Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On Joy

Earlier this summer I came to the conclusion that life doesn’t get easier, just different. How much I wish that was wrong now, but how much I am sure it is not.

Last week I was blessed with the opportunity to see a friend from Africa. We got to spend the morning hiking and being together. It was beautiful. He lives in San Diego and has been involved in my decision making all along the way. As we talked about it some more on our descent he shared with me his fear for me in what I am about to do. This is something no one has shared with me. The general response is, “Go for it! How bad could it be?” In my heart it could be really bad. This friend was kind enough to share a similar fear with me, and that made it seem not so bad.

What it did make me realize, however, is that I have chosen something hard and that it will hurt. There isn’t a way around it hurting. My friend is scared for me because he doesn’t want me to hurt and he knows as well as I do that it will.

Yesterday I talked with a friend on the phone. She and I only catch up every once in a while and there is always too much to tell in so short a time. When I told her what I have done the past several months her response was something like, “This will make you much happier because school wasn’t making you happy.” Throughout our conversation it seemed to me that this friend is searching for happiness in life, that is her ultimate goal. To her it looks like I am seeking the same thing. I guess to lots of people it might seem that way. I was unhappy in school, and I hope I will be happier in San Diego. However, that hasn’t been my motivation (I hope) through this process. It seemed odd to me for that to be a goal when said so blatantly.

Later, I was reading Henri Nouwen’s "Here and Now." There is a whole section in it devoted to joy. I am always looking for a good way to explain what joy is because, as you can imagine, I want people to understand it, to understand me. Nouwen defines joy as, “The experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing… can take that love away.” (26). Later, he says what I have always believed, “Joy is not the same as happiness.” He goes on to say joy is a choice; we can choose to know we are unconditionally loved. When we choose joy we find true freedom, “The freedom to love.” (28). Joy brings freedom.

I left school because I was given freedom. The experiences of my life, from my childhood to young adult years when my parents split up to my semester in Uganda, have brought me to a place of freedom. Freedom to know I am loved unconditionally by so many people in my life, and also by God. It is God who led me through the wilderness to birth me into freedom. It is joy that brings freedom, and joy is a choice. Does this mean I have chosen joy? I kind of think it does. In every hard thing I have faced, be it feeling abandoned, divorce, or meeting death face to face, I have chosen to believe God is a God of love not war, hope not despair, freedom and not bondage. I had no idea how to believe those at the time. I just chose to be open to believing them and I asked God to show me he was a God to be trusted, and he did.

I didn’t leave school to find happiness or leave unhappiness. I was willing to go through the next year of school and be miserable if that was where God wanted me to stay. When I asked him if he did he answered, “You are free.” I was no longer bound to the belief that I had to earn love through performance, or be successful in order to fit in. I was free in the knowledge that I am loved no matter what. Joy indeed set me free.

The choice I made to leave school isn’t leading me to a zenith of happiness, nor has it given me a grand revelation of how to be perfectly content in life. It is leading me toward pain, hurt and fear. It is leading me away from my family, my friends, the beautiful Northwest, to a place I have only visited and dreamed of. I am going into a great unknown time where I will be fumbling around, guessing a lot on how to do stuff and praying I was not crazy. This doesn’t really sound like happiness.

It was not happiness I chose, though. I chose joy. I choose to know I am unconditionally loved and I am free to give my love away. Joy and freedom are the names of this chapter, neither of which lead to ultimate happiness because there isn’t any. Life doesn’t get easier and good has never meant easy. Life gets different, I grow freer, good and hard go hand in hand.

In the meantime I am here for another month. Working away, breathing in salt water flavored air, doing my best to not be in San Diego already, because that only brings about fear and worry: two things not included in joy.

Shalom, my friends.

Friday, August 6, 2010

What I Have Learned About Patience

Has not come easy. The only way to learn about patience is to practice it, and mess up a lot, and then get back on your feet and try it again. Patience is learned through trials, through opportunities to be patient. I am not naturally patient; I want things quickly. Yet this is not life. Life is a long journey, though perhaps at the end I will not say that.

One thing that has tried my patience again and again has been my body. Since I was 12 I have had a digestive system that demands attention, quality everything, and refuses to accept thoughtless gifts. It will only accept the best, and even then it won’t always enjoy it. For 11 years I have been learning to work with it. On occasion I have sought out the advice of doctors, hoping they will have the answer that will fix everything, but none ever have. This spring I was the closest to getting an answer, yet the answer came with no magic fix-it pill or potion. It came with a long-term diet, medication to take for life, and lots of ideas to try out: nothing quick, nothing to fix it and move on to careless eating. In fact, I am more careful than ever.

This has tried my patience again and again. At times I try and ignore what I know about my stomach and just eat what everyone else does; yet this always brings about a swift dose of remorse. Lately even the healthy foods I eat bring that about. After 11 years of searching for a quick fix and an easy out I have come to a place today where I am able to accept I will be working this out my whole life. I am not giving up and I hope to one day find a way of living that brings peace to my body, I have just recognized this will take a long time. It will take lots of trial and error and patience as I give the trials more than a day or two to work themselves out. It will also take patience to sit through the pain and discomfort at times as I work this out. My body is teaching me patience.

This spring I learned to be patient in school. First day of spring quarter I wanted to run away, be free of everything I hated about school, and mostly be free of the panic that welled up in my chest every time I stepped foot in a classroom or sat down to write a paper. I would have run had it not been for a few wise people in my life encouraging me to sit in it and see what it was. One of them said, with knowledge that can only come from experience, whatever was causing me to panic would probably come up again no matter what I did so I would have to face it sooner or later. I decided to face it sooner. I sat in it. It took half the quarter to be willing to sit through a class and stare it in the face, but I got there because I stayed. I was patient in the panic and now I do not fear it half as much as I did before. I know if I face it I will not implode or explode. The root of panic is not panic, it is sadness, or yearning for something different, or a part of myself screaming for recognition. The end result was the same, I dropped out of school, but it wasn’t running away out of fear. It was calmly walking away, knowing it was time to leave, not panicking or carelessly leaving, it was moving forward to the next thing. Patience was learned again.

Patience was something I learned a lot about in Uganda. It was a necessary thing to have there, as many things took longer than I wanted them to: like dinner or laundry or relationships. Often I was in awkward situations that I wished to get out of, they weren’t bad or harmful, just awkward, uncomfortable. Sometimes I did run, and now I wish I could have a second chance. I learned that sitting in an awkward situation and resisting the desire to run could bring about surprises I would never have seen if I had run. Like hearing my Uganda Dad call me his daughter and realizing he meant it. If I had fled that awkward situation my heart would not have received that gift of healing. Patience brought about healing.

Today I wrote an e-mail to my older sister. She and I love each other so much, but we do not often get to talk or hang out because of the way our lives have gone thus far. It just has not been possible. Today, as wrote the e-mail, I recognized the opportunity to be patient. We are sisters, we always will be, there is nothing we can do to change that for good or bad. With the knowledge that our relationship is secure and sort of unchangeable I found a new depth of patience for the chance to really know each other. I am not afraid of losing her if we don’t act quickly and with that fear absent I found within my heart the patience to trust that one day the time will be ripe for us to be in better contact. That day is not today, it might be years before it comes; yet I know she loves me and I love her, so I am patient. It does not take away the yearning. It does reduce the twitching need for action and subdue the panic and fear, however.

I have much more to learn about patience, my friends, but I have learned enough about it to recognize it will take much more patience to learn the art of patience. For patience is an art, a skill that can be learned and practiced, it is not a virtue only few are blessed with. We are all capable of patience; it just takes patience to realize it.