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.

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A God to Expect

There are places that should be filled.  Places that need people in them to fully be what they are.  I first experienced the ghost-town sensation at camp, when I arrived three weeks early to work some rental groups and prepare for summer. Before then, camp had always been a place full of delightful squeals, shouted repeat-after-me songs, golf cart tires on gravel.  But that summer, when I arrived early, camp was silent.  The assistant director lived on the edge of camp, and he and the director were in the office with me during the day, but at night, they left.  And I would make myself dinner, traipse down to the cottage I was staying in, and sit with the quiet. It was the most alone I had ever felt.  There was no internet, no cell service, and no television – it was just me, and the music I had installed in my computer.  I tried to read, I remember, but the silence became heavy as the sun sank away.  I tried to write, but my thoughts would run away with themselves – I thought too much for a girl who had no one with whom to think aloud.  I would call my mom on the land line from the office, crying, not because I was afraid or because I missed home, but because camp finally looked and felt empty.  My place – the one place where I had always been guarenteed company – was a giant wooded prison.

One night, alone in a cabin that I had just opened for the season, tucked into my sleeping bag, I spoke to God out loud.  I told Him that if there ever was a time for me to have a mystic moment, a time for Jesus to appear – literally, bodily, with His standard arms-wide-open posture and knowing-smile face – now was that time.  I told God that I had no one – that every night for what seemed like years (but was really only a few weeks) I had been alone, in the dark, empty.  Really, looking back, I see now that I allowed the loneliness to cripple me; I allowed the dark to seep into my mind.  It’s amazing, and kind of terrifying, how easy it is to be overcome by that which really can’t hurt you on its own.

That night, in the cabin, was the first time I remember being completely dependent on God to come through.  As silly as it seems – I mean, there are prisoners of war, religious captives, refugees and over 200 girls being sold as child brides in Africa right now, and my most desperate moment was sitting alone in a bunk at a church camp that I basically grew up at, in a wood I knew like the back of my hand, a three-minute walk away from an office with internet, phones, and food – I know it sounds ridiculous, but in that moment, I felt my need for God more than I had ever felt it before.

I prayed for a long time that night.  It was one of those prayers that drifts in and out, that wanes in intensity until it’s just you, your head on the pillow, staring into the space in front of you, desperate hope and exhaustion clashing within you.

In the silence, a bat fluttered from one rafter to the other.  I sat up, not because I was afraid, but because in that moment, I was completely certain that I had just seen the Spirit.

Track with me here: I don’t come anywhere close to charismatic.  I’m Methodist, and as progressive as I tend to be as of late, I still stand firmly in my pew, arms (usually) clasped in front of me.  The Holy Spirit is, to me, the most intriguing and the most confusing member of the Trinity, a juxtaposition of beauty and mystery.  If we were to get technical, we would technically label me a semi-cessationist with a fairly open mind but a little bit of hidden fear that if I let Him, God will use me in ways I don’t understand (which seems to be the way He usually uses people anyway, but…).  In short, the last thing I expected that night was for God to actually answer my prayer.

Why don’t we pray like God will actually answer our prayer?

Why do we doubt the One who made promises?

That bat didn’t scare me that night.  I didn’t run screaming, I didn’t turn on the lights or set a trap for it.  Instead, the bat was comfort.  It was that peace-surpassing-all-understanding feeling.  It was the most unromantic revelation, but that’s how God tends to work, isn’t it?  Maybe we’ve hyped up the miracles so much that we see them through Hollywood glasses, as these flashing heroics complete with background orchestration.  But the ways Jesus worked were generally without fanfare.  He had a conversation with a woman drawing water.  He told the servant to have the wine skins filled with water.  He told the man to pick up his mat and walk.  As earth-shattering and life-changing and power-shifting as His works were, there were no fireworks.  He spoke in parables, with no flashing arrows.  He did things differently, but not in ways anyone expected.  He was not yet the warrior king on a white horse, riding into Jerusalem to defeat the Romans.  This is a God who uses bats in camp cabins.  This is a God who answers prayers but asks us to pay attention.  He is a God who asks us to expect Him, but not always in the most expected ways.

