So, to judge from my last few entries, I only write this blog every two years or so when I’m feeling sad or stressed. Which means it’s about time for another post.
Definitely feeling sad and stressed tonight. Not about anything in particular, I think. Just the normal living through a pandemic stuff.
This pandemic thing is so weird. I’ve been through some stressful and even traumatic stuff before, like protests in Thailand or Hurricane Harvey or people I love dying. But all that stuff, looking back, seemed so localized. It affected me and the people immediately around me, while the rest of the world looked in/didn’t really care at all. But this pandemic thing is something we’re. literally. all. going. through. together. It’s so weird to see friends on Facebook or Instagram who live in different States or countries talking about it, and knowing that it’s affecting their lives the same way it’s affected mine. In the early days of the pandemic (now there’s a phrase) it made me sort of proud to be part of the human race. Now it just makes me tired.
I know it will pass. I know this will be a thing my grandchildren will have to interview me about when they’re in school. And they won’t really understand what it was really like, the same way I never got the fear of living through a world war or the Great Depression. And they’ll probably half-ass their way through their reports and get a C and then that will be the biggest issue – not a decades old pandemic, but my lazy grandchildren who’ll be grounded from going to pick up power converters with their friends, or whatever it is my grandchildren will be doing for fun.
This, too, shall pass. I have to tell myself that five hundred times a day, when it seems like there’s no end in sight, and things keep getting crazier, and I’m not sure if I can/should send my daughter to school next semester, and people just won’t wear masks, even though it’s one of the kindest things you can do these days. This, too, shall pass.
Writing helps. I might try to be more disciplined about writing blog posts, and have it not be another two years before I write another one. But then, I’m pretty sure I say that every time I dust off the old keyboard and write another post. I guess, like everything else in the universe right now, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.
So, when I was dating Jon, there were two themes than ran through many of our conversations. (This will probably explain a lot about us.) One: people are horrible. Two: to quote John Green, pain demands to be felt. (The kindling of passionate love, are those two sentiments right there. Ha.)
Most of the time, actually, Jon was misquoting Green as “emotion demands to be felt,” which I think is actually better, to be honest. (And not just because I love Jon and have mixed feelings about John Green.) Like most things in our culture at the moment, people tend to deal with emotion at two opposing and unhelpful ends of the spectrum of ways to deal with emotion.
Extreme #1: All. the. Feels. All. the. Time.
Extreme #2: Emotion? What emotion? (Just call me Mr. Spock.)
The thing about extreme #1 is that it terrifies people like me, who naturally lean to extreme #2. It terrifies me so much that I might be seen as an extreme #1 girl that I take extra pains to lean in to extreme #2. (Which is obviously a great plan for a well-lived life.)
I don’t think I’m alone. In general, I think that Extreme #2 is the most prevalent, at least in my little subculture, Evangelical Christianity. Emotion, and emotional people, are viewed with distrust, as though they didn’t get the memo about a Fruit of the Spirit being Self-Control.
There’s also a fear that my strong emotions are somehow evidence of idolatry in my life. If I care enough about something to feel depressed when it’s gone, or even exuberant while it’s here, doesn’t that mean that my sufficiency and sense of well-being aren’t in God alone? This image of a Christian is a saint carved out of granite, immune to the pain and happiness of the world, untouched by sun or rain or dark of night. (Although eventually even granite erodes, doesn’t it?)
Honestly, that’s the kind of saint I want to be. And, even more honestly, that’s super selfish. Because a saint who can’t feel their own emotion can’t hope to feel the emotion of the world around them. They can’t connect with those who feel sad, or angry, or alone, or even celebrate with those for whom life is going okay at the moment. That’s not the way Jesus was. It says in Hebrews that He has felt all that we as humans feel. He knew what it was like to be deserted by friends, to have loved ones die, to be exhausted with no hope for a nap.
