Monday, March 22, 2010

making plans

how much of my life do i live in the future?

there's always something to look ahead to, always something coming up, always a deadline around the corner. there's always a decision to be made, always a life to plan.

i'm pretty good at making plans. i love my planner. i love filling things in, then crossing them off again. to-do lists are even worse. i have gotten to the point where i feel compelled to write down every little thing i may need to schedule during my day. the calendar feature on my new phone is not going to help. eg i recently set a reminder for myself to send a text to a friend at a certain point later in the week. what does that say about my ability to be a good friend? i can't remember in the moment that i need to send someone a head's up to say, "hey, i'm thinking of you," in the middle of their big day?

and that's just trouble with all this, of course--constantly looking ahead leaves less time to live in the moment. and then moments pass and time continues on and you're left with nostalgia for the past. why does it always have to be looking forward or reaching back and never just being?

it's a product of the culture we live in, i know. and i've done well by that culture. i've been rewarded for my efficient planning and my attention to deadlines and my skills in time management. but my success within that system has led to believe that being anal about planning ahead is the only way that i can function. i think i can't make it through a day if i don't have a to-do list--i'll forget something, and it will probably be something important. and if i'm not ahead of the deadline, then i'll miss it completely.

but despite any fledgling desire to live in the moment, my social location within this culture continues to make it hard for a twenty-something woman in graduate school to be in the present. i have to plan for a career and build a resume and gain experience and decide where i want to live one day. i do think it's important for me to be consistently probing and reevaluating my call, but sometimes i think i forget to enjoy being just where i am--being a student and appreciating the privilege of learning and being in this amazing community with other learners.

and goodness knows, society reminds me, i have to think ahead to getting married. that's certainly not something that just happens overnight. but then it can be hard to just be in relationship. i find myself constantly analyzing and thinking about the future and putting everything in the schema of the big picture. can a moment ever just be a moment? and then there's the tick of that certain special clock that all young female adults know too well. conveniently, like captain hook's ticking crocodile, it shows up at all the wrong moments, tick-tick-ticking in your head until you've forgotten what the sound is for and you're merely conditioned to respond with one thought alone--will i beat the buzzer? (forgive the comparison of babies and sports is march madness, after all).

sheesh. well, on a lighter and less psychoanalytic note, what brought all of this on was my afternoon spent making plans for next semester and for my upcoming summer in DC. those are both good things to look forward to--i have the feeling that DC is going to be a really good thing for me. and they also both do require planning in advance, otherwise i won't have a place to live for the summer or classes to take next semester. but again, the problem with all this planning is that it takes my attention away from right now--what i'm doing this semester, the classes i'm taking now. i've sat here this afternoon, charting the course of my second year of school (which, as everyone keeps reminding us, is the hardest one) and i'm looking at two semesters of at least 16 hours each, and i'm trying to cram in all these great classes. should i not stop and reflect about how i was excited for some of the classes in which i am currently enrolled? instead of just living in the excitement (and concurrent anticipation) for the future, shouldn't i try and rediscover the excitement of the now?

there will always be next semester, next summer, next year, next major life event. but, and i say this at the risk of being extremely aphoristic , there's only one right now. and this is going to sound like a bad country song, but it does seem that only looking ahead will accomplish nothing but an arrival at the end of my life without having enjoyed everything fully.

i think i've gotten a little bit better about all this in the past few months. i have friends who help me realize that it's okay to get a little bit behind on schoolwork or not get everything checked off my to-do list for the day in favor of having coffee or watching a silly movie or making dinner together. and the relationship that i'm starting right now is much more focused in the moment than the one i was pursuing last semester (mostly because this one has some tangible 'now' stuff to enjoy, versus the other which was mostly just me waiting around to see if he wanted to start something--ha). and as i work to relinquish control (ah, there's the lurking beast), i start to see that my life doesn't completely fall apart if it's not planned down to the last minute, if i miss dotting a few 'i's and crossing a few 't's.

so here's to trying to live in the now. maybe for tonight, i'll start by refraining from crossing off 'blog' from my to-do list :}

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


it's been about time for a new counting song. you know what i mean--the most famous example being brian mcknight: "one, you're like a dream come true; two, just want to be with you..." and now the plain white t's have revived the genre with: "there's only one thing to do, three words for you, i love you."

now tay swift's new song, "today was a fairytale" has come on. as much as i (admittedly) love her, i always feel a little scornful when this song plays. of course a day in your life can be a fairytale when you look like that, like one of the princesses in the picture books. and also, is it not time for us to get away from this fairytale metaphor for love? it's not exactly building positive self-esteem or good relational health in young girls--it didn't take too long for women's studies to figure that one out. i guess it's still what we all want though, isn't it?

