Category Archives: God

Yes or No?

Yesterday I read a lot of posts from people on the Mercy Ship writing about Selection Day–a day where they tell as many people as possible ‘Yes’ and an alarmingly huge number of people ‘No.’

I don’t get all in fits of “eek, eek, how could you live in Africa? On a ship?” But I can’t possibly imagine how a human could survive crushing so many people in one day, saying “no” over and over and over again. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t. I would break down half-way through the day–sooner, more likely–and abandon my post in tears and someone else would have to take over for me.

It bothers me a lot.

I went to bed last night thinking about it. I finally blurted out, “God, how can You say no? All those people–and so many turned away because there was no more time, and You knew that and You let them stand in lines for hours with hope You knew wouldn’t be filled. How can You say no?”

“I don’t say No, I say Yes,” was blurted back into my mind.

I don’t understand.

What is better than that? Why was it allowed for some of them and not for others? It sure looks like You say Yes and No. They say there’s no partiality with You, but then, what is this?

The truth is that God’s will is best. The truth is that He alone knows what best is. The truth is that He is a loving God, and looks down on His creation with mercy–mercy enough He sacrificed His own son, made the Innocent One tormented for guilt not His own. The truth is He is right, and true, and consistent.

But it doesn’t look like it, and if that’s not faith, I don’t know what is.

Re-try, again.

Well, it worked, I suppose.

I’m on my eighth week of my eight week sabbatical, and I have finally been able to deliberately do nothing all day, just because, without trying hard or being upset about ‘not getting things done.’

If you had asked me, I would have told you that I honestly didn’t think it was really going to take me all of eight weeks to unwind. I really didn’t. I picked eight weeks because, well, because. When people say God told them something, I really struggle with that. what does the voice of God sound like? How do you know?

In my limited experience, you know because you know, the same way you know that God created all the world, including you, and sent His only son as an atoning sacrifice for all of His lost children. I was sitting on my bed with a spiral bound notebook, working and re-working the numbers. Yes, I needed time off between work and school, but how much? One week? Two weeks? If I made it to the next paycheck cycle, would I have enough money–and then suddenly, interrupting all my thoughts and figurings, I knew it had to be two months. It had to be.

I closed the notebook, because there was no use thinking about it. It seemed more than a little scandalous to spend two months doing nothing, but I was certain. It seemed rather irresponsible, too, but you can’t go and tell the Almighty that He’s being irresponsible.

I quit my job. I really pissed off my boss, because she thought I should work the summer and that there was no reason to quit before school, and that I was self-centered and self-righteous, and I didn’t care about her or the company or the patients or anything. It was very uncomfortable. Yes, very uncomfortable, but still not even close the uncomfortableness of trying to defy God.

I guess that’s what some people would call being stupid for God, but I’ve never cared for that phrase. God, as the originator of all wisdom, is not stupid. He’s just not as near-sighted as the rest of us, and He understands and owns wisdom far deeper than we can perceive. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel a little stupid when people keep asking me what I’m doing. Nothin’. Just–you know, passin’ the time.

You quit your job so you could do ‘nothin'”?! Yeah. Don’t be jealous. How does that even make sense?! I dunno. Does it have to?

But today I got mad at Etsy for for not being creative enough (this is akin to complaining there isn’t enough room in the dump truck), and decided I was feeling sick and tired (literally; sore throat and headache) and needed to take a nap. But I couldn’t fall asleep because I kept designing clothes in my head, and had to sit up and try to sketch them out. I never did get a good nap in, but it was the first time in years I’ve been so creative I couldn’t sleep (or that I got mad at Etsy for not being creative enough).

In quieter years, I was good at the creative dreaming and really bad at the functional carry through. Over the last several years, I’ve been so conditioned and trained to be functional that even the last few weeks of sewing have seemed more rote than creative. I suppose here is where I’m supposed to make some sort of grandiose statement about finding balance in my life, but I’m not ready for rash promises just yet (ask me tomorrow).

I’m getting back that feeling that I can take on the world. Not slog through it–take it on! I’m not going to tell you that feeling will last long. But I’m not going to tell you it won’t, either. I guess that’s the point of taking a break, to fill you with impossible hope. (Okay, it really won’t last long. Want to know how I know? Conclusive studies over the last 8 weeks have shown that it takes no less than TWO consecutive late nights for me to be a basket case and need a nap. Bets are open as to how long I’ll foolishly do two consecutive late nights.)

It’s a feeling. It’s not reality. I know that. But the fog is clearing, and just in time–classes start next week. The panicky feeling is subsiding. I’m thinking again, thinking thoughts instead of to-do lists (although I did sweep the floor today, aren’t you proud of me?). What I feel like is that I’m ready to grow. I’m not stretched so thin with simply existing that I have nothing left to give to turning into anything else. I’m not the King of the World, but I’m ready to try again.

Zombie Apocalypse

I think a lot of people are very uncertain about the future. This is not merely a thing of today; it’s an outlook from many times in history. But everyone finds their own way of addressing this uncertainty, and I’ve come to title this expected disaster as “The Zombie Apocalypse.” If you want to get specific, things quickly degrade into name calling; if you leave it vague, everyone can assume that of course The Zombie Apocalypse refers to whichever things they think will cause this disaster. Everyone can agree on Zombies.

