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.

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October 15, 2010

In praise of the Great Restorer, the Giver of Rest

God works in mysterious ways. He’s used a job offer – the thing I wanted, prayed for, desired for months on end – to lead me back to Him.

I’m not taking the job, and that is incredibly freeing. I’m declining for aforementioned reasons – budget and timeline issues – but, more importantly, because there are things happening here, where I am, that lead me to believe this is what He has for me. Worldly wisdom says take a job, any job. Worldly wisdom says it’s necessary to live independently.

But living with my parents, healing my relationships with them, releasing the baggage from the divorce – this is one of the healthiest steps I can take for my marriage.

Living at home, saving money, putting it aside for the early days of marriage, for our first month’s rent, for an emergency savings fund – this is an investment in my marriage.

I want to volunteer. I want to be donating money and tithing. My prayer tonight is Lord, bring me to you. Please let me serve you – for the first time in months… years?… this is the prayer. Where can you best use me? I don’t think it’s at the place where I was offered the job, where an “ideal” employee was described as someone who burns the candle at both ends, a single person working tirelessly into the night.

I had a wonderful conversation tonight with my friend Kayla, a great blessing who is willing to act as a sounding board for my many questions and curvaceous conversations (in that thoughts tend to twist and turn in unusual directions to get to their point).

There are changes that need to happen in my life re: discipline with body, mind, and soul… but God has me… this is where He’s put me, for some reason… for His reason, for His glory, ever for His glory.

The events of the last few months defy worldly wisdom. The decision to turn down a full-time job defies worldly wisdom. Abba, I beg your peace and strength. I pray against weakness and fear and anxiety. You will provide. In all things, you provide. You are Jehovah Jireh but also Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals, and it is your mission to heal and restore your people to yourself that you may be glorified and we may be filled with the joy that comes in knowing you. Where is the joy? Follow the joy. While there are opportunities to pursue my calling, I will not relent. I do not want to settle for anything less than Your very best, and I know that Your very best does not necessarily come with a hefty paycheck and a worldly definition of success. It does not necessarily come with independence, a car, an apartment, etc. Your provision and hope come in unusual ways – but they come; that is the promise, that is the everlasting promise.

“But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God.” 2 Corinthians 1:9

“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

Today, my reading in Angela Thomas’ Do You Know Who I Am? was in the “Do You Know I Am Worn Out? He Does Not Grow Weary” chapter. How fitting. After last night’s emotional exhaustion followed by today’s confusion, worry, and fear, I was feeling very worn out. Thomas opens the chapter by quoting Beatrix Potter’s The Tailor of Gloucester: “I am worn to a raveling.” How my body collapsed in exhausted understanding upon reading that line. I am worn to a raveling. Oh, I am. The chapter’s title fit today: do you know I am worn out, Lord? Do you know I feel too tired to make any decision?

But Thomas reminds us that God’s character is self-sustaining (69). He does not grow weary; indeed, he provides the rest we so desperately seek.

“But those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.” – Isaiah 40:31

Oh, how I long to run and not grow weary! Today, the longing to serve the Lord, loving people, is at the forefront of my desire. Today, the desire for a “good” job is secondary. A job that will provide for my present needs and help store up for my fiance’s and my future – yes. But something that will serve a higher purpose. His purpose. Let today’s rest sustain into tomorrow.

Lord, let me rest in you. I pray against those spirits of anxiety and fear that so seek to take root in my heart. You have me right where you want me. And sometimes, as Kayla said tonight, we are challenged to have the courage to remain where we are – ever pushing towards the goal, our eyes unwavering in their focus on their Creator, ignoring the world’s distractions, trusting in the only One who both offers and renews our hope.

Thomas puts it beautifully: “A hope that is firmly centered on the Lord renews our strength” (70). How true. My body wearies, my mind grows faint, my emotions fluctuate, and the world itself is always spinning, but He remains constant, the same yesterday, today, and forever, an ever-replenished spring of healing, restorative water. He does not grow weary. He provides the comfort and love and rest we so desperately seek. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

October 14, 2010

“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” & contemplating job offers

First, let me apologize… give a disclaimer… okay, my fiancé’s voice is going through my head: stop apologizing!

