Tag Archives: freedom

Practicing Fearlessness

Every time I head for my first class after the weekend, I get a little hiccup of fear.

What if I forgot how to teach?

What if the weekend gnomes ferreted away any knowledge or skill I had, and I’m about to walk into a classroom filled with expectant children, and I’ll have nothing to offer them?

I go through this nearly every week. It’s ebbed a little since the fall, as I’ve gained experience and more confidence, but it’s still there. Every week I feel this bizarre fear, and every week I teach my classes. My teaching ability doesn’t seem to atrophy over the weekend, but still, I feel it.

This past week was April vacation, so you can imagine how large this irrational fear has grown in anticipation of Monday.

I can only imagine what it will be like in September, after a glorious summer!

~     ~      ~

Fear has immobilized me before.

I let a chick drown when I was eight because I was too afraid to reach and scoop its down-covered body from the water.

When I was nine, I stood screaming while a dog attacked my hens, tearing at them with his hunters’ teeth.

I felt small and insignificant and stupid when I walked by Richdale. I was in middle school and the boys hanging outside Richdale were in middle school and it was terrible.

When I was sixteen, I wouldn’t dance. My fear of looking foolish – of not knowing how – pinned me to the edge of the dance floor. I watched them spin and laugh and flap their arms and I was filled with envy for their freedom. I had the courage to wear a polkadot dress, but not to let the skirt swirl around me while I shimmied.

~     ~     ~

I was short with my mother as I moved quickly through the house. Throwing stuff in my purse, brushing my hair, making sure I still had money on my Charlie card.

“Do you want me to drive you in?”

No, no I don’t, because I am seized with fear and I can’t be.

Because I’ve worked too hard not to make choices based on this darkness, and I can’t stop now. Because my friend lives there – daily she has seen the results – and I am a child protected by distance and trees.

Because there is a concert I bought tickets for, and I am going.

I got on the train, settled into the seat, and breathed deeply.

[Thoughts on Church From a Seasoned Veteran]

I remember sitting in English class in 9th grade and admitting to my teacher that I got most of my ideas for stories while sitting in church. I thought he’d be surprised, maybe shake his head a little, smiling, and tell me that church was for focusing on the Lord.

Instead, he laughed and said, “Me too! There’s just something about being surrounded by the body of Christ that fills me with creativity. Well, that, and when I can’t sleep at night.”

Church has always been a place of mixed emotions. When people ask me about my church life, I think of the little brown church on a busy street where I first encountered God and saw for the first time that God’s love spread even and especially to the disabled. This was also where I discovered music, and I remember counting the rectangular windows while we sang “How Great Thou Art.”

[I was both awed and confused by the extremely heavy vibrato behind me.]

This was also the first place I saw deep relationships destroyed, families betrayed by their own, young children crushed by the meanness of others. I wasn’t exempt from it, either –  I think I may have indeed been one of the mean ones, struggling desperately not to be labeled as “weird” or “different.” There isn’t much worse than this when you’re seven years old.

The next church I think of is the old white church on Main Street, with its green steeple and gravel driveway. I think of Joy Club and youth group and Vacation Bible School. Long Sunday afternoons when we all would play volleyball til our knees were scraped up from diving, and excursions for barbecue down the road when all we thought about was laughing and wiffle ball and perhaps that tiny worry that:

Jesus didn’t mean as much to us as he was supposed to.

This was around the time I started writing in church. Usually it was in my head, long, terrible plot-lines that always involved heroic orphan-girls and handsome boys who lived “in town.” One time I scribbled a slightly-scandalous outline for a story on the back of an offertory envelope; it involved two members of the congregation, and I surely should have been more careful. I did try to pay attention. I succeeded, often. But like my English teacher said, “There’s just something about being surrounded by the body of Christ.” I felt a well of anticipation and ideas whirling around.

[I hopped around from church to church, staying a week, a month, a season. College was too complicated and they demanded too much: “Ministries! Use your gifts! Vocation! Sing! Youth Group! Sunday School!”, so I ran away.]

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[St. Peter’s Church in Salzburg]

I worshipped with my new church on Easter Sunday. It wasn’t what I was used to. In order to worship together in one service, we had to move to the local high school, and suddenly it felt more like a show than church. I was surprised because that’s not how Sunday mornings usually feel here, but I closed my eyes and willed myself to be open.

I have so many set ideas of the way things should be and all too often I let those ideas destroy moments that shouldn’t be destroyed.

So I sang with all my might: “Low in the Grave He Lay,” “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” “In Christ Alone.” The hymns were the same, even if there was suddenly a screen above the pastor. The smiling faces around me were the same as most Sundays. I was grateful to have my family with me, to worship alongside them like we did when were little. I was grateful that God has kept me close to Him, even when church has been such a place of mixed things.

