From the Basement

June 6, 2010

Job Update (a.k.a. I hate “selling myself”)

Good news on the job front: I’m now working with a search/headhunting firm. Excellent! I completed the application for their firm, complete with two essays, and now that I’ve been accepted as a candidate, I need to write a personal statement and answer questions to help the people working with me figure out where I’d best be placed.

The process is going very well, but I’ve got some writing anxiety. Most of it is focused on the personal statement but, in classic procrastination form, I’ve decided to channel the rest of it onto the last of the “get to know you” questions –

Please tell us something that you feel is unique about yourself.

I hate this kind of question.

First off, the word “unique,” to me, means one of a kind. Totally original. Unusual. But in employment speak, they’re basically (probably?) asking, what are your best qualities, what do you do well that most other people don’t.

I’m a quick learner, but plenty of people are. I have great communication skills – but that’s not rare, either. I’m positive and enthusiastic – again, so are other people. My boyfriend suggested stating how I integrate my love of lit into many aspects of my life, but I don’t know how “professional” to go. The obvious answer, of course, is I’m a triple major – let me tell you about how I integrate my disciplines … only that doesn’t work, either (besides, integrate is a transitive verb and it doesn’t work in that sentence).

I would really, really like to answer that question with the following:

  1. I have freaking awesome curly hair. Honest to goodness, it does not look like a lot of other curly heads, and I love it.
  2. I can burp on command … better than my boyfriend.

…  so: back to square one.

My mom is an HR goddess, which comes in handy when I’m preparing to interview. I cannot think of another mom who can bring up half a dozen books on interviewing from her business bookshelf and start grilling you and evaluating your answers (and that’s just the warm-up). And so, via my mother, I know that half the reason this question is asked is because employers want to see how you answer it. That is to say, what I think is unique about me says something. Why did I choose that particular quality?

Oh, I could always say that I own every Holiday/Celebration Barbie ornament ever released by Hallmark!

What’s frustrating is that I know I’m getting hung up on this question because I’m freaking terrified of the personal statement. I do not like personal statements.

So that’s my job update. I just have to get over this aversion to selling myself, because if I can’t sell myself, I won’t get hired.

As my dad would say in all his military wisdom, “Nothin’ to it but to do it.” I just have to suck it up, bite the bullet, and remember that employment outweighs the awkwardness of the interview process.

So … here goes nothin’. Again.

Advertisements

April 30, 2010

Freedom & Family

It is the greatest longing of my heart to walk every day fully in the loving freedom that Christ so generously gives. Freedom to love, freedom to write, freedom to express, freedom to move, freedom to live without condemnation. For there is no condemnation for those who walk in Christ Jesus – who the son sets free is free indeed! His love and mercy covers all of our sin; he offers us the chance to come cleanly before God.

It’s such an awesome gift. I have a hard time wrapping my head around it, but I’m grateful for it. The struggle – mine, at least – is living it out day by day.

There are a lot of things in this world that can cramp the freedom that Jesus gives. Fear, anger, loneliness, bitterness, mistrust, anxiety, and a variety of other sins can leave us feeling less than free – we walk in the shadow of sin rather than the shadow of His wing. And that is no place for anyone to walk. But sometimes, those shadows feel so powerful.

I think one of the most difficult shadows we can live under is that of our family, be it our family history, our past mistakes, our family members’ past mistakes, or just difficulties in general. Heck, it could even be under the pressure of having to live up to your family! And for every Cleaver family, I bet you that any one of us can point to dozens and dozens of “broken homes” and, of course, the people who come from them.

Quick aside: I’ve never much liked the term “broken homes.” First off, it sounds like it can’t be fixed. And I don’t like that. Love covers a multitude of sins, and our faith guarantees us a redeeming love, a redeeming power – the love that can cast out bitterness and brokenness, love that can heal. So I don’t much care for the term “broken home.” Also, there’s the simple fact that it puts homes in a binary opposition: they’re either broken or whole, and it seems to be a naive assumption that there’s such thing as a totally-broken or totally-whole home. As an old pastor of mine once said, “Everybody’s walking on broken floors.” Everybody – even the Cleavers – has some issue they have dealt with or are dealing with that has affected their family. So no, I don’t much care for the word “broken” in this application, but seeing as it’s so prevalent in our culture, you all get what I mean when I say it.

