From the Basement

November 5, 2010

In the face of discouragement, He is my Refuge

Right now, it’s a struggle to remain encouraged. As many of you know, following my turning down of the full-time university job, I switched my focus to the metro area where I’m currently staying. I’ve applied for three jobs as a leave replacement middle school English teacher, I’ve submitted my resume to a temp agency, I’ve visited numerous retail outlets and applied both in person and online, had several on-the-spot interviews, visited restaurants in our neighborhood only to find that they’ve just finished hiring or aren’t hiring or have some strange hiring practice…

Y’all, even with applying for administrative, retail, and restaurant gigs, I am still having trouble finding work. I do have a sort-of outstanding offer with Barnes & Noble downtown, but the pay is only $7.25/hour. Not much. They’re calling me on Monday to confirm whether or not they’ll hire me.

I’m starting to feel frantic. I know I haven’t applied to a ton of places, but I’ve applied to quite a few, and have heard nothing. Or been outright rejected. Or have them tell me, we’re sorry, we can’t work with your schedule.

I still ask: God, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? I changed my focus! I’m looking for retail gigs! Am I not humble enough yet? I could always be looking more and be out there every day all day, but I also have grad school apps to work on. And on Wednesday, I stayed in the loft all day, because I walked so much between Monday and Tuesday that by the time I was on my way home Tuesday evening, I was limping. I limped… a dozen city blocks?… back to the apartment, where I proceeded to almost collapse upon arrival. So Wednesday, I bummed around because I couldn’t walk more than five feet without needing to sit down.

Again, I have no idea what God is doing.

Yesterday was a reminder that He provides in unconventional ways. I want a job. Have I said it loudly enough yet? I want a job! And even the easy ones – I can’t get even the easy jobs! OK, there is the Barnes & Noble offer, which I will take if nothing else comes through. $7.25/hour, 25 hours a week? That’s it? Okay, God. Okay.

But I digress – yesterday, He provided in a cool way. My future mother-in-law’s boss has a friend who is an OXO rep (OXO being a line of kitchenware, for y’all who don’t cook), and future MiL’s boss must have told him about my fiancé and I, and so the OXO rep, out of the blue, gives us almost $200 worth of FREE items from our registry. The measuring cups, measuring spoons, can opener, swivel peeler, salad spinner, the three mixing bowls… everything. What generosity. What a blessing.

God provides. His methods are unexpected and unusual and most of the time, I have no idea why He’s doing what He’s doing. How hard should it be to find a retail job that pays more than $8/hour? Even a seasonal temp job? (Which is what the B&N gig is.)

This week I’ve had my dad’s downtown loft to myself as he’s out of state training with his company. And honestly, my quiet time has sort of diminished. I’ve been frantically applying for jobs and working on grad school apps and, frankly, flipping the eff out over both. Worrying that no matter what I do, it won’t be enough. Worrying about whether I’m doing the “right” topic for my writing sample. Whether my statement of purpose is focused enough. Whether my cover letters – my freaking awesome cover letters for RETAIL jobs, people – are good enough.

I am worrying whether they’re good enough for the eyes of humans rather than trying to please my heavenly Father. And what pleases him is not a perfectly worded cover letter or a perfectly constructed 25-page writing sample. What pleases him is my heart. My attitude. Whether or not I trust him. And frankly, I haven’t been acting like I trust him this week. Ain’t that a kick in the pants?

And even in the midst of trust, he somehow puts it on a guy’s heart to offer my fiancé and I some much-needed items for our kitchen. Even when I’m not trusting. Even when I’m worrying. He provides. In his own way and in his own time.

I wish I knew his mind. I wish I knew what he was planning right now. If I let myself, it’s very easy to feel like a failure. The on-the-spot interviews I had all took one look at my resume and asked what exactly I was doing and is there a reason I’m not employed?

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

But so too is He our refuge, the God who sees, the God who is accessible to his people because he loves them.

As for God, his way is perfect:

The LORD’s word is flawless;

he shields all who take refuge in him.

