I started teaching myself to crochet this past fall. I wanted to learn something crafty that didn’t involve a lot of money or tools, something I could do sitting on my couch if I felt like it. I started out making a scarf and, well, it was pretty rough. I got about halfway done (about 2 weeks of working on it, here and there) and it looked like I’d been drunk when I made it. While I don’t consider myself a perfectionist, I was definitely not pleased. But I was almost done! And I’d been stitching away at it diligently for 2 weeks, I didn’t want to just start over! I kept adding stitches here and there, trying to make it work, but at the end of one night, as I sat and looked at this wreck of yarn, I just started unraveling it. Just pulled at the loose end and before I knew it I had a ball of wiggly, tired looking yarn on my lap and thought “Well, here’s where we start over.”
I recently read “Faith Shift” by Kathy Escobar. It’s about going through changes in your beliefs…major changes where it feels like the whole world is collapsing beneath you. The last 5 or so years of my life has been a time of huge shifting in my faith, and while it has been uncomfortable and messy, it has also been incredibly freeing and a bit of a relief to let go of so many things. While I have often felt alone, reading books like Kathy’s along with other blogs, articles and posts have helped me feel less alone and less crazy. When no one in your life is going through something remotely similar, you need all the lifelines you can find. She uses the term “unraveling” quite a bit in the book, and as I thought about my crocheting, the analogy really fit.
Like my scarf, my faith was something I’d been working on my whole life, even as a child, even before (as the evangelical world would put it) I got “saved” or “born again.” I pieced together all these things, trying to make a faith that fit. I took things from many different traditions and denominations, from people who I looked up to and admired, added them all in to try and make something that would surround and protect me, to help me make it through this life somewhat unscathed. I was very fearful as a child, and I think I have always been looking for some way out of that fear, to wall me off from the fear of pain, loss, failure, rejection, isolation, from a God that seemed rather capricious and untrustworthy. So I knit together this faith and it sort of worked. It kept me warm at times. It gave me some warm fuzzy feelings and I sometimes felt like I fit in, like God was pleased with me, like I was getting it “right.”
But I couldn’t help noticing that, like an uncomfortable sweater, my faith never quite fit. It was too tight in some places, too loose in others. I was really having to work hard to make it fit. Additionally, it wasn’t keeping the fear out…I’d actually knit that fear right in there along with all the other beliefs, like a black thread that colored everything around it, it was kind of choking me right along with those things, those beliefs that I couldn’t quite make fit comfortably. Life started happening, and there were nicks and tears in my faith, whole chunks started to go missing. I kept pulling at those loose threads, adding new stitches, trying to make it right until eventually I was just left with a pile of loose ends, wiggly, wobbly, worn threads that sat in a sad little heap at my side. And I felt naked and vulnerable and alone.
That’s kind of where I sit right now actually, although I will say alongside of the vulnerable and alone I also feel so much freedom. Sometimes it’s a terrifying kind of freedom. I have no idea what to do next or how I’m going to make sense of the beliefs that I have cast off. Right now I feel like only thing I can say with any confidence is that I still believe in a God. (and trust me, there were days I wasn’t even sure of that!) The fear is still right there with me, but I am hell-bent on NOT bringing it along for the rest of this ride. It’s a sneaky bastard though and it keeps trying to weave its way in there. I have to keep ripping it out.
I started that scarf over again and was much happier with the final result. It is far from perfect; I’m sure my friends who crochet would smile and pat me on the head condescendingly if they looked closely at it. But it keeps me warm when I wear it, and it has a shiny purple thread running through it that sparkles when the sun hits it. And I made it. I think it’s beautiful. I have no idea what my faith will look like as I move through the days and years ahead. I imagine I’ll knit something and then pull it all to pieces many more times. But I finally am coming to accept (sort of kind of most of the time when it’s sunny out) that this is ok, and that the end result is not some perfect, impenetrable shield against life and the world. But something pretty, sparkly (LOVE is the sparkle, people) that brings a tentative, sometimes shaky beauty and warmth to the person wearing it and those they come in contact with.
