Category Archives: faith

Good Things #45: A Face that Shines

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Exodus says that the people could tell Moses had been with God based only upon the look of his face.  It is real when it is real hard. Don’t go to a place to preach, go to help and in helping earn the opportunity to share the reason your face looks different.”

I asked my uncle about missions and what he thought about them and I tried to explain why I wrestle with a lot of what I see around me. And this is what he sent me.

It has been my prayer since opening his email.

Does my face look different? Does it shine?

Am I breathing in that I may breathe out?

 

Bleeding Out

Even if I was lonely, even if I was broke
Even if all the dogs in the pound let me know
Saying it’s never over, it never ends
Grab the guns and the ammo, let us descend
To the darkest of prisons, and break their defense
We will rattle the cages, rules will be bent
Oh, remind us our days are all numbered not spent
And peace it comes easy, like mist on a ridge

[Chorus]
Breathing in, breathing out, it’s all in my mouth
Gives me hope that I’ll be, something worth bleeding out
Breathing in, breathing out, it’s all in my mouth
Gives me hope that I’ll be, something worth bleeding out
All the worries folks tell us to break all of our ties
To our families and loved ones, we leave when we fly
To these cities we think we need in our lives
Oh you Manhattan jungle, you tangle our pride

[Chorus]
Breathing in, breathing out, it’s all in my mouth
Gives me hope that I’ll be, something worth bleeding out
Breathing in, breathing out, it’s all in my mouth
Gives me hope that I’ll be, something worth bleeding out

All the buildings, they lean and they smile down on us
And they shout from their roof tops, words we can’t trust
Like you’re dead, you are tired
You’re ruined, you’re dust
Oh you will amount to nothing, like tanks full of rust
But we scream back at them

From below on the street

All in unison we sing, at times, been redeemed
We are all of the beauty, that has not been seen
We are full of the color, that’s never been dreamed
Well, nothing we need ever dies, yeah
Nothing we need ever dies, yeah
Nothing we need ever dies
[Chorus]
Breathing in, breathing out, it’s all in my mouth
Gives me hope that I’ll be, something worth bleeding out
Breathing in, breathing out, it’s all in my mouth
Gives me hope that I’ll be, something worth bleeding out.

Ten Percent?

I’m sprawled out on a cozy bed, the May sun streaming through the blinds. I’ve got nothing more pressing to do on a Saturday afternoon than read a book.

I crack it open (or softly bend it open, ’cause it’s a paperback), and begin to read the book that’s been sitting by my chair for months.

I begin to read Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, and I know that change is afoot.

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Sure, all the stats are off (it was published in 2005), but the heart and soul of the book remains the same. Because it’s the heart and soul of the gospel, really, only in numbers and facts and practice.

Due to overconsumption, small numbers of affluent people strain the earth’s limited resources far more than much larger numbers of poor people (30).

[My junior year of college and I’m watching Justin McRoberts play his music and plead the case for thousands of hungry children. I raise my hand for a packet because I know myself: I will feel bad, maybe cry, have every intention of doing something, then get up and leave. I take a packet and I’ve been supporting a boy in India ever since. One. Only one.]

Is ten percent really enough?

It’s hard enough for me to write that check on Sunday, to drop it in the plate and trust that it will be put to good use. Because that’s what I’m doing: trusting. Trusting God to use the money I give to further His Kingdom. Trusting my deacons and trustees and pastors to look to Him for guidance.

Trusting that I will also pay my bills on time and not overdraw.

I am a fearful person.

Those of us in developed countries make up only one-fifth of the world’s population, yet we consume two-thirds of the planet’s resources (31).

So what am I going to do? Keep putting that ten percent in the offering plate? Keep sending money to India in the hopes that one boy will have a brighter future? Give to my friends who go on missions trips? Support another child in Africa? Egypt? South America?

Today, I didn’t buy a new sweatshirt. I wanted one, a green one that said “Cape Cod” because my old one wore out. I didn’t buy one after all – there wasn’t one exactly like I wanted.

