grateful . . . restless

First, I have to say that I have so much to be grateful for. I am aware that my whinings betray a huge lack of gratitude for all that I do have.

With that said . . .

I so, so desperately need for something to change. I have been at the end of my rope in the work arena for going on three years now. Blah, blah, blah, be grateful you have a job . . . I know. But my dissatisfaction is growing up in me like a tidal wave, and I am desperate to be able to catch my breath, to break out from under the smothering force of this restlessness. I have been wrestling with this for far too long . . . I am so, so tired of these hopes deferred. I am tired of not being able to decide which direction I want to take, but more than that, I am weary at the doors that keep on closing at every turn. I just. want. SOMETHING. to. change.

There’s a song that I keep hearing on the radio that I don’t know what to do with, but the lyrics keep echoing in my mind nonetheless.

God gave me
A dream that would not die*

And that’s just it. So many of my dreams have died, or at least have faded away as I have lost interest, moved on to the next shiny object left in my path to distract me. And as doors continue to close, it is an uphill battle to convince myself that I’m not doomed to a life of career failure and dissatisfaction, that something better might yet be ahead for me. For now, I am doing everything I can to move forward, but every small setback brings back that fear that I am doomed to a lifetime of purposeless wandering. I am just not okay with that, and so I continue to press on, even when the destination is entirely unclear.

I pray that God will help me to see the next step, and that I will be faithful in this desert while I wait.

(*Shirley Murdock, The Dream that Would Not Die)

Xanga archives–March 18th, 2006

Trying really hard not to think about the fact that five years later, I am still in this same place of limbo . . . I got my current job not long after I wrote this, and I so clearly remember the sinking feeling in my stomach as I realized that this was just another fishing gig . . . and yep, I’m still waiting.
Saturday, March 18, 2006

last Sunday night, or “doing business with God”

. . . but I want this “transaction” to be finished quickly, and apparently that’s not going to happen . . .

I came into night church and wasn’t really in the mood to pay attention . . . but I found myself being drawn in, almost in spite of myself. Alton talked about Peter, about how he had gone back to fishing after he had failed Jesus . . . (I had heard this before, in a different context, about how when Jesus died on the cross, His followers had no idea what to do and so they went back to fishing) and he kept saying, “but Jesus didn’t create Peter to fish for FISH, He created him to fish for MEN” . . . and so God and I started to get into it, as I like to say . . .

what I wanted to know . . . “so if You didn’t create me to ‘fish’, or to be a ‘tentmaker’, then what the @#$)(& DID You intend for me to do?! and by the way, just how long is this going to take?!” maybe I wasn’t quite so demanding and rude as that . . . or maybe I was . . . at any rate, I could feel a pull in my soul and was like, “there’d better be an altar call” . . . I think I would’ve gone up even if there had NOT been one . . . go figure . . . but he did say, “and if this is you, I want to pray for you” and when he gave the call, I “busted” (as Sara would say ) out of my seat and virtually FLEW up the center aisle (trying not to think about all of the eyes on me) and knelt before the cross, weeping silently, pleading with God, “how long, O Lord?”

the only slight problem was that as I started walking up, Alton was like, “so if you feel like you’ve failed God, and He’s never going to be able to use you now, come on up”–and although I was already walking, I was like, “Wait!!! Stop the presses!!! That’s not why I’m coming up here!!!” but I was already walking, so there I was . . . and with him saying that, God brought to mind a few other things that actually DID fit in with what he was saying, so it was okay. no, it was better than okay. I don’t feel like I got any answers, but I guess being at the point of pleading and begging with God to show me the next step isn’t the worst place a person can be . . .

it’s just so hard to wait for the next step. and all this week this “tired of waiting” feeling has somehow morphed into a “hope deferred” sense, and I guess now I just feel like my heart is sick with the waiting for my life to start . . .

Where words can’t reach

I am a fan of words. Writing is so central to my identity that I cannot imagine my life without it. When someone asks me what I wish I could change about my life, my first answer is always that I wish I had the inner discipline to write more often.

Words have had such power in my life, and for so long, that it’s logical that I want to believe that there’s nothing words can’t do. Words can persuade, can change hearts, can tear down or build up. They are a formidable weapon. They are a gift. John’s gospel reminds us that “In the beginning was the Word” . . . God’s answer to the impossibility of our sinful selves ever being able to be in His presence was a Word–THE Word. All God’s promises are “Yes” and “Amen” in Christ Jesus.

