Thursday, October 23, 2014

So I Met Myself Today

And it was a lot less existential than it sounds.
See, I've been helping with the Wednesday Night Kids Thing at the Little Church (Okay, so I won't be anymore, but that's a horse of a different color, and a story I'll tell once I find out if it's worth telling). But anyway, there's this precious little girl, who's about five, and I swear to you, guys, she *is* me. Back when me was not such a fun thing to be.
The Kids Thing is one of those rewards-centric, memorize-your-verses-and-win-prizes sort of things, just like my Sunday school class when I was only a little bit older than the kid in question tonight. And those things make monsters out of perfectionists like yours truly. No, really. I was a terror, mostly to myself, but to others too. See, we're good at that kind of thing, this little kid and I. But then you get used to being the best. And then you get stuck feeling like you have to be the best. And then you beat yourself up whenever you're not the very best, and you feel like the world is going to end.
All that to say. I came in to closing tonight, leading my class of girls who are rather older than the little girl in question, and discovered this little girl sprawled out and sobbing silently. As quietly as I could, because by now the lesson had started and everyone was quiet, I knelt in front of her and got her to choke out what was the matter.
          "I didn't even get to finish one verse tonight," she said quietly.
And it was all in this moment when it dawned on me. This kid is me, you guys. Me back in the day, sure, but those demons still torment me today. The ones that try and convince me that my best isn't good enough, that my value comes from my ability to be perfect, that I'm never going to measure up.
So I tried to give her a pep talk. Remind her that it was all for fun, that it doesn't matter so much, that she did her best, that next week would be better. I convinced her to sit up and listen to the teacher and moved into the seat next to her. And subsequently watched her get more and more upset as her one little hand, in a classroom of thirty-three others that were bigger and louder, kept getting passed over to answer questions. And the one time she got called on, her answer simply wasn't what the teacher was looking for. Neither of these things are an injunction against the teacher - on any other day, the little girl wouldn't have been bothered. But tonight, with her tiny fledgling ego already bruised, it was the end of the world. Her normal avenue for finding value and worth had left her high and dry, and she felt small, invalid, and unimportant. By the time the lesson ended and all the other kids were dismissed, she was sobbing again, slumped over in my arms.
And I held this fragile little thing as she cried and I hated all over again all the voices in her head and in mine whispering that if we're not perfect, we're not worth it.
Another of her leaders came over, and started to giving her the single worst pep talk in the history of girlkind. Some line about how she's so pretty and smart and brilliant, and some day she'll meet a boy who thinks "This girl's so pretty, and smart, and she loves Jesus to boot," and he'll ask her out for ice cream, and wouldn't that be fun?
And I know the man meant well, but I wanted to smack him. Because that's exactly the problem, and there's not a snowball's chance that that's going to help her feel any better. Because she's already putting enough pressure on herself, already finding value in all the wrong places - and telling her that all her hard work is going to pay off when she meets some nice boy who appreciates it? I'm sorry, but that's crap.
So I interrupted him. And I told her exactly what I need to hear (and still, so often, have a time-and-a-half believing) whenever I'm feeling worthless. I told her, over and over again, that the Very Most Important Thing is that God loves her - no matter what. And that she doesn't have to be good enough for God's love, and that God doesn't stop loving her if she gets questions wrong or doesn't get to say her Bible verses. That God loves her even when she's not perfect, and even when she messes up, and that she's so, so, so special, even when she has a bad night at Bible study. And I asked her if she knew that, and she nodded. And I asked her if she believed it, and she nodded again. And I hope, I pray, that this little girl heard my words. Eventually her tiny little shoulders stopped shaking, and I brushed away the hair that was stuck to her tears, and I pulled her away to where I could see her face. And I looked her in the eye, and I said in a no-nonsense kind of voice, "You're gonna be okay."
She got a giggle out, and ran to join her friends. Probably, by now, she's totally forgotten about it; but it's four hours later and I still can't get it out of my head. There's a piece of me that wishes I was going to get to watch this kid grow up so that I can keep trying to help dismantle the demons in her head before she gets too old to get rid of them. But since I might never see her again, I just have to pray that what I said tonight stuck, and that God will send wise friends her way who won't let her beat herself up over stuff, who will remind her to hand her imperfections to God and trust him to love her no matter what. And if I'm ever a mom, and if my little girls (or boys) are anything like this little girl, anything like me (which there's a pretty fair chance of), I'm gonna tell them the same thing. God loves you even when you're not perfect.
Remember that, will you?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Open Letter to Some People I Care About

