Our dusty selves

 

dusty selves

 

Today is Ash Wednesday.

And I have no idea what is going on in my life.

And I wonder, sometimes, if maybe that is the point. I read a lenten devotional today, since today marks the first day of Lent. The author said that Lent was about stopping where we are. It’s about stopping, in the middle of where we were and where we think we need to be and being here. It’s about stopping and remembering our dusty selves – from dust, and to dust we shall return – remembering the two things we so desperately try to forget at every other buzzing, busy time: our sin and our humanity.

I read those words and they stopped me; they made me pause and stare and think – and I didn’t like it. Because it is exactly where I’m at right now. I might be here, but in my head, I am in a thousand different places. I have this personality that sometimes seems allergic to the present, forever lingering in what was and, lately, setting up camp in all the places I think I need to be running toward.

Believe me when I say it – there are so many places that I think I need to be right now. And if I am being honest with you, dear reader (which I am), then you must know this: I am so weary of all the places I think I need to be going to.

I am in this weird paradox: so intimately aware of my humanity and all the ways I fall short because of it, but so insistent on ignoring my humanity and just plowing through like I can do everything. It’s like I’m in an action film, and I’m the stubborn heroine who just got shot in the leg but insists it’s just a graze as I fling myself into battle once more. There. That makes it sound heroic. That makes it sound epic. Special. Like I care more about the people I’m battling for than my own single, solitary, bloody leg.

But I don’t think that’s how it goes. I’m not convinced that when Jesus stops us, when he slides in before us, as we run into the fray or shuffle into work or open up a new job application – that he only does it to cheer us on, to egg us forward, to commend our heroic and courageous deed.

I think maybe he’s trying to get us to stop.

Stop. Enough charging into this battle of your life. Enough seeing this life as your battle. You are dust, and to dust you will return. But in the meantime, you may rest.

And there, in the midst of it, his ashy thumb caresses my forehead and there is the cross.

Oh, it is so hard to stop. It is so hard even to pause, for the moments of daily communion, for the knowledge of the truth to sink into my bones: I do not have to win today. I don’t have to make a thousand decisions about my life, I don’t have to know what is happening and where I’m headed.

I’m weary of going places. I’m tired of battling. I’m tired of anxiety. I am tired of heroics.

Stop. Enough going places. Enough believing that you must always be going places and doing things and justifying your life for everyone around you. You are dust, and to dust you will return. But in the meantime, you may rest.

And there, in the midst of it, another ashy thumbprint swipes across my forehead and I am staring at my humanity and my failings and my fear and my worry and my spinning head and unknowable life.

It is here that I remember those Garden promises – the goodness of it all. The Way Things are Supposed to Be. I see the humanity – all the guilt and shame and baggage that comes along with it – and I remember that it was once Good. And this ashy cross, this paused Wednesday, everything it signifies is the way it’s all becoming Good Again.

Stop. Enough remembering the cross as the end. Enough wondering if this night will last forever. You are Good. You are becoming Good again. You are running toward the Garden – not a job or a marriage or a new city or an apartment or the fulfillment of some ideal life you’ve created. You are running through the ash and through the palms and through the open tomb and

You are running toward the Garden.

So breathe.

And there, in the midst of it, because that is where Jesus finds us, because that is where he is, because that is where our lives take us, because that is where it hurts, because that is where we’ve been shot, because that is where the battle rages, because that is where the sea is rising, because that is where your resume gets forgotten, because that is where your breath becomes erratic, because that is where you sink to the ground, because that is where we need him – one more ashy thumbprint cross to smooth out our furrowed brow.

Today is Ash Wednesday.

 

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Hope Fully

hopehere

There is hope here,
she said
eyes expectant
heart beating
heart waiting.

There is something coming,
and the truth of it sped through
her veins.

Perhaps,
she said,
perhaps you will make something of yourself
yet.

And what’s more,
said a deeper voice
a voice living further down in her soul,
and what’s more,
perhaps it has already begun in you –
the making of yourself.

Would you listen to
the voice
telling you that you are
already something,
that you are becoming more and more
the something
that you have always
been.

There is hope
here.

twenty-second summer

22nd summer

I was talking a mile a minute about myself, about my passions and my beliefs and that girl who lives deep in my heart, when the words spilled from my mouth before I even realized that I had thought them:

Big life to be had.

