Trust and obey

So often I only seem to manage to write here when I am stuck in an ugly place, and that makes it all the more refreshing to be able to write, occasionally, from places of noteworthy peace. Not, mind you, noteworthy energy or noteworthy answers, or noteworthy understanding. Just peace.

This is not a peace that comes from knowledge. I mean, my peace is “God has a plan.” But I’ve heard that and “known” the unceasingly. Sometimes, what we know becomes in a more full sense for us Truth: in the words of Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”

Since there is no new knowledge, it seems at times hard to describe to anyone else the kind of change that takes place. There was no sudden revelation or clear words from heaven. If I could partially attribute it to anything, I would attribute it in part to finally having a chance to digest some of the most difficult and unpredictable things I’ve ever gone through. Note that I did not say “going through those things”; I said digesting having gone through those things. There was very little peace in the midst of them, or even right after them.

In the space of one night, I went from my body functioning, to my body and my mind not functioning at all. When you cannot even depend on the body that houses you, so many kinds of uncertainty open up. This lasted months upon unending months. In one year, my health dipped drastically lower than it ever has, improved to higher heights than I can remember in decades, and finished the roller coaster by dropping once again. I am in the process of spending the better part of a year being essentially homeless, and driving north and south and east and west across this country, big enough to span many countries. In this rotation alone, there’s been more nights than I can count where I literally did not know where I was going to be sleeping that night.

I have said it before, but one seems to have to continuously re-learn: Sometimes having utterly all control stripped away from you leads to a greater peace when you finally have no choice, no option, no power or ability or determination to do anything other than trust.

And sometimes you don’t or can’t, and you just slog through weeks and months of misery. There’s that, too.

That’s why I feel like digesting all the hardness and uncertainty is only part of it. The other part — again, we are not discussing new knowledge, so my apologies if you were hoping for a revelation to change your life — is the growing conviction that God loves me. That God likes me. That He’s not arbitrary and distant. That He has plans for me — GOOD plans, not cold, calculating, take-your-medicine-and-stop-whining plans.

I can’t for the life of me tell you how or when that happened. Except, obviously, sometime between now and the last time I wrote. Again, no grand revelations. Just a quiet coming along side, you and Me — we’re in this together. He goes ahead to prepare. And it’s going to be okay. It’s going to be more than okay; it’s going to be good. I don’t know how or what or why or when. I just know it has to be good. Because He is good, and He is in control, and I have heard that all a million times before and sometimes it just turns into Real. My Lord and my God.

 

If I was a good writer, I would stop right there. Many a good work has been painfully burdened with an uncalled for epilogue that doesn’t display any trust in the reader. Even knowing that, I feel compelled to point out that “my Lord and My God” is what Thomas said after God rubbed his face in the fact that that he was not believing the things he needed to be believing. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much Job in a nutshell, too.

It continues to fascinate me how it is so much easier for us to believe the things that terrify us rather than the things that will comfort and encourage and strengthen us. Perhaps, for some select few, hope comes easy; but for most of us, it seems, it takes a good deal of audacity to hope. (This concept did not, incidentally, begin with a certain senators book; I dare say it’s been around a good long time, but you might enjoy reading this: http://www.theatlantic.com/daily-dish/archive/2008/03/for-the-record/218866/ ) I think that everyone can interpret the use of that word – audacity – a little differently. For me, it is the idea of, “Who am I, that I should expect any good?”

Again, maybe not everyone struggles with that particular aspect. But while it is more frequent a topic to discuss “hidden sins,” most people don’t even seem to acknowledge another fault: hidden dreams. On first scan, it seems unnecessary to call it a fault. Wanting good things, verifiability good things, and not making a fuss out of it, hardly seems like something to complain about. But the problem, I have discovered (and to me, this part is new knowledge) is the “hidden” part. Because hiding implies that it isn’t safe or can’t be trusted. To “hide good things” is to in a way act as though one cannot be trusted with good things, or with us, or with our delicate hearts. Rather than dare to tell Him, “God, this is really what I want from the future,” I stash it in the corners and peek at when I pretend He isn’t looking. That’s not trust.

Upon reflection, maybe this piece has more to do with it all than I first realized. The last month or so has really been a time of me confessing my hopes and dreams and desires to God. I don’t think I ever before really understood how hopes and dreams could be involved in the same sentence as “confessing,” but I have been becoming increasingly convicted that this was an area that I tried to keep from God. That He could have His plans, and I’d make my little doll house plans, and if they didn’t happen, I understood, but I would have my own little doll house plans, that I would mostly try to hide from Him so He wouldn’t mock him. That’s not trust.

