You and your soul

Do you think I’m a good judge of character?

I do.

I don’t know really how we can know such things about ourselves. But especially since I’ve gotten into a career where I see so very many different kinds of people, from all different walks of life, I feel like I can get a pretty good measure of a person by a first impression. Not a complete dossier, of course. But I’ve had the hair on the back of my neck rise up in wordless warning, with no tangible reason for it. I’ve pried recalcitrant people out of their shells. And I’ve been perfectly at ease around people that society would have you to believe ought to be scorned.

But you really do have to trust me as a judge of character, at least to a certain point. Because sometimes there are just random things that happen to me, where if you trust my sense of character, are just are just a really good story. And if you don’t, the whole story goes from novel-worthy to really kind of skeevy and a little unsettling.

So I went for a walk. I didn’t even really want to, but when I have too many emotions, I need to walk. Preferably over lots of hills. It’s sort of like getting mad and hitting things, except without the violence. And of course there’s no hills here, but still I’m charging down the sidewalk, storming around the park. And some random dude is like, “Hi!”

Seriously? He looks like a college aged guy, out walking himself.

“Do you like to talk while you walk or think to yourself?”

Well, I inform him apologetically, I like to think to myself. Walking is how I sort through the day and get my emotions out.

It turns out it wasn’t really a question, because he tags along anyhow. So earnest about being encouraging and trying to ask me what’s on my mind and cheer me on through it. And if I am a terrible judge of character, then he is just rude and annoying and won’t get a hint. But in my judge of character, he is just pretty crazy, and I kind of just want to laugh at him. He is strange in his own way, but not ill-intentioned.

So I tell him about missing home, about being far from anyone who knows me. And he admits he feels the same way, even though he grew up here. He asks me how many siblings I have, and then he asks me how many have died. And the whole conversation is this strange mix of serious and surreal. He insists on walking on the the side closer to the road, so he’d be hit first. He complains his friends have become cops and he can’t talk to them anymore. He confesses several of his siblings have died and his uncle committed suicide. He chivalrously steps between me and annoying barking dog. He tries to slow me down from walking too fast, talking too fast–he’s the one with the energy drink. He complains that people are suspicious of everyone now, even people walking you home.

And I just want to laugh. It’s broad daylight on a busy street. We’re almost to my residence. There is nothing he can take from me. If I am any judge of character, dude has had a rough, sad life and is tired of people pretending they can’t see each other. Tired of people not even trying to be kind. Maybe–maybe–he would like tears from me and the chance to comfort me like a hero. But I already know he won’t get that, and I think he can tell that’s not who I am. But still he will walk me home, so I won’t get run over by a car. And we continue our random and bizarre conversation, about chickens and goats, and brothers who have too much money and won’t talk to you anymore and would you just slow down and chill out.

And then I say, I’m sorry to end our conversation, but this is the house I’m staying at. So he gives me a casual hug good-bye, and I hug him back. Because this is all so silly. And we both know it. And so he stops and turns,–no, wait–and puts the crowning finish on it all by kissing my hand goodbye. And I would really laugh at him, if he didn’t already know he was being silly, but he already knows. So we wave good-bye as random friends, and I go into the house and he keeps walking off toward the college.

We are still sad. But we can still smile.

There is no reason for it, for any of it. For the heartache of this world and it’s loneliness and it’s brokenness. For the walking and talking with strangers. For walking on the left. But we don’t have to hurt each other, either. We can still be polite. We can still be kind. And sometimes the kindest thing we can do is not pull back. To not be offended by the broken offerings of kindness, to not refuse that a person could have any worth to offer you anything.

You see me walking with a burden, and I–I see you walking with a burden. And we are both already broken enough, and don’t need any more breaking. So kiss my hand; I’ll not pull away. Go in peace, you and your soul.

Working and Waiting

For Christmas, I decided I wanted to paint a picture for my card. I’ve not really painted much, and most of what I have painted, I’ve not been very happy with. I’ve dabbled, occasionally, in plain pencil drawing — more often tracing over the outline from a photo and then practicing paying attention to shading. And people have told me, maybe more often than I realize, that I showed artistic leanings that just needed to be developed, and that I should taking drawing and such more seriously. But it’s work, and I don’t have time for work, so I mostly did nothing.

Anyhow, the Christmas card — since I had this idea in my head, very vividly, I decided I had to take this project seriously. So I did what I’ve seen described a million times before. I folded my reference photo in to a grid, and then drew a grid on my watercolor paper. Then I looked at each grid individually, and tried to represent what was in there. I was running out of time, so I only had two sessions to paint it — once for the general idea, and then again to build on details.

And you know what? The thing came out fantastic. I kind of didn’t even recognize it as my own handwork. Because when I actually applied some discipline to my efforts instead of slap-dash hurried attempts, well, who knew? I actually had some sort of talent buried in there after all.

Lately I have been thinking about my writing. Well, not really thinking about it, as much as finding it is on my mind, but having no clearly defined thoughts on the matter. The thing is, I’ve never really thought about my writing before. I’ve always just done slap-dash hurried attempts, and never really gone back to edit or refine. Never really did base planning work. It served it’s purpose in the moment, and it was good enough for me, but I’ve never really tried to apply discipline to it.

In the last few days, especially, I’ve been stumbling over half-birthed poems I’ve scribbled down places. Kind of tantalizing, but also the epitome of not really knowing what I’m doing. I need to find some sort of online course that walks you through the basics of poetry, of meter, of how to do on purpose that which I’ve only sort of felt around in the dark and taken a gut guess at.

