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:
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:

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:

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:

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

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.

April is National Poetry Month?

So much I’ve wanted to write here in the last few months, but always running out of time, of energy, of the ability to put sentences in front of and behind each other. But at least, this: sharing of someone else’s words that echo inside of my own self.



It is not sadness. It is not fear. It is not dread. It is not reluctance. It is not refusal. It is nothing.

The eyes are open now, but nothing is there. The body will move, but out of habit, and the habit is not so strong. If there is any motivation at all, it is to be not found out. Make no ripples. Make no waves. Clothes must go on; absence today would be noted. Breakfast? No one will know. What to do instead?

Just sit.

And look.

Stare, really.

No movement, except to glance at the watch. How long can nothing happen before it is found out?

Odd how the mechanical motions seem to be almost observed instead of directed.

There are problems with the car. This is bad. This should mean emotions. No, this is good. No one will ask now what is wrong. The car is wrong, of course. Just the car.

The nothingness is wrong. Very wrong. This place has been visited before. It is not okay. It was not like this last night. It was like this in the morning. Try being in the bed again; maybe, with sleep, the nothingness will go away.

Now there are tears. No words behind the tears. No problem to be fixed. Just tears. The numbness was preferable.

But pretending is always an option. Shelve it. No one needs to see that. Smile. Nod. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. There is something about young children who want attention. They want attention, so they don’t give it. They want attention, and they distract. Count change – pennies and nickles and quarters. Children are distracted by pennies; when does that lose its hold? The void is there. Sitting and staring, though the person to the side tries to make conversation. But talking is hard, in the void. There is nothing to say.

It is time to go again, so go. Laying in the pew, listening to the people making music. There is no point to being here. The people making music laugh. That is good for the people who still can laugh. But there is no point to being here.

More people come. They try to ask questions. They try to be nice. The tears come back, and this time the will not be quelled. They keep leaking out. The people are singing, getting ready for Sunday. There is no point to being here. Lying in the pew, tears coming onto the face. Not all children want attention. Some understand there are things that are beyond words. A little hand awkwardly pats, strokes. Everyone knows. There is shame in public humiliation. Why be here? A way should have been found to not be here. The people sing. The evening will never end.

The singing is stopping.

The people are coming down, coming close. Hunching over the pew. Hands. Hands on the shoulder, hands on the elbow, hands on the back. Large hands and smaller hands, warm hands, still hands, comforting hands. Voices rising to heaven, carrying petitions for the suffering. The angels are watching this holy convocation, to learn the work of their Lord. Another petition. Then, poignant, slow, almost a lullaby–a soprano leads, but others join the music:

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face to shine upon you
To shine upon you and be gracious
And be gracious unto you

The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord lift up the light of His countenance upon you,
The Lord lift up the light of His countenance upon you
And give you peace, and give you peace;
And give you peace, and give you peace. . .”

Amen and amen.

All of the people–all of the people–go up to sing. Good Friday is coming.


“Where you there. . .when they crucified my Lord?
Where you there. . .when they laid Him in the tomb?

Tears. Suffering.


“. . .they laughed and scorned Him as He died.
The humble king, they named a fraud. . .”

Public humiliation.

Easter is coming. Sing:

“. . .Were you there when He rose up from the grave?
Were you there when He rose up from the grave?. . .”

“. . .for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
The kingdom of this world
is become the kingdom of our Lord
and of His Christ, and of His Christ!
And He shall reign for ever and ever. . .”


There are many days left to prepare for. Sing:

“. . .What is man, that you are mindful of him?
You have given man a crown of glory and honor
and have made him a little lower than the angels. . .”


The darkness has receded. There will be sleep tonight. There will be inexplicable new mercies tomorrow morning.

The prayers of the saints are a pleasing aroma to the Lord.



I know it’s traditional to be reflective this time of the year, but honestly, I think I am in between every semester. It’s the only time I seem to slow down enough to think, and thinking can’t be rushed. I’m probably particularly reflective because I hit a milestone in my trips around the sun this year, and because this is the last full semester of classwork coming up. It has left me in this peculiar space of partly feeling like big changes are coming, and partly not.