I do repeat myself. It’s important. Sitting there and saying, “You know, God, this is what I want,” is something that I actually continue to find to be incredibly difficult to do. But as with confessing sin, also strangely freeing. There’s a quiet resentment to hiding your dreams. And there is no guarantee that by confessing your dreams, you get them miraculously fulfilled. There is freedom in clearing the air and admitting freely that you do have hopes and dreams. But there is also that audacity of hope.

And that is when I discovered, when I bring the desires of my heart before Him — as is His explicit injunction — He doesn’t mock me. He doesn’t crush me. He doesn’t promise blank-check I’ll get everything I want, but (curiously!) there seems to be no offense in me saying, “these are my dreams.” I might not get what I want, but if I don’t, it’s only because He has something better planned.

I still wonder. I still want to know. But I am so much less afraid.

Advertisements

Duty to Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, I have them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t understand.

 

 

Hope Does Not Disappoint

This morning I prayed for the courage to move beyond wanting to hoping.

I don’t want to forget this. Staying in wanting seems more safe. Hoping means trusting in what is unseen, and is hard, and is scary, because then it seems like there is greater chance of disappointment.

Do you see that?

I would chose the bitter aching emptiness of wanting, with certain disappointment, over believing in that which I cannot see–anticipation, joy, hope, but with a quiet nagging fear that there may be disappointment.

Faith is not easy. If it were, we wouldn’t need to be so exhorted toward it. But of this world, of this flesh, there is no hoping: there is only wanting. What testament is it to be a people of hope? Delighted anticipation for that which cannot be logically foreseen?

I said, “God, look; I don’t want to attribute to You what isn’t from You. Just because I want it, doesn’t mean You promised to give it to me.” And this is true; God never promised you that you would win the lottery, no matter how much you wanted it. But, self, what about the opposite? What if God did say it–what does it mean, then, if you stay in the wanting instead moving forward in trust to the hoping? God tells you a good and true thing, a thing that could lead to much rejoicing and anticipation, and then you go and chose to stay in the empty aching bitterness? Because certain disappointment is somehow less risky than possible disappointment?

Why is it that when we are most struggling we are most afraid of hoping? It’s a mind-crunching conundrum.

But God’s yes is yes. The fear is not that oopsy, God can’t do as He said or that He tried but just couldn’t quite pull it off. Maybe the fear is partly from wondering if it really was God we heard, or our own deceitful heart. But I think more than anything, the fear really is from the bluff being called: do you really believe that God is real? Will you really act as though God is real? If God isn’t really real, you could be setting yourself up for a whole lot of hurt; are you sure it’s worth it?

But what is the testament of living in hope? In anticipation? God is really real; I stake my life and my tender heart on that, and I will not be disappointed. The world doesn’t know that; the world cannot know that. But there is a cloud of witnesses, and angels are looking into these things.

God, grant me the courage to move beyond wanting, and to walk out steadfastly upon hoping. Let me defy this world with hope. Let me extol Your name with hope. Let me be a demonstration of the things they know not. And let me understand in my deepest self that this is not about me, or my wants–but about You, and Your power, Your certainty, Your glory, and how our earnest expectation bears witness to You in a way that mere words cannot.

. . . For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. . .

Even So

“I don’t really know where I live anymore.”

I just blurted it out, and then felt the weight of that unexpected truth.

Someone asked me if I still lived at home. I was preoccupied with what I was doing, so I guess the truth was closer to the surface without my mind being available to keep it in check. The person wanted to know if I still lived “at home” but I haven’t been living “at home” for over two years. And I’m not even living in the same state I was in for the last two years any more, and although I know where I park my car every night, in a few months I’ll be in a different state. . . and then a few months later, another state altogether.

I miss my family and friends, but it’s hard to feel like that’s “home” when I feel like I don’t have much autonomy there. I made good friends while at school, but I never felt at home in that city or under those mountains. I’m staying with relatives now, and I like the place where I’m working, but it doesn’t ring as home.

It was such a succinct statement of the real crux of the matter that when I was thinking about it later, I wished I had time to sit down and have a good cry. I’m not homeless in the sense of sleeping under an overpass. But I feel very homeless in the sense of feeling like I don’t really belong anywhere, that “my place remembers me know more,” that I don’t know where I’m trying to get to anymore, and that I don’t ever know when “this” will be “over.”

And aren’t the homeless to be pitied? I pity me.

But Jesus said, “Birds have nests, foxes have dens, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

Which leads me to my perennial question: why? Why does God have this thing for homelessness?

