Yes?

I somehow feel the need to apologize to someone when I am not able. I feel responsible to be healthy, somehow, I suppose, or like it’s somehow my fault when I am stricken with migraines or unable to digest the things people are serving. Logically, I know it’s not true. I don’t control my migraines; they are sudden and unexpected. No matter how many times I’ve had them, no matter how familiar I become with the first warning signs, invariably my first instinct is that “I should be able to work through this.” And I try to, to my own harm — the faster and more decisively you deal with a migraine, the less troublesome it is. The longer you ignore it, the more disastrous it becomes. I know this, but I can’t shake the frustration and guilt that I should not be becoming non-functional.

When it is over, I feel like I have to apologize to people that I had one, or somehow explain that I didn’t mean for it to happen. This makes no sense. I know it makes no sense. No one can chose about having migraines and no one can hold me accountable for bodily malfunctions – and who would that be to hold me accountable anyhow? Still, I find myself by the copier machine, trying to explain to a co-worker what it feels like, how it happens, apologizing for my inability to carry my load the other day.

From a distance, I understand there is no need for this. That is exactly what is so perplexing to me. Why do I feel like it is a lapse in my human duty every time I’m relegated to a dark room? Why do I feel like it is a personal failure of mine that my body cannot be counted upon? And to whom would I apologize to for, who would have authority over, the functioning of my body? The only rational answer would be God, but of all the beings I would feel inclined to be regretful toward — well, it would seem God is the one who most is wanting me to withdraw from activity. He needs no apologies for mine leaving work, or laying in bed for hours. If anything, He wants a turn of heart such that I do that even without being smote with a major brain malfunction.

Am I saying I’m sorry because I feel the burden of not meeting societal expectations? Am I saying sorry because this is not who I want to be – and who do I want to be? Invincible, immortal? I don’t know. Perhaps part of the difficulty of know why is because it is a little bit of a lot of reasons, all blended together. I recognize the guilt and the frustration do me and everyone else no good; there is no benefit to it, nothing accomplished or attended to it by it. So I would like to get rid of it. But the only way to get rid of it is by accepting the infirmity rather than fighting it — and both my heels are dug in hard against that. This, I do not want. But this, it has been given to me. I am pushing it away with both hands; in all honesty, I don’t know what sitting calmly and opening my hands to receive it would even look like.

I am quite certain we cannot only accept the things that we judge to be good. That raging against is rarely – ever? – the called for response. But how do you say, “yes, Lord,” when it is ashes in your mouth, bitterness in your stomach? Acquiescing feels like a statement of complicity, of agreeing, of choosing – but I don’t choose this, and I didn’t think it was a good idea! But is that not what submitting is? Saying, “yes, Lord” for the one and only reason that you believe it is indeed from Him, and that belief alone drives you to accept it, trusting that His judgment and valuation is more right and true than yours, even though you can’t see how? In short, agreeing with His choice?

In the theory, in the abstract, in the vague idea that this should be so — it seems to be true. When the lights begin to shimmer, it becomes difficult to follow simple sentences, and the knowledge that curtain is descending becomes unavoidable — then I don’t know how to actually put that into practice. How do I calmly and trustingly accept that the rest of the day will now be dumped out the window while I lay in silence and wait for it to pass? The theory is there, but the practice is confounding.

Right now, for the time being, it is only tremulous yes at best.

Sit down and listen

You know how it is when you suddenly keep seeing or hearing the same thing everywhere? Sometimes you think, “haha, that’s odd!” Other times you begin to get that strange feeling between your shoulders, as the Omnipotent is trying to tell you something and you are clearly being more than a little dense.

In the later category, I keep stumbling over artists, authors, arm chair philosophers and meanderings of ordinary people giving voice to their thoughts all saying the same thing: pay more attention.

Sometimes they say “learn to see,” or “you are seeing, but not perceiving” or “you aren’t paying attention” or “you see it, you hear it, you know it, but you don’t remember it,” or “you have to really look at” — but it all comes down to the same things. We’re being given far more than we’re receiving. And, leaving the habitual (and why is that?) ‘we’ behind, I am apparently being told this is specifically being directed at me in particular, right now.

