Disasters all around

I see things through the filter of disaster.

If this turns into a dystopian society, will I still find this career meaningful?

If the house burns down with all my belongings in it, will I still be pleased with how I spent my money? (Note to self: also, get a good metal box for car title, etc.)

When we go hiking for 10 miles with a pack on my back, I think, isn’t it good that if we had to flee for our lives on foot, we are physically capable of doing so?

How many people could I put up, if there was a displaced people needing to be put up?

I could say it was the pessimistic genes I inherited. I could say that even reading history in grade school and high school, I was astute enough to notice that civilizations ebb and flow. Hard times followed by peaceful times followed by hard times. And if life seems like it’s been too good for too long, there must be a terrible disaster just around the corner.

But I think in a more honest inspection, I want my Joesph moment. Not that I want to be sold by my siblings into slavery and prisoned unjustly for decades. No; I just want my moment where I can say, “Now it all makes sense. Everything that happened to me was preparing me for this time.”

I tell myself, well, this is silly. Every moment is preparing you for every moment. God works a complex enough work that all of the things are interwoven and interconnected and nothing stands alone.

But the vanities of vanities sneak up on me, and I’m left struggling again to find some sore of theme or plot arc or resolution upon which I can hang some semblance of meaning. I know that in the big picture, it’s not about this life at all. But right now, I’m in the little picture, and I want to know that this is a deliberate drawing, not a mindless doodle or a dishonorable scribble.

And disasters in life are somewhat of a purifying fire. The irritating situations, the relatively minor miscommunication, the I-should-really-exercise-more-consistently, the I-guess-I’m-supposed-to-think-about-what-happens-when-I-grow-old-even-though-I-don’t-know-what-I-want-for-next-year-next-month-next-week. . .it all pales in the face of an honest to goodness disaster where basic human needs and immediate safety are paramount. The first world guilt that we could always be doing better — someone else assuredly is — narrows down to, essentially, decency: was I kind? did I try? Am I turning my back and hardening my heart, or am I doing what ought to be done even through the pain?

Romanticizing disaster? A little. I know enough of disaster to know how quickly it breaks me beyond tears, how rapidly I crumble under the weight of it. But I also know enough about disaster to have tasted some of the truth, and it changes you: the perfect little suburban home with the perfect little suburban life is ashes in my mouth. I don’t want it. I can dream up the perfect little rural life, and it’s far, far more tantalizing. . . but perhaps instead like eating just the frosting off the cake. You might think you want it, but really, it makes you sick.

I don’t want to live in a constant state of disaster. But I do wonder, I do take note, and I do uncomfortably shift. Waiting for disaster to come has a safe passiveness to it; you can’t prepare, because it could be anything. You just hold this glowy ideal in your head that your hour to shine is coming. But what if maybe I’m not supposed to wait for disaster to come to me; what if I’m supposed to acknowledge that there is disaster all around, and what if I’m supposed to rally out to meet it instead of quietly letting that be someone else’s problem?

The need is endless; we can’t drain the ocean. This I know. But I was talking to an elderly friend the other day, and we were talking about the change in culture. Health care now vs health care when the doctor came to your house. Customer service now vs then. Even how now the facility where I work is full of “SIP” rooms – shelter in place. Better to have a plan if there is an active shooter. And I said to her that the sad thing was, there was no way to fight back, to say we don’t like this and we want it to be different.

But I wondered later if that was truthful. Is there no way, or is it just hard and risky and exhausting? What if it means not washing your hands of disaster, because it hasn’t come to your doorstep yet, and what if it means putting yourself on the line? Not the wearing of t-shirts or the buying of “socially comfortable” products. But instead, using up your precious time off to go show up where it is needed to have a person, a human being, being present? What if it means taking a part time job instead of a full time job, making your future that much more insecure, in order to help those who don’t know what compassion means? What if it means showing up in the yuck, not giving graciously and comfortably from your bounty?