The thing is, I don’t have anything at the moment that I desperately want to say. This is perhaps even one of the roots of my worrying over my writing — it’s not like me to feel at a loss of words, which I have for months. But I can’t escape the feeling that, like my painting, if I just applied some actual effort and discipline, I would be a good deal more impressed by what was revealed. And also, another disquieting feeling — that writing slap-dash wouldn’t be satisfying anymore. That it served it’s purpose, for it’s time, and will likely continue to serve in some kind of role. But that it’s no longer enough of a challenge to be amusing. That now I have to be writing “on purpose” to get that same feeling of satisfaction.

It’s a bit of the chicken-or-the-egg problem, though. First I feel like I need to have a topic (and perhaps an audience) important enough to deserve a little extra effort. For my painting, it was a Christmas card. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. But it does have to be more than a passing whim. One would think if the corollary were just a Christmas card, it wouldn’t be hard to come up with a topic worthy of effort. But I feel like I have nothing important to say, and my mind feels pitifully blank.

I don’t know where I will wind up with all of this, of course, but I feel like the prodding is getting more frequent and more meaningful. You have something here. You ought not ignore it. Put some discipline into it.

Okay. I will. But for now, I think still at the spot of waiting for the idea that’s worth the work.

 

 

Blessedness

Today is a gift for me to receive, not a burden for me to bear.

I kept telling myself this as I got ready to leave the house, because, naturally, the whole day feels like a burden. I thought maybe I had convinced myself of the truth of the statement, but nearly feel into tears twice during casual conversation while talking about the things I needed to accomplish in the next two weeks.

I know I didn’t get enough sleep last night. I know that’s a big part of it. And I know I’m primed now to catastrophsize at the slightest provocation. But I also know that part of the problem is that I truly have not learned the truth of what I’m repeating to myself.

Today is a gift. For me to receive. NOT a burden for me to bear.

I don’t like it when I start getting frustrated or worried about the future or counting off the things to do, and people tell me, “But you’re here right now, and it’s a gorgeous day, and. . .” Don’t minimize to me what I’m going through, people! It feels patronizing. This new “mantra” feels different to me, because it doesn’t argue with any of the things I’m saying. It says, “regardless of how uncomfortable or unpleasant this may feel, it really is a gift. And you would do well to consider why the One who loves you saw fit to give it to you. And if the only thing that is unpleasant right now is all that you have to do, you should remember you’re trying to lift a load that someone else is already carrying.”

There are a lot of things of nearly every moment of the day that are privileges. Some people like to list them, but I don’t. Count your blessings, they say. But that makes it seem like they’re finite, and CAN be counted. Express your gratitude! they say. But that makes it sound like we really have any idea what is good for us, what we should be grateful for. We’re like two-year-old children throwing fits because we can’t drink windshield-washer fluid. We grateful for being able to eat the unripe fruit that will only make our stomach hurt, and would have been so much better if we’d just waited, just a little. We resent rebuke, chastisement, and the challenge and correction that makes us grow. How can any “counting” make things better? Sometimes, you look and you look and you look, and it all just looks like CRAP.

I don’t think looking or counting or saying the right words is what it really takes. I think what it really takes is faith. That EVEN THOUGH everything looks like crap, it isn’t. That EVEN THOUGH it might look like dreams are crushed or hopes are dashed, God is good. That EVEN THOUGH grief and suffering at times become suffocating, God does love our own particular self. That EVEN THOUGH the blessings just don’t seem to be there, they are, because God never stops giving good gifts, even when we can’t recognize them..

We’re not fit to weigh our existence in the balance. Our balance is exceedingly far out of collaboration and has “NOT FOR LEGAL TRADE!!!” all over it in red letters. Only God actually has the capability, the “equipment,” to take the real weight of anything, the real sum of any whole.

Sometimes, we think about our own self worth. We know we aren’t to overvalue ourselves. But we forgot that we’re just as wrong to under-value ourselves. Sometimes it feels like every accusation is true and that we’re right to blame ourselves, and that we do only make every thing worse, and we deserve nothing better. And it’s hard to stop these lines of thoughts, because we know that we aren’t like God.

Only, in a way, we are. Because on God’s scale, on God’s balance, on the sum of our whole, is the blood of Jesus, the holy and righteous and sufficient sacrifice. And to do away with ourselves is drastically undervalue the redeeming work of the only Son of God. And to stop to consider what Christ accomplished is to realize that He is on those scales with us. So how can we not be loved?

In the darkness and the suffering and the grief and the complete pointlessness of it all, Jesus our Lord is with us. Are we not filling up His sufferings and grief until the times are full? It is a cursed world. But He is with us.

In our frustration and our hurt and our fears — things we can’t find any way to count as blessings — He is with us. And for that reason, and that reason alone, we are blessed.

All You Need is Love

That was a song we had to sing in choir this semester. (I think we did a lousy job at it, by the way, but that’s another story.) I was thinking about things this morning in a half be-fogged, am I awake or asleep kind of state. There are a lot of things I’ve been reading that have been helpful, but ultimately unsatisfying. Emily Freeman wrote some books I really like, a lot about courage and God putting inside of you these yearnings and limitations. I read Ann Voskamp’s 1,000 blessing, and her blog is mostly more of the same. I tried to read “Desiring God” by John Piper, but he liked too much to hear himself speak, and even though he had some really good things to say, I couldn’t make it all the way through. There’s a big simplicity-less-is-more movement going around.

They all have some good and interesting things to say for the moment, but none of them have ever radically changed my life. At the end of a couple weeks, I feel more like I’m holding onto a “one quick trick!” then I am something that really changes my outlook. I don’t think the authors mean them that way, and I’m sure they were very real epiphanies and experiences of growth on their behalf. But God didn’t tell people they had to keep a numbered list of His blessings in order to be His followers, and many of His people don’t have paper or even know how two write, you know? So as helpful as that exercise may be, it’s not like it’s the “key” to figuring out how to follow or serve God.

