I lift up my eyes

Faith in God is as much or more about trusting Him with our past as it is trusting Him with our future.

I’m paraphrasing someone, and alas, I don’t remember who, but I do remember the thought, because it rang deeply true with me. In culture today, there is a strong current of “Hakuna Matata.” Your past doesn’t matter. Only who you are today matters. Even in “christian pop” songs, this theme prevails.

But experientially, that’s baloney. Experientially, who you are today is a direct result of the past. Decisions that were made or not made or out of your influence entirely live you — with children, or childless. Married or not. Penniless or with a few dollars in your pocket. Crippled from injury and disease or running a marathon. There are choices you don’t get to make now, choices you HAVE to make now, because of your past.

And it changes how you translate everything that happens to you. The context of your past imprints itself on how you perceive and react to every little thing — the weight of an unkind or careless word; the instability of a work place; walking up a flight of stairs, even.

No matter how much you endeavor to live in the present, you keep smashing into the past. And then you have to ask, “Why, God?”

How am I supposed to trust You with my future when I can’t understand why You gave me that past?

How am I supposed to trust You with my future, when my past still hurts so much?

How am I supposed to trust you to give me good things in my future, when I have been praying for good things endlessly for years with seemingly no answer?

How am I supposed to trust that You will use me to do good works in the future, when I sit here looking bleakly at the past and feeling like I’ve never been used to bear any good fruit yet?

You can’t trust God with the future without trusting Him with the past. Because if deep down inside you believe Him to have been incompetent or uncaring in the past, why should you think Him to behave any differently in the future? But hindsight being 20/20 is a myth. The past is still as clear as mud. And it being in the past doesn’t mean it’s good.

The thing is, we can’t go back and change the past. So if it’s uncomfortable, if it’s painful. . .avoiding it seems like the safest thing. It stinks, we can’t fix it, let’s just move on. But I’d guess that an awful, awful lot of having trouble trusting God with the future is actually having trouble trusting God with the past.

I trust God — with the things that I feel secure He has helped me through in the past. Cars breaking down, for example. Always felt very taken care of; don’t have too terribly much emotional trauma with the idea of it happening again. The stuff that God has always seemed to be far away and very quiet about? I struggle so hard to trust Him at all. It’s not the future I’m struggling with. It’s the past. Why, God? Why did you do the things You did? Why am I winding up where I’m winding up now?

I don’t need to put my past behind me and move on to the future. I need to put the future on hold, and slog through the past until I’m not scared that God is hiding from me. I need to seek God out in the past, just as much or more as I keep trying to find Him in the future.

God is good. Even in the past. Let us seek Him.

Advertisements

Womanhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Rochester is a Creep

Maturity is a hard thing to assess in yourself, and is made more complicated by the fact we don’t mature equally in all things. Maturity in responsibility and action, for example, is quite different from maturity in relationships. Maturity with managing money is far different than the maturity to understand the societal systems in the world.

One of the things I have struggled with is the mild addiction to being useful. As with anything, we can speculate all we like on the root of such things. . .I used to blame it on my particular parameters of my upbringing, until I read “Grace for the Good Girl,” and the author had been raised in a wholly different situation and yet seemed at time to speak thoughts right out of my head. I suppose, on a most simplistic level, feeling useful makes us feel more secure. People don’t get rid of, or treat poorly, or forget about, useful things. People value useful things. Being useful seems like a good, safe, meaningful choice.

Ultimately, of course, it’s drinking poison. Any love you earn (or think you are earning, or feel like you are earning) can be withdrawn the moment you stop being useful. And in the mean time, after the initial rush of pleasure at succeeding at being useful, it breeds all kinds of resentment and hurt and loneliness, and a raw inability to connect with people on a real level.

It frustrates me to no end that it is exceedingly difficult to see maturity in relationships modeled in anything. It would be amusing to see if you could get a “5 stages of maturity” in relationships, as a corollary to the 5 stages of grief. . . although the biggest corollary is probably just that it’s been found that the 5 stages of grief are largely not stages nor limited to 5. But off the cuff, it’s not that hard to start scribbling up a list.

There’s the “rescue me!” and it’s equally destructive cousin “I’ll rescue you!” How many stupid, disastrous tales have been told like this? It’s easy to take pot-shots at Cinderella and Snow White, but how about Jane Eyre? I like Jane Eyre, don’t get me wrong, and in many ways she was very responsible and mature and what have you. But she was out to rescue Mr. Rochester, to reform him, to save him from his blackened ways. Oh, heavens. Jane got to live happily every after, since that’s what her author wanted, but how many abusive tales can you start with that “save him” line?

