Last night I sat on my husband's lap and cried into his shoulder. I wasn't really sure why I was crying. In some ways it felt like I was crying over nothing. In other ways it felt like I cried because of everything. I wasn't so upset that I couldn't talk. It was one of those strange moments when tears are coming out of your eyes and snot is welling up in your noes, but you look significantly worse than you feel. All of my thoughts were still with me, and unlike the many other occasions when crying makes them murkier and more confusing, last night's cry put everything into focus.
It's been a weird week. It's been hard to even know why it's been weird. I've been stressed to the max with a Master's thesis I'm trying to write. Each day I've sat down and seriously doubted everything - my topic, my timeline, my brain. Which of course has led me to doubt so many other things about myself - life choices, financial situation, calling. And when I doubt those things, I tend to go on crazy power grabbing hunts. I set my eyes on the best schools I could possibly get into. I make crazy goals for myself like working five career advancing jobs and working out every day and publishing and eating only healthy food and loving everyone I meet and serving in every way possible in my church and getting pregnant right now and cooking more often and... and... and...
I recently read an article someone posted on Facebook about how women can't have it all and how we shouldn't be trying to have it all. Last night, what brought me to tears was realizing why I struggle with wanting it all. The question isn't whether I can or should try for it all, but rather, why do I even want it all in the first place? The truth is, more than anything else in life, I want glory. It's like lead poisoning in my soul. It's so much a part of my nature and a part of my environment that I don't even know it's there until I face these weeks when the sheer stress of it all makes the poisoning obvious.
I have struggled with this disease my entire life. In fact, I would even go so far as saying that a lust for glory is the single more basic thing for understanding who I am and the decisions I've made. It's been intangible enough that it isn't immediately obvious when looking at my life. But when I think of my youngest self and the way I wanted, truly thirsted after being a princess, movie star, or celebrity more than anything else, I see this desire for glory. Then I grew up a little and my pre-teen interests developed and I fell in love with ice skating and dreams of going to the Olympics, and still it was there. Of course those dreams didn't last, but by then I was a teenager and the definition of glory simply changed. The glory I sought after didn't have to be world-renowned. No, I was pretty content with seeking after the more localized glory of "coolness." I wanted to be cooler than everyone else, alone in my glory among the throngs of the "uncool" world. By college, this desire hadn't quite dissipated, but a different sense of glory was growing in competition. Romance. I wanted to find the one person who would bring me the more adult glory of marriage and sex. That was a long quest, and eventually it choked out the glory of being cool. It's amazing, though, how quickly everything changed once I got married. Almost immediately, my heart made the subtle shift from relational glory to the glory of a career. With one major thing checked off, the glory quest moved on to the next thing.
Sometimes I am just so damn tired of it. I have repented and repented and repented again of this thing inside me, but most often it seems like there is just so little to do about it. It is so far, deep, down in my soul that unless I am actively staring it in the face, it will resurrect. It will come back again, and then again in one form or another. It's not the whack-a-mole of sin. At least with whack-a-mole, the mole always looks the same and there are a limited number of spots where it can appear. It's more like the shape-shifting living dead - I can never tell it's there until it's eating me alive because it never looks the same.
As I've been struggling through all of this over the past week, a few images have been floating through my head. First, the funerary words, "She hath done what she could," spoken in memory and honor of a dead 19th century missionary wife. (If you want to know where in the world I got that from, ask my thesis.) Second, the image of Furiosa from Mad Max. These are two very incongruous images - there probably isn't anything more oddly juxtaposed than a meek and petticoated woman from two hundred years ago and a feminist icon who rips the bad guys' heads off. But they are deeply linked in my mind.