For who is God besides the LORD?

And who is the Rock except our God?

It is God who arms me with strength

and keeps my way secure.

He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;

he causes me to stand on the heights.

He trains my hands for battle;

my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

You make your saving help my shield,

and your right hand sustains me;

your help has made me great.

You provide a broad path for my feet,

so that my ankles do not give way. — Psalm 18:30-36

My mom says that when I was a little girl, verse 34 was my absolute favorite verse, that I would walk around quoting it: “He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze!” Something in me clung to that fighting imagery, that the fight was in my hands, in my fingers, in my arms. Given that I’m a writer by vocation, it’s decently prophetic. But these verses still inspire me today. They give me strength. Everything the Lord gives us, every situation Jesus allows us to walk through – it’s preparation. These verses are reminiscent of putting on the “armor of God,” as Paul writes in Ephesians 6, but what I love about this is that David is talking about how God trains him, how God gives him the strength. “You make your saving help my shield, and your right hand sustains me… you provide a broad path for my feet.” Mm. I love that.

“He shields all who take refuge in Him.” It doesn’t matter what we need shielding from. Unemployment. Alternately, the job you’re in. A relationship. Doubt. Discouragement. Fear. Feelings of unworthiness. Abuse. There is no difficulty or hardship in this world that our heavenly Father cannot shield us from. He is our hope when we are discouraged. He is our strength when we have none. In Him can we boast. He is our delight.

Psalm 37 exhorts us, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” But I want to focus on the first clause: take delight in the Lord. Delight yourselves in the Lord. Rejoice in the Lord always. These commands permeate scripture. In every situation, we are to delight in Him.

I don’t have an eloquent way to end this post, but to proclaim Christ’s sovereignty over my life. I am so thankful that my imperfections and shortcomings are filled up with his spirit, that my sins are covered by his blood, that he is my refuge and my rock, my Redeemer in whom I take all delight.

September 22, 2010

On (a lack of) Patience & Endurance

Today, I am faced with a question: to take a part-time job with no insurance or benefits, one that involves children (and thus a lengthy commitment I cannot in good conscience back out of)… or to refuse, and continue on in the job hunt uncertain and unknowing.

Today, my heart and my gut are at war. Today, I really despise the gift of freewill and am rather desperate for God to just shove me through a door. Today, I do not want to be the person clinging to the life raft in the ocean who turns down the boat and the plane’s offers for rescue while saying “God will save me!”, not realizing that God in fact sent the boat and the plane.

Today, my family and friends tell me, a job is a job, and you can always back out, even when there are kids. Today, I have been chided for not applying for enough jobs, cautioned against ignoring my gut, and greatly encouraged to pursue any kind of reasonable employment, including temping and administrative work.

Today, I find it hard to trust God, yet I know I must claim that promise, that all things work to the good of those who love him who have been called according to his purpose. Today, I ask him what I have not done, that I do not yet have work. Today, I remind God that I’m feeling pretty humbled, and is it necessary to keep me barely employed for the next year to remind me of that?

Today has been a big day.

I have sought advice from my parents, from my writer friends, and from my fiancé, and I am now turning to prayer and the word of God, feeling convicted – once more – that I saw fit to cry and fuss and solicit the advice of others before turning to scripture. I read the gracious reminders of Psalm 139 and, in my impatience, did not feel much grace, and I’m now turning to the book I’ve been reading, Future Grace by John Piper, which I recalled had a chapter entitled “Faith in Future Grace vs. Impatience.”

Piper says, “Patience is the capacity to ‘wait and to endure’ without murmuring and disillusionment – to wait in the unplanned place, and endure the unplanned pace” (172). My friends, if that’s patience, I have not been patient these months. I have kicked and screamed and fought and fussed and whined and complained and been self-centered and bitchy every gosh darn step of the way. I have not waited restfully – there have been moments of rest but they are ever punctuated by the squalid cry of “Why are you doing this to me?”, ever marked by a desperation for worldly provision rather than spiritual, ever torn by the seeming division of my head and my heart and my spirit.