Having long had to hoist myself and my own responsibility, I rarely recall looking for anyone to “rescue me!” But I clearly recall telling myself a good many lots tons of stories of “I’ll rescue you!” Horribly romantic and terribly stupid, it really appeals to the nurturing core of many of us–someone damaged and hurt and broken, and then redeemed and restored and healed by the saintly little woman who tends to him so sweetly and gently and faithfully. We’re just so good we melt the badness right out of them. No, we don’t. Life doesn’t work that way. But we’d like it to. We want it to.

I would guess that next on the list is the painful pairing of “I want someone to be useful to me/to be useful to someone.” Although it seems strangely even more twisted, and harder to ferret out. I don’t think I’ve often fallen into the trap of trying to keep someone around just because they’re useful, but I’ve nearly drowned many times in the black well of wanting to be useful, as I’ve mentioned above. There are more sad stories than I care to try to remember of children who felt their mothers only wanted them as long as they were useful, or their fathers. I would suppose spouses, but if you look around at the fairy tales, it’s mostly parents or step-parents or adoptive parents.

I think this is because there is an inherent power differential here. I mean, there is in the first example, too, but someone needing to be saved is an assumption of weakness. Someone needing to be served is an assumption of power. To be useful, someone has to set the bar of what constitutes being useful enough.

I don’t know what draws us to this. I know that I know I’m good at being useful, and that there is a satisfaction and a certain amount of pride in that. I don’t know why I tell myself stories about girl-winning-guy by means of usefulness. Why would it be a life goal, or a relationship goal, to be “useful”? Like a toaster. Or an adjustable wrench.

Perhaps this is where the thought comes in, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” Maybe we think we won’t get anything better, so let’s go with this. But I find it terribly sad and still confusing, even though this is a place I still keep stumbling. Why do I need to be so useful? Why? For Pete’s sake, what do I think will happen if I don’t? Do I really think no one will want me around if I’m just “normal helpful” not “so helpful”? I can’t figure it out. But I do know that when I fall into the trap of “affection by means of usefulness” that I am always and continually smarting under the power differential. It’s not a healthy place to be.

There is also the “I want you/I can make you want me” pairing. Somehow, this one terrifies me the most, with no rational reason for that ranking. I know it exists, and that for some people it’s a drug, and maybe that’s the reason of my fear. I’m also afraid of ever getting drunk, and the lack of control that people who swear all the time seem to have. In my mind, raw lust equals lack of control, and being out of control of myself seems like a terrifying idea. Bad things happen when people lose control. All the more terrifying, then, that so many fairy tales (Disney or otherwise) are based off of nothing more than physical attraction.

The word “control freak” would not have been invented if fear of losing control were always a good thing. And the flip side to this issue, for me at least, is the strange conviction that “no one would ever look at me like that, anyhow.” This might sound more familiar as countless tales (most recently, I over heard it on Downton Abbey playing in the background) have this charming set up where the girl thinks she is too plain to be noticed and the boy thinks she is the most beautiful creature ever blessed with the breath of life. For every girl who thinks she is too plain to be looked at, there’s a death trap of falling for whoever insists otherwise, despite other completely unredeemable qualities. Insisting you are physically unattractive is not really a safe action either.

I guess with all of that, it might sound as thought I’ve bounced from one unstable and destructive relationship to the next, but no, not really. More the opposite, of prickling like a porcupine in defense and never letting anyone close. It’s just, as I see people all around me, all beside me, struggling to understand relationships, I feel more and more that we’re often shown all sorts of dysfunctional and destructive relationships passed off as “normal” and “healthy” and rarely are shown any sort of mature, respectful, mutually beneficial teamwork — something that is not about “winning” but is instead about building with each other.

One of the few examples I can pull up easily is the relationship of Wolverine and Jubilee in the first X-Men movie, were they just took care of each other. But that “doesn’t count” because it wasn’t good enough for Wolverine, who kept chasing the hot body (to his own misery). And I guess that’s the point. We all figure the hot guy won’t be happy without a hot girl, and the ordinary girl is just that — ordinary. Of course.

