If You’re in the Shadow: Thoughts as You Watch the Big One Coming.

If You’re in the Shadow: Thoughts as You Watch the Big One Coming.

I’ve had this dream, over and over I’ve had it, about a giant wave coming from far away—towering over everything and casting a shadow on thousands of people as we watch it. It always starts out as a pleasant day on the beach. It always ends with me wondering why I decided to go to the beach, on this day of all days. 

Every time, I go through the same set of thoughts.

  1. If I run as fast as I can it will still be too little too late. I can’t outrun it.
  2. There is nothing that could shelter me from the coming blast.
  3. While it’s taking a minute to get here, it will come, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.
  4. Everyone here with me is going to get hit by it too.
  5. The only thing I can do is find something to hold on to.

And so I always end up running anyway, but not to try to get away. I run, looking at everything around me. Cars. Buildings. Mailboxes. Until I find an object that goes deep into the ground and that I think I can get a good grip on. It might be a tree, or a lamp post. But whatever it is I grab it with my arms and legs and hold on tight as I watch the giant wave coming in. And I hope, with everything that is in me, that I have chosen the right thing to hold on to. Because now it is too late to choose anything else.

Every time I see the news and every time I actually allow myself to think fully about what is happening in the world or how really scared I should be, I see the wave. It’s a vision almost now, more than a dream. I remember it as if it had really happened. 

What am I holding on to? Is anything I’m holding on to something that will simply be crushed and washed away by the wave that is coming? Do I have time to adjust my grip? But it’s too late now, really to do much about what I’m holding on to. I can cling tighter to what I’ve already brought near, but I have no time to go looking for anything else. No time to develop a new heart attitude or place of trust. Things are frozen as I watch the wave. 

We’re in the shadows now. It’s coming.

I know that it would be kinder to write something uplifting or hopeful. And I’d like to give you that. But what I really want to say is, make sure you are holding on the right things. Adjust your grip if you can. Don’t worry about anything that will be washed away.

The wave is coming. I’d better be holding on to God himself at this point, and hope that I have never made any substitutions. Never erected something in His place and given it His name. My faith is not enough. My religion is not enough. My church is not enough. My creeds are not enough. Only the Unmoved Mover of the Universe stand firm through tidal waves this big.

If it helps, the dream never ends with the wave crashing. I always look through the swirling chaos, and see light overhead. I find myself somehow letting go and navigating the water, knowing I still may yet surface. And it is almost fun. The wave is not the end at all—though the world behind me has surely been washed away and I will surface to find out what is left.

We have a moment now as the water recedes to leave dry land in front of us to feed the wall of water, and we hear the roaring of the approaching wave. Take a deep breath and hold on. 

 

If You Can’t Know What You Don’t Know: Why Perspective Matters in Love

If You Can’t Know What You Don’t Know: Why Perspective Matters in Love

I didn’t know I was doing it. I didn’t know my world was any different from anyone else. I did know it seemed like a had a harder time with some things than other people. And I thought that meant I was bad.

It started small. I never liked talking to people in public. I always said the wrong  thing. DID the wrong thing. People’s responses confused me. So I kept to myself. I remember that look teachers would get on their face. The angry look from the front of the class with everyone looking at me. They knew something I did not know. The teacher said something I was supposed to respond to, but I don’t know what it was. 

“I don’t know” was never sufficient. “Can you say that again?” Was a guaranteed way to get in trouble. It just meant I wasn’t listening. But I was listening. Or trying to. There was something else going on in my head. I was looking at the way the teacher’s face moved. The way she felt. She was tired. She was frustrated. She was concentrating.

Oh no. Now she was looking at me. I didn’t hear the words. I saw so much, but I didn’t hear. Or I heard something. Noises that were supposed to turn into words but never did.

And then that promise to myself. I’ll do better next time. I’ll try harder. I figure out how the other kids are hearing what she said. But I always ended up watching mouths instead. Or eyes. Or the bird out the window. Or the ideas flying through my head.

Mrs. Green was the most terrifying. Everyone LOVED Mrs. Green. She was so fun and so exciting. We dissected sharks and went on field trips and counted money and so many many grown up responsible things. But she yelled. And she expected a lot, and she knew my father. It was the first time I realized my Dad being who he was changed how people saw who I was. And my father was wonderful. But I never seemed to improve to match how good he was. It never helps me change the noise into words.

“YOU KNOW WHAT YOU DID!” I didn’t. I still don’t. I have guesses. That’s all I have. And that look on her face. Incensed. That’s the look. Total offense that of all people I didn’t hear them.

And that’s what life became. Guesses. Constant never ending guesses. But something happens when you guess all day, every day. Guesses become educated predictions. And predictions start to be right more often, all the time. You start to see patterns everywhere, and then you start to see the patterns you draw as truth–forgetting they’re a stand-in for the real thing.

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“Birthday.”

It’s what I have to go on. I look at my friend’s face. I have to think quickly. Who’s birthday is it? How long was she speaking before she stopped? She looks curious. Oh! It’s a question. Who’s birthday could she be talking about. Oh! Mine! She looks happy. Ok, she’s probably asking what I’ll do for my birthday. That fits.

” Oh, I just usually enjoy a quiet day. Good cake. Time to read. You know, that sort of thing.”

My friend looks pleased. Good. I was right. I watch her mouth closely and think. Listen listen. You can’t miss more.

“Oh! That sounds great!…” I hear noises. She looks excited. I’m so happy to see I got it right. I like my friend so much. Oh no. I’m doing it. I know what she feels. I’m so happy I’m talking to her. I have no idea what she’s saying.

“…my birthday.”

No problem. She just told me what she likes to do for her birthday. The pattern is easy. This is fine.

“That sounds really fun! What a great idea!”

My feelings are genuine. My words are what I guess I would say if I was sure she said what I think she said. I can’t respond in greater detail without too much risk though. I feel terrible. It feels like a lie. But telling her I couldn’t listen feels worse.

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The Drivers Ed teacher is inches from my face. I didn’t notice him until he got close.

“You have to respect me enough to listen in class! If you spend your whole time in here drawing, you’re out of here!”

My face turns red. I look down at the margins full of drawing.

“No, Mr. Krupp. This is a road I drew when you were talking about speeding. See the sign? And this is a steering wheel. 10 and 2. This is how I listen.”

He is unconvinced. I don’t mention that I am constantly reading the text book in between trying to listen. My desperate drawings of his words are interspersed with notes that fit the topic. I’ve been doing this so long, I’m confident it works. I’m angry a low level drivers ed teacher thinks he knows better. No one knows better how I learn than me. I look up at him with contempt. I am simultaneously ashamed of my own attitude.

