Modulus of Joy

Closing out the year

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I’m sitting here in my living room surrounded, as usual, by a crap ton of sleeping dogs. I’ve got the day off, which is exactly what I need right now. Time to myself, my thoughts, and some bracing up of myself for the new year ahead.

This past year has been…. tough. Not bad necessarily, but there have been so many new experiences and new demands on my time and resources, that I have felt overwhelmed often enough for it to seem almost constant.

My grandfather, my last biological grandparent, died. My brother in law graduated from PA school in New Mexico and moved to Houston with my sister. I met an amazing man who treated me like a queen, took a chance and trusted him with my heart, and ended up rejected. I started seeing a therapist because I was starting to lose focus at work, and was worried about becoming depressed. I have spent the summer working on becoming a more emotionally available person, resolving a major trauma from college, and learning how to enforce better interpersonal boundaries. I was asked by a good friend to be her daughter’s godmother. While at the same time being in the middle of a total re-evaluation of what faith means to me, and not being totally sure of what Christ-in-me is supposed to look like other than the opposite of what it’s always been. And in the midst of all that, I’ve grown to dislike my job even more, even knowing that I cannot afford to leave a job that I almost hate because I now have a mortgage, and bills to pay, and debt to get rid of.

There are good pieces, for sure. I’m not trying to say that it was a perfectly awful year. But so much of it has felt like one knockout punch after another, and I just have no choice but to keep going. I keep thinking…. there has to be more to it than this, doesn’t there? I’m supposed to be happy, aren’t I? I’m not supposed to be anxious all the time. I’m not supposed to worry, almost every waking moment, when the next big thing is going to hit. Will my car break down? Will I get laid off from my job (which I need, even though I hate it)? Will I lose faith in God entirely? Will people see through the facade and find out that I am really just a terrified, discontent, complaining little child in a woman’s body?

There is something about today, though. There always has been for me, on New Years Eve. It’s sort of an artificial boundary – the end of one year and the start of another. And it’s been a long time since I’ve made a new years resolution because I know myself well enough by now to realize that those are worth about as much as monopoly dollars. But still. But still. I am hopeful, just a tiny little spark of hope, that maybe this year I can find joy again. Not a facade of joy (which is so often the case now), but the real kind. Maybe the kind I’ve never really had. The kind that is content with where life is at now, doesn’t need to compensate with anything, trusts God with whatever crap might hit the fan tomorrow, and is not afraid. I am tired of being afraid. I am tired of feeling overwhelmed. I am ready for joy, and peace, and to start walking through life feeling ready for what is ahead, rather than feeling emotionally, spiritually, physically drained.

I am tired, 2012. It’s time for joy. Let’s do this.

i am woman

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I’m sitting here in bed, waiting for my sleeping pill and wine combo to kick in (I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately). The thing that I have been unable to get out of my head today, is this insane, pulsating almost, crazy sense of gratitude and wonder for my female friends. 

There’s something almost mystical about being a woman, don’t you think? I’d imagine most men would agree with that. But even just from a female perspective, I’m just starting to really gain an appreciation for the majesty of the feminine. And I think that this has a lot to do with one very specific recent event. 

A good friend of mine has asked me to be her birth coach. She’s due in 7 weeks, and I will be there for the delivery of her daughter. I will hold her hand, yell at her, encourage her, whatever she needs, as she brings this life into the world. And this is not a process that has ever even remotely interested me, that’s the weird part. Childbirth, to me, is strange, scary, messy, intimidating, and something I’ve never had any desire to actually do myself. But when my friend asked me, the answer was obvious to me – YES. And I am becoming more and more grateful for that answer. As I’m reading, and researching, and doing my very best to be ready and capable for her when she needs me, I feel like I’m getting in touch with something that I’ve never touched before. 

The body, the gorgeous, never-perfect, cosmically strong female body. That brings life into the world. That carries life and then brings it out to impact other lives and create its own life and touch the world. Our bodies DO THIS. They change the planet. They carry humanity forward. They create and nurture and bring forth LIFE. This is amazing to me. And I am so excited and awed and humbled to have this opportunity to witness the process, be part of it. Even if I never experience it myself (which is fine), it is more and more incredible to me that I will get to be even a small part of the process in someone else’s journey. 