But why all these horrible cliches and stereotypes? Why is it that we think that fairy tales of princess and princes are more believable than functional, loving relationships? Do we know so little about functional relationships that we’re even incapable of writing them? We know there’s no such thing as a perfect relationship, but we’re so ready to accept terrible relationships as paragons. If any of my friends were hanging out with a Mr. Rochester type, I’d be telling them to get out now, and stop deluding themselves. Mr. Rochester is a creep, not a paragon of true love. Why can’t we imagine a paragon, even if we know we can’t achieve it? Why do we have to keep offering up really lousy things as though they were things to be chased after?

Maybe we don’t. I don’t know. I know the stories I’ve told myself have changed. And they’re getting harder and harder to tell myself, because when you grow-up out of the cliches, things are harder to imagine. It’s harder to imagine what a good team-mate would look like, because first you have to be able to honest with yourself about your own weakness are that you need help with, and honest with yourself about what strengths you have and how they actually should be used to help others.

It’s hard to grow out of wondering if you’ll ever be beautiful in someone else’s eyes, and into recognizing that you need encouragement to be brave enough to do the hard but right things. It’s hard to grow out of padding your relationship resume with how well you bake and the way you can handle minor home repairs, and instead understand that part of what I have to offer is really more about sitting down and having hard conversations. But the stories are about beauty and baking favorite cakes, not being too cowardly to do what is right and having to have hard conversations to clear up assumptions and hurts and miscommunications and differing priorities and values. And then somehow we wind up thinking we’re broken when we wind up having tearful conversations instead of baking sweets and singing.

It just makes maturity so much harder when no one wants to talk about what it is, and that turns maturity itself into a mystery. It’s hard, yes, but does it have to be a mystery on top of everything else? Maybe this is just something we need to talk about more, instead of leaving unsaid and left to nothing but speculation. Maybe we need more encouragement in what maturity is and how to move forward into it.

It’s a Pity to be Human

I’m holding the door open for the cat. It’s raining out, but the handmixer is running, and she hates the sound of it. Caught between two miserablenesses, she hesitates at the door, her ears laid back. I feel sorry for her and her miserablenesses, so I just stand there with the door open, watching her.

One of my brothers pushes past me, suddenly shoving his hand at her face, as though to scare her off the threshold so the door could be closed. She flattens herself to the ground, but doesn’t move.

“She wants to come in, but hates the sound of the mixer,” I explain, annoyed. I was busy feeling sorry for her, and he has no respect for my pity.

“Oh.”

But the ‘oh’ belies no understanding of the situations, because moments later, he steps past me and my open door, stands behind that cat, and nudges her through the door with his foot. Forced to chose one of the miseries, the cat dashes through the kitchen trying to escape the sound of the motor.

I am like the cat. I try to go outside to avoid the sound of the motors, and the people who are being morning people. It continues to rain, so I have to sit on the porch. Then a morning person comes out to be cheerful at me, and another brother comes out to start another motor (the ice cream maker), and my mom comes out, too, so she can offer helpful motherly advice.

“So much for my plot to escape the sound of motors,” I sigh, as the ice cream maker kicks on.

“Well, you can go someplace else,” my mom informs me. “The mixer isn’t running in the kitchen any more.”

“I know,” I say.

“The screened porch is cleared off now,” she continues to push.

“I know,” I repeat, irritably. I know. I helped clean it. The day I was practically doubled over with abdominal pain. You didn’t help clean it.

I am trying to escape the motors, and the rain. And also, I would like some pity, but these cheerful morning people have none.

***

Last night, my grandma came over, and asked me if I had a glowing halo. I stared at her at first, and then tried to cover my confusion by claiming full body luminescence. She was referring to the fact that I had just been awarded my doctorate degree, a fact so roundly ignored by people in this house that I had almost forgotten about it myself. My dad made a few jokes about it. One brother threatened to call me doctor, but I said he could only call me “doctor” while singing “Put the Lime in the Coconut.” He said it would be worth it to memorize the lyrics, but we both knew he wouldn’t. Mostly, two of my brothers will put in sly jabs wherever they can about how I would have to chose the degree with the most amount of school debt and the lowest salary.

Some of my family came up for graduation, but it mostly made the family dysfunction that much more apparent. A small handful of people, most of whom came along only because there was someone else to come along with, and a vague sense of guilt that they should want to be there. They spent hours upon hours sitting in a car, waiting through boring lists of names of people none of us knew, and cramming themselves back into the car. I got to see their miserable faces for a few moments, and I say miserable not as an adjective of the quality of their faces but of the expressions they were wearing.

