From the Basement

July 20, 2010

Curls, Control, & Contentment: An Essay on Faith

I wrote this back in January (hence the references to grad school), but I really needed to read it today. How awesome is it when God uses us to remind ourselves of His goodness and mercy…

~*~

I’m currently sitting at my aunt’s office desk, and for some inexplicable reason I have a bottle of hairspray next to me. It is extreme hold hairspray. It literally says that. Extreme. It is beyond strong, beyond maximum – extreme (Aussie Instant Freeze). On the front, it says that it “arrests your style.” Seriously? My hair is under arrest! That is the level to which I’ve resorted in order to feel like I’m in control.

Let’s back up. In 7th grade, I cut my budding curls down to a pixie cut. As in, early 1990s Winona Ryder short. My hair, which went from straight to curly during those peachy puberty years, absolutely terrified me. I had no confidence in my ability to manage my curls. So I cut them off until I was ready to grow them back out, ready to deal with them (it took a year).

This is me in a nutshell. I was so scared of this unruly thing in my life (it just so happened to be growing on my head), that I cut it off and kept it at a distance until I was ready to let it back into my life, where I timidly began to think about creative ways to manage it. I am now to the point where I’m perfectly comfortable letting my three (maybe four) day hair be shown in public – or perhaps that’s senioritis attacking my personal hygiene. Who knows.

At the root of this fear is a lack of confidence. I didn’t have confidence in what I was given. I also didn’t have confidence in my ability to manage the situation. But really, I didn’t have confidence in myself (or my Creator). We control-freaks hold things with a death grip, terrified that letting go means falling into the unknown – into the painful truth that we don’t control nearly as much as we think we do. The world does not revolve around our plans and schedules, wants and desires. There are plenty of things that are absolutely outside of our control, and we have to learn to accept that. Easier said than done. I for one am so not there yet, but it’s where my heart wants to be, and I think that counts for something.

As graduating seniors, we are concerned with getting a job, getting into graduate school – things that are decidedly outside of our control. Our conversations abound with negative prophecies and heart-heavy predictions. There are so many unknown factors, things that can have absolutely nothing to do with us – budgets, hiring cuts, smaller acceptance rates. Maybe… maybe… maybe… We love to torture ourselves with fantasies of worst-case scenarios. And to what end? Imagining the future only leads to heartache. It distracts us from the present as well as from the promises of our faith. As C.S. Lewis said, the future is the thing that is least like eternity. When it comes down to it, dwelling on the future merely feeds my lust for control.

It helps to get perspective, and that can come from both good and bad situations. I most recently got a reality-check from the latter. I met a friend for lunch the other day. That morning, I’d completed yet another application and for some reason, the anxiety was shooting through the roof, to the point where I ended up running to the toilet. Proof that all those negative anxieties and fantasies we indulge in affect our bodies.

So I met my friend for lunch. My news – applications (what else is new?). Her news – her cousin, who is around our age, was diagnosed with cancer. Talk about perspective. Now, this is not one of those “it can always be worse” exhortations – that’s not a productive method of coping. Rather, that lunch was a reminder. Even though there is the fundamental difference that I invited my situation and her cousin did not, life remains a series of unknowns for us both and, indeed, for everyone. It takes a lot of faith to get through each day.

The unknowns can bad things we don’t expect. Illness. The death of a loved one. A breakup, a divorce. Arrest. And then they can be things that we do – like knowing we’ll hear back, one way or the other, from prospective jobs, internships, schools. Getting to hold a newborn baby. Going home for Christmas to find the house chock-full of treats baked in anticipation of your arrival. And then, wow, there are the genuine surprises – like meeting the right person at the right time or unexpectedly finding a way to pay for something you’ve needed. The fun chances, the joyful surprises – these happen all around us, too!

We forget that it’s not our ability to predict or expect outcomes that matters. None of us have that kind of foresight. It’s how we handle those outcomes, those journeys. It comes down to having confidence in yourself and not in your trappings or expectations. It’s about trusting who you are. Because we each have worth, we each have value, and no matter what situation we are placed in, those things are sure.

As believers, we are the beloved of Christ, and it is in His eyes that we are made whole and complete. When we find our identity in Him – when we know that Jesus is at our side and that He is our Abba Father who is for us, offering the gifts of peace and joy and grace and love – when we can rest in His loving arms and say “come what may” because all things work to the good of those who love Him who have been called according to His purpose – when we know that if our earthly parents love us and want to give us good gifts, how much more does He want to give! – when we know these things and can rest in them, there is confidence. There is peace. There is light. And it is that light in a difficult situation, that peace that surpasses all understanding – those are the things that mark us as His.

I want more peace. I want to radiate joy and contentment, not anxiety and fear. I have nothing to be afraid of. Nothing! He has hedged me behind and before, and as long as I just crawl up into His lap and remember that, first and foremost, I am a daughter of the King, all is good. Because life with him is good.