Okay, so I guess what I want to say is, thank you. Thank you for reading, my dear friends, and supporting me. This blog is not neatly edited like chapters from a book or even snippets from a professional blog. It’s composed of my thoughts, imperfect and human that they are, inevitably affected by my own perception, bias, worldview. That doesn’t make them any less honest or any less real, but it does mean that you’re pretty much reading whatever my fingers throw at my poor Mac, without the benefit of an editorial eye.

So, thank you again for reading and putting up with The Craziness that is this unedited material. It’s raw, it’s passionate, it’s honest, and hopefully it makes you think about some area of your own life. Or, at the very least, laugh a little at mine. *smile

I feel a need to do a sort of Q&A with myself about this job (yep, we’re still talking about the job offer). Reason being, I want to challenge myself regarding underlying reasons why I may be disinclined to take the job. As you saw in the last post, there are plenty of (what I think are) viable reasons to say no, e.g. time, expectation, and budget, but let’s really dig in here.

First off is the question of laziness. This has been… I’d call it a struggle, except it really hasn’t been. Over the last few months, I’ve gained weight and been a slouch, falling out of workout habits, overeating, and otherwise exercising a decided lack of discipline in my life.

So, for example, part of my trepidation about the job is because I realized that a move and learning a new job where you’re expected to put in night and weekend hours is possibly going to take more time than I’m able to give. The thing is, that means that my grad school applications might not get finished – because they’ve really yet to be begun. I haven’t finished the books I’m using for the writing sample, let alone started it, and I’m still in brainstorming mode for my statements of purpose. (Just because I got my apps in under the wire last year doesn’t mean I want to do that this year, and anyway, look how that turned out.) So I’m feeling convicted about my laziness in grad school apps and how I’m studdenly feeling convicted re: my lack of good stewardship with time, and how does a desire to “make up” time affect my disinclination to take a job where I wouldn’t have that “make up” time? (Make sense? Probably not. That’s okay.)

Moving would be work. The job would be a lot of work, which would be okay but it’s not my priority right now (grad school apps are) – but then I look at my schedule and say, girl, you’re not disciplined enough to have finished those by now anyway!

Okay: must not beat self up. Must not beat self up.

Also, perhaps there is financial laziness. Really, I’d be working so that I could live independently (working to keep myself in shelter, food, and gas money – seriously), as there’s very little that I’d be able to save over those months. But I’d get the experience of budgeting, etc. Is it lazy to desire to stay here where, because of living at home, I would be able to save more and have to budget less? Is laziness a part of the motivating factor?

There has to be a change in my lifestyle for the better regardless of whether I take this job. I have, have, HAVE to crack down on grad school apps and, frankly, exercising. I’m getting married in 10 months and it’d be nice to have my fiancé actually see a good looking naked woman on our wedding night vs. a flabby one. Harsh? Yeah, and I guarantee he will kill me for writing that since he thinks I look beautiful anyway, but there’s the rub in itself – I need to start exercising more and changing my body for me and my own self-image, which is currently in the toilet.

I have slid into a crazy-undisciplined life, and that needs to stop, regardless.

To kind of explain all this random self-examination and weird emotion, let me tell you about the week so far. I gave this job over to God, expecting of course He’d not offer it to me (thereby preventing all this rumination), and I’d also previously said “God, please work our wedding budget out” because I was so exhausted over it. Turns out the wedding budget we’ve been working on with the most promising location is still double what we can afford. So last night was fraught with anger and tears and today has been crazy emotional, and right now God is reminding me that turning things over to Him actually means that they get turned over to Him, and that working things to the good doesn’t necessarily mean to my definition of good (who knew?). I knew this, you know, with grad school apps last year and unemployment, etc., but for some reason, I was thinking that job stuff and wedding stuff would just work out this month and that I’d have yet another happy reason to praise God, that He’d bring me through the trial of yet another job failure and the triumph of FINALLY having a wedding budget we can afford.

~repeats to self~ He’s still good. He’s still good. He’s still good. He still keeps His promises. He will provide. He knows what He’s doing. He’s allowing these things to happen.