What if? Not definitely yes. Because when you’re already struggling for meaning, it’s wise to caution yourself against drastic courses of action, just as with not making major life decision from a place of acute grief. Life can’t always be someone else’s problem. But neither can it be something we do for our own glory or piety: the suffering of others is not about our own personal narrative.

It’s foolish to wish disaster into your life for the sake of it’s clarifying influence. At the same time, if you’ve sipped from that cup and have that awareness of what is really important in life, is it wise to ignore that? I don’t have an answer. All I have is the awareness that this line of thought is not a passing moment of guilt or idealism, but a deep undercurrent spanning decades. Maybe, in this time of life, it is a fire best left banked. But in the background, it is still there: I’m waiting for a disaster with my name on it, whether it comes for me, or I come for it.

 

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Womanhood

I am outside on the porch, cussing the people who decided to set load-bearing posts on top of floor boards, my own ignorance in construction, the project-creep that continually blossoms before me, and my complete weakness in wielding a hammer in tight and awkward spaces between joists.

My sister is inside, sweeping the floor in the kitchen. Later, she’ll be trying to figure out a simple sewing project, the kind I made when I was about a third of her age. Where was her interest to learn sewing back when I would have given my eye-teeth for a sewing buddy? She is willowy and dreamy; she is an artist–she paints. She is sweet. Anyone who knows her, even in passing, will tell you how sweet she is. She has large, large eyes, and a scant amount of practicality that she barely knows how to wield. Indecisiveness is her bane.

My other sister is upstairs. She has feet like a hobbit, wide and thick soled (but still very ticklish when I have to wake her up in the morning). She has two very long braids that dangle to her waist, and yes, of course, freckles across her nose. She reads Shakespeare for fun, even though she’s not old enough to get a learner’s permit to drive. Right now, she’s perched on the edge of her bunk (the bottom one), writing a multi-page letter to someone in jail, but later she’ll go on an hour long walk in the woods. She’ll enjoy that walk all the more if it happens to be pouring rain; she loves the feel of rain pelting down on her. It can be hard to understand her when she talks, if she can barely keep the laugh out of her voice.

I started out in resentment that my sisters are not me. Why am I out here, cussing the porch by myself? Why doesn’t anyone else around here care about taking care of maintaining the house? Rapidly, I realize they don’t even know how to help if they wanted to. Why not? Ugly rants about the older children having to do more work than the younger children spring to mind, but that’s not true, either. I must have been only five, possibly younger, when I first started following Dad around when he did repairs, keeping track of his tools and anticipating what he would need next. If I wasn’t helping my brothers with their construction projects, I was surely watching. My sisters found that stuff boring.

Well, I found it boring to spend endless time sketching clouds and learning the names of their different forms, like my one sister did. And I had not enough patience for sitting for hours in the chicken yard training chickens to sit on my lap, or slogging through translating Shakespeare like my other sister. So I am the one out on the porch, learning through trial and error how to make home repairs.

Still, the resentment lingers around the edges. When I was her age—No. No, that way lies madness. I am not my sisters, and my sisters are not me. I chose the things that interested me, and the things that interested me most often did leave me covered in dirt and sweat, and my brothers granting me the dubious compliments that I would “grow up to be a man yet.” They take pictures of me wielding equipment larger than I am. But they also mock my interests in fiber arts, and refer to my short and stocky build as being troll-like.

But these same hands that are wielding a hammer and a chisel–these hands also cup babies, and bake cakes, and comfort suffering people. And I hear the defense and protest in my own voice–I am a woman. I am. I have worked long and hard to understand what that means, and still I’m not really sure.

I know it’s not about gender stereotypes or cultural expectations. I know that if I were as delicate as my sister with the large eyes, I wouldn’t feel more a woman. I know that if I were able to grow my hair as long and a thick as my other sister, I wouldn’t feel more a woman. And I also know with great vehemence that I do not want to be a man, that there are fundamental differences between us that I both cannot and do not want to bridge. I used to think my brimming with emotions was one of those differences, but I’ve found that even among women I feel more things, and feel them more deeply.

