Trust

Freefall - Jun Gil Park

When Waiting Feels Like Free-Falling or How Trust is my Nemesis

I loathe dislike waiting with a fiery passion.

I know, I know. Does anyone really like waiting? But I REALLLLLLY don’t like it.

I’ve been living in a state of constant frustration lately. As we prepare for our international move, I am beyond ready to have things settled. I want to have a job set up and waiting for me when I arrive. I want to find an apartment or rental house for us to live in. I want to get rid of as much uncertainty as possible. Yet every time I try to take a step forward, people tell me I can’t. That I have to wait. I’ve applied for dozens of jobs and received the response, “Why don’t you get in touch with us once you’ve arrived.” Hubby and I have spent hours looking for a place to live only to be told, “It’s really too early for you to be looking at rentals.”

I can barely keep myself from shouting, “But we are leaving in 65 days! It does not feel too early! I need to know NOW!” 

This whole situation has brought out an embarrassingly juvenile side of myself.  I feel angry all the time. A few days ago I burnt dinner. Before my husband could even say anything, I glared at him and said, “If you want a new one you have to make it yourself. I’m not making another one.” And he did. (That guy is a saint, I tell you).

It’s like I’ve taken all of my frustrations about the things I can’t do and tried to balance them out by making certain that I let everyone know what I will and will not do in any situation where I have the choice.

See, I like to pretend that I’m an adventurous person. And from the outside, I can see how I might look like one. After all, I live in a foreign country, I love to travel and to try new things, I’m preparing for my fourth move in five years – and three of those moves have been to places I’d never been before. Oh, and let’s not forget my illegal tattoo!

It’s easy to look like a laid-back, carefree adventurer in pictures. Don’t be fooled. It’s an illusion. I am all about the adventure, but it’s highly controlled adventure. I love being spontaneous, but it’s planned spontaneity. (Yes, there is such a thing).

I am that rare personality that combines constant yearning for adventure and excitement with an equally strong sense of responsibility. Add in an unhealthy dose of chronic anxiety, and you’ll see why I live in a state of constant inner-conflict. Basically, I’m a rebel trapped in a good girl’s body. Or maybe it’s the other way around…

Usually the way that I balance these parts of my personality is by planning as much as possible and preparing for all contingencies. (“Always be prepared!” as my Eagle Scout father instilled in me). I try to think things all the way through and prepare myself for the worst possible scenario. Once I feel prepared for whatever I might encounter, I can take the plunge and do something crazy because I know there’s a safety net in place. I know what I’ll do if things don’t go as planned.

We moved to Korea having never set foot in Asia. But we did a TON of research first. We secured jobs through the government so that we were sure there would be accountability for things like getting paid the proper amount on time. We chose to go through a program that would provide an orientation rather than one that left us to our own devices. And we talked to lots of people who had worked in Korea before. We arrived with an entire suitcase full of things we’d been told were difficult to find (deodorant, taco mix, and tampons) and we had decided from the very beginning to play things by ear. We signed a year-long contract that we would try hard to fulfill, but we’d told ourselves that if it was absolutely horrible, we could decide to go home. Safety net!

I’ve shared that I’ve been struggling with anxiety at a new level over the past few months as I’ve been faced with all the unknowns of our future, so I’ve tried to deal with this anxiety the best way I know how – by being responsible and making myself feel as secure and on top of things as I can. So it’s been not only frustrating, but frightening for me to be told over and over again that there’s nothing more I can do. That I just have to wait.

I am realizing that this is a big fat TRUST issue. (Ah, Trust, my nemesis. We meet again!) I am unable to accept that things might still be OK even if I can’t check all the things off of my list in the time frame that I want to. I am unable to rest in the knowledge that I’ve done everything I can do. I am unable to accept the logic that things will work out the way they are meant to work out, regardless of how much I worry about them now. I am unable to accept that when God leads us somewhere, he doesn’t leave us to figure everything out by ourselves.

I have a big fat trust issue and I’m being forced to trust anyway. It’s like God has taken away the lifelines of planning and responsibility and asked me to believe the safety net is there, even though I didn’t install it myself. It would be funny if it wasn’t so horrible.

Right now I feel like I’m in a slow-motion free fall. And I have two options – I can fall kicking and screaming and lashing out at everyone around me for all the things I can’t change, or I can relax and enjoy the view while it lasts.