My fears surrounding money are, honestly, the biggest things tainting my reactions to the job and to the wedding budget falling flat on its face. I cannot even begin to describe how much money is a motivating factor in almost everything I do and plan. I am worried about not having enough… constantly. Our wedding budget has been entirely based on fear of not being able to afford more. On the one hand, I am driven by a desire to be realistic and to be a wise steward of funds and not spend what I don’t have (and not take jobs that will not allow for wise financial decisions). But at the same time, I know that ultimately it is not dependent on me… it’s all on God. Our wedding budget, how we’ll pay for grad school apps, how our families will pay for a wedding… God’s gotta work this out, because you guys, I am so afraid and freaked out and flailing right now it’s not even funny. Classic first-born. Organized to a fault, needing to be in control, always concerned about where everything’s going to come from and how things will come together.

This is just me being honest. It’s raw and unedited and imperfect and is at best encouraging and at worst self-centered…

I am reminded right now of how entirely dependent I am on God. For everything. I freak out about money and I let worldly wisdom dictate my decisions and I just want him to work everything out for me so that I don’t have to work any of it out on my own. Times like these, I feel like the height of laziness, self-centeredness, and Laodicea-esque warmth. Like I’m saying “God I trust you!” but I’m feeling “Oh [insert expletive here].” Seriously, that’s just where it is right now.

I love how in Angela Thomas’ books, she relays her own experience but scripture and encouragement and lessons for others are always at the forefront of the chapters. Then I come and read my blog and feel like, wow, I am so not there yet – notice how many times the word “I” is used. ~cringe~ So often I am caught in the whirlwind of Me Me Me that I can’t even lift my head to look out at You and wonder what you’re going through. And I’m sorry for that. Something for the Lord to work in me in the coming years.

I’ve probably referenced this before, but one of my favorite verses in all scripture is “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). That is so honest. It’s so true. So where I’m at. And I’m guessing you’ve been there, too – desperately wanting to cling to the promise of God and yet feeling so convicted in how very selfish, doubting, and human you can be, yet remembering that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.

God, why can’t you make it easy? – and other concerns about job offers

I have a job offer for a full-time position in higher education. I had a campus interview earlier this week and got an offer today – so, quite the whirlwind.

Thing is, I don’t feel as if, in good conscience, I can take this job. I prayed and prayed and asked God, please make this easy. Please don’t let me get the offer. Because see, my head says, TAKE THE JOB. It’s full-time! Benefits! Moving away from Mom and Dad! Why on earth would you not take it? (There are actually a few valid reasons.)

I’m frustrated. I feel as if the job hunt has gone on too long for relocating to be, at this point, a financially viable decision. Also, the college is in a situation whereby they would really want me to be there for at least a few years (this is my impression, not their words). There are a few pertinent points here:

  1. I’m getting married early next August
  2. We’re (hopefully) heading to grad school immediately thereafter
  3. Even if we don’t get into grad school, chances of us relocating to a major metro area are very high

Right now, it’s the middle of October. Relocating several states away to a rural area, buying a car (something I can’t afford now, something my future husband and I won’t be able to afford in grad school – and for this position it’s necessary), and living on a salary that, while decent for entry level, leaves me with little disposable income to save for grad school applications, the wedding, and early married life… well, you see my point.

I’ve been seriously job-hunting since June, and finally I have an offer… and it’s not viable. It’s October, and two things have changed since June: I decided to reapply to grad school and, more importantly, I’m engaged, which means no matter what happens with the future, my fiancé and I will be relocating in approximately 10 months.

The bigger reason, of course, is that of feeling – and knowing – that they are expecting far more of a time commitment than I can give. The school is in a major overhaul re: administration, enrollment, etc. – they are in the early stages of rebuilding, really, so this is a position that’s in it for the long haul. And by the time I relocated, I’d only be there for 9 months… or, more specifically, 7, since it’s just good etiquette to leave the position by June so as to allow the college time to find you a replacement in time for the crazy travel season that comes in the fall.

Now, I did not know how dire the straits were at this school before the campus interview. So that was a very good thing, interviewing and learning how they are expecting a much more substantial time commitment than I am able to give. Hence why buying a car, relocating, and starting this position only to leave in just over half a year is not seeming like a good idea. But that doesn’t change the fact that the interview was a fantastic experience, and I’m glad I did it.

This situation has forced me to seriously look at pros/cons and realize – oh my goodness – that I would be okay living at home through May of next summer, at which point I would hopefully have a place in a summer teaching program for June/July.

