Tag Archives: fear

On Saying “I Love You”

IMG_1638“I love — ” he shouts from behind me, his voice stopping just short of “you.”

I turn around and see the surprised, embarrassed look on his face. I make a split-second decision.

“I love you,” I say with conviction, because if you don’t say “I love you” and mean it, you shouldn’t be saying it at all.

I smile big so he knows I don’t feel uncomfortable. I leave these three children I’ve been babysitting in the kitchen as I head down to my car. Saying goodbye at the end of the summer is never easy.

He stops short of saying “I love you” for a few reasons. First, he’s a thirteen-year-old boy, and everyone knows we teach our children (boys, in particular) that expressing love or affection is not cool. He desperately wants to be cool. He wouldn’t let me post a picture of us sipping iced tea because he was afraid of what his friends would think, so I didn’t. I understand ego, even if I have a slightly different perspective. Second, I’m his babysitter. I am not his mom or his aunt or his grandma. If our young boys do express affection and care, it is almost always in the context of family, and I am not that. I can imagine his struggle as he tried to figure out what was going on: Do I love her? How can I? She’s 26 and not related to me. But what is it, then? It’s definitely not a crush. Because that is reason number three: he didn’t want to be misunderstood and have his care confused into something it wasn’t.

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[My face most of the summer. They loved stealing my phone and leaving me photographic surprises.]

It’s the last day of summer, and I know deep down it’s my last summer with them. There’s a time and place for a babysitter who takes you to the Museum of Science, the beach, mini golfing, the Museum of Fine Arts, even to Funtown Splashtown, USA. But then you start to feel itchy, like it doesn’t quite fit anymore, and both you and your mom and even your babysitter realize it’s time for a change. You don’t really want it – you do love her, in some strange, mysterious way – and when you hug her, you don’t let go right away because you’re not sure when (or if) you’ll see her again. Will you ever ride the train to Boston again? Or try new things like bubble tea or yoga or hiking Mount Pawtuckaway? You’re excited for eighth grade and high school, but you’re missing your best friend who moved across the ocean, and your grandparents who moved to Florida, and even though you know it’s time, you’re wondering what next summer will look like without this strange loud singing buddy you’ve had for so long.

At least, this is what I imagine is going through his head. I know it’s probably not nearly as spelled out as this, or as worry-filled (because these tendencies come later in life), but I can’t help thinking about his voice in the hallway. How the words flew out of his mouth and he had to stop himself. How many times I’ve done that myself — felt an overflow of emotion that had to be expressed, but my words got strangled in my throat because of fear. We don’t have enough words to express what we feel. No wonder he feels strange saying he loves me; it doesn’t fit our paradigms of love, but there is no other word. And so I say it back to him because it is true, but also to show him that it’s okay to say.

I wonder what he thinks as the screen door closes behind me. I wonder if I embarrassed him. I hope he is able to get past that initial feeling of discomfort because someday, I hope he doesn’t stop short of saying it. I want him to be able to hug people and not let go too soon. I want him to be able to say “I love you,” and to receive that same love back. I want him to be free from coolness and uncoolness, debilitating fear and self-preservation, because when you’re able to let go of these things, love comes a whole lot easier. I wish I could be there to watch him grow into this, but just like my students who graduate every spring, he has to go this one on his own. All I can do is help him see that caring for someone is good and telling them is important. Maybe someday I’ll run into him, all tall and grown. I hope he isn’t afraid to give me a hug.

Six at Heart

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When I was five years old, my father told me I had until I was six to move out. I think we were in the kitchen, and my mother must not have been there because she never would have let me believe that. As it was, though, I spent the next few months awaiting January 11th, a date which used to mean joy and pancakes and a few gifts at dinner. Now it was the first day of living on my own.

I don’t remember being very afraid. A little, probably, because I couldn’t drive, but what I remember most was the planning. If I had to be on my own, I’d do it in style.  I emptied my ballerina bank on my bedroom floor and counted the coins and few dollar bills, somewhere around nineteen dollars. Okay, that should get me pretty far. I had my journey all laid out: first, I would walk down the street to the Calabros’ house. They were kind and would understand. After resting up there for the night, I’d walk a few towns over to where my mom’s friend lived. She lived alone and surely she’d take me in for a little while. From there, I would use the phone to call my grandfather, and I had no doubt he would rescue me from my wandering. I’m not sure why I didn’t call him from the neighbors’ house. Part of me thinks my five-year-old self wanted at least a bite-sized adventure.