Then I went to my friend’s graduation party, and sat quietly in the sunlight, watching her face light up again and again in the presence of her family and her friends. I watched her husband and her sister, dripping with pride and happiness. In the end, I walked myself back to my car a few blocks away, alone in a city that was both familiar and completely impartial to me.

***

This is normal to me. Not easy, but normal. Aside from precious isolated incidents, my memories of school, right from the beginning of my associate’s degree, are largely one bleak swath of loneliness. Of not fitting in with my classmates, and so always being the odd and awkward one in any group. Of my family not understanding why I would do such a thing, and only the more so once I moved a state away. The example set to me has always been, “if you move away, you’re the one making that choice; so you’re only getting the consequences of your decisions if it means you lose connection with people.”

I can’t say I really did any better with my brothers that went away to college. It seems far off, and your own life seems busy, and what do you say, anyway, when you’re a family of introverts who mostly socialize by sitting quietly in the same room? But I can’t say it’s an attitude I want to propagate.

This morning, my second attempt to get photos taken of me for graduation announcements fell through. And all though it hurt, I realized the feeling of a twisting knife wasn’t really about photos, or even about my imagined plans for my own little declaration of completion. It is more the pining to be understood, the pining to be celebrated, the pining to be noticed, the pining to have life go as I think it should rather than the way it predictably does. No, I don’t have a husband glowing with pride and happiness, taking pictures of me at my graduation party. No, taking pictures and sending out announcements is really no substitute at all. But it was something, and I didn’t want to have to fight for that something. Any more than I wanted to fight my family to come up and be miserable while they watched me walk across a stage and shake hands with a stranger.

***

The life we imagine doesn’t have us pausing hunched on the threshold between the rain and the tormenting motor. The life we imagine has a multitude of choices, some more pleasant than others, and always with the tantalizing assumption that if we’re very clever about dashing through the wet drops from the grey skies — well, that we’ll strike upon that golden scenario that is all smiles and no painful wincing. The life we imagine takes all of the best pieces we’ve seen from all the happiest lives, and mashes them together in this strange yet pastoral scene we tell ourselves is actually achievable.

The lives that we do have are pieces of joy and contentment that are beyond words, splintered apart by hurts internal and external, and wrapped up in painful obliviousness to what we are doing to others and even what it is that we ourselves need. And whether we like it or not, our brokenness is our humanness. We cannot escape the brokenness without superseding our mortal forms. Some mornings the pain seems more searing than other mornings, making our breath catch and our eyes unfocus in a lame attempt to ward off tears. But always it is there.

Maybe it’s faulty advice, but it is my advice: Don’t be ashamed of pity. Of giving it to others, of accepting it yourself, or even occasionally allowing the self-pity to wash over all of your raw places and then drip slowly away. You can even pity the cat sometimes. It’s okay.

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.

How much it hurts

I just want to wail, over and over, “I just want to go home, I just want to go home!”

I ran a little experiment and tried to post about what things are like for me right now on my family public blog. I just feel like a lot of my writing over here is of good quality, and I keep thinking I should go back to writing where my family can see it.

But the whole reason I started this one was because so much of what I’m feeling is emotionally complex enough I can’t be blunt and honest about it with my family. And there it is again. I started trying to write the first sentence I started this post with, over there, and I couldn’t do it.

Because it seems too melodramatic, and I find myself trying to tone it down for them. Because it is true, but if I said it to them, it would make people too upset. There’s nothing they can do to help me. So I share, but somehow I can only share so much. Maybe just because I have learned how terribly uncomfortable tears make them feel, and so I find myself trying to spare them of that? Because it’s not that I don’t want them to know I’m homesick. I just don’t want them to know that I’m finding tears rolling down my cheeks nearly every day now.

I can’t do this.

I want to go home.

I can’t do this, but I have to.

I want to go home.

I want to go home.

I want to go home. . .

When Waking Up Doesn’t Fix the Problem

I have been staring at this computer screen, trying to get something out of it, and of course, getting nothing. I either need to get away from the screen or make something out of it myself, and my difficulty getting away makes me realize that I am actually avoiding dealing. So deal I ought.

The problem with the perpetual use of hyperbole is that it leaves you with no words at all when exceptional and extraordinary things happen. Those two adjectives are most frequently used as positive exclamation, but please recognize that they most certainly do not have to be.