I feel like I should be preparing for some big turning of my world on the inside out, and yet feel as though I have no indication what those changes might be. But the flip side of that is knowing too well what changes are coming, and so deluding myself into thinking it will be no big deal. In another 6 months, I’m moving again. And even though it’s to a familiar place, it still means packing up all my belongings, tugging free what tendrils have rooted, and trying to retransplant. And the truth is, that will happen almost every 2 months for about 3/4s of a year. Surely that’s enough change for anyone.

But maybe trying to gear up for that season of rapid transition is part of the feeling of getting started on something new–I can’t dwell on that much shape-shifting. It’s hard enough to get through it without holding your breath for a year, so I find myself mentally “skipping over” that chapter and trying to figure out what comes next. The reality is that would be trying to divine what is going to be happening more than a year from now, and of course that doesn’t make sense. So mentally and emotionally, I think I’m trying to prepare for “what comes next” as though it would be forming during this semester and happening during this summer. But knowing that, in reality, that’s not so — well, it really puts a damper on one’s planning, I can tell you that.

It feels a good deal like spinning wheels — gearing up to get moving very quickly, yet going nowhere. I looked through seed catalogs the other day, but I’ll be spending the first half of the gardening season in one state, and the other half of the gardening season in another state. I’ve finally found a choir I enjoy singing in, but that will be over when I move, and there’ll be no looking for replacements for at least a year.

There’s a feeling of helplessness, I think, in being unable to plan. It’s not that everything ever has to go according to plan, but it’s just that there’s no bracing yourself for what comes next, or carving out a little piece of something to look forward to.


I can’t find it now, of course, but this past season I saw a picture of “cool Santa.” I’m pretty sure he was advertising something, though I have no idea what. His beard was trimmed; he’d lost some weight. He had a motorcycle, and was dressed pretty spiffy. Also, he had a smartphone.

Also, he was in “the smartphone stance.”

Do you know that stance? It’s similar to, and nearly as common now, as the glamorous cigarette shot of yester-year. Don’t look at the cigarette/smartphone. Hold in such a way to show that, yes, you own it, but deign to give your attention elsewhere.

Know what I’m talking about? No? That’s okay. Even if you aren’t tracking with me about iconic photo trends, we’ve all heard (ad nauseam, probably) the comparisons between smartphone use and addictions. About how in fifty years we’ll be horrified–smoking at the dinner table! Smoking in bed right before falling asleep! Smoking in restaurants! Smoking while you walk, smoking while you drive, smoking while you study, smoking while you work!

But the fact that smartphone use is addicting is not what I found notable. It just reminded me of the thoughts I’ve been having lately that it seems to me that society’s relationship to addictions are changing. There was a time there when being “addicted” was something I heard talked about in horrible, hushed tones. Now, I hear people talking about how they’re addicted to pumpkin spice, about “crack” pie or other “crack” food, because it’s so addicting. People talk with delight about their obsessions, make light of alcoholism, “can’t even” live without the latest tacky trend.

Yes, we all get addicted. Is it something to be ashamed of, something to be managed, something to take almost childish delight in?

I think it is a good question. For but one example, I live in a nation that has sometimes been described as being addicted to their rat race, for their long hours and high stress and career expectations. I’ve heard many admittances that this does horrible things for us. Sometimes I hear pride about it anyhow, like an anorexic proud of how skinny they are. Sometimes I hear some sadness, but mostly I hear a lot of talk about balance. Life-work balance, don’t you know. If we can just get the balance right. . .

But you know, I don’t know, I don’t read much in the Bible about a life-work balance. I mostly read, yes, you will be obsessed. Make sure you are totally and wholly obsessed with the right thing. And this is a hard thing. Because while we sometimes like the idea that we aren’t don’t have to have self-control, we also really do not like the idea that we’re supposed to be committed to just One. We want endless lattes AND skinny jeans; fame and glory AND leisure; family AND power. Serving two (or forty-three) masters is what we’re all about. Serving just One is disturbing and distasteful.

People often try to express that about “religion,” too. It’s okay if it’s “part” of your life, and it’s kind of quaint if you go to church on Sundays. But be religious in moderation, okay? Nothing too weird.

