After-Work Conversations

Last night I went out with my coworker (I actually hate that term. Makes it sound like I don’t really like her — we’re not friends — when we most certainly are.). We’d planned to go to one of our favorite pubs: dark, cozy, inexpensive, towny, the kind of place that doesn’t demand anything from you. It was closed, of course, and we had to run back to my car through the rain, cursing our lack of planning and horrible luck.

We headed to another small town to see if we could get in to a restaurant I knew, but just before we opened the door we saw the sign “Must have valid State I.D.” and we had to turn around with our heads hanging. K. is from out-of-state, and so again, we were thwarted.

Finally we ended up at a place neither of us had been. It didn’t have quite the same ease of the other pub, and it was terribly and perfectly suited to our passionate conversations of faith: what it means that Eve was created last and how wrong it seems to us that this is used to crown her as the “best of creation,” and how do we reconcile the fact that the Bible is inspired and yet heavily influenced by human culture and society? When I get out of work, I feel this release, like I MUST TALK ABOUT EVERYTHING NOW.  The Bruins game was on the five surrounding televisions, grown men yelling at the score, their graphic t-shirts stretched tight across their stomachs, and we sat at the corner of the bar, two suspiciously uninterested young women who seemed, probably, a little crazy.

I realized I’ve stopped caring what people think. Okay, that’s not entirely true. Or even most of the way true. But last night, I didn’t care that we didn’t fit in with the sports crowd. I didn’t care that we were talking about God and relationships and Calvinism and what it means to have a marriage that points to Christ. A year or two ago, I would’ve tried to keep my voice down. I would have made sure no one could hear how much I care about these things.

Now, I wasn’t up on the table screaming.

But I didn’t feel shame, either.

I feel more energized after talks like that than I do when I wake up in the morning.

I feel more ready to be excited about life.

This photo has absolutely nothing to do with my post, but I CAN’T WAIT FOR STRAWBERRIES.

A Tough Decision

A lot of things get decided on walks.

Maybe it’s being outside, swinging your arms, the fast change of scenery as you process. I think it has a lot to do with the combining of mind and body – thought and motion.

Last night, I decided not to take a job.

I was so excited about it. The email came, siren-calling me to a job that I could actually see myself doing. A job that would use so many of the skills I’d acquired in college, but that I knew would challenge me, too. A job that would require the huge move I’d been longing for.

But this same job paid nothing. Nothing. And on top of that, there is a mysterious surgery looming in my future. I’ve been in denial for a few weeks now, but something is coming. Even in my scared state, I actually considered moving halfway across the country to a place where I know no one. I’ll be fine. It won’t REALLY take me six months to recover. Please. This is the twenty-first century.

Last night, I walked quickly beside a dear friend. We went up steep hills (reminding me of my treacherous experience with Philosopher’s Weg in Heidelberg, Germany…too much huffing and puffing for much philosophizing on my part!). We crossed busy streets and were nearly run over by crazed cyclists. All the while, talking incessantly as I tried to convince her and convince myself that it wasn’t crazy. It wasn’t crazy to pick up my life a few weeks after major surgery and move far, far away. It wasn’t crazy to make less money than I needed to pay back my student loans. It wasn’t crazy to think that running away would make me happy.

I wonder what passers-by thought, seeing two slightly-agitated young women, mouths unable to pause long enough to think.

Before we got back to her cozy apartment, I knew the answer.

No job.

No big move.

No adventure.

At least, not the adventure I’d been sure of. Trusting that God knows what I need. Having the faith to let it go, the thing I was holding on to so dearly that I was willing to overlook some huge obstacles. Praying that He would help me to trust Him more. Who knows? Maybe my recovery time will be like lightning, and I’ll find myself on the shores of some distant land, teaching English and sipping a deliciously strong drink. Or maybe I’ll hit my stride as a tea marketer, getting account after account of bridal favors. Or perhaps I will FINALLY find a way to put into words everything that’s been building building inside me.

I think I’ll start with a new flock of chicks. They’re pretty cute.


[The triumphant photo after climbing Mount Untersberg. There’s no better feeling in the world.]



