Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mirrors and Clothes (pronounced cloth-es)

I had a strange experience today. I was in Astoria with Kelsey (roommate and fellow intern), had just finished the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had (not kidding) and I had to pee (naturally). While washing my hands I happened to look at the mirror. I looked at the mirror, the image in the mirror, and I smiled. The image in the mirror was a beautiful woman; she had a kind face with soft green eyes. She wore black glasses with artistic pink accents and just a few spots of bedazzlement. Her hair was a feisty short cut, blonde but almost light brown. Her nose spotted with freckles, her mouth curved in an alive and open smile. I looked in the mirror and I smiled because I love the woman who was in the mirror.

Why is this is a strange experience? Why did I pause today and see myself when I see myself in the mirror every day of my life? Why today of all days? I don’t know. Today I actually saw myself, though. I paused and I saw me.

The past week has been full of new people and tasks and challenges. I have felt uncomfortable and somewhat awkward. In that space of being I didn’t notice me, I noticed everyone else and wondered if I was performing correctly or being friendly enough. I wondered how everyone else was doing and if I was being the right way to get along well with him or her. I didn’t see me. When I looked in the mirror I didn’t really look. I popped a few zits, I plucked some stray hairs, but I was seeing flaws to take care of so people wouldn’t find me weird or awkward or find it painfully obvious that I was homeschooled. I was trying to fit in, to be cool, to be normal… whatever that is.

Today I saw me. I saw that I am lovely and full of life. What a beautiful thing it is to pause and see the woman in the mirror and love her.

In Uganda we didn’t have mirrors. The most I saw of my face was my nose or the top of my head; just a piece here and there but never my whole self. There was one trip we took and the rooms we stayed in had body length mirrors. I stood in front of the mirror for several minutes then, just remembering what I looked like. It’s funny I forgot after just a couple months. It isn’t that I didn’t know what I looked like anymore; I just lost the awareness of my appearance for a time. I didn’t care because I never saw it. In Uganda, however, I felt more beautiful and graceful than I have ever felt. A big deal for me because I often feel clumsy and awkward, or simply not put together because I have never wanted to care about that. I want to care about other things.

Yet I do care. I care a great deal. The rebel in me refuses too show that, but deep down I care about my appearance and I often feel less than others because I don’t want to actually show that I care. In my mind, caring about ones appearance is a waste of time. Except that the other part of believes it isn’t.

I was looking at photos of Uganda, and photos of Kelsey’s trip to Honduras, thinking about the clothes people were wearing. I love the clothes people wear when they travel to do missions projects or go on camping trips. What I love is that suddenly the competition to fit in with clothing is gone. People wear their grubbiest clothes, or what the culture they visit expects them to wear, because they don’t care. The competition to fit in and appear put together, beautiful, "normal," is gone.

In the pictures of us going rafting on the Nile there is one of Hanna in a brown shirt with words on it, I don’t think I ever read those words. I don’t think I ever read her shirt. I read everyone’s shirt in the US, and I remember the words, or recognize them at least. I never read Hanna’s shirt. Her face, however, I had seen over and over because I have looked at that picture before. Her face was as familiar as my own sister’s face. In her face is the same aliveness and beauty I found in my own today.

When people travel like that they don’t worry about their appearance. No makeup, no blow-drying or straightening hair, sometimes not even shaving. A person is stripped down to the basics of their body. They simply are a body and a soul. The beauty in that is something I cannot capture in words from my language, and I am not sure any other language could. The beauty of person just as they are, well, it reduces me to speechlessness. For a person who uses words to understand life and understand herself, being silenced by beauty is more powerful than volumes of descriptions.

Today, my own beauty silenced me. I did a double take and paused and saw me and was speechless. It was as though I were back in Uganda, seeing myself in the mirror after two months of not seeing myself, and finding myself stunning.

What a mysterious and surprising place to find myself; caught in the spell of my own beauty.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fighting to Live, Learning to Die

Wendell Berry, a farmer and a poet, seems to understand life and death at a depth I have no yet conceived of. I was reading some of his poems today while sitting in my car, José, near the woods outside of Astoria. One of his poems, "A Wish to be Generous," says:

“All that I serve will die, all my delights,
the flesh kindled from my flesh, garden and field,
the silent lilies standing in the woods,
the woods, the hill, the whole earth, all
will burn in man’s evil, or dwindle
in its own age. Let the world bring on me
the sleep of darkness without stars, so I may known
of the beginning and the end, so I may bow
to mystery, and take my stand on the earth
like a tree in a field, passing without haste
or regret toward what will be, my life
a patient willing descent into the grass.”

The last phrase, “my life a patient willing descent into the grass” nestled into my soul as I read it.

