Category Archives: road to freedom

London Awaits

This very moment I am awaiting my plane to London, England.

I am sitting at the terminal, surrounded by people, but I am alone. This is my favorite way to travel.

“Catherine, is anyone going with you?”

“Yeah, S is meeting me in London, but I still get to fly alone.”

My grandmother does not understand my phrasing – “get to” – and most people don’t. There’s something about the separation – the ability to exist without the confirmation of anyone else – that reminds me who I am.

C. S. Lewis wrote that it is only when we look at the other that our Self is able to be. I agree with him…mostly.

There is another Self that materializes at the Gate, and this Self is just a little different from the others. She doesn’t need to do anything. She doesn’t need to be anything for anyone else. All she has to do is be. Oh, and do what she’d like, of course. Which is write this, at the moment.

My bag is filled too full with books (check out the What I’m Reading to see what I brought), and as you can tell, I decided to bring my laptop after weeks of internal debate. Of course I could just write in my notebook, but the moments flit by so fast, I know I’d lose them.

I sit, eager and calm, ready and not ready, because I’ve learned that after each trip, I come back just a little different than before. Not in big ways – I don’t dye my hair or pierce body parts or change my name – but the landscape of my mind shifts. It grows. It changes. And the places my mind wanders in down moments now includes the place I’ve just come from, with all its colors and shapes and sounds.

Here I come, London.

I’m a What?!

The best compliment you could’ve given to my 16-year-old-self was by far:

“You’re normal!”

Maybe this goes for most teenagers, but I think the word “normal” holds even more power for those among us who were (whisper this) homeschooled. As one of those people, at the ripe old age of sixteen, I could spot them coming a mile away. There was something about the way homeschooled kids dressed that told you. Maybe it had a little bit to do with how they interacted with adults. That’s a pretty good give-away, too.

But I won’t go so far as to say that it is the actual homeschooling that makes people different – sure, it has its ability to shape us, as all experiences do – but I think its the kind of people who choose to homeschool that has even more to do with that difference.

What was I most afraid of growing up? Being different, sure. But even above that, I was afraid of being weak, afraid of seeming like I couldn’t handle life.

That was one of the biggies.

[Oh, also the part about being unlovable. Whew. That took a lot of my brain time in high school.]

So, in an effort to seem like I had it together, I assumed a posture of higher-than-thou. Everything was a competition. Everything mattered. And I wasn’t about to let my cards show. I held people at a good distance, because opening up and letting people know me looked a little too much like weakness, and I wanted to win!

You know that friend who will always be special because he or she spoke truth into something you didn’t even know needed it?

I have one of those friends. It was my sophomore year of college, and I was fairly happy. I liked my classes, I loved singing, and I had recently learned the art of witty banter with the opposite sex (witty banter, for me, can sometimes turn into slightly mean teasing – I was working on the logistics).

I don’t remember what started the conversation, but I do remember what he said to me in the car:

It’s not like you really let people get to know you.

I had no idea what he was talking about. I dropped him off and parked the car and thought about it all day until I couldn’t take it anymore and called him and made him meet me at the dining hall and sit across from me, look me in the eye, and say (and I quote):

Catherine, I don’t know how to say this, but sometimes you come across as a b****.

I blinked hard. He looked down at his very white hands and seemed sad.

But he was right. In all my years of trying to be strong, I had crafted for myself a woman who didn’t put up with bullshit (I usually try not to swear, but please, allow me this apt phrasing). I didn’t put up with it, and I didn’t care for people who did. I cloaked myself in smart words and flashing eyes, and, like he said, sometimes I came across as a b****.

Back in my dorm on the hill, I didn’t know how to change this fact. I hadn’t even known it until that evening, and I looked at the past few years and felt shame. Shame at my pride. Shame at my ignorance. Shame at how I had treated people.

I also felt gratitude. Even in the midst of this, this man had chosen me as a friend, and had looked me in the eye and told me the truth.

Now, perhaps, some would say that I have gone too far in the other direction. I’m pretty open about my struggles, about what I’m thinking and feeling (sorry, guys!). It can be overwhelming sometimes, I know, because since that night it is as though my emotions have (blossomed? exploded? what is the right word?!), and that can be a lot for those of us who tend to be more cerebral.

