2015 was a year of humility and change. It was a year of growth and of character over comfort, of postcards and patience and a whole lot of prayer. But amidst it all, 2015 was a year of unexpected joy and the most precious of blessings. Here are five lessons I've learned along the way this year...
1. Treasure your health (and your mama).
Brain tumor. Two words that I never thought would become rooted in my vocabulary and daily life. When my mom was diagnosed with a plum-sized brain tumor in September, life underwent a radical change overnight. Our “new normal” consisted of MRIs, appointments with specialists, hospital waiting rooms, and taking endless phone messages. Dinnertime conversation revolved around the anatomy and function of the temporal and parietal lobes. And after my mom’s brain surgery—which, by the way, was beautifully successful, and she handled everything with such grace and bravery—I found myself thrust into the position of nurse, pharmacist, caregiver, chauffeur, and housekeeper, while balancing college finals and dealing with a sprained neck. I was running on empty. Exhausted and stressed to the core, I still knew undoubtedly that I would do anything for that sweet “patient” of mine. That’s what love is. Though this season of life has been a bit trying, it’s shown me just how much I treasure my family. Now that my mama is beginning to recover, we are so joyful. We laugh at her punk-rock haircut (half shaved, exposing a rather gnarly horseshoe-shaped incision). We joke about her fifteen prescription bottles. And, most of all, we talk with new urgency about what changes we want make in our lives and how we will more actively pursue our passions. Brain surgery has been a wakeup call for our entire family. Cherish your family, cherish your health.
2. Buy the plane ticket. Take the long drive.
Part of having a non-linear college path means that my closest friends are dotted all across the country. As someone who tends to have fewer but closer friends, I’ve realized the importance of having highly intentional friendships. For me, this has meant saving my money for train tickets, or spending long, percolated hours in the thick of Los Angeles traffic—doing whatever I have to do just to get there and be with people that I love. My “love language” also happens to be quality time, so I’ve found it incredibly fulfilling to be able to see faraway friends and spend the weekend or even just the afternoon together. This intentionality in friendships has also meant more emails, text messages, and written letters exchanged (with emphasis on the latter... I love writing and receiving letters in the mail).
3. Savor the little things.
Everyone goes through a period of inevitable drought, when the finances are tight, morale is low, and things feel hopeless or just monotonous. In such times, savor the small moments—the golden retriever napping next to you, a catch-up phone call with a friend, a steaming mug of something delicious paired with a well-loved book. This year, I’ve had to rely on God more than ever, and I know that he’s blessed me with an abundance of beautiful moments in return. The little things have kept me feeling joyful, blessed, and grateful for each day.
4. Forge ahead, even if you can't see (literally).
With my sprained neck in November came an influx of vision disturbances—a catalyst for several MRIs, neurology appointments, ophthalmology appointments, and blood work (my family has gotten quite comfortable at the doctor's office this year!). At first it felt like life was on pause as I was waiting to heal. But my normal vision didn't return, or at least not yet, so I’ve had to learn how to adjust and forge ahead. And the crazy thing is that forging ahead has made me feel more normal; some of my symptoms have become mere annoyances that I can forget about. Although I have to take extra good care of myself, I’ve actually found more relief from pushing myself to do more, even when I don’t feel like it. Every day is much too precious to be wasted (I think that’s been one of the overarching themes of the year).
5. Let yourself dream.
As much as I advocate living in the present moment, I’ve recently found a lot of joy in letting myself just dream—of being completely impractical and getting lost in daydreams about the future. And I’ve found that it’s maybe not so frivolous after all; dreaming helps me better understand where my heart is without that pesky practicality getting the way. I dream about being an author (...without thinking about the unstable paycheck). I dream about my future vegetable garden and neighborhood and family, of the books I’ll write and the people I’ll meet. I also like to dream about the future that’s right around the corner: 2016. How will Friday, January 1st look different from today? What can I do to actively make 2016 excellent? What does this fresh, new year have in store? 2015 was a humbling year with some jagged edges, but it also was a year of wonder. I am wonderstruck at how everything—the good and the bad—worked together seamlessly in 2015. Looking back, I see God’s hand in every single moment, and I can’t wait to see what He has in store next. After all, "we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good" (Romans 8:28).
Happy New Year, friends!
When I woke up this morning, the familiar feeling of pre-exam dread filled every sleepy cell in my body (though it wasn’t quite enough to jolt me awake—even as a morning person, I felt far more tortured than exhilarated by my 6:00 alarm).
Luckily, I had packed my school bag the night before, ensuring that my morning would be as painless as possible: keys, wallet, textbook, flashcards, pleasure-reading book (an after-exam treat, to read under a nice, leafy tree), and five black ballpoint pens (just in case, you know, four of them stop working).