More and more people are believing in the Zombie Apocalypse everyday. For some people, it just leads to questions like, “Yeah, but how practical will this degree be for me when the Zombie Apocalypse comes?” Some amuse themselves with lighthearted lists of things to stockpile (toilet paper! Remember Argentina!). For others, it means making bigger gardens, learning to put up food, and, in general, “becoming more self-reliant.”

I was talking with one of these ladies who is really getting into the Zombie Apocalypse thing. She was getting frustrated that she really didn’t think their gardening efforts were leading to a monetary savings; I was pointing out that the education (School of Hard Knocks) itself would be very useful come Zombie Apocalypse. She explained that what they really needed to get ready would be the ideal piece of real estate. I suggested that it was very hard to know what would really be needed during the Zombie Apocalypse, and maybe what she really needed most was just good neighbors. She stated unequivocally that what was most needed was food, water and shelter, and then it hit me.

She was wrong.

I had been trying for some time to be able to put in words what bothered me about Zombie Apocalypse preparations, and I suddenly held it so clearly I could barely continue the conversations. What matters most is not food, water and shelter. What matters most is being a good neighbor.

I’ve read stories of hard times and holocausts, and the tales that have been impressed on me–the people who have made the strongest mark in my memory and inspired me as to how I would wish to behave–are not the ones with the stockpiles. Not the ones with the clever preparations. Not the ones who held off the scavengers with a shotgun. It’s the ones who have given the shirts off their backs, the food from their mouths, and risked their very life time and time again to help others. Those are the ones who leave me in awe, not the ones who managed to survive under the mantra of “I got mine!”

The point isn’t to survive. Maybe stock-piling and cleverness is the best way to ride it out, but what’s the point of surviving that way? The tales of those survivors are dark indeed. The secrets they hid of what horrible things they did to others to get by, the depression, the unrelenting fear, the self-absorption and the paranoia. But some survive who didn’t claw their way to the top of the pile, and they tell a different story. They have still seen horrible things, but theirs is a lighter burden because the life they lived was worth living, even as horrifying as it was.

Maybe giving the shirt off your back will mean that you don’t survive the Zombie Apocalypse. I think I am more than okay with that. I think I would rather live the shortened life, knowing each minute was worth it, than to survive it surrounded by shotgun shells and having had brought the darkness inside of me. The way to prepare is not to stockpile food or ammo or toilet paper (okay, maybe toilet paper), and it’s not to find a way to successfully isolate yourself from anyone who might do you damage. The only real way to prepare for the Zombie Apocalypse is to practice loving; to practice giving to those in greater need than you, especially when you don’t have anything left to give; and to practice being full of light and joy through every hard and frightening thing. Those are things that no looter can steal away from you, and those are the things that will be of great use no matter what form the Zombies take.

Good Girl Syndrome

I wish I wasn’t a straight-A student.

There, I said it.

It’s not the school, of course, it’s just one more symptom of the “Good Girl Syndrome.” By the Good Girl Syndrome, I’m not referring to the Mary Ingalls good girl, who is good and saintly and has golden curls; I’m referring to the Laura Ingalls good girl. She feels responsible for Mary–and Carrie, and Ma, and Pa. In fact, she feels responsible for nearly everything, including being responsible FOR being responsible, all the time. She thinks maybe she would like to go play catch with the boys and have fun, but that wouldn’t be proper. Occasionally, she does get caught up in a “whirl of gaiety” and reaps the consequences of her final grade being “only 96.”

It really is a bit like a disease, and though I’ve been afflicted for probably forever, I’m only now being able to start putting into words what I mean. It’s easiest for me to talk about it and describe it through the lens of school grades, but it isn’t about school and it isn’t about grades; it’s about me, and it seeps in and permeates everything. It’s dreadful.

When I first started going to school, I thought it was only responsible to be dutiful and work hard and do your best. You ought, you know. So I did, but when those high scores kept rolling in, it stopped being about the responsibility to put the effort in, and somehow eased it’s way more into identity. I have to get A’s, because I have get A’s.

Getting A’s wasn’t important, and I knew it. I was embarrassed by getting A’s with–let us be honest, because honesty is important–relatively little effort, while my classmates struggled with the work. I didn’t look down on them; I mostly tried to be oblique and underplay my grades–not to refuse to answer if someone asked, but to not bring up the fact that, yes, the test you almost failed was not hard for me. There was no shame–I wasn’t at all dishonest when I told people that they did good when they got an 83%. What’s wrong with an 83%? An 83% is perfectly acceptable.

For them. But not for me.

It was an insidious little double-standard, wherein I had to be held to a higher level than them, because I was me. I was a different, better, other, who was expected to perform at above excellent–but people shouldn’t hold themselves to that level. Meanwhile, since I continued to mute my grades, I still clung to the idea that I didn’t look down on them at all, because–don’t you see? I don’t care what grade they get. I don’t lord my grades over them. I just. . .think I’m good enough to have perfection as my standard, and they’re, you know, human and shouldn’t be so hard on themselves.

So on one hand there is this, ohh, smug superiority, I suppose, that I’m to be judged by a different standard. But there is also this great level of insecurity–which one can’t talk about, because how can the straight-A student say, “Ohhh, I feel so insecure!” without being taken out behind the school and stoned? You, insecure? You, who seem more like a teacher’s assistant, an instructor, not a student? One time I told someone frustratedly that even though I got good grades, I was still human. I don’t know if they got it or not. I don’t know if I got it or not.