I walked out of the store – sweatshirt-less and annoyed – and thought, Maybe that’s what I have to do.

Buy less stuff.

Eat less food.

Consume less gas.

Be mindful of where the extra goes because there’s more than enough to go around.

Advertisers promise that their products will satisfy our deepest needs and inner longings for love, acceptance, security, and sexual fulfillment (24).

I’m only a quarter of the way through the book, but I’m slowly working towards change. Change in myself is a hard thing to make.

Good Things #43: Being Told “No”

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I got the idea on the airplane to Chicago, reading Dubus’ Townie. He’d lived in a winter rental in a local beach community, and it dawned on me as I sailed through the sky:

Oh my gosh. I should buy a beach house.

If you know me – if you know my job and my life situation – you’re probably smiling and shaking your head, “There she goes again, too enthusiastic and a little bit crazy.” Because I teach at a Christian school. Because I’m only 25. Because FILL IN THE BLANK.

But really, I convinced myself (and my father, and my sister, and whoever else would listen to my rationale) that this was the way to do it. Buy a house that would help pay for itself. Get a roommate or two, rent it out for a month in the summer, and before you know it, you’ll own your home. I envisioned traipsing in the house after a long walk on the beach, me curled up reading in the sunlit evening, my sister (who, of course, would be buying the house with me) baking me delicious brownies, a glass of red wine in my hand.

I had it all planned out.

And when we found a three-bedroom house with a garden and brick walkways, an arbor, a loft (what?! are you kidding me? this is perfection.), and even a laundry chute, I let myself actually think it could happen.

I planned out a budget. I examined my finances and looked at my savings and promised myself “No more Starbucks!!!”.

I got a realtor, we got pre-approved for a mortgage, and then we looked into…flood insurance.

Ever heard of it? It’s this dreaded thing that, when you live in a small island community below sea level, threatens to destroy morale and your wallet.

The total was more than we would pay in taxes and it would only go up, my realtor said. It would be extremely hard to sell, and in one conversation the red wine I imagined sipping was dried up and my sister burned the brownies.

I got off the phone. I was at work when I called the realtor, and I was standing in the hot sun. My hair was on fire. I walked over to my friend who was eating lunch and told her what happened.

“I felt a lot of fear about it,” I said, “but usually my response to fear is ‘Get over it.'”

She laughed and gave me those eyes that mean: You’re psycho.

“Maybe this time it meant it wasn’t for me,” I finished, putting my head on the picnic table.

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I am grateful when I’m told “no.” This has been a long time coming, and it’s not a lesson I want to keep learning. Excitement fills my body so fully I can feel my skin tingling and I’m sure This is it! whether it be buying a house, moving across the country, dating a great guy, or applying for my dream job.

This is it! my body says, but circumstances and Jesus say differently.

I don’t blame God for good and bad in my life, at least not all the time. Sometimes, I do think things “just happen” and God makes good out of those things, too. But there have definitely been times when I’ve felt Him say, “No, Catherine, not this time, not this job, not this person.”

This time, it was “not this house,” and I am grateful in some ways.

I won’t be saddled with a mortgage.

I won’t have to leave my new flock of chickens.

I won’t have a longer commute.

I won’t have to live off oatmeal and yogurt for the next fifteen years.

I can still buy a bottle of wine, and my mom makes more than decent brownies.

There’s no denying, though, that there was a little loft in my would-be-bedroom with a brown ladder. That the tiny window let in sunshine, and I would’ve sat there drinking tea and dreaming, tucked away where no one would find me unless they knew where to look.

After the Burning [Guest Post]

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I’m honored to share Hannah’s story. I met Hannah when she started dating my childhood friend, David, and I even got to be part of their wedding last summer. I resonate with a lot of what Hannah has to say about expectations. You can read more of her writing at her blog, hannahlynnmell.com.

 

When David and I moved to Kansas last summer, I envisioned countless bright scenarios: making our first home together, establishing ourselves in a new arts community, gathering a circle of warm-hearted midwestern friends. We drove the moving truck cross country just three weeks after our July wedding, headed toward David’s first full-time teaching position and a shockingly inexpensive high rise apartment in downtown Wichita.

