Broad Strokes Paint Poor Portraits

I know this has been happening since time immemorial, but in the past year, I have been increasingly disappointed by seemingly rational people casting wide, sweeping generalizations of all sorts over all types, classes, races, religions, and genders of people. The Left is ________. The Right is ________. Gay people are ________. Evangelicals are ________. Millenials are ________. Gen Xers are ________. Men are ________. Women are ________. Feminists are ________. White males are ________. Black Lives Matter are ________. Police are ________. Christians are ________. Muslims are ________.

Things, unfortunately, are not that simple. I think viewing the world through the filter of Facebook has made it feel like a growing epidemic because 95% (this is not a real statistic) of the people on the internet say things that they would never say if even one human being from whatever populace they are discussing were standing in front of them. And therein lies the problem.

Broad strokes paint poor portraits. Anytime you try to categorize people, shove them into a box, make them fit whatever stereotype helps you make sense of the world, you are distorting them as individuals.

Because each of these groups of people is made up of hundreds of thousands of individuals who have hopes and dreams and mostly want good things just like you do. Whether they agree with what good is or go about getting it the same way you do is not the question. Disagreement does not even come into play in this discussion. We’re not discussing ideologies, but humanity and the intrinsic worth and complicated emotions and desires that come with it.

Portraits are unique and distinct. They are nuanced and shadowed and, in good ones, there is something intangible that helps you almost feel like you know the person portrayed. If you could look at the details, the histories, the loves, and the fears of each individual within any person your world view has tried to turn into a cliche, you would find a soul just as worthy as your own.

Our broad strokes are embarrassing. It is like drawing a stick figure and saying it is the spitting image of everyone in whichever subset you are discussing. This is not only rude; it is illogical. It is the thing children do when they are afraid. We are scrawling children’s drawings on people’s faces and turning them into boogeymen instead of human souls.

I am completely aware that some people fit stereotypes. That’s why they exist. But only the ignorant actually judge people by them. Because there are many, many more who do NOT fit the blanket categorization applied to them. No person is just one thing. They are infinite worlds unto themselves that we will never be able to fully comprehend.

Portraits are not something you create overnight. You must be engaged with someone in order to see them fully – to see them around corners and in the dark, behind doors and when the curtain is pulled back. It’s not always pretty, but let’s refrain from painting over three-dimensional people with our flat preconceived notions.

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Not Perfect

Are you perfect? I know I’m not. I don’t even want to pretend to figure a percentage. I fail – a LOT.

When I was younger, I had some notion that I could manage any situation – that even if someone thought I’d done something wrong, I could work hard enough, spend enough time, say enough words, to make someone know I intended no harm or did the best I could. As I have aged, I’ve learned this is not always the case, and this is a HARD lesson. I really believed that if I tried hard enough, didn’t give up, all situations could be resolved.

Boy, was I wrong. No matter where the blame lies, you will never be able to make everyone happy, and this is a lesson worth learning early:

You can’t fix everything.

There will be people you can’t please. There will be relationships you can’t mend.

Sometimes, the relationships are worth mourning. Sometimes, they are not. Sometimes, you are at fault. Sometimes, you are not.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

You will disappoint people despite trying your very hardest. As someone who placed an inordinate amount of importance on friendships, I will pass on what I have learned:

You will lose friends if you have kids; you’ll lose friends if you don’t. You’ll lose friends if you’re too ‘Jesus.’ You’ll lose friends if you’re too secular. You’ll lose friends if you’re fat. You’ll lose friends if you’re too thin. You’ll lose friends if you drink. You’ll lose friends if you don’t. You’ll lose friends if you’re tolerant. You’ll lose friends if you aren’t. You’ll lose friends if you are true to yourself. You’ll lose friends if you try to be a chameleon.

Point is, no matter what you do, you will lose friends over the years, and this is OK, despite how it makes you feel.

I know.

It makes you feel like a failure. You think that if you were perfect, all of your friendships would remain hunky-dory and no one would ever dislike you or think you should do anything differently in your life, but that is NOT true.

I *sort of* finally accepted this.

Did you know Jesus was perfect and that some people hated him?

WHAT???

And since I know I’m NOT perfect, if some people hate me, why should I be shocked?

So, my conclusion?

Live Biblically. Love Biblically. And if people hate you, well, “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” John 15:20

You will still have nothing to regret. EVEN IF YOU’RE NOT PERFECT. Live the best you can according to your conscience – according to the Holy Spirit – and if you fail, Jesus sacrifice has still covered you, and if your friends, or family, or whomever, cannot not accept you and your failures – your struggles –  along the way, it does not matter. Keep going. The Lord knows your heart, knows you are not perfect, and accepts you anyway.

YOU ARE LOVED.

 

Pursuing What You Love

A bundle of appetites.  That’s what I am as a bodily entity.  This fleshly tent in which I abide is intent on and, unfortunately, often content with finding things that satisfy it, please it and make it feel comfy-cozy.  Any twinge of displeasure or dissatisfaction is immediately addressed sub-consciously with, “What can I do to alleviate this abomination?”  That thought arises no matter how small the discomfort may be.  Or even if it is not discomfort…even if it is just a thought like, “I want something pleasing at this moment,” which is actually often the follow-up to feeling discomfort in some area, though we may not connect it in such a way at the time, because often the pleasure we choose has no logical connection with the discomfort we are feeling.  This is a commonly known phenomenon.  For example, I may come home from work feeling tired and somewhat disgruntled, thinking my boss is unfair or my co-workers are untruthful, but instead of quitting my job or looking for a new one or trying to come to terms with the situation, I eat a package of M&Ms and watch a funny sitcom, ergo subconsciously trying to alleviate (or rather mask and ignore) one discomfort by allowing myself something that could, in a perfect world, be a good, simple pleasure.  Comfort foods, mind-numbing television…those are two of the most obvious choices.  They are the easiest to come by and the least associated with negative connotations.  Some people do choose alcohol or drugs or lasciviousness or something that happens to be more associated with what the Christian community would dub inherently to be “sin.”  But it all amounts to the same thing, and used in this manner, is itself inherently sinful.

 

The funny thing is that this appetite does not have to be so animalistic as I have painted it in the above paragraph.  It can seek deeper things, even lofty things, aspiring to greatness and achievement. 

 

So, what is one to do with this?  How does one cease constantly desiring and seeking to appease one’s appetite for comfort, for greatness, for recognition, for love?

 

I am not an expert.  I usually say this somewhere in my posts, so perhaps you are getting tired of hearing it, but I need everyone to know that I do not claim to do the things I discuss.  I claim to recognize the truth in the things that God shows me.  I am not always so good at living them.  But God did show me something a couple of months ago that I am attempting to keep in the forefront of my mind as I go through my days.

 

I will not go backwards into what my life has been like this year, but if you care to know the history, read previous posts or shoot me an e-mail.  I will start with the fact that I was in the process of interviewing for a new job.  It is a very regular job with regular hours and regular pay and regular dress codes, etc.  This has not been the reality for most of my life.  I have had very odd jobs, or even if it was somewhat regular, I have predominantly been in charge of my own schedule.  In fact, in looking back, there have only been about 3 years of my adult work history in which I did not control my own schedule.  So, while I was interviewing for this position, I started to get a little freaked out.  Only having two weeks of vacation, and even when I get that is somewhat managed and completely out of my hands??  Well, frankly, that sounds a little like hell to me.  I nearly backed out of the process altogether.  Then one morning I woke up and God spoke to me.  I was still in the hazy state, lying in my bed.  I was not thinking deep thoughts.  I was thinking nothing when these words appeared in my mind’s eye, “Only pursue what you love.”  Well, by the world’s standards of what that means, I have done a pretty good job of that in my life…rarely letting a job take away my freedom to do the things I actually enjoy doing, etc.  But in that moment, I knew that was not what it meant and my next thought was, “What am I supposed to love?”  And everything sort of fell into place for me.  I am supposed to love God and love people.  I am not supposed to LOVE writing or creating or singing, unless God sets those in front of me as ways to love Himself or other people.  And honestly, I have been pursuing those sorts of things in lieu of pursuing the love of God and people for most of my life.  OK, well, “in lieu” of might be an exaggeration.  I have pursued loving God and loving people, but not with such passion and vigor as I have pursued my own pleasure and my “dreams.”  At the very least, I was acting like not being able to pursue those things would inhibit my ability to love God or love other people, which is simply heresy.  First off, I had the order wrong.  I wanted to pursue the things I loved (yes, things) in order that I may better love God and love people.  I was waiting for some moment in the future when apparently, I would feel I had pursued it enough or gotten enough satisfaction from it to be able to start pouring that contentment out on others around me.  How ridiculous.  “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.”

