The tattoo on my back is a symbol for wisdom. The wisdom books in the Bible are my favorite books (along with 1 John). It’s a quality that I hope to possess, but one that I am realizing is the product of tougher and tougher lessons. I am much better at dispensing wisdom for others than listening to it for myself. Because listening to such wise words usually means that I am in the process of doing the opposite of whatever I should be doing.
“Baby, don’t spend your whole life waiting to be happy in the future.”
I typed these words to Brandon today. Though his dedication and faithfulness are things I admire and cherish in him, sometimes I worry that he puts up with too much sorrow now because he hopes to be happy later. In this, he and I are two peas in a pod. A former friend used to joke that I am the Queen of Delayed Gratification, suffering through an endless sea of garbage because I have this absurd notion that it will pay off, that some day, I will be able to enjoy the product of such hard work and misery.
I’ll spare you the details, but lately, life has sucked and I have lost sight of the good things. I’ve let myself get caught up in all that isn’t going right that I have a hard time seeing what is good. So much so that I haven’t taken much time to do the things that make me happy.
Right now, I have to trust that all this crap is temporary and is going to pay off. But I don’t have to wait until someday to figure out some measure of happiness, as impossible as it seems right now.
“I’m trying to find the line between hope and foolishness, and I’m not so sure there is one. Hope, by its very nature, is foolish.”
I tweeted this earlier today when I was thinking about relationships, but the more I think about it, the more it seems true. I’m (usually) a rational person. I like evidence, statistics, probability, and facts. At the same time, I’m a romantic, and cannot help but believe in the long shots. For every 98 times something happens, the opposite happens twice, and I hold out hope that someday, I’ll benefit from the 2%. I sent my resume in response to a job posting that, in many ways, sounds like the best possible combination of my education and experience. I don’t think I’m fantastically likely to even get an interview, but still: there is hope.
Not that a job would make me happy, specifically, but a different one would make happiness a little easier. Stupid Face is back, and when I saw him a few Fridays ago, he said something about how if he could have really spent time in “the mission” (meaning serving people, helping them grow, that kind of altruistic crap that suckers like us can’t help but buy into), he would be happy. It’s what he does now, in a different setting, and it’s what I desperately miss. I miss having a real purpose to my work. As it is now, I work in a place with little purpose, in a schedule that makes outside work kind of impossible. It also keeps me from being able to attend church, and it is really hard to miss out on church week after week after week.
So I hope. Foolishly. And I am trying to figure out how I can manage to be happy even in the midst of hating some parts of my life.
I’m not a superstitious person, for the most part. I don’t believe a lot of old wives tales or fear urban legends.
But I do think that sometimes, God has interesting ways of getting our attention, and today, it seems like from the minute I woke up until just a few minutes ago, I am seeing signs everywhere. Little random accidents that just don’t seem to be quite so random.
I woke up thinking about an old friend early this morning. Fell back asleep and he was in my dream, and then when I woke and looked at my phone, his Facebook post took up the whole screen. Then, all day long, for reasons I don’t understand, his name popped up on my phone over and over in a bunch of weird contexts, as well as hearing his name (well, first name) said on the radio. And while I was in the van, the song that reminds me of him was played, a song that hasn’t been on the radio in a while.
Probably as a result of the last eighteen months of ridiculous introspection and intentional efforts at self-improvement, I can’t seem to shake the feeling lately that there are barriers between me and who I want to be, and it has felt like I’m struggling to get out of a sweater that is three sizes too small. Confined and hemmed in, I can’t even move the way I need to in order to shed it, so instead, it’s a weird kind of wriggling to see if I can get it to a point that I can finally be free.
Today, though, there has been an endless series of comments, posts, and songs about change, new chapters, and risk. I’m not sure what to make of it, but the general consensus is to be bold and go with it. I’ve taken some risks lately, but this seemed to hint at a bigger one. I was about to dismiss the signs when I accidentally hit the wrong button on my iPod and suddenly a song from the animated movie Anastasia started to play: “Heart don’t fail me now. Courage don’t desert me; don’t turn back now that we’re here. People always say life is full of choices. No one ever mentions fear, or how the world can seem so vast, on this journey to the past…” I am certainly a far cry from an orphaned Russian princess, but it really does fit the rest of the day.