I wish God made decisions like this easy. I wish they hadn’t offered me the job, because that would be the easy route, versus being forced to look at budgets, etc. As my mom said, “God’s making you use the brain He gave you.” As my dad would say, “Why the hell wouldn’t you take a job – any job – right now?” (They’re very different people.) But at this point, waitressing downtown would be a better fit for me, financially and otherwise. Not to mention the two second-semester-only teaching jobs I recently applied for at private schools in the area (which would be a brilliant fit for both my interests and personal timeline).

I’ve made up my mind in my heart, as it were, and my heart – oh you guys, it’s just not in it at all. But in a time of rampant unemployment, when so many college grads are barely making it in survival jobs… in such a time as this, when I have an actual full-time amazing entry-level job opportunity, it seems stupid not to take it.

But so too am I aware that this is one of those times when God says, “There are two doors – pick one. I’ll be with you either way. I will provide for you.” As my “big sister” says, if you are walking in His will, you are going to stay in His will no matter what door you go through. He is there, He is with you, He will not leave you, He will provide for you… but sometimes, you just need to decide what to do.

Freewill can be a real… you know what I’m sayin’.

I don’t presume that I can plan my life better than God can. I can’t. If the last few months have taught me anything, it’s that my abilities/worldly opportunities/connections/networking, etc. – none of that counts for anything if God doesn’t allow it to happen. And now God is allowing me a choice of this job – a belated (in my view, though not His) answer to my frantic prayers from early summer “Please get me out of my mom’s/dad’s house!” I know His timing is perfect and that there’s a reason He’s allowed this offer to come before me at this moment.

I’m not saying anything about the job yet… not turning it down and not taking it… I want to pray, I want to wait on God some more in a less tantrum-like way, because right now the frustration is so intense and the desire for an easy road and the job I really want (teaching English at a local private school next semester as a leave replacement) is so strong… there’s so much cloudiness, so much pride, so much fear, so much worry about money and budgeting and being able to save. There’s the tension of the desire to be a wise steward of money and thoughtfully consider finances while still trusting God and knowing that His provision supercedes every human endeavor. The anonymous $100 bill tucked in an envelope for a specific need has happened to me (among many other wondrous things). He really is Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides. He has always provided in the past, He’s providing right now, and He will provide in the future.

Right now, I just need to make a decision and trust that He’s going to be there to catch me one way or the other.

“Wait on the Lord;

Be of good courage,

And he shall strengthen your heart;

Wait, I say, on the Lord!” — Psalm 27:14

EDIT: On the “Recommended Reading” sidebar, there’s a blog called “Thoughts for Only You,” which is the writing haven of my big sister (in heart and spirit, if not in blood). A huge blessing of the interview this week was that I was able to tack on time with her at the end of the trip. Anyhow, yesterday she wrote about my favorite verse in Proverbs 31, which is verse 25: “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she laughs at the days to come.” Oh, what an encouragement – that a woman after God’s own heart can laugh at the days to come…

September 18, 2010

The Very Secret Diary of the Girl Downstairs, who is not Bridget Jones

Filed under: Culture — jeannablue @ 4:59 am
Tags: , , ,

# jobs applied to this week: 22. V. good! # typos found on cover letters and resumes: 2 that were on every bloody effing piece of paper. V. embarrassing. # interview offers: 0. V. bad. Probably due to grammatical errors. Or maybe self-recrimination is sinking in? Lbs coffee consumed: many. # shoes purchased: 2, or 4, if counted individually. V. cute and snazzy. Cuteness factor perhaps increased by fact that have been w/o black flats for months and months, and so perception is altered. Level of caring about altered perception: zilch.

September 15, 2010

On Pride, Self Pity, & Grace

(So after that last post, I started freewriting, and I figured hey, let’s just jump into my random thought process and see where it goes.)

I long for human recognition – it makes me feel like my life is worth something. Like people have noticed. Like they’ve cared. Like they were able to take something valuable away. Times like these, my life doesn’t feel like it’s worth anything.

That’s self-pity, I know. In my head, I know that Jesus loves me, that grace is free, that as that wonderful Third Day song goes, “you just call my name and I’ll be there.” In my head, I know those things. My heart is a different matter. My heart is traitorous, vacillating, easily swayed.

I have not yet learned humility. I don’t know how to be confident and hopeful while still being okay if I fail. Either I’m invincible or I’m in the land of self-pity. These days, the latter has become my coffeeshop of choice.

