Listening to yourself

I started this blog because often times I feel like I am still muddling my way through, well, more feminine issues. . .things that I don’t necessarily feel like a I can share with a wide or mixed audience.

I was really surprised by how badly I wanted in-put from my friend on my next round of work clothes, and the insecurity I felt — noticed, I’d guess it’s normally there — about my body and appearance.  Am I squeezing myself into too small of a size? Would this be a pretentious pair of shoes to wear to work? Are my arms too big for the rest of me? The picture taken from that angle makes me feel like I am a million pounds overweight. Am I trying too hard or not hard enough with my presentation of myself? Am I being honest, or attempting to present something I’m not?

(and, some of the flip. . .when I take the picture from this angle, dare I say I have a beautiful face? my hands look elegant and kind doing that. Maybe this dress is a good idea?)

I tell myself it’s just hormones, and while I’m sure there is a hormonal component, it also feels like there is something more than that. Why do we use “just” in front of hormones anyhow, as a way to dismiss what is going on? At the same time, it seems ludicrous to say, “no, this seems more momentous than hormones; there is something important going on.”

Still, I wanted this to be a year of listening. I did. I do. Part of listening is, you have to listen to all of the things. If you are already deciding what to listen to and what not to, you haven’t made listening the priority. I am not saying you don’t then make a discernment about what you have heard; I am saying if you decide — prior to listening/paying attention — what is worth listening or paying attention to, you’ve already missed the point of listening.

Only, I am finding, the listening and making up your mind about it go so close hand in hand that sometimes it is hard to tell where one ends and where the next starts. I think that’s why listening is so hard; you have to  be pretty vulnerable while you do it. Sometimes that means it seems harder to do that with anyone else around — hard enough to be that vulnerable even to yourself. Other times, it makes you really long for someone else, because you want someone to make you feel safe and understood while you try to figure things out.

I just spent an absurd amount of time looking at products I never knew existed to put in my hair and make me feel less bedraggled and hobo-like. And I want someone to say, “yes, that was important,” even though I can’t figure out why it was. I spend a lot of philosophical energy on how I’m not artificial and you just have to take me as I am, and yet I am being swept in a wave of wanting to be . . . more me. As though what I am actually isn’t what I’m meant to be.

It’s an odd feeling. Like when I feel so certain that the weight I am is NOT what I am meant to be; the guilt of being this weight is not a societal hand off but a strange sense of being in defiance of what I actually am. To say that seems both strange and awkward and somehow accurate. I need to lose weight, because that is actually who I am, and being who I am right now is sticking my fingers in my ears and trying to ignore who I am right now and also who I really am, underneath my going in a pigheaded different direction. It feels frustrating to say that, because I don’t really know what I mean by that or it’s implications: only that’s how I feel as best as I can hear it.

Looking at hair care products (or clothes or anything) that go right ahead and put “sexy” in the title doesn’t make me say, “yes, that is who I really am,” except kind of yes. It is a part of me that feels neglected. I am bogged down in bills, laundry and unpaid overtime, and there is so much of me that feels neglected, and yes, that is part of that. A part I am not quite sure what I mean by, what I mean by “is this dress a good idea?” It’s sassy and flirty and cuts a figure and I have no place to wear it while drowning in bills, laundry and unpaid overtime. Is getting the dress and putting in the closet sufficient? Is preparing for something that isn’t an act of faith or an act of delusion? And anyway, I really need to lose 5 more pounds for it to fit me better than a sausage casing.

It is a strange place to be, I think. Catching passing glimpses of maybe I could be stunning, but only stunning for what? Yes, you go right ahead and embrace stunning, and, and, and. . .don’t forget to sweep the stairs, and water the plants, and pay your taxes. Stay late doing paperwork no one reads.

There is a part of being yourself that feels awkward in that it is a denial of others. Throwing off (or gently prodding aside) the culture and expectations of others. With that comes an uncomfortable level of examinations. If I change the way I do my hair, everyone will notice and comment. At work. At home. I’ve hated observational scrutiny, from when I was 6 years old and losing teeth. Let me be invisible. Except also, let me be beautiful and unique, and kind of take your breath away in a subtle kind of way where you didn’t really expect it, but now that you look at me. . . This desire to be both seen and unseen is not one likely to be realized.

It is a thing that I think maybe is important, because it rises when I am full. When I am rested or at peace, I am more creative, more patient, more kind. . . and also more in desire of being aesthetically beautiful. When I begin to drown, creativity, patience, and certain amount of kindness go out the window. And so does my desire for aesthetic beauty, as survival quickly trumps any desire to present or attend to myself. It’s not like eating sugar that rises up as a monster as the stress swells inside of me. Nor is at grand plan that I plot for world dominion: it’s small things. Different socks. A different watch. A different way to twist my hair.

And then I stomp it all down because I am busy and struggling and who has time for that and dammit. Usually not that last one, but sometimes that is the only word I can find for how I am feeling. What do you want me to do, skip breakfast so I can do my hair before work?

It also makes me feel angry and frustrated, because logically, philosophically, it shouldn’t matter. It’s what’s inside the body that matters, right? Only we are still in bodies. And I’m not quite sure what that means. Only that even for all of the trying to ignore it, it still matters. It does. There is something here that is meant to be valued, by me. And that takes effort and defiance and hope. And sometimes hope is what I feel like I have the least of.

Nobody can do this for me except me, but in order for me to do this, something would have to be sacrificed. But what? And why is this important enough that “practical” things ought be sacrificed for it? And what’s the end goal, because I want to know what the point is.

Right now, all of that is beyond just listening.

 

 

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What we don’t know that we know

Sometimes people surprise the truth out of me.

One time was when, as I was struggling a mystery illness and frustrated by the lack of answers, one of my professors turned around and asked me, “But what do you think? What do you think is at the root of it all?”

I blurted out an answer I had never thought of, never considered, never reasoned — and to this day I still think it’s best explanation for what I went through.

It happened again the other day, I think. A friend asked me, if I quit my current job, what would I do?

Without hesitation, I was shocked to hear myself say, “A sabbatical.”

I’d never considered that, on purpose and deliberately. But as soon as I heard myself saying it, I knew it was the truth. I don’t have a baby to rise up inside of me, but my heart did. Yes. Please, yes. It’s been about a decade of working hard and being broken and I just want to rest and I’m over-due. Isn’t it supposed to be every seven years?