And with that I’ll stop before I take this metaphor too far 🙂
There’s no shortage of blogs/posts/discussions these days about the pressure we are under as adult women. Career women, not-so-career women, moms…its almost redundant to talk about the question of “having it all” and how that’s pretty much impossible. That being the case, I won’t delve into that a whole lot only to say that it is definitely a real thing. I suppose there are women out there who don’t put pressure on themselves, don’t feel it from the inside or the outside, are really that secure. I have never met any of those women. Any of the women in my life who I care about, who care about me, even women I know only a little bit, through bus stop and parent pick up chat…we all suffer from the “I’m Not Good Enough” virus. Do we stay at home? Work full time? Part time? Are we ruining our children? Sacrificing too much of ourselves? Not enough of ourselves? Are we betraying our gender? Letting our talents rot away? I know that men have their own issues…issues of self-worth and comparison, of adequacy in any number of arenas. But not being a man I can’t speak to those…I only know my own story, and the stories I have read and shared with friends and acquaintances. And those are REAL stories of the pressures we put on ourselves, that we feel from other women, other moms, our husbands, our parents. The pressure to be good enough and to kill ourselves trying to do it all.
Recently I wrote about how I had been feeling the urge to get back in the classroom, to do more with my brain, to have more of a career than just my $9 an hour part time job. So I’d applied to grad school and was starting a class this semester. I wrote about how it felt good to be “heading in a direction” and, even though I wasn’t sure what the final destination would be, I was excited to start on this new journey. I felt like maybe I was finally going to get my womanly mojo back. I think my husband was psyched that perhaps I’d have a better paying job someday, which would take some pressure off him. My dad, I know, was very proud of me, impressed that I was making this step. I got lots of “good for you!’s” and pats on the back and “you’re an inspiration!” comments.
Sometimes in life as an adult though, you have to make decisions. Decisions that are hard and you deliberate over. And over and over. Decisions that might make you look weak. That might leave people, even people who love you, shaking their heads. Decisions that you know are better for your overall mental health even though it might actually make other people think you’re crazy. I’ve certainly had my share of these times.
Starting grad school wasn’t an easy process. I don’t believe in signs but if I did I would’ve given up several months ago. Nothing about the process went smoothly, it seemed like I really had to push and push to just get information and make things happen. But by hook or by crook last Monday night I headed up to my first class. It went well, I felt pretty good. I was rather overwhelmed by the syllabus, minimal as it was, simply because it’s been 20 years since I’ve written a paper, used a college library, done any sort of research. I felt like the academic part of my brain had been wrapped in a heavy wool blanket and stuffed in a trunk for 20 years. It felt fuzzy and kind of numb, like a limb waking up after being sat on in a funny way. Pins and needles. But I thought I could do it, I knew I could do it, I was capable of doing the work. It was one class. I work part time. I’m a relatively smart individual (or at least good at faking it.).
And then this morning I dropped the class. And put my graduate school career on hold for the moment.
See, the more I thought about it the less sure I was that it was really something I wanted to do. That going back to teaching was what I really wanted to do. And sure, perhaps getting my master’s degree would’ve led me to some other career but…maybe it wouldn’t. And well, that’s a lot of money to spend on a maybe. It’s a lot of money to spend period.
My issues with money and our family’s handling of our finances are subjects for other posts. But oh yes, I have issues with money. Growing up stuff, can’t seem to shake it, kind of obsessive issues with money. And $1500 for this one class was freaking me out. I was splitting the payments up over 3 months and we managed to get the first month’s payment off, but I was panicking over every penny, every expense, every “what if x happens??” It’s why I stayed up most of the night when it was insanely cold, listening to the heater run and run and run and thinking solely about how much that electric bill is going to be next month. It’s why I have been waking up with bags under my eyes because I’m just not sleeping because I lay there itemizing every expense, trying to make it all fit, trying to figure out what can be sacrificed, what is essential.
All so I could pay for this one class that I wasn’t even sure I really wanted to take for a future that was hazy at best.
So I decided at somewhere between 3 and 7 am this morning to drop the class. And just wait. And see if I can get any more clarity before dropping that much money. And perhaps actually saving that much money and being prepared to pay it if that’s where I decide I want to end up.