I’m reminded of the Niebuhr prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The good news is that He gives us serenity, courage, and wisdom. All we have to do is ask. We should consistently turn our situations over to Him in prayer, but so too should we ask for the character and the mindset that will alter how we see the situation. More righteousness. More Christlikeness – more like Christ.

Christ is perfect love, and perfect love casts out all fear. Lately, my fear has been crowding out my excitement. I don’t always feel like I can choose excitement, and that’s partly due to my internalization of the world telling me that a good student and an ambitious individual should be worrisome, anxious, nervous for their future. But why on earth am I taking their advice? I have EVERY reason to be excited right now. Every reason to have faith that all will work to the good. I rebuke the words that tell me that sitting around every day nervously checking my email and mailbox is a proper way to manage my time. Like my curls, I have no control over what’s growing right now.

Another issue at play here is waiting. Waiting is a blessed time, truly. In the Bible (and in life), it’s a time of preparation. Of prayerful supplication. Of purification. In short, waiting is a process to be embraced.

And I want to embrace this time: the waiting, the joy, and the knowledge that come what may, my Abba has got me on His lap and He’s saying “Wait for what I do next – I’ve got so many wonderful things planned for you! You’re going to love how I have you do My work, the opportunities to love people, to reach people – you’re going to love it, you’re just going to love it.” I want to shuck fear off of me, to slither out of that skin of anxiety and worry, to just be joy. I want that. And as long as my eyes are focused on my Abba, the joy is for the taking.

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April 13, 2010

Day One

Filed under: Faith,Grad School,Graduating — jeannablue @ 9:48 pm
Tags: , , ,

This isn’t Day One from the basement, but it’s Day One of this blog. Here goes nothin’.

In the interest of using good manners, even online (especially online), I’ll introduce myself. I’m the girl downstairs reporting from the basement – my mother’s basement that is. Her basement is located in the backwoods of northern Wisconsin, a lovely property that butts up against the woods and somehow got absorbed into a subdivision that sprang up years after this house was here. The reason for my being in backwater Wisconsin is that I’ve completed my classes for this semester. I’m a college senior – was a college senior? – and I’m graduating this May from a notable liberal arts college with absolutely no idea what is going to happen next.

How does a Type A, oldest child, overachieving student end up in her mother’s basement? Pretty darn easily. Let’s just say that I envisioned a different outcome for myself when I applied for Ph.D. track programs this last fall. I anticipated one, maybe two acceptances – that seemed par for the course (or so my professors said). However, in the middle of March, I found out that I would not in fact be attending graduate school this fall.

“Bummer” is probably the best way of appropriately expressing how I felt.

Truth is, by the time the twelfth rejection came around, I was realizing that I had rushed myself. In the midst of juggling class, relationships, and various projects, I had let something slip: the brutal honesty that comes with self-examination. I hadn’t considered the hard questions: what if you don’t go to school this next year? What is your identity in? Where does your confidence come from?  A few months later, I turned around – ten pounds heavier with twelve rejection letters in hand – and finally sat down with a pen and paper, sifting through the rubble in the hopes of finding a treasure.

What if I don’t go to school this fall? I write. I read. I do something that will help pay for student loans.

In what do I place my identity? I am a daughter of God, beloved of Christ. That is an eternal identity, an eternal inheritance. Unfathomable, but equally unchangeable.

Where does my confidence come from? It should come from God and knowledge that he has hedged me behind and before. But I’m working on that. Trust is hard.

When our lives look like a fuzzy TV, God is still in control. He always was, he is now, and all things truly work to the good of those who love Him who are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28).

In the midst of having my trappings and expectations collapse, I realized that I had not surrendered my dreams of graduate school to the one who put the stars in the sky. I had been consumed by the need to meet my own expectations, to impress others, to have a good response when people asked the ever-terrifying question, “What are you doing next year?”

(Minor aside: that question is the bane of every college senior’s existence, even if they have plans for next year, and asking it will do nothing more than induce heart palpitations. So consider their health and ask a different question – and “And what do you plan to do with [your random liberal arts] major” isn’t much better.)

All this to say, I’ve gone from being the Girl with the Plan to the Girl with No Plan. And I’m slowly coming to realize that that is an okay place to be. His love is enough to sustain me.

I’m job hunting, but I want to take this year to get to know myself again and – more importantly – to rest in the arms of my Creator and enjoy taking life slowly. I believe that everything happens for a reason, and that something good will come of this time. This is the blog I’m going to keep on that journey. It may attract some readers; it may not. Regardless, it is my goal to post one thing a day. It may be a meditation or a link to a funny story or an encouragement or a scripture. Who knows? I just want to write and listen. Write and listen.

Write.

And listen.

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