One of the tangential thoughts that has occurred to me is that part of what hinders the exploring action is the deciding/choosing/judging action. I am less often paying attention to what HAS happened to my day while I am still thinking about what I wanted to happen to my day or what I still intend to do with my day. I have even noticed that the act of valuation of what happened actually causes me to pay less attention to what in fact actually did transpire. I become instead fixated on my feelings about what happened instead of noticing what has occurred. And while I can tell people over and over how upset I am that the elevator broke, that the building only has one elevator, and that all these frail old people are now struggling to access life preserving treatment — what I fixate on is that I am upset. I am angry. Why? At whom? I can describe my emotions to you, but what aspect of this, in particular, is driving me almost to tears? Is it the powerlessness? Is it the callousness of the building manager? Is it that I am feeling the fear of the old people and feeling protective?

As I pick it apart, it is curious to me to realize how much of it is once again rooted in self-centering or self-absorption vs. centering around God. Am I trying to take ownership and control of everything around me, or am I recognizing that something is being given to me and exploring what it is I have been given? (Note that while I say “given” I don’t say “gift.” This is probably because I carry around so much baggage about “positive thinking” and any feeling miserable being a problem with your perception. I think sometimes we are given very hard and challenging things, but if we are consumed with the ‘I am miserable’ it becomes harder to see the ‘why’ of God or even the ‘what.’ When I am busy valuing and judging a day as a ‘bad day’ I am so caught up in my valuation and sense of oppression that I’m not honestly considering why on earth God might have allowed any of that to happen or to put me in the middle of it. Bluntly, I don’t care. I’m too busy caring about what a bad day I had and how oppressed I am.)

Poorly organized parenthetical thought aside, what I am trying to say is that I am beginning to see a pattern in how I react to things directly dependent on whether I am attempting to put my hand on the tiller and control, or whether I perceive myself as a passenger and I believe the actual captain to be competent. When I am attempting to direct and choose and decide, I have very little acceptance and the raging runs high. When I am more willing to go along for the ride as a passenger (usually I am more capable of doing so when I am more well rested), the raging subsides as I find myself more detached and take things less personally. I don’t mean that I am apathetic and don’t care; I just mean I am more willing to accept that getting stuck behind someone slow and hitting every red light is not in actual fact a direct attempt to destroy me. It is not “everything going wrong.” The guy holding the “slow” sign is actually another human being, and what is going through his head today? — not an insult to my existence.

If I’m not paying close attention to my own argument, it sounds almost as though I just said, “I’m more rational when I sleep more.” While that’s true, that’s missing the point. The point is, when I determine how life “should” be, I become very blind to what actually is. And my determinations of “should” are invariably thin, superficial and generally meaningless; what “is” is full of complexity, subtlety, interwoven relationships, and things greater than human comprehension. I become angry at the disconnect between what I think should be and what is, but in reality, getting what I think I wanted is the lesser of the two. Is there a component of gratitude tied up in all of this? Sure. But the relenting message I keep getting is “you’re missing it.”

I’m missing what? I don’t know. How would you know what you are missing if you aren’t paying attention enough to know what you are turning away from? But I’m missing it. I’m missing important things. That message keeps being handed to me, on one platter after another. With it comes little arrows toward what might help me correct that. Rest. Stop trying to control. Slow down. Ask why. Stop handing out valuations so rapidly. Someone is pulling back hard on the reins, and I’m trying to push forward anyway. I’m not going to just gradually without noticing it settle down into the proper pace. I have to be deliberate about changing my approach, and I am in fact exceptionally long over-due to do so.

Currently reading: Learning to Walk in the Dark, by Barbara Brown Taylor
Currently listening to: Miracle or Not, by Alisa Turner
Currently contemplating: avian handwork, including quilting/piecework and embroidery. Why is this so fascinating to me?

How to Change Low Beam Bulbs in Your Subaru Outback

It’s eeeeeeeeeasy.

You just need a few things.

– This helpful video: https://www.carcarekiosk.com/video/2012_Subaru_Outback_2.5i_Premium_2.5L_4_Cyl./lights/headlight

– a flashlight

– some disposable gloves

– a nylon rivet tool. (Preferably, the other tool. Not the one you have.)