But the insecurity is two-fold. On one hand, it becomes part of you. I have to get good grades, because I have to get good grades. Giving up on good grades would be like giving up on part of yourself. Giving up on working hard, and being dutiful, and being responsible and leading the class–it would be like your eyes changing color. That’s just who you are, how could you NOT? I am the over-achiever. I am the nerd. I am the one who excels at whatever she puts her hands and head to. It would be like–being a totally different person. It would be like an apple tree growing pears. I have to do this, because this is what I do. I can’t not do it. Not without not being me, and I have to be me.

On the other hand, and perhaps less subtly, is the realization that there is no way to go except for down. If you usually get B’s and occasionally get A’s–how exciting to get A’s! How exciting when you find you are getting mostly A’s and a few B’s! How you’ve grown–how you’ve improved! How you’ve succeeded, how you’ve achieved, how you’ve accomplished! But when Good Girls get more A’s–again–no one need remark, because you’ve always gotten A’s and will likely always get A’s. And as for you, you have no risk of improving; only the cloudy awareness that you could always get worse.

One of the times I most starkly remember this dilemma is when I made a birthday present for my grandmother’s significant birthday. It was a basket, one of the first I’d made. It came out very well, if I do say so myself, and I was very proud of my efforts. It was a new skill, and I’d worked hard to make it for her–anticipating her delight, and surprise, and shock and awe. I was maybe 13 years old. Right before my grandma opened it, my mom announced I had made it–to which my grandmother replied, “Well, we all know already that she can do anything.”

I think she meant as a compliment, but it totally deflated me. I was impressed with my creation, but everything I did would be considered commonplace, because that was what was expected of me. If someone else–someone who didn’t bear the title of being Good At Everything–had made that basket, then she would have been impressed. But since it was just me, well, you know, what else would I do? I could go down, but I couldn’t go up; and if I didn’t stay up, I wouldn’t be me, because I was always up.

If found since then that it has other problems, too. I get terribly tense when I’m trying to learn new things, because I have to do good. It’s not, oh, well, if you make a mistake, who cares? It’s not like B’s are okay. I can’t just do it. I have to do it well. I have to do it in the top of the class. I have to exceed. When I am sitting at home singing, and I’ve been singing long enough to forget the whole house can hear me, I relax and my voice improves. Then I go to my singing lesson, and try to sing for my instructor. She tries to explain how if I relax, my voice will sound better; I understand what she’s saying (after all, I’ve heard it myself at home), but the emotional part of me also hears the rebuke. You’re doing it wrong. You aren’t doing it good. Do it more good! And so, I tense myself with the effort of more good, until by the time I leave the half hour session I can barely find any note and I’m tense from my scalp to little toes, never mind my vocal cords and my throat and my lips.

I also leave utterly discouraged, because I didn’t get the A. What A? There was no A. My classes aren’t graded and my instructor doesn’t care. But I should have improved. I should have victored. I should have exceeded all expectations. I should have been able to blow that song out of the water; I should be able to sing so well that my instructor can only count me as her peer.

People say, “You’re so hard on yourself.” It makes me feel so frustrated, because it’s like asking, “Why are you hungry? Why does it hurt when you stub your toe? Why do you feel cold when it’s wet and the wind blows?” This is just–myself. I don’t know any other way. I don’t know how to get B’s, but I think I rather wish I did. It would be better to laugh and relax, but I don’t know how to make myself, and I don’t know how to fail.

It’s a very scary thing when you consider your problems. . .your arrogance, and your pride, and your imagined self-sufficiency, and your smugness. You look at them all from a little bit of a distance, and you say to yourself, “My goodness, this person needs to fail. This person needs to fail, and fail, and fail until they finally learn what failure is and how to do it and what really matters and how to let go of this silly idea that they can be Good, by Working Hard.” It’s very hard to have a candid conversation with God and say, “You know what? I think part of my problem is that I’ve never really had to accept what I failure I am in this life, save by Your grace. It’s too easy for me think it was my fault for all of those A’s, because I worked hard, not because, for whatever unfathomable reason, You decided to give me those grades.”

It really is silly, too. By the end of my first two years of school, I was handing in random papers instead of the assigned work and refusing to study for tests, and still randomly getting A’s. The teacher would accidentally have a duplicate sheet on the test, and so would give everyone in the class all those problems a full grade for free. I would show up for class unprepared and the test would be rescheduled. It was the oddest, queerest thing. Even after I decided the school system had so poisoned my soul I didn’t care if I failed the rest of my tests, I kept getting these A’s. I don’t remember what I did for the last two years of school online, most of my work having been done in a near drunken haze of emotional and physical exhaustion–but I did get A’s.

And I still have the audacity to whisper to myself, sometimes, when I don’t think I’ll notice, that I’ve been working so hard. Immediately, I try to squash the thought out, pretend it never existed, correct it. No, no, they were given to you. For some reason, some reason I can see no fruit whatsoever from yet, God has been giving you a 4.0 GPA. Not you.

You can’t keep going on like this, you know. Someday, you will fail. Then you’ll be just like everyone else. Is that scary? Failing is always scary, isn’t it? But if I could just fail and get it over with–it would be a relief to be like everyone else! To get B’s and a few A’s. To not expect myself to out-sing the instructor. Maybe God could fail you gently, so it wouldn’t sting so much, and then let you free. . .

