Holes

Holes. noun. Empty spaces, where absence is felt.

Lee Morley via Flickr

Lee Morley via Flickr

Holiness has most often been revealed to me in the exquisite pun of the first syllable, in holes – in not enough help, in brokenness, mess.

– Anne Lamott

Every year, it bangs me over the head, how much I expect every moment of Advent to be glittery and Kodak-worthy. It never meets expectations.

Paper snowflakes and stockings hang from our walls, baby bulbs from our baby tree. The chalkboard whispers Christmas wishes. I wear all the plaid and play all the music. Presents are wrapped in kraft paper with care.

And underneath the twinkle lights, I’m still scared. I’m still lonely. I’m still broken.

I’m longing to know what my future holds when my concrete plans run out. The boy is too far away, and it looks like he will stay there for too long, and I’m too angsty about it. My control muscle keeps spasming, when the 7th graders won’t stop talking in class, and when the months ahead feel too uncertain, and when the student loan payments loom, and when I can’t patch my messes.

The world feels it too. Others have holes much deeper, more painful, than mine. While we light candles and hang ornaments, the hunger and abuse and terrorism and racism and violence remain. We flail in fear. We look for answers no one has. God’s people cry, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and there is silence.

It hurts.

This Advent, I pray that we would let it hurt. This season centers on the longing of a world not yet perfect. We are watching and waiting for the Lord, praying for his presence as we see our need. We will still have fear and loneliness and brokenness. But this Christmas, I pray those things won’t lead us to solitary panic, or desperation for Christmas Eve engagements, or cynicism.

Instead, in those holes of hurt and longing, may we seek the quiet presence of God with us.

When we can’t be merry because life is hard, may we admit it, and hear the holy words “Me, too.” When we struggle, wondering when the Prince of Peace will reign, may we pay attention for his presence. When we hurt, may we search for the Healer and Counselor, holding fast to the promise that Emmanuel shall come. May his presence, his holiness, his promises, fill the holes in our broken souls and our broken world.

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Interim

Interim. noun. An intervening time, a temporary or provisional arrangement.

jblaha via Flickr

jblaha via Flickr

On a tired evening, I read a post by Emily Freeman. She shared these words, from John O’Donohue in To Bless the Space Between Us:

You are in this time of the interim where everything seems withheld.

The path you took to get here has washed out; the way forward is still concealed from you.

You cannot lay claim to anything; In this place of dusk, your eyes are blurred;

And there is no mirror. As far as you can, hold your confidence.

Do not allow your confusion to squander.

This call which is loosening your roots in false ground, that you might come free from all you have outgrown.

I stopped scrolling mindlessly. I read those words again. I let them sink and felt them resonate.

Because I am in this time of the interim.

The last of summer just slipped through my fingers. Not long ago, we had a golden day, a gift in Minnesota October. It was eighty degrees and sunshine and bursts of fall color. I sat outside in shorts and read Fitzgerald. And then, the next morning, the wind snatched the door from my hands as I left my apartment and blew in steel gray clouds. The temps waver now. We have blessed mild sun today and I forget my jacket most mornings, but the leaves are crumbling. I know what’s coming soon. I’m bracing for it.

I’m nearly done with my seventh week of student teaching. I’m prepping and teaching all but a tiny handful of kiddos. The battle does not rage, but rolls on, day by day. We’ve finished 18 hours of conferences, so many hours in the small room for the number of families who show. The assessments for state licensing are so much work, typed in 11-point font on too many pages, with so little payoff. Sometimes I feel like a real teacher, worrying what videos my third grader is posting of herself on YouTube and wondering how to authentically incorporate music for the boy who sings Wiz Kalifa while staring at his journal. And sometimes I feel like a fraud. I have no paycheck, no year-long commitment to this school and these students. I am still a college student, tied to supervisors and seminar hours and my university email.

I don’t know where I’m going. I have eleven more weeks of clarity, three with my elementary kiddos and eight in  7th grade Language Arts. And then my life is blank, all haze. Job boards and program applications offer many options and little clarity. “It will be interesting,” I say. “It will all work out.” I believe it because I have no choice, because belief precedes sight in my brand of faith.

Relationships get complicated. We muddle through the everydays of long-distance and wonder if it’s worth it, if it will work out. This is no easy business, the in-between of “I like you” and “I do.” I’m feeling desperation to be permanently attached to someone, to come home to the same arms every night. I see it happening for friends on my Facebook feed, while I sit solitary in my apartment and burn with quiet cynicism. It’s not yet time for me. Maybe it won’t ever be. For now, I buy a plane ticket and pray and try to build a life anchored on more than one boy. But still the distance, the unknown, the unfulfilled ache.

