

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

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


The Conclusion of the Matter. . .

So I don’t know what I want.

Is this really an uncommon problem? I can’t imagine it is, but time has shown me again and again that I do a terrible job of imagining people different than me.

I didn’t know, for years, what I wanted to “be”. You know–job, career, occupation, defining title, all that stuff. One of the frustrating iterations of that uncomfortable topic, I believe I told a friend that I was quite confident I could be anything I wanted to be, I just had no idea what I wanted to be.

I am not so very much sure how much has changed. I guess (1) I appear to know what I want and what I’m doing in a much more socially acceptable way now, and (2) I’m no much less sure of my ability to make what I want happen, once I do figure it out. Yay for growing up?

Growing up also means that I can now say – if mostly only ever to myself – that what I want most is a family. Not a career. You can plop yourself on a career path with reason and logic and planning. A family requires another person, especially when you mean “family” not “kids”. I want the whole deal, not pieces of it here and there.

Some people then delicately say, “well. . .are you looking?” Um. . .no, I’m walking around with my eyes closed? Yes, I’m looking! I’m looking inward at myself and outward at the people around, and distantly toward what might be, and backwards at what was, and scanning around the present wondering what I will see in retrospect and wonder why it wasn’t more obvious at the time.

I think people don’t really mean “looking,” though. I think they really mean “hunting” or “pursuing” or “barging forward head on.” Usually, they mean a variant on “loosen up with alcohol and see who still texts with you when you’re both sober” or maybe even “you stupid girl, have you not yet learned how to flirt?” (Or maybe those are two of the same things?)

Well, what happens if I’m not interested in a guy who has to get at least half drunk in order to talk to me? What happens if I think flirting is a stupid way to interact and honestly, an inappropriate way to act with someone you hardly know? Yeah, I’m boring/not fun/take life too seriously/whatever. That wouldn’t change on the other side of drinking or flirting.

People say, “just live your own amazing life, and the right person will come along at the right time.” Yup. Or not. Not hunting people down doesn’t automatically turn you into a magnet, but being a chaser can often work to push people away.

Since clearly when people say “look” they mean something much less passive, I just really wonder a girl is to do. A girl who really does take life seriously, and commitments. A girl who is passionate about what matters most in life and about caring for people. A girl who does think life is full of many more important things than the pursuit of “fun” – fun is good and all, but it’s not a high and lofty goal. A girl who would like to just sit quietly together on the couch, not Go and Do, but just Be. A girl who doesn’t want to be a wife to be a princess, who doesn’t want to be a mom for the sake of cuteness, and a girl who would rather cook in than dine out any day of the week.

Be true to yourself, they say. Well, myself isn’t gregariously moving through a multiplicity of social circles, sifting for potential prey–or partnership, or however you mean it. Myself isn’t a drinker or a flirter; myself thinks that by the end of the week it is necessary to quietly withdraw and spend time patching up the inside of me so I can handle Monday when it comes around. (And I do handle Monday, thank you very much, but if I don’t spend the time patching me up on the inside, I probably will be in tears by Friday.) Myself loves to create, which is frequently a solitary occupation.

Look, you say? What do you mean, look? Look where? Where do you find people who find it endearing that you frequently curl up and hide from the world? Expand your social life, they say. Well, yes, leisure time is lovely for those who have leisure. And money. And enjoy the company of those with money to blow, I guess. Hey–I’m sorry. It’s just that a lot of the more affluent people I’ve met are boring. They’re more caught up in the Doing and Going and Spending (and Drinking) and seem more confused and bored by the Being and Making.

There are things you can do socially besides drinking, they say. Sure. I want to go to this Vocal Ensemble concert this weekend. I will show up in time to get a good seat. And sit. And enjoy it. And go home. Another solitary endeavor. I wouldn’t mind enjoying it with someone else, but the someone else to enjoy it with has yet to materialize. They say, get involved in your community. I’ve been trying for half a year to start volunteering at a shelter, but it has been excruciatingly difficult to mesh my school schedule with that. Join clubs, they say. Because even though you hate playing clubhouse, you might meet someone else who also hates playing clubhouse but is doing it anyway? And the main goal of churches is heating up pews and handing over cash.

Do I sound bitter? I don’t want to be bitter, whether I sound it or not. But there is a certain amount of frustration of wondering what you are supposed to do to “meet people” while being “true to yourself” when you are “intelligent, introverted” and alternately “sweet” or “a real firecracker”. And plus also, a point in your life when you have very little time and even less money. Seriously: how do you make lemonade with those lemons? More to the point, how do you make lemon meringue pie, or those awesome lemon custard shortcake bar cookies or lemon cake with raspberry filling and cream cheese frosting? I’m trying to take stock of realistically what I have and where I am in life, and honestly wondering how to break outside of your own little world while still not destroying yourself in the process.