I’m not saying that we should all go out and indulge Extreme #1. But, for most of us, a little more honesty in recognizing our emotions and the toll they have on us, and a little more discipline to sit with even our negative emotions for a while, can only be beneficial. The people who are most ruled by emotion are those people who sweep it underneath the carpet, pretending it isn’t there. Like Jon paraphrased, emotion demands to be felt, and it’s going to ooze out of your life somehow: either in productive ways or dangerous ones.
Today I feel sad because my mom died this summer. I feel happy because my husband and daughter are awesome, and scared by how much I love them, like it’s all going to be taken away in a minute. I feel overwhelmed by basics of social interaction, like responding to texts, because I way overthink things and have no faith in myself. I also feel a little panicked, because I just looked at the clock and realized I should already be on my way to pick Jon up. (He’ll understand, because he’s the biggest proponent for owning and understanding emotions that I’ve ever met. We are truly polar opposite soul mates.)
My goal for life at the moment is to not let emotion be the continual elephant in the room, but to acknowledge it, own it, and even feel it. That’s an uncomfortable thing. But probably better than being carved out of granite.
There are some girls (more power to them) who spend their whole child- and young adult-hoods secretly planning their weddings. I was never one of them. This wasn’t because I was doing anything particularly noteworthy with my time; it was only because I was a ridiculous hypochondriac convinced I was going to die by the age of 20. While most girls were (I suppose) day-dreaming over wedding dresses and cake, I was figuring out what songs I wanted to be sung at my funeral. (And let me tell you, it was a beauty of a ceremony.)
But life is weird and I didn’t tragically die in my teens. In fact, I lived for a good many more years (a comfort to all who might be reading this, I’m sure) and eventually even met a man who fancied spending the rest of his life with me.
At first, wedding planning was really fun. Because of my OCD, I usually work very hard to keep my inner Type A (let’s call her Tonya) locked deep away, lest she escape and wreak havoc on my life. But just this once, I let her free, and she was happily up to her elbows in all the details that even she could possibly want. I had opted out of hiring a wedding planner for cost reasons, but with pinterest and Tonya on my side, I was confident that I could still have a nice and pretty wedding celebration.
And, with the wedding very quickly approaching, I’m still confident that it will be reasonably nice and pretty. Note the qualifier. Because what I (much too) slowly realized is that real life and pinterest are two very different things. Inspired by models in gorgeous dresses and blogs with picture-perfect details, I had formed this idealistic mental image of what my wedding should look like. Reading advice on-line didn’t help, and only added a barrage of critiquing voices in my head. “Oh, you have to do this.” “Oh, you’re only doing that?” “But this [exorbitantly expensive way] is just the way it’s done.”
Here’s the thing, though. “The way it’s done” is a ridiculous way. The average wedding cost in the US (which I just derived from a rigorously academic google search) is $26,444. That’s more than most of the world makes in a year. I get that it’s an important day not only for the couple, but also for the community of which they are a part. I get that for Christians, marriage is a thing of profound theological significance. And I get that photographs last forever (well, until they disintegrate or the cloud goes down.) But… is it really justifiable to spend that much on one day? Especially when there are other people – in our own cities! – struggling to put food on their table?
“Yes!” Tonya adamantly exclaims. The whole wedding industry chimes in their agreement, and reminds me that time is running out to buy my ring bearer’s mother’s aunt’s dog a personalized gift.
Realistically, however, my fiancé and I are financing our own wedding. Our budget is tiny. And honestly, I’m not unhappy with anything I’ve bought so far. I have a pretty wedding dress and a nice cake and a good plan for decorations. But, now and then, discontent still comes creeping in… what if I could have bought a fancier dress? What if I sprang for renting prettier chairs rather than making do with the slightly ugly ones that the church provides? Are people secretly judging me for using an RSVP website rather than sending out cards perfectly coordinated with my invitations?
