August 26, 2014

She Does Seminary: One Year In

Let's talk about how much life can change in a year. And yet, how little changes at the same time.

Yesterday, I celebrated a friend's 35th birthday. It's the fourth year that I've been a part of her life, and I have fond memories of eating cake and dancing with two other friends in her basement apartment in 2010, shortly after she moved to the city.

In some ways, my life hasn't changed much since then. I'm still here in Toronto. Still struggling to make ends meet. Still unsure of where my life is headed. But appearances can be deceiving, and I feel certain that these years have been important ones.

I started a nannying job that fall. Took care of two rambunctious boys for a year. Then spent a year and a half working for their mom's business. The whole time, I asked myself, What am I doing? Where am I headed? 

It felt like nothing was happening.

And then a conversation I hardly remember, except for the sound of my own voice saying, "I'd love to go to school, but I can't. There's no way I could afford it." And Jesus' voice, saying, "You haven't even tried."

So I applied to one school. Got in. Quit my job. Started school, found another job, freelanced. Went into debt for the first time in my life.

Time keeps rolling. Life happens. A boy drops into my life, out of absolutely nowhere.

Now it's almost September again - I have never escaped the school-related re-start of the year - and I'm looking back and thinking about where I'm headed.

And I still don't know.
"I thought I'd be going into second year with more clarity, not less," I said earlier this week, "I feel even less certain of what I'm doing with my life, why I'm in school at all."
"It's part of your journey. You need to be there," he reassured me. And it's true. I do feel the need to be there. I just don't know why. 

But do we ever know why?

Allow me just a moment of philosophizing. Can we ever know what we're really doing or what the outcome of our decisions will be? Is it possible to say, "This. This is the purpose, the goal, the undeniable result."?

I don't think it is. I think we can't predict the future, and we can't control those around us (heck, sometimes we can't even control our own selves), and there's no way we can know how everything will work together to shape our lives.

I find this both terrifying and comforting. Terrifying, because I need something (someone) to trust in amidst all the unknowns. Comforting, because if I can't control the future, perhaps I can relax a little and enjoy the ride. Focus less on what my big career will be, and more on what I can learn right now. Less anxiety about networking, more attention on loving. Less pressure to perform, more freedom to be me.

That doesn't sound so bad. Maybe I can do year 2 after all...

August 13, 2014

Life is Like a Bear Hunt (and We're Gonna Catch a Big One)

Sometimes life is like a bear hunt.

Particularly the bear hunt immortalized in the children's action story/song. For those of you unfamiliar with the song, here is the first verse: 

We're goin' on a bear hunt,
We're gonna catch a big one,
I'm not scared!
What a beautiful day!
Oh look! It's some long, wavy grass!
Can't go over it,
Can't go under it,
Can't go around it,
Gotta go through it!

The rest of the song follows the same formula - we've got a mission, we have high hopes, we're excited and not scared, we encounter an obstacle that cannot be avoided...we overcome, and then we repeat.

Such is life.

The past week has been a bit of an emotional roller-coaster for me (and, from what I gather via social media, thousands of other people in the world, each for their own reasons, though sometimes events and tragedies unite us in grief).

This morning I articulated some massive life-fears to a friend, and our conversation went like this:
"I think it's good that it terrifies you, I think it means that you're taking it seriously."

"I am," I replied, "I just don't want to get bogged down. But I have to go through the fears instead of around going on a bear hunt."

"I feel so proud of you for being willing to do that."

"It's the only option! Well, I guess running away is an option, but I'm anti-that."

Running away - that's what happens in the song. We find ourselves in a dark, quiet cave...and touch something wet. And then something furry. And IT'S A BEAR! And then we run out of the cave, scramble down the mountain, through the snowstorm, through the mud, across the river, through the long, wavy grass, and back into our home. Where we lock the door and breathe a sigh of relief.

looking out from a dark (bear!?) cliff cave
It's tempting. But it's no way to live. As much as it terrifies me, as much as it makes me realize the inevitability of battle scars and losses and coming face to face with giant wild animals (this could be a metaphor for so. many. things.), I refuse, I absolutely refuse, to let fear rule my life. I cannot give in to a desire for safety at the expense of adventure (risk/living). As much as I crave security from harm, it really means the death of my heart.

So let's re-write the (metaphorical) song. Let's go on a bear hunt. Let's plan to catch a big one. And when it turns out to be a far scarier experience than we anticipate, let's remember that it is okay to be afraid.

But let's not run away.