I could make a self-congratulatory list of all I think I have to offer. I could making a tentative, querying list of what I was hoping to find. But I guess mostly I find myself pretty confused by the mechanics of the whole thing. How do find someone you would like to walk the rest of your life together with? The trite answer is by living the life that you want to be joined in living, but when that life doesn’t take you (much) into the circle of others’ lives, the finding seems pretty improbable.

And partly I’m wrestling with suspicion that there really isn’t much that can be done; that “finding” is just one more illusion of power that is really outside of our control. Like the endless sales of variously flavored snake-oil, if there was “a” way, it would be well documented by now, and this post would not be a tired re-hashing of the wails of countless single people who wish they weren’t. Mankind – generally – learns how to solve the problems that are solvable.

What we are left with is heartache, because heartache is generally unsolvable.


I Simply Want What I Want

Everyone talks about the simple life, myself included. We pine for the simple life. I started trying to take it apart, to understand what it was about “simple” that pulls us. What I came up with was that the more simple a life appears, the easier it is for us to delude ourselves into thinking that we are or can be in control of it. The times when we find ourselves most longing for a simple life are most frequently when we feel the most horribly overwhelmed by life. If we could just shed all the overwhelming and complicated things, surely we would find more peace.

It’s not true. I know it’s not true, but still I find myself scheming about how I could just make my life simple enough that I would be at ease. Sure, I might have to work hard, but honest labor never hurt anyone. I would just be content all the time, if I could just make my life simple enough that I could control it–do away with being at the whims and mercies of other people and their systems. (I suppose maybe that’s a train of thought that leaves some people to embrace anarchy, but that’s a thought for another day.)

I always thought I was going to have a simple life. That I didn’t have great aspirations. That I’d marry a man worth marrying, and we’d raise a family in a modest (but well kept) house on a lot of land. I would take care of my babies and mop the floors and can peaches and sew clothes for everybody. I would still have concerns, sure, like keeping up with the green bean harvest and taking care of the neighbor with dementia and maybe being brave when there wasn’t enough money to fix the car, but basically, my adult life was going to be like my childhood except better. Because I would be running that show, and guess what? I rock at running that show.

When I went for college the first time, I went for a two-year associate’s degree that would make me immediately employable. It seemed like it was going to take forever to complete, and I do mean forever. I wanted to get out, get employed my a rural clinic a la the romantic stories of the only-medical-help-for-miles-around country doc. It wouldn’t matter that I had a small paycheck, because I would live very simply, engaged with doing and learning and not at all with having. And after a few years (tops), well, you know–I’d marry a man worth marrying, et cetera, et cetera.

I did allow that learning things was interesting and that maybe “someday” I would go back and get a higher degree. But honestly, I never could get school to sound very romantic–the epitome of allowing someone else(s) to run your life. Not cool.

And now I am angry. And I think it is because I don’t get to have control over my life.

I’m in a doctorate program for physical therapy. And part of me says I should be thrilled, over the moon to just be here. Overjoyed. And it is interesting. And I am very grateful to be here. And I am angry.

I catch myself thinking, “What am I even doing here?” It is not the simple life that I imagined. Not the life I thought I had all planed out for myself. I have no idea what comes next. And my imagination is crippled to imagine what might come next because all it can see is the looming black hole of debt that will surely dictate all of my choices and force me into a suburban life that’s identical to everyone else’s. Clearly, there is no hope.

Sometimes, I still catch myself thinking, “And when I get out of here, I’m going to get a yellow house. . .there will be tulips. . .my dog would be able to run free.” And when I catch myself thinking that, the anger bubbles up again. Because, debt. And also, who would I share that yellow house with? What’s the point of having an empty house?

All around me, people are getting married and having babies. I used to just be happy for them, and now I’m happy for them and jealous. People said this would happen, but you never understand it until it does. I think, “why them and not me? What’s so bad about me that I’m not worth being a wife and a mother?”

One time, when I was thinking those angry thoughts about not being allowed to have what I wanted, I heard an echo in my head: Maybe I want you to do more. Maybe anyone can be a wife and mother. Maybe that was supposed to be comforting, but that made me angry, too. I wasn’t planning on ‘more’–wife and mother would be plenty fulfilling enough; who needed more?