“Ok, smarty. If you were listening what is the law for…”

I don’t remember what he asked now. I know I got the question right. I almost always did. the crazy puzzles laid out on my notes were life. I was almost always right, so who cared if I listened?
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I love sitting next to Jessican in Psych Theory. She hardly talks. She mostly smiles. It’s like she feels at the world instead of talking. I could not love her way of being in the world more. It’s not exhausting. It’s easier to try to listen. The professor is so animated and loud and he tells constant stories. I remember so much more when they tell stories. But Jessica also takes the worlds most amazing notes and she’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. She always shares. I borrow notes from several people every class. I diligently piece them together. I look for disagreement. Things one person caught that the others didn’t. But Jessica’s are always the best.

Have I ever told you how much I love the Jessica’s of the world? Jessicas are life.

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Diana looks at me in confusion. “Wait, you get all A’s? So what is the problem girl? Why are you so worried about starting college? It sounds like you’ll be just fine!….” she says more reassuring things. I don’t know what they are. I can’t tell my dorm RD cares. I can also tell she’s annoyed.

I put my head in my hands. I’m angry. I’m exhausted. I’m sad. Diana had finally gotten to the point of frustration with me, like everyone did. She told me to make lists. I make dozens. They don’t help. She told me to get organized. What does that even mean at this point? She told me to ask for help. What do you think that I’m doing?

“I’m not worried I will do badly. I’ll do ok. I always do. I just don’t think it’s supposed to be this hard. I don’t think it’s supposed to hurt like this.”

Diana says more things. I see her face. She feels bad for me. That’s all I know. That’s all I hear in the student common room we are sitting in. I hear ping pong balls. Yelling. I see people pass by with food. All I know about Diana is that she is trying to find a way to leave. And that this is the last time I try to tell someone about the world inside my head.
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I remember the first time I talked to Abigail. I don’t remember what she said. She was always so nervous. She wanted to do the right thing. Kindness and concern and anxiety dripped from her every moment of every day. When I talked, trying to figure out what I was supposed to say in return, she didn’t get mad. She didn’t look at me like I was from another planet. She was more worried that what she was saying was ok too.

Some of my favorite conversations were about nonsensical phrases we made up. Things I said that made no sense, that made her laugh instead of mad. Silly things she made up to say back. I usually felt like I vibed with Abigail more than I talked to her. She was my first sensitive friend. And she came with other sensitive friends. My first people who’s feelings were as important or more important than what they said. I didn’t have to hear them. I just had to know what the feeling was. I just had to be nice back.

There’s a secret underground world of people who are incredibly nice, and all they want is for someone to be nice in return. To be sensitive to how they feel at the world. They became my life raft. My salvation in a sea of confusion.

And like Jessica, they took really amazing notes. They did not fuss over all the questions I asked, all the holes that needed filling. And in return, I tried to help them with math. I loved math. When you’ve spent your whole life trying to piece together what happened well enough to function, things that are meant to be puzzles are easy. Joy even. Not that my explanations were always helpful, or anything like repayment for having friends, and people who cared in my corner.

Adventures of tang and dwarf fingers, chinchillas and houses full of people who ran and felt and yelled nonsense and liked me even when I said things that made no sense. Or when I responded to feelings instead of words. Or when I sang, humming constantly to give the part of my head that would not ever be calm something to do so that the responsible bits had half a chance.

The Abigails of the world are life.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

“Andi, there’s no knife on the table.”

Frantically I search through the hand drawn maps and notes in my lap. I told my husband I’d be bad at a text adventure game. I told him that when I can’t see the text, it’s a bad scene. So so bad.

I’d asked him to repeat everything about five times. I’d drawn pictures as fast as I could, like my life depended on it. And I found the picture I’d drawn of the kitchen as he read out the description from the game.

“Read it again.”

“There is a bag on the table that smells like pepper.”

I scribble out the drawing on my paper. I’d drawn peppers.

“It looks like someone has been preparing lunch.”

“Read it again.”

He does. I finally hear what isn’t there.

“Oh no! You’re right! I heard table, and peppers, and something about prepare, and my mind just decided there had to be a knife. Like I’m still shocked there isn’t one! I was so sure!”

He looks at me. I blush. I’m bad at letting him see the process. Years of fights where he heard me lie about something that had been said. I never understood. I never intended to lie. Unless lying includes saying what you think someone said based on their emotions and your own emotions and all the chaos and trying to fill in the gaps under stress.

I feel relieved and angry with myself. This is why I can’t tell you what anyone said just before it got heated. Because I don’t know. I don’t ever know. But I’m not stupid. I’m just a professional connect the dots artist. I try to find the dots. But sometimes, I think it’s a cat when it’s really a dog. There just aren’t ever enough dots in the world to prevent mistakes.

“This is the map you drew? This is crazy! This is what came out of your head?”

I look at the crazy assortment of drawings and arrows and stick figures all being wrangled with lines going every which way, trying to recreate the map and the descriptions in the game. It’s hopelessly confusing. And I also know, that I will be able to piece it into something understandable and even impressive later. I just don’t usually let people see this part, the process of how I try to record it and reassemble it later. Is anything I ever show people or tell people about what I’ve done true? It’s always a restitching to make it look better than it was.

It’s making more sense to me why sometimes my husband and I have to have serious discussions over instant messenger and can’t talk in person. I do so much better when it’s on the screen and when I can refer to what was actually said. What I remember is never right. The accuracy of my feelings betray me every time. The words don’t stick if I didn’t see them. I’ve even learned to see in words. Times New Roman. Comic Sans. If I picture the words, sometimes it helps. Really seeing them is always best.

Later on I will try to write the story.  I know I’m making up what I think was said. I don’t really remember. I’m guessing. I only remember how it felt.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I’ve become a walking Wikipedia page for anything I’ve ever been interested in. Theology. World War II. Cooking. Random anything and everything.

The more I know the more dots I have. The more dots I have the clearer the picture is. The less the missing dots matter at all. But I have to learn that spewing out Wikipedia pages at parties in entirety is a bad scene.

Hitler makes poor party conversation. Why didn’t I know that?

When your assembling a puzzle of what you don’t hear and what you don’t remember, it’s easy to miss what was never there in the first place.

Hitler. People don’t casually talk about Hitler.

I have another dot. Is it a negative dot? I realize the list of things that aren’t in the picture matter as much or more than what is. It is depressing. Really depressing. How can I know what isn’t there when so  much already isn’t? Should I have just known this? I start running experiments in safe places away from my social goals. If you randomly talk about hitler with people on the internet, it does not matter nearly as much if they block you.

The internet is wonderful. And also terrible.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

What’s missing is not my only problem. What I’m not doing is just as bad. Cabinets don’t get closed. All the drawers in my dresser are almost always open. Laundry stays in the machine for days. I never remember anything I was doing before I changed rooms. Everyone else says they do it too.

“Yeah, but it just seems it’s not nearly as much.”

This is apparently not the right answer.

“You’re not special.”

I will agree with you there. And if this is special, special certainly isn’t good.