To wait in the unplanned place – my parents’ respective homes, which cause no end of annoyance and grief, even amidst the joy and comfort. To endure the unplanned pace – to apply for dozens of jobs… to sit listlessly staring at a computer screen, endlessly perusing job listings… to ask God, are you there? Do you know I’m waiting? Do you know I’m lonely? Do you know I’m desperate to get out of my parents’ homes? Do you know… do you know…

I don’t think I’ve once asked God, what can I do for you? Not that there’s anything I can do that he needs, but I’m sure he’d appreciate the gesture.

Trust me, I have played out every possible scenario of why I’m still unemployed and living at home, from me needing to be with my parents right now to God wanting to humble me (done) to God just being vindictive… which is not, of course, biblical.

Days like today, I am confronted with the immensity of my own weakness. My infallibility, pride, self-centeredness, ego, need for human approval, desire for attention, disbelief in God’s promise to provide, that very dangerous root of unbelief… if patience is evidence of inner strength, then my impatience is evidence of great weakness.

Luckily, I worship a God who says his power is made perfect in my weakness. I cannot comprehend how that is possible, but he says it is.

If I had a job interview for every tear I’ve shed these last months, I’d have been employed yesterday. At every turn, I question what I’ve done wrong, and then I’m reminded, it’s not about me. It’s about him, and about his kingdom, and if that means taking a nanny job, so be it – though that’s the last thing I want to do, trust me.

I am just feeling very lost and very unsure right now. I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I also don’t want to disappoint a family or children when another job (hopefully) comes along.

There are no easy answers. Right now, I’m reminded of something my future father-in-law told me a few months back – sometimes God just wants you to make a decision, and where you go, there He will be also, and He will bless that.

Or as Francesca Battistelli wrote, “I wish I could know what you’ve got in store for me/I try and try to read your mind/But I forget that patience is a virtue/You’re teaching me to hold on tight/And I don’t know how the story ends/But I’ll be all right cause you wrote it/I don’t know where the highway bends, but I’m doing just fine/Cause you’re in control even when I don’t know where my life’s gonna go/You’re keeping me guessing.”

September 21, 2010

Lyric Post: Keeping Me Guessing

Coffee cup waking me up
I gotta board a plane
And fly away
Sometimes it feels like I’m
going at the speed of light

Can’t relax I’m movin too fast
I wanna find the gold
But I don’t have a map
I wish that I could know
What you’ve got in store for me

I try and try to read your mind
But I forget that patience is a virtue
You’re teaching me to hold on tight

And I don’t know how the story ends
But I’ll be alright cause you wrote it
And I don’t know where the highway bends
But I’m doing just fine
Cause you’re in control
Even when I don’t know
Where my life’s gonna go
You’re keeping my guessing

Slow me down, show me around
I wanna see the world that I’ve been without
I am here and now the future is out of my hands
I trust in you and how you move
I won’t forget that patience is a virtue
You’re teaching me to hang on tight

Cause I don’t know how the story ends
But I’ll be alright cause you wrote it
And I don’t know where the highway bends
But I’m doing just fine
Cause you’re in control
Even when I don’t know
Where my life’s gonna go
You’re keeping me guessing

Seasons come and seasons go
But you decide

I don’t know where the story ends
But I’ll be alright cause you wrote it
I don’t know where the highway bends
But I’m doing just fine

You’re in control
Even when I don’t know
Where my life’s gonna go
You’re keeping me guessing

You’re keeping me guessing

Francesca Battistelli’s lyrics beautifully articulate exactly where I’m at right now.

July 1, 2010

“So… God wants me to be unemployed?”: On Trust, Belief, and Trust

Trust Him. Praise Him.

Those are the encouraging or, alternately,  infuriating, soul-wrenching answers I get when I ask God about his plans for my employment (I hope it’s not too much to assume that I’ll find work?). I have been home since March and graduated since May. It is almost the 1st of July, and I’m still in my mom’s basement. I think many recent grads are in the same boat.