I am slowly getting more involved, with my feet only slightly dragging behind me. There is so much history between me and church, but that’s true of anyone who’s stuck it out and been part of the worshipping church. You can’t take Christ and leave the Church, or at least, I can’t justify it, as much as I’ve tried. Christ came to redeem people, and it’s people that make the Church so difficult.

All I can do is try to be one of the people who makes it a better example of the Kingdom.

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.]

An Honest Look at God

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Scary.

That’s the first word I write down. I am surprised and not surprised when I see it flow out of my pen. This is why I’ve waited so long, anyway. Because I knew I wasn’t going to like what I found.

I read in a quick stolen moment this blogpost. I’d never heard of this woman before, but her words seemed familiar; in writing her story, she’d unknowingly written echoes of my own. She wrote of when she was young and how she strived for perfection, reaching exhaustively for righteousness. She wrote of the moment she realized that God doesn’t bless work like this, that He isn’t a “balancing-act” God.

And then she sat down and wrote out all the things she believed about God. Not what she was “supposed” to believe. Not what she’d been told to believe.

What she actually believed in her core.

As soon as I read this, I groaned a little inside. I knew it was coming. Things hadn’t been quite right.

I kept reading, trying to ignore it. I didn’t want to put pen to paper and face the facts.

I still don’t know who God is.

“I see it as a time for intentional and careful reflection.” That’s what I wrote about Lent almost two weeks ago. And I meant it. I still do mean it. But now I’m staring down the fact that “intentional and careful reflection” means being willing to engage with what you find there. What I found in writing that list is that I have a lot to learn.

Am I saying that God isn’t scary? No. He most definitely is scary. He is the Creator of the Universe, after all, and power like that isn’t something you mess with. What I am saying, though, is that most of the words I used to describe the God I claim to follow are negative. Fearful. Unsure. I didn’t know how to interact with this, because there’s often a huge difference between what you KNOW to be true (God is good) and what you BELIEVE and act on (God is scarier than He is good).

[powerful. sovereign. tricky.]

Do I really think God is tricky? No. But I act like I do. I often live my life as though he were the infinite trickster, just waiting to pull one over on me. Ha! You thought I would protect you! I’ve got you right where I want you.

That isn’t God talking. That’s the part of me that still hasn’t fully grasped what it means to surrender. To give it all to Him and admit that I am finite and broken and that I don’t have all the answers.

I wasn’t sure what to do about this list, with all its biggness and negativity, and only a few beautiful qualities strewn in.

[merciful. loving (but not always in the ways I would think). protective.]

So I decided to remind myself of who God says He is.

I made another list with better words, straight from the Word of the Lord.

Redeemer.

Savior.

Merciful

Creator.

Lover of your soul.

Omnipotent.

Just.

~     ~     ~

Apparently, reflecting is not always fun. What is in the depths of my soul? Who am I really? And how do I answer these questions without answering: Who is God?

I explain grammatical concepts to my students every day. That’s an infinitive – it has no number or person. It’s like the most neutral form of the verb. I explain things over and over, and they seem to understand. When I ask them, “What’s an infinitive?”, they can spit out the answer. But do they understand? Could they use one in a sentence? Could they explain what is happening? Not always.

There’s a huge gap between knowing what is right and understanding. I may be able to spit out that list of words from the Bible about who God is, but that doesn’t mean I understand them. It certainly doesn’t mean my view of myself or my view of God has changed fully. How do I change the words in my head and the feelings in my soul? I am constantly in a state of flux – growth is painful. I can feel the pains of embarrassment, anger at being reprimanded, and my human desire to just live my life and have fun. Because who doesn’t want to have fun?

There’s a hope in growing, too. It means we aren’t stagnant. If we’re constantly growing, it means we haven’t yet arrived.

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!!!

The Full Life

Some people assign one word to their year, like it’s easily containable. I thought about doing that in January, thought about affixing the latest Christian buzzword to my twenty-third year and breathing a sigh of relief that now I didn’t have to worry about making my year count – the word did it for me.

And while you may have guessed, since it’s September and I’ve only just mentioned it, I did not end up doing it. Partly because I’m not very good at planning ahead. Partly because I’m bad at judging the passing of time, and in March it still felt like January, and I still had time to choose.

But the crux of it is this: there are too many good things in life to pick just one.

My friends have done this: “This is the year of yes,” “This is the year of trust,” and it’s benefited them greatly. I don’t want to say meditating on one thought or one ambiguous philosophy for one year is a bad thing.

I read Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand GiftsI know what it looks like to have your life transformed by the power of one word. Her experience of gratitude was encouraging, and it opened me up to the possibility of a grateful life, maybe even a grateful life before a penitent one. My journal now has lists of the blessings God has given me.

But I couldn’t stick to it. I tried to count up and up and list a thousand blessings, but I couldn’t do it. Not because God hasn’t seen fit to give me a thousand gifts, but because, I think, it takes more than gratitude to have a full life.

