Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Potter's Hands

I took up a new hobby recently: pottery.

I'm not entirely sure why, but while reading through Celebration of Disciplines by Richard Foster, I was especially challenged during the chapter on solitude. Challenged to do something different, to pause, to consider different goals for my life, to step out of my comfort zone and try something new.
Reorientation and goal setting do not need to be cold and calculating as some suppose. Goals are discovered, not made. God delights in showing us exciting new alternatives for the future. Perhaps as you enter into a listening silence the joyful impression to learn how to weave or how to make pottery emerges. Does that sound too earthy, too unspiritual a goal? God is intently interested in such matters. Are you? 
It definitely didn't feel like much of a spiritual decision, honestly. I read the chapter, the word pottery leapt off the page at me as something intriguing, I did a little research (being just outside of Santa Fe, and all) and decided taking a class might just be wonderful. I coerced a few friends into joining me and we, very soon after, began a 7-week adventure into the world of clay.

You should know that I can't recall touching clay in my past. I'm sure I have- it just doesn't stick out to me. My fine arts credits were fulfilled through choir in high school, so I had always managed to avoid coming face-to-face with my lack of artistic skills. Because, I assumed, since I couldn't draw or paint, I probably couldn't do much else in the art world, either.

Our first night of class, we were tasked with making a cylinder. Our instructor demonstrated. He threw some clay on the wheel, shaped it into a hockey-puck-looking thing, dropped his thumbs down to create a hole, and began to pull the sides up in to a vase-shaped piece.

Easy.
I can do that. 
My pride pounded within.

We weren't the only beginners in the room, but the girl on my left had done this before. She was already making plates and was quick to assure the rest of us that this new hobby of ours wasn't for perfectionists. We would have to learn to get over ourselves, hold things loosely, and be patient. Unfortunately, those aren't things I'm great at.

I threw the clay onto my wheel and tried to make that hockey-puck shaped thing, just like I had been shown. I didn't really understand the importance of making sure that clay was entirely centered on the wheel- not considering the challenges I would encounter if it wasn't. You won't be surprised to know that my first few pieces were about an inch tall, an inch wide and far from symmetrical.

One of my first pieces...
It wasn't until week 3 that I felt like I began to grasp the concept of "centering" enough to actually implement on my own without my instructor coming to the rescue. It had been a frustrating process. I felt like I had been going through my 25lbs of clay swiftly, only instead of having any successes, I had a wet pile of clay failure. Countless attempts of not being centered, pulling up too quickly or unevenly, slicing the tops off, clumsily taking my hands away too fast, and, just generally, ruining almost everything I was working toward.

Our instructor always encouraged us to keep the things we salvaged, even if ghastly. Keep it. Practice trimming and glazing with it. Keep it as a reminder of what your first pieces were so you can see the progress you've made. So I did. They are a humbling reminder that things take time, and that I don't always do things right the first time (I often don't, actually).

But I kept going.
Outside of class, some of us would frequent the studio when we could spare the time. I loved it. I fell asleep thinking about centering clay. I dreamt about pulling up the sides of a cylinder with ease and grace. I talked about it often and, as I began to see and feel improvement, I felt accomplished. I was learning something new...and I could see visible change happening.

There's something strangely cathartic I've found in working with clay. Something so satisfying when you realize the clay you are trying to shape is finally moldable and pliable. Something indescribable when it begins to do exactly what you want and begins to transform from a lump of clay to a beautiful work of art.

I had the opportunity to teach a class on sanctification a few weeks into my pottery class. Naturally, there were some parallels to make at the time, but the parallels haven't stopped coming. There's been something profound about working with clay, especially when I take myself out of the potter's role and put myself into the piece of clay, into the Potter's Hands.

I've found myself often humming a melody I grew up singing in church- some of you may recognize it:
No eye has seen

No ear has heard
The good that the Lord has prepared for those
Who wait on Him
To hear His voice
"I am the potter
And you are the clay" 
Jesus take me in Your hands

And make me all that You want me to be
Jesus help me understand my purpose
And what You can do through me
Fulfilling my destiny
accidental spout
The even more beautiful part of it is knowing a bit more about what it means to work with clay and what that image requires. In order to be molded, the clay [us] has to be centered. Only then are we ready and truly willing to succumb to the hands of the Potter. Only then can we be shaped into what we are intended to be, into who He is calling us to be.