Room mates had to point out I never remember to flush the toilet or clean the shower when it’s my turn. I lose my cell phone once a season. Coats, pants, socks, keys, student I.D.s. Life is not about remembering things. It’s about how to strategize and replace things as seamlessly as possible when I do. It’s about moving quickly. Because it can’t be about remembering. It can’t be about just doing it. Everything every day is about covering mistakes and recovering before people see.

I learn that making fun of myself helps. People find it charming. Humble. I don’t have time to think about if it means anything good about me. Only that it makes piecing the puzzle together better. It matters less when I fail if people like me, and if I’ve somehow made it my thing.

I start acting like this is the way I want to be. I’m just aloof. I’m eccentric. I don’t have time to listen to everyone. I don’t care. It’s boring. I say weird things because I’m just so smart you couldn’t possibly understand. My insides and my outsides get so far apart I don’t feel like one person anymore. I feel fractured so much of the time, it becomes reality.

It is years before I realize I’ve made making fun of myself and being stupid my thing. Years before I realize I’ve gotten rude.

Because I’m not stupid. And no matter how crazy my circus gets, sometimes it’s the only thing I DO know. I’m not stupid. And I’m not mean. I care so much I want to die that I can’t do a better job at showing it.

And my mind is my enemy and my refuge. It is so much easier to stop forcing it to sort out the outside world. Inside is perfect. Inside I connect kingdoms and fantasies and ideas and theories and nothing is ever missing. And no one gives me that look.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cindy looks at me. But there is compassion there.

“Oh Andi, thank you for sharing! That is so vulnerable and so courageous! You need to know that it is always ok to ask for things to be repeated here. And did you hear what your friend just told you?”

I blush. I remember how she looked. I remember knowing she loved me. I know she said nice things about my family in a vague sort of way. But I don’t have the words.

“No, I’m so sorry. I know it was nice”

Everyone laughs. It’s a nice laugh though. I didn’t have to make fun of myself first. It’s just too perfect. I would laugh too.

Marie smiles and grabs my hand. I can see her face. She loves me. She knows I care. She doesn’t even repeat. She doesn’t have to.

We have been talking about what it means to have an entire soul. A soul completely in-line with itself. I remember because I got to see the words on the page. I’m so glad it’s a book and not just a video series. But what does it mean to make my outside match my inside? It means admitting a lot more than I ever do. It means not pretending I know what I don’t or that I hear what I haven’t or that I follow when I can’t.

I write this later, only guessing at what people said. But I remember how it felt. I know what it meant.

The Cindys and Maries of the world are life. Like streams of water flowing from God. Friends who forgive you, who see you, who love you, and who repeat for you and take good notes. Who don’t judge you because your bag is coffee stained and your boot zipper is broken and your name tag is barely legible.

Pure life and abundance.

Maybe Jesus can use the dot connecting. And maybe “I don’t know” is more generous than pretending ever was.

If You Might Want to Lose Weight, but Also You Hate the People Who Want You To Lose Weight: You Heard Me

If You Might Want to Lose Weight, but Also You Hate the People Who Want You To Lose Weight: You Heard Me

I had a dream once. After I had done therapy. After I had lost all the weight and started running seriously up to a half-marathon. After I had done everything to get away from who I use to be. I dreamed about seeing myself at a distance. Fat, high-school me laughing and talking to friends under a gazebo. And I realized something.

I loved that girl so much, and I had not been fair to her.

Being thinner didn’t make me better. Traveling the world didn’t really change who I was. Achieving this that or the other did not make me superior to that girl.

In many ways she was a better friend, a better dreamer, more honest, and a lot less full of crap. And the fact that she was fatter didn’t matter at all. In pursuit of being a new person, I’d killed a lot of things about myself that were actually the best bits. And I needed to go back for that girl to apologize to her for so many things.
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Hate is such a strong word, and yet, I would be lying if hate wasn’t the way I felt about many of the people I have met in my life who commented on my weight. Maybe not the entirety of each person, but definitely the part of them that decided they needed to fix me or comment. Hate. Hate. Hate. Hate.

Whoever decided school weigh-ins were a good idea. Hate them.

To anyone who ever told me that I would need to lose weight to get a date or a job. Hate whatever in you thought that was a thing you should say.

To anyone who compared me to someone thin and used that as means to show me how successful I could be–yup. Hate that. Trying hard to not hate you. Hate you a little.

To anyone who looked at all the success I did in fact have in my life and then hinted that I should still lose weight for it to count. Hate oh I hate that.

I hate the entire cultural dialogue around weight. Hate it hate it hate it.

And to me, the person who has absorbed and accepted those comments, or over-interpretted those comments into a thin layer of pain coating my skin at every moment, I hate me a little too.

My weight, or abundance of it, or IMAGINED abundance of it, was at the epicenter of so many weird choices I made in life.

I didn’t wear things that looked pretty or take care of myself because being fat made it seem pointless.

I didn’t assert myself in things I wanted to do or accomplish, because I thought I was too fat.

I couldn’t walk into a single room without checking to see if I was the fattest girl there, and thereby reduced every other woman I knew to fat/not fat (becoming, myself, one of the people I hated).

Here’s the weird thing–I KNOW how to lose weight and I’m good at it. But sometimes I’m vengefully fat. I’m fat so I don’t get flirted with by random strangers when I just wanted to be left alone. I’m fat so I get evaluated as harmless instead of competition by other women. I’m fat as proof that my intelligence and ability can stand on their own thank-you-very-much and I never needed to be thin to succeed, get a job, get a date, or have a life.

But there’s always this little girl inside of me that hates being fat. That girl also hates that there’s probably about a half a pound of acceptability before the people who label you as fat suddenly label you as “too thin.”  (Actually, it’s probably optimistic to assume there’s a half pound like that at all). That little girl has been a mad, self-hating, people who are obsessed with fatness hating, ball of rage for a very long time.

I’ve lost some weight again, post baby. I’m back on that special part of my brain that seems to be good at it, and with no future children planned, this time it has a chance to stick forever. I’ve felt it click. I could do this for a long time. And again I’m confronted with what always surprises me: my absolute fear of losing weight. What if I’m thin and still fail? What if I’m thin but actually still a miserable self-hating person? Or far, far WORSE, what if I’m thin and it really is the only thing anyone cared about and everything gets easier?

When I want to lose weight, really want to–It’s not to change how I look or please people.

It’s because I want to run faster.
It’s because I don’t want to get so tired playing soccer with my sons.
It’s because I actually love fashion and I’m more excited about it when I feel better.
It’s because I like it when I can sit up without having to fight my belly for permission.
It’s because when I eat what I know I should, my brain doesn’t feel like pea soup.

I don’t hate fat me. I just like the hobbies of thin me a bit more. But sometimes fat me is better at keeping it real and I need to remember that and keep her in my head for the ride. I need to remember just how small the part of the story is where I am this size or that one.

