the update boogie: getting down to where i’ve been

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Blogging every week was going great for a while. Until I stopped about 6 weeks ago and remembered I have a job, up to 2 hours of commuting a day, a Church, a relationship, an apartment to maintain, and a social life. Yikes, Universe. What’s going on here? Who am I, and where did that little kid with no responsibilities and a Barbie Corvette Powerwheels go? [Yes, I really had one of those, and yes, I always drove it at the highest possible speed. Also: it was hot pink. Mindfreak.]

I have decided that I am going to blog when I can, not only because I enjoy keeping you all in the loop, but because I have new motivation to do so. I have been invited to be a regular contributor at OurAbility, an internet community for people with disabilities and their loved ones. I befriended their founder at a conference I attended recently. When he found out I am a blogger, he quickly suggested I contribute. I will be writing about whatever I want, but with a unique focus that will foster dialogue about disabilities and within the disability community.

I am thrilled about this opportunity as a writer and as a human being: to find common ground with someone, and then to be able to edify one another, that is a great responsibility with a great reward.

There is another thing keeping my attention, and I am growing more and more excited about it by the day. In May, I am taking a certification course to become an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher. I had never considered a career change, much less to a career in teaching a subject I had no idea about, prior to a few months ago. But my personal and professional lives have aligned themselves in such a way that I realize: I need to do something new, and, in this case, it needs to be big. Not only will having the certification open me up to employment opportunities in a variety of places both here and [ahem] abroad, it will give me the chance to look the people I am helping in the eye, to learn from them and get to know them. . . which is something I have missed acutely since my joyous summers at camp.

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And the rest of the time, when I haven’t been working, growing up, praying, apartment cleaning, or planning a major life change, I’ve been Skyping. Being with someone an ocean away is not always a stroll down the thoroughfare, so to speak [do people actually say that?!] But I continue to be amazed at the grace, mercy, patience, and peace that follow us throughout our days. It is teaching me something I have always needed to learn: how to live in the present, enjoying the moments as they come, and how to dwell every little moment of blessing you can find. As he shows me every day, if you look for them, they are innumerable.

And more to come.

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curve your enthusiasm

Okay.

I really need to be better about keeping you guys up to date on things.

I know, I know. It’s a blog. I’m a blogger. And you need something to read. I’m sorry. I’ll be better about it. I really will. Especially after I learned that this guy [super-megalo-attractive British astrophysicist Brian Cox] married a blogger. Not a supermodel. Not a movie star. Not the frontwoman to an alt indie pre whatever band. A blogger. Hecks yes. Consider me motivated to blog for the REST OF MY LIFE].

he hosts a show called Wonders of the Universe. probably because he might actually be one.

Okay, okay. Moving on. Just wanted to tell my fellow bloggers out there to keep aiming for the stars: specifically the unbelievably intelligent, dashing, European ones. But I digress.

Here is something else I realized today. This is really important, people. So listen up. It made me feel better. And I have a hunch that it might help you.

We live in a world of “what do you do?”. Everyone is expected to have a well-thought out, socially-acceptable answer to that question. In the face of a job market that looks like the wrong side of a mountain troll, I have really grappled [often unsuccessfully] with that question. I have used such gems as “I’m unemployed”, “I am exploring the job market”, and the one that’s sure to have me up to my neck in suitors once they catch on: “I live with my parents”.

All in all, I was starting to wonder if this was my destiny:

Then it dawned on me. I do important things. And in case you’re wondering, here is what they are [in no particular order]:

I am a writer [with this blog, and a finished manuscript for a children’s story that I am going to start shopping, once I get a query letter written].

I am a freelance consultant for nonprofits and small businesses. [It’s true! It is all of a sudden turning into a bit of a part-time job, and is bringing with it a learning curve the size of a National Landmark. Please pray for my sanity and that of those I am working with.]

I am a volunteer. [I do a lot of things for no money- a lot of which I love doing, and am glad to do!]

I help to promote and manage an independent singer/songwriter, who I also have the privilege of calling one of my best friends. [Here is his site.]

I am an Orthodox Christian. [Ask me any question about it anytime: it is my Home and my Family and the Joy of my heart.]

I am a friend. [No matter what else happens, that is always my full-time job. I have never been perfect at it, but have always worked tirelessly.]

I had to write all this down immediately, because I will probably forget it in about 12 minutes. But, aside from the fact that they could someday put me in the path of a modelesque genius, the things I do are generally important. I do important things. The things I do matter in the scheme of things to others.

And the same goes for you.

Repeat that to yourself whenever you feel like you’re losing your nerve.

“I do important things.”