When I look in the mirror now, I do see a woman–I didn’t for the longest time. That awkward girl. I’m not sure what changed, or how to describe it, because I feel like it’s mostly in the eyes. Those eyes, there’s things behind them. I’m not sure I could quite say they’ve lost their innocence, because in so many ways I think in the context of my peers, I still radiate so much innocence it makes them uncomfortable. People still apologize abashedly for swearing in front of me, embarrassed because my lack of swearing is so conspicuous to them.

I tell myself stories, trying on different roles of “woman.” Some themes emerge. Some gentle longings for my future wax stronger. Still, the concept seems like a design made of smoke; the harder I grasp to understand it, the more elusively it slips away. Why do I feel the need to define it? Why do I feel uneasy that I might not have achieved it? Societies across geography and time have defined it a million different ways, but I’m not looking to fill a tintype of idealized perfection.

I guess I just stumble over the fact that He made us Man and Woman. The distinctness and delineation of the difference, yet without explanation, makes me wonder what the point was. Why two? Why not, say, six, or nine or fifteen? What was wrong with one? And if two is better, if we aren’t meant to be alone, then why are so many of us so alone? People complain about babies not coming with instruction manuals, but I grew up with a baby on my hip. I’ve taken care of plenty of babies. You get experience. But there’s only one me; and me came without an instruction manual, too. I don’t really expect that there can be a neat little dissection of all the little ins and outs of our personalities and life trajectories. . .but it would seem that there should at least be common expectations of being human, being a woman.

I have seen enough of life to know there isn’t one “right” way. That we reflect our Maker more like a kaleidescope than a mirror. And I strongly suspect my questions are less of questions, and more of a confusion of life being so much different than I assumed of course it would be by the time I was this age. And when life fails to live up to our expectations, we invariably go looking for what we did wrong or what we could do to fix it.

But some of it is not that. Some of it is that I still feel like a stranger inside of my own body, a feeling that my time of sickness only intensified. I am me. My body is this thing I’m inside of, driving around. How do you take care of this thing? Never mind basic house maintenance, the human body is a good deal more complicated than most people would lead you to believe, and I’m in a profession of taking care of bodies.

Some of it is feeling like, since the the things that I’m doing seem to be echoing hollow, I must be missing something about basic existence. And since I feel fairly confident that I am fulfilling the basic necessities of “human,” my “missing something” must be just a little higher up the chain.

And some of it is the empty feeling of being unable to connect with my “peers.” The people I’m supposed to feel most akin to seem like such foreign entities to me. I don’t want to mimic them. And I know I’m not one of those people who will ever be “popular” or one of the “in crowd.” But part of you wonders if maybe everyone else has figured out something about life that you haven’t.

And part of it is the sacredness. I feel like I have grasped at least some of the sacredness of humanity. And I believe there is a sacredness to being created as separate entities. But it becomes harder to understand when the differences created by God get all mixed up into the differences created by social constructs and twisted influences, half of which you drink down without realizing that’s what you’re doing. When you become startled by realizing you’re mad that other people aren’t like you or wondering if you should be more like other people — and yet, recognizing inherently that the differences are important, and valuable, and that none of us can be All of The Things, and so we must all find different pieces and roles to fill.

And I hesitate to post this, because it’s such a politicized topic. People have strong opinions and ideologies, to the point it can be difficult to actually communicate what one is thinking without  people jumping on to say what someone should be thinking or really are thinking but don’t realize it, or what is so wrong about their thoughts. But in some ways, I also feel like it’s all the more important to speak; because when those who are hesitant stay quiet behind those who are loud, it leads to a feeling of being alone, of no one knowing what it is they’re feeling like, of being lost. And I simply cannot imagine that there is no one else in the world who wonders what it means to be a woman, without fighting it, without chasing the world’s explanations, without having an agenda or a point of arrival, but simply in observation. We are different. All of us. Men from women, and women from women. And it’s not an accident or a problem. But what does it mean?

Maybe it is one of those things that is so simple that we are the ones that complicate it. Maybe “different” is enough of an answer. The quiet agitation inside me says the intent runs deeper than that. But the part of me that has seen at least a bit of life says that the thought is one that must be experienced to be known, not determined by logic or reasoned out. But I think it’s disingenuous to pretend the question isn’t out there, murmured in the background of our existence: what does it mean to be a woman?

