Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sand castles and tsunamis

There's a voice inside of me, quiet but insistent, telling me that if I could only get things right, nothing would need to change. No wonder I experience every change as a personal failure, a preventable loss. I didn't get it right. My best was not enough. I... was not enough. It's so destructive. It's so alluring. Rooted firmly in pride and control (two of my closest companions), and thank God it will never work. If it even looked true long enough, it would do violence to my soul.

It's a longing for heaven, right? I think that's what I'm supposed to say. Part of this protracted transition has been about losing touch - on purpose - with phrases that have become empty of their content to me. Overused and too easily cross-stitched, the words can become veils over meaning. Instead of leading the way to truth, they can be barriers. I need space and time to breathe life back into those phrases because I need them now.

Where was I? Yes, longing for heaven. Which is to say wishing aggressively that I could have right now the peace and stability and unchanging experience of loving and being loved, all in the context of being certain that my life has meaning and purpose. If it isn't possible to attain here and now, then I really should stop fighting for it, but I suck at not fighting. Well, I suck at picking my battles. There are plenty of things I need to fight. Fight to stop building sand castles in the paths of tsunamis. Fight to stop digging my heels in when I see change coming. Fight to stop being surprised at disappointment and, for the love of all that is holy, to stop taking it all so personally. It's time to tune out the voices that build up insecurity and false hope, and to listen to the only One that is leading me home.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Imagine me in floaties and a gorilla mask

I was talking to a friend recently about how I haven’t blogged in a long time. Her advice to me was simply to start writing, and that’s what I’m doing. Forget aiming at anything, just write. That does not mean I’m not going to edit, but it does mean that I am going to stop sabotaging myself before I even start.  

So now, I’m sitting here waiting to snag a dangling thread of one of the many thoughts running through my mind. This coffee is good. The kids downstairs are annoying, but I bet they’re cuter when you’re watching them instead of trying to concentrate. I wonder how hot is it outside. It’s been a scorcher so far, my first summer in Michigan in over a decade. Thanks for the welcome package. But even without the “old normal” of being in Colorado surrounded by the rough beauty of the mountains and some of my favorite people living in community in such a unique way, I am surprised to find that I’m having a really great summer. It calls into question all of my assumptions of what I think I need to be happy. Which then calls into question all of the time and energy and struggle that I have invested by following those assumptions. I follow the logic warily, like I’m walking into a dark, scary tunnel. So, if I don’t need X, but I’ve been throwing myself on the rocks trying to acquire X… all of that pain has been… unnecessary. Aw crap.

So how do I move forward after realizing that my current guiding principles are all subject to this same possibility? This same inherent flaw of using a faulty mind to gather information through a faulty lens to come to faulty conclusions? What can I do if I can’t trust myself? Like I need more trust issues. And even, to be honest, my thoughts about my faith and my spirituality are part of this discussion as well. The thing that stops me from spiraling into despair is remembering that even if I my ideas of God and His world are off, His ideas of me and my world are not. Even if I get something wrong, it doesn’t change anything about Him. If I believe that the crying child downstairs is wearing floaties and a gorilla mask (I’d be crying, too), it doesn’t mean that it’s true. My perspective, my assumptions, my conclusions – none of them changes anything about reality. They really only limit me. But somehow, He works within those limits, breaking through with His love and grace which I experience more than understand. I am so thankful that it does not depend on me being right.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The dangerous and forgetful now

Since so much of my life feels different and new, lately I’ve had to make a concerted effort to remember the context of my own life. I’m doing a great job of living in the present, but the danger is that I will forget where I’ve been and how I got here. My life has a trajectory; not one that is deterministic, but one that is affirming of who I am and what I value. It contains my hopes and dreams for the future as well as battles I’ve won and lost in my past. It lays out the plot of a story that is still being told. This chapter has its own significance but it doesn’t stand alone.

