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.

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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?

Speechless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, darn.

What else am I supposed to say?

 

Travels and Travails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It IS about the Journey

It’s so tempting to get hung up on the “product.” On figuring out the “right way” and telling people “how you did it,” or about the perfect plan or getting the best results. It’s tempting to get caught up in data collection and analyzing, goal setting, deciding what it is that has to be done.

But the truth is, it’s really not about “losing weight” or “getting healthy.” It’s really about living. Period.

Being able to take part in the activities you want to take part in. Being happy. Not having to say “no” or “I don’t feel like it” or “I can’t” or “I feel to self-conscious or clumsy.” It’s about looking at yourself in photos or in the mirror and say, “yes, that’s more or less who I meant to be.”

And I don’t want to be the person trying to sell “fitness” or “health” on their facebook, instagram, blog or other website. I don’t want to write that book, and I don’t want to join that clamor. I don’t want to show before and after pictures of how good my behind looks in form fitting clothes now. I just want to be able to climb mountains. I want to be able to work all day in the garden. I want to go on bike rides that last for hours. I want my body mass index to be something remotely close to healthy.

And honestly, the start of all that is, still, why am I not healthy? There’s a rheumotologist appointment finally coming up and then a follow-up with the naturopath. Sure, I want a cure. But to start with, I want someone to tell me why I’m not healthy. What went wrong?

And maybe someone will be able to pin it down to “something.” But at the same time, I know health is not an “event;” it’s a lifestyle. And something isn’t right with what I’ve been doing. Part of it is the stress, I’m sure. Stress is never healthy, but that’s a tough chestnut to crack. What all is making you stressed, and what all are the ways you’re coping?

Coping? Avoidance. Sugar. Coffee. White food. Avoidance. Ok, yes, before, long walks outside, probably the one good habit I had, but usually only on weekends. Sometimes music. Sometimes sleeping, or writing.

But I guess. . .maybe. . .partly what I am trying to get at is, we all have rough spots. Some days are hard. But what are you doing to really take care of yourself? I’ve noticed a few things I’ve tried to change. Like no phone or screen with food. It’s tempting, especially when you’re eating alone. It makes you feel less alone. But it also makes it so you don’t really remember what you ate, or what the morning was like, or the sunrise, or the sunset. And then you don’t go out and sit on the steps while you eat lunch. So I told myself, “the expectation is, no screens at meals.”

And that was good. It was really a lot more of an improvement than I thought. Show up for your own life, right? But it also made me think, what horrible things am I doing and over looking? Maybe horrible is too strong of a word. Maybe it’s not. Things sneak up on us. We don’t know, because once – or twice, maybe three times – nothing really makes a big difference. It’s the habit of it all. Like sugar. Like internet. Like sitting. None of those things gob-smacks you up the head the instant you do it, and gives you such a horrible experience you decide to never do that again. But the end result of the habit is devastating.

So what do I need to take seriously? Going to bed with the sun? Introspection, even if the sun is down? Timing how much time I spend outside? Being with people without an agenda – just visiting, for visiting’s sake? I mean, I know this isn’t a “puzzle-game” where if you slide all the right pieces in place, pop! your life is wonderful. But where are my blindsides? Where are the places where I’ve written myself so many excuse slips I’ve forgotten I even need them?

I know, I know. They wouldn’t be blindspots if we could see them. But maybe it’s time to go looking.

Deserved Opinions

Lately I have been hearing people talk about “deserving to be here.” And I’ve struggled to relate. I am where I am. It just is, it’s not a question of deserving or not deserving. But I find that I don’t actually feel like I “deserve” to state what I do or do not value.

I mean, I can state things that make me angry or upset. I can toss out casual preferences. But in terms of really holding that the things that I think are important, ARE important–if only to me, but it is me only that things need to be important. Not in a self-absorbed sort of way, but in the honest fact that the only person in the universe who is me, is me, and it is me that I have to be, and ought to be, and am–regardless of how hard I might at times try to mute that.

I often struggle with this in terms of things I haven’t tried yet. Who am I to say I shouldn’t want to pursue things that “people” say would be good for me? Who am I to declare that I want to pursue things that “people” say would not benefit me?