I just watched Mad Max: Fury Road for the first time last weekend. I had wanted to see it when it came out and I read all of the countless reviews raving about Furiosa. But I don't think I could have understood just how striking she is as a character until seeing the movie for myself. She is, hands down, my favorite portrayal of a heroine I have encountered to date. My favorite used to be Tolkien's Eowyn, but Furiosa cast a light on Eowyn I had never noticed before. I haven't read the books and or watched the movies for quite a long time, so my memory may be faulty, but I remember it being pretty clear that Eowyn wants the glory of battle. She is not allowed to go and so there is a lot of discussion about her desire to participate in something so honorable. She wants to protect her home and family, yes, but she honestly also just wants to be part of something so downright great. Eowyn wants glory. Furiosa, on the other hand, is not once portrayed as considering glory, or even herself, in her quest. She has a mission and she will do whatever it takes to complete it. Whereas Eowyn's desire for a glorious quest requires her to be secretive and cut off from the others, Furiosa's mission requires her to know both her strength and her weakness, enabling her to ask for help when and where she needs it. At the end of Eowyn's battle, she has done something remarkable and she has done something good, but there is much about her narrative that is clearly focused on Eowyn and her triumph as a victory for herself. At the end of Furiosa's tale, however, the clear narrative is that "She hath done what she could."
I think for my entire life, I have wanted to be Eowyn. I have never been able to look beyond the glory involved in the good things there are to do. I have never been able to truly escape myself in the various quests I've set out upon. But glory is not mine to seek. Glory is something that belongs to God alone. As my sweet husband reminded me last night while my snot and mascara smeared across his sweater, one day, because I am his heir and child, God will glorify me at the end of time as he promised. "For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!' The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs - heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him." But let's be honest, I don't even really know what that means - to be glorified with God one day. So while I may live in the hope of glory, I really can't seek it now, in this life.
In the end, I'm not even really sure what I'm trying to process in this post other than that I need Jesus. And I need whatever the anti-lead-poisoning equivalent for the soul is. Which is probably just more of Jesus. I'm really not a fan of the "just open to a certain page and find God's message for you" approach to life, but sometimes it is shocking how well it works. Most nights, I tend to just lie in bed gooning out on my phone while Trey brushes his teeth. But last night, for some inexplicable reason, I put the phone down and picked up Augustine's Confessions. I have it in my stack of books next to my bed as a hopeful "one day I won't look at my phone and will read this instead" reminder. I opened to wherever I had last left off and found the following words. "You have rescued me from all the evil roads I have trodden, and given me a sweetness surpassing all the pleasant by-paths I used to pursue. Let me have a mighty love for you; in my inmost being let me hold tight to your hand, so that you may deliver me from every temptation to the very end." (1.15.24)
All of the paths of glory are my lustful temptations, but God has rescued me from them. The cure for my glory-sickened, leaden heart is the same one Augustine sought - to hold tight, very tight, in my inmost being to the hand of God.
Weddings are most often big and beautiful declarations of love between a man and a woman. Sometimes they are flashy, sometimes quietly artistic, and usually highly emotional. Whatever the budget, weddings are a time for individuals and families to lay aside other important endeavors and invest what they can into the creation of a new family. They take a lot of energy and a lot of focus.
In the West, we commonly talk about a wedding being the primary time for a women to "express herself," carefully arranging even the smallest details to reflect her beliefs, tastes, whims. If she wants to feel like a princess, her wedding will involve sparkles and tiaras. If she is an environmentalist, she will work to make her wedding as green as possible. If she is a musician, great care will go into arranging the music. The list of things to express is as varied as women are. Every bride has been told, "It's your day." We've all had conversations with women who are greatly concerned with displaying the best things about herself through her wedding. The West looks at a wedding and expects an answer to the question, "Who are you?"
We need to pause here and consider how much pressure women are under by believing the idea that their weddings must demonstrate who they truly are. So much of the stress surrounding weddings is first and foremost stress concerning identity. Even the bride who declares, "I don't care about all of these silly details!" is often still trying to tell the world something about herself. She is still telling us what to think of her as much as any other bride.
If this is all true, and weddings have become the primary place for women to express the things they identify with, then I've come to realize that weddings really incredibly fragile and tender things. And the women behind them even more so. How can an event and the woman behind it bear not only the weight of a covenant and vow, but also the brunt of ultimate self-expression?