I don’t know what I’ve outgrown. I can’t go back, to classes with familiar professors and the friendly faces in chapel and close circles with girls in the dorms. I don’t want to. But there are holes left. I used to know my place in community, sitting on industrial carpet under twinkle lights, or standing in line to buy cookies from the cafe after chapel. Those everyday intersections are gone. The connections remain, a little dusty but still whole and real. I need to reach out. I need to be known.

This is the space between student and adult, between classes and jobs, between past and future. This is the interim. This is life. We live and move in the moments between, the moments of not yet, the moments of mystery and blind faith. And through it, the blurry and the broken, we keep moving. We keep growing. We keep trusting that God makes cosmos from emptiness, life from dust, and beauty from our cracked little souls.

Blessings

Blessings. noun. A bestowment of good, a prayer asking for God’s favor.

Flickr via Riccardo Cuppini

Flickr via Riccardo Cuppini

This week, may you feel God holding you fast in the midst of uncertainty.

This week holds so many unknowns. You will be surprised. You can’t avoid these surprises, even though they make you shifty. Even though you make your kiddos practice predicting what will happen next in the books you read, you can’t predict the plot of your life. You can’t guess exactly where you will feel pain or stress or joy or heartache or triumph. You don’t and can’t know what will change in the next seven days, or seven weeks, or seven months.

And guess what, babe. You don’t need to.

You only need to know that God has you in this moment. He is giving you what you need to make it through this minute and through this day. He does not promise sustenance for weeks at a time. He promises bread to satisfy your hunger for today, grace enough to fill you for today. So take what he gives you. It will be enough, if you let it.

May his sustenance surprise you. May his peace in chaos abound in you. May his reliability and trustworthiness sustain you. May you know, in your head and your heart, that you will never fall from his hand. May you feel his blessings on your week.

trust

Trust. verb. According to Google, “to believe in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” I’ve struggled with it ever since trust falls on 9th grade youth retreats. I am struggling with it now.

photo: Nathan Rupert via Flickr

photo: Nathan Rupert via Flickr

I’d been going to yoga. One Thursday I showed up to a toned pixie with messy hair leading the class. We started in child’s pose.

I sat on my feet, hips trying to touch heels, folded in half so my forehead touched the ground. I pressed back through my palms, feeling the tension. The teacher claimed that hips carry a lot of emotion. I almost believed her. “This week in my classes, we’ve been talking about trust,” she said. “So tonight, meditate on trust. Where do you need more trust?”

I’m sometimes oblivious to burning bushes, signs from God. This one was hard to miss.

Wednesday had been hard. Some of my distant, hopeful plans for the future toppled. My ideals were looking, well, idealistic. The months ahead looked hard, like work and angst. Letting go of my tentative outline sucked.

I thought I knew exactly what I wanted for the next few years. I predicted how much hard stuff I could handle before my measly strength gave out, how far my emotions would swing in a few months. “I can’t,” throbbed in my mind when all I saw were my own trembling hands, knuckles white with pressure. So I held my own little whispered hopes close. I’d just started to give voice to them.

And then, one conversation, and my plans crumbled.

I spent the day grappling with the mental aftermath when not wrangling kids. I wanted to stomp, stick out my bottom lip, and cross my arms, like the diva seven-year-olds I work with. It would have been so much more satisfying than sitting quietly, watching the playground, wondering if I’d get my way.

Two weeks later, I still want to pout most days.

I should be better at this. The past months are littered with evidence that I have something to trust in. I got a miracle job for the summer. A random conversation linked me to a roommate just in time. Just days ago, my cranky car got fixed without leaving me stranded for more than an evening. Clearly, I have not been cosmically ditched. And still I forget. Still I refuse.

It sucks. I want to stretch into the mythical day when all will be well and I will be content. I itch to instantly unfurl branches that reach further and touch more: more warmth, more adventure, more happiness, more space for the life I long for. But I’m stuck, rooted here and now. Growing is slow. It hurts, the cracking of stiff bark, old ideas, to make room for new shooting of fresh leaves. It goes inch by inch. From my stunted height, my plans still seem best. I ache for them to be fulfilled.

There has to be something better. I want to ask “What if?” with hope, not fear. I want to believe that those June evenings I spent reading in my boyfriend’s room, him listening to lectures, our knees touching, won’t be the only golden days. I want to believe that college was not the height of God’s provision of community and purpose. I want to know what it means for the Lord to be my strength and my song.

“Trust yourself to try something new,” the yoga instructor said. That night, I tried. I tried growing branches in tree pose, stretching my fingers towards the sky. I tried taking my peace fingers, grabbing my foot, and straightening my knee. I wobbled and broke the position. I tried again.