As I was complaining aloud about these “one-quick-fixes” I also asked the rhetorical question of, “I mean, it’s not like You talked about any one, simple thing!”

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.

Der. Yeah. But I meant, besides that.

It doesn’t really answer my in-the-now questions (do I just take any apartment, because a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, or do I hold out for something that will really make me happy?), but it did kind of clarify for me why I had been finding so many things to be ultimately unsatisfactory. It reminded me again of my own given understanding of “the meaning of life” was: Expressing the love of God, while it is still called Today.

That doesn’t always give me direction, but it is usually helpful for giving me perspective. I still don’t know what to do about an apartment. . .but I realize that as much as it seems to really matter–it doesn’t. Where you lived for 6 weeks really doesn’t matter. The attitude you give while searching is actually more likely to matter, because it’s people you’re dealing with. The thanks given to the people who turn you away. The warmth you show to the people that you would rather not stay with, but might have to anyway. It’s funny to think that the bubbly pleasantries I do without thinking mean more than the the agonies I endure over All of the Things, but I think it’s true.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Being responsible isn’t as important as being loving.

Being joyful isn’t at important as being loving.

Being right isn’t as important as being loving.

Having things figured out and being on time isn’t as important as loving.

Having the right amount of stuff or exercising three times a week doesn’t rate, either.

Some could argue that some of those things flow from loving, and maybe there is some truth to that, some of the time. But the point is, you have to go to the source. Being responsible doesn’t making you loving, even if loving can make you responsible.

People, I am still stressed and frazzled. I still just want to know where I’m going to live, please and thank you. But on top of that all, I don’t need the extra stress of trying to figure out what “following God” looks like, or what shape that “should” be taking, or what I really “should” be making time for. Following God looks like loving the way He loved; it takes a different shape in everyone, but I should still be making time for it.

I don’t have to “get this right” as much as I need to “get” His love and the grace to share it.

It’s liberating, my friends. Not because love always feels good; sometimes it’s terribly brutally difficult. But because it means you can take your gaze off the inward. What should I. . . what will I. . .I want. . .I wish. . .I can’t. It doesn’t matter. It is, but it doesn’t matter. I still want. I still wish. In the grand scheme of life, it doesn’t matter. And it does matter every single last time I showed love today, no matter how small or fleeting.

And I feel like I’m speaking truth that I don’t fully understand myself, yet I feel like I have to speak it anyway, even just in an attempt to grasp it myself.

You might want a very lot of things. But all you need is love.

You. List.

You can find out some astonishing things about yourself if you’re just willing to write the first thing that pops in your head.

I have spiral bound notebook after spiral bound notebook devoted to this task. The hard part is being honest. I always have plenty to say, but there is so very often much of the time I want to gloss over things, want to not say what I’m really thinking, or am suddenly caught in the paralyzing fear of: “What Happens If Someone Reads This? OMG.”

Recently, for whatever reason, I have been stumbling over a bunch of “Simplify Your Life! Live Meaningfully!” blog posts. They always leave me feeling annoyed. I think it’s because they give off a “3 simple trick to lose-tummy fat!” vibe. “We sat down, drew up our list of priorities, and our life got so, so much better!! 🙂 🙂  ❤ ❤ ❤ !!!”

Am I being mean? Sorry. I’m not trying to be mean. It’s just that I have a really hard time believing you can just draw up a list and re-haul your life.

We had wave after wave of sickness come through the house, and although I was graciously spared the worst of it, my body has clearly been working overtime to fend it off–levels of exhaustion that are no where near commensurate to the amount of effort expended. I was finally reduced to the point where I was overwhelmed by everything–everything. And what did I do?

I drew up a list.

When I get that panicky feeling of drowning under way too many things, I’ve found that some of it is psychological. I am intimidated by that which is not quantified. A few detailed to-do lists later, I feel like I have a better grasp on reality, and after I see a whole slew of things crossed off, I begin to think there may be hope. Once the emotional pressure passes, I find I go on my merry list-less way.

I was struggling with the to-do’s, yes. But also struggling with the idea of pretty much starting my life over again in 3 months–a life which I know will tempt me to burn out, and phenomenon I have gotten to know very well over the past 4 years, and guess what? I’m tired of it. There has got to be a better way, and yet I feel powerless to change things.

So, yes.

A list.

Without even consciously meaning to, I grabbed a piece of paper and started writing down things that, in the state of drowning, seemed very important to me. This clarification is very important, because when one feels to be in a very good place, one becomes less and less serious and more and more philosophical. The list that I would write when I felt like I was on  top of the world is drastically different from the list I would write in crucible. The high-and-mighty list would have a lot more to do with theory, and things that I intellectually believe to be good and important things. The down-and-out list is raw and visceral–those things I know at a gut level that I may not always be aware of but are always influencing who I am.

You can see why the down-and-out list is much more useful than the high-and-mighty list. If I were to make a high-and-mighty list (okay, I have–multiple times; hence my annoyance with “make a list and fix your life posts”), it would be unattainable. It would be all good-intentions-paving-paths-to-places-you-don’t-really-want-to-go. Also importantly, it would not really tell me anything about myself, which is what the whole exercise is supposed to be about. It would be, as my self-writings are often tempted into being, and explanation of who I think I should want to be. Very pious and completely useless. (I meant that to refer to the list, but it occurs to me it could probably apply to the person I think I’m supposed to be, too.)

Do you know what surprised me the most? The thing that my pencil blurted out first, before any other thing.

“Cleaning.”

I was so shocked, I nearly wanted to erase it and start again. Cleaning is so totally not the most important thing.

