Where are we now

So I’ve recently dusted off a life planning course – formerly called Upstream, now the newly released Like Your Life – that I’m hoping to actually finish this time. [Those of you who know that I’m currently nurturing a pregnancy, raising preschool boys, and teaching college English are free to guffaw a bit at this juncture, I do.] Anyways, the course brought with it an optional accountability group. This sounded useful; and on joining I bumped into that inevitable group request – introduce yourself! Also somewhat inevitably, I found that once I started writing an introduction, it seemed to grow tentacles (or at least paragraphs) and wound up on the introspective and perhaps glum side. Yet I finished the intro and flung it out to the public and intend to fling it out here. I find that, if nothing else, the snapshot of who I am or what’s on my mind in this season is a reminder in future days that some of these things do pass. That what seems insurmountable today might someday be but a twist in a story that ends well. Let us hope it is so. In the meantime, here are some of the things I’m juggling around these days.

 

This course and group are coming at a time in my life rife with the intersection of several large changes. My husband, after 7 years as a commercial pilot (a job which, frankly, took him away too much), has just switched careers this summer. This new season of having him home more is exciting but there are still a lot of unknowns as to how we’ll operate and what we will be as a family.

Also, after several difficult years of full time stay-at-home-parenting (where the difficulties stemmed not from our tenacious and endearing 3 and 4 year old boys but from a snowball of physical/emotional/mental issues with me), I have just started working part time this semester while my sons are at preschool in the mornings. I was surprised at how natural and fulfilling it immediately felt to be teaching college English again. This re-confirmation of what I suspected all those years at home (that some kind of work not connected with mommying/homemaking does fill me up a lot) is complicated by the fact that I know for sure that I won’t be teaching next spring. Not only are we saving aggressively to move to a larger house in the spring (and I will need time to, ah-hem, move), but I’m 6-months pregnant with our first daughter – due the second to last week of class!

The thought of trying to gather all these strands together and forge a cohesive life-purpose (or even a list of priorities that will last more than a few months) frankly feels a bit ludicrous, but here I am. I’ve started both Upstream and other goal setting tools (Powersheets anyone?), but have never finished them. Not only am I definitely an obliger too, but I almost despair of making useful goals when I don’t know how all these changes will affect our family 6, 12, or 18 months down the road. Should I start homeschooling our older son once he finishes preschool like I’ve felt I really ought to? Should I fight to make college teaching a part of my life even with three kids under the age of 6? Should I scratch the even deeper, more risky itch I’ve had for a year to make a go at writing? Should I stick with the safer option of teaching? What if I start to feel pretty down again like has happened a couple times in the last 5 years? How can I make goals that last when I’m not exactly sure what we as a whole, functioning family or I as a whole, functioning person look like?

Whoops. Did I just drive off the deep end of messiness? Sorry, friends. I am so glad to be here, to learn from everyone, to see what happens. Alongside my fears and my planning overwhelm is the determination to see if something coherent emerges from my efforts here.

 

That’s the gist of what I wrote. Even with some revising here on the blog it’s… it’s… well, as one son remarked, “It’s as clean as a mess!”

That’s about where I am, as clean as a mess. We’ll see what can grow up out of the dirt.

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A bit of meta

Let me blog about blogging for a bit.

I started writing blogs a while back, well before getting married, but if you traced the progress of my blogging career you’d find several large gaps in it. Many were just regular life events that commandeer free time (hello master’s thesis and new baby!). But, truth be told, I would have gotten back on the horse much more frequently and quickly if I wasn’t also beset with blogging doubts. The same doubts which, as soon as I re-enter the fray, visit me anew.

What exactly am I doing this for anyway? What is the purpose of this particular blog? It’s message? It’s voice?

Does it sound like I’m hunting around for a brand? Idealists like me like to sneer at the consumerist feel of branding something like a blog. Can’t a blog just be the meditations of a voracious, expansive mind? What about a place to chat and spin stories, or to expel one’s demons, or find one’s community? Aren’t there plenty of thriving blogs simply devoted to How to Live One’s Life Well? What’s wrong with that?

