Dying Daily

I’ve been living in the Windy City for almost two weeks.

I have discovered the park, the grocery store, the post office, a nearby Korean coffee shop, the library (the second-largest library in Illinois), the local produce shop, and have plans to visit the mall, the pool, and an outdoor sculpture museum during the rest of this week: my first real vacation in over four years.

I finally have a week with nothing to do: no job, no job preparation, and no homework (okay, so there is homework but that’s why I’m going to the library)! People said this move would be good for me, that I would learn independence and find self-fulfillment. And I’m trying . . . to be brave.

I went out on Saturday to explore and came home to an ambulance and a ring of police officers. The sermon Sunday night was on Revelation and the worship of God in the end times. My Pinterest feed is swarming with pins like “Lists for Funeral Planning,” and my Facebook ads are filled with news of the riots in Charlottesville. And I can’t help but wonder, “Did I come here just to die?”

The answer is yes. Yes, I did. I left my home of eight years and moved to a strange city because God wants me to die. I said goodbye and moved twelve hours away from my family because God wants me to die. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” There it is. That’s why I left everything I love behind. Because I love Jesus more.

I want to be His disciple. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” That’s all. This is my cross: to die daily. To die daily to myself. Because I want to serve Jesus. I want to worship Jesus.

He died for me.

What other response

is there besides

hallelujah!

Some Muddled Thoughts on Moving After a Muddling Move

I waved goodbye to summer and to my parents at 4:30 Saturday afternoon as I dropped them off at the Chicago O’Hare airport (and promptly got lost as I drove myself back to my new home away from home).

The rest stops in the Chicago area are called oases, an ironic term in my mind since my time in this city has been anything but an oasis.

I arrived Wednesday evening, earlier than anticipated, and dumped my carload of boxes into my new bedroom. That sight alone was overwhelming. Being the fourth roommate and the most recent addition to the already well-lived in apartment, “my” space was limited. I opted to spend the night with my parents and face unpacking the next day.

Thursday morning was dedicated to signing my new apartment lease. Unfortunately, the lease couldn’t be typed without approval from my previous land lady, all the way in Let-Me-Take-A-Week-To-Get-Back-With-You, South Carolina. Without the lease, my hopes of switching over my license and license plates were dashed.

I turned my attention to switching my car insurance from South Carolina to Illinois. The internet led me to believe there was a branch of my current auto insurance a mile down the road from my apartment, but when I arrived at the location, I discovered that the internet was incorrect: my auto insurance company works from home: Off to Staples to print, sign, scan, and email the paperwork to the in-home car insurance office.

That accomplished, I decided to get fingerprinting out of the way. I drove through several tolls (without paying) on the interstate in search of the fingerprinting company. Once again, the internet was incorrect. Wherever my GPS had taken me, it was not a fingerprinting company. At least there was a bank next door, so I exchanged four one-dollar bills for four dollars in dimes and nickels (to pay the cash-only tolls). Another search on the internet revealed that only one fingerprinting company was open on Thursdays. At least there was one.

On my way back from being fingerprinted, the office of my new apartment complex called to inform me that the lease had been approved based on my previous rental history and that two leases were now ready to be signed: one lease that expires on August 13th and one that comes into effect on August 14th. My roommates, who had already signed the renewal lease, had to resign it and sign another lease in addition (and all because I needed proof of residency for the DMV).

Thursday evening would have been a relaxing evening spent at IKEA, except that I needed to purchase shelving and creative storage units with money I didn’t have. It pays to have a sister with more money than you do. At least the purchases have helped to make “my” space feel a little more like home.

Friday morning was dedicated to the DMV. After eating homemade corned beef hash in Barrington, I went to the DMV where I was told the “nice” people worked. The information desk worker was nice. He warned me that I would need to retake the written test in order to get an Illinois license and then opened the driving test booklet to the most important information for me to study: road signs (they are unlike any road signs I’ve seen in Greenville). Since the DMV with the nice people do not provide license plates, I went to another DMV that would take care of both. I got my license with only a few foibles. The letters for the eye exam kept blinking on and off. No one told me I needed to press my forehead on the dirty machine in order to keep the letters on the screen, and why would I volunteer my forehead to a dirty button? I was concerned that my organs might be harvested before I were truly dead if I signed up to be an organ donor, a fear that gave the DMV worker an opportunity to reenact what harvesting organs from a live donor would look like. I wonder how long she’d been waiting for me to show up.