Today I picked up 18 finally finished pieces.
It's been a process.
A process of failing, disappointments, mishaps, uneven pulls, accidental spouts, lumpy handles, tragedies while trimming and the unknowns of glazing. It's been a process filled with small victories, vast improvements, waiting and hoping, and finally... results.

I think this is just the beginning of my adventure with pottery. I hope to keep learning and growing, allowing this new hobby to affect me and challenge me on a more spiritual level. To seek solitude. To seek change. To be more centered, so that I might be molded and shaped to be more of what the Potter intends for me to be. A beautiful work of art... and while I can't begin to fathom what the end result will actually be, I must trust that He knows what He's doing and that I'm in His hands throughout the entire process.



Sunday, November 20, 2016

Torn

My husband has been traveling a lot lately- so much so that it sometimes feels like I'm learning how to do life as a single person again (a single person in a long-distance relationship, really)...

Here's the recipe my mom uses if you're craving any!
My mom put together this giant recipe book a few
years back for all of her kids, complete with photos
from the past. I'm sure she'll appreciate me posting
 this old shot of her and my dad together :) 
Cooking one pot of Mexican Corn Chowder and literally eating it at least once a day for a week,
figuring out how to adapt my social calendar to doing and creating things for me to do alone instead of with someone else, getting to go to sleep earlier than I'm used to, hearing my thoughts louder and louder without having someone to bounce even the craziest ones off of... the list goes on.

And so I find myself talking to our dogs more- like they're humans. Today I couldn't help but wonder if I'd be a lot lonelier if they weren't around...knawing on tennis balls, shaking their hair all over the house and wagging their tails and wiggling their giant bodies every time I come home from work or other gatherings. It's good for my soul to have dogs right now, even if they can be master escape artists or incessant barkers from time to time.

I still get asked occasionally how I'm doing with this whole pregnancy thing. I appreciate when people ask. It's not a sensitive topic for me to discuss, although I realize bringing it up on the other side could feel uncomfortable and people want to be careful.

Obviously I'm not writing about it much anymore. Mostly because it feels repetitive. Mostly because I feel like I entered into a period of not even wanting to get pregnant anymore. Mostly because I still don't know how to digest my own thoughts and feelings and then regurgitate them out in any sort of comprehensible manner.

Because this was a week where my husband was gone. But it was also a week where I might have found out I was pregnant... or not. A week where all my normal "start" symptoms were delayed or not apparent and my heart, as a result, went a thousand different directions.

The initial thoughts were along the lines of irony... of course the moment when we decide more resolutely that we don't think we want children would we be pregnant. And then irrational fear: Jack & Rose style- maybe my husband will die on this trip and this is how his legacy will continue. And then rational fear: wait, what would having a child actually mean for my life? And then excitement: Finally! And then worry: Do I want a baby? Like, really...? And could I do it? And then joy. And, really... just a bunch of unnecessary thoughts and feelings pre-knowing if I'm even pregnant at all.

I had picked up a book on my way out of the office on Friday as I was heading home for the weekend. It was a book a friend had given me a year ago to read, a book that had remained on my shelf the entire time (and even through an office move). For whatever reason, I thought I might open it up during my weekend alone.

Would you believe that this book, while largely about other things, was also largely about the struggle of a woman to get pregnant? The very open memoir of a woman who longs for a second child, encounters miscarriages, false positives, the cruel waiting, every other person in the world around her (seemingly) getting pregnant... which then lead to giving up the trying and then winding up pregnant (of course). I haven't actually finished the book. It was at this point in the story where I needed to put it down for a minute.

Because I don't want kids.
And I do.
And I don't know how to deal with those very opposite realities.
I don't know how to deal with the relief and the disappointment that occurs simultaneously each month.

I don't know how to talk to people about it. I don't know how to talk to moms who have their own world of mom language and mom needs-- because I'm not one and, a lot of the time, I don't want to ever be one.  I don't know how to talk to women who are trying to have children and are crushed by their infertility-- because I'm still on this fence of relief and gratitude when I discover I'm not pregnant. I don't know how to talk to women who just don't want children-- because while I can carry this torch more fully than the others, I still don't know if I buy it. I still can't shake the thought that I'm just coping with this all in way that plays out in defensiveness and apathy.