HEADER IMAGE CREDIT: JUN GIL PARK ON FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS

Advertisements
cliff jump

Geronimo: On Falling With Style

There’s an old Michael W. Smith/Rich Mullins song called “Step by Step” that I remember singing often as a child. If you were a child (or parent) of the 80’s and 90’s chances are you are familiar with it. The lyrics, borrowing from the Psalms, go like this:

“I will seek you in the morning. And I will learn to walk in your ways. And step by step you’ll lead me. And I will follow you all of my days.”

The song makes it all sound so gentle. I picture those early morning rays on a peaceful beach, Jesus walking just a step or two ahead with me taking small steps into the footprints he’s left behind. The camera pulls back and we see an endless stream of footprints behind me and the horizon ahead, stretching on into eternity. It’s like a motivational poster in an elementary school classroom.

But let’s get real here. For about the last ten years I don’t think God has been leading me step by step. It’s been more like cliff dive after cliff dive. I feel like old-school Mario, you know, before he could fly or turn into a penguin and skim across the ice on his belly. Old-school Mario had to jump to get anywhere and most of the time he was jumping from one inexplicably floating block of brick to another with lots of empty space in between.

mario

My friend Karissa recently wrote a post about some “Geronimo” decisions she’s been making. She explains these as the kinds of decisions that would normally require lots of planning, pro and con lists, internal debates, and lots and lots of detailed information. But lately, she’s found herself making some big decisions quickly and choosing not to regret or second-guess them.

Decisions are hard for me too. I am often plagued with the fear of making the wrong decision. I’m afraid of making the wrong decision and regretting it later, but I’m also afraid of not choosing something and always wondering, “What if?” It’s hard for me to pick the restaurant for dinner or the movie we should watch or which jeans look better, so it’s surprising that most of my biggest life decisions have been Geronimo moments. They were moments where I took a flying leap and never looked back.

At eighteen, I chose to go to college near Chicago, even though I’d never lived outside of Louisiana and had much better scholarship offers elsewhere.

Jonathan and I got married at twenty-two with nothing but a crazy amount of love and two degrees that the ink hadn’t even dried on yet.

The next year we decided to leave Illinois and picked a place on the map where we thought we might like to live. We showed up in Raleigh, NC, a city we’d never even seen before, with two cats, no jobs, and lots of dreams and it quickly became “home” to us.

A few years later, we put all of our things into storage, found a long-term cat-sitter for our fur babies, said good-bye to our friends and family and got on a plane to Korea. We moved to a new country and a new culture that we knew next to nothing about and where we didn’t speak the language.

Each of these were big decisions that we thought about and prayed about beforehand, but when it came down to it, we knew we just had to leap and trust that we’d make it to that next floating rock.

Now we are preparing for another giant leap and somehow this feels like the greatest leap of trust I’ve ever taken. I’ve written a little about the anxiety I’ve been dealing with lately, but I am more afraid of returning home to America than I ever was of moving to Korea.

More than all of the practical elements of our move to yet another new city, making friends, finding a new job and a new place to live, my biggest fear is that I’ll discover that I no longer belong. Already I have been struggling with feeling distant and disconnected from my friends. I have been coming to terms with the fact that going back to America will not just be like coming home. It will be the start of an entirely new adventure. And as much as I love a good adventure, this is the 4th time we’ve moved in 5 years and I’m tired of starting over.

And yet, this is so clearly the path we are meant to take. It’s the next cliff we’re meant to dive off of.

If there’s one thing I know about trust, it’s this. Trust doesn’t necessarily mean that you aren’t afraid. Trust simply acknowledges that there is something bigger than your fear. It recognizes that your fear is not the only thing and also that it’s not the strongest thing.

Karissa writes, “But some days, you need to live a Geronimo life. You need to make a Bombs Away decision. You need to believe that your gut feeling is enough, that you are enough, that you will dive through that waterfall, be baptized by its drops, and come out on the other side knowing that you survived free-fall. So here’s to you, to both of us, to our fear, to our bravery, to our confidence.”

Sometimes I wonder if we’re even moving forward. It feels like we just keep falling off things. And then I remember the immortal wisdom of Toy Story and think that maybe what we’re really doing is flying. Because we know that flying is just falling with style.

falling with style

This post is part of a link-up over at Karissa’s blog about Geronimo moments. If you have your own Geronimo story, write about it and join the link-up!

Image credit: Ryan C Wright, Flickr

Start Spreading the News!

Hear ye, hear ye. The Dunns have some exciting news. I know where a lot of your minds just jumped. No. It’s not that. Didn’t you read my last post? My uterus is still Baby-Free since 1987. (Though that would be just like God…tell him what you don’t want and SURPRISE! While He chuckles on his heavenly throne. “Hey Gabriel, check this out. Lily thought she was just gonna decide not to have kids. But look what I just did there.”)