I don’t remember the night before my birthday, but the next morning is engraved in my memory. I got up, got dressed, and packed my backpack with my favorite outfits and my toothbrush. I tucked the nineteen-ish dollars in the front pocket and headed down the stairs. I said goodbye to my parents and I walked down the street.

My dad came after me, laughing.

“Catherine! Catherine, come back!” he said, catching up to me right before I reached the Calabros’.

I was confused – hadn’t he been saying I had to leave? It was January 11th, I was sure, and I’d made all these plans…

It’s a story my parents still like to tell, my mother with a little more embarrassment than my father, but with a good laugh, anyway.

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Twenty years later, and I’m in those same few months, awaiting a big move. My Dad learned his lesson pretty well that first time, and he’s never even tried to kick me out since. He’ll tease occasionally – “How can I miss you if you never leave?” is one of his favorites – but I know that moments around the dinner table and evenings of Jeopardy are times he would never trade for twenty long years of empty-nesting.

But I’m twenty-six, and the time has come to be out on my own. I won’t lie that it’s a bit later than I expected, that it’s taken longer for me to get my feet under me. The strange thing is, though, that I sometimes feel as shocked as that little girl.

What? I need to move out? Are you sure?

I mean, I’m pretty little.

I am getting better at holding two emotions in tandem, and this is one time where that skill is vital. There are times when my mom is talking to me, and I have no idea what she’s saying because I’m so preoccupied with September first. With renting a U-Haul and getting the day off and finding a gym membership. I am so excited for this move that I daydream while driving about not driving and being able to walk to a coffee shop or to get a good beer. I imagine having friends over for wine and cheese and crusty bread, and there are times when I can’t wait.

And then, there is the morning I woke up and the birds were singing. I took my coffee out to the herb garden and sat by the pond and thought this is what I’ll be missing – this morning sun and the sound of the breeze through the birch tree. What am I thinking, leaving?

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I wrote an essay my senior year of college about graduating. I wrote about how I didn’t know where I would live: would I move to Cambridge as Kayla and I dreamed? Or would I go home to my parents, pay back my student loans, settle in? I desperately wanted to move away, but the truth was I knew if I went home, I’d never want to leave. I knew the longer I stayed, the harder it would be to pack that car and say goodbye.

That was four years ago. Year after year, things have not lined up, people have not shown up, and I’ve chosen home. But this year, suddenly, my eyes lit up with talk of an apartment. Was it possible that I might get to live with two of my favorite people? I held my breath while decisions were made, and then they were made. Then we found a place. Then we signed the lease. Then, it was real, I wrote the check, and we started talking about couches and parking permits and laundry.

I have 25 days until I load the U-Haul and head forty-five minutes south and a world away. That’s 25 mornings to brew coffee and drink it while honeybees pollinate tall purple flowers and a hummingbird dips its beak into hollyhocks. And 25 nights to lie in my girlhood bedroom and remember all the dreams I’ve had. I’ll get to sort through them, sift out the ones I want to keep, and push the rest off on a flaming dory into the dark sea.

On September first, I’ll wake early and start loading the car. I’ll probably be manic because change can make me that way, I’ll forget to eat, and I’ll drink too much coffee. We’ll move quickly past each other, joke as much as possible, and begin to imagine a different life.

I’ll head for the car, take out my keys, and look behind me, a little part of me hoping to see my Dad running after me.

Funtown Deathtown, USA

photoSo I’m sitting on the roller coaster and the bar comes down. A. looks at me, her eyes wide, and she leans in to whisper, “Catherine, I kind of have to go to the bathroom.”

“Ha, well that’s terrible timing,” I say, hoping the need is fear-induced.

Suddenly we’re making the ascent, the boys looking back at us with big grins because they know how much I am about to scream. Most people are putting their arms up high in the air, getting ready for the zip, but I clutch the bar instead. This is only my second roller coaster ride, after all.