I first started to see this problem in myself when I got engaged and then married. Up until my engagement, I had exhibited many different attitudes towards weddings. As a little girl growing up, I idolized them and dreamed of the day I would act and feel like the fairy princesses I dreamed of being. In high school, I believed a wedding was an inevitable dream and would never have doubted my chances of wearing the white dress. By college I started to develop a more critical attitude. A hint of scorn started to show towards other women who openly obsessed about their future wedding day. Though a wedding still loomed large as my secret heart's desire, I thought it best to approach it circumspectly and realistically.
In the five years between finishing college and my own marriage, I mostly harbored bitterness towards weddings. Really what I harbored was bitterness towards other women's weddings. I hid this jealousy under a veneer of criticism concerning "wedding traditions" and "frivolous expectations." The amount of money, time, and energy given to weddings became ridiculous to my mind and only the closest and dearest of my friends escaped my all out exasperation with wedding season. I declared to myself that I would not be like every other bride if I ever found myself planning a wedding. I was going to be sensible, after all, and avoid throwing myself into the unnecessary craziness of obsessing about insignificant things. My three main goals were to never make wedding planning a bigger priority than all of my already established relationships and responsibilities; to never obsess over what I perceived to be the silly and superfluous "details"; and to make sure the wedding was a community event, not something isolated from the people involved in every aspect of my life.
But once the ring was on my finger, and real decisions had to be made concerning an actual wedding, it felt like something slowly and powerfully started to take over my mind. I cared about everything connected to the wedding and obsessed over every detail. But it wasn't an obsession that led to joy and delight in the coming day. It was an ensnaring obsession that more often than not led to insecurity and worry. I could not let go, because in my mind, the decisions being made weren't about an event, they were about me. For example, if I had never been a girlie girl, but chose pink bridesmaids dresses, what did that say about me? My girlfriends were all surprised with this color choice, as was I, so how could I not contemplate what these physical details told the world about the changes romantic love was creating within my personality?
As I broke everyone of my three "goals" concerning weddings, it felt like I was slowly loosing ground to a version of myself that I never wanted to exist. I felt guilty about putting so much time into the wedding, but I didn't know how to not think about it. I became more and more isolated over the period of engagement, one of the primary things I had promised myself would not happen. I wasn't being the person I wanted to be, but I didn't know how to be free of this thing that was so incredibly important.
I continued to muddle through this minefield my entire engagement, through the wedding day, and into the first months of marriage. Of course, I often found peace in knowing that in the light of eternity, the details of the wedding didn't matter. In the comfort and love of my fiancé, I knew that the vows we made were the most important part of the whole thing. And of course my wedding was one of the most wonderful and amazing experiences of my life, blessing my husband and I deeply as we committed our lives to each other before the Lord.
But I started to realize something was really wrong when I continued to obsess about my wedding after it had taken place! For days, then weeks, then months, I found myself going back over the details of the wedding. Had everything been as I wanted it to be? Maybe if I had just changed a few things here, a few things there, then it would really have been ideal. I fully acknowledge that some of these things can be chalked up to personality - it's rare, but sometimes I really can be a bit of an OCD psycho.
But who among you married women of my generation hasn't dealt with some of these feelings when you first get your wedding pictures back from the photographer? You scour them, desperately hoping that the photographer has captured the true atmosphere of the day, the one that you skillfully crafted and planned. You look to make sure that you are captured as you want to be, according the image that you picked for yourself on the most special of all your days. And if something, anything in the pictures didn't turn out how you hoped? You have to admit you feel like a key piece of the wedding, a key piece of your identity, has been lost.
So let's pause here. What am I trying to get at with all of this musing and soul sharing? Frankly, I believe modern weddings have become a quagmire of idolatry in our generation's drive to create their identities. Women are being trapped within their own drive for self-expression when it comes to their weddings. I spent a lot of my first year of marriage chewing the cud on this topic and here are the conclusions I came away with.