Okay. Here's the thing.
Can we talk about Jesus?
Because I'm soul-hungry and soul-thirsty.
And what you're handing me is sawdust, and it leaves me gasping and choking and inside-out-starving.
I'm soul-sick and soul-weary.
And this is not medicine or rest. It's like treating my bleeding places with a sleeping pill and my cancer with a band-aid. It's poking me with a stick and telling me to run faster when what I need is to sit and rest my aching feet. (And doesn't Jesus say "Come to me, all who are weary..."?)
Here's what I need.
I need you to break it down for me. Give it to me real simple, no matter how much I should be able to handle. I know I have teeth and I should be able to chew this, but I really. just. can't.
Because this Elder Sister has a prodigal heart, and I need the wake-up call of radical grace more than I need air. Stop my arguings and ask me questions too small, too simple, to astronomically huge for my intellect to get in the way of my heart answering you.
I'm hungry for gospel, yes, still; Still, after all these years, I need you to tell me the story about the Son of the God who made the stars gave his life so I could live. Tell me again that all that rests on me is to believe it, to accept it, and to walk forward in the knowing of it.
I keep needing to hear this. Over and over again. I never get away from needing to be reminded that I am a sinner saved by grace.
When the weight of your doctrinal debates and your systematized theologies and your theoretical discussions is to much for me, can you reach out a hand to help me up? Can we break it down and take it slow and get back to the things that matter on an eternity-shaping level? Can we, just for a little while, focus on the things I know we agree about?
Not all the time, I promise. I like the deep stuff, most of the time. I enjoy the debate, the up-in-arms that goes away as soon as we step outside of the classroom. I look forward to the stimulating conversation, and I feel like I've accomplished something all day when I get a word in edgewise. And hearing you all disagree about things I've always taken for granted gives me new chances to wrestle with what I believe. In the end, my beliefs are so much stronger for it, and I'm grateful for that. I understand why this is good, and healthy, and fun. But I can't do it all the time. I need the great-big-little-ness of eternal constants and incontrovertible truth. I need for us to talk about Jesus.
And here's my thing, friend. I know my stuff well enough to know that I am not the only one. I used to feel that way. I used to think that it was just me. I used to feel bad about it. But I've learned since then it's the hang-up of many, many, many of us who've grown up within the four walls of an American church struggle with on a much-more-than-daily basis. You, my friend, I know, need to hear this too. Because a soul that gets complacent on knowing stuff and talking about stuff doesn't con-cen-trate (because it's con-cen-tric that's the operative word - we are, by nature, cyclical beings) on the Really Important Stuff anything like often enough to live like a soul that's seeped in Jesus is capable of living. It doesn't get Kingdom-Work done like a soul that's never gotten over the wordless, moment-by-moment gratitude inspired by unfathomable grace. Believe me. I've tried.
I don't know how to treat my faith like an intellectual exercise. I don't know how to spit out John 3:16 (which, I've always been taught, is the hinge-verse of the faith that is the deciding factor of my entire existence) like it's something stuck between my teeth, like I'm back in fifth grade and saying times-tables. Maybe it's the way I was raised, maybe it's my emotionalist, sensational background, maybe it's part of the joys of being raised Baptist in the dirty South (I never thought anything would make me miss Baptists so bad). Maybe it's not you, it's me. But I know that I know that I know that there's more to this faith we're walking in than being able to coolly, as though you were commenting on the weather, toss around phrases like God and sin and grace and love and Jesus.
Seriously, guys, this is base-code-of-the-universe stuff, and I don't know how to talk about it without my chest hurting and my eyes smarting. Can that fire still reach you? Can you feel the heat of that in your chest? When was the last time you let something pierced your soul?
Because I'm pretty sure that tender-heartedness (that sense of cut-me-and-I'll-bleed) is what makes it all work. I'm pretty sure that compassion and humility (I'm slowly learning that humility is what keeps the world spinning on its axis) and desire-to-witness and everything else that is supposed to be a part of what living for Jesus looks like, all springs from tender-heartedness, which springs, ultimately, from gratitude. From being able to feel the sinner-saved-by-grace miracle taking place underneath your skin as fresh as the day you first prayed that sinner's prayer (or whatever it is you did, on the off-chance that's just a Baptist thing).
And this is the thing I'm worst at.
So I need to be reminded.
So can we talk about Jesus?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

On Leadership Potential, Stubbornness, Mutual Exclusivity, and Busy Schedules OR You Want Me To Do What?