In honor of the classic song “Count Your Blessings,” I’ll count my blessings first. My parents live less than an hour apart and both have opened their homes to me for as long as I need it. I live rent free and occasionally chip in for coffee or pizza with my graduation money. I have no expenses, notwithstanding the Student Loans of Doom that are looming over the horizon.

In short, I’m blessed. I originally wrote “save the whole unemployment bit,” but even with that, I’m still blessed.

And yet, over the last few months, I’ve gone through days where I did not seek him, whether out of spite or laziness it’s hard to say. And then, on the flip side, there are the days that are glorious and praise-full and awesomely productive. And then there are the screaming days. Today was a combination of awesome + screaming.

On days like these, when I go out on my porch and sob and cry and throw a temper tantrum that could rival a two-year-old, I forget that I’ve learned a lot. On days like these, I forget that all things work to the good of those who love him, mostly because I’m too busy thinking that God is planning to use my life as the sequel to Job.

(On days like these, I really hope that Job was a one-time thing and that God’s not planning to do that again.)

In the aftermath of the tears, several truths become apparent. Things I’ve learned over the last few months.

  1. I could do everything right by human standards and still not get hired if it’s not God’s will.
  2. I could do everything wrong by human standards and get hired if God wants me to work there.
  3. God may be keeping me from employment to let me focus on other things.
  4. His name is still Faithful and True.
  5. He is Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides.
  6. He is using this time to make me into the woman he wants me to be.

As my mom reminded me today, he sees how these months fit into the span of my life. He knows what I’ll be doing a year from now. He knows the names of my children. He knows the plans he has for me. I see what’s on the screen. He’s already directed the whole picture.

I want to be like the Proverbs 31 woman. In verse 25, it says, she is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. A righteous woman who seeks the Lord’s own heart – she laughs at the days to come. Others flee and cower, but she stands strong. Sans peur. No fear. After all, why should she fear? She knows that her God loves her, protects her, is for her, is not against her. She knows that there is nothing on this earth that can separate her from the extravagant, earth-shattering love of God.

God’s love is shattering. It’s such a revelation every time, and I so often feel shattered when faced with it. So painfully, acutely aware of the reasons I don’t deserve it. So ready with excuses of my humanity, of my proud refusal to believe that he means what he says. And yet he comes and scoops me up and holds me against his chest and murmurs in my ear that he loves me, and that he is enough – he is always enough.

I’ll be gone for the next two weeks visiting family and friends, and this evening, I was freaking out to my mom about how I don’t know what I’ll do about job searching for the next two weeks. Unreliable internet, etc. And she looked at me and said, take the time off! Enjoy the time away! I asked, what happens if the perfect job comes up and I don’t see it? And she looked at me, so loving, and asked if I really thought that God didn’t already have everything planned out and did I think I’d be going away for two weeks if he didn’t have everything under control?

And then I did that whole crying/wallowing thing.

And then something wonderful happened. God picked me up, put lyrics in my head that wouldn’t go away, and gave me the title to my next blog post. He uses writing to take me outside myself, to give perspective, to show his love – his shattering, wonderful love that has given me the gift of a two-week hiatus and more opportunities to lean on him and not on my own understanding.

To remind me that unemployment does not define me. That his plans are so much bigger.

Like sunlight burning at midnight

Making my life something so

Beautiful, beautiful

Mercy reaching to save me

All that I need

You are so

Beautiful, beautiful

– Francesca Battistelli, “Beautiful, Beautiful”

Link to video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbCfyZHSQbE

April 22, 2010

On Perfectionism

There’s this great line in the song “Free to Be Me” by Francesca Battistelli. It says, “Perfection is my enemy.”

How true. How terrifying, how limiting, how crippling is that perfectionistic streak that runs through so many of us.

Lately, perfectionism has been blocking my writing. Obviously not on this blog – having a daily goal and a few people reading does a lot in the way of accountability. But there’s this story I’m writing that’s due in five days to an online exchange and I have had the assignment for months and I cannot for the life of me find the focus to finish the second chapter.