 

I have always had the attitude that whatever job I had was evil and keeping me from doing whatever I was really supposed to be doing, i.e. anything important.  I have been realizing for a while now, even before this revelation from God, that this was a serious slight towards those I worked with.  The attitude that “anything important” is outside the sphere of whatever work I am doing negates the importance of every human being I came into contact with during the course of that workday!  It was a self-serving attitude that, at heart, believed “I am more important than these people and I should not have to join in these menial tasks with them.”  Definitely not the heart of a servant.  So, I confess and repent of that here to you now.

 

At the moment God spoke that to me, I knew I needed to get over myself.  I needed to get over my arrogance and let go of myself.  Let go of behaving like a child…as if I could only obey God’s commands to love if He gave me what I wanted first.

 

But let’s take it somewhere else as well and make sure that y’all know I am not saying that God is out to kill all of my fun and enjoyment of life.  Not in the slightest!!  My own selfish desires were fueled by societal training such as Nike’s “Just Do It!” and Barbie’s “We Girls Can Do Anything” philosophies.  I am not trying to negate pursuing excellence in things you enjoy; I AM trying to discourage pursuing those things as a fulfillment separate from those two most important commandments that Jesus spoke and that I am relentlessly repeating here: to love God and love people.  Pursuing or achieving excellence in something does not mean anything special if you are horrible to everyone on the way up, if you crush those who stand in your way or if you are unfeeling or negligent to those around you.  I may not have been horrible and I may not have been crushing people, but I have definitely been unfeeling and negligent.  And I am beginning to understand that pursuing the thing only creates more disenchantment and dissatisfaction, because no matter how hard you pursue something, you are still at the mercy of others to determine its worth.  A song I write only grants me so much fulfillment if no one else likes it.  And even if others do like it, it still only grants me a measure of fulfillment until it begins bringin’ in some cash, right?  All of the doing requires recognition of some sort in order to bring any feeling of satisfaction.

 

But guess what?  Loving God?  Self-fulfilling.  Because God is PERFECT.  He loves you as fully as you can ever imagine being loved.  I’m not saying you feel all warm and fuzzy all the time.  I’m just saying that when you forget yourself and you really are about loving something outside of yourself, there’s much less that will rattle you.  It’s not about, “What’s in it for me?”  It’s about, “What’s in it for God?” which can usually be answered in a much more satisfactory fashion.

 

And when you are really about loving others, the pressure is suddenly gone because you are not relying on their reactions.  You only want to love, to give.  It’s the one thing that you can do, though even that only through Christ’s strength because He has to act through us so that we do not let that bundle of appetites override our love.  It’s suddenly not about you anymore and the stress is off.  THAT is what I felt when God spoke to me.  It didn’t matter anymore if I only had two weeks of vacation or if I was at the whim of the not-so-esteemed corporate elite…they could not stop me from loving.  And loving was suddenly what mattered.  All of the other stuff was mere self-serving prattle…the modern heresy of “following your heart” and “chasing your dream,” which thought very little of others and therefore, by default, could not be thinking much of God.

 

I have spoken of similar things in previous posts and I will give the same disclaimer here:  I in no way believe that putting this into practice leads to that asceticism which denies its own needs or becomes an unhappy martyr.  If the manner in which this life is being led does not lead to joy, then there is still some heresy deep within.  I am still uncovering my deeper heresy, to be sure.  God calls us to this sort of life because He KNOWS us, and knows what our spirits, minds and bodies need.  I heartily believe that living life according to His guidelines will lead us into peace and joy and hope, and that fulfillment which we seek by doing such things as “chasing dreams” will be realized in Him and only in Him.  I do not mean externally; our world may be falling apart around us.  But our hearts will be wholly His and wholly, well, whole, and that bundle of appetites I spoke of at the beginning will not be so ravenous and insatiable.

 

I re-posted my title poem yesterday as a pre-cursor to this.  I did so because I would like people to read this post, and then continue down to read that poem through its lens.  I used to view it as more of an individualistic evangelism, stating that we should pursue our dreams.  Now I know that the idea of passionately pursuing those dreams is part of the mold the world and Satan would like to press us into in order to keep us focused internally, always looking for our own fulfillment and happiness instead of trusting it to God.  It is a road that will wind around into an interminable maze of confusion.  It is much easier to stay on a single path and actually arrive at a destination when I am not bowing to the constant caprices of my own will, instead trusting the Will of Someone all-powerful and all-knowing who will not lead me wrong. 

My Dreams Are Not Dead

My own post made me cry.  Yes, it did.  In a good way, though.  I went back to read my, “Why the title?” post and realized that I have ceased to enact it.  At least in my outward existence.  It’s like I am hiding what I love (being creative) because I am afraid of it…afraid of being hurt by it as most people are who chose to live in mediocrity instead of chasing a dream.  And that is what I have been choosing. 

I have been in the perpetual state of “overwhelmed” for 4 months, which if you know me, you know is not like me.  I’m usually pretty laid back.  For the past couple of weeks, I have been trying to evaluate what needs to change to get me out of it.  Hence the lack of posts, and then the obviously emotional one.  I have been trying to dig deep.   That’s always good, but sometimes it hurts and takes a little time to process. 

I have realized that I limit myself.  Just like I limit God.  Mostly because I limit God.  I act like I think He is not big enough to guide me somewhere that my creativity can be used, even though He is the one who gave me the heart that is bursting to do just that.  The heart that I squelch and squash down in order to make sure I am also practical and smart.  I have written before (mostly in my “Ambition” post) how my musical ambition was a hindrance to my relationship with God for a time, and how it brought me more pain than joy.  My written response to that problem was correct, I think.  However, my active response was not.  My active response was basically to pretend the dream was dead.  And then that same response moved on to any other activity that I had any desire whatsoever to do. 

The fear of going back to that place has made me willing to try to do almost anything except for the things I really love to do.  I’m pretty sure that is not how God planned for me to respond.  He wanted me to realize that the dreams were superfluous to His plan; that He did not NEED me to do them in order for me to be used in His kingdom.  I needed to stop basing my identity and my self-worth on them.  But I took it to a whole different level.  (I wanted to say “whole ‘nother” right there, but I used to get grammaticized for that – my term for grammatically corrected – when I was a kid even though Luke Skywalker said it to his aunt and uncle.)  I took it to the level of eradication.  God wanted to bring me back to a place of balance.  But I could only really pretend for so long, I think.  My dreams are not dead.  I would love to be a musician, an artist, a whatever as long as it used some of this pent-up creative energy that was the cause (I think) of my recent “overwhelm-ed-ness”. 

When I allow myself to think about finishing a song or my next art project as a reality, as something to do something with instead of something to shove under my bed or record onto my computer, my heart beats faster…my eyes light up.  (I know they do even though I can’t see them.)  I did a research study at a hospital one time where they had to monitor my blood pressure.  I had been talking to the doctor the whole time, and then we started talking about my music…he made me stop because it was making my blood pressure rise.  And this is what I have so tried to shove in a whole and pretend I don’t care about.  I have been killing the most alive part of myself.

I’m sorry for trying to kill my dreams in order to avoid risk and rejection.  This is what I was thinking about yesterday when I said that hope was the opposite of fear.  My fear would not allow me to hope for anything at all.

I don’t know where I will go with all of this.  In the past, I have always tried to forge my own way and this has always led me to desperation.  I want to be prayerful and always conscious of God’s leading.  I never want to get ahead of Him.  But I know that I am not supposed to live in this box I have put myself in, and He never intended me to, so I have faith that He will show me the way out of it. 