When you spend a lifetime of anger and hate trying to get people to validate you, to give you permission to exist, to tell you that you finally did it, that you crossed some line where finally you don’t have to earn love or approval anymore…it never comes.

You know that as well as I do. We all know it. We all keep testing to see if it’s really true.

It’s really true.

When I spent time traveling the world, I packed less and less with every trip that I took. And when I had less to carry, the adventure got better. More natural. Easier to move around. The kind where you run down ships and jump off the dock over water to catch them before they leave. The kind where you let a cat in Turkey hop on your back-pack for a ride. The kind where you smell because you haven’t showered in days and you’ve never ever been happier or cared less about something like that. When you have less to carry, you go places you never would have before. You DO things you never would have before.

I don’t want to carry all this anymore. I carried it for my babies. I carried it for spite. I carried it for comfort and refuge–and that was the weight. The toxic negativity weighed more, and I have no excuse for it. I don’t want to carry it anymore.

I want to move. I want to run. I want to travel lighter.

And all those people who will feel like my life will be better mostly because I LOOK better  or because somehow I’m not good enough fat can kiss my A….pples. KISS. MY. APPLES. (I’m sorry, writer Andi wrote that in ALL CAPS exactly the way I felt it and meant it. Andi who knows her father’s congregants read this sometimes always deletes words that others may find too truthful to handle. THAT’S RIGHT I SAID TRUTHFUL).

I need to be angry and I need to acknowledge that I have hated, because it’s time that I forgive. People were never really capable of holding me back and hurting me. I did all that. I let all that in. I took what people said as truth instead of their own compulsions out of their own hurt.

I forgive all the people who thought they could or should shame me, either out of concern or stupidity. Because the hatred weighs a whole lot more than I ever did. I forgive you. I forgive myself for letting it define me.

May we all be rid of anything that weighs us down, in our minds or in reality. And may we all for the love of spaghetti stop treating the word “fat” like a swear word or the worst possible thing someone could be.

Because visible imperfection is the best kind. It’s the kind you absolutely must deal with, get in the ring with, be honest about and make decisions on. I’ve seen enough of people’s secrets to know visible sin and imperfection is very truly the least dangerous kind.

And people who comment on it usually are the ones with the most invisible sin and brokenness.

And that *stuff* lays dormant for years. Sometimes for ever.

The problem is less that other people thought I was fat, and more that I did. And less that I did, and more that I let it define me. The problem is we don’t know how to validate and value ourselves well enough to know what shape or size we even want to come in, totally outside of the opinions of others.

I’m still not totally sure what size I want to come in. Do souls have shape or size? That seems more important.

Let’s put it all down. The judgments. The secrets. The brokenness. The self-hatred. The shamer hatred. Whatever would hinder us from our own beautiful races we have yet to finish. Whether it involves actual weight or not.

I won’t hate you anymore. I won’t hate me anymore.

Run with me.

If Sabbath and Your Life Don’t Seem To Go Together: 10 (Ok, 9) Ways to Rest When You Can’t Stop*

If Sabbath and Your Life Don’t Seem To Go Together: 10 (Ok, 9) Ways to Rest When You Can’t Stop*

I’ve been in the church my entire life, but that isn’t to say I’ve gone to church the same way  my entire life.

There were the toddler years where church was about crayons and cheerios while laying down in a back pew. There were the older kid years where church was mostly about getting permission to sit next to a friend and playing tic-tac-toe and all those other pencil games (like that one with all the dots where you make boxes. What IS that game called?). Then there were the teenager years where church was about trying to figure what clothes would set off the little old lady modesty police and which wouldn’t. Those years led into the almost college years where it was about begging my Dad to be able to go to a different church–one where I hadn’t been up until 1am having an intense argument with the pastor about my curfew. Then followed the odd dark years of college where my goal was to attend church in pajamas, talk to no one, be involved in nothing, and escape quietly out the back when it was over.

Adulthood was started very differently for me, as church was about attending secretly in houses where there was no official pastor and technically we could be arrested for doing Christian church at all. (Apparently the pajama years weren’t enough out-there for me). There was a brief stint before that where church was going to an all Jamaican congregation as the only people who couldn’t dance (though admittedly, that was for only 2 months). And sometimes church was finding whatever congregation happened to be available in Turkey, or Italy, or England, or sometimes listening to a Texas congregation on my computer, or occasionally just sitting outside and trying to hear God outside of any structure at all. And now I’m in the kid years where church is about hoping the kids sleep in until at least 7, and figuring out how to feed and dress everyone and get out the door and be on time without fights breaking out or tears. (There are usually fights and tears).

That’s a long list I know. I’ve done church in a whole lotta different ways. Even in my rebellious and and weird phases I did church.

“But Andi,” you say, “church is not the same thing as Sabbath. That’s a very misleading title that you have there.

To which I reply, “I know. This post is somewhat about how I suck at Sabbath even though I’ve always gone to church.”

Because guys, I suck at Sabbath.

If you grow up in a ministry family, Sabbath can’t really happen on Sunday. Sunday tends to be the busiest and most stressful day of the entire week. Don’t get me wrong, I knew that, and it had been pointed out to me many a time that Sunday could not be Sabbath for my Dad, and probably not for the rest of us either. So Saturday should have been our Sabbath right? But most of the week was for school, and Saturday was the only day open enough to do those extra kinds of things like mowing the lawn or washing the sheets.

No one intended for it to happen, but Sabbath was sort of shady for me. Kind of there kind of not. Kind of Saturday, kind of Sunday, mixed in with homework and chores and poorly defined. Mostly we worshipped on Sunday morning and napped on Sunday afternoon, so that was probably as close as it gets.

My point being, that I came into motherhood already not sure how to do this thing. And motherhood is definitely a gig that does not include a lot of natural rest.

Kids always need to eat.
Kids always need help getting dressed.
Kids always have fights that have to be broken up before punches fly (at least in my boy house)
Kids don’t stop asking questions.
Kids don’t stop needing supervision.
Kids (especially babies) don’t put up with being dropped in a crib or bed with books for a very long time.
Kids do not really let you sleep in or take Sunday afternoon naps.
Kids. Don’t. Stop.

What would it even mean for me right now to fully rest for a day? How do I even do that when I’m fairly sure I’ve been breaking the Sabbath my entire life simply because the guidelines for doing so as a ministry kid were poor, and my own commitment to it shoddy.

Going to church can be part of resting. But I’m very bad at doing it that way–and I shoot away the rest of my day on so many things.

So here’s my Sabbath offering to all the Mom’s out there, and to anyone else who finds themselves heavy laden with things that can’t be put down on EVERY day of the week: I’m brain-storming a list of all the things I CAN and should put down on Sabbath and my plan to be intentional about such things. And because I like lists, we’re going to go ahead and number it up.