I’m lucky because we’re in a position where I can work part time and we’re ok. We are blessed with some “safety nets” that not a lot of people have. I’m also lucky because I mostly love my life. I love being there for my kids. I love having days off to read, to get coffee with a friend, to not have to get up at 5 am to run, to go to the doctor and get errands done. I know that is a luxury. I read some of my friend’s Facebook posts as they document their full time, working mom lives. I have a flexible part time job, and can pick up more hours if I want/need to. There are times that yes, it’s a drag. It’s boring. It feels like I could be doing so much more. But what would I be feeling if I were working full time, what struggles would I be having then? There is no perfect situation in this life.
I feel kind of pathetic. I know my dad will be disappointed. I know a lot of people will not get it, maybe think less of me. Think I’m just wimping out. I probably am. Maybe I should’ve just sucked it up, toughed it out. But for what? To look strong? To prove something to someone else? To make myself look like something I’m not? Because I’m not. I’m not strong. I’m a total wuss. I like things easy and comfortable. And honestly…I’m happy with my life. And life is too short for me to be worrying like I have been the past several weeks. Too short for me to be trying to be something I’m not. Too short to try and satisfy someone else’s definition of what a good mom/wife/woman is. Because honestly what I felt after I submitted that drop form was sheer relief. Like this pressure had been lifted off of me.
Like I’m going to actually sleep tonight.
I’ve got book club this afternoon…our selection for this month was “Until I Say Goodbye” by Susan Spencer-Wendel. It’s a memoir by a woman who was diagnosed at age 43 with ALS. A journalist, wife, and mom of 3 young children, she writes about her last year of relative good health following her diagnosis. The subtitle is “my year living with joy”, as she makes the most of the time she has left before the disease renders her incapable of doing…well, everything. She writes about the progression of the disease as it takes its toll on her body, and how, in spite of it all, she finds beauty and joy and laughter and things to be thankful for. By the time she wrote the book she essentially had control of one finger, and basically wrote the book on her iphone with that one finger.
I initially resisted reading the book after my friend Virginia suggested it. See, a lot of times I find life and its assorted dangers and pitfalls to be utterly terrifying. I stopped watching “The Today Show” several years ago because I couldn’t stand hearing about one more tragic story, giving me one more thing to worry about and obsess over in those dark hours when your brain travels to those scary places and you can’t reel it back in. The dad who lost his wife and kids to a drunk driver. The home invasion where everyone was brutally killed. The tragic accident that claimed a bride and her new husband. You don’t have to look too far to find stories like these. To keep myself from dwelling on them I just tried to avoid them. I couldn’t get rid of the fears I already had but I could sure try to prevent new ones.
See, its not the stories themselves even that got me so worked up. No…what really messes with my head is the idea that the survivors, those left behind, always talked about the things they learned the joy they found in spite of the sorrow the beauty that rose from the ashes. Even worse…as a person who (most of the time) professes faith in Christ, hearing other Christians tell their tragic stories…that “God taught me so much” and “changed me so much” and “used something terrible for his glory” is probably my biggest stumbling point with the Christian faith, with God himself. I was, am still, really, petrified at the thought that God will rip my family apart, destroy everything good in my life, ravage my heart or my health all in the name of teaching me some sort of lesson, of making me a better person…what the hell kind of God is that?? That God scares the crap out of me. No matter how many times the Bible says “do not fear!” and “there is no fear in love” I can not wrap my head around that God. I am terrified of that God. I don’t know who that God is, if I even want to, am even able to believe in him but I do out of fear that he will teach me some sort of lesson if I don’t. When I pray a lot of times my prayer is just a gasp of “God I don’t want that to be my story! Please don’t let that be my story!” I don’t want to learn that lesson. I don’t want to be that person on the Today show.
So I didn’t want to read this book. I didn’t want to have to worry about getting ALS right now at this stage in my life (although I already worry about any number of other diseases). I didn’t want to think about how getting ALS was so great in the long run because it taught her so many things and she was a better person for it. Up until last week I hadn’t even bothered to look up the book. I hung out with Virginia and Felicity (my other friend in book club) and they both said “No, really–its not sad! Trust us. Well, it’s sad but not how you think. Just read it.” And they didn’t even know about all my internal issues.
I picked up the book Thursday and had finished it by Friday night.