I haven’t seen a day like this in a long time. I even put the top down in my car – March 13th – and flew down the highway with my shades on. Sometimes I can’t believe the way the sun glints off the trees.

But two days ago, it was not so lovely. Inside or out. Wound up in myself and disappointments, I forgot how beautiful it is.

When it’s warm

when the sun heats the top of my head

when I wake up to see a cardinal perched in a pear tree (yes, a pear tree)

when I can hear the bees waking up

when I sip strong coffee in the early morning

when the light turns pink in the evening.

I forget a lot of things when all I can see are my shortcomings. Or my circumstances. One thing I realized the other day is that pride has two faces. Yes, there’s that well-recognized cocky attitude, with a haughty look and a sharp, appraising tongue. But then there’s the other side. The side that says:

I’m not good enough. I’m ugly. I’m stupid. What did I think I was worth? 

This sounded like humility to me at first, in my confused mind. Then I realized it’s just pride’s other face; if I really think all those things, then I think that I, the core of me, deserves more. That these circumstances aren’t good enough. That I’m not smart enough because I as a created being should be smarter. I’m not as pretty as I deserve to be.

Somehow, in this bright yellow light, sitting at my kitchen table, I am comforted by this realization. Another piece of the puzzle. Oswald Chambers says that the Christian fails because she puts more store in her own holiness than she does in building the kingdom, in proclaiming Christ’s redemption.

That is not how I want to be.

My holiness should not be my focal point, as odd as that sounds.

It should be a byproduct of my total devotion to my God.

And where does this leave me? At the kitchen table, with my family working around me, breathing deeply the spring air. It leaves me asking with (mercifully) a little less urgency, Where am I going?

Blurry Line

I love reading books on issues I care about. Last night I finished one that’ll stick with me for awhile: Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. I’d heard the author, Peggy Orenstein, on Diane Rehm a few weeks ago, and the title is what hit me first. A+ for grabbing attention! I immediately requested it through inter-library-loan, and just now got it two weeks later.

Let’s just say I whipped through this book so fast I couldn’t believe it when I came to the end. Orenstein does exactly what the title suggests: she delves into a lot of questions I have about raising (and, really, of being raised myself) in a culture that tells girls what to like, how to like it, and that anyone who does not like it is weird. This is not a new idea, of course. There have been social norms since there was such a thing as society. The difference now, according to Orenstein, is that the media and advertising play a new role in the creation and maintenance of those norms. It is a first that marketing has targeted such a young audience, but, one could argue, it still isn’t that audience that is buying merchandise. The parents continue to make choices for their children, but it is becoming increasingly hard to toe the line of “healthy consumerism” and overboard.

I have always shied away from things overtly girlie. Pink and sparkles and jewelry have never been my thing. Another aspect Orenstein touches on, though, is body image. It’s surprising how much this is linked to the early commercialism geared towards young girls and how we teach our daughters to become women. Like most women around the world, I have struggled with my body image since I was fairly young, and I am only now realizing how to handle it in a healthy way. So as I read Orentstein’s section on body image, I expected to shake my head as one who has been through it already, one who has come out on the other side.

This is the blurry line, though. I read this book with the interest of an outside observer, but instead of coming away from it seeing things more clearly, I found myself with a new (and largely subconscious) focus on my own body. Instead of seeing myself as free and learning about how I’d been enslaved in the first place, I was thinking with every bite, with every glance in the mirror, Shoot. Cut it out, Cath. Instead of freeing myself, my knowledge was starting to re-entrap me.

My first thought was that maybe I should stop reading books like this, books that make my hyper-aware of myself and things I struggle with. I know, though, that this removal of self from reality is something I am too quick to run to (i.e., my declaration of living on a farm without electricity at the age of six). The bottom line is: I still think knowledge is worth it. I can’t stop learning and changing how I think because it makes me momentarily relapse into whatever it is I’m reading about. I plan to read books on issues that are upsetting, things that I’ve struggled with and continue to struggle with, even though I know this might mean I think about it more. Even though it might mean I find myself mired (again) in my own sin. It’s a balancing act, really. How to ponder issues and learn, while remembering that we are not above falling into the same old  traps.

