Weeds and Wildflowers

Hiya folks!  It’s the end of my third-to-last year of education possibly ever and as the academic calendar draws to a close, I thought I would take a little time to give you an update on my year and hopefully do a little reflection just for myself as well.  I can’t guarantee it’ll be organized or come to any conclusion, but I do hope you can get something out of it.  So here goes.

I came into this year riding so many successes and joys of the last.  My first experience coming back to campus was getting to bond with my amazing RA team and get so stinking excited to serve the school I have come to love so much with people that I love so much in a way that I could show so much love to strangers who would become my beloved residents and even friends.

Then I got to actually meet my residents and I was overwhelmed by the blessing that they were from the very first impression.  And trust me, the blessings didn’t stop there.  God gave me a building full of wonderful, scintillating, unique, caring, beautiful girls who have done and grown so much over the course of a mere nine months.  They have taught me about life, how to care deeply, and things I never expected about myself.  They gave me free food, trust, their heartfelt cares and worries, and a place in their lives, which was a luxury I didn’t realize would happen in the way it did.  But I’m thankful for it all the same.

I got to sing with the audition choir this year, which cultivated a new appreciation for music and a dedication to my voice.  There is a heavenly quality about sitting in a room with seventy other people and placing your voices on top of each other and interweaving them together.  And it definitely boosts your confidence to just let your vocal chords do their thing and be unapologetic about it.

I returned to my incomparably fantastic friends and continued to build those relationships as well as create some new, equally stellar friendships.  I got to invest in people and see just how much they invest in me.

But in so many ways, this felt like a year where the resounding word I received over and over again was “no.”

No you don’t get to be an RA for more than a year.

No you don’t get to be on stage in a Shakespeare production in the fall.

No you don’t get perfect residents who don’t struggle with the really deep problems.

No you don’t get to be in a relationship right now.

No you don’t get to be in a senior show.

No you don’t get easily good grades like you used to.

No you don’t have the motivation to invest in your residents and other friendships the way you would like to all the time.

No you don’t get magically better after a break from classes.

No you don’t get to be on stage for the final show of the year.

No you don’t get to make it all the way through the semester with all your classes.

No you still don’t get to be in a relationship.

No you don’t get an anxiety-free semester.

No you don’t get to sing in a specialty group next fall.

No you don’t get to leave the year with confidence and closure.

Just a whole bunch of no.

It was a messy year for sure.  I remember several times in my RA meetings throughout the year, the entire team sat in a weary, forlorn circle keenly aware of the warfare Satan was wreaking on the entire building.  It seemed like every week there was something new thrown at us.

Of course, we were so grateful to be there to help.  That is the sort of stuff we signed up to do because we wanted to be able to make a difference.  But, like parents with their kids, all we wanted for our residents was to see them grow and succeed.  To celebrate with them in their joys and come to know how wonderful they each are.  Relationships are more than the good things though, and that meant we had the privilege and responsibility of being there when life wasn’t so grand.

Beyond my residents, I confess I didn’t have the greatest year either.  Satan weaseled his way into sensitive spaces for everyone on the RA team and left us worn and tattered in our own rights, feeling helpless at times.  I struggled with that tricky word no all year long.  Don’t get me wrong, being an RA was one of the greatest blessings of my college career so far, but there were times when I couldn’t see the blessings through all of the things I didn’t have.

When I knew the fall play was going to be a Shakespeare, I thought for sure I’d be on stage, no problem.  Shakespeare makes sense to me.  I can understand it, I have experience performing it, and I enjoy it.  All admirable traits, to be sure, but when it came down to it I was overconfident and not as prepared as perhaps I should have been with my audition.  So when the audition results went up, I heard a big fat no.

But that isn’t the end of the story.  I was given a role, not on stage but as head student costumer.  I worked closely with our professional costumer and got to make some decisions about how the characters should look and even help assemble costumes.  We built the entire show ourselves and it turned out gorgeous.  Apparently some other people thought so too, because we were selected to showcase our costumes at the regional Kennedy Center American College Theatre festival in January, which was a huge honor.

Had I been on stage, I would not have gotten to dive in to that incredible process and be such a visible part of the show, even though I wasn’t on stage.  In keeping me offstage, I got to engage with a whole different side of theatre and build my confidence with creating a new aspect of the show.