Really, I guess what it comes down to – as much as I would love to blame pinterest for filling my imagination with unattainable images of perfection – is my heart. Jesus warns us to be on our guard against all kinds of greed (Luke 12:15). The primary problem with greed, I think, is that it’s a grand lie: it promises that as long as we have this thing, and that thing, and, oh, that thing over there, then our lives are going to be great and wonderful. But as Jesus continues, “Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (NIV). Yeah, it would be great to have a perfectly pretty wedding, worthy of any pinterest board or wedding website. But will having a beautiful wedding make me a better wife? Will it make people like me more? Will it really boost my self worth the way greed promises it will? Will having a beautiful wedding bring life?
No, maybe (but only the wrong sorts of people), no, and no. So, if you’re coming to my wedding: sorry for the ugly chairs. Sorry if it’s a bit plain at times, and sorry that I didn’t spend two days addressing all my invitations in fancy calligraphy, or pay someone else to do so. But, if you’re coming to my wedding… I hope you leave encouraged by the grace of God in our lives, filled with happiness after spending time with all the other amazing people in attendance, and reminded that at the end of the day, love and relationship (of all kinds) are really what it’s all about. ❤
Well, that didn’t take long. A little more than a month into living in the US again and… I’m already thinking longingly of where to go next. I have a couple of pet ideas in mind, ideas that don’t seem to be all that discouraged by the fact that 1) I have a job here, 2) and, oh, an apartment with an 11-month lease, 3) I was going into this whole USA thing thinking that I was done with traveling and ready to settle down for a bit. I was even considering retiring my passport!
At the end of the day, it probably comes down to the fact that life is always best where you aren’t. When I was in China, it was easy to glamorize the stability and familiarity of home. Now that I’m home, I’m idealizing the independence and excitement of a foreign country.
The truth is, I think, that life is pretty much the same everywhere you go. Location doesn’t matter all that much, at the end of the day. The verse that has recently been playing over and over in my mind is from Psalm 84: “Blessed are those whose strength is in You, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion” (5-7, NIV).
It’s appealing for me, at the moment, to focus on the pilgrimage part: to look forward to the next place, and the next… until eventually I find myself in heaven, the culmination of all my hopes. And, dude, I’m super excited for the end to this earthly journey. But I’m not there yet. And in the meantime, I can’t overlook the second half of the verse, which urges me to pour my energies into making the place where I am a place of springs. To do the things that I’ve been given to do at the present moment, even if they’re not particularly glamorous or exciting, and to be a part of God’s transformative work in the unfabulous now, like Daniel in Babylon.
I don’t know if I’ll make good on any of my current plans to leave the US. Honestly, I still have at least six months before I can reasonably start considering it. But I can do my best to be present in and grateful for the moment, and that’s what I’m trying – sometimes successfully, sometimes not – to do, trusting that God can make any place a place of strength and blessing.
F. Scott Fitzgerald describes time as a current, and the metaphor is apt: one moment you’re chilling upstream admiring the far-off mountains and the next you’re several hundred meters down, whizzing by moss-covered rocks. The changes of scenery on shore are clear indication that the world is moving around you, and you with it – but at the same time, things on your little boat are pretty much the same as they’ve ever been.
That’s kind of how I feel about this blog, and life in general, really. Last I posted here, it was November 2013 and I was only two or three weeks into this whole China adventure. Now, here I am fifteen months later, and I know things have changed: I can see it in my circumstances, in the people around me, and even in myself. And yet, at the same time, I’ve gone through these past months feeling pretty much the same as I ever did. It’s only been in taking a moment to reflect, to read through some of my previous blog posts, that I’ve realized just how far the current has taken me in this journey.
Fifteen months is a long time to try and package up into one pithy blog post, and I’m not even going to attempt it. To be honest, I’m not sure I would even if I could. Yeah, it might be more immediately satisfying to be able to tie a neat little bow around this China experience and present it to you as “lessons learned.” But the questions and ponderings from this chapter of life are far from resolved. (And I find myself a little impatient with all the times in the past that I so desperately tried to pretend that they were.) I still don’t know the full answers to many of my questions – but, you know, that’s okay.
