Nebulous

I would like to shout at God.  I would also like to hug Him, in a big way.  A big, fling-myself-into-His-arms sort of way.  And then I want to yell again.  Back and forth, strung between anger and joy and tiredness.  I walk through my days joyful, bouncing and beaming and laughing.  And it isn’t fake; it isn’t a face I’m putting on.  Then, I pause for moments and I realize that I am exhausted.  Exhausted in a way that sleep doesn’t seem to cure.

Then, I un-pause.  I tell myself that I am in my third year of college, which means of course I will feel exhausted.  I tell myself that I have four jobs.  That I have lots of people who love me and with whom I want to spend time.  I tell myself that everything I do, I enjoy.  I tell myself that I have to think about next semester, next summer, next year.  I promise myself that I can take a break from writing poems.  There aren’t words.  Or there are too many words.  Nebulous, disconnected words that mean a great deal in my head but do not yet mean anything when I write them.

Sometimes, I fear that God will take away my gift, and I will be left with nothing to offer.

And I recognize how completely ridiculous that sounds.  As if the gift were mine to begin with.  As if God took where He had no right to do so.  As if God left His children worse off than He found them.  As if He left at all.  I know that He is good, that He has created me for His glory and so He will give me means to glorify Him.  But when I can’t feel that twisty tug at my heart, the one that whispers write, write, write

That is when I question.  And I shouldn’t, because there is so much more to me than the blogs and poems I can churn out.  More to me than the metaphors and the pretty pictures I can paint across a page.  I know that I am loved – very, very loved – for more than what I can do.  I am loved for the heart from which the thoughts and words are spun.  I don’t understand it.  And yet I know that it is true.  I go to the Lord and I stand before Him in awe of the treasures He bestows upon me.

A place to sleep.  A family to call.  A relationship with a man who cherishes me and pushes me toward the Father every day.  Friends who build me up and let me ramble and share their hearts.  Countless other blessings.

So if He asks me to put aside my gift for a month, six months, ten years – I will do it.  If I can never move thoughts to the page again, I want to be content with that.  If I never get my dream job, and if I never have the house with the kitchen island and the big oak in the front yard and the kids in the backyard, I want to be content.  If all anyone ever sees in me is Jesus, I have more than fulfilled my purpose.  That’s what I want.  I want to make sense of the world and I want to have a family and a home and a career and I want to write poems and books and plays – But I don’t need any of it.  I need to desire Jesus.  I need to seek Him – not passively wander about, glancing here and there –

I need to tear through the desert and the jungles, cut my bare feet on the thorns and the broken rocks.  I need to find the faintest trail and never stray from it.  I need to seek Him with a passion, with a ferocity and a fire that exists for nothing and no one else.

If I shouted at Him tonight, I would ask if He sees me.  Does He see me when I’m paused – exhausted and stretched out and distracted?  Is my brokenness and darkness real even in the midst of my joyfulness?  And when I’m un-paused, does He see me then?  As I scurry and stumble and dance through my day, does He see my excitement and anticipation?  Are those as real even in the midst of my brokenness?

I could shout.  I have shouted before.  But tonight, I want to fling myself into His arms.  I want His comfort.  I want Him to use me even when I don’t understand it.

Advertisements

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.

 

But Then on Monday.

This week, my dorm did this thing called Confidence Week.  The premise of the week was that we were supposed to forgo putting on makeup, wear plain clothes, cover all the mirrors, not spend time on our hair, and so forth.  When my RA first told us about it a couple weeks ago, I thought it was completely ridiculous.  You see, I am like a machine set to automatically reject anything that sounds cliche or remotely contrived.  I’m like a child, spitting up the mashed apricots or peas the moment it touches her lips, without ever even tasting it.  I don’t like anything that might possibly sound like A Lesson.

And Confidence Week sounded like the biggest cliched lesson around.  We reject cultural norms of beauty so that we can truly see that God created us all beautiful no matter what?  Yeah… haven’t heard that one before.  The depth – or, in my eyes, lack thereof – was almost insulting.

As you can see, I can be far, far too cynical for my own good.