Women are just remarkable, I think. In addition to the journey of childbirth, I’ve been so blessed with strong, up-front, practical, gorgeous women as friends. I have gained more of an appreciation for healthy, strong, beneficial, feminine friendship in the last five years than my entire life has equipped me for. Gratitude is too light a word to express how deeply I am thankful for this gift. The gift of being understood, of being invited to understand. The amazing process of learning the heart of another as they learn yours. The sense that you are understood on a fundamental level before the process of friendship has even started, because you are both women and sometimes that is all that matters. 

I used to think that it was a curse to be a woman. That we are lesser, dumber, more prone to being deceived, that our emotions were a weakness to be scorned, that our place was in the kitchen, that our thoughts  on God were unimportant, insignificant, subject to skepticism and casual dismissal. But we are none of these things. We are WOMEN. We are here, by the grace of God, to fulfill a purpose and a calling, to impact the lives of those around us, to nurture and bring life, to speak in wisdom in truth, to engage the hearts of those around us, and to be the beauty of God in a so-often ugly world. 

I am grateful to be a woman. And I am beyond grateful for the glorious women I know, who have shown me (and continue to show me) the infinite beautiful pieces of what God is doing via the feminine. 

too much, just too damn much

I’m going to use some feeling words here, because someone who is counseling me is encouraging me to get more in touch with my emotions. By nature, I’m a very push-it-down-and-try-to-pretend-you’re-a-rock kind of person. I dislike strong emotion, with very few exceptions. I like righteous indignation, I like laughing, I like peace. These do not always mesh well.

In any case, I’m not feeling any of those things lately. Right now? Inadequacy, shame, frustration, anger (the frothy, directionless, really painful kind).

I have been trying so hard. SO HARD. To be genuine. And granted, I have very little idea about what that actually looks like when it’s in mature form, since I’ve taken such pains to conceal things for so many years. Where I’m going, who I’m with, what movie I’m seeing, how much that tattoo cost, what I ACTUALLY think about the church I’m attending…. So I guess what I’m saying is that I’m a little new to this, and I’m sure I’m not doing it right on SO MANY LEVELS.

I’m trying to let the stuff inside out to breathe. I’m trying to not hide, not conceal who I am, what I like, what I struggle with, what I believe, why I believe it, why it’s hard for me to believe things I KNOW are right… Things I just never really talked about. Because I always thought (justifiably, since I’ve experienced them during leaks from the walls I have in place) there would be consequences for that sort of thing.

I’ve tried to forget about the consequences part and just let stuff out. This is a quest for me. A quest to be ME, to figure out how to be a better, more well rounded, more mature person. I KNOW that that comes with being genuine. I know it. I see it in others, envy it, and am trying to attain it. But I forgot about the consequences, and tonight I am feeling the weight of that like a bag of bricks on my back. A big, big bag of bricks.

And this makes me want to quit. Relationships that I hoped would somehow magically improve when is started trying to be more open? They seem to be getting worse. Just tonight I have been accused of being an embarrassment. I cannot even wrap my head around that. It makes me sick to my stomach. And I want to quit. What is the point of all this trying and growing and stretching and figuring out what it means to be a mature, well-rounded, emotionally healthy person if it just invites toxicity?

I am discouraged. And tired of trying. And I just want to crawl back in my shell and be the person that (apparently) is so desirable that her absence is shameful.

nature, nurture, or just “ugh”

Growing up in the church. Now there’s a loaded topic if I’ve ever seen one. The idea that this is the magic bullet to creating Godly adults seems to be the biggest disappointment around. If anything, raising your children in the church seems to be a pretty risky endeavor, that if you’re lucky maybe won’t ENTIRELY disengage them from God as an adult.