1. Anxiety and general worries.

I know this one is WAY easier said than done, but hear me out. I tend to use anxiety to propel me into action. It’s not always a BAD thing for me. I think many people use it to benefit. Some of the reason I worry is because I’m afraid I won’t do a thing unless there’s a proper amount of anxiety beneath it. (And I’m not wrong). What’s school going to be like next year? Should my youngest go to the same preschool as my middle? Can my oldest be trusted on the school bus after the incident this week? Have I done enough planning for what we’ll eat this week? Did I drop the ball on too many tasks LAST week? Is that one lady who’s name I forgot in Mom’s group upset with me, and is the rhyme I came up with in my head good enough to help me remember? Am I connecting enough with my community? Am I being TOO MUCH? Is that one comment I made on Facebook going to blow up in my face?

Nope. Put it down. Put it all down. I don’t have to force anything though today or hold anything more than what I’m doing at this exact minute. Nope nope nope.

2. Food making.

Look this one’s way more practical and not really very deep, but I’m bad at planning ahead on Sunday. A big part of original Sabbath was collecting or preparing enough food ahead of time that it wasn’t a thing you had to do. It doesn’t mean I don’t have to serve my kids, and it doesn’t mean there won’t be dishes that simply must be done after. I can plan ahead and we can do sandwiches and crock pots and soup from a can. I hereby am going to give this to the Sabbath from now on.

3. Kid discipline.

No, hear me out. Sometimes kids must be separated from things that are causing them to misbehave or siblings they are fighting with. But I can go so deep into a shame hole wondering if the consequences I’m offering will produce the desired results, or if my kids are learning anything, or if I should have that talk with them one more time to make sure they understand. But no more. On this day we extend grace, and if it is needed kids are simply separated from the problem or put in a quiet space. Today we don’t lecture. Today we don’t give overly complicated consequences or worry if they will one day end up in jail. I am trusting God with all of that.

4. All the Extra chores.

Some things have to happen with kids always. I can’t put everything down. But I can put down laundry, or more than maintenance pick ups, and stressing over responding to emails. Today is for Fellowship, Worship and Joy–and oxes in the ditch in the way of kids needing undies, brushed teeth, clothing and basic feeding. Everything else can wait.

5. Difficult Discussions or worrying about them.

I hate hard discussions. I am terrible at them. I’ve been trying to have them more lately, without tears or trying to bail out of the whole thing, but it is the most impossible task I take on by far.

But today is a day for pausing and postponing. For trusting God to keep and watch over the relationships in my life and issues that can be solved tomorrow.

6. Bad TV.

Sabbath is for the renewing of the mind. So even though I think “Good Girls” is Breaking Bad for Moms and my new most favorite guilty pleasure show ever, it’s not particularly restorative. It can wait until tomorrow. Enough said.

7. Guilt.

Books could be written on Mom guilt. The constant rehashing and wondering if I’m doing it wrong, if I should plan more crafts and more fun outings and more sing-alongs, or if perhaps I should have gone back to work and hired it all out to a professional who would stay better engaged because sometimes paychecks are more motivating than personal idealism. Ok OFTEN paychecks are more motivating than personal idealism.

But today I’m good. I’m held. No guilt. No wondering. Plenty of walking them to the park and letting them play independently while I soak up the sun.

8. Litterboxes.

The poop will keep. Enough said.

9. Diapers.

The baby can change himself.

Hahahahaha, ok I’m just kidding. Diapers must be changed. Oh well.

10. Dressing up for society.

Now look, its been a really long time since I personally felt shamed into dressing up for other people. But I have started trying to at least put in the effort to not look scary and to take down SOME of the barriers of relating to people by just wearing attractive clothes and trying to do something with hair and makeup. I know some people really DO feel that shame, but either way it is effort put in for people. Can I encourage you to dress for God on Sabbaths? Wearing pajamas in college was one of the most woke things I ever did. I had to get away from worrying about other people looking at me and just showing up for God. And that’s what pajamas were for me  for awhile. I think this is a highly individualized thing and can change from week to week. Even now sometimes I dress up and sometimes I wear jeans and a T-shirt to church. I wear whatever will help me focus on God that particular Sabbath. This might be the ONLY thing on this list I already do without a struggle, and I sincerely want to offer that freedom to more people, especially women. Dress for worshipping God and being right with him–not people.

That’s my list of things I can actually do to rest on Sabbath. Anyone else have any insights into keeping an attitude and atmosphere of rest even around constant family obligations, ministry or anything else that tends to get in the way? I’d love to hear what you do.

*This is a picture of me sacking out in the church atrium while my Dad worked. Off screen I had rolled up one of those TVs all 90s churches had and was watching everything from the church library that seemed interesting. Yup, that’s my blanky.

If You need Help Softening Your Heart: Refusing to Label an Entire group (including Muslims) as Strangers

If You need Help Softening Your Heart: Refusing to Label an Entire group (including Muslims) as Strangers
Cultural conditioning is such an odd thing.

I used to be afraid of Muslims. I just was. I logically understood that blaming an entire religion and culture for the actions of a few was not right, fair, or reasonable, and that this kind of thinking would condemn us all if we were honest. That memory of watching huge buildings on fire, buildings I did not even know existed, in September at 14 years old was burned into my memory. It’s natural to want to blame a whole people. It just is. When faced with fear we have a choice between two things: realizing that anyone anywhere can do something severely evil, and believing that it’s isolated to one group who we can attack and isolate. And it FEELS much better to choose the latter even if it’s not based in reality, because it means the fear is with one people and not all of them.

But logically knowing all of that couldn’t change my heart or prevent the pull of wanting to blame one set of people anyway. It was only by living next to them, in a desperate decision based in poor mental health and loneliness, that I began to really change. And while I can tell lots of stories of meeting Muslim friends in a new country and learning surprising humanizing things about them, it was always the little things that started to undo the fear for real.

It was seeing my coworker who was always dressed very carefully concealing every inch of hair (not all my female coworkers did), in the restroom without her robes to reveal an afro, ripped jeans and suspenders under all that.

It was having constant passive commercials showing things like a mother dressed in Hijab making all the silly over-dramatic faces TV moms always do right before they feed their kid something from a box or a can.

It was watching women dressed in that mysterious garb jump on trampolines on the beach with their kids. Or ride four wheelers. Or eat at Pizza Hut.

It was seeing the men wearing those white robes and red checks carry babies and crack jokes and argue about IKEA furniture with their wives. Experiencing those same men worrying if I’m being treated well and if I feel at home as a foreign woman–even worrying that people were placing conservatism on me that as as an American woman didn’t adhere to. And then, those men wanting to make sure I didn’t have to adhere to it.

It’s living next to people that does it–that softens a heart enough to see the humanity. The similarity. The universality.

They’re not just like me, but they’re SO like me it makes me uncomfortable. Because I should have KNOWN that. Because I knew it but I didn’t KNOW.

It’s a terrible trope that Christian kids come home with after a short-term missions trip. “I went there to help people, but they helped ME. I went there to teach people but they taught ME.”