This was one of my greatest spiritual struggles during my freshman year of college. I was away from my family for the first time, away from the pain and the fights and the grievances. Basically, I felt a lot of guilt: guilt and pain at being separated from my then-15-year-old sister, who was still in the middle of everything; guilt for not being able to be there for my mom, as I had been for so many years; and guilt for feeling, above all, a sense of relief and freedom, that I was finally out from under my parents’ roof.

But I continued to carry my family’s burdens with me. I’d been carrying them for so long that it was normal. I had lengthy conversations with my mom, listening to her, and there was one particularly vitriolic argument I had with my dad on the phone. My sister started to say things like, “You don’t understand. You don’t live here anymore.” And all the while, I was trying to form a new life with new habits, better habits, cleaner habits. But I was still parked firmly under my family’s shadow. Even away from them, I did not feel free. I was relieved, yes, but not free.

During second semester, God started to pull out all the stops. There were these tiny study booths at the end of the hall (we called ’em phone booths since people only used them to talk on the phone). One night, I was in a phone booth with my friend Laura, a source of great spiritual strength and comfort, and I was bawling my eyes out about my family, railing on about abuse and addiction and awful marriages and all those things I was sure I was never going to get away from. I can’t remember our whole conversation, but I do remember that at one point, she looked me square in the eye and said, “God is bigger than family history.”

It felt like a slap in the face, but that was one of the first moments where I remember being forced to reckon with the fact that God is bigger, and that if I wasn’t letting him in, that meant that I didn’t think he was who he said he was. It meant I was proud. It meant I was refusing healing from Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals. … Ouch.

Soon after, I was talking with a senior, Jessika, who really mentored me that year. She gave me a copy of Do You Think I’m Beautiful? by Angela Thomas. I’ve mentioned the book in this blog before, and I even think I mentioned the thing that most spoke to me. Her discussion of our sacks of ashes – how we carry those sacks around for so long, bent over so far, not knowing what way is up, just knowing that we’re very, very comfortable carrying it around. I realized the extent to which I’d been carrying my family’s ashes around and that – wow – I didn’t have to. Those burdens can be laid at Christ’s feet, a fact I knew but hadn’t grasped.

And then the women’s bible study went to the Women of Faith conference, and that year’s theme was Amazing Freedom. go figure. So yes – God did wonders in my life that semester. Wonders that started me on the path to freedom.

Four years later, I have been freed in so many ways, but, living at home, I find myself in a different struggle. It’s the struggle of having had everything change – your perspective as well as the family itself (divorce) – and yet still being surrounded by… is the ghosts of yesteryear too Dickensian? Without going into too much detail, it’s become a struggle for me to try and love on my family and remain free from taking on the burdens. Whenever I do, fights happen. And there have been fights this month, with my parents and my sister. I’m trying to figure out how to live with them, love them, and move forward without falling into those old traps, those old places where I’d pick up a sack of mom’s and a sack of dad’s and start walking with it.

I wrote recently on the struggle to be honest in my writing – how to cull details and themes from my childhood and adolescence without causing pain to my family. A part of me is very afraid of hurting them, upsetting them.

But I can’t go back under that shadow. I love my family, but I love my Creator more. And He loves my family so much! I’m learning how to honor and respect my parents (perhaps for the first time, honestly) and how to love my sister while remaining free – free from what they think of me, free from their opinion, free even from their own personal struggles. I cannot take on their pain. I can only deal with mine, and the best way to do that is to lay it all before the throne of Jesus and say “Here! Take it! I don’t want it!”

And then he takes it, and he gives beauty for ashes. How cool is that? How blessed we are to have such a loving, loving God!

It seems that the sources of struggle in our lives can evolve in their nature just as we mature and evolve in our faith. The good news is that Jesus is right there with us – and who the Son sets free is free indeed. Freedom, beauty, joy, contentment, peace … I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

April 15, 2010

How To Love My Mom 101

Most people say that their relationships with their parents improve once they become adults. I’m willing to bet that many of those folks have not lived with their parents for a long duration of time since they first moved out of the house.

Living as an adult with your parent for the first time has a whole new set of challenges, especially when you don’t know how long the arrangement is going to last (a.k.a. not a “home during summer” sort of thing). You have to learn how to communicate again – how to break down old patterns and reconstruct new ones. At least, that’s what my mom and I are currently working on.