I don’t know how to have confidence in my own abilities. Thank God my mom reads over my cover letters because I do not trust one word I write.

The response to this is, we’re not supposed to have confidence in our own abilities. We’re supposed to have confidence in God, who gave us our abilities for a reason. Again, in my head, I know that to be true. The fact is, though, I still think I can imagine a better future for myself than God can. I’m not willing to trust him. Oh, there are days when I do, but so too are there days when it feels like darkness is all around.

Let me tell you, when you sit alone day in and day out for months on end, when it’s just you and your laptop searching for jobs for hours at a time, compulsively checking email, trying not to obsess about the future… you become acutely aware of how many times in a day you sway from Trust to Fear.

I have become acutely aware of my failings in this department. And acute is a great word so don’t accuse me of overusing it. Acute means sharp or severe – it’s brief and staggering, as opposed to chronic. It’s most often used to contextualize types of grief, sorrow, and pain – it’s the right word to describe the pain when you go from a spiritual high to spiraling downward in a matter of minutes.

When it’s just you in the silence, and you don’t have class, work, meetings, friends, or even bloody homework to distract you – when it’s just you, for days and months on end, trying to hope but utterly unable to sustain yourself – there’s a special brand of self-loathing that develops there.

It’s pride in one of its many forms, and it worships at the altar of “I.” Pride, above all, must be self-sustaining. It has a singular concentration on independence, on the ability to do it all… there is not a greater power, you are in total control – this is the lie of the “I.” It is pride that tells people they “should” have work when they don’t, because they’re qualified – pride trusts human ability over God’s design, my own imagination over my Creator’s.

I feel like if God’s put me in this prison – because I love my parents, but being at their homes day after day feels like prison – to rid me of pride, or even to try to get at the root, well, we’re going to be here a lot longer, because the pride seems to be swelling and growing more now than it has all summer.

Not to get all metaphoric, but the garden always seems like a good metaphor for the soul. If you put seeds in dirt, the sun and the rain will do almost everything. But you have to tend it. You have to weed it. You have to go out with the hose and water the damn flowers when there is no rain. There are dry spells and cloudy days and times when you feel like you’re not keeping the garden alive, even though it still is.

My mom recently went out of town on an extended trip, and I had to take care of the gardens. Now, I know relatively little about gardening, and I freaked out because during those two weeks, there was no rain, and even though I watered the plants almost perfectly on schedule, to me – the untrained eye – it looked utterly bereft. But when my mom returned, she said I’d done a great job and that the yard looked wonderful.

The untrained eye versus the expert’s eye… the human eye versus the master gardener’s eye. When I look at my life, I see loss and loneliness and despair. I see sin and hopelessness and wretched external forces weighing down. I see uncertainty and doubt and spiritual vacillations of bi-polar proportion.

But that’s not what he sees. He looks at me and sees his son. He looks at me and sees his daughter, redeemed. He looks and sees many broken pieces just waiting to be put back together in a form so beautiful no one else could have imagined it. He sees opportunities for restoration and renewal and rebirth. For growth and pruning and tending. He sees the big picture. He sees exactly how these moments – every moment, every acute pain and tender joy – fit into the pattern.

I’m not to the point where I can doubt and immediately lift it up to him. I still wallow in self-pity. I cross my arms and plop down in my mud puddle, a perfect picture of a childhood tantrum. But it’s taking less time for me to grasp onto his hand and let him lift me out of the mud puddle. So in that, there is growth. It is small and it is fragile, but it is there. And it’s only by his grace, because I’m a train wreck without grace.

Psalm 23:3: He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

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

June 9, 2010

On Personal Statements & Failure

Personal statements are currently competing with mushrooms for the coveted status of My Least Favorite Thing.

I’ve prayed some and whined much, which is not the solution to writing a personal statement. I’ve spent a decent amount of time planning and brainstorming, but mostly I’ve been anxious and freaked out.

This has me running scared for two reasons: one, the more days I spend whining about the personal statement, the less days my application is complete and the fewer jobs I’ll be considered for. Second, the anxiety has me worried that maybe I’m not supposed to be a teacher if I can’t even write a personal statement.

I know the second fear is bogus. It’s the same fear that freaked me out during grad school applications (which I probably shouldn’t think about seeing as how that didn’t work out). It’s the fear that comes when you’re trying to tackle a difficult problem. It’s not rational; it just is. It’s the fear that has to be surrendered and given over because otherwise it’ll cripple you.