Every so often, though, I come up against a situation where words don’t seem to be able to reach. And I am never willing to accept this, to concede defeat and succumb to wordlessness, and to the admission that the situation is beyond my power to repair.

Wordle: where words can't reach

Over the last eight months, I have been up against a situation that has tested my faith in a way that nothing else I have lived through ever has. In some ways, I think the pain is more acute because it is something that is not happening directly to me, but to someone I love very much, someone who is like a sister/daughter to me.  And the things that she has gone through in this time have taken us to the most fundamental questions that humans struggle with. We have been slammed again and again with wave after wave of these unanswerable questions.

The knowledge that this God we trust in is described with the word “good” crashes into the reality of an overwhelming and unrelenting pain, a pain whose incongruity with that word “good” is intense to the point of mockery.

The word of God insists that He is passionate, even militant, about justice, and yet this justice seems so long in coming.

At some point as we were travelling this road, I came across these words from wise-beyond-her-years Hannah Reed. Hannah’s father Bob, a hero of mine, had suddenly and unexpectedly died a few months earlier.

Hannah’s description of the divide between the words we give lip-service to when things are not hard and the reality of the struggle to try to hold on to those promises when faced with a mountain of grief and pain captured exactly what I had been feeling throughout this whole ordeal.

Bad stuff happens. It happens to everyone, in varying degrees and in different situations. We have all experienced crisis. Many times, a response of ours is to question God. And many times we find that God is silent . . .

For most bad occurrences, I could usually find a satisfactory conclusion that allowed God to remain good in my mind, despite how bad the situation was. For example, the situation could test a person’s faith, make them a stronger person, allow them to touch lives with a story, or things like that.

It’s funny how when something happens to you personally, the questions take on so much more power then when something happens that is so far away. When Daddy died, the questions that began forming were absolutely overwhelming. I didn’t understand where God was when Dad was sick, didn’t understand why He would allow such a strong, smart, kind man to die when there was still so much good that could be done with his life. I didn’t understand why God would allow my family and me to hurt so badly. I didn’t understand. I couldn’t see the good in such situations as this.

And God was silent. I couldn’t hear Him. He didn’t give me a logical answer, didn’t write on my wall, and didn’t give me an epiphany. He felt distant, and I felt abandoned and alone in my grief . . . it didn’t seem fair or right or just or loving or any of the things that God promised to be and give to us as children that He professed to love.

Like myself and the friend I have been walking with, Hannah had found a place where words could not quite reach. She understands, and at far too young an age, that the faith we give lip-service to can ring hollow when those promises are tested beyond what we ever thought we could endure. And when the world has beaten you down and you are beyond the place where any words you’ve ever spoken can even begin to touch the immensity of your pain, you have come to the place where words can’t reach. What we are left with, then, is a wordless desperation and a tiny flicker of hope in the One who is the “Yes” and the “Amen” . . . the One whose final Word will finally reach that unreachable place..

Until that day, we stammer in our sadness, trying as hard as we can to learn how to sit in that silent place of suffering. Until that day, we wait and hope and carry on with broken hearts. Until that day, we continue to reside uneasily in this place where words can’t reach.

Clown shoes

All summer long, I have been guilty of a huge fashion faux pas. Because I am trying to be kind to my ankle after a lengthy recovery from last summer’s surgery, I am hardly interested in how I look; I am just happy that I can walk. And because I want to CONTINUE to be able to walk, I am choosing footwear that values form over function.

I have two pairs of shoes right now that I am able to walk in with minimal pain. Both are black; one is more of a dress shoe, but the other is a big, clunky pair of New Balance sneakers. I am a size 10 wide, so it’s not pretty under any circumstances . . . but it is summer, the season of capris and (as short as i ever go) Bermuda shorts. I need to be able to walk, though, so without apology, I wear my capris–and yes, even my shorts–with socks and black sneakers.

Elijah tries on my giant sneakers

I cannot go up to every person I pass on the street and say to them, “I’m really not usually this tacky in my choice of footwear. I DO know that capris are not meant to be worn with giant, ugly sneakers.” I can’t communicate this to everyone, and because of this, I cannot control the assumptions people are making about me. And it suddenly struck me the other day that all of us are wearing some kind of “clown shoes”; we all have some outward trait that may not make sense to others who don’t know the story that lies beyond what the eye can see.