I think people have tried to talk about this before, but not in any way that resonated to me. Jesus Freak. Magnificent Obsession. I guess part of what I find distasteful in that is it’s still the “haha, isn’t it cute? I’m, like, totally addicted to God!” There’s such an ‘oopsy’ there. I just can’t help myself. It just happened. Maybe that’s good enough for the gods of the world, but what I understand God to be looking for is much more deliberate, conscious, and insistent. We aren’t getting our “fix” of God, because to serve God is to serve Him even if it means getting thrown into the fiery furnace, not because serving God gives us our “high” of the day.

It’s hard because it’s singular. It’s hard because it means saying no to other things. It’s hard, because we don’t own God, and because we can’t just trade out one drug for another if we decide it isn’t working. And it’s hard because we can’t throw in any ‘and’s. No God AND safety. God AND predictability. God AND glamour. God AND rationality. Just God. Only God. And there’s no sequestering, no God over there, and something else over here.

I don’t think addiction used to be okay. I think we used to use the language of duty and responsibility and maybe even loyalty. And I think those concepts have gone almost entirely out of fashion. It’s not that using the concepts of responsibility makes things better; one can be responsible to the wrong things just as easily as addicted to the wrong thing. But addictions being viewed and frivolous and indiscriminate and harmless makes it harder to convey the sobriety of the situation. It’s not something you do on your own time that you pretend doesn’t have an effect on your real life or your relationships. It’s a commitment entered into seriously, a level of devotion that far overcomes “preference” or “taste.” And it doesn’t photograph as cool, not by a long shot. Addictions are style points; God is not.

The problem is that while some of us would like to think that we could be the centurion that declared the presence of the Son of God, the humble man who prayed for forgiveness, the rich soil that bore fruit a hundred-fold–it’s still really, really hard to pray, “Not what I want, but what You will.” The lists of what we want are easier to write, and re-write when things change. And it’s hard to say, “none of this really matters,” and walk away from it all. It’s hard to accept, sometimes, what surrender really looks like.

And the problem with Santa with a cellphone is that I see myself there, as odd as it may seem. Rationalizing my addictions, holding out plans for self-improvement or shaping of my own life. In the flinch-and-look-away is the whisper of truth: I struggle so with my own lack of self-control; how can I be dedicated to my God?

How often it is forgotten: There is sorrow leading to death and there is sorrow leading to life. There is a point to see such things, and it’s not in wallowing in self-condemnation. It is so that when there are those tempting lists of self-improvements and life plans, we remember something more true. The God who created us, fearfully and wonderfully, is eternal. His song is for ages past and for all the tomorrows. For now, for this time, He is outside the camp. Let us go to Him.


It’s silly, I think, the things we are capable of forgetting.

For example, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dutifully tried to get in the habit of making my bed. Having a made bed looks civilized. I find I function better in mildly civilized environments, where at least some manner of order prevails. The effort of establishing this small ritual ensues. Repeatedly.

Because what I keep forgetting is that I entirely loathe sleeping in a made bed. For one thing, the blankets feel either heavy and tight (and I need room to feel relaxed), or else they feel thin and flat. No comfy nest of coziness. For another thing, I tend to get chilly at night. I lay still, and my bodily systems shut down; with that goes my ability to generate heat. I was at a pretty young age when I grasped the principles of insulation. The point is to keep air from moving, and the more air you keep the better. By creating pockets of air that don’t move, you capture all the energy (in the form of heat) and keep it from drifting off. Hence the waffle-weave of long underwear, the crimped fibers of wool, and the fluffy nature of down. If you smooth out all of your blankets nice and flat and civilized, you miss out on so many opportunities for retaining heat. If, on the other hand, you make sure each blanket is wrinkled in a different pattern from each other–why, you dramatically cut down on how many blankets you need to stay warm! (Right now I’m using 4 blankets. If I “make the bed,” I’m cold and don’t sleep well. If I leave a messy bed, I sleep well.)

This is about as close to the bare necessities as one can get–How To Stay Warm At Night And Sleep–and still I occasionally forget, and feel as though I ought to reform my slovenly ways. Other people around me are living with neat beds. Their neat beds are proper and dignified. Mine does not meet the standard of well-kept. Yet conforming to expectations decreases my quality of life–it makes me less happy, and actually function at a lower level. And still, I am prone to forgetting. A small thing, yes; but the fact that it is such a basic thing is also precisely what makes it so concerning.