It can be tough, but I would choose this way of being over the former any day.

I praise God for friends who know when to speak and when not to speak. I praise God for speaking through them. And I can tell you that the pain you feel when you listen can’t compare with the joy of growth afterwards.

Update

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1. Spring is springing. Finally. I will update the “View From My Window” picture soon so I can prove it.

2. The musical is over and it was beautiful. I keep attempting to write about it, but it deserves more time and thought than I’ve been able to give it. Expect a post soon, though, filled with quotes from darling children and an extremely proud director.

3. Went bee-ing for the first time this year. Sunday afternoon was spent in a smoke-and-propolis-filled jeep, bumping over bumpy gravel roads to get to the hives. (Propolis is a dark golden cement that bees use to hold their hives together – very strong stuff!) We checked on three hives and fed them. Oh, and we found a mouse nest (yes! a mouse nest!) in the base of one of the hives. Confusing, because Dad had put up a mouse guard, but the little buggers climbed in through the opening. It was filled with cotton-looking stuff, deer hair, and a bunch of cozy mouse things. Not good. Dad said, “Where’s the blogger’s camera?”, and I just shook my head; some things are better described than seen.

4. Did not get into the MFA programs. Am I shocked? Not really. I tucked the rejection letter in my briefcase of correspondences for the day when I will look at it and laugh. I’m not laughing right now, but I hope it’s coming.

5. Last week before April vacation!!! Can you tell I’m psyched? But I can’t imagine how hard it’ll be to motivate my seniors when we get back…ugh…

6. Finally figured out the email subscription thingy. All it took was, “Um, Harry? Will you help me?” and with one simple click he changed the entire thing. Embarrassing. So if you’d like to be notified via email of new posts, sign up! It should finally be working!

7. Listening incessantly to: The Shins Pandora Station. Love.

Have a wonderful Monday!

The city is like…

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The city is like a wide open field. A weekend cracks open the world to me and reminds me that life is big. I am small and life is big and because of grace I am full.

A small apartment that will never be mine is brimming with love and friendship. Just a few hours sprawled on couches, sprawled on floors, and mutual friends make comfort. We open the windows because even in the March coldness the heat is too strong, and the purple curtains flutter against the walls.

We talk about Lent and its strangeness and we rejoice at its shaping of us. Mine has been less than amazing – but I hold even that up as a sacrifice. I’ve decided it can’t all be emotion; I can’t always be in the throes of feeling. Praise God for that.

It wasn’t easy getting down here. I got lost, mapquest serving as much as a hindrance as a help. I got turned around and turned around and when I finally met up with K I couldn’t even smile. But it wore off quickly. We read each other’s minds: So I was thinking we would drop our stuff off and head out for dinner. Great, me too. And then get coffee before the cello recital. Great, me too. 

And we hit the town with our black and brown boots and feel free.

We sit in a Starbucks window, watching the lights and people passing by. I tell you you’re terrible for redeeming a free treat coupon and only getting tap water, but that doesn’t stop me from splitting the brownie with you. A man stands on the brick, smoking. He leans against the iron railing and watches the cars. Our faces are reflected in the glass, and I say, This is our life, and you laugh at me. But it’s true, and we are blessed. We are sitting right now in a coffee shop and there is nowhere we are supposed to be and nothing else we are supposed to be doing.

Fifteen minutes on a church’s cold stone steps and we laugh because sometimes it’s the only answer to the bizarrity of life (I know, ‘bizarrity’ is not a word, but that’s what it is). Three friends linking arms because it’s warmer that way, and that’s one of the reasons I’ll never really fit in – things are too posh and sophisticated and modern. We part at the street-corner, promising to see each other soon, but none of us really know what will happen.

The shower is running and I am writing and Sunday stretches before me empty and full.

This week of Tech Week and Alice in Wonderland and Good Friday and Easter seems far off.

[The cello rises over the room full of people, and I am transported back to four years spent studying practicing singing. Nostalgia fills me until I am dreaming of both those years and the years to come. The Dvorak makes me want to dance, the Beethoven makes me want to read, and the Barber makes me want to fall in love.]

A Birthday Wish

I looked at the faces surrounding me. They sang “Happy Birthday,” and I laughed when they added theatrics and operatic ornaments. “Make a wish!” they said.