1) We need grace.
Your identity is not found in your wedding. Christ has made you free and given you a new identity! You do not need your wedding for anything - anything - to tell yourself or the world who you are. That is Jesus' job, let him do it. If you want an environmentally sound wedding, and styrofoam plates show up, the blood of Jesus covers you. If you want to lose ten pounds and instead gain twenty, the blood of Jesus covers you. If you want to create community by inviting everyone you know, and your parents will only pay for half of the guest list, the blood of Jesus covers you. If you want to walk down the aisle to Sufjan and your best friend insists on singing a duet, the blood of Jesus covers you. Create beauty and do good in your wedding, but remember that not a single thing on that day can stick to you like the sweet blood of Jesus. Claim it is as the strongest identity you have.
2) Think upon the wedding feast in heaven.
Because of your new identity, you know where all of this is headed - think upon it in the months leading up to and following your wedding. Whether your wedding turns out exactly as you dreamed up, is an unmitigated disaster, or just more normal than you're content to accept, it is only the faintest foreshadowing of the real wedding we expect to attend. Relish the good things about your wedding as a foretaste of heaven and mourn the disappointing things about your wedding as the remnants of a fallen world, but in both, keep your eyes on heaven. With the whisper of heaven in your ear, the work of a wedding will become sweeter and the disappointments less tragic.
It took me months before I could think about my wedding without worrying over everything that went wrong and what people would think about it. But I learned that with your identity soaked in the blood of Jesus and your mind caught up in the winds of heaven, the anxieties and frustrations of "your day" can blow away like the chaff of yesterday. There are many things I still wish had ended up different, or better, about my wedding. But when I think back on it, I delight in the beauty that was created not because of what it said about me, but because "...Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know if part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." The feast of Christ is coming and I could see its approach on my wedding day.
Sometimes I am a brat. And sometimes The Lord is kind to me in spite of it.
Today has been crazy in the very best of ways. Trey and I have been in Michigan for a staff training all weekend and were scheduled fly back home out of Detroit this afternoon. When we checked in, the Delta kiosk notified us that the flight was overbooked and asked if we wanted to be put on the volunteer list to take another flight. We chose the voucher amount for which we would be willing to give up our flight if need be and headed to the gate.
Of course, complete chaos greeted us when we arrived. The terminal was packed and every passenger had a sour expression on his or her face. Yuck. When our name was called to talk to the desk about giving up our seat, the only alternative flight for us to take was tomorrow morning, so we declined the offer. The voucher amount we had agreed to really wasn't worth giving up an afternoon flight for a night in an airport hotel and an early morning flight the next day.
So we boarded the plane and settled in. Every livid passenger was loaded and then came the announcement that the flight was still overbooked and that they were still looking for passengers to give up their seats for that morning flight. Trey and I looked at each other and decided to check in with the stewardess and see if they had upped the voucher offer. Of course they had, because no one was budging on that flight, and so we jumped on it. We grabbed our belongings, got off the plane, and soon had vouchers in our hands for twice the amount we had initially bargained for!
Now, this thing happens all of the time. Flights are overbooked and folks deal with inconvenience in order get a free flight out of it. Why was today so incredible for me?
For the past three months, my husband and I have been wrestling over whether we can afford to go to Europe next summer. We don't have tons of money, but we have a lot of frequent flyer miles and both sets of parents will be in the UK. From one perspective, it's not infeasible for us to go visit. From the other perspective, it's not the best use of our money. And this is the heart of the problem. How do you know how to make these decisions? What is wise and what is frivolous? What is practical and what is miserly?
Trey and I have stood on, exchanged, and danced around both sides of the issue for months, and it has not been easy. We have laughed about it and we have cried about it (ok, let's be honest, mostly I've cried about it.) In the end, we have learned so much about each other in the process. It's amazing what something like this teaches you about your spouse. This has been one of the issues that hasn't been serious enough to pour time and energy into, nor has it been small enough to just laugh it off. And sometimes those are the very hardest.