But I did think a lot about it, and I did stick it in my prayers, mostly as an afterthought.  The more I thought about it and talked to people about it, the more I saw the value in it.  Personally, I don’t put a huge amount of stock in makeup or clothes.  My makeup regimen takes about five minutes (powder, eyeliner, mascara, done), and I generally cycle through outfits on a two-week rotating schedule.  I love clothes, and I love looking nice, but I don’t put my worth in it.  I like makeup, mostly because it helps me not look like a 14-year-old, but summers at camp have taught me not to worry too much when I’m not wearing any.  I rarely do anything more than blow-dry my hair, occasionally putting a clip in it, so that wasn’t a big deal either.  But I knew that I did put a certain amount of confidence in these things, and many of my sisters in Christ really did struggle in this area.  My cynicism wasn’t helping anything.

So this Monday, I didn’t put makeup on.  I wore a plain blue sweater, and I barely glimpsed myself in the mirror as I left my still-dark room.  No one really noticed the change, or at least they didn’t say anything if they did.  My day was normal.  I didn’t feel any different.

At least until four o’clock.  Monday afternoon, I was performing in a scene for my friend’s Directing II class.  The students in the class basically conduct rehearsals and prepare a scene with some volunteer actors for a couple weeks, then the scenes are performed in class and  the directors get graded on their choices or their staging or their rehearsal process – something like that.  I had performed in a few scenes last semester for a Directing I class, so the whole process was pretty familiar to me.  I benefited from it – I got experience with different types of plays, I got to refine my own technique, and I got to work with some other really talented student actors and directors.  And as a communications major, I do have a significant amount of time on my hands for this type of thing.  This time, we were performing a scene from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.  We were setting it in a contemporary garden, so a little before four, I put on some makeup, a flowy mint green dress, and pearls, and headed to the auditorium.

I was so nervous.  I didn’t know why – we knew our scene, we knew our lines, everything was going to go smoothly.  I wasn’t afraid to mess up.  I wasn’t afraid of people watching – I thrive on people watching me perform.  I love performing.  I couldn’t figure it out – the killer butterflies who live inside me were gnawing away at my stomach, and I had no idea why.

The scene, just under ten minutes long, flew by.  The aforementioned killer butterflies dispersed the moment my director said “Action,” and the scene went wonderfully.  I was so proud of my fellow actors and of my director.  We watched the other scene, which was also stunning, and class was over.

Then something wild happened.  And I can’t really explain it in neat words, so I’ll just say it like it felt: it was like taking a drink of what you thought was water and getting lemonade.  It was like walking from a dark room into the sunlight, and staggering back a few paces.  It was like collapsing into bed after a long day at the amusement part, but not falling asleep.  I felt – aimless.  Confused.  Empty.

Do you know what the postpartum blues are?  It’s like a less-severe form of postpartum depression.  You spend nine months with this baby in you and then there is a baby outside of you and everything is weird.  At least (having never had a baby myself, obviously), that’s how I understand it.  I could be totally wrong.  But the illustration is what I want you to get: spending a certain amount of time and energy on life, looking forward to this great amazing thing, then turning around and finding the great amazing thing has happened, and now life has to return to normal.

Being an artist is like having perpetually-recurring bouts of postpartum blues, minus the Having An Infant thing.  For me, at least.  (But I have this sneaky feeling I’m not the only one.)  You see, I will spend hours and hours formulating a poem in my heart and my head, and then it will all come flowing out of me.  When I see it there on paper, it’s like an illusion.  How could all my thoughts, all my emotions be summed up in three pages?  How is it possible for those words to be adequate for what I was imagining?  I know I’ve created something, but I don’t understand what I’ve created.  The same goes for stories, but those rarely make it to the page.  I’ll write bits and pieces of hidden novels, and sometimes it is beautiful but sometimes it seems meaningless.  When I paint, no matter how much I like what I produce, I’m never fully satisfied.  And when I act – when I act, it is the worst.  I’ll put weeks into rehearsal, whether for a full production or for shorter scenes.  I will throw my heart into it: it’s like the character lives in my pocket, pointing out other people who look like her, or whispering her past in my ear, or pushing me to memorize her words.  No matter how inconsequential the final performance might be – whether it’s for a class or on a stage – I fall in love with it.  I develop big ideas for it.  I come to believe I can live up to it.  But as I get closer to performance, the more I start to doubt myself.  The more I notice the talent of others.  The more I believe I’ve made up any talent I thought I had.  When the performance is over, my head knows I did fine, but some beastly voice inside me tells me it wasn’t enough.  And I am empty.