But what I think–what I really think–is that probably the answer is no. Really–even if it is just the continuance of absurd arrogance–really I don’t think I will be allowed that kind of failure or that kind of freedom, and I expect I’ll probably spend the rest of my life struggling with that driving force named passion on the right and perfection on the left. Passion that can be used to give life to many good things, and perfectionism that can stand in the way of many good things.

I don’t want to give up my passion; I do think it is a gift, if at times an unruly one that most be constantly re-directed toward it’s rightful source. But I’m tired of the perfection. The perfection that is afraid to even try, for fear of failing. The perfection that says, “You need to try harder! Harder! You aren’t quite good enough yet, but if you just tried harder. . .”

No, I can’t. I could be accepted, but it’s not dependent on being perfect, or on failing, or on trying hard. I could reflect the true light, not my own false glimmer, but it wouldn’t be by trying so hard to reflect. One thing that sometimes drifts across my mind and then slips away is that Satan’s first sin was thinking he could be equal to God. Perfectionism, in a way, is just that–I could be perfect. Usually hastily addended with “not as perfect as God, of course!”–but of course not. Saying I want to nail everything perfect, without guilt or blame or lack or falling short in anyway–it is saying I want to be an equal to God and implies that I think I could be. If I just worked a little harder. And I know that isn’t the truth, but my actions aren’t bearing that out.

I hate that. I want to change that. I can’t.

I have an inflated view of myself, and when I catch just a glimpse of how inflated it is, I should like to bury it. Like not telling anyone that I got another A, lest they see how conceited I was. Like not talking about my plans or my dreams, for the ambitions and audacity they reveal. I shall be quiet and meek, but that doesn’t change what’s going on in the inside.

What’s going on in the inside is a weariness with being a Good Girl. But like Laura after she slammed her book, there is also the dreaded feeling that I will go on being a Good Girl, because I must. But I don’t like that feeling, either, and sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be reckless and daring. Perfectionism whispers, “You aren’t any good at that; you’re a coward. Better not to try, and expose your inability to even be reckless.” Passion murmurs back, “There are better things in life than you, Perfectionism. You’re a dry cloud, promise without delivery.”

And I stand in the middle, wondering how to be good at failing.

Peace, I give to you

click through to see the full sized picture

It’s funny sometimes how things click into place and are so much better that you want to tell everyone all about it so they can be so much better, too. . .but in some quiet place, you know that the words are powerless. If anyone had shared those words with me even a week ago, it would have touched me not at all. It wasn’t the words, it was who spoke them.

I have been struggling for forever (you know, superlatives are the best!) with anxiety and with stress, and with carrying things around emotionally and not being able to let go—worrying over things in my mind the way a dog would “worry” a bone—not getting anywhere with it or resolving anything, just dwelling and dwelling on it. Little bits and pieces would come to me from time to time—about love casting out all fear (why can’t I feel Your love? Other people say they do), about dwelling on good things, about being thankful, about faith being trusting in things not seen, about believing that God uses all things for good, even things that don’t appear so.

And then this Tuesday, something clicked. God will take care of me. (Duh.) It’s not like I didn’t know the words; it was just that suddenly the words had power. God will take care of me. God will take care of me. God will take care of me. The anxious thoughts, the tormenting emotions—every time they would rise up, there would be my defense. God will take care of me. And the thoughts would fade away and the emotions would ease, and I would catch myself with a small, satisfied smile. God will take care of me.

It was still a very long week. I’m still exhausted. Things are still terse and stressed. I still dread next week. But I have this defense now that I can run to. God will take care of me. And He did. And He will. And though I dread next week, I am less afraid of that then I am that those words will lose their power and I will go back to having empty words I know are true yet cannot find refuge in. I want it to be that for the rest of my life, for as long as I live, I can say, “God will take care of me,” and feel a draught of peace spreading through me. But somehow I feel like I know that this is a passing gift, given in a time of need. He will always take care of me—always—but I may not always feel that palpable relief when I bring those words up.

(Somehow, I guess I get to thinking that this is a shadow of what it was like for Jesus when He walked this earth. That He was so close to His father He didn’t have to feel fear or anxiety or any of those other nasty emotions. But I guess if that was always true, He wouldn’t have been sweating blood in the garden, wondering at how quickly His friends were failing Him. Not that I am justifying my emotions; I’m only noting, as many others have, that God’s promise to be with us always is not the same thing as a promise that we will always emotionally feel that He is there. This is a concept I understood much better after I realized my physical nearsightedness was a good metaphor. I take off my glasses and I can’t see things I know are there. I put the glasses on, and there they are. Their existence never changed, just my perception of them.)

SomeOne Has To Do It

It’s interesting, sometimes, thinking of all the little things that make the world go ’round. Someone has to pick up the trash. Someone has to be a plumber. Someone has to write the blurbs on the back of the cereal boxes.

The flip side of that is that someone has to be the one discovering new things. Someone has to make the beautiful things.

Sometimes I hear about lives, about things people have done. Past lives. Past lifetimes. Some people–they’ve done so much. So many things. It makes one think about Heroes. Maybe there is just another class of people that just isn’t like us. They do wonderful things that us ordinary folk just can’t quite obtain.

