Roots

For me, tears usually accompany sadness. But sorrow is something very different. It is a dry place where tears do not exist.

I didn’t cry when my mom told me she needed to leave. I didn’t cry when I saw through my dad’s bravado into a heart haunted by bitterness, anguish, and defeat. I don’t cry when I go to church by myself most Sundays. But while these are not happy moments for me, and I don’t enjoy the dismantled, walking-on-eggshells condition my family is in, I simply see no use in crying about any of it.

And yet I cannot shake the great sense of sorrow that follows me around like an unwelcome guest. It’s like walking out to your car late at night and getting goosebumps on your neck because you feel like someone is following you. (Hey, I lived in Marion for a while. I developed a healthy fear of walking alone at night.) Even when I’m laughing at my brother’s dance moves, an ugly voice seems to remind me to mourn for ______. And it sucks.

Of course, I know I’m just one of many people dealing with an inner turmoil of sorts. Sometimes when I’m sitting in my car at a red light, I’ll glance over at the driver next to me. 9 times out of 10, he or she is alone and staring off into nothingness. When I ordered dessert at Culvers recently, the voice at the other end of the drive-thru speaker seemed to belong to the ghost of someone who hadn’t bothered to feel anything for quite some time. She looked like she was probably 18, and yet there wasn’t a young, free, or hopeful thing about her. The young lady who cut my hair last week was hardly able to make eye contact with me when I tipped her and told her to enjoy some Starbucks after work. She smiled and thanked me, but there was a darkness escaping from the aching soul hiding behind her pleasant expression.

This isn’t the evidence of a zombie apocalypse; this is the way life has been since the fall. A sinful world is bound to also be a painful world. And so, we have sorrows. And it sucks.

At Christ Lutheran Church a few weeks ago, we sang a hymn that came back to mind recently when I started getting overwhelmed with frustration. I flipped through an old hymn book (and I never do that! I’m more of an Adele person, usually.) until I found it–“Come Ye Disconsolate”. One of the last lines in the final verse was particularly encouraging: “Come to the feast of love; come, ever knowing Earth has no sorrow but heav’n can remove.” It was like the Comforter was sitting right there on the piano bench nudging me until the first trace of a smile broke out across my face. So that’s where He’s been—right next to me in my place of sorrow. 

After I played that hymn on the piano a few times, the shadowy presence of my sorrow seemed to take several steps backward, where it could no longer interfere with the peace of knowing a God who loves me when I’m at my worst. The roots holding me in the sorrowful place began to wither…and I could breathe again.

No matter what’s going on in my life, I want to take root in the comfort that comes from knowing Jesus Christ. I want the assurance that no matter how many times I fail to obey, no matter how much it hurts to see marriage broken, no matter what kind of questions I ask, no matter what my political views are, no matter how much college debt I have, no matter ______–I want to know that I am rooted in His love, supremacy, and healing . Because even sorrow can’t mess with any of that. 

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The Promise

We are good at making promises. 

Couples seal their marriage with a kiss that says, “I promise to love you and you alone–forever.” New parents stare in awe into the eyes of their newborn, and as the little child wraps her hand around her Daddy’s index finger, he whispers, “I will always put your needs before my own.”

Some promises are less emotional. We make agreements to send in car payments each month, and we muster up our best cursive to indicate our intention to pay back student loans, medical bills, and taxes. 

We are parents, children, students, citizens, professionals. We have good intentions. We want to be faithful, to keep our word. The easy part is making promises. We can so handle that. But the whole point of a promise is to keep it–and this is the part that we so can’t handle.

I was walking up the drive after my run this morning when I saw our newly-purchased wooden swing swaying gently beneath the tree in the soft morning breeze. I remembered how excited my dad was to buy it for my mom–it was a promise. He would hold her hand, and she would kiss him on the cheek. They would watch the sunset and fall in love again. They would both do better–starting right there in the shade of that tree. But I realized this morning that this was a broken promise, somehow still lingering in the seat of that empty swing. 