After getting my license plates (on a separate ticket, of course, and even longer wait line), I had to edit my new license because I had not given the worker my apartment number. Apparently in Illinois mail won’t get to you without an apartment number, and I rather think I need my license.

With the DMV taken care of (a true miracle), I had the information needed to apply for an I-Pass. Thankfully, I got an I-Pass the day before I took my parents to the airport and conveniently drove right past four tolls. For someone who is a stickler for obeying rules, the stress of not paying tolls is overwhelming. My first call to my dad after I got home was about paying tolls online and how do you pay a toll if you don’t know if there was a toll but what if there was a toll and you missed it?

Friday evening my dad tried to assemble my shelf from IKEA, only to discover that I needed a drill and screws. My tool collection now includes a hammer, a flat screwdriver, a Phillips screwdriver, a wrench, and a drill. The only tools I came to Illinois with were the hammer and the flat screwdriver. After buying the wrench, my dad was able to put my license plates on my car, at least the plate at the back end. My Volvo didn’t have a plate holder on the front. My dad called the Volvo dealership nearby and learned that all the car dealerships were on strike. After an eternal wait, he heard from a company farther out that would mount a plate holder on the front of my car the next morning.

With just a few hours before departure, my dad got the front license plate on the car and assembled my shelf.

I know looking at this last week that God’s grace permeated every chore on my to-do list. That my dad was able to help me accomplish so many of my adulting tasks before leaving is miraculous. That God orchestrated my entire life to this point in this place with these people is obvious. I know He will help me during this change.

I just got off the phone with my family. I hadn’t wanted to call because I’m still consistently on the verge of tears, and I didn’t want my first conversation with them to be sad. Oh, well. I know I need to let myself cry the tears out and grieve over the loss of my home. I guess I’m putting it off because I know that as soon as I let myself have that moment, it will be time to stop the self-pity and move on with my life where God has placed me. Until that time, I am keeping myself busy: I got through an entire month of lesson plans and read the book of Psalms today. But I miss being able to work on the floor of my old living room, knowing that my sister is in the bedroom watching Netflix or reading a book and might come out to get a glass of water or a snack of pepperoni.

Perhaps a year from now, I will look back and find that Chicago has been an oasis for my soul. And if that happens, it will be by the grace of God.

Anticipating the Inevitable

I recently met someone who is the personification of a smiley-face emoji. Every time my phone buzzes, I hope that it is a message from him with three simple letters: he, y. Usually it’s just an email about clothing or makeup trends, which I delete. But those few times it actually is a message from him with those three letters, a smile involuntarily comes to the corners of my mouth. We usually talk about nothing and sometimes talk about when we can hang out, but we can’t ever hang out because I’m at work every time he’s free and vice versa.

On Wednesday this last week I messaged him out of complete boredom but after talking about hygiene, there was nothing left to be said. He messaged me over the weekend out of complete boredom, but after learning that my evening was taken up with a dinner party, there was nothing left to be said. Yesterday afternoon I casually suggested that I stop by his work place and buy food when he suggested that I come by around 7:00 so that we could eat together. The stars had finally aligned.

The stars never align so I was nervous. I’m always fastidious about hygiene, but I had just had a cup of coffee and hadn’t brushed my teeth! I had spent the afternoon with a friend and hadn’t thought to bring my toothbrush. I begged her to come with me as a buffer because all the unfulfilled anticipations were crashing in on me, and I just couldn’t carry that burden on my shoulders while driving to Woodruff.

We pulled into the parking lot (it took me three tries to park and I really should’ve taken four) when my mother called me. Family emergency: my sister is going to the emergency room, and I need to babysit my brothers. We jump back into the car, I drop my friend off at her house, and I drive to my parents’ place where my brothers have selflessly prepared pizza for me.

Yet again, the stars had not really aligned. It was inevitable.