I know part of this reason is that I have a strong negative reaction to, well, people who have strong negative reactions. People adamantly make declarations of the worth of things they’ve never experienced. But that’s not the whole picture, and I feel like it’s time to poke at that part of me a bit.

Because I feel like it partly has to do with trying too hard. Because the times when I most find myself enjoying myself and excelling are in things I’ve nearly stumbled into by accident or haven’t attempted to schedule, plan, discipline, scheme, goal-set or achieve. One might think that is because the scheduling, etc., becomes itself a burden, but one would be quite wrong. I enjoy scheduling and planning and scheming.

I think it’s because I drink too much from the well of “ought.” Of other peoples’ ideas promulgated regarding success, and the worth of measuring things. Of the religion of hard work and discipline accomplishing all things. It’s a powerful idea, because it promotes the glorification of self. But mixed in with that is the idea that, you know, it’s allowed to be unpleasant, because that’s part of hard work and discipline. Sacrificing yourself for your goals is indeed part of the process.

So when I say, “yeah, but I don’t want to,” I immediately feel guilty. Shirking the valuable experiences that would shape me into a better person. If I was disciplined, if I didn’t avoid pain that made me grow, if I was willing to be challenged. . .if, if, if. But why can’t I simply value that I don’t want to?

Why is that something that is supposed to be smooshed, instead of acknowledged as part of my person? Why is it not okay for me to simply accept that some people do some things and other people do other things, and this is simply not something I want to choose to do? Instead, I feel this guilt to somehow conform and perform, instead of assert the authenticity of who I am, including: Not That. And including: Yes, That. Both halves.

Because, I don’t know, it seems rude to assert you aren’t something when you’ve not yet tried it. Because it seems like a value judgement on other people. By refusing what other people say is important, it feels like disputing their value. And also sometimes, feeling as though I have to justify what I feel is important by demonstrating it’s value in terms that other people can understand.

Yet I know I am my most valuable when I am most myself. And I am not most myself when I am acting from a place of fear, insecurity or people-pleasing (and there is a fine but very important line between serving people and pleasing people). All things that I am continually acting out of.

But one does have to say “no” before one can say “yes,” and I am pathetically poor at saying “no,” especially to fear, insecurity or people-pleasing.

Last night I was looking at books that claim to help you do just that, and just feeling so frustrated. It doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing that you should actually have to read a book about, and it nearly doesn’t seem like a thing that reading a book would help. I do know I need to say “no;” what will more words help? And yet at the same time, if “knowing” is enough, why, for years on end, have I not said “no”? (There is some reflection there of the inadequacy of discipline and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps as being effective means of actually solving problems.)

But that in and of itself is part of the problem: saying, “part of who I authentically am is someone who is struggling to say no to things she knows she should say no to; and part of who I authentically am is someone who sometimes finds benefits in hearing other people talk through the same problem.” That is an exceptionally true statement, but yet I’m–for lack of a better word–afraid of what people would think of me with things that are frequently labeled self-help (ironic, in the sense that by the time you are trying to see what other people have to say in the matter, you have actually already moved beyond “self” help).

It is one thing to say it is valid to be yourself. But it’s another to actually act on that. I’m here, because I’m here. I’m sick, because I’m sick. But what do I say “no” to, and what do I still pursue?

And some people like to say, “How you respond to your circumstances in your control!” But I don’t think that’s fair or complete, and I think it’s terribly misleading, and I think it’s barely true on the superficial level. I am who I am. But part of “choosing” is choosing to honor who I already am. I don’t think change involves struggling to be a different person. I think change involves reconciling who I really am with who it is I am acting in, resolving conflict rather than causing it. Some people think that growth only comes through hard things and that resolving conflict rather than fighting to overcome conflict is taking the easy way out. But they’re only half-right. Resolving conflict is nearly always more difficult than fighting through conflict, and the rewards are almost always far greater.

But I still feel like I’m only saying what I “know,” and I’m still very much doubting my ability to respond with the appropriate action.

 

 

The Conclusion of the Matter. . .

So I don’t know what I want.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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