I eat noodles with a spoon

I eat noodles with a spoon. It doesn’t work very well, you see, because noodles are long and tangled. They need something sharp and pointy to make them behave. But, I try to tame them with a spoon. I suppose the extra energy I use trying to get the noodles on my spoon makes the actual eating of the noodles much more enjoyable. Or, maybe I’m just too stubborn to go find a fork. Either way, I eat noodles with a spoon.

I have pink duct tape on my left earbud. In some kind of unfortunate accident, I must have busted open the outer coating of plastic. Thankfully, the electronics are all still intact, but I was too scared of being shocked to listen to music without something to shield my ear from the wires on the inside. And obviously I’m not going to go buy another pair. That would be too simple. So, I sit in public with pink duct tape on my left earbud while I eat my noodles with a spoon.

Aren’t we peculiar? The things we do, the way we try to fix things? We’re so resilient. And we’re so stubborn. This reality fascinates me. I’m fascinated by my own pitiful state! I think this is the part God loves the most–certainly not because its the best part of me, but because it’s a corner of me where Grace can come rushing in. Imagine a child going in to dinner after playing outside and her mom notices a little cut on her forehead. “What happened!? Here, let’s get you cleaned up,” she says. She cleans it off, unwraps the bandage, smiles, and gently kisses the little wound like she’s leaning in to smell the most delicate flower in the world. I think God is the same way. My little quirks, and my refusal to stray from them, is just a little cut that my Father can work with. He kisses the spot that’s just a little tender, and that’s when I know how much He loves me. He knows I’d be alright without a pink bandaid or a little kiss to make it feel better–but He bends down anyway, just to make a point. He loves me even though I eat noodles with a spoon. Silly Jessica…His beloved. 

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Falling: College and Diving Boards

Once upon a time, my bare feet splashed along the tile of the pool deck, padded up the gritty steps of the ladder, landed on the base of the diving board…..and stopped. I looked down at my feet, and then I looked at the end of the board bobbing up and down gently above the clear surface of the chlorinated water.That place, where the board was the most elastic, seemed so far away. White-knuckling the cool metal railing on each side of me, I shuffled toward the vulnerability of a leap into the water, trying to convince myself that this time I would not retreat back down the gritty steps, back along the puddle filled tile, and over to the safety of the part of the pool that would not ask me to jump or fall or sink down into the darkness of deep blue water. I pretended, and kept pretending as I neared the end of the railing and started taking smaller steps in the direction that wasn’t exactly forward, that I wouldn’t have to shamefully brush past the other kids dripping with water and waiting in line for their turn to let gravity pull them under the surface. As my feet slowed and only my toes still tried to reach for the gap between the board and the end of the board, I started to wonder what thrill anyone could find in falling–willingly falling. And not being able to breathe? And sinking down until the water decided you could come back up? Why was that so appealing? I couldn’t find an answer and my knees began to shake. The board replaced its rhythmic bobbing with a threatening sort of trimmer that I was sure would toss me into the water if I didn’t choose to do it myself. Even so, my will prevailed. I turned back, shaking my head and looking down at nothing. I finally had to reveal the secret I had been trying to keep from myself: I’m a coward.

Swimming has long since lost the captivating effect it had on me when I was 10, and scary, dangerous diving boards looks less like monsters and more like…diving boards. The world just looks a little different from my 19 year old perspective than it did in the years when my biggest concern was what mom was making for dinner that night. Eventually, I did jump off the diving board one summer on our family vacation. My dad coached me from behind a metal fence at a state campground pool. I remember how the sky was gurgling up nasty looking grey clouds, and I knew that if I didn’t jump now, the storm would take away my chance that day. I was tired of losing my chance. So, you know the rest. I jumped. I lived. And I jumped several more times that day. I decided that I liked diving boards very much.

When I sat down to write today, I didn’t know I was going to tell you this story. I was thinking about how it feels to have finished all my freshman classes. I wanted to talk about how much I’ve grown, how scary it is to think about next year, how bittersweet it is to go home. And then I wrote this story. It just seemed right. College reminds me of a diving board.  It isn’t really all that scary to make friends or take tests or go to job interviews. But it is scary to search for yourself, to be you and not apologize. It takes a lot of courage not to turn back and run from the person living inside you. The temptation to turn from myself reminds me a lot of the times I almost jumped, but went back down onto the safety of the pool deck, where the puddles weren’t deep and my foot steps only took me a few inches from the ground. In the search for myself, I spend a lot of time holding my breath, closing my eyes, trembling, and holding the railing until I’m ready to trust in the act of falling. This isn’t like tripping. I’m not making a mistake or looking like a fool. Falling is what gravity wants–it’s natural. And just like it didn’t hurt to slip into the water of the pool, finally meeting myself wasn’t all too painful either. In fact, I find that when I sink into my heart, it’s no time at all before I’m surfacing again, taking in new breath, ready to live and celebrate and try it all again. That’s what my first year of college has felt like. I felt like I was falling, but it was ok. And now I feel like I’m standing in line to do it again. With one foot resting on the first step, I watch droplets of water drip off me and form a puddle beneath me. After they stop splashing into it, the surface of the puddle calms, and I can see my reflection. A smile forms on my face, and I abandon my puddle for the depth of the pool once again. I’m not afraid to fall this time.