I planned to arrive at my exam appointment an hour early so that I would have a comfortable cushion of time for a little unexpected traffic and a little last-minute review. Much to my disappointment, only minutes after backing out of the driveway, I encountered much more than “a little unexpected traffic.” It was, to state it clearly, the messy, tangled, slow globs of cars that just can’t seem to go already, the light is green, for goodness sake! And so, what usually takes a few minutes of driving and walking time slowly percolated—twenty minutes, forty minutes, an hour later, I was pulling into the parking lot. By the time I found a space, I had only a few precious minutes in which to trek a mile, so I set off at a speed walk that would undeniably make the snowy-haired ladies in my neighborhood very, very jealous.
With my extra hour of review time eaten up by the excess of cars and red lights and vindictive crossing guards (the latter of which made me stop at a crosswalk for five very protracted minutes as the entire teenaged population sloooooowly sauntered across the street), I had no choice but to leave my textbook in the car and review past perfect subjunctive conjugations in my head en route to my exam.
Once at my proctoring appointment, I pulled out my five black pens, ready to take on the world (more or less), only to find out that the CD-ROM that my professor sent in the mail was faulty; she would have to send a new one, and I would have to reschedule, but have a nice day. And so, back into my pencil pouch went my five black ballpoint pens.
Upon exiting the building, my (now incredibly short) hair flew every which-way, as the wind picked up in the way it only can during the springtime. So, no reading my book under a nice, leafy tree.
I also tripped sometime after this escapade. A very visible trip. In front of many people.
Analytic as I am, I immediately started dissecting my day. Where did it go wrong? What was the exact point where things turned sour? How could I have better prepared? Should I have left two hours early instead of one? Called my professor three weeks ago to ensure she sent the correct exam disc? Brought six black ballpoint pens pens instead of five?
As the options got more and more ridiculous, I realized that the root of the problem was my fierce insistence that I should be able to control every aspect of my day.
But today illustrated that I have to have some level of dependence on other people—my professor, the proctor, that dictatorial crossing guard—and no number of extra black ballpoint pens can equip me for the unexpected.
No extra cushion of time can 100% guarantee that I’ll have ample time to get to where I need to go. And not all days are suited for reading beneath trees (the sad, sad truth). Certainly, it’s helpful to plan ahead, for had I not left an hour early, I would have been an hour late. These kinds of precautions help, like bringing a sweatshirt in case the fog rolls in, but they ultimately aren’t our safeguards or talismans against traffic or accidents or cancelations.
Today also made me realize that every person you or I encounter during the day functions as a domino in a lengthy line—someone’s actions affected someone else, and now that person’s actions are affecting you. So who, in turn, will your actions affect? How will you affect them? I made the decision while standing in the proctoring office, empty handed (and a little sweaty from my gnarly speed walk), to handle the situation with flexibility and poise and a whole lot of grace. And though I did a bit of healthy venting to my mom later that day, I sincerely think that my conscious (albeit reluctant) decision to handle my circumstances with a light heart and an open mind actually served to convince me that the day wasn’t so bad after all (except for the part when I tripped... I’m still kind of blushing about that).
I read once, somewhere, that introverts have a “rich inner life.” The source has long since left my brain, but that little aggregation of words stuck to my brain: rich inner life.
I am, to put it baldly, introverted. And while the very composition of my being rests on the foundation of that word—introversion—the term has some connotations and assumptions attached to its twelve little letters that I’m not so fond of.
I'm not antisocial. I like people—I love people—and I appreciate a good conversation. I don’t enjoy spending all of my time alone, and I occasionally find a nice cheerful uproar to be as refreshing and invigorating, in its own way, as an evening spent in pajamas reading Papists, Protestants and Puritans under the sheets (a rather charming inconsistency of introversion, I think).
And, although this does little to flatter myself, I spend a lot of time alone. But the curious thing, which I think fellow introverts will be able to relate to, is that I rarely feel lonely. Which brings me back to the “rich inner life” thing.
I can’t speak for all introverts as an organic whole, but I can explore my own thoughts and feelings (the sweet power of introspection) and hopefully communicate those thoughts and feelings with hazy clarity (side note: I’m thinking about Dante’s Inferno; in one of the later cantos, he tells the reader of his struggle to find the right words to describe his experiences, which is, I think, how I feel when trying to write clearly about the messy complexities of the human psyche).
As an introvert, I feel like there is a certain ingrained emotional warmth that I have towards myself, as if I were my own friend. I tend to my own thoughts like they were directed at me, rather than within me (here we go with that hazy clarity...). I’m not implying that I hold conversations aloud with myself, but that I treat each thought as I would the spoken comment of a friend. Say, for instance, that I am thinking about how tired I am—it’s been a long day and my eyelids feel impossibly heavy—I respond to this thought not with reflexive or unconscious action, but I mull it over carefully. What would I tell a tired friend? So I treat myself in the same way, telling myself to shower and turn down the bed, to shut off the phone and turn off the lights. I think rather than simply functioning and reacting in respect to my thoughts, I am internally and intentionally interacting with my own mind.