OK, I wrote this post last night, but I woke up this morning with a song in my head.  It is not a song that I have heard recently, nor is it a song that I particularly like.  But I decided to look up the lyrics since I could not get rid of it.  It was a 4 Non Blondes song, and what’s funny is that I would have told you I did not know what the song was about, although I would have known the song.  Amazing what your subconscious works out while you’re sleeping, apparently, because the lyrics are incredibly appropos (minus the getting high part – we’ll just say she meant high on fresh morning air).  Here they are:

25 years and my life is still
I’m trying to get up that great big hill of hope
For a destination
I realized quickly when I knew I should
that the world was made up of this brotherhood of man
for whatever that means
And so I cry sometimes when I’m lying in bed
Just to get it all out what’s in my head
And I am feeling a little peculiar
And so I wake in the morning and I step outside
And I take a deep breath
And I get real high
And I scream from the top of my lungs
What’s goin’ on
And I say, hey hey hey hey
I say hey, what’s going on?
And I say, hey hey hey hey
I say hey, what’s going on?
ooh, ooh ooh…
And I try, oh my God do I try
I try all the time in this institution
And I pray, oh my God do I pray
I pray every single day for a revolution
And so I cry sometimes when I’m lying in bed
Just to get it all out what’s in my head
And I am feeling a little peculiar
And so I wake in the morning and I step outside
And I take a deep breath
Then I get real high
And I scream from the top of my lungs
what’s goin’ on
And I say, hey hey hey hey
I say hey, what’s going on?
And I say, hey hey hey hey
I say hey, what’s going on…
25 years and my life is still
I’m trying to get up that great big hill of hope
For a destination.

Disturbed

That’s the word I used to describe my spirit the other day in talking to my boyfriend.  Not like mentally disturbed.  Disturbed like if I was a lake, there would be lots of ripples.  There has been a lot inside me that has just been sort of heavy for a couple of months now.  Somewhat to the point that I chose escapism by keeping busy with mostly mindless things and not trying to work on it.  Just letting it gurgle and churn and fall in whatever pattern it chose without taking a good hard look at it.  So that’s where I have been, as evidenced by shallow (but hopefully amusing) posts as of late.

For a while, I was not even sure what was working on me.  Probably because I chose not to, but when asked, all I could say was what I told you above:  my soul was disturbed, my spirit heavy.  If you could get a spiritual/emotional illness, that’s how I would have described it.  The Flu of the Soul.  Tired, aching.  You might think I’m saying I was depressed, but it was different than that.  It was, I now know, God urging me to change.  And although I am not yet sure what or how exactly He wants me to change, I am more ready and more prepared to change when faced with whatever He has in store because of finally paying attention to the stirring.  Tension, my pastor would call it.  A call that makes me uncomfortable.

If you’ve not read my post on Ambition, you probably should before you continue or you’ll be starting this journey at its apex.  Despite the fact that the apex of a journey is usually its most interesting, and the only thing our fast-food culture has the patience to hear, the meat of a journey cannot be grasped without the whole struggle from start to finish.  It means nothing when watching the Lord of the Rings to see Frodo fighting with Gollum and watch Lord Sauron’s ring fall into the fire if you have not seen the treacherous journey before.  I guess that this may not actually be the apex.  I thought I was finished with this revelation before, but this could very appropriately be called “Ambition II” if I chose.

My mind is still pretty jumbled about how all of the various things I want to share are connected.  I’m actually hoping that in writing it down, it will become more clear, even to me.  This is usually what happens, to be honest.

I guess I should start with the fact that there were various moments during this disturbed phase when I was acutely aware of my shortcomings.  There are plenty of them to choose from, but the one that kept coming up was my individualistic nature.  I have always flown the flag of my individualism with much pride, heralding it as a virtue which the masses did not possess.  This might be true, but in doing so, I allowed its virtues as well as its vices to take hold in me.  Unfortunately, this is possible with any quality.  Though good, I placed it on a level higher than it deserved, giving it the chance to root too deeply in my soul.  Individualism came to mean alone.  Not in the lonely sense.  I have not been lonely.  But in the sense that very little I did was done with any intent for it to affect another person’s life.  I was quite responsible and quite creative and quite busy with various and sundry daily things.  But none of these things meant a darn thing in anyone else’s life.  I’m sure I will have some say it was not so bad as that.  I have friends that tell me they were inspired to do something outside of their comfort zones because they watched me do something similar.  The problem is that those things that I did were not outside of my comfort zone.  I was doing things that I knew others would think daring and brave, but that to me were not by any means scary.  Normally, I would just rush madly into the next thing so as not to have a moment where I had a need to trust God or wait for His guidance on where He wanted me to be and what He wanted me to do.  That might be a bit of an exaggeration as well.  There was some trust in God required, but not nearly what might be perceived from the outside.  The decisions I was making (often regarding careers and jobs or lack thereof) did not require the same kind of stretching of my faith for me as for others.  I’m not sure why. 

OK, I kind of glazed over a couple of important points in that paragraph.  One is that people would look at my life and say that I have done many brave things (not in the sense of soldier brave, but in the sense of life direction brave); things that those people say they would not have had the courage or fortitude to try; new jobs, new cities, etc.  I already explained above how to me, that is not necessarily brave.  The actions those people would point to were, for me, mostly an attempt to create a little excitement because I was bored.  Or an attempt to get out of something I knew I didn’t like into something different.  Or, here’s the embarrassing one, an attempt to cause those same people to look at me in awe and say, “Ooooh, look how brave and daring she is.”  I like it when people do that, because I can shrug casually and say, “Yeah, it’s no big deal,” and those people just think I am more brave. 

Newsflash: I am not brave.  Is it bravery to do the things that create no fear in you?  It is simply because I do not value career for its own sake or money for its own sake, that I am willing to toss them both away with no hesitation.  There is no bravery in that.  See my Thirty? Really? post to see thoughts on different kinds of courage.

Do you want to know what I fear?  People.  I am terrible with people.  I am scared that I will not know enough to help people or to show people the true God.  I am scared that people will not like me.  I am scared that people will let me down and not live up to my expectations.  Mostly I am afraid that I will look like a fool.  Or that I will make God look like a fool by proxy if I try to be His servant.  In this fear, I have no stories of bravery to share with you.  I have only ever been a success with people when those people pursued me as a friend or confidant or advisor.  What I am after is making an impact for Christ, which you cannot do when you live life as a hermit(ess?).  In this, I am terrified.  And to hide my fear, I substituted flashy things, i.e. my semi-dramatic life choices, that made me look fearless.  I faced another man’s fear to hide the fact that I could not face my own.

All of the perceived risks I have taken were never once done for the purpose of, or with any ideas of impacting another person’s life.  It was always about me.  And this is what I have been looking at, since I did finally gather up the courage to look the tiger in the eyes.  I am all wrapped up in selfishness and fear, and until I get over it, I am hindering God’s ability to work through me.  I say hindering because I know that He can use even the lowliest vessel, and that no matter what, all of my “righteousness will be as filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)  However, even the lowliest vessel is more effective if it wants to be used and tries to make sure it is prepared. 

I guess I’ll tell you more about the process of this, which consisted of my being constantly inundated with messages and situations that made me feel this sense of inappropriate individuality more greatly.  At one point, I was sitting at dinner with three friends, one of whom was saying that she has been influenced by watching me.  I don’t remember the context prior to this, but in stating that, I think she thought about it conversely and said out loud, “I don’t think that I have influenced you very much, though.”  This is a person who is worthy of influencing me.  She has been through some tough things and come through them with a big heart for God.  When she said that, it was one of those moments of “tension” inside of me.  I knew that her inability to see any way she had influenced me was because of my determination NOT to be influenced by anybody.  Apparently, I had taken this to both extremes, meaning that I would not let anyone (or at least very many people) influence me for bad OR for good.  I can give you further evidence for this attitude from my “My Space” profile page.  The profile asks you to list your heroes.  My statement ends with this: “I’ve kind of always been antihero. I want to be myself.”  What do you read here?  No one else has anything to offer me that is worth emulating.  This is a wrong and arrogant attitude when exaggerated to this point.

Another situation was that which I wrote about in a recent post, My Journey to Vegetables.  In itself, it would not mean very much, but as a symbol it is very indicative of the way I operate.  If you don’t want to read the whole thing, basically, in lieu of asking a friend for a favor, I spent 4 hours of my day off to do something it would have taken someone else 30 minutes to do on its proper day, rendering me quite unproductive.  Such is my life.  I have mentioned this desire for self-sufficiency more than once.  In my desire to grow my own food (Letting the Cabin Out of the Bag) and in my desire to know the “basics” of many different facets life (Gettin’ Down to the Roots), there is this underlying message that says to everyone, “I don’t need you.  And I don’t want to need you.” 

