“He is not coming back. Why do you linger here when there is no hope?”
I learned the absolute best Chinese idiom from Pastor Zhang last week:
“dumpling in a teapot”
Obviously, a dumpling is way too big to go through the spout of a teapot. Therefore, a dumpling in a teapot is pretty much stuck there.
The dumpling of my Essence is trapped in the teapot of my personality. [paraphrasing enneagram theory for the chopsticks-and-soy-sauce set]
I kind of really want to rename my blog “dumpling a teapot.”
I’ve reached the point of such physical and spiritual obstruction that…something has to go. When Pastor Zhang prayed with me Thursday night, he shared Isaiah 58:11:
The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
As I read through the rest of the chapter, however, a few verses previous stuck out.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
I haven’t been taking care of my body for the last, oh, year and a half, and that has definitely affected my emotional and spiritual health as well. (Plus I’m pretty sure I’m suffering from chronic secondhand smoke exposure from my ashtray of an apartment…never renting after a smoker again, no matter how good a deal.) So I am following a three-day juice fast starting Wednesday after two days of raw foods Monday and Tuesday. Those of you who know me well will understand why this is a particularly grueling exercise for me, but I need the detox, I need the centering, and I need the discipline.
Too often, our self-image rests solely on an evaluation of our past behavior, being measured only through a memory. Day after day, year after year, we tend to build our personalities upon the rubble of yesterday’s personal disappointments. –The Search for Significance
WHAM! In these two succinct sentences lies the knot of my angst, but I’ve been working in recent weeks to untie that knot. (And, as with a physical knot, I am finding that things are much more complicated and extensive than I thought.) Here is a bit of that infinite thread…where it leads I do not know…
TIME published an article at the end of May titled, “The Optimism Bias,” which is defined as “the belief that the future will be much better than the past and present”. I think that I am rather too neurotic to count myself as a true optimist, but I do have a persistent idealism that may have some survival value, as it turns out. The general premise of the article is that those who think the future can be better will have more motivation to make that better future happen, sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you will. The part that really interested me, however, was about memory:
Scientists who study memory proposed an intriguing answer…. the core function of the memory system could in fact be to imagine the future — to enable us to prepare for what has yet to come. The system is not designed to perfectly replay past events, the researchers claimed. It is designed to flexibly construct future scenarios in our minds. As a result, memory also ends up being a reconstructive process, and occasionally, details are deleted and others inserted. (emphasis mine)
Memory loss terrifies me. Few things can make me feel crazier than not remembering where I put something, or what I intended to do today, or whether I left the stove on and will come home to a smoking ruin. Part of this is due to my mother’s merciless (and rather ironic) intolerance of memory lapses dating to my childhood; and given my nearly-nonexistent Perceiving preference and Sensing function, my memory for physical details is admittedly on the shabby side. But when I start having emotional amnesia–whether it’s jettisoning the positive points of a situation and shriveling into bitterness, or glossing over the difficulties that sent me on a sneaky hate spiral and blundering blithely into the same deranged pattern–then things start to get really ugly.
I think my meltdown of two weeks ago was triggered by a failure of the reconstructive function of memory. All of my [perceived] failures from the past year welled up at once, and I couldn’t bail out fast enough. I was absolutely convinced that I was in for another breakdown no matter what I did, so I just did nothing. (Well, not nothing: I cried a lot, stomped around my empty house like Godzilla, and did a suitable impression of the Phantom of the Opera dumping my frustrations on the piano when I wasn’t curled up in bed wondering how much serotonin was necessary to trigger serotonin overdose. All I ended up with was restless legs syndrome.) I pulled myself together enough to decide that what I needed was a clean slate: more school and a change in course away from K-12 education. I started applying for the clinical counseling program at Ashland Theological Seminary, but felt somewhat stymied by the essay questions. Did I really feel “called” to seminary, or was I just running from something else? (Do I even believe in such thing as a positive calling anymore?) Was I giving up the vocation for which I’d trained out of humility or humiliation? In less erudite terms, what the hell was I doing with my life?
I got a call from Prince William County Schools in Virginia on Friday when I was [gently] storming around Meijer looking for milk in the cereal aisle. (I was still basically a lunatic at this point, though no longer a patently self-destructive one.) I almost didn’t call back, but something told me to just go ahead and do the stupid phone interview for shits and giggles. There was no way I could move again, I babbled to a kind and very tired friend over the phone that night. What if I have another nervous breakdown?! In the silence that followed, I realized, That’s totally up to me. I chose to do a lot of things that made life difficult for myself, but I can also choose to make life easy. That led to the grudging admission that I didn’t try to like Lima very much at all after the first few weeks, which led a few days later to the realization that I did not like my job, and that’s why I couldn’t stay. Not because the entire universe was conspiring to keep me from being happy, not because Lima was designed to destroy my soul. I chose to continue being afraid. Aw, shit.