Because you do. I do. We all do. World at large, take note.

sweet dreams and flying machines

“There’s hours of time on the telephone line

To talk about things to come

Sweet dreams and flying machines

In pieces on the ground

Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain

I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end

I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend

But I always thought that I’d see you again.”- James  Taylor

Hindsight is 20/20, they say. Whoever they are. This realization is all at once brilliant and brutal. We are given the blessing to see our ups and downs with the clarity necessary to learn from them, yet we curse ourselves in the same moment for some (in)decision; we regret some risk taken or some hope left alone. It is a bit maddening to try to look back at our past experiences, in particular because we are expected to do so while that same life continues to send us hurtling forward at breakneck speed.

When I hazard a look, I cannot help but be surprised by my life and its landscape: its hills and valleys come as a surprise to me, even after moving over and through them.

I never expected to leave my parents’ house at 17- or to return to it at 23.

I never expected to dye my hair brown and opt to keep it that way.

I never expected that the person I would want to marry would never want to marry anyone, myself included.

Some things I never expected to start, others I never thought I would leave unfinished.

The irony of my life is that I cannot use past circumstances to plan for future ones, because each circumstance is itself an anomaly. The only way I could prepare myself for one outcome would be to plan for the opposite: to expect the unexpected, if you fancy a cliche.

I spoke to two friends last night- one, a girlfriend with whom I have passed many hours; the other an acquaintance, a bartender who reads Frankl. From each of these very different, fascinating people I gleaned the same lesson. I can never live up to my own expectations of what life will be like: not because I am inept. But because the only way a girl would find herself wholly satisfied and wholly within her expectations is if each and every one of the circumstances in question  lay entirely within her control.

That is not going to happen, is it, duckie?

Bleak as that may seem at first glance, worry not. This is not cause to lock yourself in your room with a bottle of Merlot and the Damien Rice catalog. What I’m getting at is this: most things are, in point of fact, beyond our control, with one exception: our own behavior. I admit that thought is a bit terrifying. But if my behavior is the only thing I can control, then I probably shouldn’t agonize as much as I do over the rest.

This whole disconnect between preparation, expectation, and the Actual has been bothering me lately; I have been weighed down. I have felt stuck, guilty, worried, afraid, frustrated, sad, annoyed, bitter, and completely unable to understand What-in-the-Ever-Loving is going on. However high my expectations may be for others, they are so much greater for myself. And when the girl with the high expectations is the same one for whom nothing goes as planned, it would appear she is marked for disarray.

But what if life isn’t about preparation for what we expect will happen? What if it is about looking at whatever does happen, and doing what we can to take something from the circumstance that we can use?

Thousands of miles away and over 40 years ago, my favorite song was written: a song about facing life and making the best of it;  about taking the raw materials and doing what we can to fashion something functional and beautiful out of them. I am starting to believe that- when everything else is stripped away- this is all I can expect of myself. And it is a high calling indeed.

not as i do

I have learned a few things from a lifetime of being a Girl.

  1. Guys are right. We’re crazy. I have decided to embrace this part of myself and try to pass it off as “uniqueness” rather than fighting it. It’s going alright so far.
  2. We like to talk. Okay, that’s not accurate, I’m sorry. We love to talk.
  3. We like to fix things. Or at least try our darndest to. And I’m not talking about useful “things” like your transmission or your plumbing. I’m talking about other “things”:  like your deep-rooted character issues, your most profound fears, or the Pile-of-Mess that is Your Feelings.

[Please note that these- and like statements throughout this post- are observations about patterns I’ve noticed, not universal, gender-exclusive truths that are set in stone. Okay? Great. Moving on.]

Because Talking and Fixing Things play so nice together, people like to come to us girls for advice. And more often than not, we jump at the chance to flex our highly attuned nurturing muscles. “What can I do?” “How can I help?” “Can I pray for you?” “I’ll be right over with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s for each of us!” We are all-too-ready to dive in with a solution. There is absolutely nothing wrong with following this impulse tactfully. People- no matter what their chromosomal makeup- need each other and need advice.

I am comforted not only when I know I have received good advice, but when I know I have given counsel that  comforts or spurs on someone I care about. But I had an epiphany recently. And not the pleasant kind, the nagging, annoying kind.  it’s been bugging me ever since. There is a striking similarity between the answers I give and the answers I seek.

Thus begging the question: why can’t I take my own advice?

I cannot tell you how many times I have said things like “Why would you like someone who doesn’t like you?” or “Maybe you should set smaller, more attainable goals for yourself”, or “Get a job, hippie!” and thought-  “Hey, that was really profound. I wish I could think like that.” Of course I do think like that. But I can’t seem to connect the dots. I have a head full of stars, but no constellations.

Last night, I had a head full of medicine, food, and drink, and none of it was mixing very well. I had far too much on my mind, and was feeling particularly Out of It. As soon as I settled in, I got a message from a friend who I hadn’t heard from in ages. He asked for help. He was having a crisis of faith. And having had my fair share of those myself, we were able to talk through some things. I was remarkably calm, cool and collected. Even though, just an hour or two before, I had told someone “I just feel like I don’t know which way is up”.