I'm, erm, kind of, maybe, eventually, being promoted. At work. That is, I'm on my way to being promoted. This means lots of things. It means better money, which is good. It means more hours, which is good and terrifying (for reasons I'll explain in a moment). It means more responsibility, which is just terrifying. It means I'm not actually terrible at my job, they aren't just keeping me around because they can't find an excuse to fire me (which is a relief, actually, 'cause I personally feel like a screw-up so often that I wasn't sure). I'm not sure I want it, but I've accepted it anyway. The most deeply terrifying thing is that I'm younger, in age and seniority, than everyone I'm being promoted ahead of, which could be......intresting. Bad-interesting.
More hours is terrifying because I'm...busy. I'm taking nine credit-hours this summer, six of which are in the first six weeks. As Daddy put it, sleep is for the weak. I'll be okay. But crazy classes and more hours at work is scary. Very scary.
It's been a long time since I sat with my friends and had good long talks and laughed and caught up on the gossip from the Little Mission. I ran into a handful at Starbucks after I got off work last Wednesday, but I didn't have time to stay long. And, the last time I did, sit with a friend, a very, very dear friend, for a long time, we had a scary conversation. She...doesn't think I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing. She thinks I'm supposed to, at least partly, come back. Whether that's not yet or no altogether, I don't know yet. But no. She thinks I'm wasting gifts and not living a fulfilling life and not serving God like I need to be. All true? Maybe. But I've got this insurmountable feeling that I'm just not ready yet, which is something this friend doesn't know and probably wouldn't get. After everything that happened at the Little Mission, and everything that's happened there since I left, I just...God and me have been going through a kind of a rough patch. It was the most emotionally, spiritually draining time of my life, and I've mostly just been trying to figure out which way's the ground and which way's the sky and who I am without the Mission and my work. And all the lines blur and the margins shrink and my Faith and my relationship with the God who made the stars gets kind of mixed and muddled in my head with everything else, with my fears and my dreams and my desires my politics and my nostalgia and my social anxiety and my regrets and it gets hard to keep my eyes on Jesus. But maybe not doing God-work because I don't feel ready is the biggest sin of all and maybe I know that already.
Which brings me to: the New Church, desperately, needs help in their children's ministry. Also, it's on the same side of town that I used to work on with the Little Mission. Ergo, if I got involved, I'd probably see some very familiar faces. I might get to see my babies again. And I could jump in with both feet, and I know God would catch me, and I could get to do something I love and be serving again and be useful again and maybe. But, hours at work. But, hours of school. But, here I am in a bind I never thought I would be - what if I can't make the time? But what if I did, and it means I finally feel like I belong here, at the New Church.
Also, what if ministry isn't about me? (This is, actually, something I already know. I promise. The practice...gets a little sticky.)
And, in the mix with all of this, Mum made a new friend. Who lives in our neighborhood. Who has a daughter. Who's a few years younger than me. This girl knows about me (technically, I think, has my phone number, although I haven't heard from her yet). This girl needs a friend. Mum wants me to reach out to her. I need a friend. I'd like to reach out to her.
(For the flaws in this situation, see point a) busy at work, point b) busy with school, point c) currently unqualified to be of any good to anybody, and point d) [maybe] busy at church, and also the fact that I'm rubbish at making friends with people my own age and am grossly out of practice at mentor-ish-ing.)

Open Letter to Every Kid I Met Last Year

First off, I miss you. Like fire. All the time. Always.
Secondly, I'm still kind of scared I did the wrong thing by leaving you guys. (Even though I know that I know that I know that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing right now).
Thirdly, I pray for you, although maybe not as much as I should. I pray that you're happy and healthy and safe and loved and staying out of trouble and getting to know God better and growing in him and that there's somebody in your life telling you more and more and more about how much Jesus loves you.
If there isn't right now? I just hope you remember. Remember everything you learned when we were together.
And if you don't remember that, remember that you had a friend who loved you, who told you about a Friend who Loves you so, so, so, so much more.
Jesus loves you.
I love you.
I miss you.
I'm sorry.

