A conversation

Father: Hey, kiddo, I heard the news. And I know that look on your face. C’mere. Wanna talk about it?
Child: (hesitating a moment before sitting gingerly on the bench, a safe distance away) I don’t want to complain or seem ungrateful. I was…I am happy with my life, at least when I view it in isolation.
Father: But? You’re not smiling like you were earlier today.
Child: It’s just…hard, when others have what I want.
Father: Hard to be happy for them?
Child: No, not that. Hard…not to wonder.
Father: (after a not unkind silence) Wonder what?
Child: (after an inner struggle) Wonder if maybe I missed my chance, or screwed it up for good.
Father: Hey now, you know we don’t use that kind of language in this house.
Child: (the dam breaks) But why is it so hard? Am I so demanding, did I ask for so much? But I was born this way and I don’t think I can make myself smaller to fit…I don’t know what. Fit in, I guess. Fit someone’s expectations of what is acceptable and attractive.
Father: No one said anything about being small. I gave you a broad heart, a deep soul, and a great spirit.
Child: Why, so everyone can take a piece of me?
Father: Not exactly. So everyone can catch a glimpse of me.
Child: Oh. Well, I gotta be honest, that’s not particularly comforting.
Father: I understand, and I’m sorry it hurts. That’s not the way I meant it to be, I promise.
Child: (after a moment’s hesitation, scoots closer and leans her head on his shoulder) Do you promise to fix it?
Father: I’m helping you fix it. Promise.
Child: Again, not that comforting right now. Sorry.
Father: You don’t need to be. C’mere.


Destination Imagination

I’ve been ruminating on the idea of goals for a week now, following a late-night conversation with a friend and a stimulating happy-hour meetup about financial goals for freelancers (courtesy The Salt Mines and TechLife Columbus.) Before 2011 I would say I was a very goal-oriented, moderately driven and perfectionistic person. What I wanted, I got, as long as I worked hard and followed the rules. Well, the last two years have been an exercise in unraveling that equation, and I’d sort of given up having concrete goals of any sort, both as a pushback against performance-based self-worth but also as a way of defending myself against disappointment. There’s a certain freedom that’s come as a result of having no expectations and being open to come what may, but I’ve also got a nagging feeling sometimes that I’m spinning my wheels.

In my weeklong meditation on goals, I’ve realized that goals don’t have to become should-do’s, conditions for approval/acceptance, expectations for particular outcomes (RAWR DISAPPOINTMENT ALERT!), or obligations to anyone but myself and God. Rather, as my friend pointed out, they can be signposts by which to navigate or pole stars by which to triangulate and reorient my actions and perceptions. After I came back to Columbus in 2011, I went through a process of rejecting goals (some of which, admittedly, were ones I thought I should be pursuing but didn’t actually want) and abandoning intention in favor of what felt good at good at the time, starting with G. and continuing through the present day. I believe strongly in the important of process and presence, and I don’t think everything needs to be quite as purpose-driven as I used to believe. But I also feel lately that I’ve lost my compass, finding myself in positions I’d never thought I’d be. Through the grace of God and friends, I’m not judging myself for it (most of the time), but I’m not thrilled when it happens and I’m starting to want to avoid some of these situations. And sometimes I’m still overwhelmed with a sense of floundering or being blown hither and yon by the storms of life. (Spare me your Captain Jesus metaphors for now, please.)


So where do i go from here? As I survey my life in the last year or so, particularly since the start of this year, I’ve decided that I no longer want to crash helter-skelter through life but neither do I want to turtle up and stay in my safe box. I’d like to continue saying yes to what enlarges and enriches my soul, and start saying no a little more often to substitutions, surrogates, and pacifiers. It’s a balancing act, of yeses and nos, and I have a tendency to extremes one way or the other, so this will be kind of tough. What might that look like concretely? Here’s a few to start and approximate, hypothetical timelines…

Professional: Work for myself as a freelancer/entrepreneur. (5 years.)