If I can forget about things as simple as how I sleep best (despite others’ expectations), what else am I capable of becoming confused about? Is there any limit at all? Likely not. I think of how often the writers of the New Testament said “reminding you again” and “remind each other” and other things of like manner. Forgetting what matters is apparently part of the human condition, and so we’ll never be quite free of it here. Sometimes it seems like it devolves into a constant game of hide and go seek. Is this–any of this–really important, or having I been imbibing the importance of others again?

I’m not surprised when I find out what is important to me. I’m frustrated that I’ve forgotten again, for all I’ve really done is rediscovered what I already knew. Like a brute animal being trained, it is only by repeatedly smashing my head against the same thing, over and over, that I gradually begin to understand How Important a thing is. Part of the curse must be in never actually learning, and part of perfection must be in not forgetting what was once known. In complete honesty, it makes me angry. I want to learn new things, not be continually reminded with how poorly I learned the first time. And why am I so susceptible to becoming confused by the things around me? I’m angry about that, too.

One might be tempted to say that it takes someone with a very strong vision for themselves to maintain their single-mindedness in a world full of pressures and temptations. I am, however, going to suggest the complete opposite. I think it is the idea that one can “make” oneself that gets us so confused. If we forget that we are created, then it becomes our responsibility to shape ourselves. And that’s when we stumble over all the things that seem like perhaps they are right, even if for us they are so wrong. If we are created, then the task is to observe what is and to be faithful to it. If we’re making ourselves, it rapidly becomes confusing. A lot of what we see other people doing appears to be good, and we dabble on a little of this and a little of that, and combine it all with a lot of over thinking of “what life is supposed to be like.” But a duck is not concerned with living the life of a pelican, and a wolf never tries to be a house cat. They know what they’ve been created to be, and they’re not very concerned with what anyone else thinks of that or what anyone else is doing, even.

This weekend, I have been struggling with the idea of backing out of the TA position that was offered to me for next semester. On paper, it seems like a good thing. It would look good on my resume. I like teaching. The school is struggling to find TA’s (they need 3 for that class, and so far I’m the only one). Everyone says the students would really benefit from me being a TA. I’d get paid, at least a little. It would be very dutiful of me. Very responsible. Very just-so and neat and orderly. I feel as though I Ought to.

But I think the answer is No. Because, in reality, I don’t like the topic and have very little respect for the teacher, and it’s on a Friday afternoon which is otherwise class-less. Of all the things that I could do on a whole wide day off, would being a TA really benefit me the most? No. Definitively. I’d be signing up for making myself miserable because I Ought to, and in doing so, NOT doing any one of the hundred million other things that would be better for me. In the name of guilt. In the name of it being a reasonable, responsible, society-sanctioned, over-achiever approved activity. Because some people do that, and it seems like it’s a good thing, so maybe I should try, too.

You may have laughed off my unmade bed. We all have our eccentricities. You may have shrugged off the TA position. Different strokes for different folks; not the right thing for you at this time, and that’s fine. But you should see the look of horror when I tentatively float the idea that after I graduate, I don’t want to work full time. That, my friends, is real heresy. I might say fantasy, which would be true in that I don’t think most people think it’s possible, but it’s more than that. There is such an undercurrent of disgust, of insult, of condemnation. This is what people do: they go to college, and then they work full time. You can work more than 40 hours, if you like, but not less. You filthy heathen.

I like my field. I am convinced that God uses me through my work. It’s good work. I don’t have a problem with “work” per se, and I’m not condemning anyone’s work schedule. It’s just that I also know I’m an introvert, and that spending that much time with other people continually leaves me so drained I want to cry. I know that I don’t do well with rigid structure, and I like things to move and flex, not grind on unceasingly around the week, the month, the entire calendar. And I know that there are a lot of other good things I can do with my time.

Society says it’s okay to say, “I’d love to spend more time with my grandmother, but I can’t; I have to work.” It’s okay to say, “I wish I could be there to help my friends who are having babies, but I can’t; I have to work.” It’s fine to say, “You know, it might be fun to get and train a therapy dog and go visit nursing homes and hospitals. But I can’t; because I have to work.” But it is Not Okay to say, “I can’t work that much; I have to go help my grandmother, and be there for my friends and go cheer up the sad and lonely people of the world.” I would say it’s regarded as being silly, but it seems to be to be met with more heat than mockery.