On My Way

It’s a cloudy day here, and I’m doing some last-minute packing and a CVS run for travel-size “necessities.” It’s embarrassing how many things I feel I can’t do without.

I realized last night that I have the tiniest bit of anxiety about travel and new places. It seems obvious and not that big of a deal, but the fact is, I will never be the same after this trip. Every time we do something brand new, have a new experience, meet new people, we cannot remain the same. And I know my goal is not to remain the same, but still. Change is intimidating.

But then again, who’s to say that the Midwest won’t be changed by me?

A Good Day

Yesterday was a good day. I woke up and attempted to give it to the Lord — largely because I hoped if I did that, He would make it good. But I’d done the same thing the day before [Lord, this is Your day. Help me to live it well.] and He had not made it good, at least by my standards.

Here I was again, asking that He take this block of time and make it good. The way I wanted it. This time He decided to fill it up with some Catherine-type-goodness:

1. I sent in my application and downpayment for a TEFL program in the city. I can’t tell you how accomplished I feel, just putting that stupid envelope in the mail (yes, that’s right, envelope, because they don’t take online payment! What is this, the 20th century?!). Now to wait it out and see. A full month of school — does it get any better?

2. 30 minutes with a dear friend. 30 minutes in which I was asked about how I truly was, and truly asked in return. 30 minutes in which I was told my poetry submission to the student-run publication had caused the most conversation of all. Score. And 30 minutes to remember that we are not called to love others only when they are happy, excited, beautiful, but that we have enough love for them even when they are a darker version of themselves. Friends remind us of a lot.

3. And this one is the most embarrassing: laughing out loud roughly five times in a crowded Starbucks. Alone. Curled up in a comfy chair. Reading. I couldn’t believe myself. I NEVER do that, but Bill Bryson had me in fits of giggles in public, and, frankly, more people should’ve joined me. That man is hilarious.

Ah. Goodness.

I don’t always feel this way, but…

I spent a lot of time in the car today, driving my Gramma back home, and I remembered writing an essay my senior year of college. It flowed out of me unbidden — the paper had started as a funny exploration of homeschooling and turned into a kind of melancholy look at the emerging adult. Or, at least, THIS emerging adult. And then I thought about all the movies I’ve watched, all the books I’ve read, and I realized there are two kinds of girls: the girls who go off on their grand adventures, traveling the world, au pairing, writing, singing, meeting dashing young foreigners with crooked smiles and laughs in their eyes, cooking, discovering cures for deadly diseases, helping orphans, drinking too much and smoking. There’s a plethora of aspects of this same girl — the girl who goes for it.

And then there’s the other kind of girl: the girl who goes home. There really aren’t that many different colors of this girl. She’s pretty much the same wherever she is. She sometimes has as many dreams as the girl who leaves, but she lacks a certain something. Maybe it’s guts. Maybe it’s drive. Maybe it’s self-confidence. She probably knits and her friends probably think of her as very sweet, when they think of her at all. She stays home and wonders what all the other girls are doing out there. And she blogs about it.

And next week?

Yesterday I met a family about babysitting. They live in the next town over in a nice house on a hill — three kids, a dog, pretty much what you’d imagine. The mom was really nice: energetic, happy, easy to talk to. The youngest, a daughter, sat at the table with us the whole time, not saying a word. Her cropped blonde head just went back and forth between us, watching.

And as much as I tried to avoid it, the question, “So, what do you hope to do?” came up, and I was obliged to give some sort of answer. At first I was going to talk about publishing. Because it’s easy. Because it’s something people can wrap their minds around. But I can’t keep lying to everyone. Too much alone time. Too much paperwork. So I was honest.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “I love writing, but I don’t think I want that to be my main source of income. I’ve been thinking about getting certified to teach English as a foreign language.”

This was true. I’ve been doing research online about potential programs, different places to study, different job possibilities once I’m done.

“Oh, that sounds interesting!” she said.