I have struggled for life. Life has been a fight for me. Not in terms of my physical health, thought that has also been a tricky thing, but in terms of my spirit and mind. Keeping the desire to live alive within me has been a fight. I have fought for it. I fought fiercely, and I still fight. I love living, but sometimes giving up feels so tempting because I fight hard to live. My emotions overwhelm me so quickly and so often because it seems I feel everything deeply. Feeling so deeply hurts and is hard, sometimes I would like to give up and rest without feeling. Yet I keep fighting day after day, and I find joy day after day, or I don’t and I try again the next day. Living is a war for me.

Then I read, “my life a patient willing descent into the grass,” and I realized I will die. My body will shut down at some point and I will die. I am fighting so hard for life and at some point I will die no matter how hard I fight.

One of my favorite Jon Foreman songs is “Learning How to Die.” The chorus says:

“All along, thought I was learning how to take,
How to bend not how to break,
How to laugh not how to cry,
Really I’ve been learning how to die.”

I keep thinking I am fighting for life and learning to live, but if I am heading towards death with every breath I take in, maybe what I am learning is actually how to die.

I have learned patience in this fight. When I am overwhelmed with emotion and feeling I have learned to be patient with myself and give myself time to feel it until it passes. I thought this was learning to live, maybe it is learning to die, though. Rather than clinging tightly to what is happening right now I am learning to patiently, and sometimes willingly, let things pass through me or away from me. Rather than insist I stay at school I recognized it was time to leave, and rather than fight that surrendered to the reality within me and let school slip away from me. That sounds more like I am learning to die than learning to live.

If that is what I am learning, than why am I fighting so hard to desire life? I will die, and my life, it seems, will be spent learning how to die. Maybe I am fighting for the wrong thing. Could it be that fighting for a desire to live is the wrong thing to fight for? It could indeed if Wendell and Jon are correct. What do I fight for, then? Do I fight at all? Or is life a surrendering, a slow and painful surrendering to death?

I don’t know.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


As I write I am sitting on a very comfy couch in my apartment in Gearhart, OR. By apartment I mean the basement of a house close to the Young Life camp I now work at. I got here on Monday. The last week has been a whirlwind of people and packing and crying and praying desperately for God to make my car work and unpacking and repacking and driving and more people… a whirlwind indeed. I am tired.

I left school. It’s official now: all finals done and just waiting for my final grades to be posted. I left my apartment on Friday and drove away, my car so full I couldn’t see out of any of the windows except the front ones. I drove away from school. I want to say for the last time, but it seems as often as I make it sound like dropping out is official there are people who insist I will go back and finish. I want to say for the last time. There is nothing in me that wants to go back to school to get a degree. I would love to go back just to be with my friends. I do not want to be in school, though.

Leaving was hard. Transitions are hard for me all the time. Naturally that makes leaving school hard. Transitions make me cry and puke, or at least feel sick to my stomach. They make me irritated and lonely, wanting people yet unable to let people near. Transitions suck, and the suck the life out of me. Packing last week and trying to say goodbye to people felt like leaving Uganda all over again. It was the same panicked racing of my heart, the same random bouts of sobbing over small things, like needing to jump my car a couple times. It was the same heaviness in my heart and tiredness in my bones. All-to-familiar emotions that scared me and caused a great desire to sit down, like a donkey, and refuse to move any further.

I had little time during the last week to actually understand what was happening and recognize what my soul was screaming for. It needed rest and writing and good tea. I couldn’t give it that because there were not enough hours in a day. If only Africa time existed here. I could then have stopped and done just that because who needs to be on time and stick to plans anyways? Obviously there is something innately bred into me that does, because another part of me was screaming the importance of sticking with the plan and not resting until it was over.

I also had moved to a place of caring for other people. I know, that doesn’t sound like a bad place to be in. It actually can be for me, however. In that space others are much more important than I am and I give and give, and give nothing to myself because I am giving all of me to other people. This also sounds like a good thing to me, like what Christians are supposed to do, but it isn’t how it works, at least not for me. I need care, I need to be recognized by myself and paid attention to by myself. If all my attention is going to others I forget that I exist in it all, I forget me. I am important too, though, and I need to not be forgotten. This weekend at home I sort of forgot about me. It seemed like a good thing at the time, and it wasn’t all bad, because I had fun and played with my siblings and friends. It just wasn’t what I needed at the time. At the time I needed rest and space and time alone to understand the aching of my heart and the grieving of my soul.