Apart from learning a ton about my husband, his priorities and the way he thinks, I've mainly learned a lot about my brattiness. In particular, I've learned a lot about my brattiness with the Lord. There have been very legitimate things for me to be upset or frustrated about concerning this decision, but those have been really small compared to the great many things I've gotten upset about that were not worth it. And I don't think I really saw that until today, when for no apparent reason, God gave us exactly what we needed to be able to do this special thing we really wanted to do.
God blessed us today and I don't know why. Going to Europe is not a need. Going to Europe is not particularly beneficial to us. I've been a pretty big brat about it a lot. This story is not an example of God taking care of your needs exactly when you most needed him to. This isn't about God fulfilling his promises, because we all know God never promised we would get every frivolous thing we ever wanted.
Rather this story is about God giving one of his daughters something good when she totally didn't deserve it. And that's the incredible God we serve - a God who gives extraordinary gifts and blessings to people who truly are not worthy of them.
I cut my hair short last week. It's not too short - I can still put it up in a ponytail. But a bun is definitely out of the question, and probably also a braid. For those of you who keep abreast of hair fashions, I went for the long bob a la Emma Stone, Olivia Palermo, and dare I say, Taylor Swift. (And no, I did not intentionally copy her as my dear sister had the audacity to suggest.)
I've been thinking about cutting it this way for quite a while, probably about a year. But I am not very adventurous with my hair and it's taken quite a lot of back and forth in my brain to make this move. Considering it's not even that short, you think it wouldn't be that difficult. But as amply noted by the hairdresser, I had very long hair and this was a really big change.
I have a really difficult relationship with my hair. Since I was thirteen years old, I've been going back and forth between long and short cuts. I was in my early teens the first time I cut it short. I got what I thought was the absolute coolest haircut - a short bob that I had to learn to blow dry with a round brush for the very first time. Additionally, the cut had awesome 90s barrel bangs. I was so proud. But eventually, I realized that a certain piece in the back always stuck out and I couldn't get it to curl under like the rest of the look. So I commenced an effort to grow out my hair back out. What had started as my first departure from little girl locks and foray into grownup fashion had ended with frustration and introduced the first feelings of insecurity about my hair.
By the end of high school, I had the typical really long, really pretty teenage girl hair. It was healthy and shiny, and flowed down my back. My sister dubbed it "The River" and I was incredibly proud of it. When I briefly relapsed my freshman year of college and cut it short, I immediately and bitterly regretted it. The only funny surprise to come out of it was discovering that puberty had given my hair more natural wave when short than I remembered it having the first time. No wonder it held curl so well! Throughout college I continued to work on growing it out again and maintained some sort of long length throughout my twenties.
Growing up is a hard thing to do. Becoming an adult is a rough and gritty process. And I believe this is especially true for women. You see, I wanted so desperately to be beautiful. Puberty causes young girls to become frightened of so many things about their bodies. Things start to happen that make them feel powerless and out of control. Things change and they have no say about it whatsoever. Feeling beautiful somehow seems like a significant affirmation that everything will be ok. Maybe you have to start dealing with weird and distressing hygiene issues. Maybe no one will know what to do about your breasts or your weight gain. But at least you can be pretty. You can still be precious.
I wanted to be pretty, but I didn't feel like anything about me was particularly beautiful. I would frequently ask my girlfriends if I was pretty and bemoan with them what I felt sure to be my plain and average features. Then one day, a girlfriend told me that though she didn't think I was the most beautiful girl ever, she did think my hair was really pretty. It's amazing how the smallest and silliest comments will stick with you for the rest of your life.