I guess one of the things that fascinates me is that at some point, one seems to have to choose. I suppose that irritates me. I want to have a piece of everything. Why does one have to devote oneself to ONE thing? It’s boring.

Sometimes, I’ll do something like read a piece of journalism, and I’ll think “I could do better than that!” Or perhaps, “That would be fun to do that!” But I’ve never, ever thought that I would like to be a journalist. Take those classes? Adopt that value system? No. I can’t ever even say “The people need to know!” or anything like that. It’s just that when I see something powerful–a flood, a huge project, a personal struggle–I want to capture it, make a way to grasp it.

That’s essentially what I like about photography. Things are so fleeting, and it’s so hard even for your own two eyes to take it in. When you capture it well with a camera, you have a chance to hold onto things for just a little longer. To really look. To try to absorb it. And I think that one can do that with words, too, to help capture a picture that is bigger than even words.

But I don’t want that to be my job. I don’t want to network, I don’t want to go to school for it, I don’t want to work long hours meeting deadlines. I just want to be able to see something powerful, capture it, and put it out there for other people to try to grasp as well.

But that’s a different story. When you color inside the lines, that’s not something you’re allowed to do unless that’s your job, and that’s the job of a journalist.

Sometimes I can’t help but entertain ideas about selling my hand-work; putting my artistic aspect to monetary function. Not devote my life to it, mind you. A person can find a million thoughts to shoot that idea right out of the sky. But why not? Some in the world sells things they make. On the side.

Someone out there sells their novels.

Someone out there wins the lottery.

Someone out there is happy in their job.

Someone out there is quitting their job and taking their life in a totally different direction.

Someone is experimenting and exploring.

The thing is, when they fail, we just call them fools. And when they succeed, we call them heroes. And if they don’t even try, we don’t remember them either way.

Mostly, what we tell people is “choose.” And it kind of makes me mad, because it’s true. The human experience is a finite one. You CAN’T do it all. Just as I find I pursue photography or writing to try to capture things that I can’t experience fully in one moment, a single human cannot experience everything that can be experienced. That’s why “someone” is doing it, not “everyone.”

Even if I can see it, I don’t want to come to terms with it. I keep trying to find a way to do more, to be the hero–the heroes we’ve all heard about, in big ways and small ways. But there is, of course, always the fear of failure–or, to put it another way–the realization and the rebellion against the idea that we are limited. That maybe everything isn’t possible. That we really are mortal, and there really isn’t anything we can do about it.

What then?

Listen To Me Talk

Last night I performed some uncharacteristic web-browsing—in that normally I don’t. I am either looking at products (e.g. fabric, patterns, etc), researching something in particular, or quite honestly staring at the screen wishing myself in bed but being unable to dislodge the glowing screen from in front of me.

It was an eclectic mix, from an organization teaching surgeons in Africa, to a science fiction writer—an atheist—dying of cancer, a commentary on recent super-hero movies (which I don’t even watch). But all in all, I went to bed thinking a 25-page blog post, being of course too tired to write it out just then.

I guess one of the things that stuck with me most was the idea of trying to find the balance about asserting who you are versus telling everyone else that your way is best.

The dying atheist roundly dismissed all conservatives as deluded and stupid, and said that while liberals weren’t perfect, at least they were in touch with reality. I’ve seen the exact same sentiment by conservatives spewed at the liberals, each asserting that the other side is ignoring the Obvious, Clear Evidence that their experts of choice have defended.

And the African surgeons made absolutely no bones about being a Christian organization, interested in teaching Christian surgeons, and being more worried about being disciples of Christ than being politically correct. They prayed over their patients openly, and made their faith their number one priority, with their field of service coming second.

On the one hand, I am so sick of assertion. This is where the movie commentary comes in—the commentator made note of the fact that one of the greatest powers of super-heroes in modern movies is Absolute Certainty. The superhero knows that his actions are right, that there will be no negative effects from his decision, and that he will be Always Right. We can sit and say “that’s stupid” when we’re looking at a movie, but—how does it go? Art imitates life?

Sometimes I am just at the point where I just don’t even want to know what someone else thinks. I’m tired of the dogmatic assertion. I don’t even want to go back and read any of my older writing, with my dogmatic assertions about sewing, or life, or whatever. You don’t know what you’re talking about, okay? You really don’t. Stop talking.

To quote Margaret Mead (I don’t know who the heck she is), “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Less talking, more doing. Stop talking about what you’re doing. Be quiet and be busy. I don’t care about your facts or your projections; if that’s all you want to do, go away. Liberal, conservative, atheist, bible-pounding warrior—shush. Work. No whining.

But on the other hand, I am jealous of the Christian African Surgeons. We believe in sep’ration of churchnstate. ‘N business, ‘n healthcare, ‘n mostly neighborly discussions. It doesn’t matter how important your faith is to you—you’re expected to work for 40 hours a week and deny anything but work in that time. When you go home and want to have faith unto yourself, fine. But you should be a totally different, sanitized person for the rest of the time. Like, the majority of your waking hours. Pretend to be something other than what you are, or at least stifle it and stuff it down.

I wish I was better at being like the African Surgeons, and insisting that Christ came first and would color everything else. I wish I was comfortable telling the world about African Surgeons, but I hear my own voice—“shush. We don’t need to hear what you think.” I carry around the important things, the things that make me think—and don’t speak them, for dread of adding to the clamor. So I join the throngs spinning out cotton candy. Is that more worthwhile?