How about when two people you know are arrested on charges of murdering their own son?

I can’t even.

See, people usually say, “That sweater is so cute, I can’t even!” You can’t even what? You can’t even come up with enough use of the English language to denote your happiness with it? How unfortunate.

How about you can’t even stop thinking about it? Can’t even figure out what you think or feel? Can’t even imagine something so horrible, but can’t even shut of the part of your brain that tries to play images of things in an attempt to process them. Can’t even stop talking about it, but can’t even figure out what I’m trying to say. Can’t even bear to read the reporting on it, but can’t even stop trying to figure out what is going on, as if in someway any of this could make sense.

Once, maybe about 7 years ago, something similar happened. A horrible shooting event in my home town at a civic center. And when it first happened, I confess to my shame I rolled my eyes at how the news stations tried to bring as much drama and fear-mongering into it as possible. How the media makes such a big deal out of these things, when more people are dying by the minute by things no one wants to talk about.

Partly, those things are true. Partly, I think, they are one of our coping mechanisms to try to keep the horrible things at bay. Rationalize, distance, talk about in cold clinical terms. It is only when those horrible things break through into our own personal circles that we have to face the reality of how devastatingly broken and unrepairable this world is. That did happen to me, 7 years ago. Unbeknownst to me at the time of my scoffing, one of the people killed that day was someone I knew. Not knew well; maybe even more so knew of. But the event ceased to be impersonal, and suddenly it was horrifying.

We know there are horrible things going on all around us. But we like the illusion that those things only happen to Other People. Maybe, in the backs of our minds, to Other People Who Probably Deserved It. We don’t like to admit that, and maybe we know it isn’t really true. But still, this idea that if we live our life right, horrible things won’t happen to us. That if we keep our nose down, make good choices, and be, you know, generally “good people,” then our lives won’t turn into living nightmares.

It’s a lie. A lie we try to use to comfort ourselves, but nothing we say or do will ever be able to influence the horror of suddenly losing a parent to car accident. The truth is, death is in the world. Some of us fight to hold it back, to delay it – but we never can prevent death. And death is in the world because sin is in the world, and that is rampant.

People say, “Look at all the beauty in the world!” Yes, there is beauty. There is beauty. But even the beauty in this world is a decaying beauty. It is corrupted. There are the tombs, and there are the white-washed tombs. We can turn a blind eye, pretend the horrible things happening Over There won’t ever catch us. We can be shocked when the horror breaks open in front of us. We can build our dreams and fantasy worlds as fast as we can, but we can never escape sin and death and horror.

And all the coping mechanisms of this world, all the ones I have found or heard of anyway, keep going for the rationalization, the clinicalization of the horror, to build a wall between you and it, to wash your own life of the horror and turn your backs on the ones being buried in it. But it doesn’t go away. The world is still steeped in it. You might be able to cram the monster down for a little bit, but it will be back. You can’t build a life bullet-proof to horror.

I know of no earthly balm. Creation itself is groaning for the redemption of humankind. The justice of this world will not stop the horror. The mercy of this world will not stop the horror. There are those who would wade out and try to stem the tide of death and pain and hatred and abuse and torture and need and desperation. But no one is strong enough for it; the horror takes you down, one way or another. The careers of paramedics are short, for example, because there are too many horrible things and too many limits to our powers to fight back. We can’t be good enough to stop the horror. We can’t fix it.

You’re not supposed to say “no earthly balm.” You’re supposed to say, “Help is available!” You’re supposed to say, “But, counseling!” You’re supposed to say nice things about healing and being made stronger. And about being a warrior who overcomes hurt and fear. You’re supposed to say, “It will be okay.”

But it won’t.

There’s no way to make horror okay.

And if you think there is, I deeply question whether horror has yet broken in to your own safe little circle.

I have been struggling with the concepts of mercy and justice. They seem to be entirely opposed, do they not? Both right and true, and yet a paradox of existence. Which do you long for? If you have been wronged, justice. If you have wronged, mercy. Which of us has not been in both places? But what if it is a wrong, but not against you? Do you have any right to ask for justice? Or for mercy?

The only place where I see them coming together is in redemption.

When you redeem a soda can, it’s not that you’re getting free money. It’s that someone already paid for it. And when there is redemption of souls, it’s not that mercy is being poured out without cost or consequence. It’s that justice was paid by someone else: the innocent Son of God, who bore the just wrath of God against sin and corruption and horror.