So, now we have, “I am completely self-sufficient” and “You cannot influence me” coupled together in a neat little package.  Inviting, isn’t it?  I really did not realize how deep this problem ran until I saw that it really goes through EVERY aspect of my life.  I have had friends and relationships in the past where people complained that they wanted me to “need them,” because they felt disposable.  I knew that I did not exude an air of even comfortable reliance on people.  I just did not realize that it was so strongly to the opposite extreme: rather, I exude an air of defiant self-sufficiency that runs so deep I don’t even want to “need” a grocery store.

I am sure that you could call me enterprising or handy or something because I try to do everything myself.  And I’m not saying it cannot be an asset in my life to have this quality, as well as the part of me that does not like to be notably influenced by others (which renders peer pressure virtually impotent).  Let me just state again that I have taken it to a ridiculous extreme, causing others to be excluded from my daily walk…keeping them at arm’s length so that they can neither help me grow nor harm me.  I am so encased in this mindset, that even as I write about it here, I have to keep reminding myself that I am trying to tell you it is negative.  I am teetering, virtually by the minute, on the fence of falling back into being proud of this quality.

Follow my relevant journal entries to see how long I have been mulling this:

November 19, 2006:  “Ineffectively busy?  I do things, but not with people.”

February 18, 2007: “Do I have love?  Where are the people who feel my love?”

September 2, 2007: “Stop being individualistic – trying to be innately self-sufficient.”

October 21st, 2007: “Fought fear by being self-sufficient and not needing anything or, rather, anyone.”

I’m not sure how long this has been going on.  I have a poignant memory of a conversation I had when I was away at college for a couple of years, and came back home to visit.  I ran into my uncle at the mall.  He asked me if I missed my family.  I remember shrugging, nonchalantly, and saying, “I don’t know.  Not really.”  He asked me if I missed my friends.  I gave him basically the same reaction.  I remember saying something like, “I mean, I love them, but I don’t really miss anybody.”  I remember him looking at me quizzically and saying, “You’ve changed.”  Even then, I knew there was something wrong with how I was interacting with others.  I went away from that conversation feeling the same “tension” I mentioned above.  There was something wrong with how I was interacting. 

That was over 10 years ago, and I haven’t fixed it yet.  I didn’t even acknowledge that there was a problem.  I even embraced it as a protection…a shield.

My pastor’s message on December 2 brought it all home.  It was the first time I have ever seen him broken up through the whole service.  I’ve seen him get choked up before, but this was continually throughout his sermon.  It was obvious God had really made this apparent and important in his life.  I’m not a sports fan, but he was basically telling us to get off the bench of Christianity.  I’ve heard that before, and it means something…but what he said that really got me was something like this: “Christians are mostly life-long students, never engaging in the real world applications of what we learn.”  Analogies about sports are one thing.  Analogies about knowledge and learning are another.  I shouldn’t have to hear an analogy pertinent to myself in order to enact it in my life.  But, I guess it never hurts.  I like to learn more about God, about His word, about spiritual growth.  But it is pointless if I never use it.  My pastor actually said another thing a while back that is applicable here.  He said, “If you never learned another thing about Christianity, you would know enough.”  I am inundated with knowledge.  There are people in countries where Bibles are not available who build monstrous ministries and only know one verse.  I know enough.  I SIT on what I know…letting it work in me, trying to become a better person…that’s all well and good, but it is not the goal.  It is the means to the goal, and it doesn’t mean that you get to pretend the goal does not exist along the road.  Just because you’re not the best player on the soccer team, doesn’t mean you run around practicing during the game and not trying to make goals because you are scared you won’t make it…if it is during the game, you try to make goals, i.e. effect people’s lives for Christ.  I’m not talking about chalking up souls so you can get a gold star.  I’m talking about showing people the love of Christ.  And to do this, I have to get over my fear of being affected by people.  Because if I am interacting appropriately with people, I will be affected.  I will care, and it will hurt. 

I think I have had this revelation before.  I remember about 7 years ago, realizing how open Christ made Himself to being hurt.  He loved freely and was rejected over and over and over.  That rejection will be a natural part of following in His footsteps.  Loving someone is giving them the opportunity to reject you.  Saying, “I will love you, but I do not need your love in return,” is not valid.  I don’t mean that the love is conditional based on the response…I just mean that a response is called for.  He wants our love in return.  He is asking for it.  He does not hang it out there, and then walk away from it for us take it or leave it, no worries for Him.  He embodies it, so when we accept or reject it, we are accepting or rejecting Him.  In other words, it is not love if it means nothing to me.  If I say I love you, but am not affected in any way by your actions, it simply is not love.  It is some mind-manufactured system that I somehow feel can fulfill the manuscript written out for me – some rote method I have concocted so I can feel OK when I read, “though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (I Corinthians 13:2 – NKJV) 

I am sorry for trying not to love, and for trying instead only not to get hurt.  If that is my goal, then Christianity is not my game.  (I Peter 4:12-13)  If Christ suffered it, it is not a thing that I should avoid, for “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.” (Matthew 10:24 – NKJV)

Now that I have worn you out explaining my desire for self-sufficiency, I have another issue to discuss before I get to the answers God has been giving me.  This one is back to that whole “Ambition” thing.  It’s all related in my mind.  I know that at this point, if you went and read my initial Ambition post as I requested earlier in this one, you are now thinking, “Why did I have to read that?  Exactly how is it related?”  Well, it is.  The problem is that my two major issues seem different, but they have one answer that is all jumbled up together.  So, I have to go through both things in order for the answer to make any sense.  Here goes.

I have also been feeling the same desperation that I used to feel regarding my music, and how, then, I felt that I was lacking something if I did not succeed in it.  Only this time, it was much more generic.  I was back to feeling overwhelmed with the mundane, and how it seems to take over your life…back to feeling that my existence was uselessly consumed by every day circumstance and necessities.  In other words, back to that fear that I would never do anything “important,” and somewhat consumed with this ambition.  

If you did, indeed, go back and read my “Ambition” post, you will know that I went through years of desperation, and even depression because of this fear, only then it was specifically attached to the success or failure of my musical endeavors.  It was a fear largely based on the need to satisfy my own ego, and put in front of my love for God.  It consumed me.  It has been a little over two years, probably, since I wrapped that package up and threw it up into God’s arms.  It has been the most free-ing two years I have had in my entire adulthood, because I was just trying to become a person and not a persona.  But somehow, I let that fear creep back in.  It was wearing a new cape this time, though, and I did not recognize it.  It was not clothed in my desire for musical acclaim, but only in a general desire to be someone or do something important, and stop the mundane cycle of work/sleep/cook/clean/errands/laundry, etc. which I, obviously, think I am above. 

The thing is, I thought I was done with ambition.  Like I said, I got rid of that burden a couple of years back.  I thought.  Now, I can recognize that I only got rid of it in one form.  My ambition was a cancer, and I only cut out part of it.  I still, in the back of my mind, had this vague notion that if I gave up that ambition, that God would grant me some bigger, better thing to do so that I could feel good about myself.  I really just told Him that it was OK if He did not use me in that way.  So, now, over two years later, the problem is that I am still here.  Still doing unimportant things.  No big break-throughs or obvious paths He wants me to take.  I was getting antsy…thinking He didn’t come through on His promise that if I would lose my life for His sake, I would find it.  (Matthew 16:25)  I didn’t figure that out, though, until I was talking to my boyfriend one day.  I was telling him that I was feeling frustrated with feeling like I was stuck doing unimportant things all of the time (in many more words than that).  He said something to the effect of, “You just need to give that up and trust God with it.”  And I said, “The thing is, I thought I did that two years ago.”  That was when it hit me that I didn’t really do it.  I only kind of did.  That fear was still fully alive and well in me, just focused in a new vein.  The fear of being nameless.  I want to be recognized.  I thought I only wanted to be recognized musically.  Turns out, I didn’t really care how as long as I was.  And THAT is what I need to give up.  The need for others to look at me and say, “Look how cool that girl is, and look at all the cool stuff she’s done.” 

Here is where the two meet…my two biggest fears. 

1) Being rejected, hurt, disappointed by others

2) Being a non-entity, ineffective, unimportant

When I look at it this way, I kind of think they are all mixed up together.  To get beyond one, I have to get beyond the other.  I have a feeling that until I learn how to interact with people in a Christ-like manner, i.e. opening myself up to hurt, rejection, disappointment, I will remain ineffective, a non-entity and unimportant to the Kingdom of God.  If there is such a thing.  I realize that God loves me just as much regardless.  I don’t mean that He will love me more.  I mean that He will be able to use me more effectively.