– back up rivets, you know, just in case

– the right replacement bulb, not the one that the corrupted databases tell you that you need (SilverStar Ultra H7 is low beams, NOT H11, which is probably high beams, although I haven’t pulled them out yet to see if H11 matches anything)

– a sense of humor helps

I think that’s all.

Oh!

And —

– a contortionist brother with the proportions of the Slenderman — must be able to scratch his right ear by wrapping his right arm around his head and in front of his neck in order to scratch his right earlobe. And have a long neck. And he should have pretty strong hands, and be able to perform fine motor tasks by feel. And be willing to help. And pleased that it’s your car and not his.

If you don’t have that, then basically, just give up. Because nothing really happens without that.

To Care

Here is a common refrain: if you are having problems with depression and you need more gratitude, focus on serving others.

Here is my problem: what if the majority of your existence is already serving others? What if the cause of your emptiness is that you are giving all day, and there are people after people looking at you to give more, pleading with you to help them in a way you simply do not know how to help?

I know we so often taken for granted things like food, but how do you be grateful for food when you can’t taste, you’re nauseous, you don’t feel hungry at all, and you are simply putting food in your mouth and mechanically chewing, because you know the vehicle of your body technically needs fuel?

The part that seems so rarely discussed is that in caring for others, you carry their burdens. It is not a costless equation; far from it. For you to lift suffering is to take at least a measure of suffering upon yourself. This is by no means an argument that it shouldn’t be done. But it does seem unusual and cruel to turn it into a job.

Care for your neighbor, yes. Dredge up all the neighbors and ship them off to be cared for, the pain and weight falling on those deemed appropriate to care? How can it not become more than can be carried? Is it right at all to learn to not care, to build up walls between you and others, to get a callous to protect yourself? We justify it on the grounds of still being able to do the work, but then there are a hundred thousand people begging that we learn to be vulnerable, that we don’t actually have human connection with each other.

Is it fair to say that since I care more than you, it is my right and responsibility to learn to care less? Or do I merely endorse the destruction of my human self on the twisted framework of society? Or is this what it means to be poured out like a drink offering: painful and soul-sucking and right and true for the passing breath of this life?

If the latter-most is true, it makes you long for the end of the age. I can find nothing to refute it, but it bleeds the hope out of tomorrows. The draught put before you will never be empty, never be less bitter, will never choke less when you swallow. Where do you put the gratitude in that, other than hoping that someday it will all be over?

It hurts.

Garden entry 001

There were a bunch of old lettuce seeds (at least 6 years old) so I combined them and tossed them in the open side bed, above the garlic. I put the Botanical Interests Mache Big Seeded in the upper left corner, where it would stay shadey longer, and spinach (Burpee double take) down that side bed. I put Red Russian Kale (peaceful valley 2012) and rainbow lacinato (fedco 2010) in the lower middle beds, as well as the rest of the Mache.

It’s all very old seed (except the spinach) and the birds are hungry, so I doubt how much of it will survive. But I do want to know where to go looking for seedlings when it starts warming up for real.

Be still . . . and KNOW

Limitless. . .

Unrestrained. . .

Unquantifiable. . .

All-powerful. . .

No one is above you.

Your pulse is in the waves, in the tides
the weather is Your breath, Your sighs

We say You are above every power. . .but we see so little power in this world, we don’t even know what that means.

The unstoppable forces of nature–yes, that we can understand. No one harnesses a tornado.

But King of kings? What does that mean? We have no respect for worldly powers–they are figureheads. They are self-important. They are brutal or they are impotent. What does it even mean to be cared for by someone in a position of power?

A priest, to intercede? We don’t understand. We see empty, powerless forms, we see scandals. We don’t understand a holy mediator between Almighty God and fragile man. We don’t even know what it means to prophecy. It sounds like something that goes on a late night “paranormal activity” TV shows, not a way to seek God’s will. We think of cults and of horrible things.

A shepherd, then, who tends his flock. But caring for your animals is such a quaint thing, out-moded, practical only as a hobby of the naive and romantic. Certainly nothing you’d lay your life down for. How absurd.