So no, we are not having a baby (that I know of). Nor are we buying a house (no money), getting a dog (too much work), traveling to Europe (again, no money), joining the circus (no skills), becoming professional ballroom dancers (no rhythm), or taking up archery (although that would be cool.) What we are doing is moving…

…to South Korea. Mid-August. To teach English in a public school. Aaaahhhhhh!

How This Came About

First off, those of you who know me know that teaching abroad/living abroad is something I have been interested in for forever. So the interest is not new. We considered teaching abroad right after we got married, but ended up getting jobs in Illinois and decided it would be best spend our first year of marriage in a bit more familiar surroundings. Additionally, most of the places we were really interested in teaching (Europe/South America) were the types of schools where we would either have to get teacher certification/advanced degrees or would have to raise support like missionaries, neither of which we wanted to do. So that idea was put on the shelf.

Fast forward to this past fall. We were having dinner with our friends, Aaron and Caitlan Small, and they were telling us about some Christian schools they had visited on a recent trip to Indonesia that were looking to hire American teachers and provided housing as well as a salary. When Jonathan and I got home from that dinner, we immediately started researching those schools. Unfortunately, it turned out that we needed degrees in education to apply at these particular schools, but the fire had been lit. We decided to re-visit the idea of teaching abroad being more open to different areas of the world than we had looked at before. We felt that the timing was really good for us to be able to do something like this, and while we didn’t have a clear sense of direction yet, we decided to start exploring and see if God opened or closed doors.

Of course, Asia has the highest demand for English teachers of any area in the world right now, so we started exploring programs and countries there. Essentially what we found is that there were three categories of Asian countries:

  1. Countries where you need no qualifications to teach except for a high school diploma and the ability to speak English, but where you get paid about $300 USD/month, which is enough to live on, but not much more. (Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia)
  2. Countries that paid teachers well and covered housing and airfare, but were also much more selective and preferred teachers with certification, years of experience, degrees in education and/or Master’s degrees. (China, Japan)
  3. Country that paid teachers well, covers housing and airfare, and only require that you have a degree in English or TEFL certification. (South Korea)

We decided to apply with recruiters who work in South Korea. We applied to the public school program (called EPIK) where you essentially apply to the program, have to be accepted and then public schools will fill openings from the pool of accepted teachers. We also applied to be considered for private school jobs (which are special language schools that kids attend after regular school) but those are on a case-by-case basis rather than a formal program.

After many months of working on applications and acquiring documents, we found out two weeks ago that we had been accepted into the EPIK program. We FedEx-ed our paperwork to South Korea yesterday.

What We Know

  1. We have been accepted to the program, but do not have contracts yet. We have been told that it is 95% certain that we will be placed and have contracts within the next 2 months. (Only extremely rarely does something happen to mess this up, usually the applicant having been dishonest about something or withdrawing themselves).
  2. We will arrive mid-August, complete 9 days of training, and then head to our schools and new home to start teaching.
  3. We will not know where we will teach until the job offer comes in. We have requested the metropolitan are of Daegu, which is in the southern part of the country and is the 4th largest city in South Korea (about 2 million). We were told that Seoul and Busan would be much more selective and would probably choose teachers with prior experience so we chose the next biggest city we could find although we don’t know that much about it. We are not guaranteed to be placed in Daegu although they will get our applications first.
  4. We will be provided with a small, furnished apartment free-of-charge. We will also receive a relocation allowance that should nearly cover our airfare. We will have health insurance and will each be paid a salary equivalent to somewhere between $1700 – $2000 USD/month. Our only expenses will be utilities, food, and transportation, though we plan to do as much traveling as possible while we are there. The money we save will help to pay off my student loans from Wheaton and my current grad school tuition.
  5. I will plan to continue my grad school classes distance from South Korea.
  6. We will be eating a lot of rice, sweet potatoes, and kimchi.

How We Feel About It

Image 

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Ok, mostly we feel like this, but it is also a little bittersweet and scary. We really love Raleigh and could see ourselves back in North Carolina when we are ready to settle down. This has felt like home to us and we will miss it, especially our friends.

One More Cool Story

My biggest concern with all of this was having to tell the family I work for that I was quitting and moving across the world, especially since the kids really rely on the stability that I (and their old nanny before) provide since their parents are so busy and all over the place. I was also hesitant to say anything before we were sure this was happening. After we got accepted to the program, I decided to go ahead and tell them we would probably be moving at the end of the summer so that they would have plenty of time to find a new nanny.