Now, I feel like I’m failing at trusting. I keep feeling the tension, losing my balance, and breaking the position. It hurts. But I have to keep trying again.

Small

Small. adjective. Little, puny, a size that is less than normal.

image: davejdoe via flickr

image: davejdoe via flickr

The fire had burned low. As my brothers and dad fled inside, away from the mosquitos, I walked to the end of the dock. I lay down, flat on my back, knees pointing towards the infinity of stars. It was dizzying.

It’s cliché, I know, to feel incomparably small in the face of legions of stars, burning softly above your head. But for a second, my breath stuck in my throat. I was just one girl on one Minnesota lake one Saturday evening in June. There were so many people I would never meet, corners of the universe I would never see, things I would never understand. Even things from my own little life, I might never make sense of. Once again, the future is uncertain. I should be used to it by now, the free-falling of life without a plan. But still it scares me when my little heart is adrift in a sea of possibility and unknown.

As I lay looking up at the stars and into my emotional heart, I could have reacted as I used to when I was young and thought about infinity too late at night, tramping down the stairs in tears because endless time and space were terrifying. I shiver when I have to face what I cannot understand.

But this time, despite the anxiety and overwhelming sky, I felt comfort, an inexplicable grace. The stars wrapped around me and my smallness. I sensed their maker smoothing love over me, calming my restless heart.

You see those stars? I made and know every one. I made and know every fish in this lake, and I anticipate when they’ll flip and make you twitch, out here in the dark. And I made and know you, too. I’m not too busy for you. I see your feat, how you’re desperately afraid of being lonely. I see how tight you cling to what you love and how much it hurts to trust. I see the ragged spots on your soul. And because I made you and love you, I see what it will take to heal you and save you and love you. Though you are small in the hands of a big God, you are never forgotten.

Now

Now. adverb. According to Dictionary.com, “At the present time or moment.”

caesararum via Flickr

caesararum via Flickr

We stop in front of the dorm, its boxy windows glowing. Hazard lights ahead of us blink. I need to get out of the car. Now. I stretch six hours of kinks from my legs, unbend knees, pop trunk. My body releases. My mind doesn’t. For the first time since freshman year, I don’t want to be back.

Spring break slipped by like fading light. I flew to DC in a snowstorm, found hugs and long conversations and feet sore from walking miles of sidewalk. Over the weekend, the snow melted and my heart warmed to the city, history threaded with modern Metro lines and selfie sticks. Then after a flight and a drive, I was home, to cheesy movies and late nights and a church with people who had prayed me through bad weather. It was familiar, the grain elevator a gray, boxy monument to sprawling life with no stoplights.

And then I returned to school and classes and a campus that shifts without me. Now unknown faces form mad lines for coffee before chapel. I am one of the nameless seniors, drifting purposefully between class and work and meetings in patterns I’ve learned to scurry over seven semesters. As we cross the apex of spring semester of senior year, three classes left between me and student teaching, I am Roadrunner, sprinting fast over cliff edges. I’ve been running, surviving, for so long that I don’t realize when my feet hit thin air. My time has run out. Now, I look at the camera with wide-eyed questions. In a moment, I will begin to drop.

The flash of four years is nearly over. Sitting in classes where the clock ticks, in dry chapel talks, I want it to be done. The glassy bubble of a Christian college was first comforting. Now it confines. So do textbooks and assignments typed late at night. My knowledge wants to flex and find roots in real life and real people. I think I’m ready for the real world to bring it.

On a Friday night that hints of spring, I go to a concert where my friend is a featured soloist. She is stunning. After the final bows, while we wait in a back hallway, her mom says hi, gives me a hug, and mentions how it’s all ending, how there’s only one concert left where I’ll see my friend in the front row with the flutes. I blink. It’s ending. Not just classes. My normal for friendships and weekend plans and daily life will also end. Somehow I forgot that part. I am stuck between impatience and anxiety and excitement and fear. I think I’m prepared to move on. Then I think harder and I am not so sure.

So I have choices. I can try to fast-forward through long weeks until summer. I can get sentimental over pictures of good ol’ days and refuse to hope in bright future ones. I can stop typing and head to Netflix to not think at all.

Or. I can decide that I am here, now, and not flake out. I can still have time to walk to class with friends and love on my staff and get something out of class and pass my MTLEs and land a good summer job. Even if it’s rough, I won’t quit now.

See

See. verb. To percieve with the eyes; to view; to visualize.

Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

It’s early when I leave the house. The sky has tired of hoisting the clouds high, and they hang between trees and over highways. They hold the sun’s waking light and my dim headlight beams captive. Slowly, I drive through the fog. I can’t see what’s ahead, machine or deer or intersection. I see only gray light over gray road. I am a speck in the center, between where I came from and where I am going.

I remain in-between now, slinking into a foggy new year.

I’ve left behind the cozy, familiar light of last semester. It was a sweet time, balanced between beloved people and hard-but-good work. Then the lasts began to fall heavy as December stretched on: last movie night with my roommate, the one who’s graduated now. Last time my boyfriend, who will soon be long-distance, will swing by after his night class. Last drive to a placement without the title student teacher. The light of memory glows, but it softens by the hour. It will slip further out of reach when I drive back onto campus, towing clean laundry and fresh challenges. I can’t go back.

But I don’t know what lies ahead.

The year spreads before me, a grid of unfilled minutes and days. I can scrawl some events across the white space: a spring break trip, a friend’s wedding, a start of student teaching, a graduation. In theory, I’m moving toward elusive adulthood, things like apartments and big-girl jobs and morning commutes. But from what I see, the minutes are mostly blank. I can’t imagine what they hold. I have no vision, no phrase, no grand resolutions for this year. How can I plan for something I know so little about?

I’m stuck, fearing what I cannot see. I imagine the worst.

I peer into the mist, trying to read it like the swirls in a fortune teller’s ball. I don’t know what will jump at me from the cloudy corners. Will I drift away from those I hold dear? Will motivation find me for my final semester of classes? Will student teaching be a success? Worry of hidden, phantom monsters grips me. I wonder if failure and loneliness and pain lurk just out of sight.

I know my faith should buoy me. After all, Jesus said something about the blessed who believe without seeing. But I don’t think he was talking about my limping faith, the kind that hopes for billboards pointing the neon-lighted way to happiness and holiness. I’d rather be Thomas and skip the extra bite of blessing. I want proof, physical evidence of Jesus walking with me.

Ye of little faith, indeed.

I grasp towards clarity and control, believing that if I can see, I can make right. If only I knew the problems and emotions and dangers I would fight, I could prepare. I would wield lists and resolutions and problem-solving plans.

In my striving, I forget that I control and can fix little. I cannot slow time, snatch precious moments and cup them in my palms until readiness to move on blooms. I do not dictate the weather or my friends’ time or much of anything. Even if I could see what lies ahead, I could do little to affect it.

I also forget that not known does not mean not good.

This year, like all years, will be a mixed bag of hard and good. It holds hugs and dirty dishes and yawns and good books. The alarm will go off too early. I will run, feel my blood pump and mood surge. I will spill things. Loneliness will bite on long afternoons filled with homework. Trees will sprout leaves in the spring. Beauty and goodness hide in the shadows, mixing with heartache to form a real life.

I do not know exactly what this year in that life will hold. It will be foggy the entire way, though I try to wave away the mist and peer further ahead. But I hear echoes, ringing from above. They whisper that it will be okay. And though I can’t see, I choose to believe.

Paralyzed

Paralyzed. adjective. According to Dictionary.com, “To bring to a condition of helpless stoppage, inactivity, or inability to act.”

I have a confession.

Sometimes this writing thing scares me.

Since my last post, I’ve been paralyzed, unable to choose a topic or put together words that feel meaningful or important. I worry that if I don’t write something stellar, no one will care what I have to say. I’m scared that I’m going to get it wrong.

This is so typical of me. Sorry that I can’t get over this.

If you’ve been reading this blog since the beginning, you know that I struggle with the quest to be perfect, to control everything so that it’s neat and tidy and logical. But in the past few days, I’m being reminded once again that there is little in life I can control. It’s hitting me hard. And it freaks me out a little.

I can’t control how people respond to me, whether they hang on my every word or snicker when I turn my back. The most brilliant thing I’ve ever written will not resonate with everyone. Even if I rocked at small talk, I might still come off as an awkward weirdo. A new Pinterest-perfect outfit every day would not ensure my universal admiration.

I’ve been trying to make people love me, to perform flawlessly so they’ll find nothing to dislike. And it’s not working. Perfection is exhausting and uninspiring and makes me cranky.

So I’m going to make progress, to step forward in the only small way that I know how. I am making the choice to stop worrying and paralyzing myself. And I am going to write.

fe82b4a5b8336d18101d1b3965e0b0c2

Image via Pinterest

Right now, progress is not crafting the perfect post, snark and insight with an inspiring image to match. Progress is not gaining more readers than ever. Instead, progress is writing because it makes me happy. Progress is continuing to type even when my words feel stilted. Progress is doing the work regardless of the results and feedback I get.