Good. I came up with the right answer. But the thing is, that’s just what I’m thinking about this week. This week I emailed a friend in New York, one of my best friends, asking to let me stay with her while I studied my own language. To paraphrase Anne of Green Gables, I soared up on the wings of anticipation – fast-paced days in the big city, meeting people from all over the world, eating out at little hole-in-the-wall diners tourists never find, writing in a nook in the public library – and then thudded right back down when my friend said that wouldn’t work.

Who knows what my answer will be next week?!

Candlelight, Beekeeping, and a Little Old-Fashioned Feminism

I sit on my bed, legs crossed, with three delicious-smelling candles burning. I haven’t pulled the shades down yet because I like the way the night looks against the candlelight. I had an unexpected revelation today, and I think it has made all the difference.

For awhile now, I’ve been fighting a lot of things. One of the more upsetting of late is the idea of womanhood and what it means to be a “wife.” (I put the term in quotation marks because it scares me, and putting words in quotation marks dilutes their power!) But more to the point, I have been scared of what it means to be a person – and a woman, specifically – in marriage. I’ve been watching a lot of friends and acquaintances get engaged, married, pregnant, and I am overwhelmed. I feel like I can’t even catch my breath from the almost-daily Facebook notifications. All this activity in the matrimonial department has me thinking: what kind of wife will I be? what kind of wife do I want to be? and why am I so scared?

The answer to that last one is, I’m pretty sure at least, that I am scared of losing myself. Scared that binding myself to another for life will, instead of making me a more complete Self, blur the lines of me until I am unrecognizable. It is this fear that drives me to some of the ideas of feminism, of maintaining autonomy, of being equals within a marriage, and of feeling the desire and need to create something outside of that marriage. Some of these ideas sound selfish to me even now; how can you be autonomous and truly engage in life-changing communion with another human? I wrote communion instead of union because I am STILL scared of the fullness of that concept.

Then a little voice in my head says Cath, you’re not even in a relationship. Marriage isn’t on the horizon. This is way premature thinking on your part. But then I look around me and see so many young people throwing themselves into a life-long commitment, and I wonder if they have any idea what they’re embarking on. It isn’t too early to be thinking about how I hope to function within one of the most beautiful relationships God has given us, and it certainly isn’t too early to think about living with excitement for the future instead of fear.

And here is where the revelation comes in: I picked up one of my Dad’s bee journals (yes, they actually publish magazines on beekeeping, and yes, we have multiple). It was sitting on the coffee table and I saw an article on the cover that intrigued me: “Beeconomy – Women and Bees.” The revelation didn’t come from bees, or women keeping bees, or anything really to do with bees. It came in these brief sentences:

“A shift from a rural economy to more urban capitalism saw a decline in the value of the ‘good wife,’ an equal partner with her husband who would serve the community and barter with neighbors. Instead, women were expected to be at home, providing the primary care for children” (McNeil, M. E. A., “American Bee Journal” Vol. 152 N. 1).

Suddenly it came together for the first time: I wasn’t bucking the eternal, time-honored tradition of women in the home cleaning, laundering, feeding, and raising. I was bucking the 20th century version of that tradition. I HATE cleaning and “keeping house” (there I go again), but when it is in the context of partnership – in the context of running a business, running a farm – the idea is not nearly as scary. A few weeks ago I met up with an old friend who has four children and another on the way. She and her husband recently built their own home in the woods, complete with a wood stove, long windows overlooking the backyard, and a table big enough to entertain twenty guests. I asked her how she did it, how she resigned herself to washing the dishes, doing the laundry, making three meals a day for four children, keeping everything running smoothly.

“I don’t think I can do it,” I said, as I watched her baste a homegrown chicken. “I just can’t do those things every day FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.”

She didn’t stop what she was doing. She just talked while she finished basting and put the chicken back in the oven.

“You know what, I had the same problem. And then I realized: you have to view it, not as ‘doing the dishes,’ but as creating a home. You do the dishes, you do the laundry, not because you absolutely love doing it, but because by doing so, you create a home for your family.”

And so, together with a little nugget of knowledge from a bee journal, my friend created for me a new outlook. I don’t know entirely what my life will look like as a wife, or even if I’ll be one. But at least now I know how I want to be one: the wife who works alongside her husband to create a home.