30 Dreams in 30 Years

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.”

Year 1 (2013): Travel (and stay, at least for part of the time) somewhere by myself. Possible candidates: Seattle/PNW, San Francisco, New York City, Boston, South of France (Hell, why not?!) – October 8, 2012

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. – October 9, 2012

Year 3 (2015): Complete a novel to publishable state. Whether or not I actually publish is another matter. – October 10, 2012

Year 4 (2016): Attend the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro or, failing that, travel somewhere south of the equator. – October 11, 2012

Year 5 (2017): I will be 30 years old! Several of my last few goals have been related to travel and adventure, maybe escape in some sense. So maybe at thirty, I’d like to purchase a home or some other propetry, maybe the co-working space or a bed and breakfast, and start putting down roots. – October 12, 2012

Year 6 (2018): In keeping with the rooting process begun the previous year, I’d like to start either the adoption or fostering process by this point in my life. I’ve spent the vast majority of my life as a single woman, and I’m starting to think that I could, in fact, raise a child on my own. It would probably have to be a girl, though, because I still don’t understand quite how boys work anatomically. – October 13, 2012

Year 7 (2019): I would like to knit a sweater I myself would not mind wearing. Most of my yarn-based creations are for tiny humans because A) I’m lazy; and B) They are cuter than I am. But eventually my needles should probably yield something suitable for grown-up adornment. – October 14, 2012

Year 8 (2020): In honor of the optometrically auspicious year number, I would like to get visual corrective surgery. I’ve been told that I’m not a good candidate for Lasik, but by then I’m sure they will have honed the implantable contact lens procedure to a satisfactory point…or come up with something better. Sayonara, glasses and contacts! – October 15, 2012

Year 9 (2021): Learn to play guitar. I missed the hip Christian wave in high school–not that I’d want to be that now–but it’s something I wish I knew how to do. Or, to really challenge myself, learn to play the violin. -October 16, 2012

Year 10 (2022): I will be 35 years old. If I’m going to jump out of an airplane during my lifetime, I should probably do it by this point or risk not doing it all. I don’t think I’m going to pull a George Bush Sr. and jump when I’m 80. -October 17, 2012

Year 11 (2023): Read The Count of Monte Cristo or some other appropriately epic classic. -October 18, 2012

Year 12 (2024): Successfully grow enough vegetables to construct a sufficiently epic salad by my standards. -October 19, 2012

Year 13 (2025): Visit every country in the United Kingdom. (Not necessarily all in one year, just by this point.) -October 20, 2012

Year 14 (2026): Complete some sort of endurance athletic event. Most likely cycling, but I could possibly be convinced to do a sprint triathlon.

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An excerpt I need to write down now before it disappears

“But you know he wasn’t the love of your life.” Andrew stopped and waited as the pause lengthened with no answer. “Right?”

Rachel said nothing, but looked at him without lifting her face. The silence grew between them.

“Rachel!” He took her by the wrist, the softness of his grip belying the strength in his voice. “Look at me. You know–” A fit of coughing cut him off.

She waited until he quieted, her upper lip pushing forward as it always did when she was frustrated. “I don’t know how to answer that,” she replied in a small voice. His fingers tightened against her arm and her voice rose in response. “I don’t know, Andy, I don’t know! What kind of question is that? What am I supposed to say?”

He shut his eyes and took a careful breath, releasing her hand. “It’s okay, Rache. I…I think I understand.”

The pain his voice sliced through her soul. “Andy, I’m sorry.” She touched his forehead, felt the flush of another round of fever. “I’m so sorry.” Her eyes stung with tears, and she realized her hands around his thin face were wet now too. “I know I love you. I know I want to be your wife. I know we might not…no, we don’t have much time. I know…a lot of things.” She stopped, and folded her hands in her lap like a chastised schoolgirl. Every word seemed to be a struggle. “But I don’t know how to answer that question.”

To his credit, he could see the torment she was in, and did not ask her again. “That’s good enough for me,” and he leaned forward and took her in his arms as she began to sob. 

Making It Work

Have I, without realizing it, “made it”? At least twice in the last month or so, someone has told me they are inspired by my journey out of the classroom toward something else. Frankly, that’s a little surprising to me because by any standards that I grew up with, I am still deep in the process of making a complete mess out of my life. I don’t work full time, I’m not using any of my degrees, I have no long-term plan, no health insurance or benefits, none of the accouterments of a big-girl job.