I held my own hair back and thought: What should I wish for?

~     ~     ~

Last year, when I turned 23, I begged my mother not to do anything. “Just dinner with the family,” I said. “We can go to my favorite restaurant, but I don’t want a party.”

I think she was a little relieved, because she stresses out whenever we have a party.

So we went to my favorite place – a dark, cozy, old restaurant that serves lamb and red wine – and I thought that was exactly what I wanted. Here were my parents, my siblings, and delicious food.

But when I got home, when I sat in my room reading, I realized that wasn’t what I wanted. I’d chosen smallness, because there wasn’t enough of me to celebrate how I wanted to celebrate. I needed quiet, but it wasn’t what I wanted. I was grateful for my yummy rack of lamb, but there was something missing.

~     ~     ~

[“You have to do something, Cath. Have a party. Invite everyone. Do what you want. We’ll help you, both of us, and we will have a blast.”]

~     ~     ~

So this year, that’s what I did. I had a party. I surrounded myself with people I adore. There were moments when someone new would walk in the door, and I felt almost like crying. Wait, you are in my life! You are amazing! I can’t believe how good God has been. 

[When he gave me the little package of paperbacks – all copies of “Decision Making by the Book” – I threw my arms around him shamelessly. It’s good when friends read your blog and buy you books to give to your friends. “Hopefully you won’t find the new cover quite as ugly as the old one!” he said, laughing. I gave every last copy away that night, and the six more coming in a few weeks will be dispersed just as quickly.]

One of my friends said to another: “This party’s interesting: it’s classy, I mean, there’s brie, but then there’s dancing.”

That’s pretty much perfect.

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(This picture is all of us laughing when B cried excitedly: “And an unlit candle to grow on!” “Isn’t it an extra LIT candle to grow on?” I said. I guess every family’s different… :))

That’s the difference, I think, between my 23-year-old self and my new 24-year-old self: I’m tired of not celebrating. I’m tired of not letting people know how much I love them. So what if it surprises them? So what if it might seem like too much? Love is too much, really, when you think about it. It’s crazy how big love can be. This year is going to be about freedom, and that freedom is showing people who I really am, what I really think, and how I really feel.

Even if it’s sometimes too much to handle.

So that’s my goal (or my wish, I guess you could say): love bigger and show it better.

Thanks for a great birthday.

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Artsy-blur affect. Blowing out 24 candles: the best way to use that college-educated diaphragm.

P.S. I’m a little less broke than I was last year!!! Hurrah for moving up in the world!!!

Reflection

I am alone in the kitchen. All the dishes are done, the brown and white eggs are drying on the counter, the sky is gray/blue and the leaves are red, and I am listening to hymns. Nothing but the blood of Jesus. 

We got back from church and I didn’t know what to do with myself.

Must be productive.

Must work.

Must make something.

But instead, I’ve decided to rest. Rest and think and pray.

Productivity can wait for another day.

This afternoon was made for quiet.

 

A Fall Walk

I went for a walk this afternoon because the sun was too beautiful for me to stay inside. I went down to one of the reservations on the way to the beach. It’s short – only about a mile – and it winds through fields, through the marsh, and then loops around Easter Island.

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My parents were out teaching people how to extract honey, my sister was at a friend’s house, one of my brothers was watching football, and my youngest brother was wishing we were apple picking. I snuck out of the house (“I’m just going for a walk,”), and I went alone, even though I knew my youngest brother would’ve come with me. But after a morning at the Farmer’s Market and an hour doing dishes, I knew I needed to be alone.

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I didn’t discover anything deep on my walk. I didn’t have any epiphanies. But I did discover a fort someone had left behind. A boy I dated in college told me about a kind of art people create and leave in the woods or a public place, just leave it there for people to stumble upon. That’s what this fort reminded me of – an earth-toned masterpiece.

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I liked the memory of people in the woods.

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A Mini-Trip

I’m writing from a brown leather couch in the middle of America.

[Thanks to Southwest Airlines and my incredibly delayed flight back in February, I booked my current trip for a grand total of $99. Who says travel has to cost an arm and a leg? If you’re willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of future reward, it is totally doable.]