But then I thought that maybe things aren’t quite that simple. Sometimes one promise just leads us to another. People get married to fulfill a promise to take care of each other forever, but then sometimes they have to separate to do that very thing. It doesn’t make sense…but it does. I might make a promise to keep running without quitting. I mean what I say, but sometimes I have to adapt my promise to fit my I’m-about-to-pass-out reality. So instead of saying, “I will not quit!” I will instead say, “I will take breaks when I need to and learn to be patient with myself as I struggle.” I’m still being faithful to what I set out to do. I’m simply learning to be faithful in a better way. I won’t always get things right the first time, and that doesn’t mean I’m a terrible person.

So maybe everything doesn’t end with the empty swing. Maybe it just needs to be vacant for awhile. Maybe this is a promise to wait, to grow, to heal, and to learn. And maybe, just maybe…this is the promise we can keep. 

But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.–Isaiah 40:31

Ezekiel

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I actually published this on accident. I had every intention of writing something related to the joy of gerbil-owning and using this picture (for obvious reasons) as a visual aid. Hey, at least this blog post is a quick read! Deeper thoughts for later dates, I suppose.

On the Way to Healing

Aside

“Keeping up appearances stopped working when I became a student of writing. To be a writer is to constantly write something terrible with only a trace of something good, and present it to an audience and ask for help.”

–Dr. Katie Karnehm

(Professor, Squirrel Admirer, Wearer of Scarves, Drinker of Coffee, Nice Person, Writer of Cool Essays)

I can’t impress anyone when I’m acting. Once, in a school play, I was supposed to be a rich lady who was robbed on her way home from some fancy event (probably by some idiot who frequently used the passive voice in blog posts). I had a one-liner about “oh my goodness, my husband and I were robbed”…or something equally unremarkable. 70% of the time I was doing an unconvincing job of delivering the line. The other 30% of the time? Laughing. Just laughing. (I tend to laugh when I shouldn’t. Like during prayer.) So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that I eventually and oh so generously handed my part over to some other unlucky girl and took refuge behind the curtain, where I played background music and sweat a lot on the night of the performance.

Unless I’m playing music or sweeping the floor, the stage really isn’t the place for me. I’m much more comfortable spotting other promising actors–both on stage and off. And, I’m not just saying that because I’m so terrible at pretending. Sure, I suck at it. But isn’t the pursuit of authenticity a deeper and worthier challenge? I’d much rather be the gal who can’t quit giggling at all the wrong times than someone who prides herself in fooling everyone around her. I’d like for the words, “Hi, I’m Jessica” to actually mean I’m introducing myself, not some person who’s sure to please everyone around her.

Some of us confuse our lives with some kind of wooden platform with lights and curtains. A night at the theater is one thing, but my role as daughter, sister, friend, and student…well, that’s quite another. Mistaking the two is, for me, not an option. There is a place for make-up and costumes, but also a place for blotchy skin and sweatpants. While I don’t always enjoy the latter, my life seems to follow that kind of pattern. And, inevitably, it is when I’m humbled and vulnerable that I hear God’s voice the best. I also don’t think it’s any coincidence that when I’m at my truest, God’s voice is the most tender. He’s not ashamed when I can’t “keep up appearances” anymore.

Heck. I’m a writing major now, so I should probably use the classic writer’s trick of citing examples to demonstrate my point. Hang in there; this might get bumpy.

Hardly anyone reads this, and I trust the few of you who do. Please respect me and my family by not blabbering this information to others (and yes, I do realize I’m sharing it in a blog that some people read. Again. I think it’s a pretty small crowd…admittedly, this would be an awkward time to learn otherwise!). So. My parents separated recently. I don’t anticipate this to be permanent, but this isn’t the first time it has happened within the last year. I respect both my parents, and I trust them to figure out how to make their relationship as healthy as it can be. I also feel independent enough to handle it maturely and fairly. I’m not in the middle of it. I’m not responsible for their actions. I am, however, pondering Dr. Karnehm’s quote in the context of my imperfect, one-step-at-a-time family. We had to stop  trying to appear all put together so that we could make healing and growth the priority. We can’t all relate to Dr. Karnehm’s writing wisdom, but we have, in a way, presented the truth of ourselves and asked for help. This draft needs improvement. We’ve quit the insanity of acting. We’ve quit “keeping up appearances”.