This year, I really felt like I was ready to be dating someone.  I felt ready to invest in a specific individual and grow together.  One of my largest life goals is to be a good wife and mom and I am well aware of how young I am still, but I was disheartened by the fact that I am nowhere near that stage of my life yet.

But when I looked back at the year, I realized that I would never have been able to balance being a student, an RA, a friend, and a relationship.  All of those areas of my life would falter because I would not have been able to keep up with any of them.  Instead, God gave me a primary focus this year: time to be an RA.  I got to invest in my girls because they got to be a priority.

Cheesy metaphor time:  We pick which plants we decide to put in our gardens.  Anything that shows up there that we do not want is called a weed.  Usually weeds are resilient and unruly and not particularly easy to get rid of.

But some of the things we call weeds can exist in a different setting that is not in our way and we call those wildflowers.  We admire their tenacity and ability to spring up in the middle of absolutely nowhere.  They are sparks of spontaneous joy in places that are otherwise unremarkable.

Yet when they show up in places we have already deemed beautiful, we uproot them without hesitation.  I know, in practical gardening terms, that makes sense to keep the plants you want to grow on track, but for the sake of the metaphor, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to notice the wildflowers amid our cultivated garden and admire them as blessings.  Wildflowers instead of weeds.

I didn’t get to be at rehearsal very often this year because I didn’t get to act in any shows, but I did get to spend those evenings in the lounge watching a movie or doing homework or chatting about life instead of stressing about lines.  I also got a whole heap of experience learning how to audition and learned to be proud of the work I had done, even if it wasn’t what I needed to land a part on stage.

I felt guilty and ashamed that I had to drop a class and have a light class load second semester because I was relearning how to cope with stress, but it was an exercise in giving myself grace and acknowledging my limits.  I even took my own advice and talked with the campus counselor and learned a new perspective on how I was treating myself and those around me, which helped me to make some positive changes.

It was a year that forced me, most of all, to rely on God.  Weed or wildflower, I would have wilted if I didn’t have my saving foundation.

The year before this one was the strongest my faith has ever been.  I figured I would start right back where I was at the end of my freshman year with my faith and continue to grow just as easily as I did that year.  It turns out that relationship with Christ doesn’t grow unless you actively remember that it is only by his grace that you are here at all.  I am hopeless without God, but with him there is rest, peace, understanding, and grace.  Even if I feel lost and confused and more than a little bit helpless, my capabilities are irrelevant because I have the unfailing love and protection of my savior.

I won’t always understand why things happen the way they do.  I still can’t say I understand a lot of the heartache of this past year, but already I have seen God working through it and I know he will be faithful.  Sometimes he will send the clear-cut blessings that look like roses and other times they will be the purple flowers springing up on the side of the highway but they are blessings nonetheless.

Rooted

I spent the first four years of my life living in a house I can barely remember.  After that, my family moved into a brand new place we built for ourselves.  We didn’t physically build it with our own hands, but my parents – both engineers – certainly had a heavy hand in all of the planning, down to my mother’s insistence that there must be a light above the bathtub.

Brick and white siding.  Black shutters on the windows, although I spent most of my life absently assuming they were green.  Concentric tiers of landscaping falling away from the front of the house.  A huge green wreath above the garage and garland strung across the porch with bright red bows at Christmas time.  Kitchen cabinets built by my uncle.  The ghost of handprints at the bottom of the stairs where too many eager children have used the wall to stop their momentum.  The heights marked on the wooden beam just inside the doorway of the storage room and signed with our carefully practiced but still childish scrawl.

That’s the house I grew up in.  That’s the neighborhood that sprung up around us and weathered from shiny new houses to lived-in homes.  That’s where I learned to ride a bike, despite the fact that the driveway was too steep to ride up without crashing into the garage door.  That kitchen is where I learned to cook from my dad’s willy nilly concoctions and my mom’s meticulous recipes.  That backyard is where I spent many a barefoot day with my head stuck in the clouds, trying to swing high enough on the playset to brush them with my toes.  I learned to read and write there.  I spent entire days with my legs kicked up on the back of the couch and my head hanging upside down off of the edge of the seat with a book in hand.  I had every adventure imaginable in that basement when it was all concrete and beams, and then I helped choose paint and carpet when my dad finished it by hand.  I have spent hours in the front room at the piano, for nine years it was forced and now it is only ever because I miss the keys.  So many Saturdays have consisted of my mother sitting at the same piano and her expert melodies wafting through the whole sunny house.  I’ve spent countless summer evenings on the wide porch, stuck in a book while my dad worked on crosswords next to me.  And plenty of stormy nights under the shelter of the roof giving scores to the streaks of lightning that shattered the sky.