At the very top is a sign that reads “Absolutely No Standing,” and I barely have time to wonder why in the world they would need that sign before we are careening down the steep wooden coaster and I am screaming like a little girl.

Unlike the little girl sitting next to me. She barely makes a peep, just flings her arms around and looks at me once in a while to see how I’m doing.

I wonder for a minute why I do this to myself.

Why we do this to ourselves.

What is it about adrenaline that is so addicting?

Oh, right, it’s a brain-thing.

As we zip around the corners and I hear the wheels crunching and turning, I’m proud of myself for getting on. For allowing myself to be buckled in. For choosing to feel like my stomach was going to fly out of my mouth.

Because they’d begged me to go on the ride, and I knew for some reason this was important to them. They wanted to share the fun with me, I think, and a little bit of them wanted to hear me freak.

But it had a little bit to do with love, too.

I’ve been thinking about love a lot these days, as I ponder how best to love my family after I move, how to be a good friend, how to care for my students. This might sound far-fetched, but I was loving those kids by getting on that ride.

I was telling them making them happy was more important to me than not dying.

I was telling them that making myself uncomfortable was worth seeing joy in their eyes.

And most of all, I was showing them that sometimes you do things you wouldn’t normally do because you care.

I’m sure they aren’t thinking about this stuff at all – that they are just glad they’d convinced me to get in line and that there’s no turning back now.

But I still want to show them what it looks like to stare an old wooden roller coaster in the rickety rails and say:

Bring it.

It brings it. My ponytail falls out and my hair’s flying and we all stagger a little bit when we get off.

I didn’t die.

She looks at me with her big eyes and says, “Okay, now I really have to go to the bathroom.”

A Thank You Note

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I’m standing in a living room filled with fancy strangers. I’m wearing my new black dress and a string of pearls. I’m standing in the rosy-soft lighting, and I’m about to sing. I’d been asked to perform at a fundraiser for a local theater company, and as I look out at the faces I don’t know and the few I do, I wait to sing.

~     ~     ~

The day before, I sat at the piano teaching a voice lesson, and I was trying to get my student to become the character. She was singing Eponine’s “On My Own,” and I kept asking her questions, trying to pull the character out of her imagination instead of handing it to her from mine.

What are you thinking about?
Why are you singing?
Are you sad? Angry? Lonely? Anxious? Disappointed?
WHY ARE YOU SINGING?

She was a good sport, my student, and she started to craft her character. It was harder to get her to open her mouth, though, to support the higher notes, to let go of her fear.

I said, “You’ve got to just trust yourself. Just let it out. Think about Eponine and her feelings, not the note or the pitch. Just sing the story.”

And it hit me – right there in the tiny practice room with the twinkly Christmas lights and art I’d hung on the walls in September – that I’m a little bit of a hypocrite. I’m pretty good at encouraging other people; I see their potential and I push them and help them and tell them not to give up. There are times, maybe, when I push too hard, but more often than not, I’m right and they can.

Then there’s me. There are the nerves that I haven’t felt since early college right before a performance. There’s the fear that I’ll mess up, and – because everyone knows I studied voice in college – the judgement will be harsher, sharper, like a final indictment.

I pushed my student to embrace her character and let go of her fear, and I sat on the piano stool clutching to mine.

My student looked me in the eye, shook her head with determination, and sang through the entire song. I sat there, listening, but also a little bit ashamed.

I’d be singing this same song the next day, but would I be able to sing the story? Would I be able to get over myself? Would my student be proud of me? Or would she wonder where I got off, chastising her for not having courage while I floundered exactly the same way?

When she stopped singing and stood there for a moment in silence, the last moments as Eponine, I saw on her face a little hint of transformation.

“Beautiful,” I said, quietly, because both of us know that we get emotional when we sing this song.

“Beautiful,” I said, because there was a part of me that envied this 8th grade singer who is slowly discovering her voice.