What, I wonder, do most people think of when they hear sabbatical? It seems most people I hear use the term sabbatical in a more modern concept always seem to travel during their sabbatical. I would guess they feel the need to escape the places and people that come with an undercurrent of responsibility. For me, I want to get away from mankind and closer to God, and the best way I have found to do that is to get closer to God’s creation. Truly, closer.

Lay on the ground. Sleep in the sun and the dew. Get wet and cold. Eat food from the ground. Singing with your own voice.

Does that not sound entirely comfortable? I am not sure that a sabbatical is supposed to be entirely comfortable — perhaps a vacation is. But a sabbatical, I think, is supposed to be life giving. And while sleeping on the clay ground doesn’t sound comfortable, you would be surprised to know how my breathing deepens and slows just thinking about it. God, and His creation, runs at an entirely different frequency and rhythm than the rest of the world, and my aching soul cries out for it.

I don’t want to tell people how seriously I think about quitting my job. It feels like a failure. It feels like not trying hard enough. It feels like saying, “you all go on ahead being adults; I quit.” But also, not thinking about quitting just feels like an exercise in delusion and denial. But if I quit, what next?

If I let go of the taut reins of “realistic” and “responsible” and “feasible” and “reasonable” and listen to thing I can best call my heart’s cry, rapidly I am thinking about buying a plot of completely undeveloped land, and living on it. Something like 5 to 10 acres that haven’t been used in long enough that it is mostly woods, with some clearings, and obviously there is a fickle stream. Preferable said land butts up close to state land. I want to save lots of money and NOT spend it all on the land, because that’s probably the money I’ll be living on a for a while, and besides, you have to save money to drill a well at some point probably, but for now my mind is already tracing rabbit trails of what containers would do well for hauling and storing water, what kind of cooler chests would keep wild animals out, the reality that I would probably still have to have a phone of some sort, and could I squeeze out three seasons if I built the equivalent of a wooden tent?

Around this part, I start rebuking myself for romanticized pipe dreams that everyone has, and no one lives, because hello, there are serious flaws with these types of things. But I wonder — why does everyone have them, if not because the life around is killing us from the inside out and we all know it?

It’s not like I think I would live out there forever. It could always be the sabbatical land. The largely undeveloped (I still think a well would have to happen at some point) fleeing-place, the land of refuge when this broken and ill world wears me (or others) down to the point that withdrawal must happen. I figure after a year or two, I would get it out of my system for a while and make another attempt at re-entry into society. Not that I would never leave the sabbatical land — how else would I take voice lessons, and pottery lessons, and learn how to swim, and mushrooming lessons, and unload pictures off my camera, and get more milk because how is a person supposed to live without milk, and see my family and friends, and get more books from the library, and more canvas to paint? Maybe, if reality intruded too much, I could even do some per diem work on the side, just to keep my cursed world skills and connections from rusting too much. But after that, after resting and restoring and learning and creating and Not Trying, maybe after that I could work a part time job and try again to find a rhythm and a balance that I could sustain. Where I didn’t cry my way home, didn’t wake up praying that this was a weekend not a weekday.

I’ve analyzed the problem from every angle I can imagine, and the root cause I come up with is: me. I’m too introverted to make this current course ever be successful. I can get about half-way through the week, and then I am peopled out and faking it, and by Friday I am gritting my teeth and hating it, and then on the weekend I want to just huddle and hide and not see anyone, because how else will I regroup enough to face Monday?

I tell myself if I can just make it to three years, I will have more options, more flexibility, more ways I can approach life. But if I push myself to three years, there will be no option left but to rest and leach out the miserableness. Some days, many days, I don’t even know if I can last that long, only then I go look at the prices of land and scare myself silly, and wonder what land is really worth, and if I’m crazy or if this is really the way the compass is pointing. Sometimes I think there’s no other possible way, and stopping my ears up to it is the greatest foolishness.

But the joy I feel at the idea of sabbatical is not without sadness: I thought I could do this, and I can’t. I wanted a family of my own, and I don’t have it. How meaningful can this time be, if the relationships won’t be lasting and I’m just trying to grit my teeth and save up money? There is a sense of loss, of mourning, of failure, of not being good enough, of (paradoxically) being rejected, of not being able to join with others, of not meeting standards. I want to run away and hide, but I know that act itself is so radical that it will push me so far from the socially accepted bounds of inclusion that few people will be able to relate to me.  I don’t want to be isolated; but I do want to be alive. I’m not sure that I have the courage and fortitude necessary to make the scandalous choices that bring me closer to being alive.

All I can think is that maybe this will flame out after the winter. Maybe things will be more clear after the spring comes. But deep inside, I do know I already spoke the truth, and I am just scared to act on it.

Defined by whom for what?

Enneagram.

So popular, so famous, so trendy, and, so far, the most complex and therefore accurate personality test I’ve stumbled over.

For me, the use of these are very limited and often result in little more than ego stroking or justification of one’s reactions to unpleasant stimuli. Somehow, I can’t resist taking them, always wondering how people see me, I guess, a preoccupation I’ve had for too long and still can’t let go of. Yet I rarely remember the results, because it doesn’t challenge my understanding of myself or how I should approach my life. Accordingly, I can’t really tell you if I consistently get the same results, even if I’ve taken the same test many times throughout the years.

Today I stumbled on my Enneagram results, because although of all the Types, Type 4 did not seem too off base, I resented what was described as their fundamental struggle — their basic fear or basic desire: That they have no identity. Worse than that, they basically said that the fact that Fours are swamped in too many shifting emotions is the root of what leads them to feel as though they have no stable identity.

I don’t want this to be true of me. But I think that it does ring true. This means that I have to grapple with it, the first time I think a personality test has actually done that for me.

I’ve long wondered whether  I was just a product of my environment, or if I were actually a stable entity of my own. I wish I felt like I had my own defined sense of style, my own home environment. In “real life” I am too busy keeping my head above the water, and those things don’t come together, but I always want them to. I have wanted to have a well defined role, except that I hate being defined as one thing, and I am much more complex than that. One of my biggest stumbling blocks is that it seems like there is no direction to my life, no arcing story line, no actual cohesion. In fiction, everything is so much more neat, or so it seems to me, since I don’t understand the context in which the Author is writing.

The thing is, I don’t think it’s healthy to spend your life looking for “an identity.” That’ s not what I think life is “supposed” to be about. Don’t judge yourself, they say. Accept yourself as you really are. The problem is, when all you see is fractured tiny pieces of nonsense, and no idea how any of the pieces go together, well, nothing is big enough to hold on to long enough to accept. That’s how it feels, anyhow.