College and Career OR Well This Was Unexpected

Just under two years ago, I posted this. It was the summer after my senior year of high school, just a month and a half before we moved away from our little county and moved in with my grandparents, about six months before I moved away from home all together to come work at the Little Mission. Feels like much, much longer. In that post, I talked about my experiences with visiting my home church's young adult group. It didn't go so well.
Over the course of the last few weeks, we've, kind of, found a new church. Number fourteen for the 'rents and the sibs, though I'm not quite certain how many of those I've accompanied them to. It's a little Community Church, and the people are kind and real and the worship is good and it's starting to feel like home. Kind of. They, erm, they have a College and Career ministry. I've been going to Sunday School. So far the work schedule has prevented me from doing anything else, but anyway. I kind it. Kind of. There's all these people who are older than me, lots of recent college graduates, lots of looking-for-internships, applying-for-jobs. I'm one of four-ish girls, in a class with, well, a lot of guys. Who talk. A lot. Group discussion is kind of male-dominated, and partially consists of me and this other girl giving each other looks across the circle. But it's good. And fun. I'm still kind of learning the lingo, trying to keep up with names. They've all known each other for a crazy-long time, and that can make one feel, kind of, small. And it's hard to start to feel like a part of a group you only see once a week, which would be different if I could pull off being there at any other time, but so far, nada.
Being with people my own age is one of the things I'm worst at. In youth group, it was the Me-and-Joy show, so everything was easy. Then at the Little Mission, being my typical shy, socially inept self was a non-option, seeing as how I spent every waking moment with the same, like, seven people who were everything to me - friends, family, coworkers, support system, etc. That kind of closeness, the kind that forced me to be me, doesn't happen in a Sunday School classroom. So so far, with the New Church, I've laughed. Giggled. Searched for opportunities to interject a clever or on-topic comment. Succeeded maybe half-a-dozen times. It's hard when they're all telling stories from camp together when they were twelve. I was halfway across the country when they were twelve.
This morning, I laughed very hard at a very funny story. I admitted to having watched the first five minutes of Sharknado. I hummed my agreement to a point in the lesson. I almost volunteered to read, but was beat to it by somebody else. I shared a commiserating glance with the girl I, think, I can call my friend. Progress?
The hardest thing is hoping people can look at quiet and see shy and nervous instead of aloof and arrogant. Can look at hardly-ever-here and see busy, not detached and doesn't care. And the fact that I care what people think when they look at me says one thing - I'm here. It was funny, when Mom asked if I was okay with this church being where we stay, I told her, one-hundred-percent seriously, that I never would've set foot in a Sunday School classroom full of people my own age if I hadn't intended on staying at the church.
Wish me luck?

In Which The Girl (Still) Writes

So, anybody remember that thing I used to do? Like, stringing words together? It used to be the only thing that made any sense. The only thing I was absolutely certain about.
Thing is, I've been caught in a slump. Call it permanent writer's block. All my old stories kind of fizzled out over the year I was too busy to work on them, and I've had a hard time picking up the threads. I've been busy with school, and a bit short in the inspiration department. I've been unsure of my own ability, since, as time passes, I keep looking back at things I wrote that I thought were marvelous at the time, and realizing that they're sort of rubbish. I'm not sure I'll ever get better. Also, I don't know what I want to write. I've always thought it was YA, but now I'm not so sure. I don't know what I can write that there is room for in the publishing world. I don't know if I really believe in the current model, with a handful of names skyrocketing to fame and movie deals and the rest getting read by, like, thirteen people, half of which they're related to. Kids like me, armed with dreams and a portfolio of half-finished novels and a handful of decent short stories, are a dime a dozen. I'm not so sure my writing is ever going to get me anywhere.
That is, I wasn't so sure. But the weird thing is, things keep happening. Little things that make me feel like I'm being chastised for giving up too soon.
First, Thought Catalog published a personal essay of mine, something I submitted on a whim because I'd written it for myself and it seemed like something their readers might appreciate. Essay proceeded to do well in the likes-and-shares department - not spectacularly well, but comparatively, respectably well. And that felt pretty cool.
Then there's my English teacher. See, homeschooling, I never got any feedback on my academic writing from anyone who wasn't related to me. Wasn't really sure where I measured up in the scheme of things. But this year, my teacher (who's an utterly spectacular lady, by the way), who has nothing to gain or lose by offering her honest opinion, has given me really positive feedback. Like, "You're a natural at this, you've got grace and style, you need to keep writing," positive.
She also gave the whole class a chance at extra credit if we entered the school literary journal's quarterly writing contest. Never one to say no to seven points of extra credit for doing something I love, I entered two pieces (we could enter up to three): the short story about Vincent Van Gogh that I wrote my senior year of high school, and a new piece I'd written for a Figment prompt contest just a couple of months ago. After having entered them, I didn't give it another thought. Until the email showed up in my inbox. Both stories made it to the semi-finals. Not one or the other. Both.
And then, ehm, I won. First place.
Then there's the strangest thing. There's this subculture of Tumblr users, devoted to writing and consuming, devouring, a thing called reader-insert fan fiction. It's written about characters or celebrities, but with the "reader" acting as a character in the story. It's written in the second person. Have you ever tried to sustain writing in the second person? Ugh. But anyway, I stumbled across this subculture one day, and I wondered if I could do it. If I could pull it off. Second person, yes. Also, writing to a very specific audience. Screw up the characterization of the character you're working with, and you find yourself with angry fangirls on your hands. Also, for a reader to allow you to recruit them into your story requires trust, which you break if you take the reader-character too far into its own personality. Any reader has to be able, not only to identify with, but become this character. This character has to be literally everyone who reads it, not only as they are, but as they'd like to see themselves. Egos are funny things. Is it great, high literature? No. If Really Great Literature is a four-course meal, this brand of fan fiction is, like, chocolate and morphine. But it's a challenge, and it's fun, and it requires minimal commitment. Even by the standards of the blog I submitted it to, it's been popular. I'm going to have to finish the story.
So, I guess, the girl still writes. What does that look like? No clue. Zip. Zilch. Nada. But, erm, I guess we'll find out.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Personal Day