I think being incapable of taking our own advice is a distinctly human problem. Everyone grapples with it. But why?

Well, for one: nothing tastes quite like humble pie. Life is a parade of lessons in humility for those who are paying the slightest bit of attention. So perhaps all those little ironies are just, um, teaching opportunities.

Then there is the encouragement we get from taking someone else from a not-so-good place to a better one. Perhaps those same moments- those same character exercises- can remind us that no matter how low we feel like we are, we can always reach up to help someone elsee.

for your Lentertainment

Growing up, I was not at all familiar with Lent, unless we’re talking about what you find in your belly button. I knew it started the day after Mardi Gras. I knew it was grim. And I knew it meant you could neither have stuff you wanted to have nor do stuff you wanted to do. This was about the extent of my knowledge. I maintained a safe distance from it. Sackcloth and ashes? Thanks, but no thanks.My upbringing instilled  in me an invaluable love for the Scriptures and a longing to do what’s right, but the seeming archaic traditions of Lent were unfamiliar to me. I could not understand the practical relevance of “dos” and “don’ts” to my walk with G*d and my freedom in Christ.

About a year ago, I had my first silent retreat experience at a Roman Catholic monastery in Kentucky. [You did not have to be a Roman Catholic to retreat there, simply a “Christian” designation was enough for you to be welcome.] If you have never taken a retreat to a monastery, I highly recommend it. The Lord is always ready and willing to lead us right outside of our comfort zone to find new ways to commune with him, and that kind of thing gives Him ample opportunity. One of the mementos I received from the retreat director was a Lenten devotional book. Having just started attending the Orthodox church- and very much feeling like a stranger in a strange land- the very thought of participation in Lent was daunting. So I decided to start small. One devotional a day fit nicely into my existing routine. Like Peter standing on the sea, I was fearful of this strange, new deep.

This year doesn’t find me much more confident. But in every moment, He can teach us and strengthen us. So I’m taking it one day at a time. Only about 35 more to go.

Even if Lent is not a part of your church tradition: the weeks leading up to Easter are a time of reflection and preparation across Christendom.  In that vein, I’ve seen a lot of posts on Facebook and Twitter about what people are/are not “giving up” for Lent. But I think it would be helpful to ask a ourselves different question: what do you and I want to gain from the Lenten season? It would be downright disheartening for me to think about how many slices of cheese pizza or how many scoops of ice cream I’ll be missing out on over the next 40 days. But I can think about how much more inclined I will be to lean on G*d in my many moments of weakness.

If you pour enough into a glass, whatever had been standing at the bottom will rise to the top and flow out. Although it is good to say no to certain things, it might also help to look at these decisions to abstain as a way of making room for other thoughts or practices. I’ve heard it called a time of Spring Cleaning- I like that- it always feels good to get rid of the clutter- even though things do look a little bare at first.

Fasting is never easy, or fast, for that matter. But we are taught to keep our chin up, and to not get bogged down in the difficulty. Of course, there is nothing wrong with sharing our goals with friends and family so we can have cheerleaders and partners in accountability. It is nice to know there are others out there who can appreciate the versatility of peanut butter as a meal option. But I am realizing that most of the emphasis needs to be on intimacy with G*d. Jesus gives us an interesting perspective:

16“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”- Matthew 6:16-18 (NIV)

Never one for false piety, His example is one of secret, quiet obedience. He often withdrew to lonely places to pray, and would tell people to keep quiet about his miracles, though they never did!  Clearly, He found religious hypocrisy obnoxious like we all do. But beyond that, I love His way of thinking about His spiritual life as  having secret times of communion with G*d. It is about capturing the true nature of a retreat; finding a place where you and the Lord alone are in attendance.

Some of the most special times I have had with friends were when it was “just the two of us”: whether it’s a weekend road trip, or something as simple as an inside joke, we have many experiences with our friends that are uniquely our own. This is the kind of relationship the Divine wants with us! If that is the case, far be it from me not to make room.

gratitude adjustment

I haven’t written since Tuesday night- pretty unbelievable for someone who overwhelms you with Tweets and status updates every time she writes a word, I know. But I have been a busy bee, people! Because things are all out of order, I am going to start with the moral(s) of the story, and toss in some characters and a plot when you least expect it.

The moral(s) of the story is/are:

We should always be looking for the lessons life is trying to teach us because they will bring with them blessings; there will always be reminders of things to be grateful for.