I don't know how to talk to my husband about it either.
Because it's crazy.
It's back and forth, in an instant.
It's tears of disappointment coupled with sighs of relief.
It's applause of celebration and stabs of heartache.
It's the pleading that I might trust the Lord with all of this, no matter what, with the constant question of if we should seek further medical advice before it's "too late" or start pursuing adoption.

So I guess if you were to ask me today how I feel about this pregnancy thing?
I think I might tell you that I feel pretty alone in it.
Not because I don't have people around me who support and love me, or a husband who I'm continually thankful for... but because I don't know know what I want.

And, for maybe one of the first times in my life, I feel like I'm the only one in the world who feels like this. For any other situation or instance in my life, I knew there were people who could relate to what I was going through and how I was feeling about it.

But this?
This feels foreign. This isn't something I hear about or read about.
And maybe I feel like something is wrong with me. Because how can you not know if you do or don't want children?

But I'm torn.
Wanting.
Not wanting.
Torn because I see what other people have and I'm thankful I don't have it.
Torn because I see what they have, and my heart hurts because I don't.

And so I'll do the only thing I know I can do... and take it to the Lord. Because as crazy as I am, there's true comfort in the fact that the Lord knows me and the desires of my heart better than I do. My husband actually reminded me of that recently- that the Lord knows us. And He is good. So while I am torn, He is taking care of me. He is taking care of this.

And probably because of that (and that alone), I am still overwhelmingly content.
Content, yet pushed to abide in Him more fully each day.

Strangely, there's enough hope in that for me right now. It's enough to override all the other tumultuous, crazy emotions this last year+ has been for me. It's enough to remind me that there's other things that matter more. It's enough that this doesn't have to be all-consuming or defining for me.

And, maybe even more strangely, I know that the Lord is being good to me in this entire process- even if I don't know how I feel about all of it.

So today... today, I'll eat my chowder, talk to my dogs, wait for my husband to come home, and be thankful for all that I do have.


Your entries will remain anonymous


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Permission

I give myself permission a lot.

Permission to eat more.
Permission to sleep in.
Permission to watch another television show.
Permission to not shower (I know, I'm gross).
Permission to not say something I know I should say.
Permission to say something I know I shouldn't say.

Permission.

Permission to be a worse version of myself, essentially.
It's the slippery slope of one's demise. The one where you convince yourself that if you just do this one thing it doesn't really matter much. But then you find yourself allowing it more and more steadily and then one day you wake up and none of your clothes fit again. Or you realize you haven't read your Bible in a long time. Or your hair is a greaseball because you were too lazy to shower again. Or you sat in a coma for hours watching a television series you don't even really care about.

I've been spending a good bit a time with people on our staff the past few weeks asking them a series of questions. It's been interesting, especially as similar themes begin to surface among them.

What is inhibiting your success? 

Believe it or not, the answer I most often get is: myself.
And, on some level, I know that answer has to be true for almost all of us.
We're, too often, our own worst enemies.
We're enablers of our own laziness, selfishness, gluttony, pride, lust, fear (shall I go on...?).

It's a pretty interesting phenomenon... yet, it's nothing new. It's been an issue with humanity from the beginning.

It usually starts as an internal conversation- and my most recent battles have been with food consumption. Because I lost a decent amount of weight a few years ago and then, with a pat on the back for all my hard work, I slowly eased up on my concern with what went in my body and with my activity level. So, naturally, the balloon started inflating. When I went home for Christmas last year, I brought back some of my "fat" pants, determined not to spend money on clothes again.

But then I realized it was kind of the worst. Being scared of the scale, knowing I was just getting larger, feeling constantly insecure and, honestly, pretty disgusted with myself. Where was the self-discipline that I had acquired? And so, I began again. Slowly, but surely, attempting to care about what I ate and care about my physicality.

And so the conversations continue. The battle resumes.
It's only one donut. It's not like you eat them every day. It won't make a big difference. 
The devil on my shoulder convinces me.
I give myself permission.
I pick up the donut and, usually, enjoy every bite.

It's crazy how often I convince myself to do the very thing I have told myself I won't do. It's crazy how easy it is to defeat my own resolve with the slightest permission to just give myself a break from the commitment once or twice. In fact, the more I think about it, the angrier I am that I'm such a pushover.