I’ve met with the ghost-town sensation a few times since then.  I found it this week at school – I’m living with a family outside of town and working on campus during the day.  It’s desolate – finals have ended, students have left, and the small, sleepy town has slipped quietly into the slow pace of summer.  Thankfully, I have plenty of friends around, which keeps the loneliness far away, and I’ve grown up quite a bit in the past few years anyway.  I know, now, how to better be alone.  But I’ve been reminded, in this new quiet, of my need for my God.  I’ve been reminded of His faithfulness, even in my wandering, even in my doubt, even in my fear.  He continues to sit closely, constantly, and I can rest in that.

Rest, He whispered that night, after the bat flew by – the bat that reminded me that I have never been fully alone.

Rest, because you can expect Me.

I am not dead.

…And here is a blog to prove it.

It’s been a while.  I’m not happy that it has been a while.  I miss this – writing and blogging.  I haven’t blogged in about a month, and I haven’t written for almost that long.  It isn’t that I haven’t had anything to say; on the contrary, I’ve had lots to say, but few words to say it with.  And since I’m not a fan of forcing myself to write stuff that hasn’t been fully formed within me, I held off.

I’m still holding off, but I wanted to make sure I hadn’t forgotten the password to get into my blog.  And while I’m here, I might as well write something, huh?  So I’ll tell you about my summer.

This summer has been a quiet one in many ways.  I’ve gotten to sleep in.  I’ve gotten to stay up ridiculously late.  There are more days that I haven’t put on makeup than days I have put on makeup.  I learned a rap.  It’s a rap from a musical, but it’s a rap nonetheless and I’m going to keep saying so because I feel a little bit hardcore about it.  I’ve become a belayer (belay person? belayist? rock wall rope holder?) and have succumbed to the joys of physics.  Because physics tells me I can be 100 pounds and still haul a 180-pound 11th-grade farm boy up a rock wall without anyone falling to their death.  And you know what?  PHYSICS IS TELLING THE TRUTH.  I’ve taught a camp staff about homesickness.  I made a Prezi and everything.  I visited camp and led an interest group about sign language and when I went home that afternoon, I wasn’t at all upset about not working at camp this summer.  Mostly, I was excited to sleep in air conditioning and not be directly responsible for the lives of 15 children.  I planned VBS for 20 preschoolers.  Then I taught those 20 preschoolers.  And my brain didn’t explode.  I’ve led a few Bible studies.  I’ve fallen in love with the youth group at my church.  I’ve had some of the best nights of my life, sitting around a campfire, listening to the workings of the Lord in their lives.

God is really, very good.

I’ve also watched a season of Once Upon a Time, a season and a half of Smash, and re-watched multiple episodes of Firefly and Castle and Grey’s Anatomy.  I got to level 34 in Candy Crush.  I’ve read some books.  So, I mean, there is a significant amount of laziness happening this summer as well.  Part of me wants to be bitter about it, but another part of me is really just happy to be lazy for a while.

I’m growing.  I’m learning about myself.  About the Lord.  About other people.  Sometimes, the growing is scary.  Growing close to people means you tell them all the ways they could hurt you and then trust that they won’t.  Growing close to God means you trust that He’s doing the right thing with you.  Learning about myself means both admitting to myself that I’m not as special as I thought I was, and also that I’m more incredible than I think I am.  I’m still working that one out.

But you know what?  A lot of the time, the growing is really awesome.  Growing close to people means having people in your corner, being trusted, being seen.  Growing close to God means finding this beautiful peace that everything could go wrong in your entire life, but that you would still be perfectly loved and perfectly saved.  And learning about myself means realizing that I am becoming something, even when I don’t feel like I am.  It’s quite the adventure.

I hope your summer is going well, too.  I hope you’re learning stuff and watching some TV and reading something good and investing in someone and allowing yourself to be invested in.  I hope you’re a little bit scared and a lot in awe.  And if you’re in Australia or Argentina or someplace where it is winter (because WordPress tells me some of you are down there), I hope your winter is going in a similar fashion.

I’ll write something with a tad more substance soon.  Poems and such.  The words are close – I can sense them coming :)

Which is a good sign.