If I look back at the roots of this space, I did not start blogging because I wanted to be famous or because I am an attention hog or because I need constant affirmation that I am a good writer. I started blogging because I love to write. I like the person I become as I shape words into images and ideas. Writing makes me more observant, someone who notices the sideways whirl of snow under the streetlights and the errant thoughts that surface while I gaze out the window. Arranging words helps me snare and name the elusive emotions that I suck at talking about. Writing feels like prayer.

So I will silence my inner critic and write. It might be messy. It’s possible that no one will care. And that’s okay. Because I will be making progress, moving out of the paralysis that keeps me from being my best, most authentic self. I hope that it means I will be writing here more often, about the inconsequential, the things that confuse me, the happy random things I love. It won’t be perfect. And I’m starting to be okay with that.

Perfectionism

Perfectionism: noun. According to Dictionary.com, “A personal standard, attitude, or philosophy that demands perfection and rejects anything less.”

Dear authors of Dictionary.com: You have a nice start, but I have a few things to add to this definition. Trust me, I’m an expert here.

Perfectionism. It’s a suffocating pressure to meet every single expectation of every single person you know. It’s the devil on the shoulder whispering that you might fail if things aren’t flawless, smoothed over with shiny paint masking any imperfections. It’s the mental censoring that goes into every communication that secretly urges for constant and perpetual seamless sentences, witty phrases, and soft-spoken grace, fearing that one wrong word will alienate forever.

Can you tell that this has been my lifelong battle?

When I was learning to talk, my mom claims that I refused to say a word if I didn’t know that I could say it perfectly. When I asked my grandma for a brownie but wouldn’t say “Grandma” because my two-year-old mind was freaked out about stumbling over clustered consonants, Grandma refused to hand over the chocolate until I said her name. We can learn a few things from this: chocolate solves everything, and I’ve had this problem since I could barely talk. And as I got older, things didn’t improve much.

In second grade, I remember being frustrated by a particularly puzzling word find that we were required to finish. My teacher refused to give me any hints and wouldn’t let me move on to the next project until I was done, so I prayed desperately at bedtime that God would help me find the remaining words so I could catch up to my friends and stop feeling like a failure. In fifth grade, I got a D on a math test and had to leave the room so I could be distraught without the judgmental, questioning stares of my classmates who would wonder why the smart kid almost flunked and why she was crying about it. In tenth grade, I played on the varsity basketball team and blamed myself for every loss, adding up the shots I missed and the turnovers I made and rebounds I didn’t snag to see if the outcome would have changed had I done my job better.

If you can’t tell, my childhood involved a lot of stress and and a lot of tears.

Now, years later, I like to think I’ve changed. I don’t cry as much as I used to, thank the Lord. I don’t freak out as much about things like unfinished word finds. But on some days, I really don’t feel like I’ve grown that much. On those days, perfectionism lurks just under the surface, waiting to latch on to the nearest mistake and throw me into confusion and shame because I messed up and showed the world that I am not seamless and spotless and shiny. Take, for instance, this little blog. It’s newborn and rough and vulnerable, a venture that I have told approximately one person about. And it scares me.

Maybe this is because my perfectionism is bleeding into my writing, too. According to Mastin Kipp (I have no idea who he is, but he seems wise), “Perfectionism is a dream killer, because it’s just fear disguised as trying to do your best. It just is.” And in this case, I think he’s right.

Let’s look at the evidence: I’ve written one post because I can’t decide on the best topic to write about next and I’m afraid I’ll pick the wrong thing. I’m worried that my fried, end-of-the-semester brain isn’t coherent enough to compose anything worth publishing. I’m terrified to post links on Facebook for fear that people will read my words and think “Eh. This stupid and not written that well and a waste of my time.” Which would mean that I too am stupid and not a good writer and a waste of time. This fear paralyzes, stifles possibility under the guise of not good enough, grinds potential words to dust. It empties my words of life, leaving a hollow plastic Barbie with a painted smile rather than a breathing, klutzy, messy human bursting with joy and passion and color.

This is not what I want. I do not want hollowness, silence, worry, and fear. I don’t want to muffle words, or silence ideas, or kill dreams. After all, my identity is not grounded in what other people think. My worth is not based on my meeting the expectations of myself and everyone else. So I have decided to be real. Yes, I will still revise and edit what I write. But I will not be silenced because I fear that my voice is not good enough. I will not pretend that I am seamless and flawless. I will not write for other people. I will not kill my dream of creating something beautiful.

And maybe one day, when these statements are living realities and not just vows inked on a screen, I’ll realize that I’ve failed at being an expert in perfectionism. And I can promise you that failure won’t bother me one bit.