Do I think that getting good at something would give me peace? No. Or a relationship, or a home, or defined sense of style? No, of course not. But do I envy the people who seem to have a strong arc, a strong sense of who they are, what they want, and the path that they are on? Yeah, I do. Well, would you like a different set of life problems? As we say in health care, would you like to die of cancer, dementia, or frailty and falls? No one ever said it was going to be pretty.

And I can’t escape the dogging feeling of needing permission to do what I need to do. What I most want permission for is permission to be weak. To stop trying to force myself to be responsible, dutiful, reasonable and hard working. To stop trying to go along with society’s expectations. And yet one of the things I most resent is when it seems like my identity is slipping into that of Invalid.

So what do I do? I read the blog of Christian woman with bi-polar disease, and I marvel at how much of it seems to apply to me. Not the symptom descriptions; the coping with life descriptions. The “actually, I can’t work full time, I am an artist, and it’s ok to go to bed early.”

It’s hard for me to say, “I can’t help you today, I don’t feel well.” But I don’t feel well. But couldmake myself do it? I mean, I could. I’m not dead yet. I have several people in my life who view not “making yourself” as laziness, as lack of commitment, as being weak, of having no discipline, not sticking to things.  So I want someone to say, you don’t look like you feel well. Because apparently I want someone to validate how I feel or otherwise it’s not the truth? But otherwise I’m fighting this guilt that I’m giving up too easily, have no will power or perseverance, no grit. This was not how the war was won.

I guess I am trying to shift my mindset to what I have experienced to be true, but it takes energy to fight all the voices (people, society, habits, previously held stances) that scorn that mindset. It’s hard to leave things behind.

But if my life is a novel. . .I’m beginning to suspect that I’m not the Heroine. Or that I have to learn how to write a different kind of Heroine. Because I’m not strong. I’m tired. I’m not the center of the story; I want to hide and to heal. I don’t make the world go round; I struggle to get through each normal boring day. I’m not leading anyone anywhere doing anything, although sometimes I remember to put tremendous effort into small actions to Not Be Part of the Problem.

“Not Quitting” is offered up as the gold standard; but maybe yeah, do quit? Not life. But maybe what life is described as. Where do we get this stuff from, and why do we believe it? I understand why some people want to take the path of minimalism and strip everything right down and see what still holds. So much garbage and so hard to see what is real hard truth buried in it all. We’re all dying, in that none of us live forever, but that’s not as clarifying as one would think it would be. Maybe, for some of us, quitting certain things takes more courage and bravery than Keep Going.

If none of this makes much sense to you, that’s ok. It’s the muddled meanderings of someone feeling feverish and sick, but not so feverish and sick that she can’t make herself go to work tomorrow. Not all introspection is either healthy or conclusive.

 

Scattershot

I have been frustrated the last couple of times by trying to work on coherent thoughts and losing concentration, time or energy about 2/3 every time. I don’t (at the present moment) feel like I actually have a coherent thought to get out, so maybe, hopefully, I won’t be disappointed 2/3 away through and pushing ‘publish’ with dissatisfaction and disgruntlement.

Relinquish. Receive. Beauty. Communion. Trust. Seek. Listen. Wonder. Witness. Confession

Previously, I had only one word for Sabbath, and that was ‘rest.’ I felt compelled by this being a concept God introduced along with creation, apart from the giving of the law, yet also distracted by “He is our rest,” and also, with frank honesty, a pile of to-do lists

Still, I’ve been fighting a building anger that I don’t have time to seek God. Even putting that into writing makes it obvious that “time” isn’t really the root issue. There are certainly things I don’t want to surrender that should be let go of — quite frivolous things, really, but all things standing by figure for the desire to be in control.

But there is also the problem that I have inescapably Grown Up. I passed the dread line of 30, I went and got a stupid doctorate degree. The starry-eyed time of dreaming about what life will be ‘when I grow up’ is quite passed, mostly, I think, replaced with the raw terror of running out of time. Realizing better now how incredibly fleeting time is comes the desire to ‘make something of it.’

Partly I think I swallowed accidentally while attempting to swim just a bit too much of the salty brine of school. The parts about having a defined plan, discrete goals, clear-cut deadlines, and then simply acting on them with puritanical industry. It was certainly pushed at me a lot, and looking around at that world, seemed to be the making of the sausage: audacity to declare the future, and then some dreadfully long hours to make it happen.

Looking at my life rapidly shrinking in front of me, I’ve felt a compulsion to define what I want and make it happen, like a properly educated individual (with very little actual living experience). But then infuriated by these attempts, because whatever else I do have, I have an ear I keep trying to tune closer and closer to truth, and none of the words I was telling myself had that tell-tale ring that guides you with the certainty of the North Star.

Do you believe that change can be forced by the outside in, or really only happens from the inside out? For me, this has not ever really be a question of doubt: absolutely, change only comes from the inside out. The outside in can throw up a veneer, it can pass to a quick glimpse, it can show an image. But to be the solid truth from bark to core, it has to be from in the inside out.

Somehow, though, I’d walked my way down a path of trying scheme appropriately to forge my outside circumstances thoroughly enough that my insides would transform (all the while give lip service to ‘of course, this must come first from the heart’). I hate how thoroughly we can deceive ourselves

That makes all of my to-do list a have-to, because I do have to — to obtain my objectives and my goals on my timeline by my strength. So rapidly I buy the lie it’s only responsible of me to do so. It’s an expensive lie, though; costly on so many different fronts.

Basically, what it comes down to, is the question of if life is taken or if it is received. If it is to be taken, there is no earthly rest to our labor at all. And if it is given, then the greatest attentiveness must be to the One Who Gives. It does you little good at all to be chasing after all these other voices while the One who is actually in fact handing you out your life is patiently trying to explain to you how this goes. As with that frustrated child on a party sugar-high who didn’t listen the first three times, and now is in serious melt down because of unforeseen circumstances, there is wailing that someone should have told them what was going on. No doubt the patient parent is holding their forehead and trying to hold their tongue

I read somewhere — or maybe heard? It maybe an Emily P. Freeman podcast — that the Sabbath is not taken; it is kept. All this weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth because there is no time to rest, only there is, only you keep giving it away for things less valuable. That was convicting for me, but not so much so that I didn’t keep trying to find better and better solutions for to-do’s and productivity and getting-these-monkeys-off-my-back.