I’m not going to go into a lecture about priorities and making sacrifices for what’s important; I’m not going to explain to you why you should be like me. I’m just saying, working 40 hours a week for a paycheck from someone else can look like a good and responsible and proper thing to do. As does making the bed every morning. And maybe for some people it is; and that’s their business. But no where does it say, “Thou Shalt make your bed every morning,” or “Thou Shalt work 40 hours+ every week to earn your paycheck from someone else.” It is, in this society, utterly shocking. That doesn’t make it wrong, and in fact, does not mean it isn’t what I truly ought to do.

And am I telling you that? Or telling myself? Not working for someone else full time is perfectly in keeping with who I am, and the idea doesn’t disturb me. But being so out of step with the world around me apparently does, because I’ve been investing a lot of energy into trying to convince myself that the 40 hour work week wouldn’t really be so bad; that I’d get used to it; that it’s just the way the world is; that I Ought To; that thousand and thousands of people do it; that maybe if it was a better work situation; that if I just found the right job; that maybe I’ll change; that I should Be Responsible; and any other thing I can do to drown out the persistent voice inside of me saying, “No. No! NO.”

I’m fighting my very own self to not let everyone in on the dirty little secret that I don’t want to live that life. It’s so shocking and so scandalous to people, and it seems so irresponsible. But I was a PTA before, and people live off that income. PT’s get paid twice as much. How hard is it to make that leap? Live like the PTA I was–I was never in this for the money, anyhow–and actually live a life? Oh, but your student loans, your student loans! I know. 3 years and a lifetime of debt. But once you make your peace with the idea that you’ll be paying them back for the rest of your natural life or until someone decides to forgive whatever is left (whichever comes first), you realize that it actually has very little bearing on how you live your life. They are student loans, after all; the terms are much less stringent (quite flexible, actually), perhaps in part because you can’t foreclose on my education and suck it all back out of my ear. There’s nothing to reclaim, so why not just accept a steady stream of interest repayments for about, say, forever?

But you’re Supposed To. You’re supposed to want more; you’re supposed to want to “better yourself;” you’re supposed to want to get things done; you’re supposed to accept the lifestyle of the daily grind. Only ridiculously rich people are allowed to have to luxury of setting their own priorities; the rest of us are Supposed To put our time in. Who do you think you are, to dare to not put in the hours everyone else is? If it was your job to visit people in nursing homes, then okay. If you just want to go do it “just because,” without getting paid for it, instead of working hard like the rest of us, then no. And if you don’t want to work for the man because you have too much else you want to learn, too much else you want to create, too much else you want to enjoy? Suck it up, buttercup. Being an adult is all about doing what you don’t want to do.

Society accepts learning if you are paying for it and getting a piece of paper; society doesn’t accept learning if it looks too much like having fun. Society accepts volunteering, if you do it through sanctioned organizations with proper sign-up times; society resents it if it looks like helping family and friends. You can pursue your dreams, as long as they look like working really hard and not even having any time left to pick your toenails; but you can’t pursue your dreams if it looks like having a perfectly normal hard-scrabble (medium-scrabble?) life where you wonder how long you can keep your car running and wish it wasn’t so expensive to get your teeth cleaned at the dentist but at least you aren’t spending your entire life counting down till Friday.

Some of us make our beds. Some of us don’t. I think that perhaps all of us, deep down inside, know who we are. We just don’t always remember. Other things press in. The immediate seems to make the most sense. Things that seem important, reasonable, responsible, prudent, sensible, acceptable, or even just attainable–tumble down in a continual avalanche. It’s a struggle to keep climbing out from under it all, shaking it off, and saying, “I’m sorry; I didn’t have time to do the homework; I had to be outside.” It’s the truth, but it’s so much more unexpected than saying, “I’m sorry I couldn’t be outside, but I had homework.” I don’t expect people to accept it, so I don’t tell them, hiding that statement inside of me. It’s not a question of who you decide you will be; it’s a question of remembering who you already are. It’s paying attention to, and admitting, and remembering all the things that kill you day by day, and all the things that pour little golden drops of light into your life and make you breath deeper and sleep sounder.