The low cost of living meant that I could piece together part-time work instead of looking for a full-time teaching job myself. The set-up offered precisely what I’d hoped for: ample time to write. I’d unleash volleys of cunning, heartfelt essays, utilize the glittering Interweb to network with likeminded creative-types, and watch my freelance career begin to unfold.

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You can smell the punch line, can’t you? We make our plans, and the good Lord chuckles. I love writing and revising essays; I don’t love submitting and resubmitting them. After ten minutes on Facebook or Twitter, I’ve had my fill of social networking for the week. It wasn’t that I spent the year in ardent pursuit of my dream but met with disappointment; my ardor dried up by the end of autumn.

Turns out I thrived on the bustle of teaching full-time. Waking early, putting on pretty clothes, riding my bike to school: my old routine suited me far more than staying in my pajamas and plunking away at a computer keyboard. When I found myself brooding at school, singing joyful songs with children snapped me out of it. In my new life I depended on afternoon voice lessons to buoy my spirit – and teaching students via Skype fell far short of teaching them in person.

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As autumn ended and winter set in, I grieved the loss of my Writing Career as though it had actually existed. I knew that I’d continue to write, but I unhanded the illusion that it would make me famous or even pay the bills. Okay, “unhanded” is a graceful but inaccurate verb. God had to pry the illusion from my sweaty, clutching fingers the way I’ve seen parents wrest dangerous objects from their toddlers.

Meanwhile, David’s teaching job dragged him through a disillusionment of his own. I don’t know which made me weep more: watching my husband struggle or letting go of the person I planned to become.

Fast forward to spring. Autumn and winter make a lot more sense when the world begins to blossom. Letting go of the person I planned to become? I’ve begun to recognize the loss as a gain.

Lines of burning grass create pattern on landscape at dusk

In the tall grass prairies of Kansas, spring is a time of burning. Native Americans started the tradition of setting fire to the old grass in order to instigate the rapid growth of new grass. Viktor Frankl wrote, “What is to give light must endure burning.” In prairie terms, we could slightly revise that: What is to give life must endure burning. As I survey the charred landscape of our time here in Kansas, I see fertile soil and green shoots. New dreams arise from the ashes of my surrender. David and I make plans to return to Massachusetts. I begin to outline a novel.

Catherine asked me to write about living the in-between. As she astutely observes, “We’re all there in one way or another.” David and I have experienced the in-between in full force this year, but I can’t remember a season of my life that didn’t feel like a transition. Like a baffled student, I return to the same lesson again and again. I’ll say it confidently now, with the windows open and the lilacs in blossom: the new life quickening within me will feed next year’s flames. When the grasses fade to yellow and the cold sets in, I’ll weep and question and eventually let go. I can’t tell you next year’s particulars, but I’m learning to love the pattern.

Hannah writes, Skypes voice lessons, and teaches yoga in Wichita, Kansas. She met Catherine through her husband David, one of Catherine’s childhood friends. Her blog lives at hannahlynnmell.com.

[Photo: James Nedresky at Flint Hills Images]

My Hands are Dying

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Today, I’m writing over at my dear friend Hannah’s blog, Breathe Deep. It’s a story that took a long time for me to be able to write, but it felt good to write it.

And for the first time in twenty-two years, she found a reason to plead for herself. Her blood, her gelatinous lungs breathing in and out. It was quick and suddenly she saw her hand – red and plump like Mickey Mouse’s – and she thought Oh my gosh, I am getting old. Look at these veins, and she hurriedly covered the purple spidery arm with a sweater.

You can only ignore for so long. The next morning the blood still pooled, the arm still hung heavy and without its customary strength, and she decided a doctor would know. If only to tell her nothing was wrong, go back to your little life of serving coffee and greasy eggs and feeling self-important. You are not so great as to be seriously ill. But that was a mistake because one place after the other, the ultrasound with its beat-beating and the reduction of her insides to a white-gray image from Mars. “Clot,” they said. 