~     ~     ~

As I start to sing, I know I am too quiet, and that I’m letting my fear take a stranglehold on my voice. I release. I open up. I become Eponine. For me, though, this is a tricky balancing act . So often becoming a character leads to too-strong emotion, and there is nothing worse than a performer experiencing deeper emotion than the audience. I become Eponine, but I restrain myself. I feel her pain but at a distance. I see the hopes and dreams of lights on the river and mist and moonlight, but I do not let myself settle in too comfortably.

I forget a few words but it’s okay because I sustain one word through the line and it’s smooth enough and maybe two people realize.

And as I get to the last page of the music, the part where she’s lonely and broken and loving emptily, I take my time. Because that’s what it’s all about, really, taking time. Resting in silence and resting in the soft suspension of song.

As I stand for a brief moment as the piano finishes and I release Eponine into the room and out of myself, I wish my student were sitting there, just so she could see what a work she has done in me.

Henri Nouwen and a Broken Lent

I begin the Lenten season with gusto. Perhaps gusto is not the right word, because it’s more like a settling in – a settling into the rhythms of 5:30AM and Henri Nouwen and prayer. I am not so good at this getting up and reading. My eyes cross. The words bleed together and I struggle to read through again, hoping this time to catch the nuance, the challenge, the peace.

I attempt to bring some of this contemplation, this observation, to my 8th grade homeroom. They get better at listening and at least looking at me as I try to spin words that reach them. Prayer requests usually revolve around upcoming tests, but once in awhile, I am struck by their depth of care for this hurting world.

We drive home from Maine and the sun is bright pink and as I catch it between the metal arms of the bridge, I feel sadness. Sunday is over, the next week spreads before me, and I focus more on the setting of the sun than the the brilliance of it against the gray sky.

I take a picture.

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It doesn’t even begin to capture the beauty, and I wish for once I could bask in glory instead of mourn an ending.

I hear stories of birth – moments that should be joy and laughter – but instead end in deep pain. But Miss Hawkins, I didn’t think that happened anymore. I didn’t think mothers died. But they do and they leave behind babies and husbands and mourners on multiple continents.

I try to navigate being a Christ-follower and being a student-leader and the sometimes waking in the middle of the night with the secret voice that says Just run. Nobody needs you anyway. Italy still looks good, and think of the writing you could do. You’ll never save all of them, so run away and stop trying.

Then I wake up at 5:30. I grind the coffee beans, put the tea kettle on, settle in under my nine-patch quilt.

I read Henri Nouwen, a passage from the Bible, a prayer. I tell God in full honesty that I do not know how anyone gets through this life without Him.

I drive to work in the sunlight across the marsh. I pour another cup of coffee from a co-worker’s ever-full coffeepot. I ask for prayer. I smile at everyone.

This, I guess, is the place I should be. This place of “What would I do without you, Lord?” I know that it is in this place that good work is done.

 

So many terrible things happen every day that we start wondering whether the few things we do ourselves make any sense…Here the word “call” becomes important. We are not called to save the world, solve all problems, and help all people. But we each have our own unique call, in our families, in our work, in our world. We have to keep asking God to help us see clearly what our call is and to give us the strength to live out that call with trust. Then we will discover that our faithfulness to a small task is the most healing response to the illnesses of our time.

– Henri Nouwen

 

Too Personal

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“Why haven’t you been writing as much?”

“Oh, you know, don’t have much to say these days.”

Which is true. Lots of thoughts, not a lot of formation.

But the real truth?

“I read your blog – not all the time. Sometimes I feel like it’s too personal.”

So, there you go.

That’s what’s been keeping me away – this quick sentence from a friend that has made me reevaluate and second-guess almost every post I’ve thought of.

I don’t think of this blog as too personal.

“Really? You do?” I asked. “Because I was thinking how I leave so much out, how there are always these glaring holes of what’s really going on.”

~     ~     ~

This weekend, I posted pictures on Facebook of my trip to Brooklyn to visit my recently-relocated friend. We were smiling in the sun and looked absolutely ridiculous with ring pops.

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What I left out was that we both tired of those ring pops before they were gone. That
I got lost on the subway a grand total of three times. That I had blisters like you read about. That I wandered the Metropolitan Museum of Art alone with a backpack weighing thirty pounds slung across my belly “to protect the art.”