But when you redeem a soda can, you give it up. It will be made new again for a purpose, but first it will be destroyed. If a soul is redeemed, it is given up. Life is no longer ours to live for ourselves. Our bodies will be destroyed, but will be made new again for a purpose. And that’s the only way I can see mercy and justice for this world: redemption, which will only come through destruction and being made new. You can’t have the justice without the destruction, and you can’t have the mercy without being made new.

This is the hope: not that tomorrow, I will wake up and there will be no more horror in the world or in MY world. But that someday, there will be redemption. There will be justice and mercy. There will be destruction and being made new.

Well,then what of today?

And every time I ask about today, I hear, “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial, in the wilderness, where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, and saw My works forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.’ So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’. . .exhort one another daily, while it is still called ‘Today.'”

So Today is the time of trial and wilderness and forebearance. Not that Justice will never be, and not that Mercy will never be. But like the beauty, the corrupted beauty, the justice and mercy of this time is only an echo, only a foreshadowing, and never enough to satisfy. Never enough justice and never enough mercy, because now is not the fullness of redemption, of destruction and being made new. The hope for today is not that it IS the rest, but that a rest does exist and is coming, and we have something to hold onto in the midst of the horror: all things made new.

We can’t make the horror okay, because inside of us all is a piece of the horror. Trying to make the horror okay now denies the truth. But the truth is not that we are good enough or can be good enough to escape the horror or defeat the horror. The hope, the joy, the desire is really for our own redemption, when the horror will be purged out from inside of us and we will be made new.

So today is the time of bearing the burdens and the heartache and the trial and the wilderness. And by bearing I don’t mean fixing, or moving beyond. I mean holding fast to the living God, in spite of all the terrible, horrible and wretched things of this world. It is because of God’s great patience that we exist, that we will find Him when we seek Him. And His patience is still working out, as long as it is still called Today. And this calls for endurance and faithfulness. And recognizing that we don’t get to be done with the horror, not in the world or in our world.

We can’t fix the horror. We can’t make the horror go away. We can’t be safe from the horror.We can only cry out with creation, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

 

Importance

Last night I listened to two people talking, and realized we were practically from different planets. She was raised with nannies — the first was from a town of only 300 people, can you imagine? (yes. . .yes, I can). The rest were from England. Of course. Don’t worry, she then became an au pair herself in France, 45 minutes outside of Paris, for 2 years.  Mummy dearest has bright red nails and an accent, and can’t imagine living in a small town for even two weeks, is a bonafide work-a-holic, and is considering getting a second home in Hilton Head, or if her brother buys a boat, anyway.

It makes my brain cramp. Because our lives are so different, yet we’re still just people. It’s not that their lives are charmed. Tales of divorce, counseling, drinking, endless streams of intimate relationships ending in broken hearts, longing for reconciliation, loneliness, and endless activity to avoid accidental self-reflection.

It leaves you thinking a little, what do they have that I don’t? Anything can happen in life. And then you realize, oh, yeah. What they have that I don’t have is money. I can’t just go home and buy a new car. I can’t just eat grass fed beef because it’s better for me.

It’s not that I’m without privilege. I do have privilege. I don’t have to start working the second I’m done with school, because I have family I can stay with, who will shelter and feed me. They have before, and likely will again, lend me the money to buy a car, which will be a far better deal than taking out a loan from traditional sources.

I just always wonder how far to push those resources. Because for a certain while, it makes sense, and after another certain while, it feels like taking advantage of someone. And it’s also a struggle, because it comes with a certain lack of identity. And both of those things eat at me.

I’m not saying I have to pull myself up by my own boot straps in order to be legitimate, although certainly there are temptations to be that way. But you don’t take things without giving things, and the more “support” you take, the more “autonomy” you give away. You have less and less control over living situation and environment, what you eat, who visits and when. It is further complicated by the thing about being alone vs being around people who care about you.

So this morning I started thinking about things like, how much money saved up is enough money? Is it better to rent or buy? How terrifying to buy. And things like, good glory, the amount of debt I have for my schooling could buy me 3 great American dreams. And that opens up the whole struggle I have about the school debt: when you know you will likely never pay it off, do you try? The pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps says yes, but it’s hard to convince yourself that in light of canceling any other aspirations for life.