This fear is not indicative of potential success (or failure). It’s a fear that aims to keep you in your comfort zone, that says not to take the risk, that says you’re not qualified. It’s the fear of not being good enough.

Fear has no say in the final outcome, unless you’re so afraid that you do nothing and then of course you’re bound to not get whatever it is you wanted. I’ve come to the realization over this last year that I could have the perfect application and still not get hired/accepted if it wasn’t The Right Thing. I say this because I had a lot of really good applications, applications that employers, professors, and family members alike believed would guarantee me something. But none of them got me anything, save the learning that comes from failure.

In her commencement speech at Harvard, J.K. Rowling said that failure meant a stripping away of the inessentials. I like that. And at some point in the Mighty Ducks trilogy, the coach says he’d rather have lost, because you learn more from losing than you do from winning. Failure forces you to go back to square one and reevaluate.

As an uncle said during my graduation weekend, my lack of success means that I’ve been learning a lot about what God doesn’t want me to do (at least right now).

So back to this personal statement. All I can do is write in good faith, the faith that comes with knowing that somehow or another, this is just one more step in the crazy post-graduation employment frenzy. And it’s a step towards something. Whether it’s toward a job or more time with Mom and Dad, no one can say. But I won’t find out what that next step is until I finish this application. Which means finishing the personal statement. Which, when you think about it, really isn’t that scary after all.

It’s just a bit of parchment.

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.

May 1, 2010

Hold the Scotch: On Job Hunting & Hope

After spending too much time on the online job hunt last night, I put in Charlie Wilson’s War for a pick-me-up. Now, you know it’s bad when a movie about the Cold War is a uplifting. Mostly, I spent the time fantasizing about Philip Seymour Hoffman strolling into my room and offering me a bugged bottle of scotch. I don’t drink scotch, but let me tell you, this job market could drive me to it.

I was plowing through sites like mediabistro.com and others that are heavy on editorial and freelance work. Monster, of course, is a must for jobs in my area. College nannies, college tutors, learning centers, legal aids, online copywriters, the CIA, the State Department, Hallmark, the local university – it’s downright depressing. There are jobs out there, often ones requiring experience, and I’m still trying to vault over that limitation. Several people have told me to ignore the “years experience needed,” especially if they only require 1-2 years.

The hardest thing to overcome in this market is, I think, my own level of expectation. The job I want. The job I’m excited for. It just so happens that the summer job that I a) want and b) am excited for is one that I interviewed for this week … and I won’t hear back from them for 2-3 weeks. That’s a long time to hold out when the job market, which is already thin, is about to become thinner with a flood of recent graduates.

So I’m trying to straddle this: my own desires with pragmatism, the part of me that says “This time is good! This time is for writing! And you’re writing! And you’ve interviewed for that awesome TA job, you’re waiting to hear back, you’ve got a great shot at it” – and then the other part says, ” … and what if that doesn’t work out?”

I’ve started work on some freelance articles that would pay either nothing or very little, but they’d be bylines. Also, I’m so excited about them! So excited. Applying for a position as a marketing assistant in the Twin Cities does not fill my tank nearly as much.

So where is that line? Where is that line when we sacrifice what we love for a job that’ll help us survive? At what point do you just have to say “screw it” to worldly wisdom and hold out and wait? Can you find a survival job that will not suck your passion for what you love, i.e. will you not be completely exhausted and worn out when you get home? How how the heck do you find a career doing what you want?*

Right now, I’m just waiting and praying. And drinking copious amounts of coffee. And the occasional dark beer. No scotch yet.

*On that note, this month has gone a long way in reminding me of why I want to go to graduate school. Not necessarily the state of the job market (tho’ that doesn’t hurt), but that there is nothing that excites me more than digging into literature and researching. I’m gearing up to revise a paper and possibly attend a conference (!), a possibility that has me so freaking excited that I think I’ll be reapplying in the fall. Also, I’m trying to keep one of the freelance articles from getting too heavy on the literary theory (Mulvey and feminist film crit). Yet another sign that I’m either a) brainwashed by my profs or b) still in love with the English discipline. Ah, who are we kidding? I’m still in love. Spurned, but still in love.

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