I’m afraid that the people who are meeting me in this season of my life are seeing a very one-dimensional image. This is such a calm and peaceful season, and these new friends are reaping the benefits of years of struggle, pain and therapy without knowing it. I find myself tempted to walk into the room screaming “I’m not usually this self-possessed! I can be a total basket case! Watch me unravel!!” I am pretty sure I won’t do that, but I think about it. Hopefully, the entertainment value inside my own head is enough to offset the appeal of actually doing it. I promise to give a full report here about the results if the idea escapes the confines of my internal stage and breaks into reality. Man, am I thankful for a strong filter…

But I am also afraid that I am seeing a one-dimensional image of myself as well. That I will forget or somehow take for granted the redemption and healing and battle that I’ve been through, and that it all happened – and is still happening – for a purpose. My own peace and happiness are not the ultimate end goal. I do not want to spend my freedom on myself. But I also don’t want to dwell on the past, sifting through the dust like an archaeologist piecing together an ancient civilization. It’s a tricky dance, and so far, I think I’ve just been swaying lethargically like a seventh grader in the school cafeteria after a football game (speaking of ghosts from my past that have shaped who I am… oh, those were awkward years). I can do better. I can celebrate healing without glorifying pain. I can remember where I’ve been without reliving it. And I can use the measure of freedom I have been given to give back. And, I can give credit where credit is due: I would literally have nothing without you, God. Thank you.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The view from behind the counter

Oh my life. Things have changed so much so fast in this past two months – I think I may actually have some sort of existential motion sickness. But don’t let that dramatic description fool you into thinking I’m on the struggle bus. I am doing surprisingly well accommodating the waves of adjustments and “new normals” that are part of my daily experience. In July, I left my job of over 12 years (a career, really. How am I old enough to have had a career already??). It was an organization I loved working for and still love being a part of, but over the past several years, I felt a growing sense that it was time to leave. So for the past few months, I’ve had the surreal opportunity to feel like a college senior all over again: full of bundles of excitement and anxiety that are bouncing back and forth between the dual certainties that I am going to change the world and that I am going to ruin my life.

I am currently pursuing a long-time dream of becoming a counselor, and in order to fund that dream, I have begun working at a coffee shop. Being a barista is also a long-time dream: I love coffee and I love coffee shops. So here I am, in this strange season of time, brewing coffee and slinging lattes for just over minimum wage. And I love it. It’s been really refreshing in unexpected ways and it’s also had its unexpected challenges.

Like everyone, and possibly more than many people, I like being good at things. And the learning curve for being a barista is quite steep: there is so much to learn and even after two months, I still have days where I’m barely bumbling along. It’s been an interesting adjustment to have supervisors who are almost half my age (again, how is it possible that I’m this old? I recently discovered that I am only one year younger than the MOTHER of one of my coworkers. I’m making her call me mommy. Obviously). But it’s been humbling in all the right ways. I would seriously recommend to anyone (especially those of us in vocational ministry) to work in a coffee shop or some other place where no one has any expectations of you and no one is impressed with you. It’s been good for my soul. It’s revealing that my performance issues had become camouflaged over time, hiding comfortably under the assumption that I had outgrown them. But now, I find them alive and well and it’s giving God new avenues to challenge and address them.

And that’s just one of the life lessons I’ve been learning. I will be trying to write more consistently. There is just too much material in my life to let it pass by! Stay tuned…

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Welcome home

I’ve been staying with some old college friends this past week. I’m in a season of relative homelessness, with most of my stuff in storage and the rest of it crammed strategically in my car. The car actually feels like a lot of room compared to where I lived this summer: for about nine days, I lived in a closet under the stairs in the apartment of some friends of mine (shout out to K111!). I’m going to give some props to my Japanese heritage here and say that I’ve been genetically predisposed to use small spaces well. Anyone who has ever been to Japan knows what I’m talking about. They use every single centimeter (…because only Americans use inches).

But that’s not my point. The house I’m staying in now has five kiddos under the age of seven, so it’s not the most serene of living situations. One of the best parts though, one that more than compensates for the 7 am thunderstorm of little feet on hard wood floors, is the greetings. When you walk into a room and hear a chorus (and there are more than enough kids here to qualify as a chorus) of little voices cheering your name, how can you not feel special? Because you know little kids don’t pretend to like you – they are too young to be tainted by all the games we play as we get older, the popularity contest that life becomes some time around middle school. If kids are happy to see you, they are just happy to see you. It’s a simple pleasure that makes its way through the tangled mess of insecurities and fears and doubts, and hits me square in the center of my heart. Little kids are also too young to be impressed or intimidated by our reputations, those larger-than-life billboards we wear to attract people to us or to keep them at arm’s length. Or both at the same time, if we’re really good at it.