You know who you are. Do you remember? What are you going to do about it?


Friend, your post made me think enough I decided to write my own post in response. I think there’s a dignity limit to how long comments can get. You asked some questions and you said some things, and my mind has gone off on all sorts of tangents, and as one of my favorite quotes has said (I don’t know who the person was who said it, anymore), “the ability to touch-type is a dangerous thing.” Verily.

I started trying to figure out how succinct I could make my response, but it seems like a slight to not actually address the questions asked. Being a backwards person, I tackle the last question first! 🙂

I know people who say your best friends should all be Christians, but I ask them: What happens when things don’t quite work out that way? To a point, yes, you can choose your friends, but most Christians I know are too busy to have time to invest in a friendship with me, and I take what I can get. If “what I can get” is nonChristians is that a crime? Are they somehow lesser friends?

Well, honestly, I think the people who complain and/or admonish that your real friends should be Christians have only themselves to blame. In my experience, these are the same people who seem to run on an endless supply of pious platitudes, and platitudes do not friendship beget, pious or otherwise. If you say, “gosh, I’m worried about. . .” and the response is, “remember, the Good Lord said not be anxious or be worried, so seek Him and lay it all at the cross!” Well, there is little suitable rejoinder. “. . .” doesn’t make for a very deep friendship. It’s quite natural to rather be with people who say, instead, “yeah, isn’t that frustrating when those situations come up? I know we make a bigger deal out of them than we should, but it’s hard to feel so helpless.” At least it’s an honest interaction, and there’s a conversation to be had.

But lesser friends? Maybe. That might sound like heresy (aren’t we all created in the image of God?); but when you can find a truly deep friend who shares your faith, that’s something beyond. That’s one who can say, “it is hard to feel helpless; but we can pray. I always wonder about that, because it says Elijah had a nature just like ours, but it seems to me sometimes like my prayers are pretty ineffectual, and I wonder what God meant us to understand from that.” It’s far beyond a pious platitude, and yet is a kind of fellowship that a non-Christian simply can’t offer.

Is it wrong to have non-Christian friends? No, of course not. “What you can get” is what God gives you, and if what God gives is friendship with anyone, that’s a blessed thing. But when I think of friendship, real friendship, I think of David and Jonathan. And there are two striking things to me about their friendship; one is that nearly every time you read about them, Jonathan is encouraging David in the Lord. The other is that it was just David and Jonathan. Only. The greatest king of Israel, a mighty man of valor, handsome and well liked and a superb leader – and he has ONE friend, one REAL friend. Isn’t that food for thought?

I think part of us knows that deep friendship is very valuable, and so we desire it greatly. But yet one of the reasons why it is so valuable is because it is so rare. Pea gravel might be useful, but gold is treasured. Why is it so rare, if we all desire it?

Sometimes I wonder how much we all desire it. I see the ones who have many friends, and my gosh do they ever declare friends quickly. A few weeks and they’re inseparable, BFFs, soul mates. And they don’t waste any time on chit-chat and small talk, nosiree. Yet the thing they call friendship is a thing those of us looking for something to fill a large set of shoes wouldn’t be satisfied with. And the ones who are looking for that deeper thing? Those are often some of the ones hiding behind small talk.

Isn’t that terribly frustrating and confounding? If you want a real friendship, let’s talk about real things! But talking about real things requires trust, and trust needs time to grow. We’re finite creatures afraid of running out of time, so we want to pick the un-ripe fruit and force open the hesitant bud. But sometimes people need to learn first that their friendship can survive the terrors of an argument over which is better, pizza or wings, before there can be enough trust risk arguing over serious things. Some of my deepest friendships were only built over years of small talk–and that’s another thing: building friendships. One of my pet peeves is the phrase “making friends.” I loathe that phrase. I don’t make someone my friend. It’s a long term project, and if you quit early, you haven’t got anything. We don’t get the whole house without a foundation, but if you quit after the foundation, you certainly haven’t got a house. There’s no magical “transformation” into a friend.