As someone who grew up going to church (every Sunday, twice, and that was after Sunday School.), I can tell you right now that this sets the stage in so many ways, for the rest of your life as a Christian (if you let it), or as someone who chooses not to be a Christian at all. Because you are exposed to so much, particularly when you’re young – it makes it so SO much harder as an adult to “own” your faith, to see it as something you alone are responsible for, rather than a hand-me-down. This isn’t always the case, but I’ve seen that it tends to be when only the mind (and not the heart) are engaged in this process.

The advantage of raising children in the church (planting seeds of truth in fertile little brains) is also a disadvantage, particularly when childhood is left behind and a sense of responsibility and ownership over your own spirit needs to be created. This is particularly true when doctrine is the focus, rather than seeking God. Facts are presented rather than encouraging questions about what is unknown.

A rigorous educational environment is beneficial in engineering, and perhaps for Christians going into ministry positions where greater demands are placed on them intellectually. But to raise a child, a young person, in an environment where Christ becomes doctrine, behavior and believing the appropriate things, rather than relationship, seeking, asking, knocking, following, stumbling, getting back up again, striving, searching, doubting, hoping, loving, asking more, comfort, safety, longing, passion, vulnerability, and knowledge of who you are before God…. To fail to nourish and encourage a radical pursuit of God (and not just a radical pursuit of correct doctrine and righteous behavior), this sets the stage for an empty and profane spiritual life as an adult.

“Profane?” isn’t that a little harsh?

I guess I don’t think it is. Because all of this, it describes perfectly where I’ve found myself. To set the wrong focus at a young age is to skew the focus of the adult that child will become. What does a relationship with God look like? What does it mean to love God? When God has been little more than a cosmic sledgehammer waiting to slam down on you when you misbehave, the concepts of “love” and “relationship” seem to be conceptual at best, and laughable at worst.

Fast forward to adulthood. Assuming you made it through high school and still believe there’s a God (it’s been my experience that this is pretty rare for kids raised in the church. Or at least the churches I grew up in.), what does your relationship with Him look like. Do you even know what that means – “relationship with God” or is that just a nice phrase that doesn’t really mean a whole lot if you were forced to explain your PERSONAL relationship with God?  Do you subconsciously find yourself trying to earn God’s favor? Do you expect the same of others? How is the safety blanket of legalism slipping over your life (because really there is nothing safer than knowing EXACTLY where you stand)? Do you understand your God in terms of grace or fear?

Do you have beliefs, habits, judgments, ideas, whole systems of thought, that are simply what you grew up with? These things are hard to find. And by hard, I mean almost impossible. Because the source of whatever-it-is (baptizing babies, going to church twice on Sunday, attending to pro-life rallies, avoiding non-Christian friendships, being a Republican, reading your Bible through in a year every year and staunchly defending the use of Welch’s grape juice ONLY for communion) is so far in the past, and so deeply entrenched in who you are, it can be so hard to distinguish truth from self from lies.

I don’t have children, so obviously I’m not the right person to ask about how the opposite of this looks in practice. And I will say that, despite a fundamentalist, somewhat legalistic upbringing, my parents raised my three siblings and I well and we all have a relationship with God as adults. Each of us has taken different paths towards that relationship, and I don’t know if the other three question the status quo as intensely as I have begun to, but I am thankful at least for the solid foundation that was provided.

I also think that it’s probably a mistake to think that the method is all there is to it. Obviously good things can come from (what I think is) a less than perfect methodology – four committed Christians, raised in the church and still in the church as adults. Ultimately the results are up to God, and no amount of manhandling and detail-minding of the process will guarantee a certain result.  God takes care of that. Ultimately, like with everything, all that there is to do is our best. And pray.

avoidance and acceptance

Paradigm shifts are scary sons of guns. I feel like I’ve had more than my fair share this year, and to be honest it’s hard not to feel a little exhausted, despite the also regularly occurring “mind-blown” feeling that I get with each new revelation.

You know what has been huge for me lately? Christians can talk about things. Like, in a positive, realistic, grace-filled way. In a way where conflict, disagreement, imperfection… these are not threats, these are not indicators that the fires of hell are licking at our sandals. These are functions of being human, sinful, a wanderer in a broken world.  And those sorts of things are the very best things to talk about, to bring into the open, because that is how we find the road from them to grace. From dust to glory. From sin to redemption.