So, Dad's working in the city all day every day this week. Means this girl's stuck at home all week, right? 
See, here's the thing. I just finished an evil two weeks of classes, including but not limited to an evil sociology research paper that ate my brain. I need some fun this week! So, I hatched a plan and I'm going to follow it through. 
I'm gonna ride into the city with Dad. I've been wanting to go to the art museum since I moved here, and Dad's thing isn't exactly close (okay, it'd be a three hour walk), with the intervention of public transportation, I'll get to spend the day in the museum. They have several Van Gogh pieces, which longtime followers will know would be a lifelong dream come true. Just to stand in the same room - amazing. Then, there's a pretty park around the corner that's served by several food trucks, so I can grab a bite to eat. I can take my camera, take some pictures, and I'll bring a journal for sitting in the park. The weather is supposed to be good, not too hot or too cold. I'll be by myself all day, which will be nice, and navigating the city will be good practice. I'm rather excited. Just have to study tomorrow, work tomorrow night, then I get to have my adventure.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Girl Works Retail OR Yes, This Is Actually My First Proper Job

Inquired, interviewed, interviewed again, got the gig. I work selling kids' clothes - shirt-folding and sign-changing and people-helping and weird is that?
What's funny is how incredulous people seem to get that I've never done this before. Yeah, I'm twenty. No, I've never worked in retail before, no I didn't work in a restaurant before this, no, I've never had a proper job. My life just didn't work that way. But it does now, and I'm grateful to be working, and it's been going, surprisingly, well. Yes, I'm folding shirts at an outlet mall. No, I don't plan to be here forever, or hopefully very long at all. But it's fun, and challenging, and pushes me out of my comfort zone, so it's good.
Like with most things, I was terrified at first. But I've been very careful to manage that, not to let it be a big deal. The great thing about a normal job is that it's just that - a job. I can leave my work at work and it doesn't have to affect my life outside. And I'm a quick study, and I'm easy to work with and eager to please, so I think everything's going to be alright.
The hardest part is being loud enough. This bit-of-a-hermit just does not have the personality for salespersoning. Oh, you don't want to buy that? Okay. Yes, I hate shopping too. Okay, well, bye then. There's a sort of aggressiveness - one I don't have - that's required for working in an industry focused mainly on separating people from their money. I don't have it. Not even sure where I stand on it ethically. However. Right now, it'll pay my phone bill, help put gas in the car, and help me not have to rely on my parents for everything. These are all good things, and well worth a little minimum-wage-moral-stretching. Sell baby-sized skinny jeans and fedoras I shall.
Love me anyway?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Almost There OR Things What I Get to Do with My Spring Break

Two more essays. Five hundred words. Five more hours in which to complete them. And then I'm there. I get my spring break. And I'm Al. Most. There. Can you tell I'm over it?
So I told myself I could write this list, a list of things that I get to do over my spring break. And maybe that will motivate me to finish.
Write the fanfiction that's been bugging me.
Read Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces.
Read poetry.
Go shopping for embroidery floss and start the geek-cross-stitch projects I've charted out.
Starbucks. Don't judge me.
Watch ALL the movies. Or TV shows. I could pick a tv show to binge on. That could be fun.
Go to the gym. There's one in the clubhouse of our apartments. I will have time. I will not have an excuse. Yes. I will do it.

But, I can only do all these things AFTER I finish this midterm. Write, woman! Write!

Monday, March 3, 2014

How To Make Caramel and Be Brave

Little bird,
Quit biting your fingernails, there's nothing left to bite. Don't be afraid of what other people say, or think, or do, because in the end, you're the one who's got to go on living inside your head - and you're going to have to do whatever it takes to make that okay. You're gonna have to love yourself, which once in a while means taking care of yourself. Which once in a while means protecting yourself.
What does a bird do when something is hurting it? When something threatens it? When something isn't safe? It spreads its wings and flies away. It protects itself. If something is bringing you pain, you don't have to stay. Give yourself permission to fly away. End toxic relationships. Cut out toxic people. If something is bringing you pain, you don't have to allow it to stay a part of your life. You are amazing and wonderful and awesome and special and important and there isn't room in your blessed, beautiful life for repeat offenders in the pain department.
Consolidate. Take stock of your resources, and rethink where you're investing of yourself and your time. Re-invest in the things that bring you joy, the things that get you closer to your goals, the things that matter.
Find what makes you happy. It's high time you were happy again.
You have my permission to be happy.