But I’m pursuing my dreams, I’m doing things my way, I’m having the grand adventure, and I’ve walked away from more than one harmful situation. I’m wrestling with depression and generally winning. I’ve bounced back from defeat and despair, and I have greater faith to show for it. So I guess–yes!–I have made it.

Last week I got an e-mail from a dear friend who just started graduate seminary studies. At one point she said, “I’ve learned that many…students stop going to church as they go through the program, because they get so conflicted about their views of God, and how God fits in to the distress and pain of the clients that they interact with.” She then expressed her determination that that should never happen to her and what she would do to prevent such a fate from befalling her.

I’m not sure why this hit such a strong nerve with me. I think it’s the pirate voice projecting itself onto my dear friend (DAMN you, pirate voice!!) and calling me a degenerate heathen for having wandered from the fold. Or else it’s shame’s twin monster, pride, telling me I’m so much more enlightened than those who stay in their holy huddles, when I am the worst offender! In any case, I wrote a response that echoes a prevalent theme in my life lately.

Having gone through many seasons of doubt and depression, I have to say from where I stand now that I don’t regret them. Maybe people on the outside thought, “Oh, she’s lost her way,” but I think that learning to trust my instincts and find my own way back has been one of the most important things I’ve ever done. And the best thing my friends could do was wait for me on the other side. I’m not saying everyone goes through something like this. But don’t be afraid–for yourself or your friends–if it ever happens. God is god enough to call anyone back, or he wouldn’t be God. I recently read something by Francis Chan that said something about how most Christians structure their lives in a way that renders [true] trust unnecessary, because they always stay safe. Call me a heretic, but maybe church can be like that too sometimes. I had to face the question, “What does my life/faith look like without my parents or pastor or church or friends?” And, more important than finding a precise answer, I had to realize that the question wasn’t the end of the world.

I’m starting to think I may need to let God mess up my life a bit. Oh boy.

Last week I got…

Conversation

God, I have to admit that I’m afraid to move forward on Africa because I’m afraid you’re actually going to say yes. I know that I’m allowed to say no, but I don’t want to put everyone through the process of approving me, only to say no.

If you were approved, why would you say no?

Because I’m afraid. I’m afraid of going and not being able to handle it.

Is my grace not sufficient for everything?

I know I should believe that, but I guess I’m not there yet. I’m sorry.

That’s okay. That’s normal, that’s natural, because you’ve never had to rely on my grace much, at least for material needs. Your life has always been structured so that you don’t have to. That’s not a sin, but it does make it much harder to trust me, doesn’t it?

Yeah, it does. Please help me to trust you. (I know that’s like asking for patience, but I really do want both.) Let me look for no guarantees in this life but you.

Let Not the Fire

Let not the fire of desire die

Let it not be smothered by satisfaction

or blown out by bitterness.

Let it burn white-hot, bright, and clear

even when it shrinks to a mere ember

waiting for the wind of adversity

which would fan the flame

or extinguish it entirely.

Let not the fire of desire die.

Feed it a steady diet of disappointments;

Let it lick up your thousand little losses.

Consign to it your cravings and lusts.

Let not the fire of desire die.

For it is the only light left you

To lead you through the darkness.

Another conversation

I promise I’m not trying to go all Julian of Norwich here, even though one of my goals in life is to be a latter-day 14th-century mystic. (Without the whole living in a brick cell thing.) But these conversations are actually quite helpful. Helps negate the pirate voice.

God, I have another question. Am I doing the right thing? Am I pursuing your design for my life, or am I running away from necessary and natural hardship? I’m afraid the quitting is becoming a pattern. Maybe it’s a reaction to feeling like others have given up or abandoned me; i.e., if I can’t leave the people who hurt me, I’ll leave situations that aren’t perfect just to exercise some form of “No.”

Haven’t I always provided a next step, though? This time around you waited, my dear, until some possibilities that fit what you had learned about yourself started to come up. With Lima and TCS, you jumped without a safety net, so you grabbed the first thing that reached out to you–which may not have been the best.

Maybe it actually took more faith to wait for those doors to open, then! And here I thought I was being a wimp not wanting to let go of the old until a legitimate prospect came along.

All of it takes faith, and faith pleases me. Well done, good and faithful servant.

Can I ask another question? What about the photography? Is that going to be a hobby or a profession? I feel like trying to make a living from it sucks all the joy out of it.

What about it brings you joy?

Getting to know people. Sharing their celebrations. Making memories, revealing truth and beauty.