The answers started coming in, oh wonder of wonders, when I started studying my Bible diligently.  God has this way of putting in my mind exactly what I need to read before I even open the Bible.  It just pops in my head, “I’m supposed to start reading Jeremiah.”  And this is what I read. 

“Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.’  Then said I: ‘Ah, Lord God!  Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.’  But the Lord said to me: ‘Do not say, “I am a youth,” for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.  Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you,’ says the Lord.  Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth….'”

My first fear of people was immediately addressed when I opened the Word of God.  God has called me, because He has called all of us who follow Him, to share Him with others…to BE Him to others.  I cannot do this until I let my fear go.  God basically tells Jeremiah (and me) not to give Him any excuses.  But, He then tells him (and me!) that there is nothing to fear because God would give him the words.  If God is giving me the words when I am faithful to speak them, then I truly have nothing to fear.  All I can do is speak, and the rest is up to Him.  Sort of takes the pressure off, doesn’t it? 

Immediately after this, I resumed reading a work by G.K. Chesterton on St. Francis of Assisi.  He first discusses how Francis’ emerged at the end of the Dark Ages, and was part of the beginning of the reintroduction of poetry and nature love (not nature worship).  In this section, Chesterton contends that the Dark Ages were, at least possibly, necessarily employed by God.  The Dark Ages are known for their lack of any great literature, art or really anything of any beauty.  Chesterton theorizes that the culture prior to the Dark Ages was so inundated with paganism in any of its artwork, literature and in its nature worship, that God was forced to remove those things from an entire age of people in order to “purge the system,” as it were.  That, at that stage, humanity was so conditioned that it could ONLY view beauty in conjunction with its paganistic connotations, and had no capacity to enjoy it purely as God created it to be, as a reflection of Him and His goodness and power. 

Whether it would be necessary for God to plunge whole civilisations into such a void for hundreds of years in order to cure a spiritual sickness or not, I do not know.  I DO know that the concept is applicable and validated in my own life.  I have even imposed this type of treatment on myself at times, although I did not connect it quite so largely as a broad method at the time.

One example of this was when I ceased praying and reading my Bible for a time, because I realized that the only reason I was doing it was because I knew I was supposed to.  Based on II Corinthians 9:7, which states, “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver,” I recognized that I was only “giving” grudgingly or of necessity.  I made the conscious decision that if there was no love or true desire for Him in my actions, that there was nothing really to give.  I needed to “un-learn” the religiosity I had associated with those actions so that I could regain the purity of them and enact them with their real purposes as my motivation.  My friend at Zephaniah 3:17 discusses this same topic in his “Ought” post.

Another, less spiritual application of this concept has to do with black coffee.  I am a coffee-drinker, to say the least.  There was a time, in the past, where I put an inhuman amount of sugar in my coffee.  I made a decision that I needed to significantly reduce the amount of sugar I put in my coffee if I was going to continue to drink it at the desired quantity.  However, of course, I didn’t like it with less sugar.  So, in order to train my senses, I made myself drink only black coffee for two weeks.  Amazingly, when I began putting sugar in it again, I required less than half of the amount I had before in order to enjoy my coffee.  I’m sure you have seen this employed in some way in your own life.  You want to regain a sense of the meaning of Christmas, so you do not give gifts one year.  I’m sure there are other common examples, but I have not thought of them yet.

The point is that censorship of some good is sometimes necessary if it has become associated with only perversion and/or done with wrong motivations.  When the good is all mixed up with the negatives, maybe the good needs to cease for a season in order to regain its innocence.  I could not regain my love for reading God’s Word and spending time in prayer or understand the value and meaning of those things until I lost the idea that I had to do them in order to earn His love.  I could not learn to enjoy sugar in its appropriate quantities until I ceased using it altogether for a time. 

The point is that I believe whether THE Dark Ages was a mechanism for this or not, I believe we must all go through our own personal “Dark Ages” if God is to use us.  I have mentioned this somewhere else in some post, but you can also see this in artists of all kinds, who often report a desertion of their creativity after they come to believe in Christ.  If your gifts or your dreams have an inappropriate place of importance, or if they have some perverted motivation, or if they are strongly associated with some sin in your life, God must remove them if you are to put Him in that place of importance, or re-evaluate your motivations or cut out the associated sin.  How fast you get them back, or if you get them back at all, is, at least according to my theory, dependent on how readily you allow God to fill the void they have left.  Unless we are super-smart and wise, and then God doesn’t have to do that, because we give up all of our dreams and attachments willingly to Him.  “Giving up” sounds so negative to us in this world of “take charge.”  I don’t mean it in the sense of quitting, and I think most who have gotten this far in this insanely long post will understand that.  But on the chance that someone else made it this far, what I mean is that we let God be in control of our lives in their entirety, which means that we are all right with whatever decision He comes to.  If we truly believe that He is good, knowing, loving and all-powerful, then that is the best decision we can possibly make.  And we claim to believe that.  Or, at least, I claim to believe that, and I think most other Christians would as well.  Our human natures are hesitant, though, because we are trained to want to be in control of our own destinies.  The fact is, we are not in control of them anyway, so we are better off letting Him worry about it, since we don’t know what in the world will hit us next.  It is quite free-ing when you actually manage to apply it, which is what Christianity is supposed to be about.  Unfortunately, some never manage to apply it at all, and some, like me, only manage to apply it in fits and spurts.

In other words, I believe the “dark ages” end when you let go of trying to control the things you fear, but then will start up again if you start trying to control it (or another fear) again.  Jim Palmer who wrote Divine Nobodies (which I have not read, but seems like it would be great), spoke at my church a couple of months ago.  He stated, “What you fear is where you have put your misplaced dependency.”  So true.  I fear being unimportant, because I have placed my dependency and identity on hoping I become important.  I know people who fear never marrying because they have a misplaced dependency on the institute of marriage and family.  Again, I hope you can see that I am not saying these things are bad.  Marriage and family are great.  It is when the desire for them (or anything else) becomes a desperation because you do not trust God with whatever outcome He has planned that there is a problem.  Along this theory, possibly God withholds those things until people are capable of putting them in their proper level of importance, which is always, necessarily below Him.  This, by the way, does not diminish their importance in any way.  On the contrary, it increases it, because I guarantee that God’s rules and recommendations for marriage and family (or, again, anything else) will bring about a better situation than any personal or earthly precepts will, however good the intent.

Let’s go back to G.K. Chesterton, and his discussion of St. Francis.  He tells another story about St. Francis that magnificently illustrates the whole process I have just been discussing.  St. Francis is sometimes viewed as a gloomy character because of his known penchant for asceticism.  The stories about his life do not represent a gloomy man of some sort of sad discipline.  They represent a man of passion and action.  He was just passionately ascetic.  This story actually begins before his true “spiritual awakening” if you can call it that.  I do not call it his salvation, because he was possibly a Christian before that, I am not sure.  It is said that his initial goal in life was to be a war hero.  He had a certain thirst for glory which caused him to boast, upon leaving for war, “I shall come back a great prince.”  Francis had apparently even had some dreams which made him believe he was to be some sort of lauded warrior.  This dream came crashing down around him before he even made it to the battlefield.  On the way to the front, he had his second bout with an illness which made him unfit for a soldier.  Apparently, he was very much rattled by this, and had no idea what he was to do at this point.  It was the only plan he had.  And now I shall quote the story from Chesterton, as I do not think I could illustrate it better.

“It was his first descent into a dark ravine that is called the valley of humiliation, which seemed to him very rocky and desolate, but in which he was afterwards to find many flowers.  But he was not only disappointed and humiliated; he was also very much puzzled and bewildered.  He still firmly believed that his two dreams must have meant something; and he could not imagine what they could possibly mean.  It was while he was drifting, one may even say mooning, about the streets of Assisi and the fields outside the city wall, that an incident occurred to him which has not always been connected with the business of the dreams, but which seems to me the obvious culmination of them.  He was riding listlessly in some wayside place, apparently in the open country, when he saw a figure coming along the road towards him and halted; for he saw it was a leper.  And he knew instantly that his courage was challenged, not as the world challenges, but as one would challenge who knew the secrets of the heart of a man.  What he saw advancing was not the banner and spears of Perugia, from which it never occurred to him to shrink; not the armies that fought for the crown of Sicily, of which he had always thought as a courageous man thinks of mere vulgar danger.  Francis Bernardorne saw within and not without; though it stood white and horrible in the sunlight.  For once in the long rush of his life his soul must have stood still.  Then he sprang from his horse, knowing nothing between stillness and swiftness, and rushed on the leper and threw his arms round him.  It was the beginning of a long vocation of ministry among many lepers, for whom he did many services; to this man he gave what money he could and mounted and rode on.  We do not know how far he rode, or with what sense of the things around him; but it is said that when he looked back, he could see no figure on the road.”