That is something

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music That Rings True

Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted,
See him dying on the tree
‘Tis the Christ by man rejected,
yes, my soul, ’tis He, ’tis He
Tis the long Expected prophet
David’s Son, yet David’s Lord
By His Son God has now spoken
Tis the true and faithful Word

Sometimes we have to say things. Out loud. We might all know them, we might all think we believe them, but it is almost in the saying of them that they become real.

Tell me, ye who hear Him groaning,
Was there ever grief like His?
Friends through fear His cause disowning,
Foes insulting His distress;
Many hands were raised to wound Him,
None would interpose to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced Him
Was the stroke that Justice gave.

And so often I catch myself thinking, “It’s not fair!” But I don’t think that phrase means what I think it means.

Ye who think of sin but lightly
Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the Sacrifice appointed,
See who bears the awful load;
‘Tis the WORD, the LORD’S ANOINTED,
Son of Man and Son of God.

We were speaking of sin and righteousness this afternoon–the excuses we make for sin, and the severity of God’s righteousness. It is one thing to feel offended that God’s righteousness is too much for us to bear; it’s another to consider what that means for God.

Here we have a firm foundation;
Here the refuge of the lost;
Christ’s the Rock of our salvation,
His the name of which we boast.
Lamb of God, for sinners wounded,
Sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded
Who on Him their hope have built.

But I feel confounded. I feel confounded all the time.

While singing is often when I am most meditating on and speaking the truth. This comes as a bit of a surprise to me, as people tend to hold up as “godly examples” spending much time in prayer or reading the Bible. And those things are important. But it is one thing for me to read that He is a Good, Good Father, and it is another thing for me to affirm it out loud.

I’m scared, sometimes by the smallest and silliest of things. I’m scared when it seems like I’ve lost my voice for writing. I’m scared, when I see my own bars I’ve set that I just can’t clear. I’m scared by relationships that seem to be drifting further and further apart. I’m scared by my perceived inability to make a real difference in anything, and that fear is invincible to the comments of others. I’m scared of my apparent invisibility as I move through life.

But those things don’t really matter. I mean, of course they do; but they don’t. They’re so fleeting. Their relative weight is so small. What do I have to offer? Nothing, really. What does He have to offer? Everything, really.

still looking

I’m just so tired I want to puke, that’s all.

Tired of change, tired of growing, tired of waiting, tired of showing up, tired of not knowing, and also, just plain tired. When you wake up aching with your shoulders by your ears, you know you aren’t really sleeping well.

I just keep wondering what God is going to do with any of this. Having I been changing–growing–transforming, even? Yeah. But into what? That I don’t know. 7 years ago I drove white knuckled into the nearest city to volunteer, driven by a sheer desperation to do what I needed to do, even though finding my way in strange places, in the dark (no GPS in those days, and driving itself was usually enough to make me white-knuckled) was quite the painful stretch for me. And now I’ve dragged myself half-across the country, by myself. I keep showing up and faking it, which takes tremendous effort nearly every day, but, you know, when do you get to arrive?

When do you get to sigh, and stretch out, and relax, and maybe enjoy a few moments of bliss? When do you get to say, “Ah-ha! That’s what that was all about!” When do you get to snuggle up to someone you love and say, “Our work has been hard, but what beautiful things have been wrought.”

I’m afraid of the answer being, “Not in this lifetime, sweet-cheeks.” I feel like I have been pushed and pushed and pushed and am still being pushed, and yet I have no clue about the pay-off. Here I am, a stranger once again, and I still keep wondering, Why? Why am I here? Why am I a stranger again? What do I have to learn, or what do I have to give? Why does it never seem to end?