And so lately, I've been fighting a little harder with myself.
Lately I feel more determined to not give in so easily.
Just being aware of the conversation, of my willingness to give myself permission, has allowed me to walk in discipline a little more steadfastly. Because when I can identify what's going on, I can tell myself to get lost and remind myself of what I'm committed to and why I chose to commit to it in the first place.

It's pretty cool to see what happens when I can walk more resolved in one area of my life, too. It begins to transform the other areas.

And really there's a lot of begging and pleading with the Lord that I might truly be more like Him, that I might seek His face more readily and that I might live a life that glorifies Him. And that part is necessary- that part can't be forgotten. That part is where the resolve comes from, that part is what changes everything. That part, I'll never be good enough in.

Thankfully there's grace, second chances and, because of that, an ability to not be entirely defeated when I give myself permission once in a while.

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

It Ain't Perfect

Okay, let's get serious.
Now that we're past all the mushy, gushy obligatory anniversary posts, I can tell you how our day really went. Because as much as all the things about our wedding day are true and as much as I still think our marriage is really wonderful and that I'm incredibly blessed... it ain't perfect.

So let's back up a few days.
September 27, 2016

We had decided on only one thing for our anniversary- a fancy dinner. Not because either of us really love fancy dinners (however he definitely does more than me), but because the Retreats team at camp had given us a gift card for Christmas that we hadn't used yet. Their goal? To give us something that would make us do something we would normally never do. Tricksters.

So 10 months later, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to put their generosity to use. A two year anniversary celebrated with a fancy dinner. What else can you do on a random Tuesday in September?

I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting when I woke up on September 27, 2016- but I think I may have anticipated more than what actually happened. Eager to continue my new routine of early morning moments with the Lord, I hopped out of bed and sat down at the kitchen island- Bible and journal in hand. Because on your anniversary, you have to write about your marriage (although, when I skimmed backward, I definitely hadn't done it for our one year).

And so I wrote and I read, like all diligent wives do... somewhere, somehow not even realizing that I might be expecting that this day might be different than any other.

Cuing the dog to wake my sleeping beau so we could scurry off to work, I soon found myself in the company of a sleepy, incoherent man. A man complaining about not having pants while wearing a pair of pants. No pants?! You have pants, I assured him. The khaki pair, remember the khaki pair? They're missing! They can't be missing... that doesn't make any sense.

Eventually the pants were discovered in the Goodwill pile...discarded too soon due to a missing button. Buttons are easy. Buttons are cheaper than pants. Don't you know?

And off to work we went.

The thing about working at the same place and working in the same building and, then, having your husband also work for you, is that sometimes work and home mix. Only sometimes, of course. And on this particular day, our anniversary day, we had a scheduled meeting together. A one-on-one. A boss checking in on their employee type of meeting. The type of meetings we don't have enough because we're married and see each other often. The type of meetings he can resent me for not having with him often enough. And so we met. And after the first fifteen minutes of figuring out how to actually talk to each other without being defensive or annoyed, we survived.

But today's our anniversary, I thought.
It's supposed to be special. Different. Better. Best. Isn't it?

My husband suggested us leaving work early to catch a movie before our fancy dinner reservations at 6:30pm. Okay. Let's do it. Let's play hooky and go see a movie. I scrolled through Fandango, dismayed by our options but determined to find one that fit our interests and our timeframe. With less than 15 minutes to get ready for our fancy dinner, we both laughed at how dressed up we were having to get for a movie. A dress, wedges, make-up... his wedding shoes, a button up, a suit jacket.

So we went to the mall (of course). We bought our tickets, our large popcorn (with butter) and our giant Mr. Pibb. It's by far the sleaziest theatre in town, but it had the movie we wanted at the time we needed. With only one other couple in the theatre, I sank down into my seat, my feet already hurting in the wedges. Why didn't I think to bring flip flops? 

As we listened to Florence Foster Jenkins (or rather, Meryl Streep) belt too highly and off-key, I had a moment of dissatisfaction. What are we doing? We could go to a movie any day...? Today is our anniversary... it's supposed to be special. Why didn't we go hiking, catch the sunset and eat a delicious picnic? And why am I still wearing these stupid shoes? 