Right then and there, I wanted to start re-arranging my list, changing the presentation of myself on paper instead of reflecting who I really was. In all reality, that one item has helped me more than any of the other things I wrote down (so if you do feel like playing along, you might only have to write down one thing!).

I grew up with more brothers than you can guess, and I have watched too many struggling young moms apologizing for their houses. I have seen people fall so victim to the urge to clean that they can’t even enjoy life. And so many things are more important than cleaning! I take as my stance that “A clean house is a sign of a wasted life.” I protest my list. I protest it mightily.

But here’s the thing: it’s my list. Mine. I want to clean. Me. And what has me been doing? Shoving it aside because it “doesn’t really matter” and “other things are more important” and making myself miserable.

I don’t want to clean because it’s the only socially responsible thing to do. I don’t want to clean because I “ought” to. I don’t want to clean because I think I’m morally obliged to or because I’m afraid of what other people will think. I want to clean because I like to have things cleaned, the way I like to bring in flowers in jars, the way I like to have plans of action, the way I like to have things right at my fingertips. I want to clean, because I find sweeping floors and washing dishes to be calming and peaceful and almost meditative. Your hands are busy and mind is free to go, and afterwards everything is better.

So, yeah. I bumped “cleaning” up several notches of importance on my to-do lists, and I have been feeling happier ever since (2 days. Don’t go crazy). That’s not the point. The point is, it’s my list.

Too often my lists are full of things I think I should do, things I feel obliged to do, things I think are “good ideas”, ideology I cling to even though it has little relevance to who I am, things that I have accepted I should value even though I really don’t. Too often, the to-do lists I’m following aren’t mine.

I thought about this more while I swept the floor this morning. My modus operandi has been to first cram in the dutiful responsibilities–work, school and the like–and then if there is anything leftover, I might have a chance to be me with that. But I’m thinking that what I’m supposed to do is be me first, and whatever is leftover from that I can expend on work and school.

No, this is not a bid for wanton living. It is a bid for realizing that this is my life, and taking responsibility for that fact. If life is living me, I’m not owning up to the one obligation I really have: to be me. Everything I do should be subservient to the truth of who I am, not assuming expectations of others or even just mindlessly accepting burdens.

If I stop and think about the people I’ve admired, they weren’t the dutiful ones. They were the crazy, fearless ones. The ones who didn’t exactly live to break the rules. . .more like lived however they wanted because they weren’t aware there were rules. The ones who didn’t seem bound by the “I should’s” and instead lived the “I am’s”. The ones who weren’t worried about having life “just-so” because they always knew they were just about ready to embark on a new adventure anyway. (Admit it–“If you were going to move to China tomorrow, what would I take with me?” is the best piece of de-cluttering advice you’ve seen all week!)

Life should be an adventure. . .but all too often I get hung up on how to do it right. Is there a “right” way to have an adventure? Apparently, in the world according to me, yes. But I think I’m confused on the meaning of life. No, silly-billy. I might not have the adventure I thought I set out to have, but I can’t not have an adventure. What I have to do is dare to value myself more than the things imposed on me.

My resolution heading into graduate school may very well be to only get a 3.5 GPA. I’ve done the 4.0 out of stubborn insistence for far longer than I should have, and you know what? It isn’t really worth it. I just felt like that if I had to do school, I ought to do a good job at it. Now I’m looking a little wider, and if I have to be me, I’d better do a good job at it. And if that means not doing homework because I’m making tin-can lanterns, maybe that is actually the more valuable choice. Because you know what? I’ve wanted to make tin-can lanterns for a long, long time.

What do you want to do?

How do you tell the story?

I am rather proud.

I hate limitations.

I carry around the burden of guilt.

I can be condescending. You don’t have to be perfect, but I am better than that, so I have to keep trying.

What is curious to me is how infrequently I notice these things about myself. Somehow, the PROBLEM is that I likely have a stress fracture in my foot, may have a vitamin D deficiency, am probably fighting off some sort of virus, and no matter how you cut it I need rest. I don’t see the PROBLEM in being that I have trouble admitting that I can’t just declare a list of things to do, and therefore accomplish it. I don’t see the PROBLEM in being that I feel guilty to rest, especially when “work” remains undone. I don’t see the PROBLEM in that I want to dot every “i” and cross every “t” in my schoolwork, even while I counsel other people that they shouldn’t be so hard on themselves.

I was thinking about it today, because today was a failure. I got up–well, sort of. I woke up miserable and not wanting to engage the world and feeling sickish and cold. So instead of eating my healthy, righteous oatmeal that I normally eat 5 days a week, I “bribed myself into existence” with candy-cereal. Today, I was supposed to finish a mid-term project, spear-head our team project, post to discussions, do chemistry homework, and do lots of assigned reading. Plus sweep the floor, and make bread.

Well, I made an attempt at the chemistry. I stared stupidly at review material, like it was written in ancient Greek with Egyptian hieroglyphics. I did not make it very far. I gave up on school work. I tried to clean my room, and got as far as dusting a book case. I attempted to work on music practice, but even the easy songs I had memorized didn’t seem to work. I attempted to make myself lunch. I stared at computer screen for a while, trying to think coherently about seeds for a garden.

I finally–finally!–“gave up.” I went upstairs to my bed, convinced our introverted cat she wanted to snuggle with me, and spent several hours in bed under the covers with a warm cat and a book that was totally unrelated to school work. And I said to myself, “Oh, well, today is a wash. Hopefully tomorrow will be better. I will be full of energy and my mind will be clear. And maybe my foot won’t hurt so much.”