People say really sappy things like, “you’re what keeps me going!” That’s grand and all, but what if you don’t have someone to keep you going? Flying solo means there’s no co-pilot if you need to take a potty break, or a tearful meltdown, or even just to stop and smell the roses a bit. And it’s like being the raven sent out looking for land after the flood; you have to keep flying 24/7, but you aren’t really sure what you’re looking for or even if it exists. What if you just keep going because being lost and staying put is the only thing that feels worse than being lost and wandering around in circles?

And traditionally, this is where I’m told (even if just by myself) to man up and stop whining and remember that everyone else has a rough life, too. In their own ways, and with their own struggles and with their own doubts and fears. Although I suppose that’s an equally valid reason to NOT shut-up: struggling through life is a valid experience that everyone goes through, and there’s no need to pretend it’s all fluffy clouds and spun-sugar roses.

So, ow. This hurts. I’m still not quite sure if I’m a caterpillar being turned into a butterfly, or a caterpillar being turned into a . . . really mashed-up caterpillar. If this is all a refining, then where’s the gold, people?

How shall we then live?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the future. I know I have, and I know no matter how much I think about it, it doesn’t really give me any more control. Not really. People say to make plans, to lead yourself first, that you have to be proactive if you want to achieve “success.” But I think we almost might accomplish just as much to study where we’ve been, which is to say, not much. I’ve made and unmade plans countless times, and each time, I feel more frustrated. How do I know what is from me, delusion, and what is the truth and real?

Delusional self-assurance might be all that separates the guy who thinks he’s planning, from me, who thinks I’m scheming and dreaming. They like their sense of control, and I can’t blame them, but I can’t pass such a strong spell over myself. It always ends with, yeah, right. I can paint the pretty picture all right, but I just can’t quite believe it. Life never goes as you expect to, and I know that for a certainty. The things that make the biggest changes to the course of your life are rarely things you could plan for, anticipate, or sometimes even be able to make any sort of decision out of anyhow.

I was looking at my tagline right before I sat down to write again. . .the words of a woman. I wrote that as a way of throwing down the gauntlet to myself. Ever since I finished high school, I’ve felt like I’ve been living in some kind of dream. Not like “Cinderella goes to the ball” kind of dream; the kind of dream you dream at night. Where nothing quite seems to make sense and one scene shifts into another without quite connecting and where your sense of time all slides together and apart at the same time, and where you have this abiding sense that things aren’t quite real but you can’t quite put your finger on why. And that’s just a small symptom of that–when do you know when you’ve slid over the line from and older child to a young adult? When do you know you’ve really become a woman? Especially if being a woman doesn’t actually look like you thought it did.

What did I think it looked like? Honestly, I think it looked like self-assurance. That however you ended up, you ended up that way because you meant to. And that even if you felt a little bittersweet or perhaps had to remind yourself sometimes that this was real life and you couldn’t have everything you wanted, that you were settled–content?–because who you were was who you were and you had no doubts about that, and wore it confidently like a favorite pair of jeans.

That I look around me and see almost no one who feels that way does not make me feel any more a woman. It just makes me feel sad, like we’re all lost children pretending we’re adults. And when I see how woman – and men – are portrayed in movies or on TV, I just see us all pathetically reaching for some sense of confidence that we’re playing the role we’re supposed to, in the manner in which we’re supposed to. If we can adopt a persona — it doesn’t matter which one, as long as we can own it — if we can adopt a persona, then maybe we can more confidently say, “yes, this is me.”

And it’s tempting, it’s really tempting. Isn’t that part of what couples go through, when they select their registry? “This is Us.” It’s new, we aren’t quite sure, and this is part of figuring it out. But it’s also, I’ve realized, the more tempting the more uncertain and unconfident I feel. If I am confident, I am busy doing, and I waste relatively few brain cells on what it looks like to anyone, including myself. If I am feeling vulnerable and uncertain, I start doing my hair differently and considering if maybe nail polish is for me, and if I bought kitchen dishes, what kind would I get?

I suppose this is where platitudes about times of growth and change being uncomfortable and making us feel uncertain only to make us stronger are supposed to be applied. But I feel a bit like maybe that’s missing the point. Like perhaps the point is, we never really grow and change and get stronger in the stuff we thought we would. All our plans are blown out of the water while we messily mature in an area we’d never considered. We only consider the things we’re already large enough to grasp, and growth is, by definition, pushing us into things we aren’t already capable of grasping.