When it happens, it never lasts long.  I call it an artistic funk.  I don’t say much about it, and it goes away within a day.  But Monday night was a particularly strong artistic funk.  And I did not like it.  All of a sudden, I felt like I was not the person I thought I was.  In high school, I did everything.  And everyone always noticed.  In college, I had to start over, which I was okay with, as a freshman.  But now I’m almost finished with my sophomore year, and I feel terrifyingly ordinary.  I had never felt ordinary – it wasn’t like an arrogant thing, just simply that I recognized that I was good at stuff, I liked stuff, people liked me and the stuff I created, and I found validation in all of it.

On Monday night, I felt no validation.  I felt grossly untalented.  I saw the gifts of others and then I looked at myself and it was like I had done nothing.  And who was I if I hadn’t done anything?

You could call it a miniature identity crisis.  I would label it as such.  I was questioning my future goals based on a momentary feeling.  In a word, it was irrational.  In two words, it was ridiculously irrational.  But on Monday night, I felt like someone had taken the batteries out of the well-oiled, intricately tuned instrument that was my life.

I wrote a poem in my attempt to deal with the onslaught of inadequate feelings (because that is what I do).  I had two amazing conversations with friends who, to my surprise, knew very much what I was feeling, even though I couldn’t have explained it all too well.  The following day, a pastor spoke on God’s calling for our lives, saying that we weren’t meant to bumble through life looking for a place to fit in our gifts – God had created our gifts for an unimaginably specific reason.

God was trying to talk to me.  And for once in my ridiculous life, I chose to listen.

“Courtney, don’t you see that you are not the sum of your talent?  Don’t you understand that I molded you as an artist for a reason?  Don’t you get that you’re doing exactly what I want you to be doing?  My will is not something for which you have to grope in the dark.”

And in the light of His majesty, my inadequacies began to fade into shadow.  I made myself pay attention to the talents of others not as something to compare myself to, but as something to cherish and praise God for.  I made myself accept my poem and my scene and my aspirations as valid, worthwhile blessings.  Because that is what they are.

I didn’t think Confidence Week was going to mean much to me.  Turns out, I needed it more than ever.  It’s true, I really don’t find worth in the things I wear or the makeup I put on my face.  I am empowered by those things, yes.  But I am not discouraged without them.  As I sat with my unit-mates, reflecting midway through Confidence Week, I realized – so much of my confidence dwells in my gifts.  I base a huge amount of my worth on my ability to write, my ability to create, my ability to act, to learn, to play music and to find meaning and to conceptualize a vision.  But instead of becoming arrogant, I’ve become flippantly self-deprecating (which is really just another form or arrogance, isn’t it?).  Over the years, I have come to put so much stock in the idea of being an artist that I doubt I can actually be one.  My heart sees me from within so it knows my passion, but my eyes are blind to the value of what I produce.  I let something that is not of God trick me into thinking that I am not good enough.  Then I feel empty.  Because I start to question the satisfaction that can come from the blessings of the Lord.

What made me believe that I was not good enough?  But more than that, why do I let myself think that God’s call is not good enough?

It would be easy to summarize my tumultuous week by saying that I can now find confidence in my gifts because God gave them to me and I am not as boring as I thought I was and cue the Veggie Tales theme music and voila.  But, of course, that would completely miss the point of Confidence Week.  Because really, I couldn’t be the person I am without Yahweh.  Without His grace, I wouldn’t be a writer.  I wouldn’t be creative, because He was the first Great Creator.  For His glory I have chosen to pursue mastery of my gifts – I can never forget that.  The moment I forget the One who bestows is the moment everything I do becomes obsolete.  My confidence can’t be in the things I do, even if I recognize God’s hand in those things.

My confidence has got to be in the only One who can make me feel full.