And for a few hours, I was really proud of those words.  My conversation partner had noticed them too, writing them down to remember, looking at me with wide eyes and a slight smile.  She asked where I’d read that, and I said I didn’t think I’d read the particular phrase anywhere; I just said the words because they made sense, because I felt them, because it was in my heart.

It sounds very beautiful: I said the words that were in my heart.  That’s what makes me special, isn’t it?  That I have this way with language.  I spin letters like the fairy tales spoke of spinning straw into gold. 

But on my short drive home tonight, I mulled the words over in my head, and my pride slipped away a bit.  I believe those words – big life to be had – but maybe I don’t always live like it.  I have an anxious heart – a big, open, hopeful, loving, joyful, trembling, giggling heart, but an anxious one, too.  I know this about myself.  Last semester’s moments of panic and sleeplessness confirmed it.  The fact that it is difficult for me to get into cars with drivers who aren’t myself.  The fact that sometimes, I hurt the people I love most because I think I need to be in control.  It is indeed a big life to be had, but often my fear gets in the way, and I hate that.  Because I know in the deepest chamber of my heart that I was not created to be afraid. 

This summer has been one of rediscovery.  Finding again that girl in that heart chamber who runs barefoot through forests and cities and deserts.  I didn’t venture far: I stayed in my college town, lived with a lovely professor, and worked on campus.  I scaled no mountains, but I did road trip to the Pennsylvanian Appalachians.  I went to four weddings, visited my boyfriend’s family, went home a few times, watched my sister graduate high school, buried my grandfather’s ashes, saw the destruction of a tornado, ate dinners on the deck, read many books, watched many movies, took a yoga class, babysat tinies, went to Florida, flew alone for the first time, wore more dresses than I did shorts, stayed up very late, held hands, saw three shooting stars, went on countless nighttime walks, and felt like it all meant something.  My best friend lived minutes away and so we could celebrate our 8- and 9- and 10- and 11-month anniversaries together.  The depth of the fear I had felt the previous semester began to dry up, and though I slipped many times back into the leftover muck, I started to find myself again. 

And my goodness – my self is complicated.  All selves are, I am convinced.  I shift so easily from joy to self-pity.  My temper flares suddenly and dies out slowly.  Sometimes I can’t stop speaking.  Other times, I can barely stutter my way through a thought. 

And yet.

This summer, I remembered time and again the love that abounds for me.  Love from the Maker, yes, He who molded and bought me, He who wins me over no matter how often I drift.  This love drenches and soothes, and I have felt it so clearly at so many moments these past few months.  But love from others, as well.  From the family that does not try to hold me back or call me home, but instead lets me grow elsewhere, and always answers the phone.  From the friends with the front door that I do not have to knock on before entering.  From the yoga teacher who looked me in the eye and told me that my strength had nothing to do with my size, but instead everything to do with the love I poured into the earth and the people around me.  From the young man who keeps walking beside me.  From the children with eyes that light up when they see me.  From the small, noisy little dog who cries and licks and runs to me when I come home for a visit.  

Love.  It is all love.  Find it, again and again and again.  

So maybe the words I spoke were truer than even I realized.  Big life – big life full of love and road trips and going to the office.  Life with the people who make it big.  Stay in the small town when all the kids go home, and find again the community that surrounds those who remain. The secret, it seems, is not to find arrogant pride in the big life, nor is it to believe the lie that the fear defines you and steals the big life away. 

The secret, if it was ever a secret at all, is to find the life you have, over and over again, and see how big it must be to hold all the love poured in. 

It is a big life to be had, dear heart.

Easter Wagons.

I think that I am at that point where I’m honestly considering quitting school.  Of course, I will never quit school willingly; I have far too much money invested in this place.  Plus, I do love school.  I mean, I imagine I still do… deep, deep inside.  I like learning things.  I like growing and discovering.  I like becoming more myself.  I like being with like-minded people.

But I despise these papers and these tests and these group stinking projects.  And I certainly am not a fan of every single one of them happening in the month of April.  This month might be my tipping point.  What with schoolwork, paying-bills work, planning for next year, trying to figure out what on earth I am doing this summer, AND getting an adequate amount of sleep – I will be lucky if I make it through the next 31 days with an inkling of a desire to finish my degree.