Fortunately, the theme of encouragement and perseverance ran strong through the weekend. Madeline and I talked for a long time about difficult seasons, and in my own ruminations I realized that my idealism often has an unexpected and somewhat counterintuitive effect. Right now I’ve worked myself into a lather searching for better, or perfect circumstances, rather than working to be content with what I have. When life doesn’t meet my [often unrealistic] expectations, I want to jump ship right away, even though I’ve tried to heed admonitions that the first year sucks for everyone and that it will get better. Madeline pointed out that perhaps 90% of following God is in prayer, meditation, reading the Word, worshipping, and just being with Him, while the other 10% is what we do for Him. I think I’ve allowed that proportion to flip and unbalance, which is what causes me such anxiety. I also feared that I was often too quick in trying to move on with my life after a crisis because I am so uncomfortable picking up the pieces and I’d rather just start over. And perhaps that is why the crises have gotten more frequent and furious as I try to scoot more debris under the rug without actually cleaning up after myself. So was I right, then, to decide to take a bit of a break for a year?
At some point over the weekend, I got the picture of a racehorse in my head. From my childhood fanaticism for horses, I knew that the best racers need to be pushed. They have so much heart and energy that if they’re not allowed to run, they get mopey and listless, which is exactly how I was starting to feel. I knew that I probably wouldn’t be happy as a substitute teacher, and that might be even more stressful than having my own classroom. I’d left the interview at the retirement village feeling…deflated. I didn’t really want to play Bingo and go to the grocery store every day. In other words, I didn’t feel like I was meant to be a draft horse, working day in and day out, plodding steadily along, of which little greatness is expected (though much care is still given). Somewhere in the rubble of my spirit, something stirred that was hungry again for challenge.
On Tuesday I talked to the PWCS principal, who told me that the position was primarily for teaching AP Bio, and that something twitched even more restlessly. I wanted this position, if not this location. Then I went to the south side of town to interview with ECOT, the largest online school in the state. Even as I talked up (probably too much so) my experience working with at-risk students–and if a kid is doing school online by the time they’re freshmen, it’s usually because of negative circumstances–I couldn’t help thinking, “But I want to work with children who aren’t pregnant or going to jail or bringing knives to school!” I know it’s not all about what I want, but at least it was nice to want something. And in general I feel less fraught, more courageous, and a bit more rational about going back to the classroom. Even my hesitation about moving met with a rejoinder: The fact that Lima was so close to home meant that I never really had to work hard to meet new people because I could go home any time I wanted. If I moved 6 or 7 hours away in either direction (because I also applied for a school near Chicago where a friend teaches), I’d be forced to sink or swim. Which still scares the daylights out of me, but maybe not the living daylights.
This stream of thought is literally endless, so I’m going to arbitrarily choose to end here. Soooooo…now we wait. And apply for more jobs. (By my cover letter count, I’ve applied to at least 17.) And say, “Bah!” to all this and go to Puerto Rico for four days.
A few scriptures I’ve been chewing on:
Psalm 18:29 – For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall.
Romans 8:15 – For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
(I just finished reading Julie & Julia–which, incidentally, is the literary equivalent of, say, peanut M&Ms–so forgive the slightly maudlin use of food references.)
It was an encouraging, refreshing, and at the same time challenging weekend on the road. Travel is sometimes stressful for me, but usually I stress out beforehand at the thought of not being in my familiar little box, and then the trip itself turns out to be quite freeing. (Notable exception: traveling with my parents.) When I am with my friends, I can’t think constantly about myself anymore, and that turns out to be a pretty good thing since that is probably what got me into the box in the first place. The thing is, I am still pretty terrible at self-care sometimes, and being with others improves my functionality (you know, eating, sleeping, getting out of the house) rather significantly. Example: It feels like forever since I’ve actually sat down and eaten something resembling a square meal rather than grazing absentmindedly on fruit and cereal throughout the day (or worse, feeding the dragon). But while I was traveling I’m proud to say I ate at every mealtime and kept it down. And you know what? It actually felt pretty good, not just the physical benefits of actually getting some nutrition, but the emotional and mental boost from thinking, feeling, and acting like a healthy person.