With great grudgingness on my part, I felt goaded toward a book on “Sabbath keeping.”  I don’t know why other people always pull up children as examples of innocence and wonder. I remember being a child, and frustrated melt-downs and grudging obedience seem like much more apt embodiments of childhood. I don’t even care for the author and tone of the book (in deference to I suppose is the reason I don’t name them), but as far as I’ve read so far. . . well, more often than not, I find myself almost rolling my eyes. At myself. Because this does ring of the truth, truth I’ve already uncovered, already experienced, already known, already argued for — and somehow managed to deliberately and I suppose disobediently put aside.

Speaking of asides, I’m beginning to doubt if there is any value or applicable worth to practical techniques of surviving this life and turning oneself always back to God. Careful, I don’t mean those techniques or forms aren’t valuable, or that there isn’t any worth in trying to cope with this life and find God. I just mean, the more I look into it, the more it seems to me like these things are so individualized than to offer any assistance to anyone else. Their finders and keepers are have comfort and steadiness by them — joy to them! But it feels a bit like trying to wear someone else’s face. It only gets there by the life you live anyhow, and to pick up someone else’s and try it on. . . it’s strangely disconcerting, even though it’s a perfectly fine face.

I’ve tried several different iterations of counting blessings, or list makings as a way to journal, and I can keep it up (by effort!) for a few months, but never enough to make it life sustaining. Just a different type of chore. I suspect, should I ever find a rhythm that works for me, it will seem horribly odd and unlikely to others — just as how I sleep better in an un-made bed. I still keep leaning toward wanting to know what everyone else is doing (and so have a vague fascination with largely arbitrary ‘church calendars’), but I think it’s mostly because I’m trying to escape the work of figuring it out myself. I kind of want to take the easy way out and have the answer handed to me instead of doing the more honest work of seeking, which is where my only real answer will be.

What I do know is that I have a long list of things that I desire, that don’t seem to fit any of my carefully plotted goals. I just want them. And as soon as I issue the edict to myself to rest (which is a very hard fought war, even in the midst of sickness and ill health), I immediately revert to those things. When I declared today that I would rest, sabbath-style, today, and sacrifice my mouse-laid plans of accomplishment and needing — I had this little thrill that maybe now I could actually have time to read poetry.

That in itself was a little stunning.

I didn’t even think that was on my list of deeply wanted things.

I mean, I knew I wanted it, vaguely, in the back of my mind. It irritated my highly to recognize that some individuals get to spend vast swaths of their time — even, in many cases, earn their livings — deeply engrossed in “The Arts.” I want to be deeply engrossed in the arts! And I’m angry that I can’t find some way to square my industry and productivity and manufactured sense of responsibility with putting even half as much time as I want to into The Arts.

I’m not swanky. I’m not pretentious. I just want to.

Also, I’m angry that I can’t figure out a proper plan to allow me to.

But the Sabbath wasn’t just a time to rest. It was a time to look at all that God had done. If my artistic involvements are of God, I don’t need a 5 year, carefully delineated — in a bullet journal — with washi tape — plan of how I will get there. I need to sit down, shut up, listen to what God is saying, and receive what He is giving (up to and including  — wait for it — rest).

That looking to see what God has done, to me, is about beauty. It’s looking for and participating in the beauty, because the beauty is from Him. What are the beautiful (never mind if impractical) things to observe and do? Are those not good things for a sabbath?

Mostly, I’m in a dreadful hurry to write this down as a testimony to myself. A witness that at one point, I did too know better. That this is a thing that resounded with truth and should be held on to.

But also I am a little hesitant, wondering what a deliberate intent to look for God looks like for me. I did read a poem today, A Forest Hymn, and one line got stuck:

Ah, why  
Should we, in the world’s riper years, neglect  
God’s ancient sanctuaries, and adore  
Only among the crowd, and under roofs  
That our frail hands have raised?

 

Why did it get stuck? Because I’ve never felt I was adoring Him while among the crowds. Only ever in those ancient sanctuaries. The more people there were, the less I felt there was anything meaningful going on at all.

Curiously, to me, I have felt a little bit of that corporate worship — more so in the “higher” church services (if you can count things so). It’s curious to me, because I disagree resoundingly with so much of their theology. But I like their liturgy. I like the responsive readings and prayers. I like their more elemental music where we can actually hear our own hearts.

And in some fashion, I’m drawn to a liturgy for myself. I doubt the “church calendar” will give me any satisfaction. But I like the idea of a rhythm and framework to hide myself in, predictable but different, always there but speaking something different, that would give a home within the day. And I can’t imagine myself not giving in, again and again, into petty to-do lists and plans, if I don’t have a More Important framework to build around. If you don’t declare what is important, either someone else does for you, or you spend your time getting grey hairs chasing around minor stupid things that don’t matter in any real scheme of the universe.

Not passively observing. Actively declaring, and disciplining yourself to that confession, and by that I mean “not allowing the pressing importance of reading web-comics to de-rail all values and intentions.” Some things rightfully ought to hold more weight. I don’t mean we never get to unwind. But I do note, wryly, that if I can keep the electric siren away from me, I do seem to fall into prayer a good deal more often. Because I’m not so full on cotton candy and pork rinds that I can’t fit even one bite of pot roast in my mouth.

If life is a process of editing out the things that don’t actually give life and actively seeking the things that do, there are a good many changes that should be made, because there will be much (and immediate) rejoicing, is all. You feel better when you aren’t about to explode from eating junk food, even if it is ok to indulge once in a while.

What I do know was that when I was out of work for three weeks to do nothing but heal, I felt a good deal closer to God and instantly gravitated toward things that fostered that. But when I am busy, I keep doing all this crap that doesn’t help me at all and I feel very far from God — and by far from God, I mean it both ways. It’s so much harder to pray, and so much harder to have any sense that He is present.

It’s not a struggle of knowing the truth. It’s a struggle of pride, of vying for control, and of thinking too highly of my own priorities to put God in His rightful place.

Repentance does not come easily, but it is freeing.

o so tired

One of the things that makes me angry about work is that I feel like it demands to be my god. I don’t “get to” show up for work; I “have to” show up for work. I don’t get to decide what is important enough to do. I get told what I have to do. And the rest of my life? The rest of my life gets the “leftovers,” after work has made it’s demands and I am ragged and thin and unable to really apply myself.

 

This is where most people roll their eyes and make a cutting comment about how being a grown up is so hard and welcome to the real world.

 

I don’t glamorize the tiny house movement, because in all actually, living in tiny cramped spaces is fairly unpleasant. But the truth is, living for work is really unpleasant, too. It might be a bit dour to say that most life is about choosing which unpleasantness you want to live with. I want to be able to structure my life around the things that I matter most, and work generally equates itself to money in my mind, and money is so very, very low on my list.