I couldn’t stick to just one fruit of the spirit, just one beautiful thought to meditate on for 365 days. 

Gratitude is a huge part of the Christian life. But so is honesty. So is joy. So is hope.

Over the next few weeks, I hope to explore these things. The beautiful things that make life a glimpse of what is to come.

I join the ranks of many good thinkers and observers and writers. I’d love to hear your thoughts on beauty, joy, honesty, gratitude, all the beautiful.

 

Dancing to Freedom

Dancing as worship. Dancing as expression. Dancing as movement. Dancing as communion.

Self-awareness.

To dance without being seen. To dance alone in the dark. To dance in a room full of people. To feel isolated and in community.

The beauty of motion.

Dancing is something I take pretty seriously.

When I say dancing, I don’t mean structured dance class or ballet. I mean hardcore on-the-dance-floor-looking-kind-of-crazy dancing. The kind that a lot of people are scared of. I take it seriously because I love it, but I don’t take it seriously at all because I am not in the least concerned with how well I dance. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself.

It’s hard for me to pass up an invitation to dance, but don’t get the idea that I’m any good. I’m pretty terrible, more of a flailer than a dancer – all elbows and knees and sweaty forehead – and yet I can’t seem to get enough of it. The melding of a good beat with the muscles and bones and tendons God has given me, all moving together and freeing that tightness we all feel but not all of us are aware of. The tightness of holding too much. The tightness of long weeks of doing what we should, and yet still feeling a hole.

I went to a dance party just the other night filled with boys and girls and hipsters and intellectuals and agnostics and Christians and people who drank and people who didn’t drink. Some made only a brief appearance in the dark basement with flashing lights and sound mixing, standing a good head and shoulders above everyone just long enough to decide “dancing wasn’t for them.” These people promptly turned around and headed back up the wooden stairs to resume investigating the link between “What is life?” and “What is art?”, all while consuming (perhaps) a little too much alcohol. Then there were the boys who would’ve done anything to dance with a girl, sneaking up to them, touching their hands, their arms, hoping that at least one of the feminine among them would comply. This crowd, though, would have none of it, and alas, I found that the genders do better mixing at senior centers than they do at a vastly Christian dance party.

Darkness, lights flashing, faces distorted by the sharpness. Bodies I recognized and bodies I didn’t, shaking and moving in a freeness some only dream of.

I danced and thought, this is when I feel free. I’ve been searching for those moments more often lately, trying to understand why I feel trapped and how to stop feeling that way. One of the boys at the party hadn’t danced in forever and he looked so nervous (and quite stupid, frankly), with his arms close to his side and his feet shuffling awkwardly on the cement floor. I leaned in to him and said above the music, “Just pretend no one can see you. That’s the best way to dance.”

He looked at me, and excitement mixed with the fear in his dark eyes.

I don’t know if he tried it or if it worked, because I moved away from him to another group of friends across the room.

That, though, is seriously some of the best advice I can think of. Pretend no one’s watching. Just dance. Just do what you want. 

There’s so much freedom in it.

Living a Fairy Tale

“You live a fairy tale, you know,” my first boyfriend said to me. We were driving somewhere in his toyota station wagon, and I was telling him stories about growing up. I can’t remember what it was – maybe it was that I took horseback riding lessons, or maybe it was that we used to spend a week every summer on a lake in Maine – but whatever it was, I guess it made my childhood sound pretty idyllic.

“What do you mean?” I knew I’d had a good life, that there were beautiful moments of laughing til my sides hurt, of roping my brothers, sister, and cousins into playing “Little House on the Prairie,” and of boisterous family holidays where sometimes it was hard to hear anything that was going on. “Everything’s always been so easy for you,” he said, not looking at me. “Everything was so easy.”

What he didn’t see though, was that while things looked easy, there is always more. I think back on that afternoon in his car, and I wonder what my life looks like from the outside now. Graduating in May was a huge change, and I’ve made some choices I really didn’t want to make: I moved back home with loving parents and a great younger brother, but sacrificed living with friends and independence. I took a few part-time jobs because I get bored out of my mind working at a desk, doing the same thing day to day. But this leaves me with uncertain hours, a smaller income, and more than anything the feeling that I’m not accomplishing much.

As I begin to piece together what my life will look like, I balance between learning patience and practicing action. I am much more prone to act than I am to wait; I see a problem, a challenge, a choice, and I want to conquer it. Maybe this period of waiting, of patience, of trust, is necessary to shape me more finely. But it’s really uncomfortable.

“Everything’s always been easy for you.” Those words echo in my head, making me feel an odd mix of resentment and un-deserved privilege.

I step back and see the blessings, and I am grateful. I look forward to sharing the fairy tale life, even if it isn’t always such a fairy tale.

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