 (Bring a pot of water to a boil. Stick an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk in the water. Boil for 2.5 hours. Remove from water, stick into fridge for 1.5 hours. Remove from fridge, open lid, and enjoy!)

Monday, February 24, 2014

A Shocking Lack of -Teen

Since 6 o'clock this morning. Actually am the twenty-something I've been masquerading as for rather a long while.
Don't actually have any thoughts on this. Let you know if I do?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

On Growing Up, Car Accidents, and Bombing US History

Pictures showed up on Facebook today from my old church's Valentine's Day Banquet (two years after the one ranted about in this post) and, well, things change, don't they?
Time seems like it's flying so fast. School has been a thing and the little Mission hasn't for almost six weeks. Funny, that feels like equal parts five minutes and forever.
Life? Life is good. Life is living with my parents and getting to know them again and eating Mom's cooking and hanging out with my brothers and sister and looking for a proper job. Life is throwing myself into my studies and working hard and trying to keep up. Life is being around the little Mission, still being a part of it, but not being sucked down deeper into the vortex that was eating me alive.
But school is hard. School is harder than I gave myself permission to consider it being. The schedule's a killer, motivation is hard when I'm going it alone over the internet, and half my professors don't care if we pass or fail. I love it...but it's hard. Some things are, predictably, better than others. English has been a joy. I love the professor and have, conveniently, made a good impression on her. Government is surprisingly okay, I've been keeping up well, maintaining a good score, understanding the concepts, even to an extent enjoying myself. Another good professor. Sociology is, well, okay. The course is well structured, and I'm not having trouble with it, per se, but the raving humanism is a bit hard to stomach sometimes, as are the obvious liberal agendas and the teaching of evolutionism as cold hard fact instead of theory. But this is nothing new, and I will be okay. History, though? History sucks. The professor couldn't care less about the class, has barely communicated since day one, lets the online interactive textbook do the work for him, and only sets a deadline every two months. Is anybody going to actually do that work? No. Am I? Well, yeah. But between the poorly structured class and my own lack of care, the first couple quizzes aren't going so well. I'm going to have to make some adjustments to my approach.
Quitting my old life cold turkey is hard too. Trading the dizzying, yet constant, concentric orbits that were my life there for sedentary-ish and time to think kinda sucks sometimes. And, as hard as things got there near the end, I miss my friends. I miss my girls. Going from social overload to social...isolation, isn't easy. Some days most of the words out of my mouth are "Such-and-such said..." and here's the hook: I think my family's heard all my stories before. Already.
Going back to the mission is even harder. I've kept my afterschool program and everything that goes with it, and I still try to go to the Sunday night staff worship service when I can; but there's this sneaking, sinking, entirely unfounded feeling of being out of place. Not belonging. Being superfluous. Sometimes, I convince myself I'm being silly and it goes away. Sometimes it doesn't.
And, the whole thing'd be a heck of a log simpler if it hadn't been for the car accident last Friday night. Just a fender bender, hit-and-run, and I'm okay, but it's...complicated. See, Friday was youth gym night. I took one of my girls from the place I do Bible study. Borrowed a mission vehicle, picked her up, took her to the gym. Everything was awesome. Hung out with old friends, talked with the boy for probably longer than I should've, Bible study, took the girl home, perfect. Except that another Bible study leader needed help getting her kids home, van broke down and her car was over-loaded. So I drove back to the gym, picked up half of her kids and followed her out. Everything was still fine, we took the kids to McDonalds, then to their apartments, and the night was over. Just had to get back to the mission and drop off the vehicle. But pulling out of the parking lot to follow the other person back, a big white Ford pickup came flying around the corner, removed the front bumper of the vehicle I was driving, and conveniently deposited it in pieces strewn across the roadway.
Guys? If I had pulled out even a little further, this girl wouldn't be talking to you today.
And the more I try to move past this, the harder it seems to get. It wasn't my fault. The fact that he didn't stop says it wasn't my fault. All of the lovely people who stopped to make sure I was okay, who picked up the pieces of the vehicle, who tried to chase him down to get a license plate number, told me it wasn't my fault. But what does it still feel like? My fault.
I haven't been back to the mission since. I feel this ridiculous notion that I don't want to show my face. Scared somebody will say something. Embarrassed that I'm that chick, the one that wrecked a company vehicle her very first time. What does it mean for next month? I promised the little girl I'd take her to the next gym night, but I don't know if they'll let me. I don't know if I can. Except for driving back to the mission after all was said and done and driving myself home that night, I haven't been behind the wheel of a car since then, and I'm not looking forward to it. I've got this knot of anxiety in my stomach that explodes every time I think about it.
Guys? I'm gonna be twenty in a couple of weeks. Twenty, well, it doesn't have the word teen in it, does it? First time in a decade that's happened. And I don't know what to think. I mean, I've moved 1500 miles away from my family by myself, lived alone for a year, held a (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually devouring) job down for a year, got my drivers license, opened a bank account, and started college. And yet, here I am, living in with my parents, doing school from home (not, though, home-schooling, really!), without a job, and scared to death of driving. The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same. And, in a lot of ways, I feel like I've got even more question marks about the theoretical concept that is the rest of my time on planet earth than I did in high school.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Momento Mori