My sister did not get home until 2:00 in the morning, and I did not get any sleep until she came home. When she got home she was in no condition to sleep so we had a powwow in the kitchen. She and I are both deathly afraid of needles. (When I go get my cavity filled tomorrow morning, my first!, I might faint.) The nurses had hooked her up to a heart monitor and stuck an IV in her arm. When they began to poke her, her blood pressure accelerated and the machine began beeping.  A nurse ran into the room, thinking that my sister was dying. She was not dying. She’s just afraid of needles.

Oh the burden of anticipation.

Morality in the Mundane

For the last three weeks, I’ve been working at my old job (the one I quit to get my master’s degree). Within one hour of my first day back, I remembered why I quit. Every morning of those two years, I prayed that God would help the hours go by fast, that He would cause interruptions to break up the monotony, and that my evenings at home would pass by slowly. And God faithfully answered those prayers.

I remember one particularly interrupted morning: I arrived at 7:00 to get some extra hours in and proceeded to make a pot of coffee with another woman in my pod. The regular coffee maker was not at work yet so we proceeded to make coffee without supervision or instruction. We put twelve scoops of coffee into the filter and waited impatiently for the liquid heaven to finish brewing. What I poured into my mug fifteen minutes later was medical-school sludge. But I was awake for the next two hours. So was the boss a few doors down.

Another afternoon was interrupted with practical jokes involving spicy Korean chocolate and constantly running to the bathroom for water.

These are the moments I remember, moments of joy.

After I quit working at this company, my sister started working there. She and I occasionally take our ten-minute breaks together and walk around the building. One afternoon she commented, “I wish life would slow down. I wish we weren’t always in a hurry to get somewhere. I wish I didn’t have to get up in the morning and rush out the door to get to work by 8:00. I wish we didn’t have to get home and rush through supper in order to meet our next commitment at 7:00. I don’t have time to enjoy life.” Jokingly, I responded that she has two options: get up earlier in the morning or move overseas. (Why are Americans always in such a hurry? Why don’t we ever slow down and breathe?)

The Lord created Time on this earth, and He created it to be good. He wants us to use Time wisely, and I believe He wants us to enjoy the Time we have.

I’ve observed three truths over the last three weeks about how people enjoy their Time:

1) People who do not enjoy their Time will waste their Time.

I interact with a girl everyday who wastes Time. The issue is not that she has nothing to do with her Time. The issue is not that she has too much to do with her Time. The issue is that she does not enjoy how her job requires that she spend her Time. I empathize with the struggle. Of course there are days when I want to binge-watch Netflix or stay in bed reading August Strindberg instead of doing my job. Of course there are days when the commitments squeezed into every hour of my calendar are overwhelming and daunting and depressing. Of course there are days when I don’t want to fulfill my responsibilities: who enjoys washing dishes? who enjoys creating lesson plans? who enjoys writing papers? But the responsibilities of work are not a punishment from God on sinful people. Work was created to be a blessing. The blessing is there if we take the Time to see.

2) People enjoy their Time when they are fellowshipping. (I feel this term needs defining):

I became acquainted with a Christian periodical recently that discusses mundane activities with intelligence and clarity. While reading one article about potluck dinners, I realized that I can glorify the Lord with what I put into my mouth and chew. Maybe eating a snack isn’t amoral. Maybe exercising (or not exercising) is a religious activity. In another article I read, the author states that her favorite time of week is when she leaves the kids at home and exercises at a gym (you mean her favorite time of week isn’t going to church?)! Finally, a woman after my own heart. While I don’t enjoy exercising, I also don’t enjoy church. I haven’t enjoyed it since my family left the church I grew up in.

When this woman exercises, she knows she isn’t where she needs to be fitness-wise, but she wants to get there. She knows she won’t get the rhythm exactly right and won’t be able to do all fifteen burpees, but she will be improving each day. She isn’t responsible for anyone’s performance except her own. She has a support group of humans (fallible) in different stages of fitness who are also working to improve their own performances. In short, she has found a community of people who are honest with themselves and each other as they encourage each other to “get fit” in the Time they have together (the definition of fellowship).