That house is the place where the ceiling fan in the northeast bedroom will never quite be balanced because I clipped a book light on it and had dance parties.  The door to that bedroom takes a little extra force to latch closed because of the battles to keep the boys out of our fortress when we strove to make the girls the supreme rulers of the club.  The couch is slightly discolored where I sat too many times with my wet hair draped over it after a shower, eagerly sprinting upstairs during commercials of The Amazing Race so I could be ready for bedtime and still not miss the show.  Even though my dad filled it in, I can still see the place in the bathroom wall where my friend fainted and dented it with her head.  I know the exact sound of the front door as it opens into the house and the precise angles that the sunlight spills onto the floor.  The creaking of the garage door, and the clunk of the sump pump.  The way the wind whistles around the corner of the house and where to check if the cat’s bladder has failed her at the sound of thunder.  I have sat on the highest point of the roof and stared down into the pit of the sump pump under the basement.  If there is any nook or cranny of that house that I have not explored, I would be very hard pressed to find it.

That is home.

Shortly after we moved in, the city planted ash tree saplings all the way down the street.  I remember being bummed that I wasn’t going to grow up in a neighborhood where I could climb the trees, but I would sit and daydream about when I came back one day with my own kids and the fledgling trees would be sturdy and weathered.  Perfect for a different generation to strive upward through the branches to see the ground from a new perspective.

By the time I outgrew my desire to be a deft outdoor adventurer, the trees were established, but there were no branches low enough to climb well.  All the way down the street, two rows of ash trees stood like sentinels.  Tall, slender trunks stretching up to a globe of emerald leaves.  In the fall, they always seemed disappointing when they started to change color because the outside layer of leaves would become a brownish purple while the inside was a sickly end of summer green.  But slowly, as the autumn wore on, the color would bleed inward, lightening as it went, until finally looking down the street was looking down twin lines of fireballs.  The outer leaves were still purple, but there were bright red, dappled orange, and at the center brilliant gold.  If you were patient with them, you would see that after most trees had already given up their colorful coverings, ours were truly magnificent.

You may have noticed that I have been describing these trees in past tense.

This past winter, I went home from college to spend time with my family.  On entering my neighborhood, I felt the euphoria of the familiarity until I turned onto my street.  I couldn’t immediately place what was different, but it looked somehow desolate.  Bare.  It was only when I drove all the way up the hill and parked outside my house that I looked at the grass and saw the stump of the once majestic tree forlornly peeking out of the ground.  I glanced around and realized they were all gone.  The whole sloping street had lost its parallel welcoming committee.  I almost cried on the spot.

I ran inside, aghast that no one had thought to give me a heads up before a staple of my childhood was dismembered and removed from my home.  It was only a tree, but it was a tree I had reliably come home to for fifteen years.  I was completely devastated by its absence.

If you keep up with the arborist culture in the Midwest, you may be aware that there has been a little bug called an ash bore ransacking its way through the very types of trees that once lined my street.  This pest has not yet reached my home, and it could be quite a while before it does, but the city decided rather than wait until the trees died, to take care of them before the bore could arrive.  So away they went.

If we’re going to be completely honest, I’m not entirely over it.  They’ve since taken the stump out and filled in the miniature crater it left behind, but there are still no trees.  Nothing to shade the sidewalks or soften the harsh lines of the street.  My neighbors stuck a large stick in their empty plot of dirt, but it didn’t fool anyone.

Here’s the thing though: part of the deal was that although the city took the trees away, they are also planting new ones in their stead.  They won’t be the same ash trees, but soon enough there will be new saplings lining the street once again.  The houses are a little more worn and the yards have more personality than they did last time the trees were small, but that won’t stop the young plants from growing.