Recently I have been reading Transformation of the Classical Heritage: Sons of Hellenism, Fathers of the Church: Emperor Julian, Gregory of Nazianzus, and the Vision of Rome by Susanna Elm. The book explores Emperor Julian, a pagan, and Gregory of Nazianzus, a theologian. Elm highlights the men’s “common intellectual and social grounding” rather than their obvious differences.
As a bishop, Gregory of Nazianzus was torn. He was a highly sensitive man, characterized by “his desire for retreat and abhorrence of public office” but needed to be active in the community to make money to support his family (Elm, 6). An introvert? Maybe. Though Elm doesn’t make that particular connection, she does highlight a very familiar struggle between spending time alone versus with others:
"What philosophical life, in what composition of active engagement and retreat devoted to contemplation of the normative texts, could best ascertain the good rule of the realm and thus the salvation of all its inhabitants?" (Elm, 25)
For an introvert, the “composition of active engagement and retreat” forms a ratio in favor of the latter. But what I love most about Elm’s discussion of philosophical life is how she emphasizes productivity (“contemplation of the normative texts”) during the “retreat.”
That’s the other misconception of introverts. If I spend the entire day at home, I’m not watching Netflix and eating cereal from the box by the handful (although, we all have our days, am I right?). What feels productive and empowering and recharging to my soul is the quiet study of religious history (+ whatever schoolwork is on the agenda), sharing deep conversations with family and close friends, and never being farther than a few inches from my golden retriever. A full day at school, however, leaves me over-stimulated and sometimes, if it has been an exceptionally long day (cough cough, Tuesdays), reeling from sensory overload—the classmates and quizzes, the fluorescent lights, congested parking lots, and booming professorial voices.
I’m not sure that there is any sort of resolution to this post, seeing as there is no way to “solve” introversion since it is not a problem to begin with. But I do think it is rather therapeutic for me to think and write about topics like this. It’s also a challenge to be translucent about topics as complex and personal as introversion and sensitivity—sorting through these complexities and finding a way to “write hard and clear” (thanks, Hemingway) is a valuable learning experience.
“The writer must be in it. He can’t be to one side of it, ever. He has to be endangered by it. His own attitudes have to be tested in it. The best work that anybody ever writes is the work that is on the verge of embarrassing him, always.” – Arthur Miller
I’ve been thinking a lot about intentionality lately.
In correlation with my last post, I think we’re all just a bit too rooted in technology, worshipping the saturated,overflowing internet, and delighting in the instant gratification of telephone chimes and tones and buzzes and bells. I'm both a futurist and a learner, thus captivated by innovation of all walks; I'm not trying to discredit the genius of our devices nor the forward thinking of our minds. I've just noticed something, in both myself and my fellow little earthlings, that I think may be important (perhaps even crucial) to explore.
We have this immunity to instant gratification that leaves us flighty and unfocused—life becomes a perpetual swipe and click, moving on to something more interesting, more shocking, and with less words, but more pictures. More, more, more. Our appetites are insatiable. We swallow up social media in giant, desperate gulps. We are just haphazardly scrolling, and clicking, swimming with frantic, flailing arms.
We reply to texts in 3 seconds, barely reading what we’re actually responding to. We skim emails—if there are more than 2 paragraphs, we delete on impact. Words clatter from our mouths while our speech limps along, muddling meaning with filler—“like’s” and “um’s” and “you know’s” coil tightly around every other word. We say hi without how are you, and mumble in conversation, eyes anxiously searching the ceiling to avoid dreaded contact. Our attention turns to our shoes and phones as we walk from point A to point B, hardly in this world at all.
We’re flighty and aimless and frantic and random.
What if, when we do set down our devices, we look at each other—actually look into each other’s eyes, shoulders squared and feet firm? What if we tasted our words, both carefully and cautiously, before we spit them out? What if we chose them like presents, wrapping and taping and tying bows, gifting our peers with well-thought-out ideas?
What if we paused to think?
One of my resolutions for 2014 is to be intentional, purposeful, and present. It means savoring slowness, sitting peacefully, with a softened brow and relaxed eyes, simply thinking of someone, and sending them love and light and joy. Intentionality means slipping away from the world’s quickening pace, even if for a few moments, and contemplating.
Intentionality means a heightened attention to how we hold ourselves, and the words we let through the mind’s door. It means buying flowers on friends' birthdays and offering to bake the bread or bring the salad at a dinner party. It means candles as housewarming gifts. It means taking the time to call on father’s day, not just send a quick text. Intentionality is thinking—really, really thinking—about life, and people, and our own hearts.
Let’s live this way, friends. I think it might just be worth a shot.