This is so parallel to what I feel is going on in my own life, that I almost do not feel the need to explain the parallel.  Almost, but not quite.  🙂  Just pretend I am talking about myself when I expound on this section and use the name “Francis.”  (Not that I am pretending I am half as far in my commitment as Francis was, but for illustrative purposes and brevity.)  Francis had this grand life dream of being a noted public figure, praised for his important deeds.  This dream was destroyed, plunging Francis into “these dark and aimless days of transition that followed the tragical collapse of all his military ambitions, probably made bitter by some loss of social prestige terrible to his sensitive spirit”.  I can relate to “dark and aimless days of transition….”  This initial dream that was wrecked did not cause Francis the same fear that it caused others.  Apparently, he was full of bravado at the thought of fighting in mortal combat, as I am full of bravado at things that other men fear (mostly financial security and career stability).  But that was not what God called him to.  He did not call Francis to do the things he did not fear.  God made him face his REAL fear, the leper (for me, taking risks in forming real relationships with people).  His secondary fear (not doing anything important) turned out to be ludicrous.  Can you imagine us knowing more about St. Francis if he had been some war hero in the 12th century?  Whether the leper did disappear when Francis looked back or not, the allegory is superb.  The fear was a sham fear.  It was not even real.  He just had to face it full-on before he could move forward in God’s plan.  And he did.

I guess that is where I must break off from Francis.  I have not yet embraced my leper.  I feel that God has been preparing me to know what I must do in order to move ahead and grow.  He didn’t give Francis as much of a warning.  I feel that I know I must be open and vigilant in watching for the moment God tells me, “Here is your fear.  Embrace it.”  I do not know exactly what that means, but I am strongly compelled to believe that it will mean I will have to be face-to-face with a human in a very uncomfortable situation saying things that my human self probably does not want to say or at the very least, feels foolish saying.  I must take an interactive risk with all the possibilities of failure and rejection that I have been avoiding.

God has not left me hanging in the meantime, though.  A couple of days after I read this story and acknowledged all of its portent, I was studying the Bible again.  I was looking for something completely unrelated to this, and ran across Luke 21:14-15, which says, “Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate before hand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist.”  I’m being told, straight out, not to worry or stress about the coming trial.  Again, that God will give me the words.  And the wisdom.

God is amazing when I am not running from Him.

Trees are Green – and Brown?

My meaningful epiphany for the week is this:

Trees are not brown.

I do have a disclaimer and that is that SOME trees are brown.  Maybe in some areas of the world, even MOST of the trees are brown.  This is not, however, the case in any place I have ever lived.  Take a look around you today while you are outside, while you’re driving or whatever.  Trees are GREY. 

If I took a box of crayons outside with me and had to match which one was closest to the color of the tree trunk, it would be grey – hands down, at least 90% of the time in my neck of the woods.  Can anyone tell me where this very serious lie originated?  😉  And how we managed to brainwash everyone in America into drawing all of their trees with brown trunks? 

I am 30 years old, and just realized it wasn’t true.  I did a painting last week with a brown tree in it.  Aaargh.  My painting is a lie!

I did an experiment to see how far the brainwashing went.  I asked a guy I was working with what color trees were (while we were outside).  He looked at me kind of weird and said, “Green.”  I said, “And?”  He said, “Brown.”  (Remember we are outdoors where he has a forest right in front of him.)  I said, “OK.  Look at the trees.  What color are they?”  He looked straight at them and said, “Green and brown.”  I said, “Are you sure?”  He looked at them some more, hesitated and then said, “Well, I guess the trunks are really kind of grey-ish.” 

It took me asking him three times, and making him doubt his answer before he noted the truth. 

Point: Think for yourself.  Even things we believe to be obvious can be lies (or at least only partial truths).

I could expound, but you can see exactly where I would go with that.  Besides it’s 4:35 AM, and I’m not really certain I could do it justice.  Your homework is to consider the implications for yourself. 

P.S. I am officially an insomniac.  Well, officially may be a stretch.  Nobody gave me a certificate or anything.  I just figure if I’m up writing about what color trees are and eating eggs and drinking coffee at 4:30 in the morning because I can’t sleep, it’s a pretty good indicator.  So, if my concern about being lied to about the color of trees seems disproportionately dramatic, please attribute it to the fact that I went to bed at 10:30, woke up at 12:30, and have not gone back to sleep.  Yay!

Yes, thirty. Yes, really.

This is a play off of my “Thirty?  Really?” post if you missed that one.  That was only August, but for some reason now I am actually feeling like I am in my thirties instead of my twenties.  I think this is for a couple of reasons.  This post could be taken to mean I am thinking of all of this negatively, but read on, and you will see my summation. 

First of all, I don’t, as a general rule, look like I am 30.  Most people assume I am in college, and I have even had a couple think I was in high school, as recently as a year ago.  I think this contributed to my feeling like I am not “thirty” in that sense of being stereotypically thirty.  I am aware that part of this assumption of age is based on the fact that all of my jobs are “glorified teenager jobs,” to quote a guy I met one time.  I work for a nanny service and a caterer and a vegetable farm.  People see what I am doing and assume my place in life, which probably contributes to the age bracket they give me.  But moving on, my point is that for the past week or so, I have been looking in the mirror and thinking, “Hmmm…why do I all of the sudden look thirty?”  I have begun to notice the infamous lines around and bags under the eyes, etc.  I think this has been exacerbated by the fact that I have had a cold, and have also been burning the candle at both ends non-stop for over a month.  I guess I need to stop, huh?  Stress really does age you!!  🙂

My second moment is great, though, because of what it symbolizes to me.  It is more like an emotional marker that I didn’t even recognize until after I had done it.  This guy I went to high school with found me on myspace.  He was a few years younger than me (it was a small school), so we weren’t best buddies or anything, but we had a good repoire.  Anyway, he was always one of those kids (I say kids because in high school, he was enough younger than me that I thought of him as a kid, although, of course, the age difference is small enough to be inconsequential now) that was just good-looking…no, good-looking doesn’t get it…hot.  OK, he was hot.  So, now he’s a grown-up.  And guess what?  He’s still hot.  And he’s also in med school.  So, he “friended” me, and I wrote him a message.  And in the message, I told him (along with the fact that I am VERY happily dating the best guy in the world) that I thought he was trying, successfully, to set the bar for the stereotypical “handsome doctor.”  And I did this competely un-self-consciously.  I just said it because I thought it.

“What does this have to do with your age?” you may ask.  The point is that, a few years ago, I would never ***I repeat NEVER*** have told a guy that.  And if I had, by some chance, said that to someone, I would have been kicking myself afterwards…stressed out that they would think I was hitting on them or desperate, etc.  Somehow, now, though, I have gained a different kind of security with who I am and where I am, and a different perspective in my thoughts on what other people might be thinking about me.  I have a good friend who is about 15 years older than me.  She told me once that she felt that as she got older, she got “more comfortable in her own skin.”  She said that if, when she had been 20, she had been as secure in who she was as she was now, at 45, she would have lived life differently – happier, more serenely.  I tried to make it a point right then not to wait until I got to be 45 to feel that…to stop judging myself by how I guessed others might be viewing me, and just be myself, say what I wanted to say, or at least, say what I wanted to say after checking in with God to make sure I was not just spouting off, which I also do.  My point is that I guess I have, to some extent, gotten there.

So, today’s lesson is this: for a minute, I started worrying about the wrinkles around my eyes.  And then I remembered that when I look at people, I do not see wrinkles, I see people.  I do not count their wrinkles or creases or age spots.  What I love in people has nothing to do with that.  And if I want to worry about that and spend a lot of time figuring out how to look younger, then I am going to be taking away from becoming a person that others love because of who they are, and giving them a pretty shell instead.  But even that would be temporary, because, time does not care where you go or what you do…it will find you.  I chose, when listening to my wise friend, to learn to be “more comfortable in my own skin.”  And I’m not going to stop now. 