No. Maybe I am just afraid of being pigeoned-holed? They way I just did to the dying atheist? I start talking about God, and I’ll just be lumped in with the girls who go to church, and talk there with the friends about the baby their trying to have with their boyfriend, but they’ve had a miscarriage. I’ll be lumped in with the guy with a son out of wedlock and 5 girlfriends later, who’s so proud to see his son performing in the church choir. I’ll be lumped in with the patriot movement, the God-likes-us-to-go-kill-bad-guys movement. I’ll be assumed a Fox-News watcher. I’ll box myself as a self-righteous façade, someone who likes to talk about pious things, but doesn’t understand the holiness of God. I’ll be one more voice insisting I’m right, and benefiting no one at all.

Always be ready, we’re told, to give an explanation for the joy you have within you. I get comments on my smile, on my laugh, on my positive outlook (speaking of facades one puts up for 40 hours at work?), but it would be entirely unprofessional for me to give a reason. To say “God is good, and He grants grace.” Why? Why is it in Africa you can say that and in America you can’t?

But I don’t want to be the preachy one. I don’t want to be the one filling all the voids with I Am Always Right; I am not a super-hero. I don’t want to be The Chicken Who Has Laid an Egg. I just don’t want to hide the light that I have found under a basket. I want to take the basket away, without sending out shrill platitudes of emptiness. Such noise is unpleasant regardless.

I suppose, when it all boils down, the question is—is it possible to not be a hypocrite?

Speak into the Silence

I have been quiet on here. My mind has been busy, though.

There’s a sign in the ladies restroom where I work. . .it looks like it’s older than I am, but unfortunately it is probably still relevant. It’s a sign for a number to call for help with domestic abuse.

Somehow, my first thought is always horror and revulsion. How could women every find themselves in these relationships? How do you let someone beat you up—emotionally, physically, mentally? How can someone have so little self-respect that they believe it when someone who is so clearly abusive tells them that it’s their fault? It seems so nonsensical, so absurd, so—so unreal.

Yet time and again I find myself in situations where, upon finally being able to disengage myself, I find myself thinking that it is only by the grace of God that I am spared. Not with personal relationships, but the same sorts of absurdities that, in retrospect, make me wonder—how did I ever let this happen? Why did I let myself become deluded like this? And, more frighteningly, how could this ever be prevented from happening again, why I didn’t notice it happening in the first place?

I think it must begin with one’s general outlook on life—and what one can expect out of life. Believing that life is pre-disposed to being unpleasant, and that one’s response is to bare up with it as best as possible, also predisposes one to lack of action. It will be, and there is nothing that can be done about it but baring with it. So when warning signs start showing up, and things are less than ideal—rather than resisting it or trying to change it, there is instead the attitude of “Oh, well, you knew it couldn’t be perfect.”

Do I think it could be perfect? No. Do I think it would ever be less than a continual battle? Probably not. But I understand more now about “not giving the devil a toe-hold.” You accept the minor crimes as a reality of an imperfect world, but there is no clear, hard line between black and white. And so it slides and slides and slides, and every day you are just accepting one minor thing on top of one minor thing, until one day you realize you have swallowed an elephant. A herd of elephants. One bite at a time.

Who wants to be that inflexible, rigid person that makes everything more complicated than it has to be, by saying “no. no. no.” to the minor wrongs? When the minor wrongs seem so very, very necessary to the greater good, when they seem to be the only way to keep things rolling along? Especially when those wrongs are locally acceptable.
From the attitude of accepting wrongs comes its natural product: believing you are powerless to change it. You recognize now that the wrongs are out of control and beyond any grey area, but now you struggle to find any reason to speak. No one would listen. No one would change. Everyone would be mad at you. It wouldn’t accomplish anything. If you refused to continue on as things had been, everyone would just think you were being petty and uncooperative, because for goodness sake, you’re only just now complaining about things? You’ve been going along all this time, and suddenly something is different?

Let’s say that you do find the strength to raise a fuss. And you get all this lip-service that these are problems that need to be taken care of and changed. . .but nothing changes. They agreed with you, they try to be nice to you, but nothing is changing. Further attempts to bring issues up result in being “impossible to please.”

This leads to a diminished sense of worth. You have been pandered to and dismissed. Your concerns aren’t worth being addressed. Your contributions are sidelined. Everyone and everything is more important than you. Your concerns are just one more aggravating problem to be gotten rid of; you are just one more problem to bother important people who are more busy with important things.

Maybe now one would like to talk to others about it, but somehow the oppression brings silence. This was my own fault. I should have said ‘no’ sooner. I did things I shouldn’t have done. If I talk about it with people outside of the situation, I will only bring trouble on myself and everyone else. And this is also coupled with another thought—it isn’t any better anywhere else. It’s not like things would change if I left. This is ‘normal’. Everyone else is going through things like this. It’s really not that bad, is it? I’m just not used to this.

What this leads to is giving up. On everything. Including yourself. There is no point in fighting, no point in trying. You run like an automaton, resigned to life being as it Is.

I got to the automaton stage at school. Getting up only because the alarm went off. Going into school just because my ride was waiting for me. Sitting in the library, just staring out the window. Going to class because it was time, but not hearing any of my instructors. Just Being, because life Was.