The shoes came off.
We laughed. He cried.
The shoes came back on, the lights came back on. An hour to kill until dinner.
Fortunately we needed a shower curtain rod (ours had fallen off in the middle of the night onto our dog a few days prior) so we took off across town to hit up Lowe's.

It's always in rides across town that everything goes wrong, isn't it?
It's always on your anniversary where things are supposed to be special when you ask your husband a question that automatically traps him. We came to a stop at a stop sign, I showed him a picture of us that had been taken months earlier and I ask (deep sigh): I don't look as fat anymore, right? 

It wasn't what he said that made me mad, but it was the tone.
And immediately I brought up the pants, the meeting, and his response to my picture. You just don't seem like you even like me today. 

When what I really wanted to say was, today was supposed to be special. I expected today to be special. Couldn't you read my mind? 
Eventually, through clinched teeth, I admitted to him that I had probably had some expectations that I didn't even know I had that weren't being met. And, eventually, after a few more misunderstandings, I even apologized for it.

One (too long) shower curtain rod and a few light bulbs later and we were on our way to the fancy dinner. The type of fancy dinner that immediately makes someone like me feel out of place, angry at the absurdity of the prices and ignorant about food and wine. But we survived. We even drank good wine and ate delicious (small portions) of food.

The thing about the fancy dinner was that it gave us more time to talk. We had quickly moved on from our misunderstandings and had reached a place of common ground. It wasn't long before we found ourselves reminiscing, laughing and enjoying each other's company in this funny, expensive restaurant (the type of restaurant where they fold your napkin again if you leave it on your table when you excuse yourself to go to the bathroom).

We talked about the lessons we had learned over the last year in our marriage and the things we wanted to accomplish in the upcoming one. We dreamed about the possibilities and the ways that we might be better reflections of Christ in all aspects of our lives. We talked about tackling new adventures and being more intentional with the people in our lives.

It was a great fancy dinner.
And, in some ways, it was a perfect anniversary. Not because our relationship is perfect, but because our anniversary reflected exactly that: imperfection. Imperfection, confession, getting over ourselves and still making the most of a delightful evening.

In fact, it's potentially one of my favorite parts about our marriage.
We somehow manage to weed our way through this messiness and find each other... and ultimately remind each other that we're on the same team. We're in this together. Our intentions are good, even if they aren't always executed perfectly or received well.

And it's good.
Super imperfect, but good.
And a crazy, challenging, beautiful, life-changing adventure.

Your entries will remain anonymous

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Night to Remember

I felt naked today.

For the first time in our two years of marriage, I forgot to put my wedding ring on. It's actually rare that I ever take it off, but last night I was dealing with pizza dough and who really wants dough caught between a ring and a finger? So, I took it off... and completely forgot about it until this morning when I sat down at my desk.

I remember putting the ring on for the first time. The new spacer in between my fingers felt unnatural and weird, and I wondered if I'd ever get used to it. I'm not really a jewelry person, so anything foreign (earrings, bracelets, rings) bothers me. But, as everyone assured me, I got used to it. The ring became my normal, my every day. It's less sparkly than it was, and it's definitely dirty... but it's always on.

Ironically enough, on the very (only) day I forgot to put my ring back on, my husband and I reached our 2 year anniversary mark. Anniversaries are a funny thing... probably filled with expectations and anticipations. Mostly I just like to remember.

I like to remember our wedding day and all the people that bent over backwards to make it exceptional. The people who drove hundreds of miles, the people who spent way too much money, the people who gave up their time and their sleep and their energy. The ladies who made hay bales look pretty, the guys who moved giant stumps, the millions of other tiny details that caused many people to sweat it out in the too hot of a September day that it was.

I like to remember the go-karts and the batting cages, in my bridesmaids attempts at making sure my wedding day didn't solely consist of make-up and hair spray. I like to remember my sister-in-laws join effort in doing my hair because my hair plans fell through. I like to remember the bridesmaid dress that couldn't quite zip up minutes before walking out the door and the panic that then ensued. I like to remember the prayers that they prayed over me, moments before I was to walk down the aisle.

My husband and I saw each other before the wedding, choosing to take pictures prior to the event....choosing to allow our first glance of each other to be in private. I like to remember the moment when he first saw me and the moment when I first saw him. The moment when you realize: this is really happening. I like to remember all the picturesque locations, the giant mosquitos that got caught in my veil (which had to inevitably be edited out of a few pictures), and the heels that sank into the loose soil. The heels that I would forgo for bare feet for the actual ceremony.