From that point on, my hair has been an extremely important thing to me. That doesn't mean I've always been obsessed with it or put lots of time into it. But it does mean that my hair has had a lot of power over the way I view myself. I feel good about my hair, it's a good day. I feel crappy about my hair, it's a crappy day. I think all women have something like my hair. Maybe it's their hair too, or maybe it's some other physical feature, but whatever it is, it's their safety net for feeling pretty. And most likely it's something that they were complemented on during their most insecure time in life so that now it's like a pacifier. "Well, I may not be a size 2, but at least I have a really awesome nose." "Ugh, I always hate my skin, but man, I have good boobs." "I don't like the shape of my eyes, but I know I have really great cheekbones." All women have something they feel they can hold on to in their darkest moments of physical self-loathing. Mine was my hair.
But what happens when even that feature lets you down? I turned thirty years old this summer and a lot of things are changing about my body. I'm ten pounds heavier than I've ever been and I'm finding it absolutely impossible to take the weight off. I'm starting to crease around the edges of my eyes and my neck is getting flabby. And most heartbreaking of all, my hair is just not what it used to be. It's thinner and wirier than ever before. The natural wave is doing weird things. I swear my hairline has receded some. All of this may be my imagination running wild. Or it may not. The point is that my hair, the one thing I've felt to be beautiful about me, is failing to give me that affirmation I'm always looking for.
And so I cut it off. And man, I can tell you that it was one of the most freeing moments of my life. Do I think this is the best haircut I've ever had? No. Do I think I actually look better this way? No. Will I grow my hair longer again? Probably. But I desperately needed to be free of the shackle I had forged for myself. I needed to stop trying to grow my hair longer and longer, chasing the years of youth that are far behind me. I needed to stop obsessing about every reason my hair might not be as great as it once was. I needed to stop feeling insignificant on bad hair days. I need my hair to not be a big deal.
After all, beauty is the eye of the Beholder and he tells me to live in freedom.
Today I ate breakfast with someone who asked me, "Do you like Boston?" I laughed in response and gave my husband a knowing look. This has been the question of the last two years. Do I like it here? And if not, how can I learn to like it? I've definitely grown in my love for the area, but there is still something about it that's hard to embrace. I so seldom feel carefree here, completely abandoning myself to the enjoyment of my surroundings. I see beauty here, but I don't often dwell in freedom. I'm learning and growing and I believe God is not done with my story in Boston. So let's hope I start to laugh a little bit more and stress a little bit less!
In every other place I've lived as an adult, I've made a list of 50 things I love about it. This is the first place it's taken me this long to come up with that list. But now I've finally done it. And it feels good.
So here it goes...
(The first 15 are from my first 6 months here, so some of them aren't as applicable anymore. But I think they're good to keep on the list since they were important at the time.)