The day I was going to talk to them, the mom came out of her office (while I’m sweating and my pulse is racing) and says, “I just want to update you on our situation. We are moving to Shanghai on July 13th. We don’t want you to quit before them, but wanted you to have time to find another job.”

Which made it so much easier for me to say, “Actually I think I have a new job and it is teaching English in South Korea starting in August.”

Perfect timing or what?! AND now I will be able to visit them in Shanghai where they will have an incredible 4 bedroom apartment overlooking the river. Amazing.

So, sorry for the long update, but so excited to share this with all of you!

And also, we desperately need a home for our darling kitties for 1 year. We want them back when we return! If any of you would seriously consider taking 2 wonderful cats and loving them for a year, please let me know!

When I’m Angry With God

So, I know this isn’t a very kosher Christian thing to say, but I’m just gonna go ahead and say it – sometimes I feel really angry with God.

When we first arrived in Raleigh we didn’t know anyone except Christina (my college roommate), but we were so blessed to make friends relatively quickly through a couple we met at our church. They lead our community group and through their welcoming us in, we became friends with them as well as a group of other wonderful people. 

One of the things I have loved most about Raleigh has been the sense of belonging we have felt from those who have welcomed us in and made us a part of their community.  This was the first time in my adult life that I truly felt like I belonged where I was, that Jonathan and I had made friends with other couples who were in similar life-stages and we were, that people were involved in our lives and we were involved in theirs. A few months ago when we were considering moving again to pursue grad school opportunities, I was so torn between wanting to pursue opportunities and wanting to stay here in this place where I saw a potential future for us. And that future wasn’t based on the careers we have here (which are way out of our fields) or the educational opportunities we’ve found, but on the people we’ve come to love.

In case you are really confused, that isn’t the part that makes me angry. The part that’s made me angry is that God now seems to be taking these very good things away from us. Our sweet friends who lead our community group suddenly got a job opportunity in the Chicago area and are moving in the next month (ironically they are moving within a few miles of where we used to live before coming here.) A second couple in our group suddenly had to opportunity to buy a fantastic little house, but it is in Durham and they will likely be looking for a church/community closer to them.  Another girl from our group has been given the amazing opportunity to move to Scotland and work with a church plant there. So essentially, in one fell swoop, most of our community has fallen apart. (If you are one of our few friends sticking around, we are so very grateful for you!!!) Intellectually, I recognize that all of these things are good for our friends and that my happiness about where these people live is probably not God’s main priority. Haha. Deep down I know that truly loving people means wanting God’s best for them, even if it doesn’t feel like the best thing for you, so on that level I do rejoice to see God providing exciting opportunities for my friends. But that doesn’t make me happy about the situation.

Please understand, I know that there are many, many worse things that can happen (and have happened) in life than all of your friends moving away. I’m really not trying to make the case that this is the worst thing ever. But it has brought up some real frustration for me that is connected to something a lot bigger than whether or not I have a lot of friends nearby. And maybe that is something you can relate to, whatever your particular disappointments have been.

This may seem like a bit of an over-reaction, but I’ve been really discouraged since finding out about all of these changes. It’s not that any one of these people was some ultimate source of happiness for us, but I did find a lot of fulfillment in belonging to this group of people and growing alongside them. It genuinely has helped me through the struggles of not having a job that I love and not knowing what we should be doing in the future to feel that these relationships were the thing God had clearly placed in front of me. I felt that even if I couldn’t see God’s hand in other areas, I could see it in these relationships and I took it as a confirmation that we were in the right place, doing the right thing, even when it was difficult. And now it feels like that small measure of peace and security is being taken away. Additionally, I feel like things are moving forward in so many of our friends lives and I feel  stuck in so many ways. Directionless and without even a short-term goal.

Why is it that the things you want to stay the same are always changing while the things you wish would change seem stuck the way they are forever?

The whole experience has launched me (yet again) into that series of questions I can never seem to get away from. What am I doing here? What should I be doing? There are so many directions I thought my life might take and so far, it hasn’t taken any of those. I have never held a job that I really loved. In fact, I have a difficult time even thinking of a job I truly think I would love.  Some days I just want to give up and resign myself to living a boring life moving from one uninspiring job to the next just to make enough money to live on, but that terrifies me more than anything. I can seriously think of nothing worse than living a life with no adventure.