Well to begin with, nothing is wrong with that, at least as far as I can tell. I’ve certainly gotten sucked into binge-reading a blog for no other reason than that I had to know what the writer would bump up against next. I think there are as many interesting blogs as there are interesting people in the world, and all a snowflake’s difference from one another.

Perhaps for me the fear of vague purpose is an extension of my much more tangible fear of vague writing; my old foe of baggy prose (which I’m sure I haven’t totally shaken) showing up in macro form – baggy thinking. And trying to cultivate my own thoughts cohesively is only a start. Being able to offer to others a cohesive message (even one that is broad or complex) is compelling to me. Not trying to start a million tracks or bite off way more than I can chew certainly has its compelling side too.

Stats on this blog show exactly 0 visitors (since the one listed visitor who comes from the US the day I post is just me compulsively checking that the thing did go online). For now, therefore, I have very little to worry about as far as audience or impact. But what if that changes?

This particular nudge to write started a few months ago at a women’s retreat. Even though the retreat was not about writing (“Where did this take-away come from anyway?” I remember wondering), the nudge quickly grew to a pretty specific nudge to write about the convergence from last four years of parenting, emotional struggle (read: depression), and grueling circumstances (read: being married to a commercial pilot* who was gone a lot). How on earth do I go about containing such a multi-tentacled experience as that? Where is the beginning? Where is the end? If I can’t find a narrative thread for even me to hold on to, how can I start writing about this for others to make sense of?

*this same pilot is both kind, godly, smart, hot, and excessively patient… just in case you were wondering

 

I’ve saved the juiciest, the scariest doubt for the end: What if all of this writing just winds up being total bilge?

I was listening to a report on the radio where someone lamented how a famous writer (Kafka maybe?) burned much of his work shortly before dying. For perhaps the first time ever, such an act made complete sense to me. I, of course, do not have the burdens that a famous or great writer does. Sheesh, there are days when I’d settle for slightly-above-mediocre writer. And that’s when the doubt-mill starts churning. What if my writing is even more mediocre than I thought?! What if it’s bordering on infantile? And if this was a real threat and you were on your deathbed, why wouldn’t you burn all the questionable stuff? Better to go down as someone who worked in an insurance company who also happened to write a good piece or two than as a hard working writer who also happened to be… lame.

But then, in one of my favorite maneuvers, I start doubting my doubts. What if my estimation of my abilities isn’t really the point? Better yet, what if my estimation’s spot on and I’m still equipped and called by God to write some (this one’s still a serious stretch for me to regularly believe)? What then?

And that’s about as far as I get because while I do believe that someone should do what God is calling them to, I’m still not sure whether that is what’s happening to me right now. Will publishing this baggy, jumbled post ever prove of benefit to me or others?

I guess we’ll find out.

I want your life

Hey! Do you have a house that’s bigger than 14K square feet? Do you mind if I live there instead of you? Great. How about a kitchen with a cute island in the middle, have one of those? Or better yet, does your house have wood floors? I love wood floors. I’ll take yours. Ooo, do you have House-Beautiful-worthy grey walls all over your place with gorgeous/tasteful/peaceful artwork on it? Some of the rooms in my house are a bit mismatched, I totally want your space. And one more thing while we’re on houses, do you happen to live in gorgeous countryside surrounded by just the right blend of hills and trees and grassy spaces? Does it feel totally secluded while still being amazingly close to all the amenities? That’s crazy! It’s exactly what I want!

What I want. Oh man, now that we’re stared… I bet your household makes lots of cash working 30 hours a week from home, cause I could totally dig that. Can I have your career? Don’t you just love how your family life challenges you just enough for fodder for interesting blog posts without actually making you change or sacrifice or (heaven forbid) put down that juicy book mid-thought to break up a-n-o-t-h-e-r scuffle your kids are having? Swell. Give it to me.

Cause let’s just say it short: I want your life. I wrote in my last post of the struggles I’m having and this is one of them. Somehow without even the aid of social media (cause right now I, for real, use social media about 15 minutes a month – antediluvian!) I am pulling my hair out wanting things I don’t have. Even if the rest of your life is in shambles or if you’re in a totally different stage than me, I can deftly fixate on one item (completely out of context) and feel that if you have it, I should have it too. I need it to be happy.