  • Photography
    • Upgrade my main portrait lens. (1 month)
    • Upgrade my off-camera lighting and experiment with new set-ups. (6 months)
    • Redesign my photography website and logo. (6 months)
    • Research and Join a professional photography group for education and networking. (6 months)
    • Book and shoot 5 senior sessions, 5 family sessions, and 3 newborn/child sessions. (1 year)
  • Design and Marketing
    • Continue blogging and editing for Innogage – 2 blog posts a month.
    • Join a message board and/or Meetup group for digital marketing. (1 month)
    • Complete Skillshare course in Adobe Illustrator. (1 month)
    • Subscribe to Lynda and complete courses in WordPress, Web Design, and whatever else strikes my fancy. (6 months)
    • Create a design and marketing portfolio of logos, web sites, and mailers. (1 year)
  • How to Succeed in Business by Really Trying
    • Respond to e-mails within 12 hours.
    • Call to follow up with new project leads.
    • Give a gift and pay it forward with each project.
    • Meet with an accountant and/or business consultant to make a financial plan. (2 months)

Creativity: Have a finished draft of whatever the hell it is I’m writing. (1 year goal)

  • Blog once a week.
  • Work on the novel(la) an hour a week.
  • Write some more poetry.
  • Connect with other writers through a group (preferred) or message board. (1 month)

Creativity: Expand my range of expression and find ways to create more socially. (ongoing, but let’s try and do these in the next year-ish.)

  • Take a painting and/or pottery class.
  • Buy a sketchpad and a pencil sharpener.
  • Paint something huge.
  • Sew something useful.
  • Learn to play guitar.
  • Write a song. (in progress!)

Personal Wellness: Continue growing in independence. Prepare to be part of a family. (5 years)

  • Establish a budget and track my spending. (NOW)
  • Save $1,000 a month towards (in varying order): ICL surgery, vacation, down payment fund
  • Travel somewhere by myself. (1 year)
  • Have a well-furnished and charmingly decorated home. (Check!)
  • Practice yoga 3-4 times a week. Do DailyHiit 2-3 times a week. (In progress and I’m loving it!)
  • Train for a distance sporting event. (Starting next spring, since it’ll probably be biking.)
  • Floss every day.
  • Average 7 hours of sleep a night.
  • Write a letter to a friend once a month.
  • A few relationship Who and How guidelines that I prefer to keep to myself at this point.

There, I think I have an idea what the hell to do with my life without being overly restrictive or legalistic. The last time I did something like this (summer of 2009) I checked off everything on my list for that season. So we’ll see how this goes. Wish me luck!

Soul Survivor

To riff off something shared by Bird Uncaged:

“People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.

A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave.

A soul mate’s purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you have to transform your life.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

I think I’ve only used the term soul mate seriously once in my life before I got a little leery of it. G and I clicked like crazy, and he was my great awakening, the one who encouraged my photographic passion and gave me the adventure of a lifetime. (Skinny-dipping in the rainforest, check.)  Admittedly, my understanding of soul mate was the somewhat adolescent, HE IS THE ONLY PERFECT ONE MINE FOREVER I CAN BE HAPPY WITH CAN’T MISS MY CHAAAAAANCE. And that, of course, made no sense at all because how could my “soul mate” be utterly lacking in something like, you know, honesty, while working on so many other levels?

So I’ve hesitated to even use the phrase ever since. I certainly don’t think that there is The One for anyone. I think we help each other become The One, or at least that’s the way I see my life progressing. I’m not perfect, and I feel that some (many?) levels of growth are achievable only through relationship. In the immortal, beyond-years wisdom of my best friend, relationship (and the accompanying conflict) increases our love ability, though temporarily decreasing our loveability. And in that, I think Gilbert is right that a soul mate “brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.” When I realize that my actions hurt the person (and people) I’m supposed to love most deeply, even unintentionally, it makes it that much clearer that I need to change.

I want to add a bit to Gilbert’s description of a soul mate, though: rather than revealing my flaws, I feel like G brought to light a brighter self, different from anyone’s expectations including my own, despite (and in some ways because of) the darkness wrought by his dishonesty and desertion. I think soul mates point out the best in us too, whether they leave us or not.