There’s a thread running through your whole post that I laugh to see, because in it I see myself. One time someone was commenting to me that it seemed like I’d finally loosened up and was finally starting to be more myself. I made a comment along the lines of “yes; I just take a while to warm up,” to which she responded, “I thought I was going to have to set you on fire!” It made me realize just how vulnerable I’d felt over previous year–so, so vulnerable and fragile. And in feeling so incredibly breakable, any kind of interaction with another person required incredible amounts of trust, and I had no reason to trust. I was incredibly grateful for her persistence in wanting to break open that shell, even though I made it so difficult for her. She was a great support and encouragement to me, and I don’t think I would be where I am now, if not for her.

But we’re still not friends.

Because she got me to open up to her, but she never reciprocated. She gave me care, she didn’t give me friendship. And I understand that now, because I’ve watched myself learn how to give care, too. In my line of work, someone is already coming in feeling vulnerable, and you have to get them to trust you or you won’t be able to help them. And I learned how to wield small talk, and learn how to wield tiny pieces of my own vulnerability, and I learned how to get people to really trust me and be so grateful, but I wasn’t building friendships. I was giving care.

And giving care is not a bad thing, but it’s not friendship. Giving care can feel like a one-sided friendship, sometimes, but it isn’t really friendship. It is caring deeply about other people, while trying to hold the upper hand in some way — being the “strong one”; keeping oneself safe; subconsciously assuming the other person’s struggles are more important than your own (an upper hand, because your “struggles” are “smaller” or not in the open on the table); staying in control (of your emotions, your risks, your image you have of yourself in your own head toward yourself); or any other number of things. So friendship requires not only trust, but also humility — in essence, two of the hardest tasks of humanity.

The thing is, it takes a lot of effort to expose yourself when you are feeling vulnerable, and there’s not really any such thing as safe vulnerability. It’s a paradox of grand proportions, similar to the admonishments to “take care of yourself.” Well, golly. Caregiving requires tremendous energy, and if I had tremendous energy, I wouldn’t be needing care, now, would I? There’s a reason we often need people to take care of us; pulling oneself up by ones own bootstraps is notoriously unsuccessful.

So what do we do? We like being an enigma, because there’s some safety in that. But we long for someone who is persistent enough (as we would be!) to figure us out. To want to understand us, because we are valuable enough for that kind of investment. That’s really the only thing Mr. Rochester had going for him, you know. He was pretty much a straight up jerk, but Jane was an enigma, and he cared enough for her to be curious enough to ask her probing questions that made her terribly uncomfortable. Jane was a hard egg to crack, yes; but deep down, don’t we all want to be understood?

Depth scares people, I think. But I’ve found it can also attract them. Ask people about themselves and as they grow to trust you they’ll talk for hours. Ask about their struggles and their thoughts and fears.

Indeed. And you do, you enigma-cracker; and you get class-fulls of people to trust you. But who do you tell, caregiver, who do you tell your struggles and thoughts and fears to? Who listens to you for hours, who do you trust to listen to you for hours? I would guess that you’re still waiting for someone to ask. I think sitting down next to someone and telling them your struggles and fears, uninvited, takes a whole other kind of courage.

Which is to say, yes; we’re all waiting and lonely. Waiting, I think, not only to know as we are known, but also to really know how well we are known. So I suppose I’ve gone backwards and sideways in all sorts of ways, just to agree with you where you started to begin with.

But if were to put earthly friendship in a word, I would say: safety. Not that damages would never come, but that they would be survived. Not that every need would be met, but that burdens could be shared without guilt or anxiety or ridicule. And not that small-talk would never happen, but that behind it would be a quiet confidence that even small-talk can bear fruit in it’s own time. Not that what we have to give would never be under-valued, but in a recognition also of what it is the other is offering, and being willing to receive it. Sometimes we need to feel the safest of all in order to receive.

And there my thoughts end, because it’s late o’clock at night and my brain is mush; but having survived the week, it was nice to be able to reward myself with a chance to write. Since you only asked what I thought and didn’t put on any fine print qualifiers, such as, “note: must be coherent thoughts” or “note: must be 1,500 words or less” or “note: I meant thoughts you had about yourself, not arm-chair psychoanalysis of me”, I think I’m still safe to post this even with mushy brain. Besides, I’m at a point where if I don’t write late at night and with impaired cognition, I might never get a chance to write at all; and I think I’m apologizing in good part because I feel guilty about not proof-reading my writing before posting, and also I think I left my car windows open; darn.