It’s one of the those stories that had to start in the third person and grow more personal from there. To keep reading, head over here.

Come back Friday to read Hannah’s guest post about her own version of in-between living.

Maundy Thursday

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He spoke of the four cups of wine and their significance, how the Lord used four verbs of redemption in Exodus 6:6-7 when speaking about Israel:

I will bring you out…

I will rescue you…

I will redeem you…

I will take you…

Why is this night different from all other nights?

I wrote a letter to a college friend the other day, and faith came up, the strangeness of it, the constant shifting. I’ve changed more in the three years since college than I ever did when I was there, and my faith has been moving, too. I keep reminding myself that this isn’t something to be afraid of, that wrestling with doctrine and rightness of things and my own inconsistencies is exactly the way it should be.

It does scare me a little.

Why is this night different from all other nights?

God is not stagnant. Many of my friends are packing up and moving. God is not stagnant.

I am not moving house, but I am moving, constantly shaking things up, walking a new rabbit trail, searching and finding and searching again. I use new words to talk to God, but more than that, I find new ways to listen. I thank Him for the sun, and I thank Him for His unending forgiveness that I need daily.

God is not stagnant.

Why is this night different from all other nights?

There was a time last spring. I was in the throes of – I’m not sure what to call it – an emotional upheaval? A spiritual awakening? I’d just read Lauren Winner’s Still, and I wasn’t sure whether to be angry, sad, hopeful, or just realize its honesty. She wrote about the middle-place of faith, how sometimes we dwell in this space far longer than we anticipated. Throughout the whole book, her voice feels monotone, like her soul is weary with this middle-ness.

I sat in church, listening to my pastor’s words over the eucharist, and I was filled with fear.

My palms began to sweat. I stared at the communion table. It was the first time I realized what awe felt like.

The magnitude of what I was about to do, the bread and drink that would pass my lips, filled me with a visceral fear.

I have never had that same experience again, but I long for it.

The silence at the power of God.

The knowledge that He is so much more than I think He is, and thank God for that.

What makes this night different from all other nights?

To look forward to the feast of the Lord, when all is made new. To look forward to breaking bread with my Savior. To be shocked into wonder.

A Case for Fiction [Guest Post]

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As promised, I now introduce you to a good writer-friend, Bryn Clark. Bryn is known for his witty remarks and excellent memes (if you want to see those, head on over to his blog, allmyroads.com). I hope you enjoy his thoughts on the purpose of fiction.

 

A couple years ago, I finished my college degree. Normally, I hesitate to share more information. Because when I tell people I majored in English their reaction consists of one of three things: a) either they instantly think of the last book they read and then decide that if since I haven’t read it I am somewhat of a cretin and my education must not be valid (“where’d you go to school again?”), b) they tell me it is imperative that I read said book, it will change my life and c) they ask how long I’ve been working at Starbucks.

Now, rest assured, this is not another rant about “how I’m under appreciated” and “why English majors should get paid more” although I am and we should. But rather, I want to make the terrifically under-spoken point that you should all read more fiction than you do and you should certainly read more than the novel you’re currently recommending.

Now, there are scientifically proven social benefits for picking up a good novel (such as not sounding like an idiot when your boss references Melville or preventing you from telling an English major that they need to read Twilight) but those aren’t my focus today. Instead, I want to point out why you should read fiction, not just for fun, nor relaxation, social awareness or because the cute girl on the other side off the coffee shop happens to love Steinbeck. Rather, you should read fiction because your soul depends on it.

And I’m serious. Stop laughing.

To understand why fiction is important, we must first explore the concept of story. This is a notion that has been lost in our society. While no one today seems to think that “stories” have been abandoned, they have been, at the very least, abused. I say this because in an age of Twitter, Sparknotes and 30-second attention spans, our culture is suffering from intense story depravation. This is a vague notion to try and attach a statistic too, but in a recent poll, it was found that 42 percent of college graduates didn’t read another book after graduation. Furthermore, 80 percent of US families did not buy a book in the last year and of those who did take the great plunge and purchase one…57 percent of new or recently purchased books were not read to completion. Compare this to the number of people who access Twitter or update their Facebook status on a daily (or even hourly) basis, and you’ll see discontinuity. Its not because we don’t have time.