1. Having a home with my husband
2. Apartment windows that look out onto trees
3. Neighbors who a) own horses, and b) ride their horses around the neighborhood
4. Living this close to the ocean - a first!
5. Mike's Pastry Shop
6. The Boston Public Library
7. Hearing Turkey's gobble out the apartment window
8. The commuter rail and the T
9. Finally having somewhere to hang my art collection
10. Lots and lots of used book stores - seriously could not ask for a city with more of them!
11. Reuniting with old friends from China now living in Boston.
12. Decent Chinese food and lots and lots of other international options.
13. The autumn leaves and beautiful sunny days. Boston in the fall really is great.
14. Our futon (since it has hosted many friends in the short time we've been here!)
15. A job lets my use my mind and challenges me each and every single day.
16. The Minuteman bike path.
17. New windows that look out on rooftops and beautiful sunsets.
18. Walking to the Somerville Theater or the Capitol theater.
19. Birds and raindrops on the roof tops outside my windows.
20. LL Bean makes sense up here.
21. Breakfast at Renee's Cafe.
22. Takeout from Za Pizza.
23. Beer club!
24. Stalking Puggy Pug.
25. Whale watching.
26. Antique stores everywhere.
27. Needing a wider variety of coats than I ever realized could be necessary.
28. Exploring Mount Auburn Cemetery.
29. The bus stop literally outside my front door (although, that is definitely a blessing and a curse).
30. Feeding the birds at the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary.
31. The girls in my women's fellowship group.
32. Maine. I don't even know if that's allowed on a list of things I love about Boston, but I'm putting it down.
33. The Megabus to New York City.
34. The Fung Library at Harvard
35. The Boston Athenaeum!!!
36. The craziness of our landlord doubling the size of our apartment and making it awesome.
37. The Boston Ballet.
38. The Boston Opera House.
39. The Thinking Cup.
41. Game nights with friends.
42. REAL German pretzels at Pemberton Farms.
43. Any situation which I can use the hashtag #wearesobostonrightnow.
44. Sailing on the Charles River.
45. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
46. The MFA.
47. The walking path to Davis Square.
48. Dressing Trey like a Boston-man.
49. Tons and tons of amazing ice cream and creameries.
50. Market Basket. 'Nough said.
And you know what, I'm going to keep going since it's good for my soul.
51. Multiple Anthropologies.
52. Concord and the Luisa May Alcott house.
53. Date nights with my hubby.
54. The classes I've taken at Gordon-Conwell.
55. Family visits!
If you could know where you would be in five years, would you want to? Generally speaking, I would want to. I have a constant burning desire to know where my life is going and I don't think I could resist the temptation to find out who I'm going to be five years from now if the chance were offered. But I also know it wouldn't be good for me.
I'm no good at being content. Quite frankly, I want it all. I want to be successful. I want to be beautiful. I want to have committed friendships. I want to be a devoted member of my family. I want everyone to like me. I want to have multiple hobbies. And I want all of these things now. I don't want to have to wait around five, or ten, or twenty years to develop these good things. I want awesomeness now.
But if I can't have it all now, I at least want to know that I will have it eventually. So I obsess about where I'm going and plans and trajectories. And I can't simply let go.
For the past couple of mornings I've been waking up grumpy and my days have been spent frustrated and angry about how little control I have over my life. I've been dealing with the persistent feeling that I'm so close to getting somewhere, that I'm so close to cresting a hill, but I just... can't... get there. I'm running faster and climbing harder, but I'm failing at getting and doing and being everything I want to be. I want to know that in five years I'll have two kids, a fulfilling job, and a husband finishing up a doctoral program. But every one of those things is just far enough out of grasp that I find myself obsessing about how to secure these dreams tightly in my fist.
Yesterday I was trying to process all of this with Trey and I heard myself utter these words, "I know I need to be satisfied in Christ, but I'm trying to be satisfied by success in these other things. I don't feel like I want to be satisfied in Jesus." In my husband's great wisdom, he gave me hug and whispered, "I don't take what you say lightly, but I have two thoughts. First, you'll feel better in a week, but second, that doesn't mean these feelings aren't real and you shouldn't struggle through them with Jesus while they are here." Ah... the wonders of a man who has fully acknowledged his wife's PMS. But he's so completely right. I will feel better soon, but that doesn't mean this spiritual struggle I'm in right now is fictional. It's real and maybe my PMS is just taking my facade off so I have to deal with what is underneath it all.
This morning as I sat at my kitchen table eating breakfast, I reflected on my life and asked myself why it is so incredibly hard to let go of trying to have it all. I am constantly worried and obsessed with whether I'm satisfied in my work and what I need to do to be more so. I remembered that before Trey entered my life, much of my energy went to whether or not I would get married and how to be satisfied without someone in my life. Now that I am married, all of that angst has just been transferred over to my work life. The real issue here, folks, is that I apparently know nothing about being satisfied in Jesus. Reflecting on my life, I see that I'm like a helpless infant in this area, being passed back and forth between the different shoulders I'm leaning my soul upon.
But I remember one particular year of my life. I had been disappointed romantically, yet for the first time I found it in myself to avoid the bitterness associated with such disappointments and instead to just love the man in question and the woman who held his affections. It was one of the most free and happy years of my life. Not having what I wanted and choosing to be satisfied regardless was deeply empowering. I relished life during that time. In general, the times that I have accepted not having it all have been my happiest and most carefree.