I don’t know what they’ll look like or how they’ll change the character of our neighborhood, but the point is that they will grow.  They will put on their annual rings, stretch toward the sky, provide cool havens of shade when the sun beats the rest of the sidewalk to molten torture to bare feet.  Birds will sit in them and poop on the cars parked underneath.  There will be twin rows again, stretching down the street, budding together, changing color together, shedding their leaves together.

That house will still be home.  That street will still be familiar.  The details will shift, but that’s life.  It trundles on forward, always growing, moving, changing.

My car is no longer a staple outside of our house, and I’m not a permanent staple in it anymore.  The family routine doesn’t involve my spontaneous guests every other night of the week or my hogging the shower for too long.  The table is set for three at most meals, not four.  Life changes.  It keeps moving.

It keeps growing.

I don’t live at home anymore, but I am living my own new and exciting life.  In a few years, my sister will be out of the house too and get to have her own new adventures and be her own sprout.  My parents will have the whole place to themselves.  Plus the cat.

And yet, we won’t be gone.  That house will not cease to be home.  In a few years, we could return with spouses and children of our own.  There could be a whole new batch of people that get to make some little slice of home in that house.

The memories that have built that home will not vacate it, and neither will its potential to create more.  Home is an ever-shifting definition.  It never can stay away from a place for long and once it settles in, there is no getting rid of it.  And there’s an undefinable sort of comfort in that knowledge.  No, that’s not quite true.  Perhaps that comfort, that sense of safety and familiarity and assurance of belonging does have a name.  We call it home.

A New Glass Story

Back in October, I posted this little discourse about a piece of art in my life, namely the stained glass that my grandpa made for my mother when she was in high school.

I am beyond excited to share this post as I have been eagerly waiting to give you this update since Christmas, but I was waiting to be a little more acquainted with my big surprise before I spilled the beans.  Are you ready?  Here it is:

My grandpa read the post about my mother’s stained glass and he made a brand new piece just for me for Christmas.  It was easily the greatest Christmas gift I have ever received.  He hadn’t worked with stained glass in probably close to thirty years before he read that post and it was enough to help him dive back into his old hobby.  He also made a scene for my sister and since then he has made a few more decorative pieces.  My grandmother also resurrected an old habit that she had been away from for years by painting pictures for both of my cousins.  They couldn’t wait to give us the gifts and we couldn’t stop admiring them.

My stained glass is up in my dorm room right now.  Like my mother’s, it depicts a young woman, but that is about where the similarities end.  The woman in my scene stands profile in the frame wearing a deep maroon dress.  Her auburn hair lies piled on top of her head, but several locks have fallen down around her face and ear.  She clutches a richly textured cream and tan coat to her chest.  Her chin is angled slightly downward, whether in contemplation or shyness or something else all together it is impossible to tell.  Behind her head, a circle of clear glass is surrounded by shards with a delicate almost lace pattern etched into them radiating toward the edge of the frame.  The whole piece is breathtaking.

I feel like I’m not doing this gorgeous piece of art justice, but perhaps that is just as well.  I wanted to write a blog post telling her story to emulate the other stained glass piece, but after a few months of getting used to her presence, I realized I still don’t know her story.  I’ve not had so many years and such an apt child’s imagination to create the picture outside of the frame yet, but I don’t mind.

She is a new person I get to discover piece by piece as I get to know her.  I am in a part of my life where things are constantly changing and growing and I’m changing and growing with them.  This stained glass girl will get to go through all of that with me and together we can add more experiences and more life to our arsenal.  We can amass stories together.

As I prepared to write this post, I got to thinking about all of the places that I’ll be living over the next few years.  I’ll have dorm rooms and apartments and a house or two isn’t out of the question.  For all of those places, my stained glass girl will set up shop in a window and live there too.  She will look out over all sorts of landscapes before she settles in a real, permanent, lasting home.  And I’m pumped for it.  Because those are adventures and little homes that I get to experience too.

And one day, I hope, she will settle into a window to stay for many many years.  And perhaps, while she looks on over my life, my children will get to survey her.  They will have their own imaginations and spin for her their own tales.  They will share their dreams with her and transpose their thought into her mind.  Then she will have a whole new set of adventures and I will have the privilege of a vantage point much like hers from which to see them unfold.