What would life be like if we loved like that? If as adults, we could look past the all stuff on the outside and push past all the stuff on the inside and just love people without reservation? What would it look like to know with certainty that the Creator of the Universe loves us like that? That when we walk into the room (issues of omnipresence aside), God Himself lights up and cheers loudly when He sees us? I think we’d feel more at home in the world, as welcomed and well-received as I feel in the midst of these crazy kids.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

I'm afraid I can't think of a clever title, either

So, one of my fears in starting this blog was that I would start strong and then taper off. I really want to write consistently or else what’s the point? I knew it would be more of a challenge to write while I was in Colorado for the summer, but I still had high hopes. So here I am, almost eight weeks after my last post, and my fear has come true. But here’s the good news about a fear coming true: once you embrace it, it’s one less thing you have to be afraid of.

I remember one of the first times I realized that principle. I had just gotten into an argument with a friend over what I thought was a misunderstanding that she was blaming on me. As she was describing her perspective on what had happened, I had that sick creepy feeling that I always get when I realize I am wrong. It happens so rarely that the feeling is very distinct (insert sarcastic laugh here). To clarify, I’m sure I’m wrong a lot: what I mean is that my own acknowledgement that I am wrong happens more rarely than I’d like. Anyway, the point is that I suddenly saw a giant planet of selfishness that I hadn’t realized was there. One of my highest values in life is to be a good friend. Consequently, one of my big fears is that I will act in a way that contradicts that value. And as I was kicked in the stomach by the realization that I was in fact not being a good friend, I felt a Hand on my shoulder. “Well, at least you don’t have to be afraid anymore. Because it’s true. And now we can deal with it.” I felt the strangest sense of peace and freedom in that moment. In embracing the truth, I was able to receive the grace that God so greatly desired to give me, grace that I resisted and couldn’t even bring myself to admit that I needed.

Oh how we squirm to avoid facing reality. How much time do we spend fighting our fears about ourselves? How much energy do we consume hiding the glimpses we get of those fears being true?  We become masters of justifying, rationalizing and contorting our perspective to avoid the truth. And the truth is that sometimes we are selfish. Sometimes, we do have shady motives. Sometimes, we are acting just like the people we swore we’d never be like. The cost of embracing that reality is actually a lot less than the cost of avoiding it. Reality truly is our friend, and if we can steel ourselves to look it dead in the face, we may find that the our worst fear coming true may be the best thing that can happen to us. It may be the only road to the freedom we deeply desire and the abundant grace that God is waiting to give us.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Why take the easy road?

Tomorrow starts an old tradition that is one of my favorites: driving west to Colorado for the summer. It is all the more dear this year because I don’t know for sure when I’ll get to do it again. In the past few months, I’ve made some big decisions that will almost certainly change these annual routines of mine. I’m excited about my future, but I’m also experiencing how the decisions I’ve made about the future are affecting me in the present. It’s funny how time works like that – a decision I made in the past (last week) won’t change anything until the future (August), but it’s already affected how I experience this moment (right… now).

I tend to be unusually aware of these layers that exist over events. There are layers of sadness and appreciation and gratitude over this road trip to Colorado because it may be my last one for a while. Recognizing layers can be a strength because I am less likely to take these moments for granted. The downside is that it can also add a layer of drama to everything along the way. “This may be the last time I stop at a gas station on I-80” (ok, that is true. Is that really an event worth noting? Do I really need to go through some sort of grieving process over gas stations on I-80?). “There’s that old barn I pass every year. I should stop and take a picture of it” (should I stop at every landmark I recognize to take a picture? Will the other landmarks feel bad if I don’t?). I can’t appreciate or capture every single moment, and as hard as it is, I’m going to have to reconcile myself with that reality.

And, if I’m really on top of  my game, I recognize that there is a layer of irony (favorite concept in this blog so far) when my desire to appreciate moments adds so much anxiety that it can ruin the very moments I’m trying to appreciate. Are all these layers making your head spin yet? Welcome to my world, where there is nothing that I can’t make more complicated if I really apply myself. All I’m really saying is that I have mixed feelings about driving to Colorado tomorrow. But why say it like that when I could drag you through the process that I had to go through to get there? The ride may be bumpy and the curves downright scary, but the scenery along the crazy road is much more interesting.