 

Silly Little Things

I always go back to the silly little things. I like to forget about college loans and bombings and politics–the evidence of the brokenness I call my world–to dwell on the squirrels in trees and people grinning and raindrops falling. Yep, I always go back to the silly little things because they aren’t so silly at all.

When was the last time you listened to the scribble of a pen as you made your weekly to-do list? Or, do you remember the last time you could feel your diaphragm rising and falling as you slipped into your dreams at night? What about the crunching of your feet as you walked down dusty roads or the sludge of the Walmart parking lot? All of these things are silly, you see. But I can’t imagine my life without them. What if every thing was so big? What if we didn’t get to choose between grape juice or apple juice? Sweatpants or blue jeans? What if people didn’t smile and squirrels didn’t climb trees or we never had the kind of spring showers that make puddles and extra green grass? What if we didn’t have those silly little things…but huge things without the detail and nuance which shimmers under the gaze of a magnifying glass?

I think a world without detail would be something like a world without God. Everything would be like a machine or a robot, mindlessly working and talking and building and fighting and dreaming until everything caved in and disintegrated into nothing. It would be a world spinning for no reason, with no splendor and no hope. The world simply cannot be this way because when I see squirrels climbing without fear to the thinnest branches of the big trees on campus, I chuckle. I smile. I stare out the window until I remember that I probably look crazy. But I’m always glad for those little moments when I cheer, “Go higher, higher!” and hold my breath as the squirrel approaches the top of the branch swaying slowly in the breeze. If there can be bombings and death and divorce and big decisions and STILL be little squirrels who need me to cheer for them, I know there must be a God. Who else could put something so innocent, so silly, and so loveable right there in that tree in the same world were people are suffering? Just feet above college students like me who are just trying to get by and make it to the next day? Silly little things remind me of God’s presence, His awareness of His creation, including me. The squirrel twitches his fluffy little tail as he gallops, and I can hear God whispering, “I see you,  Jessica. I’m still here.” Maybe it isn’t the squirrel making me smile after all.

 

 

 

 

The Fullness

I’ve been walking slower these last few days, as if I don’t really have anywhere important to go. I stare off into space, look down at my feet while I walk, and get lost in my thoughts. I laugh a lot at things that don’t matter, but when it’s over, my heart hurts just a little bit. It’s the end of the year. This beautiful year is almost over, and while I find freedom in that truth, I also find a part of me oh so teary-eyed. So very bittersweet, my friends.

It’s hard to treasure memories–my first awkward visit with the professor I now call a friend, dinner with a nice boy, the words “Well Done” on a college paper, the day my prof and I held back tears as we went through the conclusion of my research paper, getting Culvers with sweet friends–without feeling the tiniest bit of panic. Somewhere inside me, I forget to be thankful, and instead worry these things will fade away and lose their meaning in my life. It’s not the long summer ahead of me that I fear, but the possibility of change. I feel I’ve experienced the fullness of life this semester, and it can be challenging to stop “white-knuckling” it and trust that there is still good to come.

So, that’s where I am today. I’m sad for the end, happy for the new beginning, and incredibly thankful for the people and experiences that have made this year so very special to me. Today, I celebrate the fullness of life. 

 

“And With Thy Spirit”

My alarm sounded at 6:45 this morning. I got up, did my thing, and slipped into Dr. K’s car to go to Gethsemane Episcopal Church. 

First of all, what a blessing that she would be willing to give me a ride on a Sunday morning. She already sees me enough as it is! Ha! But, she was happy to take me–something that I find completely amazing. 

The shadows of the tree branches danced along the sidewalks as the sun slowly came above the horizon and the wind whispered “Good Morning!” to the streets of Marion. And we drove and talked as the traffic lights flickered us onward. Soon, we arrived. I got sweaty. I’d never been to an Episcopal church. The closest I’ve ever been to something like that was at a Lutheran church a few Christmases ago. I remember how confused I was by the liturgy that Sunday. I was accustomed to loud music and preachers with microphones. But I also remember how intriguing it was to watch the Lutheran congregation worship in unity. This morning, Dr. K turned her fancy Prius off on the side of the street, and I wondered if that experience would be enough to get me through my first 8 am  Episcopal prayer service. “Get your religion on!” she said lightheartedly as we stepped out into the morning and trudged along the sidewalk leading to the bright red parish doors. I stupidly said, “Look. Red doors!” I usually say really pointless things when I’m nervous, but after two semesters with me, I’m sure Dr. K wasn’t too surprised.