Not exactly a string of burning bushes, but noticed nonetheless.
I couldn’t help but hear the refrain from Five Man Electrical Band’s Signs running through my head: “Signs, signs, everywhere signs. Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind. Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the signs?”
Well, no, actually, I can’t. I don’t know what to do with this mess of things. I’m good at over thinking things. Really good at over thinking things. When I over think things, I tend to get my brain into trouble. So I decided that I would try to not over think them and respond with “Ok, God, I’m listening.” And wait to see how God answers.
Chances are, if I were to ask everyone who reads my blog what happiness is (without allowing you to Google something clever), I would get a different response from everyone of you. If you ask me every day this week, I’ll likely give you a different answer each time, but one of the things I’m pretty solid on is that happiness is not a long-term emotion. Joy, contentment, and other positive states of being are more long-term, but I tend to think of happiness as a sort of short-lived spike in my mood. There are a lot of things that make me happy – coffee, crunchy fall leaves to step on, thunderstorms, hearing my dad or brother pray, a good hair day, whatever. It doesn’t take much to make me happy, either. One good Billy Joel song on the radio while I’m driving and I’m golden.
However, I’m not great at showing it most of the time. I think because I sometimes forget that what seems so vivid in my mind isn’t known to everyone else, so while I may be perfectly content in whatever it is I’m doing, that doesn’t spill over into something other people see. In fact, sometimes I’m having such a good time that it pushes me more inward, where I can think about it more and more. Sometimes, when it’s a more personal happiness, I tend to keep it to myself (and just a very few friends) because I am not ready to share it yet. I know, that sounds strange to my extroverted friends, but it’s how I function. As a result, people misread my quietness for unhappiness, the lack of perkiness as sullenness. I’m not saying that I’m a robot who is never perky or cheerful, only that it’s not a dominating characteristic.
Recently, someone told me that she was worried because I seem unhappy. She happens to be someone who is quite the opposite of me, often bubbly and chatty, and I believe that she’s sincere in her concern. I appreciate her concern, and her willingness to talk to me about it. It made me think about whether or not I am “happy” right now. If I’m honest, I haven’t been for most of the time during the last couple months.
Here’s the thing, though – I’m not UNhappy, either. Not being happy and being unhappy are two different things. The last couple of months have been stressful. Not the same kind of stressful as I had day after day in the town I just left, but in the last 2 months I’ve:
- Had mono
- Moved away from my family
- Moved away from my friends
- Moved away from my person
- Left my congregation
- Started in a new position in a ministry team instead of on my own
- Tried to learn a new town
- Moved to a town where I knew virtually no one in a state I’ve never lived in before
- Dealt with upheaval and conflict in my new ministry
- Continued losing weight(and occasionally gaining, and sometimes plateauing)
- Lost a friendship of more than two decades
- Tried to learn a new congregation
- Worried about both of my best friends. A lot.
- Continued to work on managing my anxiety disorder and PTSD
Not the most stressful season I’ve had, but it hasn’t been a summer with any kind of routine or sense of normalcy, so while I have had moments of happiness – getting to buy smaller jeans than before, an iced latte and Springsteen while I’m driving, a new dress that makes my boobs look great, a relaxing day at the fair with friends, to name a few of them – it has been stressful. Not debilitating or anything, but still worth noting. My therapist says that I have a high stress tolerance, which is good, I suppose. It’s much better than the alternative. Unfortunately, while I can handle the stress pretty well, it does mean that I am not exactly a bubbly person.
I have to figure out how to get better at communicating my moods, but I’m not sure how to not get anxious about it. I have to figure out how to not be fake about it. I’m often a serious person, an intellect who is selectively amused, and people don’t know what do to with that. People often seem to not know what to do with me.