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On the Uncertainty of a Caterpillar

Passionate people don’t have popular opinions.  Everybody sounds crazy when they believe in something.  You don’t have to agree with me, but I believe in butterflies and I’m sticking to my guns about it.  Listen, just because you’ve never sprouted wings doesn’t make it impossible.  When we were kids, the soaring, majestic butterflies were all we ever dreamed of becoming and now you are convinced that was just a fairy tale, designed to make gullible children believe in something better than the truth.  If you just listen, butterflies make sense, or at the very least they aren’t as unrealistic as you make them out to be.  Sure, they seem a little fantastical, but it’s not like we have anything else to explain our lives and I figure this idea is as good as any.

As caterpillars, we spend our whole lives roaming aimlessly and eating.  We know that one day, one day very soon for you and me, we will weave a husk around ourselves and be completely unresponsive for days.  Then, one morning all our friends will come in a somber procession to check on us and find the cocoon broken open and empty.  After that, who knows what happens?  Look, I know it’s scary.  One day you are a perfectly healthy caterpillar, the next you go insane and craft what seems to be a coffin for yourself to settle into and wait for some gruesome murder.  We might as well be preparing for the slaughter from the day we hatch and set forth into the world.  The cocoon is nothing more than a weapon to kill us off with our own dignity instead of being gobbled up by an enormous beast.  That answer might satisfy you, but it doesn’t work for me.  What is the point if all we are here to do is get fat and then die?

No one has ever told us anything that makes sense about what’s happening to us.  The butterfly theory at least gives me something to work with, something to care about, even something to hope for.  You know the stories they tell about butterflies.  If that is true, then when we go into the cocoon, we change somehow, unfurling a pair of wings that has been lying already made in our bodies since we were born.  We become dainty, delicate creatures beloved by all.  Do you know what they say butterflies do?  They create life.  They spend all their time drinking nectar from blossoms and sharing their pollen to grow other flowers.  I even heard once that the reason some of our food can grow at all is because the butterflies bless it.  All we do right now is consume things.  We eat and we sleep and we get up to gorge ourselves all over again. Aren’t you tired of that endlessness?  How exhausting it is to have no dreams or goals.  If this is our purpose, we are nothing more than parasites, disintegrating nature around us.  There is nothing wrong with wanting more out of life.

No, scratch that.  I don’t want more from life, I want to have a reason to be here.  I want to give more to life.  All I have done since I hatched is let the garden feed me.  What does that accomplish?  If the cocoon is the end of us, why do we bother to be here in the first place?  It’s not like we can put it off.  When it’s our time to wrap ourselves up, we can’t say “Oh sorry, I’d rather not let nature take me away permanently and that’s that.”  But if we come out of the cocoon with wings and the ability to scatter life, this whole mindless existence has been preparation.  I can handle preparation.  What I can’t handle is how you can live without any inkling of a purpose.  It doesn’t make sense.  Don’t use the excuse of being just a caterpillar, because if worms can be useful by digging through the dirt then we should be too.

Besides, I have seen butterflies.  We both know butterflies exist.  You told me you saw that one in the garden yesterday.  And I know it was just a glimpse that time, but I saw another one sitting still once.  They are just as beautiful as everyone says.  Awe inspiring.  They have these unreasonably spindly little bodies and wings so thin that they almost disappear when they turn sideways.  They almost don’t look real.  I mean, how can something so fragile do so many things?  You would think trying to fly would be impossible when you are so flimsy, but they manage it.  And they look graceful doing it.  And the patterns.  They are covered in beautiful colors and patterns.  I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.  Their wings are more delicate and detailed than any of the flowers in the garden, and that includes the hydrangeas.  I’m not trying to be vain, but what if we look like that someday?  If we become butterflies, we’ll have beautiful wings and fairy-tale antennae too.  If they are right, we have them already I suppose, just hidden.

You always say that if butterflies were real they would communicate with us every once in a while.  Maybe they want to but they can’t.  Maybe their wings carry them so far that they can’t find their way back to tell us.  Perhaps having a different mouth and throat means they can’t speak in a way that would let us understand them and it is too hard for them to see us and not be able to communicate.  It might be that they are so busy saving the world that they never get the time to come back.  It could be any number of reasons that they don’t come back.  I don’t want to live in a state of vaguely apathetic fear my whole life.  I certainly don’t want to face the cocoon like that.