One morning, something in me snapped. Giving Up reached critical mass, as I Gave Up on the institution I’d allowed to bring me to that place. I stopped making any pretense of studying, and hummed favorite songs while I took tests. I didn’t write the assigned papers; I wrote whatever I wanted, and turned them in, knowing the teacher wasn’t going to look at them anyway. I still have no idea how I passed with straight A’s, I really do not. And I was still burnt out, still in desperate need of recovery. But I’d been freed from the orbit of school, and they couldn’t take me down any more.

Resolved this wouldn’t happen again, I went to work. But I still missed the warning signs, still allowed the toehold. I didn’t make it to Giving Up, this time. I got angry at Impossible to Please. I knew there were massive, ever-growing problems, and the problems weren’t me. If they weren’t going to address them, that was fine, but then they weren’t going to have me, either.

A little sooner. A little faster. A little less damaged, but still in severe need of rehabilitation. But still so wide of the mark. Still finding myself asking myself—where did I go wrong? What should I have done differently? When is enough, enough? What is just part of the reality of the concessions of life, and what is allowing abuse?

I can’t claim to have the answers. But here I am, again. And I feel as incredulous with myself as I do with the poster hanging in the restroom. Really? Really? You couldn’t see that coming, you couldn’t stand up for yourself?

I could swear that next time I would recognize the signs. Next time I would say “no.” Next time I would put my foot down. But if I look back over everything I have written, it starts even before that. I saw the signs even this time; I accepted them. Why?

I already went in, believing it was not going to be okay and that was acceptable. I already agreed I was going to allow things to be done that I was not going to approve of. I already agreed that it was normal for things to be wrong—normal, and not something to be fought against. I was doomed from the start, because I agreed that being doomed was something to expect, and something to live with.

Can I wish away that mindset? No. But there are other things that I’m finding, things that feed into this mindset. Like its close cousin, “Life Isn’t Supposed to Be Fun; It’s Work, and You Need To Be RESPONSIBLE.” Who said life isn’t supposed to be fun? The most drearing, drudging tasks are only salvaged by having fun—with the people you’re with, with your mindset toward them. There’s no fun in slaughtering chickens, but when you have to do it, there’s no point in adding “being miserable” into a duty of the job.

Not only maybe are you allowed to have fun, but maybe you are supposed to have fun. I have long lamented about how my creativity is being so stifled by all my responsibleness. In a rare, clear moment, I suddenly thought, “I wonder which delights God more, to see me laboring to be responsible or watching me delight in the creativity He gave me?”

It was such a clear cut answer that I felt embarrassed and even ashamed. Trying so hard to “be good” and missing out on the good gifts He gave, resolutely facing the other direction. Spending money on responsible things was ‘good’—spending money on creative things was a frivolous waste, things not really needed. Why? Who decreed the one thing having more merit than the other? Who implied it was frivolous or unimportant? Who said to accept the mindset that one was just going to have to get used to not having the time to do the things one enjoys?

Ashamed, and even a little angry. And asking myself again and again. How did I let myself get here? How do I get out of here? How do I keep from winding up back here?

Pieces and fragments of answers swirl around in my head, sometimes sticking together and sometimes falling apart. Sometimes I blast my answers with accusations of ‘wishful thinking’ and ‘ambitious dreaming.’ But underneath it all, I do know something. The greatest difference between most people is not their haves or have nots. . .it’s their priorities. It is their approaches to life. It is, if you will, their philosophies about life and about their role in their life.

I have seen people who have done things I have only dreamed about, and when I go and do the research of how they managed to have such a thing, I find it is mostly by pig-headed determination. Of persistence and perseverance, and simply refusing to accept the alternatives. Of not being so focused on all that could go wrong, and not even of clinging to One Way for it to Go Right. Of being okay with Learning instead of Accomplishing, of Journeying instead of Arriving, and for being okay with Saying Oops and Changing Your Mind (I don’t mean being wishy-washy and unable to stand up for anything; I mean being honest about the fact you don’t know everything and accepting of the goodness of learning).

I also find that that only thing I will have this whole life is—me. Me and God, but God will also out last this life, too. But if Me and God are the only things I will consistently have for my whole life, then I guess Me and God ought to be on the top of the priorities, namely, it is right and good that I am sitting here working out my thoughts about life and God instead of writing that 2 page essay that’s due tonight. Not “excusable.” Not “understandable.” Not “something I could get away with.” But rather the right thing, the very thing that I should be doing. That I would be falling short of my duty if I were to be writing my school essay instead of my Me and God essay. That school is subservient to Me and God, not something that has a right to sideline Me and God until it has been properly dealt with.

If one can really accept that we are here to Learn, not to Accomplish—well, that has implications, too. If you are setting out to Accomplish, you need answers. You had better have answers. You will fail if you don’t have answers and if you don’t have plans and if things don’t go the way they should. But if you are here to Learn, if it really is a Journey—does it really matter? Go where you’re sent. Keep your priorities straight. Wait to see what will happen. You don’t have to have answers, no matter how many people are asking you for them; you’re here to find answers, not to declare what they are before they arrive.

We say these things, and maybe we admire from a distance the people who seem to be able to do these things. But if it were so easy, if it were so natural, if it were so obvious, if it were so smooth—there would be no need to speak it. There would be no need to admonish it or insist it. There would be no need for the poster hanging on the wall.