But what made the day “fail”? My desire to be in control and all powerful and perfect, mostly and only. I didn’t get to do what I thought I was going to do. I didn’t get to be impervious to weakness. I had limitations I couldn’t push through. And I felt guilty that I couldn’t rise above it all–and do what I wanted to accomplish, and stop being mopey about a hurting foot, and never feel like my brain was full of static.

I defined my success wrong, and I defined my problems wrong, and I defined my day wrong.

Today I ate sweet chocolate-peanut butter breakfast. It was yummy. I sang a few songs in a way I never would have been able to a year ago before singing lessons. I looked at beautiful pictures of flowers, especially sweet peas. I snuggled for hours with a cat, who clearly has no guilt about resting, and wondered about cats and humans and God. I read a book that put a smile on my lips instead of a furrow in my brow. I was able to rest my foot, and consider about how resistant I am to resting that maybe God sent a broken bone to me to remind me to stop trying. And then I ate an awesome supper, surrounded by more people who love me fiercely than many people ever know in their whole lives.

I think maybe today wasn’t a wash. I think maybe today was a gift. I think maybe I should stop trying to value days by measuring what I “accomplished” in them, and I should start looking at two see the little presents snuggled in the corners.

It’s tempting to say, “It’s not like laying in bed with a cat and a book are more important than school work!” But who says? Do you know how life draining I have been finding my school work? And how reviving the cat and the book were? Maybe the point really is that I am much more valuable than what I “accomplish”. And maybe it doesn’t matter what I think is more valuable; maybe God is just plain old right in His assertion that the cat and blankets and book and rest were, truly, much more valuable than a doomed school team project, regardless of what I say. Maybe I need to stop pursuing telling God what is or was supposed to happen, and  start valuing the things He says are supposed to happen. Like an un-snuggly cat snuggling for hours. Isn’t that a minor miracle right there?

And also like feet that hurt. I’m still not sure how to accept this as a gift, or accept it graciously, or plain old accept it. I want to fight it, throw it off by my own power. I don’t understand the reason why I’m limping, and I want it to STOP. But it was given to me. And I’m pretty sure it will be there tomorrow. What do broken feet say?

What do sleeping cats say?

What does chocolate peanut butter cereal say?

And what will waking up tomorrow at 6am say?

I am certain there are things being said. I just think I’m talking past God, the way some of my classmates tell me they agree with me and then in the same post state the exact opposite of what I just said. We’re both there, but the communication thing is not happening. I need help hearing; receiving; accepting; valuing; believing. There is more going on than I am aware of, and only sometimes do I glimpse that.

Whatever is Not of Faith

so speak it plain, or leave it out
I see it plain, love drawn with doubt. . .

I have no words and I have no face)
‘Till you speak it plain, speak it plain

It looked like everything was finally, at the last minute, coming together. Then I found out that a class I thought was going to be $500 was actually going to be almost $3,000, the most expensive class I’ve ever heard of, and far, far beyond any of my means.

Did I fall back into the depths of anxiety? No. I did get upset, though. If I was living on my own, I would have washed dishes and swept the floor while talking and yelling and crying. But I don’t live alone, so I crawled into bed and pulled the covers over my head and very quietly whispered and wept and eventually fell asleep, although I didn’t mean to–unshowered, teeth unbrushed, fully dressed and the lights still on.

I wanna know this love without a doubt
I wanna know this love will find me out
I wanna know the wrong will be made right
I wanna know some peace tonight
And in the dark and holy places
I just come undone

I know what I would have done, had I been living alone, because I did the same thing when I was house-sitting, and found out definitively that I would NOT be able to continue working at my favored place of employment once I graduated. I had been counting on that for almost two years, and I wanted to work there. My support system was there. I told God I thought He loved me. I said I knew He could make it happen. I wanted to know why He was just brushing me aside, like I didn’t matter. All that, and He wouldn’t even see it through?

Now I bet you think I’m going to say, “But God knew better, and everything was more wonderful than I could imagine.” Of course He knew better. He promptly placed me (after graduation) in a job with my ideal patient population, who I loved, and I grew in more ways than I could imagine. But I don’t want to brush aside my existence, either. It did hurt. It still hurts. Those people were my support system, and I missed them a lot and still miss them. God had good plans in store for me, but that doesn’t magically make the hurt go away. And it doesn’t now, either.

You whisper in some other language
Gospel songs and hidden things
And when I call you in the midnight
I cannot find a phone that rings

One of the things that I complained to God about last night was that I thought I was supposed to be able to hear Him. Didn’t He say His sheep hear His voice? Didn’t He say we were no longer servants who don’t know what the master is doing, but rather His brothers and sisters? He must love me, because to deny His love is to deny who He says He is. . .but if this is love, why am I so incapable of understanding love? Why love me in a why I can’t comprehend, can’t receive, can’t tell that’s what it is?

It wasn’t about the money. In the grand scheme of the universe, what is money, anyhow? It’s because I wanted to know He loved me. I wanted to know He cared for me. I wanted to know He would provide for me. I wanted Him to come down from heaven in a miracle, just to tell me and the world that I was His. I wanted to know that He was close, that He was for me, and that I was walking in the path that He had laid out for me, and that He approved.

You show to one your kindest favor
And make one go numb…

I didn’t want this, which felt like a slap in the face and a total disregard for me. I wasn’t important. I wasn’t cared for. I wasn’t delighted in. I was just Another.

I have heard some people say that to God, greater difficulties are just opportunities for Him to show more thoroughly His power and love. So I guess I’m supposed to feel excited that God has just raised the bar for His own intervention. But I don’t. I hurt, and I’m not at all sure that hurt will go away, even as He reveals His plans. I fell asleep wandering in that darkness, and woke up the next morning still stumbling around in it.