Maybe that’s more than you wanted to know. I’m  sorry. It’s more than I wanted to know, too. So, here’s another example for you. Thankfully, it’s more funny than unfortunate. Ok. It’s a little unfortunate  as well. You’ll see what I mean.

Yesterday, I went to the garage to let our dog, Maggie, outside. I had heard her whining when I was pouring my bowl of cereal and yawning away the aftermath of a terrible night’s sleep. So, I shuffled my bare feet toward the kitchen door as I made a mental list of things to do with my day. Apparently, I forgot to add “clean poop out of Maggie’s kennel” to my list. Jeez. I wonder how I overlooked that one….

Yep. Thirty minutes later, I was outside dry-heaving and scrubbing the disgusting filth and stench from her cage. I was wondering, Dear God, why me? I kept rinsing the cage and gagging and trying to keep poop off of me while when I picked up on the irony of my circumstance. I spend so much time trying to improve what I am so that I and everyone will be impressed. If I just run a little bit more, I’ll look better. If I try to be a little bit funnier, I’ll have more friends. On and on it goes until one morning I’m standing in the hot sun screaming becomes some poop water from my dog’s messy cage splashed on me. So much for “keeping up appearances”! That’s when I realized God had answered my question. Oh, the things we learn when we clean up dog poop. I guess I should officially offer a shout out to Maggie, the best darn pooper I’ve ever met.

Being broken isn’t fun. Facing filth isn’t glamorous. But keeping up appearances won’t fix my life. The only way out is honesty and the courage to ask for help. Those Dear God, why me? moments are an awful lot like a first draft, which is merely the first step on the way to  healing.

Messes and Miracles

I used to have my life organized. Things ran according to the schedule I made for myself. When the alarm went off, I never had the temptation to hit the snooze. I knew what time I would eat my meals, the grade I would get on my test, and the way I would talk to my parents. My life had a script, and I had all my lines memorized. I was the flawless performer in the drama I had written for myself. But, I found that the only one disappointed by my little act wasn’t my teachers or my friends or my family, but me. In the silence of my room, I wished for the chance to show the real me. I started praying for confidence and waited expectantly for results.

Unfortunately, God doesn’t always answer prayers the way we’d like Him to. Instead of a rosy year filled with self-acceptance and success, He gave me my junior year of high school. I struggled through shallow friendships, watched my grades slip, and felt bitterness ice over the deepest part of me. And confidence? For a long time, I thought God had forgotten that part of my prayer altogether because the only thing I felt for myself that year was hatred.

Well, someone else must have been praying for my messy life back then…because I sure wasn’t. I quit praying about the time science fair started and probably didn’t start again until Physics was over. I told God I was angry at Him, but really..I was just mad at myself. I was mad that I couldn’t seem to follow that old script anymore. I tried to read my lines, but they sounded so fake. One day at I time, I faced the truth about Jessica Dugdale: she was not immune to falling apart. Admitting that didn’t make it any easier, but I slowly let go of the stupid act I’d been showing the world and buried deeper into my mental, emotional, and spiritual untidiness. Strangely enough, I found peace there. Somehow I knew God was answering the prayer I had whispered so long ago.

Things started to change when I learned to laugh at myself. I found companionship in the strange, goofy person I was. I threw away my pride and started telling people–teachers and students–about my gerbils or my love for squirrels. I interrupted countless class lectures by demonstrating that ridiculous pigeon sound I can make so well. My friends laughed, I started enjoying school again, and I was truly happy. This wasn’t some petty performance for the school day. This was me. Broken, unscripted, laughable me. I was such a mess. And I was so happy.