and to think that i really should be devoting any writing energy towards a paper due next tuesday. but if i was being responsible, you would have been deprived of that brilliant social commentary. and who can really do homework on this first official day of spring break, when it is a gorgeous, warm atlanta day? i may be creating a miserable situation for myself come next sunday and monday, but so it goes. today's procrastination is tomorrow's late night. i'll take it.

i'm sitting in my room with the radio on (obviously), because i can never seem to pack without some kind of background noise. i feel like a member of the Price family from Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible: trying to carry as much stuff on my person so that i won't have to check a bag. so i'm going to have cake mix in my pockets, if you'll allow the allusion. it's seventy degrees today but i'm going to wear my furry boots and my puffy vest with a scarf, and i'll be carrying my brown peacoat. my chucks are shoved into the front pocket of my bookbag, which i'm hoping still counts as a personal item. and thus the contents of my purse will be redistributed throughout the bookbag and suitcase. i have also been trying to decide what liquids i will bring in travel size (i paid the $3 for a mini bottle of mousse, which seems to be a comparable price for many full-sized bottles...), which i will hope to use of Kristen's, and which i may try to sneak through. my facial moisturizer is what is still giving me trouble. it's one ounce to big, but really, a lotion isn't a liquid, TSA. it's a completely different consistency.



i made it! i flew into a foggy chicago last night and have woken up to a warm sunny day (thanks for welcoming your southern friend well, midwest). made it to the airport early with the intention of finishing this blog post...only to find out that ATL airport charges for wi-fi. lame. so i actually was productive, which was my original intent, and read proverbs and did a little work on that paper. flight was okay, except for these two obnoxious girls sitting right behind me. two words: social cues. when trapped in a confined space surrounded by people who have no way to get away from you if necessary--please keep it down. i can't tune you out when the stewardess keeps coming by with a death stare for otherwise obedient passengers who just need to keep the iPod on as long as possible even if we are taking off or landing. lest you think i'm just being a jerk, here's an example of their banter. first of all, they were doing a crossword puzzle out loud together. and failing pretty miserably. the guy next to me got out the same magazine and whipped through the same puzzle, almost as if to prove that humanity hasn't fallen as far as these girls would make one believe. they determined that one clue's answer was odor, which prompted the question, "how do you spell odor, o-d-e-r?" and they had these grating northern 'a's. i really thought i had come a long way with northern accents, after living all summer with michigan and wisconsin. i even started saying 'pop' for coke, and that, friends is an achievement. but, ewww, those 'a's. needless to say, i bolted out of that cabin as quickly as possible, and was even happier to see KWood than ever.

and now we're about to adventure out after a good breakfast (with the promise of chicago pizza for lunch!). i woke up at 8:30 this morning--which i though was 8:30 central time, and therefore 9:30 my time, a perfectly acceptable hour. but no, it was in fact 8:30 my time and 7:30 here. so i'll sleep well tonight, especially after a day of getting to know this city!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

these are my confessions

the finish line is in sight. i am officially done with the double-whammy, two-day History of Christian Thought midterm. Old Testament exam, also done. tomorrow is Friday. I have a Hebrew quiz. then, a week of freedom. and even better, a week of freedom that I get to spend in Chicago with KWood! it's so close i can taste it. and it's been a hard-fought, exhausting battle to get here.

thankfully, though, in the midst of this stressful week, the two hours of class time that i typically detest the most (con ed reflection) were spent in a much more useful, enjoyable, even cathartic manner this past wednesday. a little background: this reflection group is a 2 hour weekly meeting that i have with my fellow classmates and MUST volunteers. we are a pretty tight group because we met every week last semester as well and are obviously sharing a lot of the same experiences. however, this reflection time has become a source of extreme frustration for a lot of us (and i would put myself at the top of that list) because we feel like nothing much is being accomplished within those 2 hours. we haven't been able to process our experiences at the shelter, we haven't been able to honestly share our feelings, and sometimes we haven't even been able to make our voices heard. so some of us (again, myself included) have chosen to silence our own voices entirely and sit there stewing contemptously instead.

this week, our faculty advisor, Dr. B, led the group solo (usually we have three ministry leaders/mentors for the class). we knew Dr. B in a different capacity last semester, but she has become a part of this reflection group as a leader in conjunction with our two supervisors from MUST. throughout the semester, we each take a turn to lead an opening devotional, and it was Dr. B's turn to lead this week. she did two things well to get us started off on the right foot: one intentionally, the other less so but which proved fruitful for the rest of the session. at the end of her personal sharing around a Scripture passage that she had selected (Phil. 2), she turned and directed her topic--vulnerability--at us in relation to our experiences at MUST. one of our chief frustrations as a group has been that we have not had the space to talk through our experiences at the shelter, and she created the perfect space to talk about MUST in a way that was common to all of us: how do you feel vulnerable there? this was a question that allowed each of us to open up, and we were able to understand one another's vulnerabilities because of the common context, but at the same time, the discussion wasn't limited to any one person's specific experience at the shelter that usually only serves to alienate everyone else who wasn't a part of the conversation. we had a beautiful, honest time of sharing.