You take my troubles like a river
You drain them slow down to the dregs
I throw myself down thru the floorboards
And see my image in the glass
In myth and reason we uncover
What effort could not win

If nothing else, I needed answers. Hurt feelings aside, what did this mean about what came next? What was I supposed to do in light of this information?

Keep moving forward.

All silence unless I asked that, and only that answer, more than once. It made me angry. Keep moving forward? What kind of an answer is that? How am I supposed to keep moving forward when I don’t have any money? HOW am I supposed to keep moving forward?

Day by day. . .what do you need today?

That takes a lot of the wind out of your sails, do you know that? What do I need today? Nothing, I guess. How do I keep moving forward today? Finish that lab report. Work on the answers the college wants for their article on their scholarship winner. Maybe study a little for my physics final tomorrow. Take a jog in the winter night.

I don’t know the reason. I don’t know the how. People can argue it till they’re blue in the face, but it doesn’t matter; logic and reason will always fail in the end. What matters is that whatever is not of faith is not for me. I have to move forward now, because I can’t not move forward.

Maybe God will still intervene in a miraculous way at the very, very last second. Maybe He won’t do what I’m asking, and I will still feel that hurt of a refusal. I will still keep coming back to Him, even it means then I am asking Him to free me from the thousands of dollars of debt. I am angry and sad and disappointed that we can’t do this my way. . .but what I am still looking for the most is not to have things done my way but to be able to understand His expression of love.

So speak it plain, or leave it out
I see it plain, love drawn with doubt
I’m made to serve my own device
Until we come to set things right
I have no words, I have no face
Until you come to speak it plain
I have no words
And I have no face

All quotations from Sandra McCracken’s Doubt, from the album Gravity|Love.

Physician, Heal Thyself

“You’re going through a lot. . .remember to take care of yourself!”

Um, yeah. No. It doesn’t work that way.

What this phrase, this admonishment, assumes is that you are a perpetual motion machine. Or God. Same thing.

It takes serious amounts of energy to take care of anyone or anything. You are already significantly drained of energy. Whenceforth comes this supposed ability to haul yourself up by your boot straps?

Take care of yourself, take care of yourself, take care of yourself.

I keep hearing this over and over and over again, and it makes me feel guilty. Yeah, I should. The fact that I’m stretched thin and exhausted is my fault. If I was a responsible person who knew how to take care of herself, I wouldn’t be in this position. I need to learn to be a better person, so I can take care of myself, so people won’t be burdened by how I act when I’m in over my head.

Then I was like, wait. How the heck do you take care of yourself? Nobody could tell me that. Just that I had to do it, or I would burn-out. Just, you know, take care of yourself. Some people tried to take the physical aspect of it: eat, sleep, exercise. This approach had two problems. One: myself is more than my body, and my cares, concerns, and needs cannot be fulfilled by attending to by body alone. And Two: do you realize how much it takes out of you to take care of your body? It’s a freaking chicken-or-the-egg situation. Oh, and Three? What makes you think I have control over any of that?

After a bad bout of anxiety leading to some physical symptoms I didn’t care to repeat, I decided that it was Time To Take Care Of Myself. I worked hard at exercising almost every day, at making sure I was eating more fruits and vegetables, and at going to bed at a Reasonable Time. My body kinda felt a little better, but it wasn’t touching anything else. Spending so much time on Eat, Sleep, Exercise was turning me into an automaton–I had thoughts and feelings and ideas I never got a chance to touch, because I was spending all my free time Eating, Sleeping, and Exercising.

The fall-out was that I started having insomnia. Waking up in the middle of the night, still exhausted and wishing I could be sleeping, just so that my mind could have some time run. I wasn’t anxious. I didn’t know why I was waking up. The things that came to my mind were just idle thoughts, but apparently you have to have time to have idle thoughts.

The insomnia did not get better. The insomnia got worse. Falling asleep became a scary, daring attempt. This girl who used to be able to fall asleep within any 5 consecutive horizontal minutes spent TWO HOURS, too tired to stand straight, with her mind chugging and chugging over “nothingness.” This does bad, bad things to homeostasis. When I get that tired, it starts making me feel nauseous, and the thought of putting anything in my mouth repulsive.

The Eat, Sleep, Exercise thing was totally blown to smithereens, by . . .Eating, Sleeping, and Exercising? I couldn’t put enough in it to keep going. All systems were shutting down. My brain was now demanding (and acquiring de facto by striking) time to sit and not function. And the inside of me was still pretty raw, too.

You know, there are just some things that you just cannot do for yourself. You cannot, for example, give yourself a good hug or snuggle. You cannot engage yourself in a really good conversation that gives you new things to think about or new perspectives. You can’t really comfort yourself.

But somehow, we’re told we should be taking care of ourselves. Maybe that’s just not a thing we can do, unless we are God: Be self-sustaining. Need no one. Got it all under control ourselves. I can take care of myself, you know.

No.

No, you can’t.

You aren’t a perpetual motion machine. You can’t create more energy than you expend. You do not have the functional capability to take care of yourself. No one does. We have different needs and we express it differently, but we all need help. We may be very verbal about needing help, or we may be really bad at expressing it. We may try to go find help at the slightest hint of need, or we might have a really hard time accepting help even when it’s freely offered. But none of us is a self-sustained, self-contained, endless capacity individual.

Even Jesus, after He spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness. God didn’t say, “Hey, Jesus, you’ve been through a lot. Take care of yourself, okay?” No, God sent His ministering angels to go take care of Jesus. Humanity it is very finite, and Jesus was embodied in humanity. He needed help.