Things that matter, things that are real, visceral, messy, embarrassing, humbling, difficult, gut wrenching. These are not (in my experience) topics that often come up.  I am learning more and more that we are so afraid of digging beneath the surface into reality. We are so afraid of confronting and discussing pain, heartache, lust, disappointment, anger, impatience, grief…. We address them superficially (“I’ll pray for you. I’m so sorry. God will provide.”) but we so rarely crack open our souls and let all the mess inside pour out. Because it is exactly that – a mess. A big, cosmic, dark, sinful mess.

I have heard it said more times than I can remember, the importance of discussing only what is pure and good. This is the standard of Godly talk. And on principle I agree with that. But I think that in the Biblical context of redemption – where the horrible things of the world are made pure and good through God’s grace – we need to talk about the mess. We need to be honest about what is in our hearts now, what is hurting us, what makes us sin, why we enjoy sin, why disappointments can grab us so hard that it feels like even God Himself might not be able to yank us back. We have to talk about the dark, if we are ever truly going to see the light.

This is a mistake. This is dangerous. This creates a paradigm in which people with those feelings feel like outcasts because no one else seems to be experiencing them.  How is that healthy? How is it “good and pure” to, even just by default maybe, allow someone struggling with lust, or hatred of someone, or self-loathing, or abuse or massive regret, to believe that they are alone. That they are less than a good Christian because no-one else is talking about how this is normal. Part of the human condition. One of many struggles that we all face. ALL OF US. Who doesn’t have a dark corner (or room, or entire wing, for that matter) in the house of their heart. A place that they hate and protect simultaneously? Sometimes (maybe always?) we need to know that that corner, that room, the entire south wing of our hearts, that’s something that does not qualify us as a lesser child of God. That others have been there and ARE there. That is how we find the way out. That is how we can see hope. Sin in dark corners doesn’t make you a freak, it doesn’t lessen your standing in the eyes of a God who sees you through Christ. It is what Christ is there FOR.

I started stumbling across (God-directed stumbling, naturally) blogs like the Good Woman Project, Make it Mad, Relevant, Think Christian and A Deeper Story. I have literally gotten the chills every time I’ve wandered through the amazing articles on each of these sites. I keep coming back for more, because I know that I will be fed, and feel understood, and feel NORMAL. There have been evenings where I haven’t been able to tear myself away from the internet (I’m a little bit of a junkie, but this has been a whole new thing). I’ve read article after article after article, feeling like my soul is sinking into a place of comfort and safety and HOPE. That this Christian thing I’m doing isn’t just about believing the right things and doing the right things and toeing the line. It’s about being real in the presence of God and others, seeking Him first, even when we’re seeking Him from a place of darkness where we’re not sure He can get to us. It’s about acknowledging what is real, even if it’s ugly, because you have to start somewhere.

 

 

Belated Thanksgiving List

This year I am so thankful. I’m beyond blessed, and I’m afraid I just don’t take the time to really focus on that the way that I should. In order to instill some focus, here’s a list (don’t judge. Lists are what engineers do.):

1. My family. This one is a no-brainer, especially if you know my family.

 

2. My God. This one should go first. And again, should be a no brainer. ;)

3. My house. Owning a home is simultaneously a giant pain, and a giant blessing. I love the slow process of molding it into something distinctly mine. I enjoy being home more than anywhere else.

4. My dogs. All three of which are sprawled out on the floor sleeping right now. They are my everyday joy and companions and challenges. I’m turning into the Crazy Dog Lady only because they are so crazy awesome.

5. Food. Oh man. I am so thankful for food. Even though I’m on a more restricted diet now (wheat and corn are out. Sad day.), I still love to eat. Finding new recipes and discovering new flavors is one of my favorite things.

6. Incredible friends. I seriously have some incredible friends. This has been a tough year in a lot of ways – major shifts in the dynamics of some friendships. But I have learned a lot about myself, a lot about others, and have learned so much especially about the nature of healthy relationships and accountability. It’s a powerful thing to feel better equipped to be a friend.