Not long after, I clutched my father's arm to walk down the slope to greet my groom. I like to remember the faces that beamed at me as I made my way down. Faces from all over the country, faces I had seen just that day and faces I hadn't seen in many years. Faces of people who were cheering for me, for us. Faces of people who had prayed and pleaded with me for this very moment. Faces of people who had cried with me in the heartaches, faces of people who had loved me through my entire life. Faces of people who I didn't know well yet, but who were graciously welcoming me into their family with kind, open arms.

I like to remember the instruments (not real, of course) that orchestrated the verses that pierced my heart deeply with each step. In Christ alone, my hope is found...He is my light, my strength, my sound.

© Catherine Rhodes Photography 2014
I like to remember standing there, hands clasped with the man I was to marry, in front of our friends and family and listening to the words my oldest brother spoke to us as he officiated our wedding. His words were sincere, passionate, compelling - reminding us of the commitment we were making to each other.  I like to remember the way the sun began to set and the lyrics we sung as we came before the Lord in worship together. Jesus Paid it All.... all to Him I owe.. 

And while everything after those moments are a blur, I like to remember getting in a canoe in my wedding dress for a silhouetted lake shot, the toasts that were made, the crazy dancing, the friends and family that I finally got to talk to and laugh with (for too short of a time), and the fireworks that exploded as we made our way to the 'getaway' car.

It was literally a night to remember.
The best night.
And while it was just another night to almost every other person there, it was a night that changed my life forever. A night where the Lord swung me around happily in His arms, gently telling me: See?!!? This is what I've had in store for you! I've been waiting to show you for so long, and now it's here! Isn't delightful? Aren't you so glad you waited?

It was a night where I wept much, as I realized again and again how much He loves me. He was willing to give more than what I needed, more than what He promised... and He was willing to give it to me: impatient, selfish, demanding, entirely too human.

I wish I could do our wedding over again.
I wish I could have all those same people back in one place, for more time.

My ring is back on again, and life feels a bit more normal.
The ring reminds me- not only that I'm married and that I have to learn day in and day out how to live more selflessly, but it reminds me that the Lord is just who He says He is: faithful. In all things. In all seasons. And His faithfulness doesn't have to look a certain way for Him to actually be faithful. It can be slow, it can even seem painful...but it is real and it is good.

Because God is good.
All the time.
I hope I never forget it.

Your entries will remain anonymous


Sunday, September 18, 2016

An Off Day

Today is one of those days where something just seems off.

Do you know the type of day that I'm talking about?
Something deep within me feels unsettled, unsatisfied... maybe even broken.
It's one of those days where I want to scream at the injustice, where I want to tell people to wake up, to get over themselves, to acknowledge that there's more to life than our comfort and our happiness. To do something different, to want something more, to live a life of purpose.

One of those days where I realize that I'm actually needing to yell all of those things at myself.

There's no apparent cause to unsettledness, but it has barged into my heart, into my soul and reminded me that this world is not my home. Something has bred discontentment, and I find myself waffling, searching, wondering...

And it always begs the questions: so now what? 
What do I need to change about the way that I'm living? What do I need to change about the relationships in my life and how I'm interacting with them? What do I need to change about the way I'm spending my time? What do I need to change about the questions I'm asking, the content of my conversations, my current priorities?

And then the overarching question, the one that pierces deeply... Even if I identify something that needs to change, will I be disciplined enough to actually change it? 
At the end of the day, do I care enough... does it matter enough...?

I wonder how many of us marvel at the idea of change but how many of us are brave enough to actually enact it. How many of us live lives that are ruled by societal pressures, by systems within our jobs, by chasing dreams that leave us richer, smarter, more secure and comfortable. What's the goal, what's the objective, what's the calling?

My husband and I bought a house recently- a house that we'll never live in, but one that we'll be renting out. We hadn't actually seen it until this past week and as we did some minor fixes, I couldn't help but want to change more. What if we did this, or did that...? And immediately I was reminded that none of those changes would benefit me. Which made me immediately unsatisfied with my current living situation. We're basically tenants of a house that isn't ours, a house that we don't have to rent (which we're truly thankful for), but it doesn't allow much room to fix, to change, to make better.