Am I happy? Not most of the time. I’m not unhappy, though, and that’s important.
It is 1:57 p.m. and I am waiting for a phone call that will tell me where I am going to live and minister as of the last week of June (less than two months away). In my denomination, we are placed, and though there is a fairly routine schedule on the calendar, the truth is that at any moment, I could receive a call telling me that it is time to move on. This time, I had much more notice than most ministers get. I have known I am moving for months. Waiting was easy when it was so far off. Waiting was easy when I was distracted by the to-do lists. Waiting is NOT easy now, as I sit in my office, emails answered, banking done, unable to distract myself with cleaning due to a leg injury that has me hobbling around like an old lady. Instead, I am alternating between staring at my phone, talking to Brandon, and looking at adoptable dogs on petfinder.com (hey, don’t judge – it’s a helpful coping mechanism, and how I found my current dog, Mrs. Weasley). Writing this, in fact, is an attempt to give myself something to do while I wait.
In this case, I am not sure what to hope for because I cannot seem to divorce my hopes for my new location/ministry from what feels like selfishness: if I hope for something not too far from family and friends, in a ministry that falls easily (or even somewhat easily) into what I perceive my gifts and passions to be, am I putting myself before others? Before God? If I hope for what I want and end up getting something else, have I set myself up for disappointment? Or failure?
I’ve had some rough conversations with people in the last year or so, and I’ve realized recently that I am not as trusting as I used to be. Some of these same people are the very ones who are deciding where to place me. Can I trust them? Depends on the minute, to be honest. Do they trust me? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know. Perhaps it depends on the minute with them as well.
It’s more than trusting them, though: I know that it’s about trusting God. I don’t really believe that “God’s will” or “plan” is outlined like an itinerary, as in “God’s plan is for me to live in Bohunk, USA for 3 years, then move to Random City for the next 2,” because frankly, if God had my life planned out that way, I’ve already blown it in all my years of doing what I wanted to do. Instead, I think that “God’s will” or “plan” is for me and Him to remain in a good relationship no matter where I am or what I’m doing. Right now, I trying to trust that no matter where I am, that relationship will still be there. That He’s the constant, and that I am not required/asked/permitted to be the one in charge – He is.
One of the better-known verses in scripture is “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a). I know that having a really, really limited knowledge of and exposure to ancient Hebrew means that I really can’t say a whole lot about what it “means” when the author wrote “raphah,” translated here as “be still.” When I look up the definition, it appears to be more than just being still – it is to relax, to “sink into” the knowledge that God is God. When I combine that with the German concept of geborgenheit (described here by my friend Timothy), there is a sort of calm, restful, anxiety-free existence to which I am called – one that is not at all within my tense nature that craves control. I am not good at just being.
Yesterday, I had a doctor’s appointment, which meant I was in the town where my sister lives (and right next to my other sister). I texted them to see if we could get together, and one sister was able to meet for lunch and the other let me tag along while she went to Home Depot and the grocery store.Then, I went back to her house and played with my youngest nephew, E, who is five. When I got there, I picked him up and he put his arms around me and told me about his day at school. He told me that they learned You Are My Sunshine, and then they made a craft of clouds and sunbeams. I told him about how I used to sing that at naptime every day to his older siblings when they were two. He put his head on my shoulder and was OK to just be there, wrapped around me like a monkey, and I was nearly knocked sideways by my desire to not be gone from him, or my sisters, or the rest of my family. The twins are 12 and the oldest is 16, and my heart just beats differently when I’m far away from them all, and I don’t like it.
It’s now 3:13, and I have gotten the call, told my family and bffs, done what little crying there was to be done (I’m not a crier). I can’t tell you where I’m going. Not until tomorrow. I don’t know who is going to take my place.
Now, it’s a different waiting game – a month and a half of trying to keep my head on straight, get things done, and readying myself for what’s next.
Have I mentioned I’m not very good at this?