Really, you’d think we’d stop needing to be taught the hard way that often the very people who we look down upon as people who need saving and changing are the very people who could most save and change us. The fault is never in the needing exposure. We all need exposure to each other to truly understand and stop trying to separate ourselves from each other. It’s the innate belief that we are somehow better or MORE than other cultures and people’s. It isn’t unique to Americans, but it is 100 percent damning and damaging wherever it lives.

Fear and lack of understanding can only be healed by living next to each other. Studies have been done. There is literally no other way to undo fear of people who are culturally separate from us. But arrogance and superiority–that is something that God can heal even without exposure. And it isn’t that he couldn’t heal the former without it if he wanted to–it’s just that I believe living WITH each other IS the manner by which God heals such things. But it requires stepping out in faith. Faith that we aren’t superior. Faith that we must continue to cross divides and do what makes us uncomfortable to pursue God’s ideals.

It would be easy to assert that somehow because I chose to go and confront my fears that I am somehow superior to everyone who hasn’t or doesn’t. But it would be a bold-faced lie. I needed to believe that they were the same as me, because I had spend much of my childhood feeling like an outsider in a town full of insiders where most people only came from THERE. And I went to confront my fears because I was in the middle of a death spiral of depression where doing something exotic, even if it felt terrifying and life-threatening was at least something new. It was impressive and edgy. It felt like it had meaning I could wave under the noses of everyone who I perceived as having rejected me. But things did not happen the way I planned, and I grew as a person in spite of my terrible reasoning for doing something so outside of my comfort zone–because God can and does use everything including our own arrogance and stupidity. Here are several of the things I learned in spite of myself:

I learned that doing something exotic does not do anything to persuade people who see you as an outsider to see you as anything else. Quite the opposite. In fact, in many ways where I only perceived people saw me as outside, weird, or different, I managed to get them to actually thinking me that way (where people thought about me at all). If you’re going to travel somewhere to live with people you do not understand, it will always change you. Not them, not the people you left behind, but you.

All religious people should experience someone trying to convert them with all the zeal and passion of a person who loves you but also doesn’t want you to go to hell. It’s humbling to hear words you thought were exclusive to the wisdom of your own religion coming out of someone else’s mouth, but worried about YOUR soul. It’s embarrassing to discover tracts from a religion you were taught was foreign and evil, and realize that they could represent your own religion, with just a few words changed here and there. And it is humbling to realize someone wants you in heaven THAT BADLY. To watch them pace through all the same award steps, asking you to read their Book, come to their gathering, talk to them about their faith. Even when you don’t convert, and never would, it changes you forever.

You cannot help but be grateful to a people when they show you hospitality, even though you are a stranger in THEIR country. Time and again, when you are not FROM a place, you realize just how vulnerable you are. People could ignore your pleas for help when you don’t know what to do. They could refuse to translate what you did not understand. Refuse to give grace when you do the thing everyone there knows you shouldn’t. They could leave you out and justify it totally. You begin to see this again and again. And again and again you find that people help anyway. People DELIGHT in helping. Even the ones who would seem to be most motivated to be against you. The image of God is unmistakable in every place, no matter what you believe or what they believe.

When you are faced with the choice of doing something illegal as an immigrant that would help your circumstances greatly…you probably do it. I worked illegally in Saudi Arabia for 3 years. People paid me under the table. I was so desperate for something to DO, for the feeling of productivity and contribution. In my case, I was lucky enough to not really have to worry about my ability to live and support myself because my husband did have permission to work. AND I STILL DID NOT CARE. Work gives people dignity. But in any case, the point is not that everyone would do what I did, but that you simply can’t know what you will do in a situation until you are there. I worked illegally for 3 years and I wasn’t even worried about my life, children, or ability to feed myself. If you don’t know me, let me assure you that I am not a person who casually breaks rules. I was the kid who reported it if a teacher gave me a higher grade than I deserved. I always return wallets and phones. I own up to things even when NO ONE CARES.

I began to realize just how scared people were of ME. The news and general information out there about my own religion, country, and culture is not great. Some of it’s wrong–but not all of it. Perspective is such an amazing and unreal thing. I could be mad at the media for misinformation–but how could I be mad at my neighbor who trusted their own media and literally knew nothing else? And how could I be anything but IN AWE when that neighbor chose to show kindness and openness anyway?

My next-door neighbor originally assumed I hated them. He was always polite, always kind. Then I found out that someone had reported his beloved German Shepherd and he’d had to remove it from his home. He assumed it was us out of some vendetta. Luckily, we go the chance to talk when I offered to let him and his wife park in our driveway (they had two cars, we had none). When he found out I wasn’t a dog-hater and didn’t even know he had a dog, he threw the switch to total hospitality so fast it made my head spin. They came over to share food and show us vacation pictures, when our son was born he and his wife went out of their way to get us gifts “American style,” because Saudis just give money. (AND HOLY MAN DID THEY GIVE US GIFTS. THERE IS NOTHING MORE HUMBLING THAN BEING GIFTED SOMETHING BY A SAUDI OR FED BY A SAUDI. LET ME ASSURE YOU AMERICANS DO NOT KNOW HOW TO GIVE GIFTS OR HOSPITALITY LIKE THAT.)

Also, and this lesson doesn’t matter so much, but nothing prepares you for eating at a restaurant that claims to be your own country’s food. Just someone’s else’s interpretation of what pancakes and eggs are supposed to be like is rather revealing about how radical perception and understanding can be when they are shifted just a few degrees. The only people who should make American breakfast are Americans and that is one prejudice I will stick to until I die.

You can’t eat meal after meal next to people you thought of as strange without discovering that they are shockingly familiar. They discuss weekend plans and complain about over-involved mothers. They go outside for smoke breaks and discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones. They make the same jokes your own Dad makes, just with different politics or religions inserted. They gossip and talk about the weather. It’s hard not to be stupefied as thing after thing you thought came from only your own family, background, culture and country spill out of the mouths of people who dress nothing like you and speak with an accent.

Culture is clothing. It is exterior and shallower than we ever tend think. Humanity is deep, and it is not different from place to place. Living among any people, no matter how different they may seem is revealing: when you go looking for the exotic, often what you find is the totally familiar.

We marginalize the minority, not because we have special rights or conditions, but because that is what humans do everywhere always. Because fear is natural and what we all do.

But I believe we are better. I know we are. I know we can rise above what’s natural and easy.

So listen to music that’s not yours. Watch shows that represent someone different than you. Read books with a perspective that bothers you. Let’s get out of the echo chambers. I’m not asking for change in what you think or believe, only in what you are exposed to. If we passively expose ourself to our neighbors, you’d be surprised how much easier it just becomes to BE neighbors.

And I will never be angry with or scared of someone who asks for such things, who wants the marginalization to stop. Because I want it to stop too. And it’s never as scary as people think it will be. And changing your perspective doesn’t mean losing your beliefs. Often, when we understand other people and beliefs–we understand ourselves better, and what we believe is strengthened.