7. Christmas. I love this time of the year. The lights, the music, the weather. Not the consumerism, but that’s alright. Everything else about it is beautiful.

8. The fact that I’ve lost almost all the weight I gained. I was getting fluffy. I’m still a little fluffy, but more like a summer comforter and not so much a big down duvet.

9. Peace. I heard a great sermon once about how God gives you periods in your life that are equivalent to the Israelite’s time in Goshen. Times of plenty, times of peace, times of blessing. I feel like I’m in a Goshen phase right now. Such a blessing.

10. Hoodies. I am thankful for hoodies. If there was ever a more comfortable clothing item invented, I haven’t found it yet.

back in business!

About two months ago, my little Mac Mini took a gigantic crap and stopped working. Since blogging on my phone is a royal pain in the heinie, I pretty much just quit. 

Today, I took the Mini to the Apple Genius Bar (aptly named), and they told me what I had already suspected – baby doll was pretty much a shiny little brick. I could have spent the time and money to get the logic board replaced, which would have maybe fixed the problem, but… Amelia has my keyboard and monitor now for school (and has gotten kinda attached to using them with her Netbook). And besides. It was kinda nice to have a fairly reasonable excuse for a new one computer! 

So, once I come up with something fantastic to write about it, you can count on hearing about it. 

summary of a weekend: friends, food, beer, smoking car parts

This weekend my childhood friend Amanda (who writes this great blog) came out for a visit from Portland.  It was pretty special to be able to catch up with her, as well as a couple of other friends from our group “back in the day,” and kinda just renew the friendship. We went out Friday night, had drinks, then found a late night pizza joint and had pizza by the slice. The next day we slept in, lazed around, then headed to a concert at Red Rocks. That was right when my car’s turbo gage decided to go up in smoke. Excellent. Time to get a car. After the show, we went home and looked at old camp photos, and went to bed WAY late again.  The next morning was breakfast with friends, and then Amanda spent some time at the pool, and flew home. Overall, great weekend.

The highlight for me in having Amanda here was the conversation. She and I seem to be so on the same page about life in so many ways. Even though our energy levels are worlds apart (I’m still dragging ass after so much activity. I guarantee she doesn’t feel the same way.), the way that we see things is just so parallel.

Sparing you the (super secret) details of the majority of our conversations really (now that I think about it, wow, we really did some soul baring!), I’ll just say that I came away really refreshed. There’s something about finding a trustworthy soul and then dumping a bunch of emotional baggage on them that just leaves you not only exhausted (apparently. although that probably has more to do with late nights and a contact high from all the weed at the concert), but uplifted. To be seen as you are by another, and not judged. It’s powerful.

think of me as a challenge

A few days ago, I went to breakfast with a friend. Someone whose opinion I value a lot.

Over breakfast, this friend (let’s call her M), asked me if I was serious about some plans I’d been talking about a while back, to go to Europe alone and travel around. I said, well yeah, of course I was serious. Why wouldn’t I be? M then informed me that “It’s a foolish idea. I don’t think you should go.”

Wait a second… “foolish?” Really? When I pressed M for her reasoning, she gave me none, mumbled into her waffle, and continued eating breakfast. I tried to explain rationally that I do not have someone to go with (all of my friends, and I do mean all, who I could consider to be good traveling companions, are married or almost married), but I don’t want to sit around waiting to live my life until I too am married (something I’m not waiting around for, period) and have a built-in travel companion. I explained that I bought my house with similar thought behind it – I would have loved to buy a house with someone, but since that wasn’t in the cards, I bought my house alone. M didn’t appear to like that reasoning, but didn’t have anything further to say.

This kind of conversation drives me nuts. I admit, I’ve gotten to be a little more of a feminist than I ever used to think I’d be, but it’s not because of some wacked out liberal ideas about women being better than men (which is really the point of a lot of classical feminist argumentation, imho). It’s simply a practicality of my life. I am not better than men. I’m not saying that. What I AM saying, and what seems to be such a difficult pill for so many of my Christian friends (particularly older friends) to swallow, is that I do not need a man. Period. I’ve proved that to myself just about daily for the last 31 years. And I refuse to believe now that just because it’s the “normal thing to do” (another of M’s statements to me about my single state and my need (her perception) to get married), I should wait around for “normal” to show up at my door with roses and chocolates.