So what’s the point of planning? About nail polish or future employment or mythological families or the spring bulbs you’ll plant when you finally own a patch of dirt in your own name?

If that sounds fatalistic, please realize it’s not. It’s an honest question. Is thinking about these things a necessary part of the process of growing, or is it a silly waste of time? Does it help us seek what God is leading us to do, or does it cloud over the whole process? Where is it a dutiful function of using one talent to make many talents, and when is it vanity of vanities?

I honestly don’t know, and I keep careening between “live in the moment, God only knows what is coming next” to falling asleep writing outlines in my head. I can’t seem to find any rational balance between the two, and it’s confounding and disheartening.

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.

Wither Does Thou Wander?

I begin to think we confuse simplicity with honesty, or perhaps a better word is authenticity.

What is the allure of the Amish, the plain-clothes people who shun this digital age? They seem to have a simple life, but it’s not the agrarian lifestyle that really pulls people in. What is with the sudden explosion of popularity in “country” themed weddings, by people who have no country roots at all? Maybe we know the Hollywood glamor is full of duplicity and instability, and want to comfort ourselves with the idea that the simple things stand more firmly. What about the hipster-fueled trends toward leather and canvas? A backlash against dubious descriptions of “man-made” fabrics. Even a typewriter seems more honest than a computer – physical input leading to gears and springs and ink and paper, rather than the indescribable “electronics” shoved inside a plastic casing. The so-called Paelo diet touts that it was what our ancestors ate, back when we were still an honest race.

More simple? Perhaps. More honest? The Amish are people like any other people, with all their foibles; trading one pretension for another offers no protection; and painfully deliberate stylization offers no honesty. And even thought the typewriter seems more accessible, should the Zombie Apocalypse come along, most of us are no more capable of making a typewriter than a computer. And the Paelo diet is practically cult-like in it’s insistence there is only one way to eat.

Our school classes made us watch a fairly convincing TED talk that what people really want is authenticity. You can be fake-fake (do a bad job pretending to be something you aren’t), fake-real or real-fake (Disney experience vs. Marvel Studios, I think was the examples he gave), or real-real. Really be what you really are. The talk was presented in terms of on how to monetize things, and we were greatly encouraged to offer an “experience” to get ahead in today’s market, but I think it totally missed the point — a deeper, more elegant point about human nature. We’re looking for the truth.

I’ve always been fascinated by clothing design, and how people can shape their appearance to communicate a different narrative. Later, I learned to appreciate how a different angle or a different setting on the camera could dramatically influence what was presented as happening to the viewer. Now, I find myself with an eye on both myself, and on the culture around me, with the question in my mind: Who are you really, and who do you want to think of yourself as being?

Sometimes we romanticize things. I can rattle off a good deal of professions I can’t help but imagine are more beautiful than they are: a florist or greenhouse, a sous-chef or a baker or a caterer or even the sole proprietor of a small cafe, an herbalist, an artistic painter, an aid worker, a 1950s house wife, a pioneer, a costume maker for a theater, a volunteer fire-fighter — the list goes on, and that was a quick list. I could draw up similar lists for clothes, or living arrangements, or lifestyles. Many other people could draw up many other lists, each different than the others. But our lives don’t look like our lists, so what does this mean?

Some people would say we should be more mindfully pursuing our lists. Maybe. I don’t rule that out entirely. Do we really want our lives to look like glowing screens and poor posture and instagram posts? What would we have to change if we didn’t want our lives to look like that — and what would we have to sacrifice, and is it worth it? But maybe part of the question is, what do those lists themselves tell us we are looking for?