My dust-covered closets.
Who has time to clean these, anyway?
And so I look around the house we currently live in, disgusted by the permanent layer of dust, the dirty carpet, the broken blinds...wishing I could snap my fingers and be living in a house that we could personally invest in (we could, I suppose-it just doesn't make much sense). Immediately I'm even more disgusted by my ungratefulness, by my selfishness, by my incessant desire for more when I've already been given much.

There always seem to be these real, tangible, outward examples of the dirt in my heart. Real examples of how unsatisfied I am, how much like Goldilocks I am.... in all areas of life: This body is too large, this house is too dirty, these dogs are too hairy, I don't read enough, I'm not disciplined enough, I don't have deep/good enough friendships, this church is too long, too boring, too unfriendly, not passionate enough.

I'm too critical.
But I find myself mostly sitting in my criticism and not doing much about it.
Battling the balance between when I need to learn contentedness and when I need to act.

And so I stew.
Some days it's easier to ignore the questions, the doubts, the criticisms, the wonderings on if I'll ever do something.
Some days I actually do something- I seek out people, I wake up early and read, I ask different questions, I have hard conversations that I don't really want to have, I clean up the filth.
And some days I wonder if it's all enough. I wonder what I'm missing, where I'm lacking, how I can be doing different, better, less, more.
And some days it feels too hard.
Some days it feels easier to live like everyone else.

And maybe it's those days where things feel off.
Where something feels broken.
Working toward something. 
Because maybe somewhere I've settled, I've become complacent, I've given up.
Maybe somewhere I'm avoiding my calling-- and maybe that's in small ways, but maybe it's in big ways.
Maybe I just care too much about things that don't actually matter.
Maybe I've lost sight of what it means to consider everything else a loss compared to knowing Christ.
Maybe I don't know how to live extraordinarily in my current circumstances, maybe I'm just living too comfortably. Maybe I'm living too fearfully.

The off days remind me that I want more.
They remind me to ask the questions.
They remind me that there's more purpose to be found... more than 40 days of it.

So today I'll clean and hope it lasts longer than a few days.
And I'll think.
And I'll ask myself some hard questions.
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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Thirty, Flirty and Thriving

I have a friend who is about to turn 30.

And she's single...with no prospects.
Thirty, flirty and thriving, right?

13 Going on 30 made this year as a single seem a little more glamorous than my friend probably feels. Because when you're in your late twenties and you're single, you kind of just feel old and decrepit and unwanted. Kind of like you missed your shot. Kind of like the world is passing you by with how it's all supposed to go: marriage, house, kids... and more kids. Don't forget that white picket fence and those darling matching jumpers (yeah, my mom made me wear those with her).

The thing about my friend turning 30 and being single is that, when I put myself in her mind (you know, imposing all of my own thoughts and feelings on her), I suddenly realize that my near-decade of singleness isn't enough. Because, if I'm her, I would think: Debbie, I know you were single until you were 29, but you have no idea how it feels to be turning 30 with no romantic prospects. Because, when you were turning 30, you were engaged to be married. How I'm feeling is a totally different ballgame.

And while I get it, I can't quite put my single-for-a-decade-card away (because 20 is the standard age at which marriage becomes acceptable- just ask the bride of the first wedding I was ever in). And because I can't yet pocket that card, I would also tell myself (or people who are like me) that it's a lie. I think I do understand more than you might imagine. I think my years of singleness allow me to resonate with the pain, the not understanding, the doubting in the Lord's goodness... no matter the age. It may not be perfect and my experiences/challenges may be different, but I also know that it sucks. I can still feel the suckiness of it, the weight of it, the hopelessness of it... and I'm so sorry that it hurts so much.

And while I can tell you a multitude of things (don't focus on it, don't let it be your end goal, trust the Lord, know that He is good and all of this is FOR your good, be patient, keep seeking the Lord, etc. etc.)-- I know that on some level those words just go in and out. Because as much as those things are true and as much as they are actually necessary to functioning and living, it doesn't change the fact that oftentimes it still hurts and it's still all-consuming. It doesn't change the fact that you feel like a minority, that you feel like a third-wheel, that you don't always know how to relate to the world around you when they seem to be experiencing these other components to life that you can pretend to understand, but honestly have a hard time with. It doesn't change that you can't shake feeling like when the world looks at you, they must think: I wonder what's wrong with her? There must be a reason why she hasn't been chosen yet? And sometimes you can't help but wonder if that's actually true of all the current prospects out there who are of an eligible age (sometimes I joke that that's why I got married to a man 5 years younger than me- he was still cool-ish).