 

You have to eat, people say. Bills got to get paid, they say. But as anyone who looks around with even remotely half an eye open, some people manage to do that a good deal more frugally than others. Would I take living on rice and beans to actually be able to prioritize my life in an authentic manner to what I truly believe? Yes. In a heartbeat.

 

I wish I could not be so angry about this. I wish I could be a hopeful dreamer, a persistent laborer with the goal fixed before me. Instead, it seems I find myself stealing myself to do something both drastic and defiant. I don’t care what you think, I don’t care what you say, I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care. Which only explains exactly how much one does care. Defiance usually is an expression of fear, and I will confess I am that.

 

I’m afraid of quitting a job I labored for countless years to get. I’m afraid of what would be next. I’m afraid there wouldn’t be money for bills. I’m afraid I’ll be found an idealistic fool, who was incapable of doing basic math. But also, I am terrified of this crushing feeling of being trapped, a growing case of claustrophobia; a situation where everyone simply resigns themselves to being victims of fate. I hate that: vicitimhood and fatalism combined in one toxic dose.

 

That does sound a bit like childish idealism, doesn’t it? I know. I worry about that. I am enough of a responsible big girl to know that nothing is free, and this world down here is not heaven, and it is all laced through with the burden of the curse. But I also loathe the hypocrisy of saying I value one thing and then lamenting that I can’t actually live in such a way as I claim to hold to “because I can’t.” That sounds like a cop-out, the coward who is not willing to make sacrifices for what they believe in — and if you aren’t willing to make sacrifices for it, do you really believe it?

 

I don’t think major life changes should be motivated by anger, fear and defiance. But stopping doing the responsible thing in the witness of the whole world takes a tremendous amount of courage. Especially when you are currently more defined by what you don’t want than what you do want.

 

I have been thinking about life as a process of editing. Somewhere along the line, I swallowed the thought that becoming an adult was about having things in your name. The more I have actually tangled with real life, the more I find that the “things” are actually mostly silly. The grandiosity of the things of this life can’t actually hide the reality that we brought nothing into this world and it is certain we cannot bring anything out of it. In our mindsets, I think it would be healthier to consider what needs to be brought along for the journey than settling down and stock piling.

 

There’s a little bit of terror to not having enough and to running out. There’s also a little bit of terror to not being in control and running out. And, I think, for some of us, there’s a terror in living a lie or lying to yourself. I have a growing determination that after three years at my current job, I’m quitting. It makes me happy to write that, even. But I’m scared to say it outloud, because I’m afraid my unhappiness with my current situation is deluding me into thinking that something irrational is rational, something foolish is wise, something entirely selfish is God-led.

 

I don’t care, I say. I’m quitting. But who am I saying “I don’t care,” to? My employers, my co-workers, to whom I can offer no real explanation except that, “this isn’t for me; I’m done.” My family members, who are already incredulous that I took on legal responsibility for untold thousands of dollars of debt for a job that would never make sufficient money to clear the debt. My own self, who cannot bear the idea of walking away without some kind of understanding of what I am walking toward.

 

Then there is the quiet and intimidating question of what is faith. Is faith laboring for years and incurring large loans just to walk away? Is faith stepping away without know what you are stepping toward? One year down, two years to go. I have time yet to figure this out, to move from faith instead of angry defiance. It scares me a little that I have so much joy in the idea of quitting and no hope at all in “making it worse.”

 

But I also cannot deny that every time I hear my brother talking about me being in the profession for 10 years, I silently affirm that will never happen, cannot happen, will utterly kill me if I do. It makes logical rational sense to him. I know it will not be. I know it.

 

It would make rational sense to quit working for formal employers, be control of my own destiny via self employment. But I’m not at all sure that is right, either. From everything I have heard from small business owners, the small business tends to consume them from the inside out. I don’t really see my clouded glimpses of the future as one who becomes a motivated, “successful” business owner. In part because I don’t see myself as being defined by any one thing. Will my profession still have some role in my life, in some shape or form or quantity? Probably. But the whole point is that I refuse to be defined by my profession, self-owned or otherwise.

 

What, then, do I see my future looking like? It’s undefined nature is a large part of what leaves me tossing and turning and fidgeting within the shell of my current life. I have struggle with my share of 3 and 5 year plans and found they don’t really hold water with me. I dislike the unknown, but I find there is little in planning like that besides self delusion. Sometimes, I still try to peer through the fog and see what comes at me, vague ideas of what should be, what is worth coming into being.

 

— I want to put time and energy into feeding and growing meaningful, lasting relationships.

— I want God to be the intentional center, not the squeezed in leftovers.

— I want to be able to be more fully in the present, more aware of the beauty and grace created in each passing moment.

— I want to read, I want to create, I want to sing, I want to maintain less objects with more care.

— I want to attend to my own personal rhythms, resting when I am sick, being still to listen, and working with a great fury and passion only some of the times.

— I want to learn.

— I want to stay away from ambition and work hard on compassion

— I want to cook more, to nourish in all of it’s meanings.

— I want less hustle — meaningless hustle — and more texture and depth

— I want to grow and move

— I want to be outside more, more in communion with the creative handiwork of God.

— I want to have less things, a more edited, curated life that knows what to hold on to and what to let go of.

— I want time to reflect and recharge.

— I don’t know how much of that can be had in this life.

Some people, apparently, get paid to write

Maybe I am a writer. Maybe I am supposed to be a writer. This is a strange thing to me, not part of what I thought was “me.”

One of the first things I read when I was sick was the journal by May Sarton that a patient had given me, Evelyn Klie. And I was intensely jealous. This woman actually made her living by writing? Like actually food and housing and heating and clothes? And then Emily P. Freeman talked about scheduling two days just two write and I was kind of in shock. It seemed like scheduling two days to eat ice cream. Wait – again, this is her job. She actually gets paid to do this. How can this be?

I realize that I have always thought writing was a thing I did just for me. Just me. Hence, the ice cream comparison. It seems – no, not frivolous. Self-indulgent? A luxury? I mean, certainly beneficial in small doses, but the idea that it could be considered a monetarily productive activity seems like foolishness to me. I get manufacturing. I get even health care, despite my recent frustration where I compare it to prostitution where we’ll only care for you if you have money. But I don’t understand being paid for art. I’ve never had the luxury of paying for art myself – creating it, even, is hard to convince myself to pay for the supplies. A spiral bound notebook can still be purchased for less than a dollar at the right time of year (return to school) and pens are handed out for free, and I can easily convince myself I’m not wasting much to fill them endlessly. But to be paid for my thoughts, words, ideas? Who has that kind of money?