“I hope you feel better soon,” says that “I know there isn’t anything I can do to help you right now, but I hope you don’t have to keep on suffering.” There’s something different about “take care of yourself.” “Take care of yourself” says, “That’s your job and your responsibility. I don’t need to help you in your need; you need to get your act together.” “Take care of yourself” is offered as though it is an expression of empathy or compassion, but it’s really not. It’s an act of washing one’s hands of the situation. “So-and-so really needs to learn how to take better care of herself,” is not an expression of compassion. It’s an act of carefully crossing the street and passing by on the other side. You’re in an icky situation, and you’re on your own, ’cause I’m not touching that.

Peeps, this isn’t about blaming everyone else for you being miserable, and wallowing in the role of being a victim and having no one there to help you. It’s about recognizing that you have no right to be ashamed for asking for help, and that you have a duty to help where you can. Perhaps Paul said it best in 2 Corinthians 8: 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; 14 but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack—that there may be equality. 15 As it is written, “He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack.”

You can’t do it on your own. You need to help. And you need to help others. And maybe where they have a need is where you still have something left to give, and where you have a need is what they still have an abundance in.

In the midst of my falling to pieces and being unable to sleep, I could hear the voice of my old Bio teacher in the halls. He sounded discouraged. He sounded like he was up against a lot. I felt like I could barely walk in a straight line, but I could still send him and email, telling him what an impression he made on me as his student. I didn’t have much to give, but I could at least do that. In needing help, there is a recognition that others do, too. This isn’t about the world revolving around you; this is about the world being full of finite, struggling people, of which you are one.

I cannot take care of myself. Truth be told, I do not even yet know how to ask for help, or what kind of help I need. But I have at least figured out this much: it’s silly for me to think that I’m responsible for “taking care of myself,” any more than it is my responsibility to defy gravity, entropy, the laws of conservation, or even my responsibility to deny my own humanity. I am a human, and I cannot do it all, and I’m not supposed to be able to.

You aren’t, either.  You have enough going on without feeling needlessly guilty that “you’re going all to pieces” because you “just aren’t strong enough.” We’re in a world that we do not, cannot control. We will never be on top of it all, and we will always be struggling. Sometimes, you won’t be able to go any further without someone reaching down to help, or someone behind you giving you that boost.

And while you search for that next handhold, that next little ledge your toes can find some purchase on–remember the others. Remember to give that little push; remember to call some encouragement to those trying to find their own path. Remember that it’s not your responsibility to do it all yourself and never ask for help–and remember that sometimes, it’s really, really hard to ask for help; so don’t wait until they ask. Reach out.

Don’t tell them to take care of themselves; don’t add to them one more responsibility, one more duty to attend to. Tell them what they’ve already done. Tell them what they’ve already accomplished. Tell them, with words or without, that you aren’t going to ignore them through this hard time, because you’ve already got your own hands full. You might not have much to offer, but that’s okay; a few drops of water are pretty valuable in the middle of the Sahara.

Just don’t be surprised or angry or frustrated or embarrassed to say, yourself, “Hey, a little help here! I could really use some ministering angels!” You’re in good company.

Say Something Nice

I always get so discouraged when I scroll through the internet-world and see nothing but people complaining and bemoaning. Doesn’t anyone have anything pleasant to say? Invariably, I find myself working through this cycle:

1. Discuss things frankly.

2. Hit a rough spot and vent furiously.

3. Look back over my Facebook wall and feel ashamed that I’m just one more person spewing bile into the ether.

4. Look for something good to say and fail.

5. Fall silent under the premise that “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

6. Tentatively give up on my vow of silence, but only start posting one-sided happy-rainbow-sunshine-pretty-gloss.

7. Forget I’m “being good,” and go back to discussing things frankly.

8. Hit a rough spot, and knock everyone’s socks off with how vehement Little Miss Happy-Rainbow-Sunshine-Pretty-Gloss can be.

9. Yes, we’re cycling now. No, I don’t think it really has anything to do with that cycle.

What’s interesting to me is that, while I first observed and analyzed this behavior of mine on Facebook, I realize it’s everywhere. It’s in my day to day life and the face I put on when I walk out the door. It’s here, too, as I begin to feel guilty for how negative and down my posts have been lately, and I find myself struggling and searching for something nice I can say–not wanting to fall silent, but unable to say something that isn’t the lengthier equivalent of (*#%^@!!!

But what’s also interesting to me is how my moments of multisyllabic fire and brimstone has an apparently very polarizing effect. Some people say “Scary! Run away, run away!” (Okay, maybe not quite, but they find it distasteful or at least uncomfortable.) And some people laugh hysterically and say, “I love when you show your fire!”

I like the second response. It means they’ve recognized that I needed to (literally) let off some steam, and that they found my presentation, rather than a dismal display of the ingratitude and selfishness of humanity, to be a fine piece of performance art. All is right with the world. I have expunged myself without descending into the utter depths of self-absorption.

The first response, on the other hand, is the one that makes me shut up. I really am horrible, aren’t I? I have a thousand treasures that millions of people would dream of having, and this is what I offer up? And I quietly creep back into my hole, and promise to do better.

The thing is, the people who laugh are the people who know or understand me better. And yet that’s the response I’m more inclined to brush aside, favoring instead the strangers who say I’m doing it all wrong.

Maybe that’s the wrong moral to take. Maybe I should just be recognizing that people who like me are going to take the rough patches right along side the shining face, and that, actually, even, if you could possibly believe it–they prefer my unbridled truth to my varnished sweet talk.

I still believe that we have to be in the habit of monitoring what we’re repeatedly saying. 10, 15, 30 years of complaining does turn from a habit into your character. We do set patterns by what we do every day. I still believe that the goal is looking to find the beauty, not looking to see what else you can turn into a snazzy rant or a pitiful out-cry.