That I couldn’t sleep on the train ride there or home because my mind was racing to the blur of the landscape.

Even today, I posted a picture of the girl I babysit. The caption?

A woman after my own heart – how do you not love kids who beg you to take them fishing?

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The sun was beautiful on the water, it was still and quiet. The lily pads were in bloom and blue and red dragonflies swooped together among the flowers.

What I didn’t write?

That five minutes later, I had two whiney kids who couldn’t cast for the life of them (and apparently aren’t able to put a worm on a hook). There was pushing and accusations when a brother knotted the line, whining because it was so hot and the water bottles I’d painstakingly packed were “warm.”

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It was only about half an hour later that I decided:

You know what? Let’s just sit with our feet in the water, ’cause this is exhausting and I can’t take it.

~     ~     ~

So what am I trying to say? Something about social media? How it’s a manicured version of ourselves? How we present only the good and beautiful and leave the ugly at home?

A little.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there are somethings that need to be ugly. It’s the unique parts that make someone worth reading, that make writing resonate with you.

Sometimes armpits are hilarious. Sometimes they’re just gross.

More than that, though, it’s an echo of what I’ve written about earlier.

There’s always more going on under the surface. Perhaps I do get too personal here, but it’s usually because it feels comfortable. It feels like the space to write things I care about. It feels like the space to figure out what it means to be me – both as a writer and as a human.

I’m sorry if that’s too personal.

Prayer and Desire

photo 2 [“I don’t understand – what’s the point of praying? It’s not like we can change God’s mind.”]

When I pray – when I ask God for what I want – I am opening myself up for blessing.

I am trusting that God is capable of meeting my needs, my desires. Beyond capable, even. I am trusting that He wants to.

But, just as possibly, I am opening myself up for disappointment. For “no.” For dissatisfaction.

I am reminding myself that I am vulnerable. That I can be hurt and confused by circumstances. That I am at the mercy of my God.

[“So you’re telling me that prayer is all about our attitudes? It has nothing to do with God’s actions?”]

If I do not pray – if I choose instead not to commune with the Creator, not to bare my wants before the Lord – then I cannot say I am hurt. I cannot say that God withheld from me what I am convinced would be good for me. I cannot say that he told me “no” or directed my life down a path I never would have chosen.

If I do not pray, I can convince myself of my own strength.

I didn’t want it anyway.

Like the fox and the grapes, I will slink away in sadness cloaked in falsehoods.

I didn’t want to sing.

I didn’t want a home, a farm.

I didn’t want him.

I didn’t want little blonde babies.

I didn’t want to be a writer.

If I never want, I will never be disappointed. It has very similar outcomes to not loving, really: If I never love, I will never be hurt.

[“Don’t we choose? Don’t we get to decide what our lives look like?”]

I’ve gotten good at prayers of gratitude; ever since my blood clot, I look to the sky, see the peachy-pink shades of a sunset, and words of thankfulness tumble from my lips. It isn’t hard for me to remember the Lord’s goodness in what He has already done.

I haven’t yet mastered the trust that God remains good regardless of what happens. photo 2 And so, I come to the place I often find myself. The place where I must choose to live fuller – and probably be disappointed – or live safer – and walk the earth with shells of avoided disappointments.

Their very emptiness is enough to make me cry.

~     ~     ~

I prayed for the first time in weeks.

Yes, I’ve had random thoughts to the Lord, thanking Him, asking Him, talking to Him.

But I have been avoiding my desires. I’ve been avoiding admitting there are things I want. And I’ve been avoiding telling Him that I know He is in control.

Because if I don’t think He’s in control, He can’t allow (or not allow) things that will disappoint.

[“I just feel like He’s been removing all my reasons for going. All the reasons I thought I was doing this don’t exist anymore. I don’t understand.”]

I prayed for the first time today.

The first time in weeks.

And I asked Him for what I want. I do not know yet what the outcome will be. This could go the way of the beach house. This could go the way of so many of my life’s sister ships.

I do not know.

But I have prayed, and opened myself up to both the possibility of blessing and the possibility of disappointment.

Good Things #46: “Miss Representation”

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As you know by now, I am anything but with the times. Consistently, I find myself really into whatever was really cool six months ago. 