But I guess people do. I guess technically it is a legitimate source of income. You would think that since I have several family members who have been paid for their words, published in actual print and in digital form, this wouldn’t come as such a shock to me.

But I always put my writing on par with my talking, and people tell me I talk so fast, and I feel like that devalues it – I talk and talk or write and write, and it’s just cheap. Stuff comes out, rarely planned, and probably not worth much. Who would pay for it?

The sneaky voice inside says, ah, but if you got to schedule two whole days just to write (!!), you could be deliberate. Intentional. Edit. Craft. Plan. You know, do it I on purpose, not just barf words out all over the place and see what came out. And do it well.

But it’s one thing to talk to yourself, and another thing to find an audience. The world is full of people talking to themselves. And there’s nothing wrong with that, and that by itself is a useful and valuable thing, and I do not in any way suggest that’s a waste. But there is an honest difference between writing to yourself and writing to your audience, and no matter what some well-intentioned people might have you to believe, your audience is never “everyone.” It just cannot be. So you have to do several things when you sit down to write:

  1. Figure out what you want to say.
  2. Figure out who you want to say it to.
  3. Figure out how to get what you are trying to say to the people who you are trying to say it to.

 

If you stop at the first number, you’re still really just talking to yourself. And that’s fine, but then you aren’t going to get paid to be a writer, or an artist of any sort, really. Note that I did not say you wouldn’t be an artist; I said you wouldn’t get paid to be one. And that’s the crux, is it not? Is this a thing you want to privately cultivate, or something to be monetized?

I cannot ever imagine myself getting paid to sing. Volunteer to sing in public, yes. I have done that already. You would be surprised how low that bar can be. I would love to be able to sing acapella and duets and to just sound lovely. But my innate music-ness is so low, that I cannot see myself being one of the fortunate few to be able to actually be paid to grace people with their presence. Non.

But writing? I circle around that like a carrion beast. But then fly off afraid of a larger predator. But then come back, because maybe not.

I know I can write. I don’t feel angry and disgruntled at the idea of doing for money the way I do when people suggest I sew or knit for money. Those things are valuable only in their sentiment, and no one, in the age of mass production, will pay what truly went into them, and it leaves me angry. That’s a home business I don’t want to touch with a ten foot pole.

Writing is different. The idea that someone actually read and appreciated the words seems like reward enough, and being paid for it on top of it an exciting bonus. And/or a mythological fairytale. But that means:

  1. Yes, you really do want to share writing, and not just talk to yourself. Also,
  2. Nope, you really would not mind being paid to do it.

 

I highly doubt I would ever be in the position to live, house, food, heating and clothes, off of income from writing or other art. But it does very much appeal to me how you can write when it is necessary to write, but the fruit of it comes later. That would at first glance seem to be a dissuasion, at least to most reasonable people, but I truly loathe the grind of having to show up a precise number of hours at precise times, the same every week, in order to get any money. Maybe the body and soul of some people does in fact work that way, but mine seems to follow more the varying cycles found in most of nature. Some days are rainy. Some are sunny. Some days the wind blows with gale force; some days the humidity stifles. To be most alive, I feel as though I need to honor the rising and falling, the stilling and swelling of my body and soul, and grinding through the unrelenting factory of the modern industrial age (including industrialized health care!! As though caring for human beings made in the image of God was simply piece work to by cranked out by the hour!), saps the strength out of me daily.

I know that there are days with writing where it is very hard, where picking the dirt out of your toenails seems like an impending distraction compared to trying to actually place words where they belong. That, to me, is the comfort of the fruit coming later, or the comfort I imagine, seeing as I’ve never had the privilege of being paid for my letters. Though today is hard, the past struggles are still paying off and tiding you over until the next labor is over.

But perhaps I do over-romanticize. I hear a good deal of writers complain about deadlines. Always deadlines! Always missing them! And all I can think is, and what of my over 7 years of college? What of being kept to a clock with another person sitting for you out in the waiting room, endlessly? It’s hard for me to take the complaint of deadlines seriously. Raging self- doubt? That’s my constant companion already. When you cannot take any of the complaints of a profession seriously, I would suspect it is a good sign your glasses are at least a bit rosy.

I still marvel that anyone can actually do that. Get paid to be an artist, enough to make a living. Or even half a living. I see that I am over-using the word ‘actually’, but I am truly having trouble grasping it. It’s never been a thing that I have been able to consider to be a real enough possibility to ‘actually’ reflect upon it.

Of the three things I defined above, I feel like the largest obstacle for me is attempting to grasp the audience I am trying to reach. I think the first and third things would still require a lot of work and effort, but I feel like I know how one would go about doing things like that, or places to start, or rocks to look under, or strings to untie. But I keep getting stuck on: who would actually want to hear what I have to say about anything? Fiction, nonfiction, spiritual, non-spiritual – I have a lot to say, sure. But who would want to hear it?

People say trite things about having family and friends read things, but I can tell you already, whatever I write, my family is most definitely not my target audience, and I know my friends well enough I would write them each something different. Writing to strangers is, well, strange. I don’t know them or what they need. Then you kind of wind up defining your audience by what you want to write, and that feels like a bit of an eyeroll. And not particularly honest, because if you don’t have an audience, you don’t have a payroll. But then there’s the trouble of finding the line between finding enough of an audience to get paid and being a complete commercial sell-out and no longer actually getting paid to be an artist.

This whole post seems stupid, but on the other hand, thinking about being a writer does seem to be a necessary first step to becoming one, although one has to be careful not to get bogged down there. The majority of writing advice seems to come down to: write.

 

Hold Up

Today has been a winter wonderland of a day, which has both made me guilty for not stepping outside and also has quieted me and made me pensive. It is not always easy to be still — often not — but thickly falling snowflakes have a way of settling a soul.

I remind myself that frantic activity is often used as a way of hiding from thoughts and feelings and struggles that one does not want to face, or have the resources to face. As a generalization, being relentlessly busy is a means for a troubled soul to flee or else it is a burden that will very shortly cause a soul to be troubled. Or perhaps both, because life is never simple.