And to say that losing story would be a bad thing is an understatement. Whether you want to start with the epics of ancient Greece, which it is estimated were first written down in the 8th century BC (although they were an oral tradition for centuries before that), or cave drawings from the Aurignacian period in Spain dating back 40,000 years ago, we can all agree that story is nothing new. The art of storytelling has been cherished, taught and valued since the dawn of time.

And this isn’t a coincidence

Because the concept of story is universal; it’s in our DNA. A story isn’t just: “hey, let me tell you a what happened to me” or “this is how I felt after watching the Olympics”; they are not limited to the explorations of self that post-modernity preaches and are most commonly presented today. Rather, stories are a chance to venture outside of our egocentric realms and into something that is beyond us. They are, to paraphrase Cornelius Plantinga, a thousands pairs of glasses with which to see the world. Through stories I can begin to experience the Universal rather than what is subjectively important to me. In any language of the world, in any culture, tradition, time period- you name it- the idea of story is one that registers with people on one level or another. And although the forms of story change, though the tongues and traditions in which they are passed down can alter and vary across cultural lines, there are certain aspects to a story that always exist.

“Evidence!” you say. “We demand evidence!”

Okay, for instance every story must have a protagonist, antagonist and conflict. In other words, in every story there is someone or something that seeks someone or something and is prevented by someone or something from attaining the someone or something to which the aforementioned someone or something was striving.

Sorry, was that not helpful?

Okay, let me try this. If I encountered you on the street and said “I have a story for you!” then proceeded to inform you “I just bought a coffee” you’d look at me like I was Captain Ahab in the middle of your high school prom.

Because although I did tell you something, it sure wasn’t a story. Now if I had said: “Today I went to get some coffee and when I pulled into the parking lot I nearly ran into the light pole before getting out and tripping over my shoelaces on my way inside where I proceeded to make a fool out of myself by ordering a ‘small’ coffee at Starbucks (and ‘oh hey another English major!’)” then there are all the aspects of a story: the protagonist (me), the conflict (wanting to get coffee) and the antagonist (my perpetual ineptitude).  Thus, I told you a story. Although the cultural aspects of the story wouldn’t be the same if I were relaying this in, say, India, the elements of the story would still be present.

“But,” you say, “That isn’t fiction. In that example you’re discussing something that actually happened to you, and therefore we’re not talking about fiction. I understand that story is important, but why are fictional stories important?”

Here’s how: on the first day of my sophomore British literature class, my professor stood up in the room and opened with the following proposition: “fact needs fiction to survive.” I needed no further justification or explanation. The sun will rise each morning, politicians will never get along and fact needs fiction to survive.  Of these, I am convinced.

Because fiction is the color between the lines in a painting; it’s the harmony accompanying the melody of reality. It’s the third dimension of a scenic landscape, the focusing of a camera lens on a child’s smiling face. Fiction is the oxygen in the atmosphere of intellect, the chemistry between the bride of this world and beloved in the next and the salt in an ocean of life.

Without fiction, fact wouldn’t just be degraded, downplayed or lessened; rather, it would lose its very substance. Because within every work of fiction we find universal aspects of story. But rather than these aspects of story having been grasped or acquired from a previously existing notion (as is the case with non-fiction), they are being presented through the creation of one’s imagination. Thus, the imagination of an individual is creating artwork with subjective and aesthetic qualities, which at the same time feature universal elements. Not universal in it’s meaning, application or significance, but universal in it’s substance. Fiction is a created thing that appeals to a universality, which must be traced back to a Universal Source, which, for the sake of the argument, let’s call “God”.

What I’m saying is that fiction is a soul’s adventure among the mind of God, a role that fact alone cannot fulfill. Every fictional work into which we step is like us taking the hand of another and walking into the wardrobe of their creation en route to a journey with God we couldn’t have experienced otherwise. If you didn’t catch that reference then you really, really ought to take this post to heart.