And they were right…the first chapter or so, as she started having health issues and struggled with finding a diagnosis, denying what she most feared was probably true, and then wrestling with the final diagnosis…yeah, that was sad. But the rest of the book was amazing. It was really inspiring, it was hopeful and funny and not tragic at all. Even though you know right this very moment she is in hospice and uses a special computer that she points her nose at to write and communicate with because every muscle in her body no longer works. Yes…there were “sad-ish” parts. But it wasn’t sad. She wasn’t sad. She was fiercely determined to not wallow in self pity, about what might have beens, about what she could no longer do, have, etc. She just lived in each moment, each day and fought to find joy in those things. By the end of the book I found myself feeling like I too, could get through just about anything.
So…why didn’t this story scare the heck out of me, like so many of those others do? I think because it didn’t come across as “God teaching me a lesson through ALS.” She claims a faith in God, a belief in heaven, a spirituality, yes. But nowhere does she claim that “God allowed me to go through this so I could be a better person.” She is NOT an evangelical by any stretch. Most American Christians would probably dismiss her story because of that (probably part of the reason I like it so much, ha!). I think though, it reinforced something I am beginning to believe is the way God works in the world. (Which I am PROBABLY WRONG ABOUT because anytime you think you’ve got God figured out you are more than likely TOTALLY OFF BASE. But I’m really comfortable being wrong so, what the heck.)
I’m not comfortable with the idea that God does or does not do something in a particular event. Like when we say “Oh, thank God I was home when our frozen pipe burst.” Like it’s some sort of miracle that God kept you from going out the door 5 minutes earlier. So…for the person who WASN’T home when their pipe burst…God wasn’t there? God just let them head to work so that when they got home there was tons of water damage from the burst pipe? People love to say that God allowed this or didn’t allow that to happen, and are thankful and “Oh God is so good!” But then when the opposite happens…the diagnosis is bad, the tumor keeps growing, the car crash isn’t avoided…where is God in that? He’s allowing that to happen? He allows things for some and not for others? That seems so arbitrary and well, cruel. I can’t wrap my head around that. It just doesn’t make sense to me. It brings up the age old question of “If God is so good why do bad things still happen??”
I’m more of the belief that God doesn’t intervene in events in the world. The world is fallen. The world is imperfect. We all have free will and things happen. Bad things happen. God didn’t cause that hurricane because he’s mad at someone. He didn’t stop you from crashing into that car because you pray a lot. Things just happen. Things are random. There really are coincidences.
But I still think God is in there. I think he is in the wreckage. Or in the excitement. Or the thankfulness. He is in our reactions to things. The way people step up and show love and support for one another. God didn’t cause AIDS but God is in the doctors working to find a cure, the people caring for sick AIDS babies, in people showing love to AIDS patients. God didn’t cause that pipe to burst in your house but he was there in the neighbor that let you use their shower. In the friend who brought you all dinner. In the plumber who came right over and fixed it. And in all of this, this is how I see God redeeming the world. Not by stopping events or by causing events…but by getting right in the middle of those events with us as we all muddle through the good and bad of our lives.
Ok. This is getting long, I need to quit rambling. Bottom line: I liked this book. It made me feel ok about life and all the possibilities, even the bad ones. That I don’t need to be scared of God doing something to me (or not) because it’s not God doing it…it’s just how life is. Good things. Bad things. Just life. But that God’s in the response. God’s in the reaction. Like I totally saw God in Susan Spencer-Wendel’s response to her ALS. God’s in the people who come in for the celebration or the rescue. Maybe that’s a cop out, maybe that’s just me making up something to make me feel better.
I’m ok with that. Maybe that’s what faith is in the first place. Something to make us feel better about the craziness that is life. I think God’s right there in that too. Our tiny, weak, pathetic attempts at faith.
*the opinions expressed in this blog are my own and only my own. I write this blog to hash things out. Not to espouse a certain mindset or belief system. if you agree, great. if you don’t, also great. i’m not interested in you bashing my beliefs and making me feel horrible, so just save that because i will not read nor approve your comments. Nor am I interested in your attempts to sway me in a different direction so again, save your breath. if you have a nice supportive thing to say great, go ahead. I’d love to hear that. Yes I am a wimp and yes I hate confrontation and argument and disagreement. So. That’s all. Just be nice. The end.