I left a season of life. It was a hard, dark and shitty season, but it was also full of learning and growth and wonderful people. It isn’t that I am not learning or growing or surrounded by wonderful people now, but it is all new and unfamiliar and unknown. I miss the people who knew me and knew the growth that had taken place. I miss the people who understanding that part of me, because it is most of me I think. The growth and learning that happened took place near the core of who I am, a depth that cannot be seen in a snapshot or a sentence or even a chapter of a book. This takes years of storytelling and observing and spirits communing with each other.

I also know this can be done in a matter of months because of Uganda. I know it won’t be long before I once again find those wonderful deep friendships here as well.

Love you all :)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Pep Talk: A reminder to stay

Hello Lovely People,

I should be studying for my last final right now, but I have a cold and am very tired in many ways, so I decided the final is not as important as drinking some mint tea and writing about my life today.

I have said a lot of goodbyes over this week, and there are more to come. Yesterday I said goodbye to my advisor, Dr. Drovdahl. He helped me plan my totally awesome major and has been with me through all the decision making stuff this year. Next, today, I said goodbye to a woman whom has been my counselor the past year. I have had a lot of counselors over the past 4 years, but she has been the one to witness the most growth in me. She also entered my life at a time I was finally able to connect with people in a real sort of way, thus I have connected with her a lot more than other people. All that is to say she is important and I hated saying goodbye. Finally, this evening I bid farewell to my small group leader and her husband, Eric and Carina Long. I have been in Carina’s small group for three years and it has grown to feel like a sort of home. It’s been a place I could drink good tea, eat gourmet baking, and talk about life, the bible, and whatever other random topics girls get distracted by. It’s been a special place, and it’s only been in the last 6 months I have realized how special it is. Now I am leaving it. I know I will be back to visit but it won’t be the same as before. I will be in a new phase of life, and I am not even sure what that phase will be.

The tiredness I feel today is party due to my illness, but also due to saying goodbye. It’s tough work, it’s tiring work, but it is necessary. I learned in Uganda that value of staying for the goodbye. In the past I have tended to “leave” early, and be checked out before the goodbyes began. In Uganda, however, I somehow knew it was important to let myself feel the full weight of goodbye, and engage with people in that goodbye until the end. It hurt like hell, made me feel like shit for weeks after, and wrecked my guts because it made me physically sick. That’s what emotions often do to me, though. However, 6 months after that heart wrenching experience I am still connected to all those people. I am still in constant communicating with them and I still feel very close to them all. This is party due to the experience we had together, but I think also due to the effort I made to stay connected with them the whole way through.
The tiredness tonight is familiar. It’s the tiredness that leads to tears once you are safely under your covers, snuggled up with your pillows or stuffed Moose. It’s a good tired, but also shitty: not at all conducive for taking finals or do anything more than playing guitar, sleeping and writing.

Today my counselor and I reflected on the work I have done the past year. It was good to recognize how hard I have worked and the hope there is for me, the hope she has for me and the hope I have for myself. My future is filled with hope, just as my present is. Maybe I am just filled with hope. In our reflecting, though, I got to see the rewards I experience now because I have worked through a shitload of stuff; lies, burdens and insecurities I was not meant to carry but somehow got stuck on me. There is a lot of determination and fight in me that hasn’t let me stop for the past several years. Now I am seeing the other side of the shit pile, and it is beautiful and smells great!

It is this hard work that helps me stay during this really hard week. It was easier in the past to let my mind leave, and it didn’t hurt for weeks afterward because I didn’t let it. I know now that pain isn’t something to run from, because it means you are alive, and being alive means being loved and loving people. Pain is part of the deal (I think that’s from Shadowlands – a movie about C.S. Lewis and his wife, Joy). Because I was open to the pain of leaving my Uganda friends I have also been open to their continued presence in my life. Openness does leave you open to being hurt more and feeling pain deeper, but without it how can one experience the fullness of love, joy and hope? It seems one cannot. The question that remains is: is it worth it? Is the pain now worth the joy and love and hope later?

I was tempted to say no before Uganda, but before Uganda I hadn’t experienced the other side. Before Uganda I hadn’t known the beautiful smells and colors that come with the love and joy and hope. Now that I am living in the colors and smells I have no hesitation in shouting YES! Yes, the pain is worth it, the tearing that happens when you rip out lies, the horror you feel when you see the truth, the unbearable longing that comes when parting is inevitable is all worth the colors and sounds and smells of a life lived in openness. Even when the pain seems unbearable, the tearing as if it will kill you, I still find the colors of my heart brighter because I am also able to receive love. In fact, it just might be the pain that makes me able to experience the love. Without chiseling or sanding or molding one cannot be who they are.

It is worth it.

This is my pep talk for the evening to get me through the goodbye’s the rest of the week.

Love you all!