I picked a book up the other day, an expose of sorts of Laura Ingalls Wilder — her life and her writing career, and her fairly insane daughter. I’ve known since I was a child that her writing was “fictionalized” — cleaned up, edited down, showing the things she wanted to show, not the things she didn’t want to show. But every time a book purporting to tell the actual truth comes along, I find myself holding my breath about a few things that I am surprised to discover I am urgently hoping to be true. I feel like I can’t breathe until I confirm (once again) that yes, that part was real. One of those things is Almanzo and Cap riding off into the great unknown in a desperate attempt to save the town. That has to be real. It just has to be real — and yes, it is real.

In stark contrast, I was flipping through someone I barely known on Instagram. He is either an adrenaline junkie or at the very least, wants to fictionalize his own life to portray himself as one. Because there is a difference between recklessness and courage. There is a difference between risking one’s life for the thrill of it and risking one’s life for the sake of preserving others. To my sadness, it seems that both have been romanticized to the point that one has to do a lot of digging through societal cultures and traditions to figure out what is really going on. Risking one’s life for the trill of it has been lauded to the point I can’t tell whether this fellow really feels the way he says he does, or if he is just very nicely parroting the cliche that he’s been told is glamorous– and really is about as destructive as a drug habit. And risking one’s life for the sake of preserving others has been so romanticized that there’s a terrible secret fear it isn’t really true — just the stuff of fantasy and legends, and “heroes” that have been celebrated at the cost of fictionalizing the darkness they have really been through.

As I’m coerced into a bit of quiet and stillness and a chance at some reflection, I remember Paul encouraging people to take note of those who live admirably and to imitate them. That passage always struck me as odd, because are we not just to imitate Christ? Sometimes I think I get a glimpse of an understanding, though. We are by nature comparers and contrasters, measuring, weighing, judging, describing, naming. And even, yes, mimicers. And, if I am right (which well I not might be), the young man who has embraced the Red Bull culture of “adventure” has not so very much done it on purpose as much as what he saw, he mimiced. It appealed to some part of him, even if it was the part of him probing for a way to escape or turn away from something else.

The harder thing is seeing that which we admire — young men riding in to possible death in a gamble there was hope out there somewhere, the courage to take the risk to care for the vulnerable — and observing how very much we fall short. Examining where we’ve turned from that which we know to be good and true, and setting our face to press toward that which is hard, but valuable. It requires a good deal of humility to face up to the fact that it is not excusable to flee from hard things, as though it would be inhuman to actually do such things.

Being busy is far different than producing value. Being reckless is far different from sacrifice. Imitating others is different than imitating what is good. Holding standards is different that pursuing excellence. Both can break you. I guess in some ways, the question comes down to, is it really Worth It?

To determine Worth It, one must return to what is the authority of their life. Power? Logic? Pleasure? For those of us who claim to seek follow Christ, the answer must be God. But that is a humbling, humbling thing. It is one thing to mouth “You are my king” and “I surrender.” It is another to examine your life and recognize all the ways and all the places where you don’t get to decide if something is Worth It or A Priority. That instead you have to accept what God says is Worth It or A Priority or when you are done, or not done, or when you rest or when you don’t get to rest.

The thing about God is, it seems like He’s modus operandi is to be unpredictable. And as human beings, we don’t really seem to like unpredictable. Unpredictable means we aren’t in control. Unpredictable means we are small. I was reading in John and Jesus is doing these wonderful things — an abundant catch for struggling fishermen, a beautiful healing of a person who had been paralyzed — and the reaction is fear, resentment, and in many cases an irrational pushing away. Because the only other reaction is “You are a holy and I am sinful.” And that is hard.

When God says “follow Me,” He is also saying, “stop following all of those other things.” The chapter I was reading in John seemed to be saying a lot of, “oh my goodness, you people have such a pre-occupation with the things of this world. Don’t you realize how terribly fleeting is? Don’t you realize what an occupation you need to have with the things that come after, the things that are not passing away?”

As we come to the end of a year and the beginning of another — an arbitrary marking, but still, a human marking nonetheless — the urge to introspect on what comes next can be nearly irresistible. Oddly enough, the examination of the previous year is usually squirmingly avoided. It reveals all that is small in us, all that is out of our control, all that we thought we had the power to achieve yet could not, all that we didn’t see coming, all that we have no authority to change.  When we think we’ll plan what our priorities will be in the coming year, what we will accomplish, what life will look like in 1 or 3 or 5 years, we are essentially trying exert control. . .on that of which we cannot control. It feels good, because power feels good. But it feels bad, because we know it’s a lie.

Almanzo assuredly did not write in his New Years Resolutions: risk life to save town. The Insta-chap may well write: hike all the highest mountains in this state. You might say they are both admirable, but when we stop to think how we’d like to be remembered or what might survive past the end of the age, it’s the action that could not be planned that leaves us most humble, most convicted that we are not the humans we ought to be.

I did not plan on being sick from September through December, rotating through viruses like a child choosing toys. It ruined lots of my plans, and my human inclination is to assert I won’t be sick any longer, and my plans will work. I confess to being very angry and resentful that so much of my last few years has been confined and crunched to being sick, and yet, still, I assert: this year I will not be sick. I will do things. I will transform my life.

Yet when I look around at the people or traits I admire, it’s the people who have lived small, held loosely, and understood the holiness of the ground that they were on without striving for “better.” I want to seize control, but what I admire is actually obedience.

I don’t want being sick; I want being healthy and marvelously in control of my own body. I don’t want sitting quietly and healing; I want to tackle my to-do list and achieve my goals. I don’t want feeling lost and adrift; I want moving with a purpose and a plan that gives me joy and a spring in my step.

Yet here I am, admiring those who can bear the adversity of this life without complaining incessantly (like I do), who can accept the changes of the reality of their life without fighting (like I do), who can see the mercifully hand of good even as their dreams are crushed or are quietly withering.

God doesn’t care. That sounds harsh, but I think sometimes we do need our breath taken away and to actually look at the naked truth. We’re the ones with the pre-occupation with this world, not Him. He’s busy trying to call us out of it, and we’re busy trying to crawl into it. The things that we think matter, don’t. Our priorities are wildly askew. The change of focus from ourselves on to God is a thing easy to give mouth-space to, easy to commend to others, and a slippery intangible task for ourselves, full of backsliding and doubts and being tossed by every light breeze.