Fear is a greater enemy than any other set of people ever could be. Don’t let it have you.

If You’ve Been Missing Something: A Morning Car Ride With an Old Friend

If You’ve Been Missing Something: A Morning Car Ride With an Old Friend
Every once in awhile you land in a period of time where for whatever reason, God lands a little extra in your lap in the form of someone else’s need. The kind of need that overwhelms you and all at once makes you hope this means that maybe God thinks you’re competent enough to help out in an important way. (And then you remember, no he doesn’t, no one is, that’s not the point, we’re all hopelessly broken, put down your pride you silly human and just do the thing.)
So I found myself getting up earlier than I usually do, driving across town and sunrise, and giving a much needed car ride.

I kept telling myself, that my grandfather used to get up before the sun to milk cows every morning. A heated car ride at 7 was not in any way something to complain about. A couple of chatty grade schoolers asking me everything from my birthday to my favorite animals were also much better company than cows.

“Mama’s sick, she’ll be better, what’s your favorite month?”

The voice in my head was calling me wimpy for not liking to get up at 6:20 this morning, already oversleeping my alarm by 20 minutes. The voice in my head wondered when the world went to hell in a hand basket and why I insist on being apart of the hell basket. The voice in my head worried that I’d said the lamest things imaginable to my little companions.

The voice in my head.

“Oh hello there,” I thought, finding my way home alone after a cheerful drop off.

“Where on earth have you been? And would you mind whining less?”

I have not had a critical voice as a companion for a very very long time. I think maybe I dropped her off a cliff in a nightmare sometime ago, running ahead of the hoards of scary things chasing me, knowing I did not have space for such dead weight.

I remember it, the dream where I killed her. Or maybe just abandoned her. I looked into her eyes. My eyes. I split a little piece of myself off and threw her into a pit, or maybe a stadium. I can never remember which.

“I have to go now,” she said.

I couldn’t speak as I tearfully threw her in and turned to run as quickly as I could, already longing for her, picturing her body somewhere below the road.

I don’t know why I’ve always thought that. That I intentionally buried or dropped or maybe murdered some piece of myself way back in the early days of my adolescence. That dream. The one after which I never felt quite whole. Never a kid again but not really ever grown up.

There’s one picture of me in particular that reminds me of that murder, or abandonment. It’s a drawing, actually. The assignment was to draw a self portrait. I did it late at night after procrastinating. I didn’t want to do it. Finally I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, balancing my sketch book on the sink edge. I didn’t think about it. I didn’t want to. What came out felt so vulnerable that I glued cartoons around it to soften the way it made me feel. It’s the way my face looks when I drop all pretense. When I’m concentrating instead of trying to make it look like something else. It made me feel like it was obvious something was missing in my natural state. Years later after rescuing it from water damage and lugging it halfway around the world, that look still gets me. I love it and I’m afraid of it.

Every time I see those eyes in my mind I shiver a little. The me I killed. Or maybe just lost. Who is she?

But today I heard the familiar voice. The one that was mad when I had to share my things no matter how new or how nice and I had to bite my tongue if someone broke them. The voice that felt murderous when someone brushed barbie’s hair and then popped her head straight off. The one from the day they killed my favorite trees, and the day they killed the one I decided to love after them.

She’s always known how she felt, and never shied away from critical tid-bits, either at myself or others.

I know people who spend their entire lives running from their critical voice. But I think I’ve been looking for mine, like a child on a milk carton. “Have you seen this girl? If found, she will probably tell you to tuck in your shirt and get a haircut and maybe not to chew so loudly.”

Someone to care about dishes that haven’t been done, or exactly the right way to fold socks. Someone who buys the clothes I actually want in the right size and knows when someone else has been rude. Knows when I’ve been rude. The voice that forced me to give the Sunday school money back that I stole from Ashley Conklin. (I think that was her name.) But also the one who knew that when that kid in fifth grade punched me, he should have been the one to get in trouble, that I didn’t have a big mouth–it was in fact exactly the right size.

And this morning I realized she had found a seat in the car next to me and was staring me down. Chastising me for being wimpier than a dairy farmer. But comfortingly patting my arm as I drove home smiling from my journey. I’d done what I said. I showed up, the ride was given. Such a small thing. Such a good thing.

Do you know what’s worse than having a critical voice? Having one with no power. Having one that doesn’t matter. Having one that got thrown over a cliff sometime ago out of a need to survive. I’ve been making due with resentment and stubbornness masquerading as critique for some time. But those voices could never do her job. It was always about some personal vendetta, or digging in my heels so someone doesn’t make me give what I don’t want to, or what I can’t, or what I don’t have enough of yet again. It turns out absolutely nothing else could do her job.

I’ve missed her so.

So I found myself driving home, noticing what I think is shabby, or out of shape, or missing, or just a little skewed.

What a relief what a relief what a relief.

For when you can notice what is wrong, maybe you finally have a chance to fix it, or even prevent it.

And if she’s back, maybe nothing is chasing me anymore. Maybe anxiety can give way to anger. The good kind. The primary anger that rights what’s wrong with a level head and confidence I often lack.

I drove home from my morning run to sit with my family around a kitchen table eating cereal and drinking coffee. The good kind pressed in a French press. Dare I say, the right kind?

I do this, sometimes. I invent a reason why something that’s been wrong could be right all of a sudden. I epiphanize myself right out of reality. Maybe I’m just telling myself I can grow a critical voice, a voice that cares and understands what is right and wrong, needed, expected, and handles it well. Maybe the fact that I envisioned my critical voice as a child I tossed over a cliff into the shadows a long time ago is crazy. Maybe it’s way too telling. But maybe–maybe if I lost her in a dream, maybe I can find her in one too.

“That’s too much sugar,” she says. “Do you really need that much sugar?”

I smile to myself. Maybe I don’t.

If You Feel No Guilt Whatsoever for Being a Slob (But You Think You Should)

If You Feel No Guilt Whatsoever for Being a Slob (But You Think You Should)

Wash the plate, Not because it is Dirty, not because you are told, but because you LOVE the person who will use it next- Mother Theresa

I make it a rule now that I’m not allowed to own fish. I killed somewhere around 10 in very rapid succession in my early college days. And not really knowing why, I just decided fish were not for me and the heartbreak was too much for me or the fish.

In the world of love languages acts of service doesn’t even show up on my radar. If you do something for me I assume you thought it needed doing. If I do something it’s because I thought it needed doing. Love doesn’t even enter my mind. I may even feel judged or intruded upon. I do not even remotely associate cleanliness or chore doing with morality. Only need or pride.

I have so many historical personal reasons for this. Of people who did so much around me or for me but out of duty or self-righteousness or resentment. But not love. (But these are probably just in my list of excuses and desperately trying to pass the blame).