So, questions. What is home, and how does one go about finding it? How does a person live authentically and graciously in community? Where is it healthy to draw boundaries, and where is it selfish refusal to participate in others’ lives? How do you really love a person in the way that we’re called to? What does it mean to love yourself? What role should personal desire play in one’s life? What role do I give fear? And, pretty much everything about male/female dynamics, especially in the church and in the workplace.
Maybe over the next couple months I’ll spend some time here, trying to work through some of these questions. For some of them, I’ve arrived at semi-answers. A few still completely baffle me. But, again, that’s okay. As I tell my students, asking the right questions is often more important than finding the answers. (It’s about time I listened to my own advice.)
Like most people, I have goals and dreams. Some of them, liking becoming a nunja (nun by day, ninja by night) I’m still working on. Others promise more immediate realization. One of my goals for the next couple months is to draw more consistently. For the past two weeks, I’ve being doing my journaling in graphic novel form, and it’s something that I hope to continue, since it also seems like a great way of sharing my new life in Asia with, you know – family, friends, random strangers on the internet.
Because the goal focuses on consistency, I’m forcing myself not to be too much of a perfectionist. So, my apologies in advance for the roughness of some of the drawings.
That being said, it seemed like the following excerpt from my first week’s journal was an appropriate place to start. Anyone who knows me knows that technology and I have a very precarious relationship. (I am not so secretly longing for the day that a massive solar flare takes out all electricity and we’re all forced to live off of the land.) Computers, Copiers, Telephones… you name it. Put it in my hands and it’s basically destroyed already.
Knowing this about myself like I do, I’m not sure what ever possessed me to buy a phone that cost more than 25 cents. I’m blaming a lot of it on jet lag and the frustrating fact that I haven’t got my head around the exchange rate yet. I keep thinking in baht. This is a problem. 32 baht for dinner? Super amazing cheapness! 32 RMB for dinner? Getting on the pricey side of things. And then add a bunch of zeros and my utter inability to do math and, well, I think you get the idea.
I’m not always a fan of The Office, but have to admit that this little scene kept running through my mind the earlier part of this year, when I was trying to make some important decisions of my own.
My plan was to go to Budapest, to teach at an international school there. I accepted the position, began all the paperwork, even started the support-raising process. But through it all, I felt this little undercurrent of unease that I couldn’t quite ignore. It didn’t make sense – in theory, this was the opportunity of a lifetime. I mean, living in Europe, doing what I love… it seemed like a no-brainer.
And if I didn’t go to Budapest, what did I have? The same part-time job in the same city where I grew up. I felt out of place in my community, unfulfilled in my duties, fearful that life was going to pass me by. Nothing to pass up the opportunity to live and teach in Europe for.
And yet, the unease persisted. I felt paralyzed by the decision before me… Hungary or Texas? Which to choose?
Like Erin in the clip, sometimes I think we just want to have something. I know that I did. I felt so stupid for being nearly 30, and being in this position of not having a real job, a real family, a real life. I felt like everyone was looking at me and thinking what a loser I was. What is it about having stuff, whether a job or a boyfriend or an iPhone, that makes us feel protected, insulated from accusations of uselessness and worthlessness?
This realization made me really uncomfortable. I wanted to take the opportunities I was given because I wanted them, because I felt that they were a part of the good purpose God had designed for my life, and not because I was desperately clinging to them for worth, as the proud badge I waved to the world to prove that I was one of the cool kids who had it all together, worthy of love and admiration because of the quantity of my possessions.
And so I stayed in Texas. I felt at the time like it was probably a dumb decision. I also felt an intense sense of relief and freedom.
And look here, a few months down the line, and Michael Scott has proved wise. It was neither Hungary nor Texas. Provided everything works out for my visa, in a couple of weeks I’m going to be back in Asia, teaching at an international school. So many elements of the job are so perfect for me, more perfect than I could ever have hoped for. And from the very beginning of this process, I have felt such peace compared to the constant unease I felt regarding Budapest.