This is quite non-scientific, as I’ve not had the opportunity to look at thousands of authors’ lists. But if I were a betting person, I would bet that most of us are probably writing up our ideas of authenticity. I pretty much drew up a short list of artistic, honest, courageous and dedicated occupations (not each occupation drew on each attribute, but taken as pieces of the whole, I think that’s what you have there). It is not that I am specifically pining, really, for any of those. It’s just that I expose that I think that those attributes are worthy things to pursue, and while I may (or may not) find those things in my daily life, I have a soft spot in my heart for those professions that I think reflect authenticity, or trueness, or rightness, or whichever word you think best captures the idea of us trying to attain a glory we’ve fallen from.

The real-real is too much to attain. We can’t really be who we want to be. And we’re all stumbling around in various states of fake-fake, fake-real, or real-fake, and putting on a pedestal those things that seem, in some way or in some part, to reflect real-real.

I can understand this back-drop to all of our  striving, but I still struggle with the “so, what?” At the end of the day, we still have to live our lives. How are we supposed to do that? I don’t think the answer is “with cheap cliches,” even religious ones.  I guess for the most part, I challenge myself to stop and consider why I like what I like. . .and is it really what I like, or do I just like the pretty picture it paints? What things need to change, and what things are just things to learn not to be self-conscious about, or actually shouldn’t be changed, because it is chasing after something that shouldn’t be chased?

I don’t think there is or will be a definitive answer about these things. I just think that they’re things that should be examined and considered and reflected on. It’s too easy to wake up and wonder how you got there.

I have this deep seated sense that the little things do matter and do add up, and I am concerned that not only do we not pay enough value to the little things, we’re chasing the wrong little things, and excusing it to ourselves as a “safe indulgence” under the presumption that little things don’t matter. Maybe it means we don’t get a break from chasing, and we should pay attention to what we’re chasing — especially with those poisonous lookalikes, such as simplicity and honesty, who we are and who we would like to be, what is really important and what we are just caught up in, or accomplishment and character.

Steady On

Ironic that after my last post was about how I missed writing, I again missed several days. I try to give myself grace about it, especially since it’s usually other very needed things, like sleeping all day. My body still needs rest. But I realized today that I’m at risk of losing this important part of rehab.

Because I do think that it’s rehab. The working on walking endurance is important, the strength and range of motion is important, sure the food is important, the sleep is important, being outside is important, and some where in there, yeah, school needs to get done. But also, I need to keep looking inwards. This is really important, and I really believe that, and I can’t let myself forget that.

It takes work to come up follow through with changes, even little ones, like “the expectation is, you’ll be outside as much as possible.” This shouldn’t be hard, and yet the temptation is to stay inside where the computer can be used most easily for things like school work and bill paying and other chores. I brought a chair out to the shade, and I’m doing fine, but it was a conscious effort to get out here in the sun and wind and birds and fresh air and the sound of leaves–and it shouldn’t be.

I find myself worrying a little even about my food–how will I eat better when summer classes are over and I’m back with my family? They don’t keep so many vegetables around. They eat pasta all the time, and so many sweets and baked goods. And I find myself dreaming–dreaming, literally!–about baked goods myself, which unnerves me, because it’s only been a week, and I really didn’t think I would notice or miss them being gone, because I really didn’t think I ate them that often. When did I become dependent on sweets? I guess probably when I used them as a way to compensate myself for rough days. But I still didn’t think I’d be dreaming about brownies with cherry sauce, compulsively eating them even though I knew I wasn’t done with my six weeks yet. It’s not the lack of sweets that has me disturbed, it’s the psychological impact that sugary things apparently have in my life.

Somehow, I’ve gotten on to a new kick of thinking about what my life will be like “after.” As though I can just blip over the remaining hard year of rotations, which will not be easy no matter which way I cut it. I try to remind myself of all the things that are not going to magically go away just because I’m done with school–dysfunctional family relationships, car problems, loneliness, lack of direction in life, fear of living my whole life without a family of my own, leaving behind the friendships I did make while I was up here–but still, I am happy, so happy, at the thought of being done with school. Never mind passing my boards. Never mind that my loans will go into repayment, and that I might not be able to find a job. I would be done with school!