Inside, I shakily signed my name in the guest book. I noticed that the last entry a guest had signed was from early March. Dr. K wasn’t kidding when she said that this was a small crowd! One time she had been the only one there besides the priest.The creaky floor boards announced our entry as we choose a pew on the right side and slipped reverently in. I noticed there were only two or three other people sitting in the pews praying silently, and another student from IWU who looked as confused as I did. Soon, Dr. K got on her knees and prayed while I looked around at the statues and candles and windows.  The church, though aged, was beautiful and filled with decorations that reminded me of Christ’s sacrifice for me.

I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to talk or move or breath. There was no mistaking that this congregation recognized the supremacy of God. I was glad to be reminded of my smallness. Sometimes, college students think they’re the center of the universe. I didn’t feel that way this morning, and it was refreshing. The room was so delicate and decorated that I didn’t know how I should act. Dr. K explained that the liturgy would come from Scripture and the Book of Common prayer. The bulletin would indicate the page, she said, and all I needed to do was follow her lead. So, when the priest and two women in white robes came out, I quickly learned to just stand when she stood, kneel when she kneeled, and read when she read. It was methodical, and our voices sounded small and shaky as we read. Sometimes, I hadn’t a clue what page we were on. I noticed the other people in the pews crossing themselves when the priest mentioned the Trinity. I didn’t do it because I was just sure I’d do it wrong. Plus, I was content to just watch and take it all in. It was such a beautiful reminder that we worship a God in three persons. 

After a time of confession and thanksgiving, the priest talked about the time Jesus and the disciples were in the boat, and even though they had not caught anything all night, they tossed their ropes in one last time to end up catching an incredible 150 some fish. I was so nervous that I forgot the point he made about that, but the message was completely grounded in Scripture and practical for my life. After the message, we prayed for the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, those around the world who are experiencing oppression or exploitation, and individuals within the congregation who were struggling. We asked for God’s mercy in our world, and acknowledged our need for Him. I was thankful for the reminder about how important prayer is. 

Then, we moved on to the height of the service–the Eucharist. This is just their fancy name for communion, except there seemed to be more of an emphasis on the strength we receive when we take the bread and wine. My church always talked about how it is biblical to remember Christ’s sacrifice for us, but the focus was never really on our redemption and forgiveness, or the implications of these things in our daily lives. Essentially, Communion makes us right with God and empowers us to be His light in the world. It was neat to look at Communion from this angle. 

As I ate the wafer and sipped the wine, the woman in the white robe (not exactly sure what her title was…) reminded me, “This is the body of Christ broken for you” and “This is Christ’s blood poured out for you.” It was powerful to kneel at the altar and tip the cup toward my lips and hear the people on either side of me chewing their bread. It reminded me that Christ died for ALL of us. It was the unique balance of both an individual and collective experience with the Lord.

When the service ended, Dr. K and I talked with the priest, who was incredibly friendly. I think Evangelical Christians sometimes get this idea that small churches with wine and liturgy are full of people who have a Sunday-only, boring kind of faith. This was not my experience. The priest took an interest in my life by asking about my classes and how I knew Dr. K. He was funny and gentle, and it made my heart glad. I also noticed that one of the white-robed women gave Dr. K a big hug, and perhaps even called her, “Sweet Katie”. It was clear that she was loved and cared for in this place, and that certainly broke down some of my own judgments about people who worship in these kinds of denominations. This place gave me a greater understanding of the Body of Christ than my own church did. Even though some people think that standing or bowing or kneeling or reading liturgy are just ways to go through the motions and get on with our  lives, I did not have that experience today. I tried to focus on what I was saying, why I was posturing myself a certain why, why I was eating the bread or drinking the wine, or saying, “Peace” to the members of the congregation. With the right attitude and understanding, I truly think this is a wonderful way to worship. At one point, the priest said, “The Lord be with you”. We replied, “And with thy spirit”. It is amazing that the Body of Christ has been saying this to one another since Christ was on Earth. So cool! All in all, if ever you have a chance, I think it would be worth visiting an Episcopal Church to see for yourself that there is more than one way to worship the Lord whose Spirit is with us all. 