Well. . . like a master. Like a servant looks to his master, the head of the house, for provision of his needs. How do you mean? Like, at work, where we know they will squeeze us to get blood out of stones, and demand more for less all the time? No one cares for us there. How do you mean, like the head of a household? No one is home.

Like a father his children. . .but how many do not even know their fathers? Needs become institutionalized.

Like a bridegroom his bride. . .but no one believes love is forever. You hope it will last, but you can go through several spouses. . .marry for money.

All our analogies are breaking down. We don’t understand what it means to be loved and cared for. We don’t know what authority means, we don’t what protection means. “Rescue” is something that only happens in fairy tales. People just look after themselves, that’s all. . .

God says He loves us, and we don’t even understand what He’s saying. It’s a foreign word, one we don’t understand. That He would die for us — what do you mean? It’s a parable – a joke – a myth. Even fairy tales struggle to have someone die for someone else. It just isn’t realistic.

We’re so confused. We could almost believe in an all powerful evil being, because evil we understand. But an all powerful good being, loving being? It sounds like nonsense. What is good? What is love?

Love makes the oceans pulse, but we cannot comprehend it.

[Editor’s notes: found in my notes, undated. I think it was in a school notebook when I was going to a community college. Chucked the school notes and kept the other thoughts. {extra note: judging from the to-do list written on the back, probably winter/spring of 2011.} Although the setting for the piece is now quite vague in my mind, I think it was thoughts I had after some interactions with other students, in particular with backgrounds from “broken homes.” How do you explain the love of God? It is both vast beyond our comprehension, and indescribable when even reflective images are unknown to your audience. I don’t know if love can be explained; only experienced. And when one’s experience is painfully lacking, how can you convince them of the truth? It’s a hard, hard thing.]

testing

migrated to a new server, testing functionality

Broken

Wracked with pain, miserable, and so weak and exhausted that standing could only be done for a few minutes and if I positioned myself just so and held on, I was still called to sing. You could say called by the choirmaster, who happened to have chosen “Holy, holy, holy,” but I would say called by God, who knew perfectly well what I was going through and wanted to know if I would still stand up and declare Him holy. I did; but it is what I can only call “a broken and holy hallelujah.” Or, as I text messaged a friend later in that evening, with tears streaming down my face, sometimes the harder it is to say something, the more true it is.

I have been facing a growing frustration with how many people and places I see touting that horrible things are gift. Most recent was a post I read entitled “The Gift of Lack: Infertility, Miscarriage, Singleness and the Long Wait.” Maybe, as I grow in maturity, discernment and perspective, I will grow to agree with this view point. But also, maybe not. While I understand the quest to find God holy in every situation, I’m not sure that I can reconcile myself to understanding “the emptiness” as a gift. The broken and the holy hallelujah seems to have fallen somewhat out of favor in preference to giving thanks FOR all things (which I see as very much different understanding than my reading of giving thanks IN all things).

Maybe, perhaps, Job was supposed to sit there in his loss and misery and say, “Thank you, God, for the gift of emptiness and loss and loneliness.” Or maybe he was just supposed to give exactly what God pulled out of him in the end: that broken and holy hallelujah, the one that says, “This isn’t fair, this is horrible, I see no goodness in this at all. Yet You have declared Yourself to be good, and I must acknowledge it as truth for no other reason than that You are holy.

For no other reason.

I see people (not just the post I mentioned above) tying themselves in knots trying to explain how all the hard and horrible things are gifts. I had people trying to tell me that I would look back on the time when I was sick and would see the gift of it all. But you know what? No. Listen–this world sucks. This cursed world is full of things it was never meant to be full of, including sin and death and suffering and lack and betrayal. And while God is at work to redeem, it doesn’t come to its fullness in this age, and we still have it all–sin, death, suffering, misery, grief, and much more. He can work in those things, and through those things and in spite of those things, but I, personally, cannot find the grounds to call those things gifts. Jesus, hanging on the cross, did not say “Father, thank you for the gift of all of my friends running away from me at my hour of greatest need.” He said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?”