Lessons from a Six Year Old

In case y’all haven’t figured this out yet, I over-analyze everything.  Or maybe I just analyze everything.  I’m not really sure if there is an overage.  The past few days I have been seriously contemplating the psyche of this six year old girl I babysit pretty frequently.  I was telling my boyfriend that if she didn’t figure something out, she was going to lead one miserable life…not that I’m giving up on anyone at six, you know.  She’s a great kid – smart, funny, all that stuff.  Her problem is that no matter what is going on, what game we’re playing or how many people are around, she tries to control everything.  Rules, rules, rules…she is constantly making up rules that everyone else is supposed to follow…things like which side of the yard boys are allowed on and who is supposed to play with whom and when it is time to move onto the next game.  But those are the big rules.  Just trust me when I say that she has serious micro-management issues.  And she always gets upset, because the world (other people) just don’t always follow her rules.  The other day it was slightly chaotic as there were cousins visiting.  Four cousins, to be precise.  Add this to my standard two and we get six, yes, six kids.  So, as you could easily surmise, this was a recipe for disappointment for my six year old girl.  Getting her sensitive, introspective four year old brother to be her puppet seems to be a specialty.  However, trying to use the same treatment on said 4 cousins was simply a hopeless case.  Nobody would EVER play what she wanted to play, and definitely not the way she had envisioned it being played.  I always try to talk to her when she gets upset by situations like this, hoping that some of it will sink in at some point.  I say things like, “You can’t expect everybody to follow your rules all of the time, especially when there are this many people.  You just have to kind of go with the flow and try to have fun.”  Response: “But I don’t WAAANNNT to go with the flow,” with much sobbing.  Me again, “Well, everybody doesn’t want to play the same thing you want to.  They get to choose what they play, and you get to choose what you play, but you don’t get to choose for them.”  Her response, “Why is it always about what they want?!”  I’m not sure how to get across that it could be about what she wants, too, if she let it be, but controlling her own destiny is not enough for her.  “I want to play with _______ (insert name),” she says.  The problem is she doesn’t care if they want to play back as long as they do.  She really does want little puppet playmates who will sit where she wants them to sit and play with the things she tells them to play with (and nothing else, mind you) and do it exactly the way she imagined.  The other kids around are usually quite content as long as they get to choose for themselves what they do at a given moment.  She is not happy unless everyone is following her command.  That is what she wants to do, so unless there is a subject to control, she is not getting to do what she wants to do, even if she has chosen her own action.  Are you following me here?  I have a point, really I do, but it’s even sort of lost in my own head right now, so I’m sure you guys have probably all stopped reading by now.  I can see how, given that what she wants to do is tell everyone else what to do, it could seem to her that she never gets to do what she wants to do.  I sort of feel bad for her in that I’m not sure how to make her see that if that person does not want to play what she wants to play, then she really does not want to play with that person. 

I have actually sort of taken this in a different direction than I meant to, although I have thought these things.  But it’s taken me away from my point(s).  My point is that I have been looking at myself and realizing how much I follow in this pattern of thinking.  I want everyone to behave the way I think they ought to (as mentioned in my Recipro-City post), and I get really grouchy when they do not.  I do not exactly expect to be able to control them, but I do always think that they must not be trying hard enough to listen to the voice of reason.  I do, actually, often think it is my duty to show them what they are doing wrong and what they should do to fix it.  So, in a way, I do try to control because then I am frustrated if they do not change. 

You may have gathered from a few of my other posts that I have been a little frustrated with jobs and things, which translates into something akin to depression as jobs take up a lot of time, you know, and so when jobs are what’s buggin’ you, well, it’s hard to get away from it. 

But tonight, I took a lesson on what NOT to do from a six year old.  I always wish that I could make her see that her position is not so bad…that at this moment, she gets to choose her activity.  I am not making her do anything unpleasant.  She is surrounded by fun things to do in the great American home of toys and more toys and yards and swing sets and sprinklers and puzzles and books and crayons…all of which she enjoys.  All this to choose from, yet she is choosing to be miserable instead. 

I have been doing this myself…coming home from work and choosing to allow the frustration to follow me around like a shadow into everything else I do.  When I am not at work, the moments are mine (well, really God’s if I let them be, but you know what I mean).  They are mine, but I had been relinquishing them to the power that I had given to my frustration.  All moments were held captive by what I was not allowed to do or by what I was forced to do.  Tonight I looked at my evening and remembered that it was mine.  I got to choose what I did with it.  I have not been choosing very wisely here lately…turning to things that keep my mind thoughtlessly occupied, and in this only adding to the feeling that I was not doing anything worthwhile. 

There are a lot of points that I have not made, although I alluded to them.  Here are two of the main things I am trying to teach myself through this:

1) Even if my rules are the best rules and the game I made up would be the best game if everyone would pay attention (which is all highly unlikely), I can only force the rules upon myself.  Trying to force other people into my mold will always make me miserable.

2) When I am allowed to choose what I do with my own time, I should choose wisely and let it be enough, because THAT moment is my own.  The bad should not be allowed to creep into the good.  (By the way, I think this is sort of a lazy-man’s fix.  The real fix is to figure out how to get the good to creep into the bad.)

Recipro City – I live there

Get it?  Recipro City = Reciprocity.  Weak, I know, but it’s how I was thinking about it, and it’s true, I do live there.  I wish I could say that I didn’t, and I try to improve, but for the moment, more often than not, I feel like I am quite firmly rooted in that settlement.  This municipality is based on the economy of merit=favor.  And the amount of merit necessary to gain favor is completely subjective and left up to me in my not-so-fair city.  There is very little grace, and very high, though also very selective, measurements for the standard. 

I realized how entrenched I was in this mindset a few weeks ago.  I find that I am very derisive and patronizing to those whom I believe are not living up to the standards.  The standards, again, that I have set for them…how hard they should work, how much time, effort and thought they should put into things, even the things they should say or not say.  I find that the more someone does not meet my standards, the worse I treat them…the more condescending and unbearably arrogant I become.  One of the ridiculous things about this is that I seem to be the standard.  If someone is not working as hard as I (think I) am, or demonstrating as much common sense as I (think I) do, or putting as much effort into something as I deem necessary, they become the target of my merciless superiority.  I seem to take it as my right to treat them in a manner openly derogatory and demeaning.  I assume an attitude purposely (although not exactly consciously) designed to make them feel stupid.  At least it wasn’t conscious until recently…I don’t think I knew I did this.  I have several people in my life at this moment whom extract all of the feelings of disdain I am speaking of here.  For months, I have been slowly more and more convicted about my behavior in response to my frustration with them.  I seriously turn into a pompous you-know-what when dealing with what I have decided is unworthy behavior. 

And the unworthy behaviors I have picked are not even particularly “evil,” they’re just annoying…things like carelessness and lack of forethought and disorganization.  If I was going to get so miffed over any types of conduct, I would like to think it would be injustice or cruelty or something like that.  But, no, it seems that I am just as society trained me up to be, egocentric to the point that my blood only seriously begins to boil at things that specifically inconvenience ME.  I am rarely at the other end of serious injustice or cruelty, and so I can dislike those things from afar.  But catch me after I’ve had to work harder to correct someone else’s mistakes or pick up someone else’s slack at work or answer someone’s stupid question, and you’ll get an earful. 

So, not only am I the standard, but the standard is based on how helpful your existence is to me.  The less helpful your existence, the less worthy of respectful behavior you are.  I think this attitude is not only linked to human nature, but to the consumerism of our society.  Not to blame society.  I like to think I have “beat the system” as far as falling into societal traps, but clearly this is not completely true, and sometimes the societal traps I find so repulsive are just behaviors that cater to our human nature, so whether it’s society or not, it’s still me allowing my own selfishness dominion or some part of my life.  And I mean to talk about consumerism, so here we go.  Consumerism generally teaches us that we should more highly regard and respect those who have something more important to offer us.  You go to the doctor and show him deference.  You check out with the convenience store clerk and show him superiority.  I do the same thing.  I wish I could say I didn’t.  After all, I have most often been in positions in which I was the one looked down on…waitressing, fast food (even the title of manager doesn’t get you much respect), catering server, nanny.  These are jobs where the whole point of your being there is to “serve.”  And that’s how people treat you.  Like a servant.  Mostly.  I mean, obviously, there are exceptions.  But, honestly, even the exceptions are often very patronizingly trying to make themselves feel better by being nice to “the help,” and it is very painfully obvious.  My point is that you would think I would be above this kind of what-you-have-to-offer equals how-well-you’re-treated-by-me mentality.  But I’m not.  As soon as what I have to offer begins to exceed what I think you’re offering me, I begin to treat you in a degrading fashion. 