Wanna know something that was around before the flood of Noah’s day? Comparison, discontent, avarice. And only when I stop to spell it out do I begin to see just how ugly, how revolting, it is. We have more than one cautionary voice telling us what an envy-machine social media is, and it’s certainly true. But friends, social media is the ax, we are the ax murderers.

Disgusting, right? But we don’t need selfies of Zooey Deschanel (or shots from House Beautiful, or whatever your thing is) to get our envy-mill going. We have all we need right here in our hearts. You know that media-free time before the flood? It produced an indictment in Genesis 6:5 that is as fresh as it is scathing: “the Lord saw… that every intent of the thoughts of [humanity’s] heart was only evil continually”. I want your life, and I am willing to sabotage my usefulness in the present fuming about the unfairness of it all.

Oh Lord, save us. Your perfect wisdom and goodness concluded that the best possible option in Noah’s day was to drown 99% (or whatever the ratio was) of humanity and start from scratch with one family. It’s a completely gut-wrenching story. But what about our evil intents, my greedy heart? Are we any better than those that brought about such ruin? No. We are all simply living under the arc of Your mercy and faithfulness – a grace that makes my discontent only uglier by contrast. Would that You would speak over us words of promise that preserve us according to Your forbearance, rather than our fickle obedience. Then perhaps I’ll begin to want what I truly need the most and it it, in Him, find deepest satisfaction.

Watching the seeds

Six months go by and though few half-years have brought our family such change, it’s the unchanged things I’m most aware of today. I still struggle, greatly. If anything, some of my internal conflicts seem sharper, more scaldingly clear than ever. I’m still waiting for those little sprouts, seeds that only God can plant and water, to grow to fruitfulness. And I wonder some days if the wait is going to kill me.

I’ve often remembered that first post below, even in the months of blog silence, and thought about the irony of taking a snapshot at a moment of unusual hopefulness, only to have that moment surrounded by so many others of doubt and tears. But a snapshot is just that. The moment the image of your happy little plants has imprinted, a late frost might descend and kill the lot of them. Geez, you might get to a week before harvest when a tornado turns the whole landscape into an apocalypse.

If this is true, why try to savor those initial happy spouts? Shucks, why farm at all? And the answer somehow comes like a clarion. Because God Almighty, God gives farmers fruit. For every tornado, every blighting frost, there are ten thousand fragile ears which are seen clear to harvest in safety – every single one of them a work that only God can do. Calamity does come, and He is the one who sends it. But He also does something else. He feeds the masses of this earth with enough grains of wheat to rival the galaxies in number. The cranberries that I disgruntledly munched before writing this blog post are part of a million million cranberries that God has brought safely past every danger known to the planet. He grew all of them.

My internal festering that my little plants of progress might never amount to anything (and who knows, they might not – that’s in His hands) does not reckon with the heady, explosive bounty of our God. Here I wonder if He’s letting me falter just because He likes watching things wither and die while the laughter of billions of fruitful plants floats all around me.

Silly me. Day after day I stomp around fuming at all the circumstances, totally forgetting that the real story is always, always about His character. He is not the God of the dead (that frost of which I’m so afraid is certainly His tool but isn’t the center of what He’s doing). What is He then? The God of the living. The God of every single blossom that has ever born fruit. And even if the fig tree doesn’t blossom, He’s the kind of God I can trust because of who He is – the God of my salvation. Not even the tornado can touch that.

How I got here

A worksheet I was filling out today asked me how I got here (the short version). This is what I wrote.

I got here through a year and a half of great darkness, bewilderment, wandering, doubt, and hurt. And yet, because my God is so patient, so faithful and good what was sown in tears (and I mean tears yesterday) is bearing fruit, is coming back to life. Maybe there isn’t quite a shot of joy yet (oh how I want to get there, I want my voice of praise at His faithfulness to be heard by anyone who will listen). But up from the ground where the broken seed was buried is coming, beyond what I dared believe, a song of deliverance. All those days I felt I was crying out to a sky of bronze, He had not abandoned me. When I begged for Him to speak and thought I got only silence, He had spoken and what He said to me was “Jesus”. When I wished that somehow I might be taken from this story, removed entirely from His path for me, He said, “No”, because He knew the ending I couldn’t imagine.

So here I am, writing the story of what He has done.