The way I see it right now, and I’ll just be really blunt – there are very few real tangible things a man could do for me that I can’t do for myself. Sex is one of those things – and the first that comes to mind for me. I won’t lie. That would be nice. (Just to be totally transparent here – I am celibate.)  But is it necessary? No. Obviously. Because I’ve lived without it so far.

Other things “men can do” include repairs around the house (I’m a better handyman than most guys I know), bringin’ home the bacon (got that covered too), managing the finances (yup. covered.), spiritual leadership (that’s what pastors are for). These are necessary things. These are things that old-school Christians seem to think women just can’t possibly survive without a man in their lives to take care of for them. And I would just like to call bullsh*t on that.

I don’t need a man.

And I know that’s intimidating to men. Most men. I am opinionated, I am self-motivated, I educate myself about things that interest me and are relevant to my life (from politics to history to engineering geology to home plumbing repairs). I am not afraid to say what I think, and I’m not afraid of someone thinking I’m wrong. I think I’ve always had the seeds of this, but I’ve noticed as I’ve been on my own longer and had to find contentment in a place where a lot of women are sitting around moping because they don’t have a date on Friday night, I’ve changed.

There’s part of me that wonders if I’ve effectively pulled myself off the market, so to speak. I know from experience that one date is usually all I get, if I even get that far. For whatever reason, guys don’t call me back. I don’t know if I open myself up to disrespect, or if it really is that they are intimidated (because dumbing myself down to make some guy feel better about himself just isn’t in my skill set).

I don’t need a man.

But I’d like one. I wonder sometimes (not often, because I know what it feels like, and the dangerous places it can lead to, to allow myself to mope about being single), if there actually is a guy out there who could take me on. Who would WANT to. Who wouldn’t be intimidated, but turned on.

I know I’m not an average girl. I rarely get my hair done. If I put in a tooth whitening tray three times a year, it’s a good year. I have dog hair on my clothes pretty much all the time. I sometimes forget deodorant.  I like talking about controversial things in a loud voice. In public. I swear when I’m angry. I crave mental stimulation, and rarely find it. I can cook and clean. I look damn good in a cocktail dress. And I can change a flat tire in that dress (I have a picture to prove that). I know I’m not conventional. I know I’m a little much sometimes. But I know I’d be worth it if some guy out there has the guts and the self confidence to give it a shot.

In the meantime though? I don’t need a man.

There’s a big, gorgeous world out there full of things to do and people to meet. I’m not sitting here waiting for that guy to show up. He’s gonna have to be on the move too, if he’s ever going to find me.

pukie the clown

Today, on the way home from one of the hardest workouts I’ve done in quite a while, I was thinking about my vomit threshold. I’m pretty sure I know where it is, and I work diligently to avoid it. This isn’t exactly Crossfit policy (puking is generally seen as a badge of honor, since it means you obviously have given the workout everything you have), but I have my pride to consider. I don’t like crying, or throwing up, in front of other people. So I’ve been cautious.

But honestly, I don’t know what REALLY would happen past that gut clenching, throat filling up feeling that I get right before I slow waaaaay down and take it easy for a second in my workout. I’ve never pushed it, and so I effectively am self-plateauing. That’s not a word. I don’t care.

I think, and I’m not sure when this will be, I’m going to push past that scary point, and see what happens. If I actually throw up, cool. But what if it’s not actually a puking point that’s making me feel that way. What if it’s just my brain lying to me that I can’t do this, it’s too hard, just take it easy for a second because it’ll feel so good. I don’t want to be that person. I want to do this with intensity and passion and maximum effort. I give Crossfit 99% of my maximum effort. It’s time to push it to 100%. I will say that I’ll be positioning my station near the back door from now on though. If I’m gonna hurl, I don’t want to do it in the middle of the gym.

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