I like life binary. I like right and wrong. Be simple and clear cut. It makes me so highly annoyed when I find out life is complex and confusing, and without straightforward answers. You might not get a diagnosis; you might just be stuck managing your symptoms. You might not get your dream lifestyle, but wind up living 15 different versions of making do, longing, and scheming to try again. You might get your education, but always wonder if it was worth it, or if it should have been went about in another way. (Right now I don’t think that, but ask me when I’m confronted with making payments.)

When it all comes down to it, I sometimes think I just want to stop being confused by life. I want someone to say, “this choice is the right choice, this choice is the wrong choice.” Armed with irrefutable conviction, I could then accept the consequences and carry on. But there is a niggling part of me I keep fighting with, the part of me that says, you can do a lot of the things you want, if only you had the guts to take the risks. And the risk adverse part of me says, “risk is stupid.”

I’m sick of doing what I’m supposed to do, and want to be reckless and do my own thing. But that is at war with the part of me that says conventional wisdom is both conventional and wise for a reason. There’s no good reason to not work for 2 to 3 years.

But I want to be in control. I don’t want to be riding on the waves of societies expectations and  social systems. I want to be busy being me. And when I talk about it as a defiance of society and the world, I feel so holy and I think I should find courage to make risky decisions. Other times, I wonder if I’m just fighting God. I want to be in control. I don’t want to be told what to do with my life. I don’t want to do those hard things, I want to do MY hard things.

I mean, just for supposing. . .suppose I turned down lucrative full time employment, in hopes of finding something part time? That’s a luxury only achievable by support of others. If I took full advantage of that support, and defiant risk in the face of all that’s responsible adulthood, I could do that. But I feel like I owe my support better than that. I feel like I owe my support a faster pay back than a part time job, too. And I’m not sure which is worse, feeling like your life is being ruled by money or emotions, but having it ruled by both at once sure does stink.

So while I try to resign myself to the idea of seeking full time employment. . .I also find myself looking for the silver lining. How fast could I save it up if I stayed with the support system? Could I outright buy a place I would want to own, and skip renting or mortgages? Would I feel too guilty not spending more toward school loans? Would I be able to save that much while paying back borrowed money for a vehicle? Could I manage the relative lack of autonomy for another two or three years?

And behind it all is the persistent longing that my life could be defined by more than my job. The one area where I feel like I have no control at all. I pray about it a lot. But I still have so little idea of what God has planned or why He has it planned. I don’t know why we wander, and I don’t know why we so often have to wander alone. I feel sad about where I am, but also certain, in some part of me, that God is good and gives good things.

Is that enough? I don’t know. But I think it’s the most important.

 

 

 

Oh, year.

There are a lot of people ringing in the new year, and large portion of them are bemoaning that 2016 wasn’t a good year. I feel a little like protesting – it’s not the year’s fault. The seasons still changed nicely. I’m pretty sure we still made it around the sun. Isn’t that what a year is?

And I know I am inclined to be optimistic about these things. Facebook just reminded me about a truly inspirational new years post I made 3 years ago, chipper enough that I wondered what the heck my 2013 had been like to inspire such words out of me. Plus also, I am a little bit cynical, and I think a lot of people are saying it was a bad year just because they didn’t like the way the election went, and you have to admit it was pretty horrible on all grounds, but that doesn’t mean that nothing else happened the whole year long.

Yet I must confess: 2016 was a hard year for me. Some people say a little wiser, and I suppose – and most definitely do hope – that is true. A little more broken, I am sure. Kinder? Maybe. But hard? Yes.

And there were a lot of hard things, and in a lot of different ways. But mostly because 2016 was The Year of the Sickness.

Mostly recently, I have been struggling with coming to the dreadful realization that I Am Sick. Not was. For the longest time I have been trying to ask things like “am I sick, or is it just hard to be homeless?” “am I sick or is it the winter?” “am I sick, or is this something else?” It was a better of a hammer blow when I suddenly realized not or, but rather and. Sick, and homeless, and tired, and stressed. And sick. Not or.

There was a brief month or two this summer when I didn’t feel sick; in fact, I felt awesome. Like when I was a teenager. Or maybe younger. And that made me stop and think. How long has this been building? How long have I been sick and thinking it was normal? When it’s all you’ve ever known, what do you have to compare it too? I don’t know what brought it on to boiling point, to spilling over the top and over everything. I do know that I can’t avoid it. I’ve tried, but even when kept at bay, it is still simmering just under the surface.