 

Between

I’m home. I am not unhappy about it. But while I’m figuring out a coherent line of thought on which to write about a normal summer at home – something I’ve never actually experienced – I thought I’d post this poem I wrote last August. You’ll figure it out; you’re all very intelligent. This one is important to me right now because as much as it deals with camp, it also deals with the odd feelings I’m mulling over about school and people. Funny (read: not so much funny but incredibly merciful and gracious and awesome) the way God uses my own words in a completely different way to teach me and comfort me almost a year later. This one.. yeah, it means a lot to me.

____________________________________________

Because it’s always impossible, once it’s over
no matter how done you were
or how ready you are.
It’s never as easy as you hope it will be.
It’s this illness inside of you, in the pit of your stomach,
sitting stagnant or welling up,
depending on the amount of sunlight
filtering through the clouds.
It’s this nagging, tapping the wall of your heart,
reminding you that something is
and then isn’t in a matter
of seconds.
Because it shouldn’t make sense
for life to be left then right,
running then walking,
there then here

in an instant.

Because the space between then
and now contains everything but
is made of nothing.
It holds a billion breaths in one
gust of wind,
a trillion heartbeats in a
single, blinking eye.
It’s the slamming of a car door,
it’s the descent of a hill,
it’s the turn signal and acceleration.
How do you drive away from a summer?
What does it take to be
content and pained?
Where is the sense between
summer and fall,
life there and life here,
trust and uncertainty?

Because the reality is,
you do drive away.
And then you have to deal with it.

Life is mere instants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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You people need to stop being shy about commenting, by the way. Let’s talk. This can’t be just me anymore. It’s summer and you’re all too far away now.
You can make up the information WordPress asks for; I won’t tell.

You Think You Cannot Do, Part Two.

I suppose I’m lucky.  I guess it’s a good thing that the hardest decision I have had to make over the last couple weeks was where to spend this summer: Maine or home.  I guess that’s the best kind of choice to have to make: a choice between two good things.  Right?  That’s what wise people would say.  Wise people would consider themselves blessed to be torn between two rights.  It’s better than the alternative.

I don’t think I have the best track record for being wise about stuff, sometimes.

Because this has been one of the most tossing-and-turning, pacing-the-room kind of decisions I’ve ever made.  Choosing a college?  Easy.  I only applied to Cedarville, and I got accepted in September of my senior year.  Summers past?  Always at Aldersgate.  It was like my default setting.  Even the hard decisions, the ones where there were only two things I didn’t want – even those have always come easy to me.  I’m good at making up my mind when I’m afraid or angry or bored.  And I’m normally pretty smart about it, too.

Of course, there’s the little decisions.  Which pair of jeans to buy when I’ve only allowed myself money for one.  Which entree to get at Olive Garden.  Whether or not to bring my umbrella to class when the clouds look ominous but the forecast is ambiguous.  I will walk around the store four times, carrying both pairs of jeans, try them on, put them both back, then make a choice 45 minutes later.  When I’m out to dinner, I’ll send the waitress back for more bread three times before I choose my meal.  I’ll take my umbrella, walk out the door, turn around, put it back, then walk five more steps before taking it up again.  It will never rain.  Unless I leave the umbrella again.  Then – monsoon.

At times, I wonder if this is why people often roll their eyes at me.  Because I’m so unpredictably indecisive.  Then I realize I roll my eyes at practically everyone as well, and remember that everyone’s got their quirks.  No one would have any friends if our eye rolls actually dictated our actions.

In the end, though, I always decide.  Sometimes I’m really good about pre-decision: You know, something will come up, and right away I’ll ask myself, “Now, after all the deliberation and heartache and metathought, what are you going to choose?”  Because I know.  Most of the time, I know myself well enough to know my final answer.  Then I say something like, “The fettuccine.  I’m going to choose the fettuccine.”  And I go on to agonize over the chicken marsala for ten minutes.

Obviously, this method works for big things, too.  I’m not so first-worldy that I frequently agonize over chicken, geesh.

But this decision wasn’t like that.  I didn’t know, at the beginning, what the end would look like.  If I closed my eyes, I could just as clearly see myself on a lake in Maine as I could on my hammock in my backyard.  Both made sense.  Both seemed like the right thing to do.  My heart longed for both places.

I’m going to stay home.