The idea was, the other people. There are a lot of people on this orb, more than just me and my imaginary family. You can’t stay safe and you can’t stay in control and help the people. Maybe that was supposed to make me happy, too, but it also didn’t. Was I going to have to sacrifice my dreams, my desires, the only things I wanted out of my life, just to make others happy? People say you have to give up all the things you really want to follow God. Nun-like images rolled through my mind. Clearly, I have a life of misery cut out for me. I don’t want to live like a nun; I want to have my yellow house with tulips, and my man, and my children and my life.

This seems to be the place where I ought to be segueing into the part about, “and then I saw the light, and I was joyful, and all was right with the world, and I’m here just to tell you that if you’re unhappy now, you shouldn’t be. . .!”

But it’s not. Because it’s not. Too many people wait to talk about the hard times until they can look back with those rosy-tinted glasses, and say “Ohhhhh. . . if I knew then what I know now, all would be well. So you all hear me, and always be well.” But the truth is, it’s not all well. It’s ugly, and we have to walk through it anyway. And I have no interest in devaluing the struggling of being Here. Is there an ultimate truth of beauty? I do believe yes. Does it always make this present bitter cup taste like honey? I do believe no. It goes down bitter. It may yet be turned to honey inside of us, but it goes down bitter.

I am struggling right now because I can’t find any way of shaping the future I imagine myself to be heading toward into anything I want. Like an animal inside of a cage, I keep trying–first this corner, and then that corner, and back to the first corner again. Surely there must be some way to hammer this into something I want. But the harder I try to pull it all together, the faster every plan in my mind seems to shatter. I can’t square the circle. No matter how hard I try to swing about, everything just leads to dead-ends, wastelands, mockeries, taunting voices that wear the name of “Reality.”

You aren’t any different than anyone else. You are going to graduate, an average student with incredible loans. You will need a job. You will take a job to pay the bills. You won’t leave the job, because there’s no place else to go to–too few jobs to go around–unless you move far, far away from family and friends. You will work full time, and be too tired to do anything when you come home. Your life will never move beyond the shriveled husk of existing to pay bills. No one will love you as the only person they love. You will grow old, and childless, and never really know what it’s like to be alive.

If that’s not a monster in the closet, I don’t know what is.

And what do I think, but that if I could just live simply enough, maybe I could escape it. Maybe I could still have the charmed life that only the pious third daughter ever unearths, the corollary to “the wood-cutter’s son.” Simple and honest and deserving, and anyhow, for this plot line to go anywhere, you need a love interest to drop into the story from out of nowhere pretty soon.

I have come up with a lot of different scenarios for what might happen after school. There is the defiance of limitations: I’ll work as a traveling therapist until all of my debt is paid off, and then I’ll be free! Ha! So there! (This is usually followed by some math in the margins, and then an addendum: well, till most of my debt is paid off. I guess I can live with SOME debt hanging over me that I keep whittling away at. But it will at least be a manageable amount.) There is the heroic measures that I don’t know how to actually make happen but sound good on paper: I’ll never work for filthy lucre. I’ll work in third worlds, or open up charity clinics. There are the have my cake and eat it too plans: Well, I’ll work part time for filthy lucre, but the rest of the time I’ll do something else, like work in a green house or run a soup kitchen. There are flirting with reality which scares me half to death thoughts: If I have to get a job, I should at least get a job I enjoy at a serious rehab center. This will mean moving away from my friends and family, and living my life alone. There are bargaining with God schemes; a lot of those, actually. Look, I have no problem with a long courtship. I think by the Fall semester of next year we should be courting. We’ll have to be apart for the year after that when I’m on all my clinical rotations, which will be hard, but it will ultimately make us stronger. I like that one, poor fool that I am. An even more desperate version goes something like this: Look. I’ll go where you want me to, do what you want me to do. I will leave behind whatever you want me to, and I will take on whatever uncertainty you want me to. But don’t make me do it alone. That’s an honest one, at least.

In the end, though, they’re all dust to me. None of them rings of the truth. I keep trying them all out, one after the other, and they just won’t sound true. I get more and more frustrated, and cycle through them faster and faster, trying to find some vision of the future I can sink my teeth into and hold on to. But they won’t hold, and right behind me is the voice that calls itself Reality: the best you can do is learn to be happy while being miserable. Those are all dreams and dreams don’t come true. You have to just learn to be happy with what you’re dealt.

That makes me angry, too.