I have found, speaking of the new year, that actually doing things depends solely on motivations. Not on plans, and not on wants. You can want a thing until you’re blue in the face, and never really put the work into it. You can plan the most perfect plan, but never be able execute it. But when you are motivated, truly convicted within your soul, it doesn’t matter if you have a crummy plan or no plan at all, or even how much you might feel the thing is pleasant.

Take going to graduate school, for instance. I didn’t really want to, I just became fully convinced that it was the thing I was supposed to do. Fully convinced. Utterly planless, away I went. Sometimes things didn’t work out until the very last minute, like applying to school hours before they closed the deadline for accepting admissions, or finding a new room to rent on the day my previous lease ended.

Other things, I have “wanted” to do for years, decades, even. Or planed, with really ornate plans. And these things haven’t fruited, or if they have, it has been in stilted, stunted and half-formed manners.

So the question isn’t what do you want out of the new year, or what do you plan for the new year, but what are you utterly convicted to do?

For me, I have two things:

  1. Graduate. I am so sick of going to school that I would do nearly anything to stay on track and graduate this spring. And I proved that last January and February and March and April and May and June: showing up for classes nearly out of my mind with sickness, propping myself up with special chairs and pillows and finding a place to lay down for the 20 minutes in between, sometimes barely able to keep my eyes open and sometimes shifting restlessly in pain. But I showed up, and I did the work. I’m not quite sure how, but I think largely it was from a pure desperation to be done with school. The end is almost in sight now, and my eyes are fixed on it like a hunting dog on a rabbit.
  2. Figure out how to manage my sickness. And I don’t even know what that means, for certain, except that I am pretty sure it means social isolation. But I’m past the planning and past the wanting, and I just Have To Do This.

It might seem strange to think that figuring out how to take care of your malfunctioning body would be part and parcel with social isolation, but it is. Because it means eating differently. And there is truth that fellowship is found in sharing meals. And the people around you – they won’t eat radically different, just because you discover that you have to now. And sometimes it seems like – it would just be easier to not be around people at all, than to be with them while they eat in a manner that you no longer can.

This sounds so very melodramatic. There are millions of people with all sorts of food allergies or diabetes or other dietary restrictions, and they survive just fine. But the hard part of 2017 is the finding out. I know that if I radically strip my diet, my body is much happier. But I don’t know what it is that I’m stripping or adding in or doing differently that is bringing relief to my body. I don’t know what I can’t eat. I don’t know what I can eat.

That means, 2017 is the year of turning myself into a science experiment. And I don’t want to. There is nothing appealing about experimenting on yourself, to the isolation with interactions with family and friends. But the alternative is that this goes on. That I keep making myself miserable, with no clear idea of why.

And it scares me, because I don’t have any idea what the outcome will be – one ingredient, a host of restrictions, a stringent diet for the rest of my life? And I don’t know what it means as it affects my future. If I really find that it is more than an ingredient and is truly a way of life, what does that mean – about many things? About what you do when you go to social engagements like weddings and friend’s houses and people offering to take you out to eat. About how affordable your food may or may not be. About living with other people or living by yourself.

And it’s that last one that really gets me. Because I am so tired of being homeless. I’ve been tossed about, over and over. I want to get grounded. And there is some hope in the idea of rest: whatever else the future holds, after I graduate, I will go and stay with my family for, at the very least, some while. So I can rest while I figure out what comes next. So I can stay put for a while, with people I know and love, and with trees and dirt and air.

But if I can’t eat anything that rest of my family eats, what kind of torture will it be to sit down with everyone else to eat, and to not eat? To not eat homemade ice cream, or brownies warm from the oven, or pizza just pulled off the stones or even the ambrosial homemade pesto? Every day a battle of refusing fellowship by making my own food and trying to ignore the proclamations of delight from a host of feasting family?

It’s not much to look forward to; neither is living alone. I need answers, I need to take care of my body. . .but it’s not really what I want. And what I really want is not something that can be planned for. (Like having my own family, for instance, but I think I harp on that rather often enough.)

Mostly, I don’t feel like I have a lot to offer 2017. I feel like 2017 is a salvage year, when you mostly try to pick up all of the pieces and figure out how they fit together now. Maybe in 2018, I’ll be back to being full of optimism and plans for the future and grand schemes, but for now. . .I just want to stop hurting. I want to stay in one place. I want to have the autonomy to make some choices about how I spend my days. I want what I am going through now to be over. May I be granted that grace.

 

still looking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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