This feeling – tipping point, wide-eyed scrambling, dropping-out-and-running-away feeling – is not familiar to me.  I truly enjoyed high school (the learning part, that is.  The pettiness I could have done without).  There was no other option than for me to go to college.  I don’t know what else I would’ve done.  I dreamed about college.  And I have loved it since I’ve been here.  But lately, it’s like I’ve hit a wall.  I’ve been in school for fifteen years – pretty much my entire life, I’ve been memorizing and testing and one-upping and pleasing the system.  I don’t regret any of it, but I don’t want to be trapped in this anymore.  I’m suffocating under a pile of books, drowning in an ocean of papers.  I’m unsure of where I’m going even on my way there.

That’s sort of where I am tonight.

I was home for Easter this past weekend, and my Aunt Lori, one of the kindest, wisest, most loving people I know, asked me The Question.  What am I thinking about doing after graduating?  She prefaced it with “I know it’s a long way off and it’s completely okay not to know,” which I realy appreciated.  Because I’m not generally a fan of that question.  I’ve found that most (MOST… not all) adults (and I use the term “adults” with awkwardness and irony, seeing as I am technically an adult, and so are the majority of my friends.  But I’m not talking about us.  I’m talking about the generations ahead of us, who still see us as, more or less, kids) ask that question with an air of superiority, as if they anticipate our confounded answer and are simply waiting to barrel on into a tirade about The State of Things (i.e. why my generation is awful and entitled and lazy, how there are no jobs ever, how my generation has deluded fantasies about the workforce, why the government is crumbling, how poor they are, how poor we are, how poor everyone is except the really rich people who apparently everyone should resent unless of course they give my generation jobs or something).*

Aunt Lori doesn’t say stupid stuff like that, though.  And I really appreciate it.  So I answered honestly.  I told her I want to do many different things.  I want to work at Disney, and I want to work at some more camps.  I want to work at theatres and museums.  I might want to work at an international boarding school.  I want to work on movies.  Write books.  Be a mom.  I want to do stuff that means something.  Then I told her I’m a little ashamed of my lack of direction.  I said I am afraid something is wrong with me; maybe I am deluded, and maybe there aren’t any jobs for me.  I might just get stuck like so many others who were supposed to go do great things.

Aunt Lori said something really wise.  She told me about how excited she had been for the past month as she put together her two-year-old’s Easter basket.  She bought so many things, it turned into an Easter wagon, and she put so much thought and love and time into it.  My cousin didn’t know it was coming, but Aunt Lori did, and she could not wait to give the gift.

“God’s like that,” my aunt said.  “At least, I think so.  He plans and plans, and He has all these wonderful gifts ready to give us.  All the while, we don’t know the gifts are coming, so we’re searching around for something else.  But God is there, smiling and clapping His hands, so excited to give us what He’s been planning for so long.”

I think more adults need to be like my Aunt Lori.  Her words didn’t automatically satiate my anxieties, because my anxieties are great and only God can satisfy them.  But they reminded me that I need to trust.  I’m so tired of this cynical world, of people telling me there aren’t jobs, of getting rejection letters from everything I apply to until I start believing I really am only good, but never good enough.  I’m tired of planning and networking and shmoozing and career fairs.  I’m tired of stacking my deck because it’s the only hope I’ve got to make it in this cold, cruel world.  Why does it seem like everything is attempting to snuff out the small flame of childhood tucked in my heart?  Why must everything be a battle?  Will I always be climbing a mountain, struggling for oxygen in the thinning air as I trek ever higher?  Does life only get bleaker from here?

I need to trust.  I need to trust that God has millions of Easter wagons lined up for me, some containing jobs, others containing people, perhaps one containing some handsome charmer for me to hang out with for life.  I need to trust the people who let me stay idealistic, and who remain idealistic themselves.  I need to trust my own abilities and gifts and drive.  I’m not going to melt away.

I’m still massively stressed out over this last month of school.  I’m also significantly anxious about what I’m doing this summer, whether I’ve made the right choice, whether anyone is actually going to give me a blessed job.  Whether I’m going to make a difference at all.  I will probably never know what I’m doing with my life.  And that is not always a comforting feeling.  It’s also not enjoyable to explain.

But I do know I’ve got God.  So I need to be good with that.  Nothing else would cover this much junk.

So that’s where I am tonight.

*Well, if that isn’t the most horrifically parenthesized sentence EVER.