 

 

What We Think of Ourselves

I’m sipping coffee this morning here in the office. In one of my ears, I hear the soft impressionistic sounds of Claude Debussy’s piano music. In the other, I can hear the sounds of the university: the clicking of fingers across keyboards, the soft buzz of fluorescent lights, the clearing of throats from men with Ph.Ds. I have the pages of my statistics book and a sheet of notebook paper stretched out across the desk, and I can feel the hot breath of the monster of homework I have created by procrastinating just a little too long (as if a person can actually procrastinate just the right amount. I’m not sure that’s possible…). There is a great distance between me and the homework monster, me and the professor busy at work in the office adjacent to my desk. Even the coffee sliding warmly down my throat doesn’t seem a part of me because half of me is here at work, and the other half of me is inside myself, reflecting and thinking and critiquing and pondering and wondering and worrying and smiling and lamenting and…

Do you see why the homework can wait? Why the cursor in the word document is blinking so impatiently, like the tapping of a foot? Sure, not really a good excuse, but I’d like to think honesty is worth something. So…honestly, I’m procrastinating. And honestly, I’m thinking.

BUT, I need to throw some thoughts out here, lest you think I fell of the face of the earth into a dark and gloomy pit where blogging does not exist. Additionally, I’m writing this entry this morning to prove to myself that I am, in fact, still capable of completing something thoughtfully. Here we go!

I had an interview this morning. My suitemate and I grabbed some breakfast (she had to swipe me because I’m darn near out of meals! 1 left!) and then we walked together into the cool of the morning to the Honors College office. She left me with the encouraging words, “Just be yourself!” I shuddered as I walked into the interview. What if the smart people in the Honors College don’t think I am (insert adjective) enough? What if I get an email saying I’m not accepted (for reasons like using the passive voice and other terrible things)?

You (whoever you are) must understand that I am a complicated person. Perhaps you already know that. I would guess that the small number of you who read this understand that I am a person of depth. I certainly don’t mean that in a boastful way, but rather in a reflective way. I see people and things as more than they are. The homework, for example, isn’t simply paper and books to me. When I glance at math problems or writing prompts, I can see the faintest rise and fall of some kind of beating heart. It can be either a creature or friend–something living that can either destroy me or strengthen me. In a sense, this depth is my foe. But, it comes in handy with people.

I am fascinated by how people laugh, the way they walk and talk and treat one another. I’m in awe of the gifts I see in others. But behind all of that, I can see where people are struggling and how they fall short. I can see the person in people, and that is how I decide whether or not a person is good.

So, I would estimate that I spend 85% of my time thinking about the people and things outside myself. I place my energy in assessing the good and the bad. But it can sometimes be scary to think about myself. Not necessarily about my achievements or failures, but about my character–my personhood, if you will. What kind of person am I? Admitedly, I am afraid to answer. I will be vulnerable with anyone but myself because that sort of authenticity is terrifying.

In my first year of college, I have had to face myself–ALL of me. I’ve had to face the fact that I am needy in relationships because so many people I have cared about have abandoned me. I’ve had to admit my introversion, my dread of crowds and noise and tardiness, my tendancy to judge people who don’t think like I do. College made me face the ugly over and over again, but days like today make me look at the beautiful.

The interview for the Honors College was full of questions geared at exposing my qualifications. Bragging about myself makes me squirm with the guilt of loving myself. At the end of the interview, the two smart men asked me if there was anything else I wanted to tell them, and my heart hicupped in my chest as I told them something I feared would make me look like a compete snob. I said, “I just need to say that I don’t want to be a part of the Honors College strictly for academic reasons. I don’t want to get caught up in comparing myself to others. I just want to be a good person.” My throat tightened as I said it, and somewhere deep within me, I think some tears were forming. I meant what I said. I want to be a good person. I want to have a good heart. I want to grow. That’s, dare I say it, beautiful…right?

Despite the ugly, THAT is what I think of myself. Why was it so hard for me to say that? Why is it so difficult to talk about “my big heart’ or my tenderness or my inquisitive spirit? If it’s true that I have those things, why don’t I think on and celebrate those things more often? Why so much agony in exposing that part of me? I’m not sure about the answers to these questions, but I think I really am a humble person, despite all the ugly.

I’ve noticed lately that the way we think about ourselves will affect how we treat ourselves. Running has taught me that if I think I’m capable of getting stronger, I will treat myself like a runner–which means I will eat healthier and drink water and run just a little bit longer than the previous time. It also means my relationships are different. When I recognize that some part of me genuinely wants to encourage the people I care about, I will stop worrying whether the person thinks I’m creepy or annoying and encourage her anyway.

I recognize that this has been very wordy, and maybe just a little too personal. But that’s how I am, and this is how I think of myself. This is what I CELEBRATE about myself. I would challenge anyone reading this to think about the kind of person you are. Look at the ugly (which is hard) and then go a step further and articulate the beauty (which can be even harder, if you tend to criticize yourself). I believe that it isn’t prideful to recognize the beauty nestled deeply inside you because even though you have some responsibility for cultivating it, you weren’t the one who put it there–that was the Lord. So, despite how selfish it may feel to brag on yourself a little, remember that you are bragging on your Creator as well.