the unintentional fruit of this discussion was the blossoming of that safe space for honesty and vulnerability. i actually had the task for this session of leading the next segment of our time--the 'theological discussion,' as we call it, which is essentially a conversation around our assigned reading for the week. these, too, have become rather dry, not for the fault of any of my classmates, but for the de-contextualization of the readings, the repetition of the thematic discussion, and for the way the conversations always turn into armchair theological musings (or, for the pejoratively-inclined, we sit around and shoot the theological s--t: which is all well and good, except that is something one should do on one's own time with friends over coffee or beer, not during a required two hour class that has the capacity for much more intentional and productive discussion). last week, the girl who led us started us off with a movement exercise (we did the salsa!), and in the vein of her innovativeness, i decided to create a mini-liturgical service instead of just tossing out questions to the group. i started with two Scripture readings reflective of the spirit of the assigned reading, then i had planned a time of confession, a song of response, a time of prayer, a "homily" (this would be our discussion), and a benediction. we read the Scripture together, then i read an excerpt from Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz with which you may be familiar: the confession booth experience Miller and his friends created on his college campus. if you haven't read Miller, the catch of this confessional that they set up was that the Christians would be apologizing to the people coming in to confess their sins--the sins of the Church and the Christian community would be confessed. so i offered that as a framework for our time of confession as a group: the chance to communally, if anyone was willing, confess how we've fallen short in our service work at MUST, followed by a time of silent confession.

i wasn't sure how open people would be about confessing communally, but i wanted to allow the space for it since they would likely be shared 'sins' in relation to our site work at MUST. people began to take the floor, sharing deeply and honestly about how volunteering at MUST has become a burden, another check on the to-do list, etc. the conversation also morphed into larger communal confessions about our experiences at Candler in general. we really started rolling around in it, seconding one another, supporting one another. everyone spoke. i was moved to near tears at several moments. at some point during the space of this conversation, i realized that we had hit on just what we needed. i had several other things planned for my discussion, but i realized that they weren't at all important. this was the place that God wanted us to be for that time. we needed to hear each others' confessions--we needed to say our own. we needed to remember that we can trust one another and trust our shared experiences and trust in our communal humanity and brokenness. we needed to just talk and say that we don't have it all together, no matter how much we are forced to pretend that we do. it was such a sweet, sacred space. i got God-bumps (some alternately call them goosebumps)--when you can feel the tangible spirit of God in the room and know that God is working among you, that together we had stumbled upon the place where God wanted to bring each of us. it was nice to toss out an agenda for once. it was raw and poignant and real--vulnerable, just like Dr. B had unintentionally prepared us to be.

after we all confessed, i left those couple of minutes for silence before God, then played Bethany Dillon's "You are on Our Side" by way of absolution. her chorus says, "when You could just be silent and leave us here to die/still You sent Your son for us/You are on our side."


and now, i have another confession of sorts. this morning in OT, the always-innovative Professor Strawn led the class in an excursus on the Bible and the modern media. our lecture had been on Proverbs, and he wanted us to examine what kind of things we as a culture are teaching our children these days. Exhibit 'A' for our consideration: the music video for Pussycat Dolls' "Buttons." my confession is this: i wanted to vomit after watching it. it was sex on overdrive, women being grossly objectified. i was literally squirming in my seat (the gist of the video is this--nearly naked women dancing around provocatively and groping themselves as they ask an intended male listener to "loosen up [their] buttons"). the myriad of issues surrounding this video was overwhelming in itself--Prof. Strawn had hit his mark. this is the moral instruction of our generation? i was made doubly uncomfortable by the fact that i was sitting next to the guy i've been dating for about a month now (you'll have to call me for that confession!). clearly this video was going to be perceived in very different ways by men vs. women. i recognized that all the men in our class, while hopefully being intellectually and moralistically repulsed by these images, were still certainly more susceptible to being turned on by them as well. so this stream of questions whirled through my head as i sat next to him throughout the video: does he think those girls are pretty? is this kind of whoring still somehow attractive to him? is this making him wish that i looked like those girls? does he realize that i will never look like those girls? am i still attractive to him despite the fact that i don't look like them?

you never know what you'll get in an Old Testament survey course these days, huh? self-worth and anger and disgust all rolled into one big knot in the stomach. you best believe i got myself straight up to chapel once class let out. both the experiences i have described here definitely ended in the worship of God through my desperate need of coming into a place where i can meet grace, a place that i know is safe, a place that equips me to walk back into the brokenness and the sin where i can continue to both hear and give confessions.