When the right thing comes around, you know. The hard part is persevering through the waiting, the nothingness, the lies that tell you this having nothing is somehow an indication of your inherent worthlessness.
It’s not. Just like having stuff isn’t an indication of your inherent worth.
I’m grateful God gave me the chance to start to learn that lesson. I have a feeling that I’m going to get a lot of chances to re-learn it in the years ahead.
But that’s okay. He’s with me. What more do I need?
I was thinking of Hagar and the God who sees this morning while reading this blog post, which linked to this story about NPR host Scott Simon live-tweeting his mother’s death. Whether you think it’s beautiful or creepy, it definitely makes you think about our common human desire to be seen, to be known.
Although (as the myriad of reality-TV shows chronicling every silly moment in the lives of vapid celebrities can attest) the line between being known and utter self-absorption is sometimes thin and easily crossed, at its root, this desire to be known is a good desire. It pushes us toward community, toward relationship, toward intimacy.
Furthermore, we all want to know that our lives – our joys, our tragedies – matter. Sharing our experiences is a means of validating them, whether it’s letting someone witness your rawest sorrow, or sharing something you find delightful, or just letting them into the quiet, mundane moments that make up most of life. It’s a way of saying – life is quick, and all too fleeting, but what I feel – who I am – is real. This really happened. This is important. You are my witness that these things, that I, matter.
This is why we write, and why we read. This is also why we make status updates on facebook and update our twitter and why (some of us) feel the need to instagram every single thing we eat. It’s not a bad thing, in itself. It’s only dangerous when it becomes the thing in itself. When we feel like we are only known, like we only matter, because other humans see and appreciate everything about us, and are able to validate the glories and tragedies of our daily existence with their likes and re-tweets.
Because the truth is, sometimes we are going to be alone. Sometimes the electricity goes down. Sometimes there are things it’s inappropriate to share with certain people. Sometimes other people just aren’t there for us when they should be. Sometimes they don’t appreciate what we find delightful, or empathize with our sorrows. That’s part of living in a fallen world.
But what is wonderful about our God, our El-Roi, is that He is the one who always sees. We can live our lives knowing that He is always there, a continual witness to our joys and our tragedies and all the ordinary, uneventful moments in between. That we have great worth, that our experiences and emotions are real, that we matter. Even if no one else seems to cares about our pain, or likes the photo of our lunch on facebook, He is still our witness. He is the God who sees.
I haven’t been posting so much lately, but a lot has been happening, so maybe that justifies the lack. I got a new job, took up a consuming new hobby, and started planning a move to Budapest for later this year. Since I will be moving to Budapest in a missionary capacity, this involves raising support, which is an exciting (if somewhat overwhelming) process. This past week I had the fun opportunity (read: freezing cold opportunity) to attend a week-long training partnership development training in the arctic wasteland of Minnesota.
Being a beach girl to the core, I was pretty sure going into the experience that I was probably going to die from frostbite within the first twenty-four hours. Which I didn’t, so yay for that! Actually, at the time of this writing (the last day of the training) I have to say that I have gained a begrudging admiration for the beauty that can be snow. Some new friends and I walked to the Mall of America last night, which I have to say was a pretty huge achievement (even if the mall was nowhere as big as the malls back in Thailand. Maybe America has a thing or two left to learn about capitalism yet.)
The thing that always seems to strike me whenever I start a new adventure is how absolutely blessed I am. God is the master storyteller, and He has truly prepared unexpected and interesting settings for my story of sanctification – from the orange-gold of the Adirondacks in the fall, to the sun-soaked beaches of Thailand, to tramping through a snow-covered path in the depths of a Minnesota winter. The settings have so far been diverse and fantastic, and it’s so exciting and humbling to think of the settings that God might have in store for the next chapters of my story!