Yes, yes.  I know.  “But, the adventure!  The thing you were afraid of!  The once-in-a-lifetime shenanigans!”  Yeah.  That’s what I thought, too.  I thought, this is what everyone expects of me now that I’ve blabbed to the internet.  This is what I want to do – I want to prove to myself that I’m bold and independent and faithful.  The bold, independent, faithful thing to do is to fly to another state, live as far away from home as I’ve ever lived, for as long as I’ve ever been that far away.  More alone in the unexpected than I’ve ever found myself.  The thought was utterly frightening, and I loved the thrill.

Then the sun went down.  When the sun goes down, my true thoughts come to light.  Everything becomes more real at night.  Without daylight, Maine seemed farther away, more burdensome than exciting.  The reality of being virtually penniless come fall – I didn’t want to stumble through another year of college desperately trying to make tuition payments.  And as hard as I tried to fight the feeling, as tight as I tried to cling to the thought of adulthood and freedom… The night only reminded me how much I wanted to be with my family.  I haven’t been homesick since eighth grade, but the older I get, the more frantic I seem to become about spending all the time I can with my family.  Maybe it’s some weird young-adult-life-crisis.  Maybe I’m just childish.  I don’t really care one way or the other.  All I know is throughout high school, I used the summers to escape away to camp.  I craved independence then, because I knew I wasn’t yet old enough or mature enough or wise enough to actually have it.  But now that I’m free to go wherever I wish, whenever I wish it – I don’t want it as badly.

So I chose home.  It broke my heart to let the camp know.  As much as I wanted home, I wanted camp.  I did.  I do.  I told  them I’d apply next summer as well, and I will.  I’ll go next summer if God would give me the chance again.  I wonder if I’m slipping into a trap, a not-now-next-time trap, the trap that ultimately ends with a person never having done anything at all because she kept putting it off until tomorrow.  But I don’t think so, not with this one.  I said I wanted to do the thing I think I cannot do.

I don’t think I can work a menial job in Salem this summer.  I think I will go mad with boredom.  I think I will feel stuck.  I think I will feel purpose-less.  But I know I must do it, for these very reasons.  Does that make sense?  Try to understand.  I’ve always been afraid of being stuck at home, so I never let myself be.  I’ve always been afraid of being ordinary, so I’ve done things better than other people, I’ve sought out bigness so I would never have to get sucked into the mundane.  Maybe this is all well and good, but what if I’m missing something?  What if I’m so stuck in the magnificent that I’ve forgotten the beauty in simplicity?  My mind is a storyteller’s mind, I can’t help that.  I can’t stop the fantasy world that I wander around in, spinning words and poems that make everything more than what it is.  But I should at least give the normal things a chance to thrill me, shouldn’t I?

This is going to be that chance.  I’m resolving that, right now.  This summer, I’m not going to let myself belittle myself.  I won’t be ordinary because I’ll seek ordinary – and who the heck does that?  I’ll go to the library and I’ll go to the museums.  I’ll visit my town’s historical society, because it isn’t right that I’ve lived there for twenty years without having done so.  I’ll work some job that will pay tuition, and when I’m there, I’ll smile and be cheerful and be different.  I’ll be kind and loving and interesting, and I’ll make friends with people who aren’t like me.  I’ll teach Vacation Bible School.  I’ll go to the diner at midnight with my friends.  I will read books.  I’ll intern at the theatre.  Maybe I’ll even be in a play.  I’ll go to my family reunion, as insane as that idea might seem.  I will explore the woods and the bike trails and the hidden ice cream shops.  I’ll hang out in the cemeteries I’ve never been to – have I not told you?  I have a weird thing for cemeteries in the summer.  They’re full of lives lived, and I know there is joy in that.  I’ll build fires and sleep on my deck, even though my sister will call me a fool for it.

And when I come back to school, I’ll be ready.  I will be more than ready, I’m sure, to get away from home again.  But I need to go home in the meantime.  For myself.  To say that I have done it.  To know that though I will soon have to tear up my roots, at least I’ve been deep in the soil.  And next summer, I’ll go to Maine or New York or DC, knowing that I am ready for it.

I have to keep reminding myself of this, until I really believe it.  Such is the way with me.  I’m almost always unsettled.  I wish it weren’t up to me, though.  I wish God would’ve shown me the thing to do with burning bushes and pillars of fire.  But I know it isn’t really like that – I know now that some choices are between two right things.  We’ve got a gracious God who gives us right things.

So I’m resolved.