So, again, I am late to the party.

I finally watched the documentary Miss Representation after hearing about it since my senior year of college (it came out in 2011…come on, Cath!). I figured out the playstation, put the dvd in, and settled in to watch something that I was pretty sure wouldn’t shock me with any of its information, but that I hoped would shed some light on this topic that’s been really hitting me lately.

If you haven’t seen it, Miss Represenation is about how women are represented in media, whether it be movies, television, advertisements, magazines, the whole gambit. Image after image flashed in front of my eyes, and there was even a moment where I looked away – it seems that I’ve done a decent job of sheltering myself from the objectifying images used to sell products and make money. (Music videos are particularly horrifying.)

The documentary opens with Oprah Winfrey (of course, I thought, because she exhausts me, but I wanted to keep an open mind). Oprah talks about the objectification and sexualization of women, and how this documentary was an attempt at illuminating us to this fact and perhaps make the first steps to rectify it.

Some of the most moving parts of the film were the interviews with high school students. I don’t know how much was scripted and how much was thought of on-the-spot, but that doesn’t really matter to me. There was honesty in the words, regardless, and one young woman stood out. As her tears started to fall, she spoke about her little sister, how her sister hates herself, how she cuts herself, how kids at school make fun of her because she doesn’t fit our society’s standards for beauty.

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Over and over throughout the film, we hear that beauty should not be the measuring stick we use to determine our worth.

I heard it, and I thought Yes.

What should we use, then? What is an adequate measure of worth?

According to the documentary, it’s achievements.

Don’t comment on my body, look at all I’ve accomplished.

Don’t talk about my hair, see the list I’ve been able to check off.

Don’t tell me to lose weight; don’t you know I’ve won a dozen awards?

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At first, I didn’t realize what I was hearing. It sounded pretty good to me, actually, because I’d much rather be remembered for my intelligence or wit or ability to engage with people than a pretty (or not pretty…) physical attribute.

But then I saw the inherent problem with this answer to the imbalance of external vs. internal selves:

Just as not everyone is beautiful, not everyone is accomplished.

Not everyone wins awards.

Not everyone stands above the rest, because then who would the rest be?

This is an incomplete response to the problem. This leaves just as many women (and men) confused and frustrated as the lie of beauty-as-worth. I will just as quickly become dissatisfied and angry with myself when I don’t take first place or don’t win the campaign or don’t get the job as I do when I know I am not the most beautiful woman in the room.

So what is the answer?

How do we measure worth in a way that is not exclusive?

It is the answer I’ve been hearing my whole life but have never fully been able to comprehend.

It is the answer I rolled my eyes at in high school and college, but that now (and especially since watching this film) I am most convinced is true.

Our worth comes from the Lord.

You either nod your head in agreement, roll your eyes at my Christianese, or want to believe me but aren’t able to understand what that looks like.

What does it mean, I get my worth from God?

How can my worth not be tied up in what I do? In what I look like?

I do not understand.

And I still don’t, fully.

I know that I have a peace in me that I have never had before. I know that realizing I am loved by the Creator of the Universe is the most freeing knowledge I have ever (and will ever) come to. I know that the fact that I can’t earn His love, but that He gives it regardless of anything I am or do, is horrifying in its very bigness.

And I know that this is the only thing that will not fail me.

I will not always be young.

I will not be the best at what I do.

I will not always do the right thing.

But what is always true?

I am valued – and you are valued – more than we can imagine. This will never change.

And yes, I completely agree that the way media portrays women is detrimental to our whole society, men and women alike. Yes, we should work to view each and every one of us as a whole person, three-dimensional, flawed, and beautiful. Yes, it is important to both expression and art that all viewpoints be heard. I think Miss Representation is the beginning of half the answer to the problem.

But when we start to question our worth, when clothes don’t fit or that poem we’re trying to write doesn’t come out exactly as we’d hoped, when our days seemed filled with questions instead of answers, let’s remember the measuring stick we are to use.

Imagine what we could do with all the time we waste worrying about our looks, our honors, our accolades.

Infinite love gives infinite worth.

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.

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]