And I’m trying to catch up. I’m trying to force myself to see doing tasks as anything other than a necessary part of life that has nothing to do with love. I always thought love was putting down the dishes and spending time together. When my Mother talks about trying to train me to be a good person by teaching me to make my bed or do my chores it is so hard to wrap my mind around.
And guys, it’s like trying to learn Chinese for me. But harder. I’m sure on the other end of it are people who participate in something beautiful, but maybe not something I can ever truly understand.

And sometimes I wonder. Is it worth it? Should I really spend any effort on something that comes with such pain to me?

I read blog post after blog post about how “the dishes can wait for another day” or “the piles of laundry aren’t anything compared to the memories you could make,” and I think “Done! I’m already not worried about those things! Can I have my award for successful living now please?”

Now if you walk into my house, don’t expect it to look like it is owned by someone on “Hoarders.” I understand the need of chores. Laundry eventually gets done, dishes are actually reluctantly done on a daily basis, tripping hazards are eventually seen to. I’m just not trying to win any prizes. I’m happily surviving in this part of my life most of the time. My ambitions involve thriving at friendship, community, creative works, but not order, tidiness, or general management of physical stuffs. I get by and I don’t look back. If I clean for guests it’s to prevent their discomfort, not to win their good judgment. And really, it’s only done to the point I think it must be to function.

I promise you that my mother tried very very hard. That woman organizes her used tin foil by size. But I got to be a little bit in love with my messy self. I saw it as creative, and definitely easier. And from my perspective, fathoms, eons, decades, miles, and every other measurement I can think of happier. But it wasn’t always that way.

In college, I thought that all my suspicions of what was actually necessary were confirmed. I wasn’t one of those girls who lost sleep trying to make myself look like something I wasn’t in the morning with hours of hair care and makeup. I never thought twice about walking across the parking lot in my jammies with bed head if I needed something. I was never terrified to present a less than perfect image because I was so very very content with my less than perfect self.

I felt fortunate to not be running in that race. I tended to look on the girls overwrought with insecurity about their looks, their planners, their reputation, and every thing a person could look at with…pity.

The tricky part is, I never could understand why people seemed to have a bad impression of me a great deal of the time (yes, please feel free to make a confused face or spit out whatever drink was in your mouth here). I didn’t totally abandon my physical responsibilities. (Ok, I didn’t after somewhere Senior year of high school. Before that please don’t look up my yearbook photos). I had a basic makeup routine. Basic clothes that I usually selected by picking out outfits on mannequins in the store (please tell me I’m not the only one laissez faire enough to do this), some shoes and jewelry to throw in now and then, and a five minute hair routine that got me out the door with mostly dry hair.

It’s funny how someone can be totally unaware of the water they’re swimming in or that it even exists.

Before all of that, I have this memory: early on in my Freshman year of college, I was feeling totally overwhelmed and lonely in a way that made no sense to me. I made a meeting with my RD to talk about it.

“I just feel like I can’t do it all. I think of everything to do and I feel like I’m going to fail.”

She gave me advice about planners and lists, and in five minutes finished a little speech that ended with a smile that clearly said “I think I’ve just solved all of your problems and given you brand new wonderful information you lucky girl you.”

But I said, “Yeah, I’ve used planners. I’ve made lists. Usually I lose them or forget to bring them with me. I’ve tried…well kind of everything.”

She looked suddenly totally uncomfortable. “So what kind of grades do you get? What are you hoping to do in college?”

“Oh,” I said. “I get A’s. I was the top of my class in high school. I’m pretty sure I’ll get mostly A’s again.”

She looked even more uncomfortable. “Then what on earth is the problem?!”

I looked down at my hands in my lap. “I don’t know. It’s just that none of it feels good. It feels like everyone else knows something I don’t. I still feel like I’m failing.”

She gave me an awkward pat. Then an awkward hug. (Awkward because I didn’t want either). And then she said something about another appointment and left.

I don’t think we ever spoke again after that day.

Really successful ambitious people do not understand a “successful” person who still thinks there’s a problem and would rather have something else.

So from then on I decided to just go with it. Whatever “it” was. I let there be a mess. I kept piles of papers and confusing computer files and jumped out of bed 15 minutes before class, showered and ran with wet hair to class, and just kept the faith. I believed with all of my heart that if I’d proved I could succeed like this, all I needed to do was to stop worrying about it. All I needed was to decide the mess was ok. The key to happiness wasn’t to stop being a mess. It was just to decide to be happy whether I ever fixed it or not. And I came equipped with a good attitude and a lot of apologies (and don’t forget tears and excuses!) to fill in the gaps whenever faith wasn’t enough.

And my dirty secret was that I had to say “no” to a lot. I didn’t go to parties. I didn’t hang out with new friends. I didn’t join everything I wanted to. I never signed up to be a leader of anything. I quietly often hated how out of control I felt, and how unambitious. And I woke up each new day, took a breath, and decided that it was the best I could do so I needed to get over it. My day of doing was probably going to hurt some. It was going to feel not as good as it could. I just needed to believe that it was.

But you know what happens when someone who is very good at being a mess all by themselves lives life as well as they can?

They eventually want to share their life with someone who feels quite differently about the mess. Burdened by it.

And they eventually have children that maybe they’d like to teach how not to be a mess, and maybe to not see being a mess as normal.

And the sadness that you’ve let out of your mess (whatever it is, literal or not), starts to creep back in. Because it was so so much easier when the only person you ever hurt was yourself (or at least it was far, far easier to tell yourself that). And you realize the self-confidence and pity for the put-together was more of a lie to cover up for feeling deficient but not knowing how to deal with it. All that “success” was good grades, a handful of memberships in clubs, and oceans of neglected friendships, missed opportunities, and very little meaningful creativity actually put into the world.
I heard a very good message this week about David the murderous adulterer and how he mourned over his huge and horrible sins when he was shown them for what they were. He didn’t shy away from his sins at all, but acknowledged them fully.

It’s funny, because when you are a basically “good” kid who followed all of the rules (mostly) in a very conservative upbringing, it can be hard to relate to a story like David’s.

But then, maybe, like me, you realize that your biggest, hugest, and ugliest sins involve all of the things you don’t do.

Always expecting other people to pick up the slack.
Never taking a risk where you might make a mistake.
Never reaching out to help because rejection is possible.
Never going to the thing because maybe you’re not wanted.
Never learning the skill because maybe you can’t do it.
Never having the conversation because maybe they’ll never talk to you again.
Never admitting fault.
Never admitting weakness.
Never learning how to really do the dishes out of love.
And never saving the poor fish by paying attention to small needs and dirty tanks.

All of my fish died because of the things I didn’t do for them. Neglect is often far worse than mistakes. What else am I killing in my life this way?

I’m a little broken this week sitting in my own shadow.

So I feel the need to issue some sort of happy ending or call to action. But I may need to make a part two in a bit to give myself time to get back there.

For now…please save the fish.