A friend of mine has this quote as part of her email signature: “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some sort of battle”. Those words convict me; I am hardly kind at all, let alone “kinder than necessary”. But perhaps I need to remember my clown shoes, and try to have more grace for those around me. To remember that we only see the shoes–that behind every pair of ugly shoes inappropriately paired with socks and shorts is a story, and a journey. As I hobble on my way, I need to remember that, just as my own shoes tell a story, so do those of the people I meet.

In time, as I continue to heal, it’s possible that  I may be able to trade my clown shoes in for footwear that doesn’t call attention to me, shoes that allow me to mask my brokenness and blend in with the crowd. In doing so, however, I don’t ever want to forget where these shoes have taken me.

To respect a person’s story, to see without judging, is the best way to honor that person’s journey. And although judging others seems so automatic, I am grateful that I have these ugly shoes to help me remember that there is more to the story, and that I can never go wrong being “kinder than necessary”.

Beautiful

It doesn’t take a lot for the green-eyed monster of jealousy to be unleashed in me. I am so utterly dissatisfied with who I am that I instinctively fixate on the traits I see in others that I wish I possessed.

Today I found myself in the presence of someone who is the type of person that brings out this jealousy in me. She is successful in her career, an amazingly talented woman of God who serves in her church in a variety of ways, has a life rich in relationships . . . one of those people I can look at and see everything that I am not.

I immediately kicked off the self-pity party, measuring my own lack of success against her many accomplishments, and as always, finding myself guilty of not being someone other than myself.  With her example staring me in the face, all I could think was “and I can barely get my laundry done”. I am Just. So. Tired. And I don’t understand where she finds the strength to persevere, and even to thrive.

Today, though, I realized something significant about this longing.  It isn’t just the tangible outward signs of success that I envy, but something even greater than those surface indicators. It’s not merely that I wish my life in some way looked more like hers, although that is part of it, because no matter how others define “success”, my own definition is simple: Success is anything that I am not. And no matter how many people tell me that I should consider myself successful in things that I might label as trivial (being a good friend, loving the children in my life, etc.), it doesn’t matter to me. I am not answering to anybody else’s standard, but to my own internal critic. Plain and simple: I am not okay with being who I am. And so I grasp onto this longing to be like the people I see (or think I see) who seem to have these traits that have eluded me.

And yes, blah blah blah, I know that God doesn’t require “success” of me, but it goes back to the concept that God is like your grandmother–He HAS to like you. So although I would not disagree with the notion that I am valued by God no matter what I do or don’t do, I am still hopelessly bound to my own (seemingly unattainable) definition of “success”.

But I realized something else today . . . aside from the impossibility of achieving even a fraction of what this woman has achieved, and even beyond my own faulty reasoning and twisted self-image, there is a deeper jealousy, one that feels more valid, healthier, maybe even God-given.

She is beautiful. And I want to be beautiful as well.

I’m not speaking of physical beauty, although that often seems to come with the territory. No, this is a beauty which goes so much deeper than that. This woman, and others like her whose “success” I have envied, is beautiful down to the depths of her being. She radiates God’s light, and *that* is where her beauty comes from, not from the outward achievements, but from a place that seems far more unreachable.

I want to know how she got to be this beautiful . . . I want to know how I can be beautiful too. But, even more than I despair of reaching an acceptable level of success in my career or in my personal life, I am certain that I do not know how to get there . . . I do not know how to become beautiful in this way. I am too tired; I am too selfish; I am too prone to inner ugliness. And yet, something within me holds on to some irrational hope that perhaps, if I sit at the feet of these women long enough, I just might find a way to glean from their wisdom, to figure out a way that I might be able to take on even some small piece of who they are and what they have, and to create some of that beauty within myself.

I think I am afraid of the truth that I am certain lies behind this–that the greater the beauty, the deeper the pain that has been weathered . . . and yet, I am hardly a stranger to pain myself . . . so why do some turn that pain into something lovely and glowing and inviting, when people like me exude ugliness instead?

I don’t know the answers to this. But I find myself drawing nearer to these beautiful women, to do everything I can to put myself in their path, to try to glean some of their energy in place of my own constant exhaustion, to try to become what they are.

And maybe, just maybe, if I put myself in their presence often enough, I will be able to put aside my desire to be “successful” in the limited ways that I have defined success, to find new ways of defining it. If I can only learn how to do this, maybe someday I will find a way to be beautiful.