Twice I have fallen; twice I have gotten back up. But now I am eyeing the future warily. We’re not going there again, I say, but my echo taunts me.

Grace

I suppose this is a rather quaint, stereotypical thought. . .but it is becoming more and more inescapable for me.

There appears to be an ever increasing romanticisation of a really bad attitude. Not always even a “tough” attitude. Just. . .plain old rotten, in more ways than one.

You see it all the time in social media circles. On any given day, I can scroll through my meager feed, and easily pull up examples.

There is the “Painful Ha-Ha.” “No, no, I am listening. It just takes me a minute to process so much stupid all at once.” It kind of makes you laugh, but the spirit behind it isn’t really funny. There is the Self-Absorbed, in their own words, and in the countless “ditch the people who don’t make you happy!!” messages. This, combined with the self-affirmations of things like “A woman who asks for nothing deserves everything.” There is the You-Say-You’re-Tough,-Showing-You’re-Not. “I have already been through hell. So, give it your best shot. Not only will I SURVIVE, I will WIN.” There is the I Don’t Need To Worry About You. “It’s not my job to blow sunshine up your butt.”

It’s in the free calendars people send you. I think it’s supposed to be funny and snarky, but really, who isn’t already having trouble not having a bad attitude at work? It’s on t-shirts, people letting you know far before they open their mouth what their idea of an ideal intelligence level is. Everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.

Well, it’s degrading. It’s disrespectful. Not of me–of you, of whoever is propagating it. Occasional light-hearted jabs, okay, I get it. An entire culture? Whoa, wait a minute.

You don’t have to be the victim. You don’t have to pout. You don’t have to have a chip on your shoulder.

There used to be this staunch-upper-lip saying from WWII: Keep Calm, and Carry On. Now, you can’t even say that. It’s been replaced with “Keep Calm, and Get Inked.” “Keep Calm, and Refill Your Coffee Mug.” “Keep Calm, and Punch the Bugger.” So you can’t even encourage people to approach life differently without sounding like you’re part of the snark track.

Well, I could do with a little of the WWII austerity, myself. I could do with a little sitting up straight, instead of slouching over, because what does it matter? I could do with a little of seeing people who didn’t so obviously take the path of least resistance. I could do with a little. . .I don’t known. Rawness. To realize that “hard work” does not mean “went to the gym” and that being able to bear with the weakness of others is a strength. To understate, for a change, instead of to overstate.

I know it is too much to ask for our culture to say “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle,” instead of “Get the h@ll out of my way, or I’m takin’ you down!” (with a smile and a smirk). But I do feel sad, looking back over photography. Watching the body language. Watching it fade from the silent dignity of straight bodies and square shoulders to forms stooped not from labor. And with this change comes also the reflection in faces. . .from composed, to painfully aware. Of the camera, yes. But more than that; of themselves. Of what they think the world owes them.

Yes, owes them. I read a sad post today, an academic discussion of how our current healthcare laws need to be progressed. Because when the law was passed that said hospitals couldn’t dump patients from their emergency rooms because they couldn’t pay, that was worded as a right. But the current legislation that is being passed is speaking of things to much as though they were privileges, rather than rights. Because . . . because, you know. You’re supposed to act tough, and be privileged, not act privileged and be tough.

Mostly, it fills me with a sense of mourning. For me, because there is no way for me to relate to this culture. But also for this culture, which thinks mocking is an admirable trait. What words of comfort can be spoken to it? Any word spoken now will ring as hollowly as the rest of the language. Even “God” is like “Karma” and “Gravity”. . .another platitude, or another joke. And the soft whispers of light are lost, because they’re too busy practicing their sneer.

I would not idolize a “simpler age”. My grandparents were as mortal as any of us were. But it is with a deep aching I see the last of that generation slipping by. There was an echo of grace I see there that I cannot find mirrored in my own generation. May God have mercy on us all.

The Long Introduction

For not the first time, I reduced my sister to tears.

There are too many ducks. In specific, too many male ducks.

They will have to be gotten rid of, the way one has to get rid of ducks.

My head can rationalize it a million different ways. I know the abuse that happens when these things aren’t in balance; I know I’m doing them no favors to keep them this way. And I can rationalize about bodies of water, and rationalize about cramped quarters during the winter, and rationalize about food bills, and I can rationalize about more ducks next year, in the form of ducklings. I can even be grateful that God made male animals more fit for food; one has to eat, and leaving behind the females means the flock continues to grow. Certainly a recommended 1 male to 5 female ratio makes for a fairly good provision of food, and clearly there will plenty left to continue reproducing.

But the “mom” in me cries out with her. They’re all individual, unique, irreplaceable. Save them all, love them all, raise them all.

This is no one time burden. Ducklings next year? Maybe. Hopefully. How many do you suppose will be male? More must die.

So you decide to go like Cain, and just do vegetables.

Today I started clearing out my garden. It was doing beautifully, and then the rainy season hit. With one accord, every plant became diseased. The garden melted; the fruit rotted. There I was, pulling my hard, tender work out of the ground with the stench of death in my nose. I filled wheelbarrows full of labor that never achieved the fullness of its life.

Can anything be done that avoids the shadow of death? It is though our every step is a reminder that we, too, will someday come to know death. For now we are merely beginning the long introduction.

What depth of faith is required to believe that there is something stronger than death.