So I guess the only appropriate way I can think of to tie up this little ramble is with a line from Wicked, a good though somewhat overrated (in my opinion) show:

Like a comet pulled from orbit

As it passes a sun

Like a stream that meets a boulder

Halfway through the wood

Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?

But because I knew you

I have been changed for good.

A New Hope

I’ve been gnawing on the concept of prophetic imagination since our discussion in church on Sunday. (I am borrowing the phrase but not the precise Walter-Brueggeman meaning.) Having mostly internalized the idea of God ultimately giving us what we want when we go our own way, I am now working my way around the idea that we live out what we believe is true and therefore have a lot of say in what will happen to us. (That should be the nail in the coffin of my Calvinism, but I suspect it will rise zombie-like from the grave on more than one occasion.)

I wrote the following:

Lord God, forgive again and cast out my impatience. Help me to have faith in your vision for my life. Will you reveal that vision to me, God, or at least a tiny peek when my imagination fails?

Then I paused. To breathe. To see.

I see…a safe and loving marriage where we never tire of talking to each other. Where we play all the time, where life is an adventure, where together we turn our focus outward.

Aw. That’s nice. Sort of Pollyanna, but cute. And…probably not very realistic.

Yesterday, though, in the spirit of the season, I had a moderately earth-shaking epiphany today while sitting in the steam room after a spinning class in which I participated perhaps just a bit too vigorously. (It’s been a somewhat frustrating week/month.)

I realized that many of my relational actions in the last 12 months (and probably longer) have been driven by the belief that what I wanted out of a relationship, and believed to be God’s best, was permanently forfeit. Unattainable. Gone. Why? Because I kissed a boy and I liked it, for lack of a better explanation.(Well, and largely because said boy and my general upbringing said we should feel guilty about liking it, etc. etc.) So when I thought I would never be allowed to have what I’d always wanted, I sort of lost it. Gave up. Gave in. Figured I had already given away too much, so why not just keep going and at least have a good time?

Except, I realized, I haven’t. (Despite all my misguided efforts to the contrary.) And even if I had, there is forgiveness and grace and healing and redemption. But since all is not lost anyway, I still have a chance. And now I will act to protect that.

Permissive Power

Does God allow bad things to happen in order to show us the consequences of our actions? I struggled against this for a long time, because I couldn’t detach permission from intention. After all, God being omnipotent means he chooses not to intervene at times, which perhaps implies that he intends for hurtful things to happen. And that is hard to reconcile with our understanding of love. But I’ve learned a few things that balance the equation, at least in my mind. First, God truly does walk through hardship with us. It may not feel any less uncomfortable, but the truth of his presence and the presence of his truth are bigger than my feelings. (And this is coming from a fairly strong relativist.) Second, while God may will for things to happen, we as humans have the lethal ability to say no and disobey. And that does, in fact, mess with God’s plans. Doesn’t that technically reduce his omnipotence? Does a dammed river lose any power when it ceases to flow? If anything, the potential grows. Withholding power, I have learned, is not the same as losing it.

Continue reading

Finding Me

A year ago yesterday I took a wild leap away from expectations, and I’m not sure that I’ve landed yet. In leaving the classroom, I walked away from the path I had chosen and prepared for my entire adult life. It was not an easy decision, as I am not used to failing and I am (was?) not used to quitting. There have been many times in the last year that I’ve wondered whether I did the right thing, and even tried to reopen that door, but the universe has seen fit to keep it (mostly) closed.

Subbing has been a very redemptive experience because I get to work at a school where children get to be children without worrying about where their next meal is coming from or whether a loved one is going to make it home that night. And I discovered that they (and I) are, in fact, safe to be around after all. Having been at the school several times in the last few days, it has inevitably crossed my mind as to whether I could or would go back to full-time teaching if given the chance.