Three weeks ago, I came home from college, finished with class. I was exhausted but grateful that I had a safe place to rest. There are plenty of people who cannot “go home again”; they may be unwelcome or they may no longer have a home. I am blessed to have two parents, each in their own state, who assured me that I could come back for as long as I needed. I envisioned long, leisurely days job hunting but also reading, writing, catching up with friends…

…You could say that the honeymoon is over. I’ve been realizing that my mom and I had very, very different expectations of what my coming home looked like. There had been hints over these last few weeks, such as her frustration that I’d not yet unpacked my room. But this week, there were several bang-up, freak-out confrontations. This is not typical for us.

Mom and I sat down to have a calm conversation this evening to work things out and, curiously enough, our conversation centered on love languages and definitions of success. Love languages (so labeled by the author Gary Chapman) determine how we give and receive love. The five love languages are quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, physical touch, and gifts. I knew that my mom’s main love language was physical touch (so I try to hug her as much as possible), but what I started to realize today was that she is also really big on acts of service. So when I don’t do the dishes, she feels disrespected. When I help her, she feels loved. After a stressful day at work, my mom wants to come home to a clean, peaceful house. When it’s messy, well… there’s a reason she occasionally puts her Wicked Witch of the West magnet on the fridge.

Today’s Realization #1: Doing the dishes is not about pleasing my mom. It’s about loving her.

I do not need to have a clean house in order to feel peaceful or loved. But I do need my mom to watch her words and to communicate love, acceptance, and a nonjudgmental attitude. One of my primary love languages is words of affirmation, which basically means that if someone says “We need to talk” or approaches me in a negative, critical way, I either:

a) go through the roof

or

b) completely check out.

PCP was made for people like me, people for whom, as Pastor Danny Silk says, “The tongue has the power of life and death; they experience words but they more importantly experience [words as] energy.” And lately, my mom’s pointed questions about job hunting, anger at graduate programs for not accepting me, and frustration over the messy house have been sending me through the roof. I need her to communicate something like this:

You are welcome in my house. I love you. Even though finances are difficult, I will work with you on this. I respect your need to seek work as you see fit. I will not ask you about the job hunt. I will not worry. I will trust you. I will trust God.

Today’s Realization #2: Words of affirmation is actually one of my love languages.

(I had not thought this before. Weird.)

Throughout the course of our conversation, we were able to affirm to the other that they were loved. We both had been feeling unloved. My lack of attention to the house and her critical questions about work had been rubbing the recipient entirely the wrong way. It’s like trying to brush a cat and go against the grain of the fur.

I was also able to establish with my mom what I perceive as a successful day. I perceived that she wanted me to be cleaning and job hunting, and that if I didn’t do those things, than I was a lazy bum. (She told me that no, she didn’t define those things as success for The Girl Downstairs.) I shared that my definition of personal success is: have I created something today? Am I spiritually full? Have I communicated with people?

We established that Mom would start making a list of things for me to do around the house. She would like it if I just noticed, but I told her that unless the counter is full of dishes, I’m pretty much fine. As anyone who has ever visited me knows, keeping a clean house (or dorm room) is not my strong suit. I am more than content to let the dishes and dirty clothes pile up for weeks. And then, one day, I will say “I’m going to clean,” and then I will go all out and do all the dishes and clean all the surfaces and vacuum the rug and pick up my dirty clothes and wouldn’t you know, it looks like Glinda the Good Witch has visited. (Glinda or Mr. Clean. It’s a toss up.)

Today’s Realization #3: More like a reminder… that my perceptions are not always right and that respectful communication is absolutely essential to successfully living with someone, no matter the nature of the relationship.

How often do we neglect to communicate love, joy, and peace to our family members? I tell my mom that I want to communicate with my friends daily, only to hear her respond that she feels pretty low on the totem poll. She doesn’t feel that I value communication with her. I tell her she’s a given, but –

Are we excused from demonstrating love to the people who are “givens”? Who love us when we are complete screw ups? Who went through ___ hours of labor to bring us into this world? Who (fill in the blank)?

No, we are not. I know that I take my family members for granted. Hugely for granted. I tell my friends I love them, I ask how they are, I inquire about ongoing issues, but my family? I’m inattentive in comparison. And that’s something that needs to change.

So this is me, recording that I want to change it. I want to show my mom I love her every day. Not because it’s the “Christian” thing to do or the “right” thing to do (even though it is).

Simply, because I love her.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.