I went to a funeral today. For a dear friend, and also the mother of a dear friend and also the mother of a child I've, often, in the last six months, halfway thought of as my own, and also the wife of a gentleman I've worked closely with for a long time.
This lady was a spectacular human being, and it was an honor and a privilege to gather with others who loved her, from her family, to her friends, to her coworkers, and celebrate her life.
But one wonders, why do we as a culture deal with death the way we do? There was no part of this girl's being who wanted to join the procession to peer down into the coffin at the empty shell that used to contain the soul that is my friend. This empty shell, not only no longer contained her, but, after a long battle with cancer, didn't even resemble the bright, joyous sunflower that was my friend. And I walked, and I kept my head down, and I peeked, and I hope that my face showed nothing of what I was thinking.
I dug out my black slacks and I ironed them and I drove to the church and I waited a minute so I didn't have to walk in alone, but I sat alone in the back and I didn't cry. Honest. And I stood and I sang and I sat and I listened and I smiled, because it was nice to be able to think about my friend again. I think, for a long time, I haven't been thinking about her, not directly, not as a person and as my friend. There's been so much up and down and worry and fear, not so much my own as the people's around me, that it's been easier to just not think. Today, I thought, and I remembered, and it was sweet. And I shuffled and I peeked and I shuffled out and I hugged and I talked and I saw friends I haven't seen in ages and I ducked out before everyone could leave for the graveside. And I went to a funeral all by myself for someone my parents didn't know. My own mom's never done that. It's surreal.
Tomorrow, everyone will say it was a beautiful service. They'll talk about how many people came, how many people loved her. And then the rest of us will keep moving forward. Her family, they'll be a bit longer. I can't imagine the hurt they're going through right now.
And maybe that's the point of the pomp and circumstance we surround death with. Maybe it's all an attempt at closure and finality, a trying to attach meaning so something that can so often seem meaningless. It's for the family, so that they can have something that they have set behind them, even though they have to keep on carrying the pain of it.
I've talked with my dad on the subject at some length, in the last couple of days. And he spoke of overcoming his own aversion to funerals, of learning to view them as important, sobering, and significant.
Momento mori. It's Latin. Translated roughly, "Remember your mortality," or "Remember, all must die."

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

If I Could Just Focus OR On Dizziness

Only I would have a stomach virus my very first day off of work. My immune system sucks. And I haven't seen any of the others in days, and I don't have my cell phone anymore, so I can't text them to find out if anybody else is sick. And being sick makes it hard to enjoy your first few days of school, even though you should be having the time of your life. And it's possible that I've never felt so alone or isolated in my whole life. I miss my friends. I miss my kids. I miss being busy. I miss my job.
Daddy said (and voiced the inside of my head when he did) that maybe I wasn't actually sick - maybe it was just my body picking a ridiculous way to react to a violent change in circumstances - a kind of emotional toxic shock syndrome that my body didn't have a way to cope with.
It's hard to not feel directionless. To, after so long of not having time to ask questions, wonder why I'm doing anything and how it's all going to work out in the end. All of these feelings are things that need to be sorted through, identified, catalogued, and set aside. I need to have a nice long talk with my mom. I need to go out to dinner with my friends and remind myself that I'm still a person. I need to talk my little sister to go see a movie. I need to breathe. But right now, I just feel too tired and too out-of-phase to focus for a minute together and it's hard to make things make sense, and I'm hoping that it's just that I'm still a bit ill and everything'll be easier after another good night's sleep.
Right now, this girl is sitting in a Starbucks that smells more like motor oil than coffee. She's finished her studies for the day, and it's still a half an hour before she needs to walk across the street to after school program, and it's vertigo to be slipping out of my new world into my old, but here's to hoping that it'll keep me sane (and hoping that the vertigo isn't just still-not-recovered-from-a-day-worshipping-at-the-porcelein-altar dizziness). And it's kind of nice, just sitting here. There's so many other people here, some of them in groups and clusters, talking about life, some of them every bit as alone as I am, and none of them are questioning my right to be here. None of them have looked at me sideways. I'm sitting here with my overpriced iced tea and my macbook, come for the party with a simplicity of heart that was its own ticket of admission. Breathing and listening to people breathe. And I'm going to fall into a rhythm and life is going to start making sense again and everything is going to be okay.