I still want to know where I will be in five years. I want to know that my life will look how I want it to. But if I could know and if did look how I wanted, it would only be a trap ensnaring me in my idols. Jesus doesn't tell me I can have it all, because I already have him. And though it is sometimes really really hard to want him more than all of the other shiny things out there, it doesn't matter because he wants me.
Trey and I just had the best weekend. We went on a "workcation" to an island off the coast of Maine. Trey took his homework and I took some personal projects I'm working on and we hung out in a beautiful renovated barn. Every morning we woke up to the sound of crickets and seagulls out the windows. We opened up the french doors to look out on our host's luscious garden while cooking bacon and eggs for breakfast. After dinner we drank wine and listened to jazz. It was great.
Now we're home and for the past couple of hours, I've been really struggling with disappointment. We're anticipating next year holding a lot of changes for us as Trey wraps up his degrees and works while I become a full-time student. For the past couple of months, I've been trying to figure out exactly what I'm going to study and where. But it's all so complicated and it seems like every day I have a new plan. And plans can be very dangerous things for me.
Part of the joy of this last weekend was that the seclusion and disconnect from reality gave me space to think and dream. I have so many ideas about my time in school and I think they are good ideas. A weekend of reading and contemplating and hashing things out with my husband was so exciting. My imagination could just run with its thoughts.
But coming back home and regaining cell service and unlimited internet access reawakens reality. I'm confronted with costs and time constraints and professors retiring and all I can feel is disappointment seeping in. Reality is not bad and I know it, but I still feel frustrated and let down.
As I descended into the pit of self-pity this evening, a thought occurred to me and challenged my disappointment with the situation. Here was my thought: I am going to be the same person after this degree as I am now. Such freedom accompanied this thought! Going back to school is going to be a really good thing. Getting to study and write about my particular interests would be a really great thing. But none of it is going to magically alter my life.
It's so easy for me to see these changes coming my way as something that will make me happier. I look forward to getting to do what I want to do and developing certain skills I believe I have. But none of that is going to change who I am at the center of my being. Wanting change is not a bad thing. It's just that I have to ask myself, am I wanting the right change? Maybe school will enable me to do certain things, but it's not what will make me a better person. If I'm tired of myself now, relief won't come through avoiding disappointing circumstances, but rather through changing my heart.
Going back to school won't somehow make me the person I've always wanted to be. It won't save me from let down and disappointment. Seeing myself through the eyes of Jesus will turn me into the person my soul longs to be. For in him I can find satisfaction not only with the ups and downs of sunrise in Maine and sunset back in my home office, but most importantly, with the person he has made me now and the person is making me to become.
Preserve me, O God, for in You I put my trust.
O my soul, you have said to the Lord,
"You are my Lord,
My goodness is nothing apart from You."
As for the saints who are on the earth,
"They are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight."
Their sorrows shall be multiplied who hasten after another god;
Their drink offerings of blood I will not offer,
Nor take up their names on my lips.
O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
You maintain my lot.
The lines have fallen to me pleasant places;
Yes, I have a good inheritance.
I will bless the Lord who has given me counsel;
My heart also instructs me in the night seasons.
I have set the Lord always before me;
Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will rest in hope.
For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
~ Psalm 16
This past weekend inspired some more additions to the list of 50 things I like about Boston. Enjoy!
11. Reuniting with old friends from China now living in Boston.
12. Sichuan Gourmet in Brookline. The first restaurant I've visited outside of China's borders that serves LEGIT 川菜, including but not limited to amazing 回锅肉，real 空泡鸡丁，and hold your breath my dear friends... 烧烤!!!!!! Apart from water chestnut and baby corn in the 烧烤, I would not have known I was in Boston.
13. The autumn leaves and beautiful sunny days. Boston in the fall really is great.
14. Our futon (since it has hosted many friends in the short time we've been here!)
15. A job that propels me to worship with my Chinese brothers and sisters at their local churches.