I know it seems like I got off-point with that consumerism thing, but can you see how it’s connected?  The point of this whole thing is that I am not valuing people.  In my economy, people who do what I expect of them deserve my acceptance.  I am valuing what they have to offer me instead of valuing them, seeing people as only a means to a good for myself.  Even in the first instances I was discussing, because in those, it’s when I begin to believe that my employer is gaining more benefits from having me as an employee than I am gaining by being employed, when a friend is gaining more benefits from having me as a friend as I am gaining in return.  When I start to think the balance is off in someone else’s favor in any relationship (by relationship I mean any interaction with people), I become dissatisfied, judgmental and, often, just plain mean.  However, when I think the balance is off in my favor, I smugly embrace it as just repayment for all of those times it was NOT in my favor.  Since, you know, I am wise enough to recognize all of these situations in their true light. 

My economy is not the same as God’s economy.  Thank God.  Literally.  If He rolled His eyes at me every time I did something He knew to be stupid, ignored me when I stopped being useful or thought me unworthy of consideration because I could not offer anything as important as what He could, I would be completely and totally in despair, because this is my inherent condition.  God, through Jesus Christ, offered everything to people completely unable to repay Him, unable to deserve Him, unworthy to look at Him.  And, yet, I choose to see myself as important enough to dismiss people right and left simply for annoying me.  I have really been trying to control my condescending impulses and be nice even when I find people’s behavior to be incompetent.  Controlling the outward impulses of open disdain is nothing, however, to controlling the attitude causing them.  When I can look at a person and see value regardless of what they have to offer, it will be cured.  There is a statement that I’m sure you’ve heard: “Use things; love people.”  This is in contrast to the bulk of my existence, which tells me, “Love things; use people.”  I consider myself to be fairly non-materialistic.  I am coming to realize that I am just materialistic in a different way than materialistic is usually meant.  It is not necessarily rampant in the area of wanting lots of things, but it is monstrous in the area of wanting everything I offer to be equaled in return.  C.S. Lewis says in The Weight of Glory, “There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit….”  If I could wake up every day and see this in people…in every person…their intrinsic worth and significance as a being loved and sought by the One True and Perfect God, how different would my responses be? 

I would like the rule of my life not to be reciprocity, but grace, mercy, love, respect.  I don’t want people to feel like they have to earn this from me, and constantly fear losing it, and, yet, there are people in my life whom I know do fear this.  People I have made to feel ignorant and unworthy because their performance was not up to my standard.  People who feel intimidated by my scathing condescension.  I have seen it in their faces, heard it in their tentative replies, felt it in their attempts at reparation.  I don’t want to be that person.  I apologize for being that person.  Whoever you are, I want to love you unreservedly and unconditionally.  I have a ways to go, and I can only get there by allowing God to work in me, but acknowledgement is the first step, right?  Everything is baby steps from here on out.

Gettin’ Down to the Roots

I was thinking about my job history today, and realizing that I sort of go backwards into more and more basic jobs…or at least the jobs I have sought out and felt compelled to take fit this category.  Apparently, I like getting to the origins of things – down to the roots.  There were some silly behind the desk jobs mixed in there and a restaurant management gig, but as time went on I just fell into more simple things.  I worked for a carpenter for almost two years, as I mentioned in my Squash posting.  I got a basic (very basic) knowledge of carpentry from this.  I could probably build you something that would stand up and function as it was meant to (at least, something simple…not a house or anything).  That is not to say that I would build it very quickly or that it would be very pretty without my receiving more in depth instruction.  Although, I did get up to building about a fireplace mantel a day on my own from start to finish, and they looked good enough to put in people’s houses.  So, with practice, I could be all right, is where I’m going with this.  I think I would use this skill much more often in my current life if I had any tools.  That makes it harder.  I did build a picture frame for one of my paintings, but that’s the extent of it since I quit this job.  Making this frame taught me that building things without electric saws would be much more difficult, as I purchased a manual box mitre saw to cut the angles.  Yikes. 

Right now I work for a caterer.  With this job, I have gotten a much better understanding of food and how to use it.  I have turned into one of those cooks who cannot exactly give you the recipe because I just throw things into it.  I was not one of those cooks prior to working this job.  I remember, in the not so distant past, my fascination at learning that you could actually make your own salad dressing and also grasping the concept that herbs were actual growing things that you could get fresh, or even, (who would have guessed?), grow them yourself.  I don’t know how old I was before I actually made this connection.  Before working this job, I used canned soups for casseroles and bought crusts for baking.  Now, I’ve moved back a couple of steps, and actually attempt to make things myself.  I make my own soup and my own crust; I buy whole chickens and cut them up so I can boil the carcasses (MMMmmm) and make something yummy with the broth.  I find it pretty entertaining, and sort of like an adventure.   

I also work part time for a nanny service.  A nanny service, you say?  Yes, a nanny service.  Just like a dating service, only for nannies.  I get hooked up w/ families who need babysitters.  Some nannies get permanent placements, but me, I’m afraid of commitment.  I don’t want a relationship…I’m a one-night stand babysitter.  A few of my clients have been so great that I ended up having a relationship with them anyway, but there are no hard feelings as needs and availability changes for either party.  My point is that it is childcare…also very basic.  And I have learned a lot about kids since I started doing it almost 2 years ago.  I learned things I would and would not do if I had my own kids or ever do have my own kids.  I learned that I actually like kids more when I’m around them more.  They’re funny. 

So, here’s my point: building, food, childcare…basic needs.  I have no career goals (see my post on Ambition), so when I get tired of something, I change it.  Well, I’m getting tired of catering.  I’ve reached my peak, if you will.  Lofty, I know…the pinnacle of catering.  But I’ve been considering what to try next.  This has led me to analyzing my past jobs, which has led me to this insight of my increasing turn back to the basics.  So, I was thinking, “What is more basic?  What is the next step backwards?”  Odd, the way I look at things.  OK, so we have three categories to think backwards in.   

Building: I would actually be interested in taking this road, learning how to build, say, my own log cabin from trees on my land.  (I mean, if I had land, you know.)  However, I don’t know of anyone who’s doing this.  Do you?  I’m sure I could find a company who builds log houses or something, but I bet they don’t go cut their own logs down and do whatever the heck you have to do to them.  Meaning, I want to start from scratch.  Maybe I’m skipping a step, I’m not sure.  Maybe I should learn how to build a log cabin first, and then learn how to prep the materials.  It seems all too intertwined to me, though.  I’d like to start at the beginning, and even if I did know someone who was building their own log cabin, those kinds of people are not usually paying people to come help them, and although I like to fantasize about it, I cannot live on nothing. 

Childcare: the only way I can think of going backwards in this is having my own or becoming a midwife.  I’m definitely not about to have my own, and midwifery requires school, so that’s out.  Someday I will have to elaborate on my views of the educational system.   

I know some of you are probably really shaking your head and scrunching up your face trying to figure me out.  I’m sure I sound like a weirdo.  I don’t like the idea of education (at least not the standard kind), have no career goals, and am trying to go backwards instead of advancing up the ladder of success.  I think that our society is mostly backwards – that education is rarely what we get in our schools and universities, and that ambition is divisive and unnecessary.  I think that most jobs are peripheral rather than strategic.  Who is it you’re going to want in a crisis?  Someone who can grow your dinner or someone who can program your computer?  The jobs left to the country folk, are the most essential, in many respects.  We’ve created the need for other jobs, and without those, I’m aware that society could not function as we know it, but without the people who grow our food and build our shelters, etc., it could not function at all.  Which is more important? 

Returning to where I was going with this, what we have left out of my categories is food.  And reversing that train takes me to farming – the root of all food.  Ahh, farming.  It sounds so homely and comforting and HARD.  Haha.  However, this is what I have attempted to look into.  I just thought of it this morning, and e-mailed a few local organic farms that I found online.  (I’m a firm believer in organic food.)  Anyway, we’ll see if anything comes of it. 

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