I feel like I’ve been asking God the same questions year after year, and he never throws me a bone. Sometimes I just want to scream, why did you make me this way and give me all of these desires and then leave me with no guidance about what to do with that? If my life is meant to be spent moving from one uninspiring job to the next just to make enough money to live, why would you give me this deep desire for my life to be meaningful?

And I know what you are thinking… “Depends on what you think is meaningful,” so let me put it this way. I don’t want or need an impressive career, and I don’t think I need to move to Bangladesh. I just want to be able to look back at the end of a day or a week or even just a year and put my finger on moments that mattered. Things that had eternal significance. And instead I find myself plowing through my workday, desperate to get home where I can get away from the stress of my office to make dinner and read books and watch tv shows and fall into bed exhausted by 10:00.

God has been very good to us. He has provided for us. He has given us more than we need to survive. And most importantly, he has given us himself. Maybe it’s sinful for me to even be asking for more. But I want more. I want to know what in this whole wide world I’m supposed to be doing with my life. Because today it just feels like I’m wasting it.

So, that’s where I am at today. Though I’m genuinely excited to see these friends follow God’s leading, I’m sad to be losing them, and I’m feeling  discouraged that God seems to be at work everywhere except in my life. And frankly, all of these feelings are making me really angry.

The good news is, I don’t think God’s freaking out that I’m mad at him. And I don’t think he’s surprised. I believe he knows me intimately. That he understands the way my mind works and what triggers my emotions. That he loves me in my brokenness and foolishness. But somehow, on a day like today, none of those things are particularly comforting to me. Mostly, they are just making me a little more angry.

Life and Death: You know, the little things

My great aunt passed away this past Sunday. I know for many people a great aunt is a more distant relative, someone they only see a few times during their life, but my great aunt was like a second grandmother to me. She never married and didn’t have children of her own. She was handicapped her whole life and my grandmother took care of her, so she was a part of all of our family events and gatherings.  When my grandparents moved from New Orleans to live next door to my family after Hurricane Katrina she moved with them into a retirement community right around the corner from my grandparents’ new home. And when she was no longer able to manage her own apartment, she moved across the street into the nursing home.

My great aunt, Eva Marie Hubert. Isn't she lovely?

She was 80 years old, but she was mentally sharp as a tack, remembered everything, and didn’t even need reading glasses to see things perfectly. She was born in 1931 and contracted polio when she was only 10 months old. For her entire life she wore braces on her legs. She used a walker, and later a wheelchair when she lost the strength in her arms required to use the walker. My husband and I went with my family to visit her on Christmas Day. She was sitting up in her chair, looking very frail and incredibly thin, but talking about how she didn’t want to miss the Saints game on Monday night and her friend who was bringing her a pecan pie later on. She loved to give gifts. As a child I remember that every time we saw her she’d have picked out a few little things for us and have them wrapped up nicely, even after she was retired and had very little money to live on. Even in the nursing home, she would take candy or little things that people brought to her and tie them up in little plastic bags and hand them out to others in the nursing home who she thought looked sad. This Christmas she decided to give each of her grand-nieces a piece of jewelry from her own jewelry box.

Here she is opening her Christmas present when we went to see her on Christmas Day

A few days after Christmas she went into the hospital with pneumonia and didn’t recover. It’s always sad to lose someone, but I genuinely know that she was ready to go. She had lived a very full life and she wasn’t afraid to leave it. I think my grandmother will be affected the most by her loss as she has been caring for her sister since she was a little girl, but we are all thankful that she isn’t suffering and that she lived such a long, full life.

While this post is partly meant to remember and to celebrate my great aunt, it’s also about those of us still here. Even though my aunt has been steadily declining over the last few years, the finality of her death has really impacted me. It may not be as jarring or as tragic as a sudden death or the death of someone very young, but it’s still strange to me that she was here and we were talking with her just two weeks ago and now she’s not anymore. It’s made me realize how attached I am to this life, in spite of all the little things I find to complain about.

I was talking to Jonathan a few nights ago about how there’s a sense in which I feel that I, as a Christian, am not supposed to fear death. I’m not supposed to long for more of life. I’m supposed to embrace the time I’m given, but rest knowing that when this life is over I move on to something greater. But if I’m honest, I do fear it to some extent. I like this world. I love doing life with my husband and having a home together. I want to have babies and to see all of the amazing places in the world. I want to experience cultures, learn languages, adopt a child, write a book.