Haven’t taken a single picture yet, and that’s likely to remain unchanged…unless my friend takes a couple. I didn’t bring a camera (shame on me), but I did bring a stack of good books (Tim Keller’s Reason for God, Anne Sexton’s poetry [yes, still plugging away/reveling], and a novel called The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake). I read on the plane ride, but there is too much to do here to really sit down and devote myself to a book.

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Here’s a late-addition from my walk around the museum.

So how am I writing right now, you ask? Because my friends are still sleeping. I woke up early to cars and trucks out the window, the sound of sidewalk sweeping, the smell of already-hot-sun-on-brick. It’s 86 degrees here in Chicago, and, while I am proud of my friends for their economy-savvy, I now realize the beauty of air conditioning. It’s good training, though, for when I get my own place; judging from my past budgeting choices, things like air conditioning won’t make the cut.

Little apartments are perhaps the best thing ever. I walked in and immediately felt at home. Wood floors, large kitchen, open windows lining the street. Books and books everywhere because M. was an English major, and we English majors feel the need to remind everyone by the stacks that line our walls. It’s fun to see how people grow up – I’ve know L. since 8th grade when we sang in choir together. Now, I get to see her new life, her adventure into adulthood. The brief trips she’s taken to come back home cannot show you a person’s new life, really.

[They love coffee here, so when I woke up I made a pot of dark roast, and breakfast consisted of a nice mug of that along with a Trader Joe’s wheat-free muffin (good? yes. thick? yes. tough? a little.).]

Today consists of a trip to the Bean. Don’t even know what this is, but everyone back home was like “See the bean,” and even here, my friends, the anti-tourists, claim that yes, it should be seen. Then a delicious solo-trip to the art museum while L. works at the theater for the afternoon. I can’t tell you how excited I am for that. This whole three-day excursion is smelling remarkably like Austria, and I can thank my experience there for allowing me to navigate this new city with less angst than I’ve ever traveled before.

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And proof of the trip to the Bean.

Record-Keeping

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always perseveres.  ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

I am a wonderful record-keeper.

It’s one of those traits that comes in handy, like being organized or detail-oriented. Records of all types: an extremely-un-kept-up list of books I’ve read and my ratings of them; a mental image of what I was wearing when (yes, I don’t know how this happens or why), and a sharp and vivid memory of most of the bad things that people have done to me. I remember everything. I remember almost every slight I’ve ever received.

That sounds like a good thing, maybe. You go, girl! Don’t let anyone walk all over you.

But I am not proud of it. My ability to list all the sideways looks, all the hinted-at slights, all the times someone canceled plans on me, is NOT a good thing. The people I love most are the ones who hurt from this “list” more than anyone – who’s around as much as my family? As much as my closest friends? And with so much time, we’re bound to hurt each other.

I’ve been noticing more, though, that I need to call it quits with this scale, with the constant weighing of mean tones, hurtful words, and apparent or definite thoughtlessness.

Because, I think, it’s a certain kind of person who keeps these records. And it’s not the kind of person I’m aspiring to be.

The kind of person who keeps these records is the one who hasn’t grasped the largeness of Christ’s sacrifice. It’s the kind of person who still clings to inadequacies, to the insecurities that hinder her from living more fully. Because she can’t see herself with the lens of forgiveness, she can’t extend that forgiveness to those around her. Instead of finding her freedom in Christ, she grasps at it by making others pay up. If she doesn’t stand up for herself, who will?

~   ~   ~

I go to work at 9:00 in the morning. I open the door and peer into the house, wondering who’s around. Usually all three kids are up, watching tv, waiting for me to come.

But this morning, I’m nervous. Yesterday was less than perfect. The little girl is five, and we usually have so much fun together, telling stories, singing, dancing, laughing.

Yesterday was different. She was in a crabby mood and I didn’t make it any better. I didn’t hold my temper, and I scolded her too harshly. Whining and whining and I left wondering how we would finish out the week.

So this morning, I peek my head around the corner. I see her lying on the brown couch, her eyes fixed on the tv.

“Good morning!” I say, trying to hide the tentativeness I feel.

What if she’s still angry? What if I hurt her feelings too much?

She turns her head to look at me. Her blue eyes are blank. But only for a moment, because then they light up, bright and excited.

“Catherine!” she says. “Good morning!”

And she jumps up off the couch and proceeds to tell me a half-true story about the neighbor kids and movie night and a crazy man.