Good night!

Truth and Daring

Every once in a while, I wonder why I named this blog Cloudy Day Writing; invariably, I find myself curled in a chair by a window letting in the cloudy light, and I remember again and again.

Introspection can be a dangerous thing, dangerous like a fire, life-giving and risky. Of late I seem to find the results of my introspection that I haven’t been crazy enough; there are some things that just don’t work if you do them by halves, like jumping off the high dive. Millions of thoughts and ideas and desires and longings tumble through me, creating a strong undertow. . .and so I sit on a rock on the shore and dabble my toes in it.

Some people, I’ve come to realize, want normal. I used to think I wanted normal, in part because I had my own definition of what normal was and in part because of what I saw of wild. Wild and crazy and out of control do not appeal to me, because in unhinging themselves from everything, they seem to loose the value of so much. But safe and secure has a different fear: giving lip service to things you never have to go out on a limb to value.

I think of the Greatest Generation. . .it’s the idea of who these people were and are, I think, more than who they really were or are. In our minds they are heroes; not in the modern sense martyrdom or piety, but in the old-fashioned sense of doing mighty works, of slaying dragons. When we pause to consider the hardships they had to go through, one part of us recoils. How wonderful and terrible that they carried through, and better they than us. The other part aches and longs, because we desire to be found not lacking, and the only way to be found as such is to be tested and tried. Ideally, if we could find the best of both worlds, we would find someway to be heroes without having to actually enter the crucible – to the result that even our children’s movies make commentary about how everyone being special means that no one is.

What is most interesting to me is not that we’re afraid. . .it’s that we don’t even know what we’re afraid of. Safety is its own drug, and like most drugs it’s also an illusion. The thing is that it’s not cured with an addiction to danger, either, and that’s the mystery. That piercing beam of light shoots narrowly down the middle: neither safety nor danger will save you; neither nomadic wandering nor cloistered monastery will save you. Your desire to make life valuable by throwing things away will not be successful; nor will hording treasured possessions give you life.

One of the most strikingly beautiful passages I recall is “For God has placed eternity in the hearts of men.” Hear it groaning? Feel it pulling? What so many of us stumble into is looking for a palatable way to have our souls reforged. I see some older people who seem to have entered some form of peace; I think they look back over their life and they decide that they’re about as forged as they’re going to get in this life and they’re okay with that. The young ones starting out, or the older ones who aren’t happy with their forging? There’s a desperation there, a desperation to find something that will shape them from who they see themselves into the heroes they’ve heard stories about. Like Frog and Toad setting out to be brave, they turn their face with determination toward the world.

But being forged, being in the crucible. . .it’s more about being made than about making oneself. It involves becoming malleable, of allowing oneself to be changed, to stop fighting. Surrender does not sound heroic; fighting does. The odd thing is, when we seek out the lives of those we think we admire, there’s far more laying down than fury. It’s daring precisely because it isn’t safe, putting aside defenses and becoming vulnerable, and we wonder how anyone survives it.

I suppose it’s odd, starting out a thought by saying I’ve been too timid and get to the end and say give up on trying to be in control, but I think that’s where the two thoughts come together: we’re afraid of failure. We imagine that being brave means going out and conquering failure, but I begin to suspect it just means slogging through failure – and that’s where the shaping of character comes. I begin to suspect that the difference between a fool and a wise person isn’t who avoids more failure, but who takes more from the failure.

Failure? Success? And we are back to the discussion of what “normal” is. Normal is partly a myth, of course; but like all bell curves, the idea is that the majority of people can agree on what the majority of people count as success. This is where I find that I don’t want to be normal. Academically, I have finally drifted down into the bell curve, I think. We don’t have strict academic rankings posted for all to see, but I typically am within any posted bell curves. I thought it would be interesting to see what it was like to be normal, but I find that — even if I am now in the company of those who can challenge me academically — I’m not normal, and I don’t want to be normal. Their ideas of dreams and their idea of success don’t run with mine. I can’t say, “yeah, me too” when they talk about what they want after graduating. And yet when people ask me what comes after graduating, I daren’t answer, even to myself.

That in itself is a telling response, don’t you think?