Here is a secret about me that is going to sound terribly morbid. For some reason I could never identify, I have always believed I would die young. I have no reason to think this –no medical conditions, no family history of sudden, early death, no impulse to engage in dangerous activities. It’s just something I’ve always believed somewhere in the back of my mind. It wasn’t until my relationship with Jonathan got really serious that I was able for the first time to even imagine myself growing old –because I can imagine him growing old and I can’t imagine ever being without him. And I think maybe it is this underlying belief, however unfounded, that subconsciously drives my overwhelming desires to travel and see and go and do and be and not waste time doing things I don’t care about.

I know that as a Christian I am supposed to feel that death only ushers me in to something greater than I can ever imagine – the presence of God.  And I do believe that. But there’s something even about heaven that I’ve always found frightening. Jonathan says it is because we cannot wrap our minds around something as large as eternity and it’s unsettling to think about the unknown and the unknowable. We are always somewhat afraid of what we don’t know and can’t anticipate. Sort of like how I (and I think many people) felt right before I got married—you know it’s going to be the most wonderful thing and you are excited for it, but at the same time, you are sort of anxious because it’s something you personally have never experienced and can’t quite imagine. You don’t have a mental framework for it. It is unlike anything you’ve done before.

I am not one of those people who can just pretend to have the “right” perspective on everything. I believe that there are people who genuinely feel more excited about heaven than earth, who have a more eternal perspective on life and death. But I admit that I am not there yet. And while this distresses me because I have always wanted to give the “right” answer, to have the “right” attitude, to say the “right” thing, I also think there’s something to learn from my own frailty.

If I recognize that I love life and say that I’m so grateful for the minutes and the hours and the days that I’ve had and that I hope to have, why do I still spend so much of that precious time just trying to get through it? Why do I sit at work and wish the time away?  Why do I spend the week just trying to push through so that I can get to the weekend? If I make the goal of each day to get to the end of it so I can once again crawl into my lovely bed, will those days add up to a life whose goal was just to reach the end of it? And isn’t that the exact opposite of that driving force that (sometimes unhealthily, I admit) beats with my heart Go everywhere. See everything. Don’t waste your days.

Conclusion: it’s ok that I can’t grasp eternity and that in my frailty, I even find it somewhat frightening. There is grace for that. It’s ok that I love life. It is a gift. I can’t place all of my value on things I will gain or experience in this life, but I can take these feelings and allow the Holy Spirit to use them. To say to my wandering heart, focus yourself. Live with intention. Stop running through your days just trying to make it to the end. Be attentive and be present, even when all you want to do is go home. Be mindful that the life you want to live is made up of what you do with your individual days, not just a handful of special moments.

So…Aunt Nan, I hope you’re dancing for the first time in your life with no braces on your legs. I have no way of knowing how many days I have left, if there is any validity to my feeling that I will lead a short life. But I trust that whenever my time here is over, there will be grace to bring me home. Without fear. And I sincerely hope, without regret.

My Resolutionless New Year

For as long as I can remember I have been that nerd kid who absolutely loved getting new school supplies. I would burst with excitement over the sharp wood-scent of new pencils and the crisp bindings on composition notebooks (and later in college, slender, trendy moleskins) with all of their empty pages which seemed to me to hold whole worlds of possibility. I have always been a lover of the written word and even though most of my notebooks would soon be filled with notes on lectures and computations and random doodles in the corners when I got bored, each blank book seemed to me to hold secrets that I had the power to unlock by simply setting my pen to the paper. The beginning of a new school year was full of opportunity.

Cool thrift-store notebooks

 Even in college, I loved the first day of classes when we’d get our syllabi and I would carefully copy due dates and assignments into my planner as though they were treasures just waiting for the right moment to be revealed. I loved the first lecture where I would use a new pen and have dramatic internal struggles about what the first worthy thoughts were to put on the page. (I was always a little anxious about marring the page with something silly or insignificant.) The first day or even first week of lectures would be preserved in careful notes written in my most precise handwriting and a mistake was like a horrible blemish on that perfect clean slate. I’ve even been known to tear a page out completely and recopy the whole thing rather than leave the ugly stitches of a crossed-out word on one of those first sacred pages. Of course after a couple of weeks my handwriting grew sloppier, my carefully printed words slipping into a crazy mixture of print and cursive, my full sentence outlines turning into bits of words and phrases scattered haphazardly across the page, my syllabus a portent of doom rather than the exciting excursion into knowledge it had once seemed.