So do that. Do that in a way that is sustainable. Serve others in a way that enriches your soul. Don’t worry about the money as long as you invest within your means. Wait until you have the resources. Be patient: I will provide.

One last thing for today. If it’s true that I’ll be judged/treated the same way I judge/treat others, then I want to change. I want to be generous again with my time and my money, but it seems like those are almost mutually exclusive.

Generosity is an attitude, not just an action. Do you have a generous heart?

Not as much as I used to.

Why is that?

Because I feel the world…or you…have not been generous to me.

What do you lack still, my child?

Someone–a person–I can rely on to always be there in a partnering sort of way. Is it because I keep everyone at arm’s length, or do I push away reflexively because everyone leaves eventually? I feel like I’ve been left behing while everyone moves on. Or worse, like I’ve missed my chance for the best, that I let it go thinking, believing, there was something better…but there really isn’t.

That’s an awful feeling, isn’t it?

Yeah, it is.

I’m sorry you feel that way. Can I sit with you in this feeling?  have to wait a lot, too. Wait to walk with all my loved ones, wait for them to figure things out for themselves, wait for the ultimate truth and beauty and goodness. Let me wait with you.

(Sunday, September 16, 2012)

I do feel a change in me, stirring in response to this reinfusion of your word and community into my life.

Don’t be afraid of it. This is a good thing. It will open the way to more good, sure, but most of all it will open your heart again to delight in what is now.

You know what the funny thing is? I’m actually more excited about Africa now than when I first heard about the opportunity in Nigeria. The last two times I have always started out very excited and then shrunk back.

Why do you think that is?

Well, I think I was just really burnt out spiritually when it first came around and I wasn’t ready to even think about it. I didn’t want adventure, I didn’t want to take risks, I didn’t want to trust God’s provision…I didn’t want to obey?

Why the question mark?

Because I’m not sure if you are commanding me to do this. I believe you’ve commanded me to love you with all my heart, soul, and mind. You’ve commanded me to rejoice. You’ve commanded me to love my neighbor as myself. And I suppose that these commands pertain to the heart first and foremost, but don’t actions come from the heart.

They do. Let me heal your heart first and the actions will become clear on their own. Trust me.

To be continued…

 

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A conversation

Lord, am I being punished for what I did? Is this punishment for not following the rules, not waiting, for doing things my way? Are you mad at me?

Not mad, my child. Sad that you were hurt, that G let you down, that J wasn’t there for you. Sad that they didn’t see what I can see, that you can’t see what I see of the woman you are the woman you are becoming. Sad that we’ve grown apart, that you’ve lost your trust in me and in men.

How can I get that back, Lord? I feel like everything I’ve ever known is now being called into question.

Questioning is good. Questioning is okay. What questions do you have?

What’s right and what’s wrong? I used to think that if I put one toe out of line I’d be brought sharply back to heel, but sometimes you let me run with it until I run off the course on my own, and sometimes I am blessed nonetheless.

That’s what it means to be a grown-up: seeing the natural consequences of your actions rather than some unnatural punishment. I am not vengeful or vindictive; I just want to show you the truth. And then there’s grace, which trumps natural consequences the way I transcend the world that you can see and touch.

I feel as though I should be punished for my choices, though, and that’s why I’ve been punishing myself.

I’m not the IRS, Jennifer. I’m not going to suddenly decide one day to retroactively punish you because you didn’t suffer enough at the time. You have suffered, and I want to take you out of that, not make it worse for you.

God, please show me what to hope for. I know disappointment won’t kill me, but it’s very tiring and it keeps me from doing your work, being the best me I can be.

Focus on me. I will not let you down. I will not misunderstand you, or take you for granted, or leave you alone.

So I made the mistake of posting the following status last night, mostly just to share a hilarious mini-conversation I had with my dear father (who is…surprise…Asian!) but apparently I stuck a branch in a hornet’s nest.

Being me, I’m going to go ahead and kung-fu kick that hornet’s nest just for good measure.  And yeah, maybe I should have known better than to post such a thing on Facebook, and to spare all the sensitive feelings out there, I’ve taken it down. (Honestly, my first response to the last response was, “Watch. Me. Care.” Mostly I don’t want to hear a million other extraneous opinions from people who know nothing about where I’m coming from.)

Here’s the deal.

My brother is an Asian boy-man. (Just being honest. He’s 18.) My father is an Asian man. My best friend is married to an Asian man. One of the wisest men I know, having spoken one-on-one with him a grand total of once, is an Asian pastor. I can say that I’ve been treated with kindness by the many Asian men (mostly of my father’s age/rank) I have encountered throughout my life.