If I seem to have stumbled here and there and back and forth all about through this post, I suppose I have a bit. My drunken weaving is not because there is nothing of importance to be said, but because I know there are no simple 12 steps to figuring life out, to seeking God, or to assure that next year will be better, or I will be better. I don’t expect that I can resolve to live the coming year full of courage and humility.  There is the sobriety of recognizing that seeking God means deliberately turning from or choosing not to do a vast array of things (including many things that are good). But there is little simplicity in it; we want the one simple rule, the law to live by. Instead there is the continual seeking of Him who will never be totally found in this life time. Day by day, moment by moment faithfulness does not well chart and graph out over a serious of lists and plans and years. Very little in the way of profound words will actually make it easier to lay your head down, easier to pick your body up out of bed the next day.

If I have said anything at all, I suppose I have really just offered the reminder that this life takes humility, demands sacrifice and calls us to stillness that we often irrationally resent. And as we recognize other people fighting against God’s goodness, holiness and power, we would do well to ask ourselves what is we’re afraid of and why.

I Cry Out

December 2008. Almost a full decade ago. Sure, let’s go for a whole decade. 2007. From then, till now. The things that have happened, the things that have changed, the things that haven’t. 22 through 32.

I was still being a “full-time sister.” My youngest sibling was 5. I organized the berry picking trips, made all the bread and pickles, ran the vegetable garden in all it’s sad un-glory, cut the hair of 9 brothers, helped care for my aging grandparents, taught myself pattern drafting for sewing, handquilted and learned to knit socks, cleaned house for a neighbor, and basically, was slowly losing my mind. This made sense when I was 16 and my mom was in the hospital for a month on strict bedrest, and I tried to keep the small but very full household running. . .but it had been making less and less sense with every passing day. 5 year olds don’t need their diapers changed. 7 year olds don’t need help dressing. 9 year olds don’t need to be watched to keep them from running out into the road. I knew this had to end, something had to change, but I didn’t know what, didn’t know how, and no idea how to start.

Guys, I just wanted life to make sense. I just wanted it to be meaningful. I just wanted to know that I was where I was supposed to be, doing what I was supposed to be doing.

 

3 jobs

3 degrees

7 clinical rotations

6 moves (2 of which were cross-country), plus about 10 weeks of being essentially homeless, sleeping on couches and never being quite sure where I was spending the night next week.

20 lbs on, off, on, off and on again

3 close compatriots married off, plus a sibling

3 grandparents died

1 life-threatening illness that no one can satisfactorily explain

3 friends divorced in one year, and one more almost did that year, too

1 aunt and 2 family friends died

A family acquaintance accused of murder now living on bail in my family’s house

A tornado through my aunt and uncles property

My brother and his wife having multiple miscarriages. Also, a friend miscarrying

Also, my brother and his wife in their third trimester, and more friend babies than I can count

2 cars

2 car accident plus breaking down in the middle of South Carolina mountains full of wild fires

Cooking for 14 to cooking for 1

never having my own room and never having a space to think and yet being alone to being two days of long travel away from anyone who even knew my name, and being alone and then back again to no space at all.

being white knuckled with stress and terror just driving to my grandparents to driving across the country and staying in a random stranger’s house

the majority of my fertile years

friendships tentatively forged, now distanced by miles; friendship that used to be close now waning even as the space between contracts once again.

 

. . . and back to living with most of my family. A different house. My youngest sibling is 15 now. My commute is 40 minutes. I don’t know how to take care of my body or what I can eat. I feel lost, like a fractured dream, where everything feels both real and wrong. Some things feel so familiar, yet so disconnected. Superficial and fake, but with a hidden meaning somewhere. I feel almost more disassociated from my body than I ever have before.

You guys, I’m tired. And confused. And somehow no closer to find that elusive thing called meaning. I feel like an indentured servant, perpetually. Almost all of my somedays have never happened, and so much time has passed by that I struggle to hold on to any hope that my somedays will ever happen. Somewhere in the middle of all this, I thought I just had to survive, get through to the other side, and then everything would sort itself out and make sense. Only now I’ve gotten through to the other side, hung on and survived, and nothing makes any more sense. And in some ways, I feel like I’m running out of the hanging on, the trust that somehow things will coalesce and make sense. Slogging through only works when you see the end in sight, and I can’t imagine any end anymore.

And I don’t even know who or how to talk about the things that burden me any more, I don’t even know how to talk to myself. Yesterday, as I flushed, I thought, “well, there goes one more uterine lining down the drain. I wish I could be the one to decide whether I wanted to keep it or get rid of it.” And then I stood there in the bathroom running through name after name and trying to decide if there was anyone on earth I could actually say that to. (In the end, I just had a quiet internal conversation about how we talk about how important it is to preserve a person’s choice – their autonomy – and yet there are so many things, like age, that feel like a loss of autonomy because you have no choice – that is, you are mortal, and low in power.)

I’m so frustrated to have gone through so many years, so many things, and still be struggling with so much of the very same things. Other times I suppose that probably one of the consequences of staying so busy you forget how to breathe is that you never really deal with all the deep-down struggles, and so they just resurface uglier than ever whenever you do happen to manage to come up through the water. And I’m somehow saddened that now, unbidden — this never happened before, ever — I find myself considering over and over how maybe one of the main points of this life is just to get us so wearied of it all that we are looking forward to leaving the tabernacle for the permanent dwelling. That it’s like my mom, complaining that the third trimester is there to make you look forward to labor, and just being done. That maybe this life isn’t about finding joy and rejuvenation, it’s just about pouring yourself out until there literally is nothing more to pour and the drink offering is found to be an acceptable sacrifice.

I don’t know any more how to ask for the things that I’ve asked and asked and asked for, and never heard an answer.  And I feel like I’m just getting better at slapping a smile on my face and not sharing what’s inside, or just withdrawing moodily. Because what can anyone offer? Humiliating pity or a belittling assurance? We all know that there isn’t really any answer. That’s why “questioning the meaning of life” is such a cliche. It’s something everyone struggles with, no one really has the answer for, and all of us are at least a little tiny bit afraid of.

Maybe we should be more quick to share the tears that brim and roll, and less inclined to lock away and hide. Maybe there is a fellowship in sorrow as much or more than in joy. But in the moment, when you’ve had more than you can bear, it’s too much to try to also manage the response of others, whatever they may be. When one more breath is an effort, so is one more thought, one more sound, one more word, one more expression, one more silence. So the grieving is silent, but no less powerful.

o, my life! what are you? not what i expected. not what i hoped. not what i thought. not what i meant. but what i was given. and that is something, even if it is not any of those other things. . . something to be respected, something to be treasured, something to be held. but still. . . a burden at times a heavy one pressing down hard. the third trimester, the drink offering, the prayer in the garden, the bitter gall that gives you the strength to call out, “my god, my god. . .”

 

 

 

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.

 

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.