There’s a lot that I miss about the classroom, and things that I could probably enjoy at a school like this that were not available in the schools in which I’ve taught and interned. Mostly just a generally good foundation for learning, ability to find and use available resources, and a lack of serious backtalk or behavior issues. Funny enough, though, I had an incident today wherein I had to tell some students that while they could choose not to learn that day, they were not permitted to be disruptive to their classmates. One of the students who was working said to me, “Thanks for taking the initiative on that. [The regular teacher] just waits for them to be quiet.” Which made me laugh a bit inside, A) because that used to be my strategy, and B) because after all I’ve experienced, I just don’t tolerate nonsense well anymore, especially from students who have so much given to them. They’re not bratty in general, they just don’t know any better (or maybe I should say worse). At the risk of sounding a bit bratty myself, I think that I may only be suited for teaching in a certain type of school setting, and not that of the schools in which I found myself. But if that setting is not available to me, then I just pursue other options.

It’s been enlightening, exhausting, and absolutely terrifying to blaze my own way in the last year. Try as I might to surf other people’s bow waves, the universe has made it clear that I have to learn to swim on my own. And part of that is not being afraid of the water, which I’m gradually learning as well. A year later, I haven’t sunk, so I guess I’ll just keep swimming

The Alchemist

Woman, lift up yah head,

fo de alchemist he comin.

Collect yah tears, e’ry last one,

fo he turn dem to strands a pearls

round yah queenly neck.

Take up yah burdens in yah weathered hands,

fo he turn dem leaden weights to gold,

gold fo yah wrist and yah ankles.

Sit up straight in de stiff straw of yah humiliation,

for he spin dat straw to silk

fo yah royal robes.

If ye bear yah head and tear yah hair

in grief and guilt and shame–oh!

He crown yah wid his love.

So lift up yah head, woman,

for de alchemist, he be comin.

(October 18, 2012)

This post is a conglomerate of several days’ journal entries. I am posting this now as a reminder, during this current inexplicable bout of anxiety, that all is good. I suppose elation never lasts long, but I believe that faith, hope, and love have burrowed more deeply in my heart than ever before and that is what carries me through.

How long has it been since I’ve been this happy with who I am? At least three years, since early graduate school. How interesting that the thread of Africa runs throughout this time, and again I say no. This time not because I think I am afraid, but because I don’t see the need to escape from my dissatisfaction with myself. I’ve stopped trying to be something I’m not, and that is making all the difference. (10/12/12)

“Desire was its own reward and a rarer luxury than you’d think….She longed to long; she pined to pine.” –The Post-Birthday World, Lionel Shriver

I’m content for the first time in many years, and I think has the slightly unexpected effect of not wanting to ask for anything else. Now that I feel and believe that I lack nothing that I need, there is a curious lack of want, that I almost enjoy for the relative peace it brings. But I’m so used to discontent that it feels a little strange, and I know that passion and desire are significant driving forces in my life. It’s not that I don’t feel excited by what I’m doing…quite the contrary, I’m doing lots of what I love and loving most of what I do. So why this tiny flicker of wanting to want more? (10/13/12)

Certainly it must be for the freedom to desire God that my physical and emotional needs are fully met right now. And yet it’s odd because desire is by definition directed toward what is lacking, yet I feel more fully the presence of God now that all my pieces and parts are coming together, by his grace. Is this what it is like to want and treasure what I already have? I know this is something I need to be married, to be able to look at someone and still want them even as I know they actually are there to stay. I haven’t met anyone like that, or maybe I haven’t had that secure of a relationship since my first. My dating life has been characterized by inaccessibility on some level or other, on the part of both sides. If one of my strengths is living life in the open, though, then this guardedness is perhaps not truly me after all. (10/14/12)

30 Dreams in 30 Years: 2015

Year 3 (2015): Complete a novel to publishable state. Whether or not I actually publish is another matter.

30 Dreams in 30 Years: 2014

Year 2 (2014): Work full-time for myself or as a freelancer. I will probably be doing seven different jobs, but that’s how I roll.

So I’ve picked challenge #20 from 30 Challenges for 30 Days because I’m one of those people who sees the words “existential shock therapy” and goes, “Oooh, fun!” My task is thus: “Think of an accomplishment you’d like to achieve for each year of the next 30 years, a year each day.”