So, to catch any of you up to speed who don't really know me yet, I started dating my husband around three years ago. I was 29. He was 25. I was a rule follower. He was a rule breaker. I had long hair. So did he (he actually still has longer hair than me, even after we both got haircuts yesterday).

It wasn't anything I expected.
He wasn't anything I expected.
In reality, he wasn't initially anything I thought I would want. Quite a bit younger, rambunctious, hyper-active, seemingly cocky and too much of a dude who led girls on without even realizing he was doing it (you all know the type I'm talking about). So, my desperate 29-year-old self thought: why not? What have I got to lose? Why not just talk to him and flirt with him? And my broken, 29-year-old self also knew that I didn't want to waste time and that I wasn't interested in becoming one of the girls left in his wake, wondering what had happened and how I could have mistaken his kind, listening ears for genuine interest in me as person, as a woman.

But I was wrong.
About all of it.
The seemingly unlikely quickly became likely... in fact, it just suddenly happened.
I became the story that single girls gag over. Within 10 days of dating we were talking about marriage, within three months we were engaged. Gross. I became the Christian cliche. The type of story I would have rolled my eyes at (I maybe felt like people were cheering more for me only because I was 'so' old and had waited 'so' long). But I've loved almost every minute of it.

I want my story to continue to remind single ladies that hope doesn't have to be lost. To remind them that sometimes it actually does come in the most unlikely ways. To remind them that the Lord hears us, even in our darkest, saddest moments... and that He really is working everything out for the good of those who love Him. I would have waited even longer for my husband, if it meant that I got to marry him (especially if the alternative meant marrying someone else). Because, as cliche as it is, he was worth the wait. The Lord knew what He was doing...and He knew that I didn't.

And while I want to urge you to not place your identity in being single or your hope in not being single forever, I know the reality of that is hard. I know that living a life outside of the realm of your relationship status is hard when your empty ring finger is constantly glaring at you and when all of your friends are, if not already has-beens of a blushing bride, bursting at the seams pregnant. I know that you're constantly staring into a future of figuring out at what point you need to stop thinking someone might just come along. A future of constantly struggling with being content and weeping alone at night. And I know this happens when you're19 and probably even more when you're 30+ (although I can't speak to that from my own experiences anymore).

But I do urge you to cling to Jesus throughout it all.
Be steady in that.
Be faithful to Him through it.
Weep to Him.
Confess your doubt, your fears, your hurts to Him.
Trust Him. 
Lean not on your own understanding (because you'll never understand it, even when/if it happens).
Ask Him to remind you over and over again of your ultimate purpose and ask Him to show you how to live each day fully invested in that.
It doesn't negate the hurt and the doubt, but it keeps you focused on what matters above all else, even if you can't possibly be perfect in keeping that as your number one priority.
And know that it's okay.
You're human.
You have desires.

Be open to the world of unexpectedness. Be open to being wrong. Be open to the different journey that you're on without so desperately trying to change it.

It's an age-old song, I know. But it's always good to be reminded.
God is good.
Life is hard.
But God is still good.
Walk in that today, friends.

P.S. To anyone who is single: ENJOY your time!!  I know many of you are watching friends getting married and having kids, but you were uniquely chosen to NOT have this happen in your life just yet. Don't spend all your time dreaming or crying over the should-be's... there's so much life to be lived that can be lived because you don't have a spouse or children. Know that you are blessed where you stand, that you've been given much and that the Lord intends to use all of you for His glory. I love what He can do through willing hearts and how that oftentimes has nothing to do external circumstances.

P.P.S. To anyone who is married: be aware that your single friends may be struggling, hurting and secretly dealing with stuff you may not understand. All of them will need you to respond differently to them, and differently in different situations. Just be aware. And don't be afraid to ask them about it. Sometimes they just need you to ask them about it, to ask them what they need. Avoid trying to constantly set them up and always be aware of how your own actions and invitations may make them feel alienated/awkward/like a third wheel.

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