For this helpful reminder, I would like to thank the following:

A Child: This morning, after a period of prayer, study, and inquiry, my family and I were received into the Orthodox Church and were able to take our first communion there. This afternoon, we participated in a Forgiveness Vespers (prayer service). After the regular prayers are finished, the clergy and their wives begin asking one another for forgiveness and extending forgiveness to one another, in turn. Then the congregation does so with the clergy, and then with one another. The process goes on until everyone present has asked for, and received, forgiveness from everyone else. It is truly an experience! The most moving part of it is that the littlest children participate, embracing you and asking for, then extending, forgiveness! Not a dry eye in the house after that!

I realized that, great and small, we all need each other. And when we celebrate others with gratitude, our relationships are fortified.

As I cross this new threshold on my spiritual journey, I am rendered so grateful for the foundation laid at home, by other church leaders, and by spiritual and godly people I have met throughout life. Without all of those twists and turns, hills and valleys, I would not have ended up on this path. I have love and respect for all of you and remember you in my prayers.

A Stranger: To harken back to my previous post, last Wednesday evening was spent with the prettiest guy I’ve never met. Despite all my delusions of grandeur, that is precisely what John Mayer is to me: a complete stranger who hasn’t the slightest clue I live and breathe. However, his heartfelt apology for some especially unsavory remarks really resonated with me. Because he forced himself to become reacquainted with humility. In doing so, he discovered that where humility is, gratitude will be there, tagging along.

Since then, John’s example has given me an easy recipe for perspective. Step one: acknowledge that I can’t conquer demons, master reinvention, or do a single significant thing without vital love, input, and support from others. Step two: embrace and employ gratitude. Reinvention and conquest will follow accordingly. Repeat as necessary.

[You’ll be alright, John. Thanks for coming through for the people who have supported you. I still believe in you, and know that you will only emerge from this situation stronger, now that you’ve gained  some awareness. There will always be angry people, but- as you reminded us in Nashville, there will always be people in your corner.]

A Recession: I have been out of graduate school, unemployed, and living at home for around 14 months now. Time flies when you’re needing funds. At any rate, the job market shows no sign of giving me a break, for crying out loud. Not to mention that people with disabilities tend to face some unique challenges when it comes to finding employment. Aside from fear-based discrimination, many “means to an end” jobs [like working in a restaurant, in retail, or as a barista] are not options for people with physical disabilities, as they require significant mobility and dexterity. I’m pretty sure you know already those are not two of my strong suits.

All that to say that things seem a little bleak right now. But after thinking about a lot of other things the past few days (including aforementioned ones, of course), I have realized that without living at home, I would not have had as much time with my family, friends, and the new people I’ve met as I have. I would not have been likely to finish the children’s book, much less start to submit it to publishers and editors. I would not have spent so much time in cafes and been able to consider starting the coffee blog.

Being out of a job and out of school has forced me to forage for other opportunities. Though nothing has come to fruition yet, there are certainly things going on below the surface. Maybe life will finally blossom when the sun returns.

In the meantime, I wait. I grin. I bear it. I am thankful.

no telling how many roads diverged in a wood

for those of you just tuning in, i have been pursuing an application to a doctoral program. i found out today my GRE test scores are not high enough for my application to be considered. since it is so close to the deadline and review period for the applications, being able to submit a complete application for review does not seem to be a viable option anymore.

aside from the general sense of shock and disappointment, this was a huge blow to my ego and my self- confidence. the phd was already a significantly different life path, but it was one i had become comfortable with and began to place hope in, given the nature of the job market- and the fact that academics has always been an area of strength for me.

i feel like the past few months i have been pursuing this have been a waste of time. all the time and thought i have invested in this could have been placed in the job search, or even in my creative expression, which has suffered dearly recently.

i am embarrassed. i would have been just plain disappointed if i submitted but wasn’t accepted. but the crossover to embarrassment comes when it turns out i’m not even good enough to be considered by these people. i am embarrassed i missed that bit of information which was probably printed in the application materials as plain as the nose on my face. and i am embarrassed to admit to you all to my family, my friends, my coworkers, and those who wrote such kind recommendations for me, that i can’t hack it.

*

so i have to start over at square one. i have to return to the loving arms of the job market. i have to re-reassess my life, my goals, and my plans. . . and on and on.

if the path life seems to direct you to leads you nowhere, you make a new path. but what if that path leads you nowhere. do you return to the original path hoping to see it in a different light, or do you cut your losses and head off in yet another direction?

my life seems to be making me restless and uncertain. it is definitely serving me dish after dish of humble pie and teaching me to plumb the depths of my patience and faith in providence. but more than anything right now, life seems to be wearing me out.

i am one tired little lady. not just outside tired, although that is often the case. inside tired. i feel like i have been striving and stretching, asking and seeking. i feel so ready to find- somewhere, someone, something for me to build a life with. you all can come out now. i give up. you can be “it”.

thank goodness for the promise of rest for the weary soul.

Lord, if you don’t mind, i think i’ll take you up on that.