At the same time, however, I admit to feeling a certain weariness in it. Don’t get me wrong – I am so grateful for the places I’ve been, and for the people that I’ve met there. I feel so blessed to have such a wide variety of experiences with such a diverse group of friends and acquaintances; singing hymns in the middle of the lake with my camp friend T., lounging at the edge of dock at dawn with my Korean students on their senior trip, catching leaves in Central Park with N. and G., making a pinhole camera and taking it out in the middle of Songkran with a co-worker in Bangkok. There are so many dear people of whom I have so many lovely memories.
It’s not that I want to stop meeting people. But I would like to be better at retaining people. I feel like, so far in my life, I have been floating place to place, gaining some great memories and meeting some amazing people, only to leave them behind when I move on to the next place and the next group of people. Which gets sort of depressing after awhile. The older I get, the more I desperately desire constancy.
I think a lot of this has a lot to do with my place in life, as well. I’m in a sort of awkward stage, I think. It seems like all my friends my age are married and having kids, and while I enjoy hanging out with them, there’s definitely a certain feeling of… not being so consumed in the things that they are consumed with. There’s nothing quite like sitting in a room with a married couple and feeling that continual little undercurrent of isolation… because, face it, no matter how good of friends you are, and how much you like each other, and how much effort they put into making you feel included, you’re still going to be on the outside looking in at this intimacy that they have between them. You’re never going to be the most interesting person in the room to either of them. (And if you are, well, that’s a whole different problem.)
But hanging out with unmarried people is a bit depressing too; I’m realizing that the older I get, the younger everyone else does, too. Which is fine. I mean, I can be friends with people no matter if they were born yesterday, and value their insights, learn from their experiences, and enjoy their company. But again, that little undercurrent of isolation. Of not being quite on the same wavelength, and not necessarily wanting to be. Not that the wavelength of 22-year-olds is bad. But I’ve been there, done that, learned a bit and moved on a lot. Sometimes you just long for someone on your wavelength. You know, Wheel of Fortune and prune juice. That sounds right.
All this to say… I’m not sure what. It’s not like I’d trade my life; I’m super stoked about what the future holds and especially the opportunity to get to meet and to love new students/co-workers/ random people on public transport in Budapest. I am confident in the loving and compassionate nature of the God revealed through Jesus Christ, and rejoice in His past, present, and future faithfulness to me. I am encouraged to know that all the relationships that I have made with believers will ultimately end in unbroken unity and community in heaven.
But good stories have to have good conflict to make them interesting. At the moment, this is the conflict in my heart. It will turn out all right. Unless, of course, I am unknowingly living a Nicholas Sparks novel, in which case I will probably soon die in the most dramatic and heart-wrenching way possible.
Good thing God’s writing my story, and not Nicholas Sparks.
So, following yesterday’s post about the transient nature of the passing zeitgeist, I had a whole post worked out for today. It used a lot of big words, and some fancy rhetoric, and was full of allusions and citations. Maybe someday I’ll get around to posting it. But as I was working through it, it occurred to me that was I really wanted to say was a whole lot simpler:
There is a God. And He is a lot smarter than you or me. And He wants for people to be healthy and whole, and to know Him.
Really, if you believe that, then you don’t really have a problem with anchoring your belief system on an old book that claims to be His very words. You don’t have a problem with humbly accepting that human reasoning and wisdom isn’t the end-all and be-all of existence; that there could be things that seem okay to human thinking, but about which an infinitely wise, sovereign, and loving God knows better. You don’t even have a problem with being considered the world’s laughing-stock, because You know that this God is true and that His wisdom, righteousness, and love surpass anything any human could come up with, ever.
Being reviled for the faith is nothing new. How they teased and jeered Noah for building the ark. Hebrews 11, too, paints a very stirring picture of this: “Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two,they were killed with the sword.They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (vs. 36-38, ESV).
Cultural wisdom is shifting and prone to error, because it is based on human wisdom. The wisdom that comes from God, however, is eternal, and like Him never shifts or wavers. It is truly the only solid thing to build a life upon.