And I can’t quite shake the feeling that, though my conscious won’t fess up to it, my subconscious is banking on starting a family after school. Not that there’s any plausibility in that right now, but just because, well, that’s what happens next, right? And because I want it, of course, but that goes without saying. I just get this sneaking suspicion that somehow, I am not just counting on “this chapter” being over, but also counting on what I must be inherently assuming is “the next chapter.” And I’m afraid that “this chapter” will end, but that “next chapter” is nothing like I assume it will be, and that after “this chapter” ends, instead of being happy and relieved and relatively unburdened, I’ll find myself sinking into disappointment, depression and a lack of hope for the future.

Other times I find myself thinking, “Well, if that were to happen, what would you do now to get ready?” And I can’t decide to myself which of these thought patterns is more healthy. Or least unhealthy. There’s a part of me that wants to say, “chose hope.” That I’m sure there will be plenty of things to get all in a tizzy about along the way and afterward, but one doesn’t need to get in a tizzy early, and in fact, are explicitly told not too. But being told not to worry is different than being told you’ll get everything you want in the here and now, so go right ahead and count on that.Wouldn’t all that hoping just make me more sad at a later date?

I go back and forth on this all the time, until it wears me out. I don’t know. How am I supposed to know? People keep telling me to live in the moment, and it gets me so frustrated. At some point, I do have to make decisions about this Fall. And the decisions we make now do shape what our future might be. I can’t figure it all out, no, but to pretend the future has no bearing on the present seems ridiculously, well, pretentious. Like if you pretend it isn’t there, it will go away.

Other people say, just enjoy yourself now. But again, enjoying yourself now can lead to misery later. Sometimes you have to be uncomfortable in the present for a much longer duration of happiness. And unfortunately, I just catch myself think, “I’ve put my time in.” I’ve done my stint of being miserable and exhausted and stressed, and telling myself I’m investing in my future and that this in normal, and what you have to expect out of life. I’m not expecting a bed of roses, and I realize I have been pretty well taken care of up to this point, but for lack of a better phrase, I’m ready for my luck to change. I’m ready for — what? Things to go my way? As though they haven’t been? I don’t even really know what I mean. I guess I mean that I’m done with plan B, and I’m ready for plan A already. It’s been put off long enough. I want “real life” and by “real life” I mean a husband, a house and some land of our own, and kids. That was all I ever expected to get out of life, and guess what? I still want it.

I waited around a while, trying to figure out what to do. I’ve take this seven, working on eight, year diversion of revolting amounts of schooling. Gosh, it was probably about five years of spinning my wheels and now seven years of school, and isn’t that enough? And I want God to relent, and say, oh, okay–and now, for what you’ve been waiting for all along: ta-da!

I want Him to a really lot. But the fear is, well, if He hasn’t relented in the first 13 years, who’s to say He ever will? And I want to protest–but I have changed and grown and matured in the last seven years. I really have. I can take it now. I’m ready now. Yeah, that’s what they all say. It really isn’t a matter of “deserving,” although it is hard not to look around and smart when you see all the people who have what you think you want. What have they got that I don’t?

But if it’s not about deserving, or earning, then what is about? Random luck? People say, “God’s got plans for you!” Well, great. I wish He’d share some of them with me. All I’ve got right now are different shades of pipe dreams, I think. The “raise a family” pipe dream. The “serve the needy” pipe dream. The “scribble calculations on the back of a scrap of paper” pipe dream, the one that tries to find a way to not let money make my life be miserable.

I mean, at one time I was all hypothetical about going to school, too. That came to pass. Why can’t this other stuff? Apparently, going to school was God’s will, because He opened doors I didn’t even know where there. But how about this stuff? Do I get doors opened, or am I going to go back into the years of spinning my wheels? I guess what I mean is, I did my time spinning my wheels; I did my time navigating over really rough and exhausting terrain. Can I please now have the part where we go for a little bit of a scenic ride, and just have a really good time? There will be another chapter after that. I know I’ll have to gear up again. And I know that there will be plenty of challenges even there. But can we go there? Please? Can that be the direction we’re headed, and can I actually be excited about it, and can it be right and true and good?