My romanticized view of school supplies

 In many ways, I have a habit of looking at a new year in the same way. There is the initial excitement of the fresh start, as sweet and clean as the crisp pages in a brand new notebook.  There is the anticipation of the beautiful things that might be discovered in the coming days and weeks of this year. There is the hesitation over how to begin. How to place that first mark on something so pure. So altogether holy. Unblemished. But inevitably, it does begin. Usually with a dozen promises to myself, to God, to the world, of all the projects I will begin, the habits I will form or break, the ways I will be better, more, different. Things I want to accomplish. Things I want to change. The parts of me I want to discard like yesterday’s newspaper. The parts I want to sink more deeply into, attributes I desire to weave more deeply into the fabric of my being. The parts I want to take up and try on for the first time and see if they fit. As if any of these things could happen simply because one day rolled into another and we called it 2012.

I find the idea of New Year’s Resolutions too simplistic to be helpful. The idea that I, by sheer force of will and determination, could decide in one day to change the patterns and habits that I’ve been developing for years simply by resolving to do so. I mean, think about it. It isn’t as though I had a magical revelation on December 31 of all the things I wish were different and am now making my first genuine effort at changing them. I am constantly aware of things I want to change, from practical things like being more organized to heart issues like being less selfish. In most cases, they are things I have already tried (many times) and failed (many times) to change. Like my careful notes in my notebook during the first few weeks of a new school semester, I manage to keep some of my resolutions for a few weeks. But slowly and surely (or more often honestly, pretty quickly) I slip back into my old routine, my selfish habits, my less healthy choices, my overly busy lifestyle.

For me, New Year’s resolutions quickly become a reminder of new ways that I have failed. Failed to do what I said I would do. Failed to change things that need to be changed. Failed to keep that clean page of the new year free of angry ink-scarred blemishes. Over the past few years I have stopped resolving altogether, at least officially. But this year I am thinking something new. I am thinking that my failure doesn’t have to be such a negative thing. I’m reminded of another post I wrote many months ago about how ultimately, there is no such thing as ultimate failure, there is only feedback. And looking at it from that perspective I can see that my string of failures are valuable in several ways. At the most basic level, they help me eliminate something that does not work. A “solution” that did not have the intended result. But on a spiritual level failure is a stern teacher, a reminder of my brokenness, of my inability to fix myself, even when I can see what needs to be done. Failure gives witness to my sinfulness. To my need for salvation. And then I remember the great news. The news we celebrated just last week. Salvation is here. God with us. Hope is here.

So instead of making resolutions this year of things I will do or won’t do, I’ve decided to frame it in terms of hopes for this year. The greatest of which is that God would make himself known. That in my weakness, my utter inability to fulfill any of these hopes, I would see any progress as the work of the Giver of every good and perfect gift. That I would see any small successes as an outpouring of grace. That I would understand that in my weakness, I am utterly incapable of making the changes I want to see in my life. But my weakness is the perfect avenue for God’s strength. With that in mind, these are the things I am hopeful for in this year. These are not things I think I can accomplish and they are not items to check off like a grocery list. These are ways I hope to see God work in my life, but hopes I hold with open hands knowing that God’s desires for me may be different than my own.

My hopes in this year:

1. Develop a greater dependence on God and a greater desire to hear his voice and to obey it, both individually, and as a couple

Lily and Jonathan Swing. Courtesy of Asharae Marie.

2. Cherish and invest in the friendships God has given me

Scott and Sarah, some of our new friends. Who wouldn’t want to spend more time with these guys?! (This was at the state fair, by the way. There aren’t giant hotdogs just sitting around NC.)

3. Practice being a better listener. Be slower to speak.

Me listening. Also courtesy of the lovely Asharae Marie

4. Give more than I take. Especially with my husband.

5. Maintain a healthy lifestyle- eating well and continuing to run even after my half marathon is over

In case you never got to see this picture. So true.

 

6. Take time to write. Hopefully finish something I’ve started. It’s been years since I’ve completed something besides a blog post.

7. By this time next year I would like to be in a job or school situation that is more fulfilling, even if it isn’t my ultimate “dream job.” Take a step closer to understanding what God made me for.

I would like a path to follow. Any direction will do. 🙂

8. Bake more! : ) And practice the gift of hospitality that goes along with that.

Confession: I made these cookies like 5 years ago. But it was the only baking picture I could find today. So there.

9. Live an adventurous life, less hindered by fears that disguise themselves as “practicality.” Take opportunities to travel, to love strangers, to try new things, to learn from unexpected teachers.

Tintagel, England. Near Merlin's Cave. Photo by the lovely Jenny Hansma.