He was quoting a psalm, of course; the psalms are full of people crying out from the darkness, from the pit, from their loss and their lack and their heartache and their wretched loneliness. And they didn’t call that wretchedness a gift. That He often sends a blessing in the midst of the darkness does not make the darkness in itself a gift. That He uses a curse to redeem those under a curse does not make the curse any less of a curse, even though He paradoxically works beyond it to bring great blessing.

Maybe perhaps you think I am splitting hairs. Maybe perhaps you think there is no wrongness to mashing together the two concepts of praising God in spite of everything, from a low and shattered existence, and praising God for everything, since He can use anything for our good and so it must be a gift. Maybe I am not pious enough, like Corrie Ten Boom and her sister giving thanks for head lice, and maybe, if I just got my spiritual act together, I could begin to see that my times of grief and longing are in fact, their actual selves, gifts.

But I am not yet ready to yield that. Because what I see reinforced and encouraged by that view point is the condemnation of suffering. The teaching that if you are truly miserable, and the holiness of God is a hard thing to find on your lips, then it is no one’s fault but your own that you are incapable of accepting God’s gifts. Now, God does give good gifts; but that is not the entirety of our relationship to God, anymore than it is always Christmas or always your birthday, and all of life is never anything but happiness and presents.

It would be an easy jump to point out that God also gives discipline, which is true, but I mean more than that. I mean that it is not a one way street, and God also requires things of us. He describes Himself as a jealous God, and His anger when we chase after other things; He requires faithfulness. Faithfulness is not a property of a response to gifts; faithfulness is a property of a response to kill your own son, to have your children and your possessions stripped from you and your friends to tell you it’s all your fault, to declare the truth of God even when you know it will result in hell-in-a-stove or death by stones. And God also requires holy fear — awe and silence that come from recognizing the vastness of God’s greatness and the tiny pitifulness of our own smallness. You can’t have a broken and holy hallelujah without first being broken.

To condemn suffering is also to condemn those who cry out to be delivered. Because to consider it as a gift means to be grateful for it, and to be grateful for it means that you should have no need to beg for it to be taken away. I see that nowhere, least of all in the psalms. And I sure don’t see Abraham or Hannah or many of the other devastatingly childless people in the Bible sweetly sitting there saying, “thanks for no kids!” They cry out. “Be fruitful and multiply,” says the Lord, and in this broken, busted world that doesn’t work the way it ought, some do not get to have part of “be fruitful and multiply.” God answers some of their pleas, like Hannah, but the list of people who have died childless is soberingly long, and grievous.

Is God always working good works? Yes. Does God give good gifts? Yes. Ergo, is every black and empty thing a gift? No! No. That God can work redemption through even black and empty things does not mean that we’ve reached the fullness of redemption and that all things ARE good. He created all things as good, and then sin entered the world, and all thing are NOT good, even though God Himself remains good. It is by faith, and only by faith, that it can be said that God is good, when it becomes devastatingly impossible to see good in the horrors around you. And faith is pleasing to God. And being broken is pleasing to God, who values broken and contrite hearts more than the sacrifice of the cattle on a thousand hills. And recognizing the holiness of God is pleasing to God, who stoops to reach down to us but is by no means lowered to our meager depths. And the broken and the holy hallelujah rings true, in His ear and in the cloud of witnesses.

I will not, like so many I’ve seen, stand up and make a smarmy (if perhaps heartfelt or well intended) pledge on Facebook about how I’m accepting God’s gift of singleness and will live joyfully before the world with this beautiful blessing of singleness. It’s not true; I don’t believe it. Instead I will sit here, and say much more quietly, that sometimes in my longing I think maybe I understand better what God means when He says He is longing for the wedding feast of the Lamb. Aha! you say, see! Singleness is a gift — see what you understand better? No, I say; it’s not the gift OF singleness, it’s a gift found IN singleness, a gift given in spite of the longing and the empty. You don’t wish a gift to be over; and yet isn’t it described as God Himself wanting the time of waiting and longing to be over?

Maybe I am lacking in piety. Maybe I am lacking spiritual maturity. Maybe I lack perspective. Or maybe God is drawing out from me that which He wants to receive: The broken–and the holy–Hallelujah.