Why? I want to know why: why all this schooling? Why all these years that seem so meaningless? Why the imposed schedules and the arbitrary grading? Why do I want the things that I am not given? Why can’t I just not want them? Why the debt? Why is any of this worth anything? Why couldn’t I just have a nice, simple life?

I know all the verses that people hand out like band-aids. I can stack them up and rattle them about. Do you know what they say to me? They say, your version of reality doesn’t really exist. So you can renounce everything you are thinking and feeling and experiencing as false, or you can have fun alone in your little mad-house. Good-bye. In my self-pity, I think I will go and read some psalms, except they rapidly turn into, Evil men are trying to kill me and I fear for my very life! and then I feel silly, because what are my problems compared to that? Except that my problems still are, and I feel no more sufficient to pass through them.

I have tried to plan my way out of them, with figures and schemes and math and house plans. I have tried to Pinterest my way out of them, as if by selecting all of the Simple Things, my life would begin to make sense. I have tried to convince myself that I want something more attainable. I have tried to re-frame my life as an adventure. I have cut myself slack and eaten a bag of chocolate chips in a week, and I have tried to crush myself into such a framework of diligence and routine so as to make myself totally safe.

Nothing ever touches the core of the matter: I feel alone in my own life, and I feel like I have nothing to look forward to. I feel powerless to change either one of those, and so I feel like a prisoner inside of my own life.


Buying Yourself Isn’t Satisfying

Struggling a little tonight, as I sometimes do, with the wanting. I went over to Etsy to browse, just because it’s fun to view the creative minds of those who do because they want to. They had a whole “graduation” section prepared, and I clicked over there just to see. I didn’t anticipate how it would make me feel, make me want. Not want the objects. Oh, some of them were clever and fun and thoughtful and touching, but I don’t need any of them.

No, what I wanted was someone to give them to me. The same sort of pull I feel sometimes on Valentine’s Day. I don’t really need the flowers, but I wish someone wanted to give them to me.

I don’t really want someone to come to my choir concerts or watch me be inducted into my graduate program. . .but I want someone who wants to.  I want someone who is so interested in my life that they really wouldn’t miss it because they really don’t want to because I’m there.

I squash those thoughts. Squash, squash, squash. ‘Who doesn’t want a little worship, a little pedestal?’ I tell myself. Vanity, vanity. But the squashing doesn’t really work, because as much as there might be some truth behind that, it really is a hunger for the relationship that would bear that kind of fruit. It isn’t about graduation, and it isn’t about recognition, and it isn’t even really about me. It’s about the wanting to share life with someone in a meaningful way for a long time. These are little symptoms of the deeper longing, and quashing the symptoms does nothing to resolve the underlying problem.

I don’t know that it’s a problem we have the power to solve for ourselves.


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.



You know what’s become taboo? Talking about what you find attractive. I mean, it’s still cool to be like “oo, he’s hot!” but if someone says, “Marry a well-groomed man” it’s all “Oh, grandma!” and “don’t judge a book by it’s cover!” You can’t go around talking about what you like or don’t like, because that’s all shallow and superficial and unaccepting and, well, not politically correct.

The thing about taboo subjects is that it tends to make us less honest. Not just with each other, but with ourselves. I’ll staunchly insist with the stuanch-est that I don’t care about the outside and that it’s only the inside that matters. . .and squash the thoughts–pretend I didn’t have them–about a guy who has nice forearms or a voice I love to listen to. Shallow! Superficial! The TRUTH I don’t want to admit.

I was thinking about this today–yeah, after noticing I kept sneaking glances at some guy oblivious to the world with his device-with-ear-attachments. One thought that came to me is that maybe it’s not so shallow as we’re often admonished.

I like to look at hands. Hands tell you so much. If a guy’s hands are all soft and smooth and weak looking, well, forget it. You have to know what a hard days work is like. You have not not be a stranger to the concept of labor. You know, it’s funny, but I can totally spot the difference in a heart-beat between a gym-rat and someone who came by it honest. There’s a difference between having a body and knowing how to use it, and you can see it just in the way a person sits, the way they carry themselves and the working balance between muscle groups.

I dismiss any guy with low-riding pants. If they aren’t mature enough to figure out how to dress themselves, I can’t say I find myself attracted. Same reason why I lean away from trendy-stylers–I’m looking for someone independent enough and strong minded enough that they aren’t being carried along or blatantly fighting for the sake of fighting. And whether male or female, I always find myself guarded around anyone too well polished. There’s a difference between carrying yourself well and being caught up in yourself–or horribly insecure about who you are.