10. Find ways to spend time playing with little children (in the non-creepy way!)

Little guy I used to watch. Obvious why playing with kids is on my list. I have to get my baby fix or I'll start wanting one of my own.

Living Fully and Fully Living: Sorry, This is Not a How-to Guide

This past weekend was a difficult one in some ways. We were playing catch-up with laundry, cleaning, and grocery shopping, so the activities themselves were not the most fun. But on top of that, this weekend was one of those times when Jonathan and I just didn’t click the way we usually do and we had conversations that were painful and difficult and exhausting.

I admit that there are moments when I wonder what I would be doing right now if Jonathan and I hadn’t gotten married. If my life wasn’t so intertwined with someone else’s that my decisions are no longer my own. These are not moments of regret for the choice I made or wish I wasn’t married, they are just moments when I marvel at how a small choice here or there leads to a life-changing one like getting married and how the life-changing ones shape who you are and who you become. When I’ve considered it, I’ve always assumed that if Jonathan and I hadn’t gotten married, if he hadn’t been in the picture, I would have ended up in Africa or England or Indonesia—somewhere distant and new and full of new experiences.

But on weekends like this past one, I am reminded of why the path I am on is right. Why God has asked me to walk this one instead of the one where I walk alone under a scorching African sun. It is in the moments that Jonathan lets me see his brokenness, in the moments that he looks and fully sees the harsh reality of my own, in the moments when we together are forced to confront the brokenness of us, our marriage, our hearts, our lives, that I know I couldn’t do without him. It is this brokenness that reminds us of our need, for each other and most of all, for Christ.  I am not saying that single people cannot do great things on their own or that God’s plan for everyone is to get married. I am saying that God has chosen to shape me and mold me and lavish his grace on me through this man. And he has (wonder of wonders) chosen to shape and to mold and to lavish grace on this man through me. So as much some days I sit in my cube and wish I was somewhere far away holding orphans or writing novels or watching the ocean swallowing up the shore, I know that I could never do these things without Jonathan. Whatever God’s great plan is for me, it is intimately connected to God’s plan for Jonathan. And that is a beautiful thing.

I’ve been thinking a lot since my last post about what it means to live with the tension between the realities of everyday life and the dreams that crowd my mind and heart. How do I live a full life with all of the experiences I want to have and also fully live where I am right now? Jonathan suggested to me that perhaps it’s unhealthy for me to lay awake at night, craving adventures. I’ve thought this over and I have to say, I disagree. In a world oppressed by apathy, I think it’s a tremendous gift to want something so incredibly much. I think these desires are something God has placed in me. But I do understand what Jonathan is trying to tell me. That it isn’t right to focus so much on my dreams that I am miserable with the present. That when I am so intent on where I want to be, I miss where God has placed me right now. And he’s right. (Sigh.)

Striking a balance between being content with and fully present where I am and still holding onto and pursuing the dreams God has placed in my heart seems like an impossible battle some days. Some days it doesn’t even feel like something I want to do. What I want is for God to go ahead and give me the desires of my heart RIGHT NOW! But since God’s not on my timetable, I know that I still need both of those things. I confess that I am a woman of extremes and I don’t know how to do balance. But how better to learn balance than from the Center of the universe (or multiverse, whichever you prefer.) The one who impossibly manages to oversee the constant expansion project of the cosmos and at the same time notices the three hairs that fell from my head in the shower this morning.

There are two ways that I am actively pursuing this balance in my life. One is by setting achievable goals for myself here and now. Things I can work towards that will ground me in the present. That will help my day-to-day life look more like a journey with a destination than a run on the treadmill. I have set goals, small goals, for loving my co-workers. For developing relationships with our neighbors. For getting involved in our new church. For taking a step of faith and applying to grad school. Even for training to run the Disney Princess half-marathon in February.  Because taking small steps towards a goal reminds me to live life on purpose and that I can do that even when I’m not in a position to pursue my long-term goals.

The other way I am pursuing balance is by asking God to help me recognize the gifts that saturate each day.  By opening my eyes to the miracles of sunshine in the morning, the fresh air filling my lungs with each inhalation, the job that pays me enough that I never have to worry about being hungry. And also for the gifts that are unique to each day: the gift of my husband making coffee this morning, the gift of the smell of damp earth this morning after a violent storm last night, the gift of an email from my youngest sister, just wanting to share life with me.

For all of you reading this, I would love to hear about your gifts in this day. I would love to be thankful with you for the tiny ways God whispers love and purpose and approval over you.