But if butterflies are real, don’t say anything yet, hear me out.  If butterflies are real, we should be looking forward to it.  The cocoon, I mean.  It would mean that all this monotonous wandering leads to something, something with a purpose.  Flying high above the garden with the wind in our wings as we spread life and color.  We would get to do something that matters, if nothing else you can’t say that’s not thrilling.  Imagine what it looks like from up there.  A kaleidoscope of colors and nectar.  Nature’s nobility, showering our subjects with grace.  We’d have it all in our grasp.  And maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe this is all there is and my incessant determination is just a way of pushing the fear away and looking brave.  But so what if it is?  It won’t make any difference to be if I’m wrong.  The only thing that changes is that I go to the cocoon with hope, which is a far sight better than where you are standing right now.  You see, no one knows what happens in the cocoon so who’s to say we won’t be butterflies.  Right?

Storm-tossed

O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted

behold I will set your stones in antimony

and lay your foundations with sapphires

Isaiah 54:11 (ESV)

I stumbled across this verse this morning and was immediately struck by it.  First of all, can we take a moment to talk about how God has such an incredible way with words.  He would, I suppose, as he created them to begin with.  The language of this verse is so poignantly deliberate about the worth that God places on his people.  God hears the distress of those who love him, and he is aching with the intensity of the salvation that he is bringing to take that distress away.

The thing I kept coming back to was the phrase storm-tossed and not comforted.  Storm-tossed.  What an analogy.  This isn’t wind-swept, an idea that is flushed an a little wild and maybe not perfect but better for it.  Storm-tossed is the heartbreak in the eyes of a family that returns to the shards of their house after a tornado.  This is the child who cannot cry because there is too much water already leaving lines above his growth calendar on the door frame.  Storm-tossed is the shattered  sound of a mother’s heart rending when she feels the gunshot that killed her son.  The shaking of grief.  The college student who has to fight with everything in her to conquer the smothering inability to swing her legs out of bed in the morning.  It is the man who is exhausted and raw, the woman who is worn and haggard.

But God loves the storm-tossed.  He promises to give them the strength to place one foot in front of the other, even when they are one moment away from collapse.  He promises to give the courage to take that next step across the pavement.  He promises to give peace to the storm-tossed, the security to fall onto him in total dependence.  He promises to adorn them with the very best that heaven has to offer.

The verse talks about antimony.  My Bible has a note about it, naming it as a mineral used to garnish stones.  The Hebrew word is the same as the one for mascara or eye paint.  Something beautiful.  God will build a strong place of safety and adorn it with beauty.  He promises not only the haven of stones and foundations, but also the lavish loveliness of joy.  It may not be an immediate promise, but it is a promise nonetheless.

To you who are storm-tossed,  know this: The storm will do as storms do and it will pass.  It may be a long time coming.  Storms leave damage and they don’t always wear themselves out quickly.  They take time to recover from.  But you are not alone, you are cared for, and God will set your foundations in sapphires.

The Validity of a Human (alternately: I’m Not Single)

We live on this big old world, hurtling through space around a big old sun.  Our wobbly trajectory sits in a perfect little belt that isn’t too hot to fry all life or too cold to freeze it off.  South Dakota winters are begging to differ about that last one, and yet South Dakota winters can’t keep away South Dakota springs forever.

That’s the beautiful thing, see, not only do we have life, but we have wind that burns your face and heat that burns your face and treacherous seas and unruly storms and these things inspire poetry.  Because amid the bleak palette of January, there is the promise of a June so bright that color almost develops a flavor.  The wailing storms that tantrum their way through town leave behind greens so vibrant they escape our full comprehension.  The sea is anything but safe and yet the danger only makes it more dazzling.  The summer sun is unbearably hot, but when it sets, the sky is still ablaze with sparks.  I’m not even scratching the surface of the enormity of creation and the minute detail carved into every square millimeter of it, but you get the idea.

And we haven’t even started on people.  We have eyes and noses and ears and opposable thumbs

and four-chambered hearts

and a sense of moral direction

and distinctly patterned irises

and emotions

and miles of nerve endings

and an innate need for interaction with other humans

and freckles and fingernails.  Holy cow.  When you begin to think about just how much detail God put into creating humanity, it’s difficult not to be awestruck.