“But”, say you, “what about fictional books that make a case against God? What about books of depraved morality, objectionable material? How can you say that God is present in those?” It’s simple. Because even within these books the elements of story (and thus universality) have been conjured up by a creative spirit and thus point to God. Furthermore, there’s no piece of fiction in existence that doesn’t deal with conflict. Try and present a piece of fiction in a writer’s workshop that doesn’t feature conflict and the answer will be akin to my boss at Starbucks when I called a “tall” “small”: “What da hell are you thinking?” Trust me, I’ve tried both. It doesn’t fly.

So every story has conflict. If conflict exists, then there must exist a right and a wrong. Within such, we can accept that there must be good and bad. If this universal “good” or “bad” exists, then a Being that determines and governs that universality must exist.  This is not to say that all fictional works bring glory to God, or that they necessarily ought to be read. Some fictional pieces are the equivalent of taking someone’s hand and being led to play Frogger on the crowded interstate of their utterly confused and misguided reality (seriously, have you ever sat in on an undergraduate writing workshop? It makes Alice In Wonderland read like Anglican liturgy). But even within these train-wrecked works, the elements of story intrinsically point to the existence of a Universal.

Take for instance (and I really can’t believe I’m doing this), Twilight…that one book you keep insisting that I must, must read. Now there are countless reasons why Twilight sucks, and I simply haven’t the energy to address that now. With its gross quantities of sucktitude in[CH1]  mind, however, there is all the more reason for me to use it as an example. Because within Twilight, there is a conflict between good and evil (although both sides are vampires, go figure). There’s another conflict over the love Bella has (depending on the millisecond) for Jacob and Edward. I’m sure there’s more, but after a while I gave up looking and started drinking. Despite the blurry lines, there is still undeniable conflict and thus a struggle between good and evil throughout the saga. Each clash between the two forces appeals to the reader’s sense of the Universal and thus has them gripped and rooting for some force to win. Amidst shouts of “Team Jacob!”, “No! Edward glitters!” and tight fisted grips of millions of pubescent girls (at heart) around the world, you have a readership that is drawn into a work of fiction and exposed to the Universal. Thus, Twilight, in all its depravity, is still the product of a creative mind that (albeit, in limited capacity) points to a universal truth and likewise a universal God.

If you take nothing away from this other than the fact that I completed an English degree with a good dose of snobbery and a chip on my shoulder then please take this: fiction is the act of another taking our hand and leading us into a previously non-existent realm. It’s the journey of our souls towards a land we would never have explored otherwise. Our souls need this adventure. We need these dances with the almighty, guided dives into the depths of universal truth that, though never understood, must always be explored.

Each piece of fiction, in its own way, is such a venture, and for that alone is worth the effort of a quick read. If you need recommendations: don’t hesitate to ask your neighborhood friendly English major (aka Barista). Whatever the case, do your soul a favor and start reading fiction today.

Also, I should get paid more. Oh, and, yea…here’s your Cappuccino.

 

 

Bryn Clark studied English Writing at Wheaton College outside Chicago. He actually does not work at Starbucks (they wouldn’t hire him) but is currently pursuing a Masters of Divinity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is continually fascinated with the link between theology and literature as well as anything by Marilynne Robinson or Bill Watterson. Follow his blog at allmyroads.com.

Good Things #36: Time

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A few months ago, I was on the highway. It was a Wednesday afternoon, and we were speeding on our way to one of my favorite port towns. My friend was driving, and I was trying to describe how to get to the used bookstore I’d wandered into the spring before. I knew there was no way we would find it again.

I told him I’d blogged that morning, and he said,

“Why did you already write your ‘good things’ post? You never know what the afternoon will bring.”

I laughed because he can be a romantic of sorts, and if I were always waiting for the next great thing, I’d never write a lick.

But I’ve been coming back to that moment recently, as the March sun promises warmth but the air has yet to comply.