Also, I applied for a job at Starbucks. Actually at about six Starbuckses. And you'd think I would've heard back from one of them by now. This girl really needs a job.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

On In-Betweens OR Did You Ever Notice that the Sky is All the Way to the Ground?

This girl's always been obsessed with horizons. With in-the-middles, with midnights and sunrises and sunsets and half-finisheds and works-in-progress. But now that she's got a couple of halfways and almosts of her own, she isn't having as much fun.
Tonight, I'm standing in the middle of the last year of my life (and the kids and the chaos and the My-God-is-So-Big and the buses and my director watching every move) and my forseeable future (and orientation and textbooks and webadvisor and professors and student IDs and I think I accidentally picked the dumb English class). And multiple hats in one day make the head spin and a foot in both worlds just feels torn in two.
And the lingering in the old is making me tired and antsy, and the fear of the new makes me want to drop anchor, and the feeling-bad-for-leaving gets worse when the boss pokes fun, but I read my syllabus and I'm just. so. excited.
And maybe I don't like in-betweens as much as I think I do.
But like I read yesterday on my favorite blog, it's the in-betweens where God's presence is found. It's in the present moment, between the sky and the ground, between yesterday and tomorrow. And it's the rushing-through and the looking-back that can unplug us from being Spirit-empowered, but now-living keeps us in tune with God. I'm trying to be grateful for each day as it comes.

We're having a revival this week. Three nights, kid's program, guest speakers, whole nine yards. Last night was the start, and we had all of the kids and none of the help and things got a wee bit crazy. They do that sometimes. I'm usually okay. Actually, I was okay tonight. We talked about Jesus and nobody got hurt. 100% success.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

If the Wind Could Blow Through Me

Blow away everything that's adling my brain and spinning my head and making me sick, I maybe could think straight. Blow away the fact that my job is going away in a week, and with it my cell phone and my best link to the outside world. Blow away the fact that I think I've got an ear infection, but I know I don't have insurance to go and see a doctor and medicine for it. Blow away the fact that a dear dear friend is flying through next Monday, but if I want to see her, I have to ask for time off on my last week of work, and my boss is going to make a stink. If only the wind could blow straight through me, blow away the fears and the frustrations and the facts and only leave the excitement and the joy and the hope and the hunger. But I've stood out in the wind and caught nothing but a chill and lost nothing but time, and the world still feels like its spinning too fast. And I still need to register for classes and buy school books and find a job and now a cell phone plan and I still have to say hard goodbyes and be honest with some folks about some things I've been half-truthing about and figure out how I'm going to keep some promises I've made. And today maybe I'm wishing the wind would blow and take me away with it.

On Self

Because it's been the sense of self that's been hurting here lately. When my boss does my job for me or leaves me out of the loop on something, it feels like he doesn't trust me; when the other boss takes my presence for granted, makes me work through the flu and then doesn't give a flip what I do all day, it makes me feel underappreciated; when my friends make plans without me or don't offer the right kinds of comfort while I'm hurting, I wonder if they care about me or if they'll miss me when I'm gone; when the boy I thought was headed for something significant flirts with the wrong girl across the dinner table, I wonder if I'll ever have anything certain. But, contrariwise, when somebody spends all day trying to make me laugh, I feel significant; when my row at church fills up with kids just like my moms back in Carolina, I feel like I'm doing something right; and when I get to say that I absolutely have to go in on my day off, I feel important. See, all of these little uglinesses that sit on my heart and distract me, it is the sense of self, of the promotion and the preservation of self that makes me care what people say and think, care when things go the way of my dignity being preserved or the way of my name being dirt, or, worse, forgotten. This self-ness, sometimes, works to my favor. It makes me better at my job, it's why I work hard to know all the answers to all the questions, to always be in all of the places at all of the times, to forsee what will need doing and do it before it becomes pressing. Often, though, it works against me. Every bad mood I'm ever in is because something has happened that trod on the toes of that sense of self. Every time I'm acting like a spoiled child, it's because somebody ignored me or treated me poorly and my self-ness didn't like it. And, if we call it what it is, self-ness is selfishness and self-centeredness and self-serving. And yeah, we all do it, but that doesn't make it right or safe. And it's self keeps us at each other's necks trodding on each other's backs and rat-racing into the black. It's self lets us talk bad about each other and try too hard and hurt othe people. And if we could just lose the sense of self, it seems to me like everything else would fall into place after it.

Anybody else struggle with this? Or is it just me?