Let’s go even more detailed.  God created this big old world with all of its wonders.  He created humans, weaving together a system as complex as as it is commonplace for us.  No details spared.  And he used the same method to create you.  He set your eyes at just the perfect angle and brushed them with color and expression.  He sculpted synapses in your brain to fine tune the quirk in your smile.  He etched your fingerprint with the concentration of a master artist coaxing their work to breathe as they sketch.  He planted each hair follicle in your scalp, your arms, even the tiny wisps behind your neck.  He made you a marvel.

God does not make marvels just to sit around.  He has a purpose for you and he is using you in this big old world for big old things.  Maybe he’s leading you to be a teacher because he is giddy at the thought of children having the privilege of being shaped by your instruction and your care for them as people.  Maybe he is leading you into science so that you can discover a new gene pattern and help to predict and prevent dementia.  He might place you in the kitchen of a restaurant so that you can bring people together over the shared experience of your impeccable culinary creations.  He could use your voice and your proclivity with language to translate the Bible orally in a tribe where their native language is only spoken.  You might not know how God is using you right now, but the fact that you are striving to listen to his guidance and live in his love along the way is immeasurably valuable.

The point is this: You are God’s child, created especially one-of-a-kind with priceless worth.  You are a human, created in God’s image for his purpose.  That is what defines you.  He is what defines you.

Okay, cool.  Where exactly is this going?

In a different direction than most of what I write, so bear with me.  Hopefully it will do some good, at least for me to formulate my thoughts.

I am not in a dating relationship.  That is a fact about my life and that’s the whole story at the moment.  And that’s cool with me.

Here’s the deal.   I see all sorts of encouragement for “the girl who thinks she’ll be single forever” or “the girl who is embracing the single life” etc. etc. etc. all over the internet.  They all sound pretty much the same too: “You can take this time to get to know yourself and show the world what you are capable of.  Be patient, this is leading you somewhere wonderful.  Be grateful, God is using you in powerful ways.  Be confident in who you are.”  And this message goes far further than just the internet.  Friends and family repeat the same mantra.  They see worth and are just dying to express it, to remind me that they love me.

Which is great, really and truly without even a little ounce of sarcasm, it is a splendid thing to encourage people who are not dating other people that their lives have value.  My question, though, is this:  Why are those people the ones we feel the need to encourage?  Why are the same articles not aimed toward people in relationships?  People who are hurting and questioning and needing to be reminded that they have a  rich and abundant purpose in their Creator?  Or people who exist as valuable and valued human beings in general, whatever their situation?

Because within those noble encouragements comes the message that all of this value I have is leading up to someone noticing and wanting to date me.  “Be patient, God does everything in his timing.  (Eventually the right man will show up.)”  “It’s completely okay to be single.  (Especially because you haven’t given up on finding love.)”  “You can do so much with this time.  (You are at a different stage of life and when you finally find yourself in a relationship, you will grow past it.)”  It’s hard to talk about this phenomenon, because all of the advice and encouragement really is given in the best of intentions, but consoling me for being outside of the club only makes me feel like I should feel sad that I’m not in it.

So from henceforth, I am not single.  That phrase makes my nonexistent man friend the defining factor of my existence.  Remember what we talked about earlier?  The thing that defines me as a person and my worth in that personhood is my status as God’s dearly beloved handcrafted work of magnificent art.  I am God’s child.  It’s also true that I am not dating anyone, but that is not who I am.  Nor do I need to be assured that I have value despite that fact or because of it.  That fact has nothing to do with it.  I have value because I am God’s child and he is using me.  End of story.

I apologize if that all comes off as aggressive or affronted.  I am neither of those things.  Or I hope not to be.  I just wanted to add a new opinion into the pool.  I hesitated on even writing this post because it sort of feels like perpetuating the whole attitude that I want to change, but I hope it was a valuable perspective for you whoever you may be.

(Let me know what you think in the comments.  I want this to open the opportunity for a discussion instead of me just throwing my thoughts around.  I’d love to hear from you.)

Stained Glass Girl

My grandfather is a craftsman, always creating something or other.  I have heard fables my entire life of his homemade cinnamon rolls, though he hasn’t made any in over twenty years.  I have watched him in his woodworking shop, conducting masterpieces together out of simple wooden boards.  I have eaten the fruits of his garden, lovingly cultivated from the soil.  Many years ago, when my mother was growing up, he dabbled in stained glass.  For longer than I can remember, one of the brilliant results of that dabbling has hung in the north window of my family’s living room, a testament to the longevity of his creations.  He made it for my mother before she graduated high school and it has been a focal point in every home she’s had since then.