~     ~     ~

Some people are good at living life as one big adventure. I have a friend who seems to jump from opportunity to opportunity, uprooting her life in America for two years in Switzerland and learning how to be in community while longing for that very thing. Of course she grapples with the normal dissatisfaction that seems to mark our generation, but she has a way of rising to the occasion.

I wonder what it would look like to live this way – with always the thought that “the next good thing” was just around the corner. Time has been a constant enemy of mine. I remember one night when I was eight years old, and my parents had my aunt and uncle and grandparents over. They were all in the kitchen, long after supper had ended, and we were supposed to be in bed. I don’t know what I wanted – probably just to feel like a grown-up and talk with them – but I came down the stairs. I heard my father, a touch of concern in his voice, say,

“Well, look at Catherine. She’s eight years old. Before I know it, she’ll be heading to college, and how in the world are we supposed to pay for that?”

I stopped on the cold blue tiles in the hallway. I was only eight years old, but there were the next ten years of my life, just the process of waiting for college and how in the word were we supposed to pay for that?

I couldn’t wait to study in college, but I also never wanted it to come.

[My mom’s friend sitting on the rug with me, not making eye contact, talking in her rushed-fashion about growing up and maturity and childhood. “Don’t try to be an adult sooner than you have to. I had to, I didn’t have a choice, but you don’t do it.” I looked at her and didn’t understand a thing she was saying. I just wanted to know what she and my mom talked about over tea at the island. It wasn’t my fault I could understand what they spelled to each other over our heads.]

Story after story of a young girl, and I travelled with her through childhood to adulthood, watching her blossom into a woman. And always that sadness when I came to the last page of the last book – for months Rilla of Ingleside sat untouched on my shelf because I couldn’t bear the thought of saying goodbye to Anne forever.

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These days, time is a different sort of enemy. When work feels long and I can’t imagine answering, “Magistra, what does quis/quae/quod mean?” one. more time., I tick the clock away until the doors open and I’m free.

But when the weekend’s here, I grasp after those same moments. Sundays are too short, no matter how good they are.

As spring approaches, and I think about ending my second year of teaching, it makes me sad that I countdown the days, hours, minutes till the end. Before you know it, you’ll be dead. 

Where does this voice come from?

The truth is, I love teaching, so why do I always long for something else even when I’m doing something that brings me joy?

~     ~     ~

“You never know what the afternoon will bring,” he said that day in the car, and I am reminded of the Swedish proverb I tacked to my wall senior year of college:

The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.

I put it on my wall as a type of foreboding, a warning of change and its suddenness and my lack of control.

Now, I’m trying see it as potential. Like the day that stretches in front of you just before you swing your legs over the edge of the bed. Like the friendship just before you shake hands for the first time. Like that first smell of strong coffee just before you sip.

To be expecting the next good thing in the afternoon, but to enjoy the good thing that’s right here now.

I don’t know what the afternoon will bring, but I’m trying to rest in time instead of wrestle it.

Dare to Surprise

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There was a boy in high school who stood out. For both good and bad, for his height, his clothes, his penetrating gaze when he talked to you, his arrogance. I noticed him early in September freshman year, and immediately I knew that I didn’t trust him. It wasn’t that I didn’t like him, but that I knew every time he would choose the wrong thing. That he didn’t know how not to let someone down in his laziness and youth.

For four years, our paths crossed occasionally, a mutual friend, a witty conversation, an awkward comment as we passed. I watched as he made reckless decisions, hurting young girls who saw only the handsome prince and not the boy. I had my hackles up because I knew exactly what he was like. No one had to tell me that I wasn’t the only he made feel like a million dollars, that I (along with everyone he talked to) was the only person in the room. No one had to tell me that his confidence in his charm was a very part of that charm. Even as I allowed myself to laugh because I like a quick tongue and an educated joke, I knew that I could never truly be myself.

That’s the thing about early assumptions: you almost always think they’re wrong. You second-guess yourself. You remind yourself that you are critical, that you expect too much of people, that you put people in a pretty little box with a label (“Fake,” “Selfish,” “Socially Awkward,” “Immature”) and set the box on the shelf in your closet, never bothering to open it and rethink that decision you made so many years ago.