Of course, then I went to IWU and had to learn that same lesson all over again. Thankfully, I caught on a whole lot sooner this time! Instead of embarking on some absurd quest for perfection and acknowledgment, I simply let myself fall apart in any way I needed to. I stopped doing the comfortable things and started doing the things that make me squirm. I started running, writing, and drinking coffee with people who knew more about life than I did. I stopped having all the answers and started asking questions. In short, I chose to make myself vulnerable. How strange it is that suddenly I started smiling more and worrying less. Who knew?

Maybe you know most of my history already. I’m pretty open about because I believe it can help people. But I guess I wanted to write about it today because I’m feeling especially “undone”. I’ve been home for over a month and my room is full of all the things that I’ve only partially unpacked. Laundry and money is everywhere–and I didn’t even mention the amount of gerbil bedding and sunflower seeds that has begun to fade into my carpet. I stay up late watching Youtube videos and I sleep under whatever blankets happen to be on my bed at the time. I’m stilling running, but seem to have stopped improving. I get in my good mile and struggle through the rest of the workout. Even though I can’t even run 2 miles, I still manage to look like I just went for a swim when it’s all over. I don’t have a job, and as bad as I need the money, I can’t get myself out of the house to look. Basically, I’m a hot mess! Everything about my life is unpredictable and cluttered. But I am oh so content in who I am. I have never been more sure of my worth and my talent than I am right in this moment. I can’t help chuckling when I tell you with 100% sincerity that this is the answer to my prayer for confidence. This is proof that God saved me from a miserable, perfection-obsessed life. Every time I walk through my room and get a coin stuck to my foot or a piece of gerbil bedding on my clothes, I usually think something like “Gosh, I really need to clean!” But at a deeper level I am so thankful that despite the mess I’m in, I am still glad to be the person I am. Miracles look funny sometimes, but I’m telling you..this mess couldn’t be anymore perfect.

Across the Border

My mind has borders. In one section, I store the memories of my childhood. Neurons fire somewhere in my brain tissue and images of the younger me appear.  I can see myself riding my little bike with pompoms and giving the peace sign to my dad as he pulled out of the drive and on toward the factory he hates so much. I was too young to understand that I was waving to a dad I hardly knew. My world was so small. Everyone was so flawless. Everything was so pretty. I was so innocent.

But, of course, we all jump the border sometime, don’t we? Suddenly, we have grown up. We have started storing different kinds of memories–ones that are a little more raw and little less fluffy. The world is no longer small, and it is not simple. People are broken and struggling, and a lot of things are ugly. We are no longer innocent.

The memories from later years have a different flavor. I guess that’s maturity because I was still me and Greentown was still Greentown and everyone else was still everyone else. But for some reason I stopped giving the peace sign to my dad and figured out how “un-figured out” my relationship was/is with him. I noticed my reflection in the mirror for the first time.  I got addicted to A+s. I heard my parents yell at each other. I lost my innocence. I crossed the border. How I long to go back sometimes.

Lest you think I’m a depressed, bratty little whiner, I need to tell you about something that no border, no amount of maturity, nor any experience can ever change. Joy. Maybe I lost my innocence as I grew up, but I never lost my reasons to be joyful. How about those times when I used play “the claw” with my grandpa? How about the way I smiled when I went to senior prom and felt absolutely beautiful? How about the time I wrote a research paper that was so powerful and so true that my professor and I both cried? I have these kind of memories from all stages of my life. There is no border for the memory of joy. There is no way for any part of my mind to block out its presence. Joy joins together my childhood innocence and my adolescent confusion. It is the antidote for the pain of the darker times–which are still so real in my mind.

This is the work of God, who holds tightly to all my moments. And this is the power of Joy—the hand I hold as I take a deep breath and cross the border.