But I am also toying with this idea that we don’t have to “go to our room until we can be in a better mood.” Maybe part of what makes me valuable and unique is what I do with my rough spots–and I don’t mean hiding them. Maybe people need to see my multisyllabic fire and brimstone to realize just how deep my emotions run–to wails of distress, yes, but also to some very deep and strong currents of caring and empathy and protection. Maybe they need to see my rough spots to realize how genuine I am–that the ready smile is not a facade, and that it can fade with pain–but that it will be back, because it is real. It has been tested and tried and smashed and strained, and it is still there.

Maybe I don’t need to shut up and go away until I have something worthwhile to say; maybe what I have to say right now is already worthwhile.

***

{Cue pointless addendum, because I’m not done talking yet and I’m too lazy to start another post. Part I and Part II are not necessarily related, and that doesn’t bother me.}

 

***

Physics has taken a very surprising turn for me. I started off scared, because it had been a year since I’d taken Physics I, and here I was sitting in the classroom of Physics II. I couldn’t remember how to think in physics; my brain wasn’t up to gear. I was sure everyone else in the class had just taken Physics I and totally got what was going on. The physics professor had me 4 years previous for an even lower level physics course, which I had totally aced. He kept looking at me like, “C’mon, where’s your brilliance? I know you’re smarter than that!”

Well, I wasn’t. Frustrated and, yes, ashamed, I showed up in office hours. He was delighted to see me. I’d forgotten that, because I’d only went to his office hours once in the lower level, and I’m not even sure why. But his face had lit up then, and it lit up now, too.

Well, I was in his office hours nearly every week. I was mildly horrified. No topic has ever driven me to office hours like that, ever. I mean, ever. I’m the crazy girl who gets 103’s on her Anatomy and Physiology exams, sans assistance, not the girl who camps outside the professors office. I’m the know-it-all who helps all of her classmates and tutors and teaches, not the one who comes begging for help. I didn’t come one week, because I actually got the the material. I sent him a brief little email, basically saying, “yay, aren’t you glad I didn’t come begging this week? I got smarter!”

I was honestly surprised that he was honestly disappointed. Subconsciously, I declared to myself that I would never miss office hours again. Luckily (unluckily?), I didn’t need much help with that resolve. Physics II continues to drive me to office hours. The fun thing is that he’s a different person in office hours than he is in lecture. In lecture, I very nearly do not exist. I don’t mean that he ignores me. I mean that we are all Students, and as such, The Same Entity. We’re not really recognized as individuals, and having been in a class where the teacher could not differentiate between students and friends in her classroom, I am glad.

But it in office hours, we get to be individuals. He gets to look proud of me when he hands me my exam with a 90 on it, and he picks on me for my failure of basic arithmetic, and now I know that in I don’t have to be A Student. I can be Me. The Me that a lot of students would take to be symptoms of mental illness: the nerdy part of me that wants to know, and asks the teacher all sorts of random, barely related questions. The striving-for-perfection Me: we both mourned a little when, right on the very last part of the exam, I lost 4 points, dropping me down to 96. I almost nailed that 1-0-0! I had a bio teacher once who told me and my over-achieving cluster of friends that if we didn’t keep quiet our grousing about our high 90’s scores, the rest of the class was going to lynch us. His point was well taken, but still. So close! At least somebody gets that.

We share a sense of humor, but more than that, I get his personality and his quirks. The things that other people find to be demanding or curt or intimidating simply don’t phase me. I’ve seen demanding, I’ve seen curt, I’ve seen intimidating; he doesn’t rate. He’s an introverted, precise, eccentric physicist. I don’t have problems with any of that.

Office hours has gone from a duty-bound expression of failure to nearly the only haven I have for this semester. Don’t get me wrong; office hours are filled with physics. I have stumped him on occasion, and sometimes my solutions are right and his are wrong. He has been getting the painful satisfaction of having his entire set of homework solutions thoroughly checked–mostly because he has been using the same set, sometimes for years. It’s satisfying that they’re now corrected, but painful that they’ve been incorrect for so long without anyone calling him out. How many students, then, have never bothered to do the homework? But more often than not, I am staring at scribbled equations in my atrocious handwriting, trying to figure out the language being used to describe the world.

But in it and around it, betwixt and between it, there is conversation (of the English variety, not the mathematical one. Well, a bit of both, then, not everyoe has conversations about the specific heat needed to melt their laptop). What makes it doubly enjoyable is that it’s not just a haven for me, but it appears to be a haven for him as well. He is not at all disappointed when I run out of physics questions a few minutes before we have to run off to our respective classes.

This week, he’d asked me if I’d had a chance to visit one of my former teachers and a friend of his. I said that I had, several weeks previous. He responded that it was a good thing that I did. Immediately, I could feel my face fill with horror, thinking only of how I’d just found out about my former classmate dying. Why, what had happened? I asked. Nothing. He apologetically explained that he knows some people have difficulty with the manner of physicists, but he really did just mean only and exactly what he said: it was a good thing that I did.

Sometimes I feel like I get these sudden flashes of insight, and here was one of them. In those 7 words, straight-forward physicist or not, he was saying how meaningful it was to him to have me weekly in his office, or he wouldn’t be wishing me on his friend. And with his apologies on his physicist manner, I realized that most people probably do not understand their physics teachers. Most people have trouble understanding the physics, yes, but also the physicist.

I do not have a strong love of physics, and I doubt very much I shall ever be a physicist. But I have to admit that I will very much miss being his student. Or at the very least, sitting in his office hours saying smart-aleck things that make him reflexively reach for something to write them down. I have a sneaking suspicion he’s going to be quoting “Algebra is very reliable, if you do it right,” for classes to come.