We say we can’t judge a book by it’s cover, yet–well, the cover is there to reflect the contents. We are always looking for clues to someone’s character–their morals, their ethics, their values, their lifestyles. Some of those things are more attractive to us than others. (My grandma values the $$$, and finds the expensive looks veeeery attractive. I don’t, so . . .I don’t.)

I guess some people would read the paragraphs I wrote above, and be repulsed. How can she so casually judge another human being, when she knows nothing about them except they way they look?! Beyond rude! Bigoted monster!

But you know, the other thing I was thinking was that part of the reason why I squelch the (true) things that I find to be attractive is the fear or reciprocation. Yeah, I’ve heard women dreaming about some tall, handsome, rich dude with an Australian accent before. . .but which one of us thinks we’re the fulfillment  of longing, the picture of ideal, the one that someone has always dreamed about? If we can’t meet that standard–and we know we can’t–what right do we have hold one out for “what we want”? But pretending we “don’t want” is dishonest at best, and very damaging in the end. Those insidious expectations we pretended we never have, and are crushed when they aren’t met.

So while I was eating my hamburger and checking out the  hard-working, straight-shooting, good looking, not-paying-any-attention-to-me guy, I found myself wondering what sorts of things guys might be looking for. I know that’s as diverse as the individual, not whole group, and, loaded question though it may be–I’m really not talking about anatomical ratios. I look at hands because I think it tells me a lot about someone’s character. What might someone be looking to see in my hands? Shapes and sizes for the moment disregarded–deeper than that, beyond that, what is the question looking to be answered?

It may be an over generalization–why not? I’m in so deep already–but I think it’s pretty safe(ish) to say that we girls tend to be looking for signs of strength and reliability, someone who has the power to make us feel safe. That can take many forms–after all, some would say that money is a sign of strength and reliability and power, yet I find that totally unattractive. It doesn’t make me feel safe. So clearly I’m not trying to set up a standard of What Girls Should Look Like.

But I don’t think–maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think that guys tend to look to girls to find an image of someone who is stronger than them (physically), a reliable rock for them to turn to, someone with power. Where’s the allure, then? What message is supposed to be engraven in the hands?

Is it really the equally cliche idea of nurturing, caring, gentleness? Because that would be sweet. I’m totally not changing my bone structure, but I excel at those care-taking kinds of things. I do that, day in and day out, and my body in response takes on the shape of it, the cover bearing witness to what is being driven from inside. I never look the way I want, the way I wish I did. But I can’t keep my body from betraying the fact that my hands know how to hold a baby, that my eyes are used to seeking out the people who are hurting, that the way I walk displays my work ethic.

But I guess we all run into our insecurities at some point. I may be confident of my character, but I am very unconfident that anyone is looking for that kind of character. I can run up my own quiet list of “things I look for in guys” but the list of “guys looking for what I think I have” is strangely much shorter, by my observation. Or imagination. Our imaginations can be quite the turn-coats, I think. You can imagine your dark-haired Australian, and I can imagine my cello player with marvelous hands–but can either one of us really imagine those guys being happy with us? They’d be moving on, finding someone more suitable to their level. Pixie-ninja landscaping artist, or something. Definitely some girl who’s got her act together, not this bribing-oneself-into-existence-with-mint-mocha-instant-coffee nonsense that I’ve got going on over here. Or some girl who’s a lot more fun to be around, playful and risk taking and seize-the-day-oh-yeah, not the tentative, shell-hiding, reserved girl sitting on this bench, namely me.

With the same brush that I paint what I think I want, I paint, too, what I think I’m not. I can’t help but think that in a large part, our admonishment to “not judge a book by it’s cover” is really a plea that someone, please, anyone could see past our insecurities to the parts of us that really matter. That someone could guess that there is more to use than can be blatantly stated in large print on the first page, and want to find out what that “more” is.

Some people have said that the most attractive thing is someone who doesn’t need anything–e.g., isn’t looking for someone else to make them whole. I can sort of see where that thought is coming from, but I don’t agree. Whether we ignore that part of ourselves or not, I think there is a part of us that is looking for That Which Would Make an Awesome Team. That which both complements what I am not–the “things that I want”–and sees beyond my lack (“what I think I’m not”) to what I really do have to offer. Being what I want without being able to look beyond my flaws really isn’t all that attractive; it’s intimidating and frightening. Being able to see what I have to offer without offering me anything in return isn’t attractive, either; it’s threatening and imposing and demeaning. Finding both at once really seems to be the only way.

. . .and nigh near impossible.