August 5, 2014

Email Excerpt: On Dating, Breaking Up, and Having Hope

One of my lovely friends recently went through a break-up, and asked me about the things I've learned from dating, breaking-up, etc... I don't feel like an expert, by any means, but it was encouraging to process and articulate a thought or two in this realm. And now I want to share those thoughts with you!

Some thoughts on dating and breaking up and hearing hard things and learning and contentment and loving myself:

Thought A: the one most non-negotiable for me in a relationship is that the other person WANTS to be in it with me. I refuse to try and convince someone into it. And I won't waste my emotions on someone who has chosen not to be with me - I am allowed to feel sad/disappointed, but the "pining" for intimacy, love, etc is directed forward, to a future-unknown person, rather than back to what was. I've become convinced that I deserve to be loved as I am, who I am.

Thought B: you can't MAKE things work without two people. For me, previously, this meant admitting the seed of relief when a relationship ended, and that it wasn't "normal" to have to try SO HARD at intimacy and vulnerability. There is definitely a spark between M and I, but it is something that is growing and deepening with time - a good relationship is surprising and relieving and strange. I am still surprised by the ways M cares for me and communicates with me, that in stressful conversations there is consistently more space and freedom than I expect. Last night we had (yet another) conversation about how he wants me to tell him what I'm thinking and feeling, even when I think it will stress him out or create conflict. The fact that we are committed to talking through stress and conflict, and being vulnerable even when it's scary is far more important, I think, than any "spark." Actually, it feeds the spark. The spark was there at the start, and we have made choices to build a fire (so to speak), through vulnerability and honesty. You can't force those things, either with yourself or another person. But you also can't build a relationship without them.

Thought C: I liked my life before M came along. I was happy. There were good things, and good people, and I was proud of the trajectory of my life. All those things are still true. As I've been thinking about marrying him, I asked myself, "Can I live without him? Do I NEED him?" For some reason, this seemed like the right question to ask. But I realized it wasn't. Because the reality is, I CAN live without him. I can live well without him. Do I want to? Not anymore. But here's the thing: this is the first time that even the thought of a relationship ending hasn't made me completely panic. I know I would be immensely sad and deeply hurt if we broke up, but I also know that I would be okay. Eventually. And this is something I'm proud of. Because it has to do with who I am as a person, and the progress I've been making in learning to love myself, to trust Jesus, and to know that my worth/identity is not dependent on a man.*

Thought D: Hope is a scary thing. For you, hope that there will be a man to love you well. For me, that this won't fall apart. Hope that somehow, by the grace of God (I mean that quite solemnly), I can partner with another human being for decades of day-to-day living without destroying each other...even making each other better! That is terrifying. But hope persists. Hope keeps poking us and prodding us and speaking to us. I'm reminded of Romans 5:3-5, where it says that trials develop perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope...and hope does not disappoint. I wrestle with how this seems to say that more trials = more hope. And yet, I find in my own life, that the more of this messy ol' life I live through, the more deeply my hope-roots seem to go. There are a lot of lesser hopes that have boiled away (to mix metaphors), but the essential hope - that there is good ahead of me, that Jesus is real and loves me deeply - is somehow, against my expectations, growing.

Well. Those are some thoughts. Sorry it's taken me so many days to compile them.

Ps. One other thing I've come to believe is true is that it is OKAY to have needs. And a good person (a healthy relationship) will freely allow you that space, or have those conversations with you. For those of us relatively well-adjusted, committed to self-knowledge and maturity, we can rest reasonably well-assured that we are not being "needy" or "unreasonable" and that healthy people aren't threatened by other healthy people's needs. (does that make sense?)

*when I asked M about sharing these thoughts, we had a good conversation about this particular point, about what it means to need someone, and what is "healthy" in this realm. It's hard to articulate, but for me, it has been an important piece to own and accept my autonomy and my ability to live life fully as a single person. And now, the longer I'm in a relationship, the more I come to depend on and want his presence in my life. I'm gunshy of the word "need," but I do think a healthy relationship has a level of interdependence to it (though not dependence or co-dependence). Maybe it's most easily summed up in what M said during our conversation: "You don't need me, but you have needs I'm going to help meet."

August 1, 2014

A Few Film Photos: Tanzania Edition

I've been home for two weeks!

I took a good old-fashioned film camera with me to Tanzania (who does that!? me.) and now that the film has been developed, I would like to share some of my favourites with you.

a boy herds cattle

a traditional home with a banana-tree lined path

these young girls were watching traditional musicians

a young lion enjoys a buffalo feast!
I need to figure out what I'm going to do to compile all the best ones. Maybe I'll make a photo book. And carry it around with me everywhere I go, and show it off like a proud parent.