I’ve only dated non-Asian men–white men, to be precise. In general, they’ve gotten successively lamer because I’ve lapsed in my judgment. Some of the most hurtful things ever said to me have been said by white men. Just by numbers alone, obviously more white people than Chinese people have treated me disrespectfully.

All this to say that I don’t have anything against Asian men. I don’t think they should be denied basic human rights. I don’t treat them as less than human. I don’t think they deserve to be used and abused. I’m not going to point and laugh if one gets hit by a car. But apparently, because I don’t want to date or marry one, I’m guilty of…what? Future miscegenation? Betraying a country I’ve never lived in? Forgetting my culture? Um, welcome to the 21st- century, nice of you to join us.

Here’s what I don’t like. I don’t like coloring inside the lines. I don’t like vanilla. I don’t like enclaves, cliques, and huddles. I don’t like being bored. I don’t like being the same as everyone else. I don’t like being overlooked and ignored. I don’t like being misunderstood. I don’t like having to explain myself. I don’t like being told what to do. I don’t like being forced to deny my instincts. And I run into this all the time with people of every culture.

Here’s what I want. I want someone to tell me I’m pretty. I want someone to chase me. I want someone who can’t keep his hands off me but won’t hold me back. I want someone who sees my need to be all over the place and prepares a place for me to land.  I want someone to be the rock to my ocean. I want someone to play with. I want someone to take care of me. I’ve found 75% of this in a single person once in my life. The other 25% consisted of major character issues, which was slightly confusing.

Do I assume that what I want won’t come in Asian packaging? Statistically, well, yes. People. I live in Ohio. I work as an administrative assistant in real estate, and I want to get into social media and business development. Is it my fault that the Asian men are all off getting shiny terminal degrees or working fancy real jobs? My main hobby is photography, the practitioners and purchasers of which are, by and large, white, middle-class women. My friends are all women, and that is fine with me. At this point, after a string of unsuccessful relationships (all with white men, I am aware), my motto is, “If you want it, come and get it,” and because of my lifestyle, it is simply more likely that I’m going to run into a non-Asian. I’ve come to the realization that any man who wants to be part of my life is going to have to be very naturally integrated into the stream of what I’m already doing, and at this point (which doesn’t mean it couldn’t change), I’d have to go pretty far out of my way, on many levels, to build a friendship with an Asian male.

Do I have anything specifically against Asian men? If I’m honest, maybe I have to say yes. Not so much against the guys themselves, but against the culture as a whole, and that is something I am working on healing, starting at home. (Newsflash: It takes a while.) I’ve been working since college graduation to convince my own parents, who are relatively freethinking as immigrant parents go, that I’m not going to starve because I haven’t found my 8 to 5 career track. Frankly, I have no desire to ever go through that process again, with a significant other or with his parents. I’ve learned about myself that I need a fairly large amount of psychic space, in the words of Susan Howatch, and nosy, overweening, codependent in-laws are simply not going to fly. Of course that could happen in any family, but in general East Asian cultures have stronger expectations of familial loyalty and filial piety. To deny that is intellectually dishonest, and to crucify someone for feeling uncomfortable in that environment is unjust. There are just some cultural norms that I’m not well at ease with. Would you tell someone with asthma that it’s unfair for them to not date a smoker? Would you tell a vegan that they need to be more open-minded and marry someone who loves barbeque? Hell, would you tell a recovering alcoholic to go to a bar to meet people? These may seem like extreme comparisons, but for me the level of compatibility issue  is actually comparable.

I respect many aspects of Asian culture, and in many ways I wish I could be more like them, as it would certainly make life a lot easier. Even as I’ve always found myself fitting in better with white American culture, I will–can–never forget that I am different. But I am who I am, I can be no other. If someone comes along who accepts and nurtures who I am, be he Asian, Caucasian, or Dalmatian, then that’s what I want.

Allegro

So I had a metaphorical mishap in church today. Toward the end of the service, it was time to sing the Doxology, which is one of my favorite hymns. The organ geared up (and my heart smiled) and I started to sing at the top of my (surprisingly) joyful lungs.

Way.

Too.

Fast.

My friend David of course made fun of me for being impatient with God’s blessings, but where does the line lie between exuberance and impatience? I’ll admit that it’s often a challenge for me to not get the Gimmes with God, But I swear that in this moment, at least, I was only eager to praise.