Eat and drink, and tomorrow. . .

Someone recently asked me about any dietary restrictions they might need to accommodate, and I felt utterly struck dumb. Sometimes you feel like you really can’t tell the whole truth. Because the whole truth looks something like this:

Things I think probably don’t make me feel great, but I’m not sure that they’re really part of the Problem:
Peppers
Eggs
Peanuts (ok, I know those don’t make me feel great)

Things that so far have reliably made me expand like a puffer fish and cramp painfully:
Garlic
leeks

Things that I’m not sure what they do to me, except fill me with a sense of dread and make me not want to eat them:
rice
quinoa

Things that are under strong suspicion of bringing on fatigue and muscle aches:
Dairy (specifically, the protein, with a latency of about week)

Things that I think are okay, but I’m not 100% positive:
tomatoes
corn

Things I’m slightly suspicious of, but am currently eating anyway:
potatoes
chocolate (if it doesn’t have milk)
beans, maybe I am eating
oats

This is only the things that I have supposedly tested. Never mind the long list of things I’ve yet to “test.” And none of this is conclusive. There are so many factors and interactions. Was it really the food you ate, or was it fighting off a virus, hormone fluctuations, the other food you also ate that you didn’t think you had to test, or actually the thing you added in last week? And if you think about it hard enough, is there really anything you can eat without affecting your digestion?

The thing is, I still have to try. Because so far the only thing I have conclusively proved to myself is that when I say, “Oh, whatever. This is probably not helping and way too much bother,” and go back to eating whatever I want, my health starts sliding down hill. At first mildly, tolerably. . .and then picking up speed and rushing toward crisis. And every time I get scared and drastically limit my diet, my health starts improving–gradually at first, but then dramatically. But without clear indication of what exactly it is that I shouldn’t be eating.

I don’t want this. I don’t want to have to limit my eating in the first place, and I certainly don’t want it to be this confusing or dragged out. It would be lovely if I could just say, “I just can’t eat X.” It would be lovely if I didn’t think this sorting out was going to have to last a good long while yet. It would be lovely if I could eat with other people, and not try to resist in the name of ambiguous and ill-defined restrictions.

But every time the slide toward ill-feeling begins, I remember sitting in my bed, rocking back in forth, having just been woken up by what I can only describe as feeling like there was a war going on in my body from head to toe. Wave after wave of revolt, wracking pain, paleness and trembling. And the quiet thought in the back of my head, “is this what it feels like when you’re dying?”

It scares me with the kind of visceral fear you have when you lose control of your vehicle and don’t know where you will wind up or in what kind of shape. Only the vehicle that I’m losing control of now is not a Honda CR-V on black ice with running water on top of it. It’s not something I can go down to the used-car dealership and replace. It’s a body where the only option is cumulative damage and progressive handicap and inability to function.

Or else. . .figure out why my body breaths such a sigh of relief when I stop eating almost everything. No matter how many months or years it takes to figure it out. And then I guess respect that. Or return to the darkness.

Go On.

This is the part I didn’t want to think about.

Not because I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Because I did know, and I didn’t want to suffer through it twice, once imagining it and again when it happened. There was nothing I could do to change it or influence it or cut it shorter. It was part of the deal when I first signed up, and there was no mitigating it.

I’ve only got a few weeks left, but I swear, every single day is harder. I keep looking for ways to soften it, ways to carry on, but nothing seems to work. Except with startling frequency, when I open my Bible, it is speaking of endurance or perseverance. Which means that even though I want to turn around and leave, right now, yesterday, before that, I can’t.

And I suppose that in itself is part of the reason why I’m here. When things get hard is when you find out what you cling to. I don’t cling to the thought of the glory of the degree or of the power of the paycheck. I can’t even cling to being done, as all around me the world whispers “just what until you see what you have to do next!” The only thing I can cling to is that it is God who brought me here, will bring me through here, and will take me away from here.

But it keeps getting harder, and I don’t understand why I just can’t be done already. I can’t understand what could possibly make the next few weeks worth it. No deal. No choice. Or at the very least, certainly not enough faith to even ask for what I most want, which is to somehow be done sooner. Done now.