Abraham? Leave your home. Go wandering aimlessly for the rest of your life. Joseph? You’ll never belong, no matter how long you’re there. Moses? Take a whole lot of you people and go get lost in the wilderness. David? Just ’cause I said you would be king doesn’t mean I won’t have you driven out of your own country. And He didn’t spare His only Son, either, who grew so famished in the wastelands that He had to be fed by angels.

I want to stamp my foot and demand that God gives me a home. But I can almost hear Him laughingly say, “Why would I do that?”

I know home is not home is not home until we are finally Home. I know it would only be a shadow, a foretaste of what is to come. But in the meantime, while we’re waiting, why don’t we get that taste? Yet the theme of having no place to rest is quite strong, and I don’t think it can be easily dismissed. But why? Why is it so much to ask, to know that kind of goodness in this world? Why does He say, “blessed are those who give up home and family for my sake”?

It’s so easy to say trite things about “making us depend on Him more” or “showing us how trustworthy He is” or “nothing of this world is really of value, anyhow; we have to keep our eyes fixed on the the things above.” But you know what? When you really get right down in the midst of it, when you really feel this millstone of it around your neck? You still ask “why.” You still ask why there can’t be a better way to know Him or trust Him or understand about what things have value. You still cry out, “how long, O Lord?” Because it’s still the pits, and quaint sayings don’t change that.

And I have no answer. And I have no comfort.

But if I were to respond to one blurting of the truth with another unexpected expression of the truth, then it would have to be with. . .

“Come, Lord Jesus!”

Amen.

What I do know

The thing is. . .I don’t want to live in other peoples houses any more. I don’t want to, even while I feel so privileged to be able to. I don’t want to, even while I’m terrified of being utterly alone.

I could make lists of things I don’t like about being in other peoples’ houses. I could make lists of things I like about being in a place where it’s “mine.” But the point isn’t to complain what I have. The point isn’t to pine for what I don’t have. The point is, I’m still scared of the future.

What do I have to go on? Logic, feelings, all is unreliable. What I want, what don’t want, what else do I know? These things don’t give me direction, but what else do I know?

I sat outside eating my lunch, and I heard my own thoughts: I’m scared by how much I like this place I’m working. That thought startled me. I’m holding so hard to the thought that once this is over, once I graduate, then I’m done. Done. I can go back to the place I call home. Only I can’t. Because I don’t want to live in other peoples houses anymore. Only I’m terrified of being utterly alone. Of turning my back–that’s what it feels like–on my family. Of a home of my own, but only my own, empty of family.

I run through all the pictures I can paint in my head, and none of them make sense. None of them resound. None of them sing, the way they sing when you have the frequencies tuned. Any little piece that seems to say “yes” makes all the other pieces scream “no!” Nothing lines up. Nothing goes together. Nothing gives me the slightest shred of “what comes next.”

And it seems to me that the harder and harder I strain to see what what comes next, the less and less I know. And the less and less I know, the more it feels like I’m living in a dream. I don’t know what to do when I get up in the morning. I have a long list of things I could do, or even would enjoy doing. But, as with those dreams, it feels sort of like moving through water. Scene to scene doesn’t seem to line up. I hear the words but it’s not really clear if they’re real. I sleep because I’m tired, but then when I wake up it seems less real then when I’m asleep.

Do the next thing, they say. Do the next thing. Doing the next thing seems like just riding that train of the cliff. That’s okay. It’s a leap of faith, right? But what if there’s not a whole lot of faith there? Maybe you just fall to the bottom and get bashed up a bit, maybe crushed real good, and that’s where the rebuilding happens. And you’re still supposed to say that’s okay, and maybe it is.

But maybe — and this is where I keep getting stuck — maybe the problem is the not enough faith. Maybe the problem is the dour pessimism that says things can’t go well, that learning can’t happen without pain, that no one ever really gets what they want in life, that wanting and not having is our lot as long as we’re here. That those beliefs are stronger to me than the belief that God hears and answers and is good and has beautiful plans. That I’m so busy bracing for the bottom of the canyon that I’m not even bothering to asking to fly. Because I’ve just already decided that God doesn’t answer requests like that.

Just pray. But the words die on my lips. I don’t know what to say that I haven’t already said. It seems to be getting harder and harder to say the things I’ve already said. Because the human in me says, “If He isn’t answering, the answer is no.” The human in me says, “Sometimes you have to let go of your wants and deal with what is.” But what “is” is the wants, and I’m lost again.

I wake up every morning looking for some hint of clarity. I go to bed expecting clarity in the morning. It never happens, and the queer feeling in the pit of my stomach gets a little more hollow and a little more deep. But some morning, one or the other is going to have to happen. Either I’m going to shatter. . .or I’m going to learn to fly.

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.