And because you know your tendencies, you force yourself to rethink it. You figuratively slap your own arrogance in the face, and you dare them to surprise you.

Surprise me, I whisper, when I begin to trust.

[For once, don’t promise the big grand thing and forget in your rashness you ever said anything.]

Surprise me, I hope when I let someone begin to love me or someone else I care for.

[For once, choose the best for the one you claim to love most. For once, refuse your own selfishness.]

Surprise me, I dare, even as I watch again and again as they continue not to.

[For once, make your word count for something.]

What I’m really asking for is this:

Prove me wrong. Please. In this one instance, I want so badly to be wrong.

I guess what I’m realizing is that sometimes you’ll never be surprised. Sometimes, that immature fourteen-year-old-freshman-self wasn’t as dumb or judgmental as you claim, and really, here is a young man who’s grown up to be just a taller, more successful, equally-self-centered gentleman with a penchant for desiring goodness but without the will-power to get it.

The same laughing blue eyes, the same way of leaning towards you with an intensity that – for just a moment – feels like yes.

There are some people who live up to their reputations.

There are some people who, after years and years of chances, will never surprise you.

And you can love them from a distance, but that is all you can do.

Thoughts on Courage

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Working at the loose leaf tea shop my first year out of college was such a beautiful time of my life. It was a difficult time (because who likes floundering and admitting that you aren’t sure where life is headed?), but I look back on those days of Earl Grey and Mao Feng and Russian Caravan with a sweetness. We sampled tea, we mixed tea, we talked to interesting people, and we had some of the best discussions.

You know how there are certain things people say that burn into your brain? I have one of those friends who consistently says sentences that stick with me. It’s a friendship I treasure, but there is also a little carefulness to it because hearing truth isn’t always the easiest thing.

The sentence that has been reverberating in my mind from those days in the tea shop is this:

“Don’t make choices based on fear.”

It went along with a conversation about how you can’t always have 100% pure motives but that waiting until you do is paralyzing. Living out of fear is paralyzing. Being a coward is paralyzing.

I took this to heart, this choosing not out of fear but out of trust. I’ve been attempting to live this way, in both my private life and in my professional life, but it’s an in-progress evolution.

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I thought cowards said “no.” I thought that it was the brave who grasped life by the horns and ran, who said an exuberant Yes! to all that came their way. And so I say yes because I want to be brave. I don’t want to turn my back on possibilities, and I open my hands.

Recently, I’ve been toying with the idea that perhaps “yes” is not always the answer, or at least that maybe it is sometimes the answer born of fear. In more than one instance, I have said yes because I was afraid of reaction. I was afraid of seeming weak. I was afraid of hurting someone.

But where does a weak “yes” get you but to a later, more painful “no”?

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In 2014, I have said a few “nos” that were hard. I dropped a grad school class because I knew in the pit of me that two at once was too much on top of teaching. I never drop classes. Not once in college. It was humbling for me to say, You know what, I don’t think I’m gonna do this.

I was telling a student the other day (she was asking me for advice on a program to study in college and music and what to do) that I am not the person to go to if you want to be talked out of something. If you want to be encouraged and fired up and emboldened, I’m your girl! But you want to be told to let go and drop it? Find somebody else.

But that’s exactly what I let myself do this January.

No to that second class that will ruin both classes and my life.

No to that second date because we have nothing in common (I’m sorry, but trust me, some girl somewhere will love to sit and watch sports with you and make you chicken wings).

No to feeling guilty about skipping small group once in awhile to rejoin my college trivia night team.

No to trying always to be perfect, to following a timeline, to forcing myself into a little mold that can’t hold me or anyone else, really.

Too often I have said “yes” because I’m afraid. I’m afraid of hurting people, of letting them down, of being the woman who’s weak and can’t handle it.

I’m learning that sometimes it is as fearful to say “yes” as it is to say “no.” I’m still figuring out the difference.

[Photo: Sarah Hawkins]