That’s the kind of record I want to keep: a short one.

[Essay on Beginnings]

I had the best nap of my life. Everyone had told me, “Whatever you do, don’t let yourself sleep. Push through. It’s worth it.” But after showering the grime of three airplanes and a VW van off my body, I suddenly found myself lying on the thin mattress in my hostel bedroom, the Salzburg sun streaming over me. I smiled in my cloud of wet hair and fell into the deepest sleep I’ve ever had. I didn’t toss and turn like usual; my insides were weighted down to the bed like an anchor, and when I woke up, I knew where I was but I still did not believe it. My first day out of the country and I’d slept three hours gloriously away.

I remember other things about my first day in Austria: the walk I took – alone, American, enchanted, and floating – along the street lined with trees and open fields speckled with feathery white flowers. I thought they were edelweiss, only to find out later they were weeds no one cared about. For one afternoon I lived in an edelweiss dream, and if I’d had a wicker basket on my arm I would have been swinging it. I bought a loaf of rosemary bread and a small carton of blueberries to satisfy my overdue appetite. I felt like a dimwit when I couldn’t figure out how to open the sliding glass door of the supermarket (turns out I couldn’t open it because it was a wall). And the late arrival of my roommate and good friend, her toes dirty from travel, but her eyes alight with Munchen stories.

~     ~     ~

I’ve always been fascinated by beginnings, by first things. Maybe that’s why I have a whole computer and numerous notebooks filled with witty story-starts, left to dangle in time, either through my quick boredom or my fear of lying. Because that is what I feel like sometimes – I must only write what I see, not what I make up – and all I ever see are beginnings of things. My friends who are artists and writers do not understand this, and really, I don’t either. Isn’t everything we create something we “make up”? And yet the best writing I’ve done is of the things I have seen clearly, the rooms that create themselves with plush red couches and pottery mugs filled with coffee. Whenever I try to make my own rooms – my own characters – they seem false and flat. Even when I see a character clearly, when I see her desires, her hair, her intense way of speaking, I do not always see much more than that, and it is always harder for me to finish stories than start them. This worries me sometimes, if I start thinking too much. Then I calm my over-excited self by telling her, You’re only young, you know. You haven’t really had many endings, so how could you see them?

The truth is, though, that I’ve had plenty of endings. That day in Salzburg was over in a flash, leaving itself in my mind in yellows and golds and freshness that few other days have given me. Over thirteen years have passed since the death of my grandfather; those long months of his illness are blurry and sharp at the same time. I’ve seen relationships change that I never thought would end, and I’ve struggled to grant forgiveness even when I haven’t been asked for it. I’ve experienced the end of four long years of studenthood – complete with rushed papers, devoured books, and attempts at lofty poetry. This move away from academia is without a doubt the largest change (and harshest ending) of my life. I am stepping out on the path to adulthood, and I’m not sure I like it. I bucked at the idea of moving home, and now that I am here, I close my eyes against the reality that I need to leave soon. I no longer have a classroom to sit in, a professor to meet with, or a project to put off until the night before. I have glossed over all the hardnesses that have littered the last four years, and I’ve shaped my college experience into a beautiful, winding, light- filled laughing thing that siren-calls to me, Do not let this go. You were never so happy, and you will never be so happy again. This is probably the first time I am dwelling on an ending instead of a beginning; it’s a lot easier to feel unchanged when you are looking back than looking forward. But there is little difference between “unchange” and “stagnation,” and I must constantly fight to keep myself out of that place.

I know that endings have a kind of beauty, and I know that the ending of childhood has a melancholy beauty all its own: the close of dependence, the close of naivete, and the lifting of the burden we all feel to be different from who we are. While I can attest to the value of endings, I still think I’ll always prefer the mystery and newness of a beginning. Not only does the beginning hold unknown (and therefore, full-of-potential) events, but you don’t know who you will become in the upcoming story, either. I love beginnings because of the horizonless hope they provide. You do not see the endlessly long plane ride back from Vienna to Boston. You do not see the overwhelmingly sad break-up that leaves you wishing you’d never embarked on the risk in the first place. You do not see that what you’d been studying for years to perfect is, after all, far more difficult than you’d thought. What you see is the world laid out before you, stretching stretching and beckoning you to jump in.