Disasters all around

I see things through the filter of disaster.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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.

Womanhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is something

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Music That Rings True

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next, I find out

Once upon a time, I had time to think and time to write what I was thinking. I look forward to getting back to that place, but I also wonder how my thinking and writing has changed since then. Even when I’m not writing in the expected sense of “somewhat visibly,” I am writing, all the time. Some people wake up to a cup of coffee; I wake up to writing two pages in a spiral bound notebook.

It’s not great literature. It reads like you might expect from someone who is still waking up. Half the time it’s probably a rehashing of all the swirling to-do lists in my head. Always, the same themes get visited and re-visited and done to death. And growth is slow. I never felt different between one birthday and another, and yet in five years time can barely recognize the person I used to be.

The last seven years have been an incredible catalyst of change and growth, in big ways and small ways, and as I see — on the horizon — some sort of chance for the dust to settle a little bit, I think I am also scared. Scared, a little, to see who I am now. I was too busy changing and growing to understand what kind of changing and growing was happening, and so now, when things start to settle, I feel like I will be rediscovering who I am.

That sounds stupid. Not to you, maybe. To me. Because I’ve always felt like “not knowing who you are” is more (to my intellectual mind) a problem with not have the courage to own who you are. How can you not know who you are? You are who you are. You are you. What are you expecting to find?

I don’t know exactly how my thinking on this has changed, and by that I mean, I’m not sure what my current conclusions are. One of the most bizarre things from being sick, really sick, is this strange feeling I have now of only “inhabiting” my body, and not being “one” with my body. Previously, my body and me were pretty much inseparable. Me and it, it and me, you don’t get one without getting the other. But when I was at my most sick, things became more and more surreal, and I felt more and more often like I was watching my body in the third person. “Me” is still me, and yet this body thing, it’s very peculiar; it’s malfunctioning. “Me” isn’t malfunctioning, but the body I drive around is. How odd. How strange.

It lingers a little. And I begin to realize other ways in which I have been rather indiscriminatory between “me” and just the things really close to “me.” I like to characterize myself as a bossy older sister, but as I come back home again and again, I find that “thing” to be slipping away. We’re all older. And I don’t want to boss. And half the time it seems like my younger siblings know better than I do, anyhow.

My stories are more grounded. I don’t mean I don’t still tell myself stories, but it’s getting harder and harder to find the romance in them. At one point in my life, I could make being a college student sound glamorous to myself. I’ve seen enough of school to make me puke, and I just can’t squeeze any glamor out of it. The less you know about things, the more softly you paint them, and in more gentle colors. Traveling half across the country is both easier than you think, and also, less adventuresome. Not because I did adventure, but because, what do you know, you have to respond to your car breaking down on a one way road up mountainside, with wildfires raging through the state, the exact same way that you, well, respond to a broken faucet. There is a good deal less romance than you might think, and even a good deal less adrenaline, and a good deal more of trying to figure out the next reasonable little step to take.

It makes life somehow a good deal more accessible and also a good deal more boring. Before you get out there and muddle around, you can pretend how interesting and exciting it must be. After you muddled for a bit, you realize that where ever you go, you still bring you. And that shapes your experiences about as much or more as your experiences shape you.

But going through a lot of stuff that you just have to grit your teeth and wade through, because that is what you have to do, because that is life, also leaves you with much more defined ideas of what you do and do not like. The imaginative brush has been hardened, and there’s less of a fantasizing about what you might liked to and how you suppose something would be marvelous. When the dreaminess starts to get stripped away, you’re left with more of a concrete list of Wants and DO NOT WANTS.

Yet the clearing away of the ambiguity starts to also unveil another problem: it’s harder to just take what comes, or to just “go along.” And then I begin to discover that things that I thought were “me” were really just things that were happening in close proximity around “me” and I was just “going along.” And if that’s not really “me” then where do I go now? What do I do now? There is less ambiguity about me, but more ambiguity about where I really belong in the world. Where’s my place?

And some of the frustration is realizing that I have been through a lot, and it has changed me, and I’m not quite sure how yet. I’m still unpacking, literally and figuratively. Part of it is realizing, rather suddenly, really, how the people I’ve been the closest to haven’t been on this journey. Hardly at all. Not only have a grown in ways that they haven’t come along with, but they have quite likely grown in other directions. Unbridgeable? No. But it doesn’t mean we fit together the way we have before, or that we ever will again. Sometimes this is good growth, but it doesn’t make it any less scary.

People ask me what comes next, and I’m kind of afraid to talk about what I hope does come next. Because I don’t want to “go along;” that’s a brutal kind of hard. What I want is something that would undoubtedly still be hard, but it would be “Me.” And that makes it better, even if it doesn’t make it easier. But you kind of get two choices: Go Along or Fight Against. And fighting against is hard. It’s hard to swim against the subtle and pervasive expectations of All The Reasonable People, in their various camps. But it’s also hard to choke out the parts of you that have survived the crucible, the things that are now known to be Me.

That might seem straight forward enough, but it’s not. Because woven and tangled into that is realization that some of the Wants are just tendrils of trying to escape the Don’t Wants, and those two are not in actuality the same thing. There is a certain aspect of wanting to live honestly, and in that sense I mean not trying to be something you’re not. But there’s also a certain aspect of, I don’t like This; what is Not This? It’s hard to sort out.

Life Takes Courage. Always.

Also, vulnerability, honesty, humility, compassion, discernment, integrity. And these things seem like cliché, because everyone says them, but unfortunately people mostly act like they would be “good” accessories to have. Not basic necessities needed for day to day survival. Yes, I did say survival. Without those things, we self-destruct. Where ever I go, whatever I do, it never seems like I have enough of those things.

And I leave that there as the ending, not because it’s an answer to the question. But it is a truth that co-exists with the uncertainty, and sometimes that is where you have to start.