Perfectionism, so defined by Webster’s, is “a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable.” The question is, why do we hold ourselves to that standard in the first place? No one does something perfectly the first time. Heck, people don’t do things perfectly after years in a business – years of writing, of professional athletics, of making deals.

I have some friends who struggle with this. I have struggled with it – but I find that my struggle doesn’t usually focus on the goal of perfection. My struggle has been my own intense dissatisfaction with what I’ve produced, what I’ve written. It could be better. It could be a bestseller. Why can’t I write bestselling material on the first try? Why can’t I finish this story? – my perfectionism manifests itself in intense negativity. Usually, I can get work finished. But I have a passionate dislike for it. I say it’s the worst paper I’ve ever written or it’s the worst story I’ve ever written or…

You get the picture.

We cart around skyscraper-high standards all day, forgetting that the only way you scale that building is one inch at a time. The goal of moving an inch forward is a lot more reasonable than our desire to make a Spiderman leap to the top. Nobody can be Spiderman. Nobody can be perfect. Spiderman wasn’t perfect. So there you go. (Now I feel like the dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding…)

We forget to break it down. Short assignments. Attainable goals with an eye to the finish line. And, ultimately, laying down our pride, our need to be the best, our need to prove something to other people, our need to prove something to ourselves.

In her book Do You Think I’m Beautiful?, Angela Thomas talks about how we carry around ash sacks full of regret, sin, and shame. We are doubled over with those sacks on our back, and there’s Jesus standing in front of us offering to take the burden, and we say, “No, no, I’ve got it – see, this is my sack of ashes. I’m comfortable carrying it. I’m used to it.”

And we’re really saying, I don’t know what I’d do if I had to stand up straight.

I think that perfectionism is like a sack of ashes. We carry it around with us every day – something that started as a bundle of expectation and dreams becomes weighted down by the disappointment of shattered hope, bitterness, self-loathing, and regret.

Perfectionism is self-flagellation on a daily basis. Really, it is. We will never meet our own standards. What does a first-time bestselling author do? Freak out about the pressure they now face – that they’d better write another bestseller.

Nothing is ever good enough. Nothing ever satisfies. Getting everything you want does not bring peace. There are oh so many examples of that in the world around us, and not just the rich and famous, but the people we know – co-workers, fellow students, bosses, people at church, people in our neighborhood, maybe even people we love.

The standard is not our own worldly concept of perfection. The standard is Jesus Christ and the example He set with His beautiful love laced with jewels of mercy, threads of passion, and the comfort of His peace. He calls us to lay down our lives and follow Him. Lay down your need for acceptance, and be accepted in His arms. Lay down your need for perfection, and become enamored by the perfection of your awesome Creator. He is enough when we are not. And we are never enough, so He is always enough.

When we rest in His arms, we can be at peace with ourselves. So often, I “strive” for peace – what a joke! I am trying, trying, trying to feel peaceful just for a minute when all I need to do is sit back and bask in the warm love my Savior, my lover, my comforter, my friend.

When we call Christ our savior, we are in turn called to show His love to others. And it is very difficult for others to feel that they could be loved by someone who holds themselves to an unattainable standard of perfection. When we hold ourselves to that standard – even if we don’t think we are inflicting it on other people… we are. How hard it is to love others when we never feel we can do it successfully. How hard it is to accept love from someone who is never satisfied.

Rest. Lay back in His arms. Accept His love for yourself. And then show it to others. Lay down your own standards. He is enough. He is always enough.

The chorus of Francesca Battistelli’s “Free to Be Me” goes like this

I got a couple dents in my fender

Got a couple rips in my jeans

Try to fit the pieces together

But perfection is my enemy

And my own, I’m so clumsy

But on your shoulders I can see

I’m free to be me

In the freeing, peaceful, awesome love of Jesus Christ, we are free to be ourselves. Free to write imperfectly, dance crazily, and love wholeheartedly. And that is news worth celebrating.

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