Spiritually, as well as physically, I’ve had a fairly malnourished year and a half. Even when I made it to church or flipped through the Bible on my own, there was still a strange specter of starvation–of loss–lurking on the edges. Since coming back home, I’ve had to relearn how it feels to be filled, primarily through community, and that’s honestly been kind of uncomfortable at times. The week I went back to Lima, a lot of things happened that awakened fearful hunger again, and I jumped the tracks big time. It took me about a week to regain a tentative footing, but I was still scared. And then this weekend I got to see Madeline. Madeline was my small group leader in college, when I was part of Chi Alpha, the campus ministry of the Assemblies of God. The world always seems to spin just a little more steadily when she is around, and the only way I can think of to explain it is that she really does channel God’s presence in a way that I can understand more readily than most other approaches. There’s probably a strong emotional/mystical bent to it, and that’s why DonQuixote and I tended to clash over it. Throughout the course of graduate school, I lost touch with that presence within and around my own heart, and I’m still not sure I have it back.
Anyway, we went to Madeline’s church on Sunday, and if my current spiritual life is bread and water, then this church service was like a three-layer German chocolate cake. (And let’s say the church I regularly attend at home is, say, raw bamboo.) The songs, the smiles, the swaying, the bloody altar call…honestly, I kind of wanted to walk out, not because I was offended or angry, but just because I felt bad that this used to mean a lot to mean and now…I wasn’t sure what it meant. But I stayed, and tried to steep in it as well as I could, and in the end it wasn’t bad at all, just somewhat unfamiliar. I’m not entirely sure if church services that provoke emotional extremes on a regular basis would be good for my spiritual health, but if I’ve learned anything in therapy it’s that emotions are part of my personality whether I like it or not, and as such they need to be acknowledged and addressed or they are just going to implode eventually. That may not need to be done within the context of a religious organization, but I think community is definitely necessary.
I came back feeling hungry in a healthy way. I needed a reminder of what healthiness looks like, what I can be if only I choose to do so. Maybe a little chocolate cake every now and then is a good thing, as long as I work it off afterwards, and maybe even if I don’t. (More on that in the next post.) For now, I am thinking about the care and feeding of a healthy appetite; physical, spiritual, emotional, or otherwise.
We left Saturday morning and arrived at our first stop, the Indianapolis Museum of Art. I must say I was extremely impressed by the scope of IMA’s collection as well as the building’s design and the expansive grounds surrounding the museum. We probably got through 3/4s of the main exhibition floor before the extreme air-conditioning blasted us out to the gardens to dethaw. By the time we finished roaming the grounds, there was only half and hour left before closing. But since the museum is free, you can go back any time to enjoy it all!
I have to agree with Jeffrey that it’s not easy or particularly rewarding to photograph other people’s art, especially 2D works. The artist has an intended way of viewing the work, and glossing my point of view on top of that seems superfluous if not counterproductive. The sculptures and gardens outside were a lot more fun.
After leaving the museum, we tried to find the restaurant on our own, which necessitated sitting a shady McDonald’s to use their free Wi-fi and asking a random man where we were. We finally met up with Madeline at a Scottish restaurant called MacNivens and learned that neeps are actually rutabagas.
Saturday night we stayed up much too late talking about boys and weddings.
Then the girls went to The Fashion Mall (yes, that’s what it’s called) for about an hour and a half before it closed, where we had a very fun conversation with one of the guys working at Tiffany&Co. and saw a pair of $62,000 diamond stud earrings (3.75 TW, not that I was paying attention). After the mall closed, we met the Jeffs again for dinner at Mackenzie River Pizza Company, which is based out of Montana where the family used to live.
Sunday night we stayed up not quite as late doing our nails, getting at-home facials, and talking about weddings.
Monday after breakfast and some make-up, we went to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum. Because all of us are approximately four years old at heart, it was really fun!
5Their mother has been unfaithful
and has conceived them in disgrace.
She said, ‘I will go after my lovers,
who give me my food and my water,
my wool and my linen, my olive oil and my drink.’
6 Therefore I will block her path with thornbushes;
I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way.
7 She will chase after her lovers but not catch them;
she will look for them but not find them.
Then she will say,
‘I will go back to my husband as at first,
for then I was better off than now.’
8 She has not acknowledged that I was the one
who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil,
who lavished on her the silver and gold—
which they used for Baal.
my request and thanksgiving:
16 “In that day,” declares the LORD,
“you will call me ‘my husband’;
you will no longer call me ‘my master.’
17 I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips;
no longer will their names be invoked.
18 In that day I will make a covenant for them
with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
and the creatures that move along the ground.
Bow and sword and battle
I will abolish from the land,
so that all may lie down in safety.
19 I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
20 I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the LORD.