It is a simple thing, only about a foot tall with a minimal wooden frame.  Inside of that frame stands a young woman in an elegant blue gown and ivory gloves.  Her hair is sculpted into a knot on the back of her head and held fast with an austere gold-toned comb.  She is turned to look out the window, her right hand perched atop the back of a plush elegant chair and her left rests lightly on her hip.  Over one curling arm of the chair is draped a different, indistinct dress that meanders to the transparent wooden floor.  In the daytime, when light streams through the window, the colors are bright and vibrant.  As the sun starts to set, they become more opaque.  The woman’s dress shifts from a crisp cerulean to a soft navy while the one on the chair changes from periwinkle to delicate lavender.  The chair that is a rich pink in sunlight turns almost white as the sky darkens.  She is constantly shifting and changing, even as she remains permanently in her post.  The light tosses waves and casts shadows around her, but she is resolute.

This young woman has become a friend of sorts over the years.  When I was younger, I spent many a sick day lying on the couch and gazing at that woman, inventing her story.  While my mother fixed me a bowl of soup and a glass of ginger ale and watched a soap opera in the background, I would wonder intently at the stained glass girl.  I studied the way the back of her dress fell in a cascade of glass fabric about her shoulders.  My eyes traced the folds and twists of her hair, wondering if my mom could ever make mine look like that.  I soaked in every detail of those glass fragments and then I began to wonder about them.  Who is the girl gazing off to a place far beyond the yard that she faced?  Why is she there?  What is she doing?  And when I began asking questions, the eagerly creative little girl that I was found it impossible to resist finding answers for them.

It always seemed to me when I imagined that young woman’s story that she was not alone in the room, that someone outside of the frame had just entered, not quite disturbing the wistful thoughts of the girl in the beautiful gown.  Something outside her window had caught her attention and held it fixed as she looked on.  Perhaps it was a guest arriving for the ball that night, the one she had been nervous enough to change her dress for.  Earlier in the evening she had been wearing her old but beautiful lavender dress, but it was too safe.  For this ball, she would need to look absolutely stunning and so she had carefully unfolded the blue dress and slipped into it, still amazed at the luxury of the cloth that clung to her.  Maybe the person outside of the window was a handsome hero, glancing up to see her silhouetted by the hazy light of her room and falling in love at first sight.  Or perhaps she has already met her perfect suitor and he is the one behind her, patiently anticipating the moment she realizes he’s caught her in a day dream, but not wanting to give up the moment of watching her at peace just yet.  He loves to see her so quiet and lost in thought, so he leaves the roses he brought on her dressing table and slips out again.  But of course, the mystery person in the room could also be her exasperated mother standing there in the doorway, talking the poor girl’s ear off, trying desperately to convince her to just come downstairs and fraternize with their guests instead of standing defiantly up in her bedroom wasting away.  She argues that all of that finery is silly and pretentious, but secretly she knows she is looking forward to it.

Countless scenarios I played out in my mind for that young woman.  Some days, her posture was hopeful, some it was weary, others she looked powerful.  No matter what the placement of her hand or the stance of her shoulders exuded in the moment, she was always who I wanted to grow up to be.  She was a fairy tale dream that I wove for myself.  My head was stuck in the clouds and every book I read, every story I heard became a part of this world I constructed when I looked at the stained glass.  Every adventure she had, I was having right along with her.

That elusive young woman will likely spend as long as my parents live in that house staring out that exact window.  That’s okay with me.  That house is where I grew up outside of the fairy tales, each stage of my life passing underneath her sentinel presence.  I have grown and changed over the years and the young woman in the window became has become a completely new person several times over just as I have.  She grew up with me.  She grew up with my mother too, carrying the workmanship of my grandpa’s hands.  Perhaps one day a daughter of my own will get to grow up with the girl in the window.  Will get to question her mysteries and copy her posture.  For my grandfather’s sake and my mom’s and mine and for the girl in the window, I hope so.  For while she is forever a mystery, she is also forever a familiar comfort and a shard of home.

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