But so often in church, I sit in the pew, fully knowing what unconfessed sin is lurking, and put a smile on my face while gratifying myself with a deep concern for the girl two rows down who spent too much time applying cosmetics in the bathroom. I justify my own sin by comparing my white lie with the affair of the woman sitting three rows behind me. I forget the ugliness of my insides while my outsides look impeccable. I congratulate myself that my children aren’t running around the auditorium. My daughter isn’t hanging on a boy during the service. My son is wearing a suit coat and tie. But my children don’t know Jesus. My daughter watches movies she shouldn’t watch. My son is rebellious and disrespectful. I am addicted to gossip.

How can there be community when we won’t be honest with ourselves or with each other? (One of the missionaries I pray for emailed me an update of his ministry, and in his prayer-request section, he wrote that he would like prayer for his marriage. He and his wife recently reconciled after a fight that lasted three weeks, and he is more than ever aware of how much he needs prayer to love his wife as Christ loves the church. My first reaction, TMI! But is this not the vulnerability and accountability we need in order to grow as believers?) True fellowship cannot exist when our Time together is wasted on fluff instead of the honest nitty-gritty. More on this struggle at a later time.

3) People make the choice to enjoy their Time.

Because of Memorial Day, I was given the blessing of extra Time (or so I thought). I dived headfirst into the long weekend with plans for how I’d spend that Time: a little extra sleep, a little more exercise, a little more coffee, a little more Netflix, and a lot more lesson planning. On Friday I had a migraine so all my plans got dumped on Saturday. By the time I finished a little extra sleep, a little more exercise, and a little more coffee, the day was over and I hadn’t hit my lesson plans. And despite Sunday being the day of rest, it is never restful. I went to church with my parents and enjoyed the afternoon fellowship with them while I did my laundry. I was in good spirits and agreed to go with my sister to her Sunday-school fellowship in the evening. (I mean, it’s free food!) But two hours of lack-of-fellowship got me altogether grumpy and fit for nothing but Netflix. Once again, lesson plans got pushed to the next day. All Monday morning and afternoon, I worked diligently on lesson plans. I worked myself into another migraine. In the evening we had a cookout with my family, the whole family, and almost instantaneously my migraine was gone and I didn’t care that I hadn’t finished my to-do list . . . because I was enjoying my Time with my family.

I finally finished scouring through books last night and now have only to create Power Points for each lesson. But I enjoyed my Time spent studying last night. Not because of an added blessing like pizza or tea or cheesecake. In fact, I had a headache after work yesterday, too. But I took the Time to remember why I was studying. I took the Time to remember why I love the work God has called me to. I took the Time to remember that a life lived without passion is not worth living. I took the Time to remember that I love being alive.

So I chose Joy. And the great thing about Joy is that it sneaks up on you when you least expect it.

Looking Back

The overwhelming response from the fans is that I keep writing and that I write about my life. Even though I haven’t written in a few months, I’m finally ready to begin again so here goes . . .

I graduated yesterday afternoon with my M.A. in Theatre Arts. Where did the last eight years go? On Thursday I cleaned out the programs and notes from my time at this University. There is nothing like perspective. My junior year of undergrad I tried out for an experimental production but was rejected. The director (who became one of my most beloved teachers) emailed me the most encouraging rejection letter I’ve ever received. I printed it out and found it again on Thursday. I reread every note I received from the only faculty member to ever cast me in a production (until this year). I even found some of his rehearsal notes from the first University play I was in. I found the love notes from D—- and B—-. I found notes from people I don’t remember anymore. Looking back and realizing which moments are worth remembering lifted the burden of moving on.

I came across the only diary I ever kept: from the summer of my junior year until August 2014. The last diary entry I wrote was “This semester is going to be rocky. I have established a system, which my chronic illness has disrupted. I can’t eat whatever I want whenever I want. And buying groceries is so difficult! I either buy too much or too little. Work was hard this week, too. Vacation does that to you. I went to Pennsylvania to audition at Sight and Sound. I can’t dance and after the humiliating experience, I have no desire to ever try again. But I also know without a doubt that I do not want to stay at this University longer than I have to. I am in love with my best friend. My emotional attachment gets greater with every day. I need to leave or I will never have hope. It’s very difficult to believe that anyone will ever love me because whenever I want something, it never works out.”

Well, the time for me to move on from this University has finally come. I am moving to Chicago, alone, to pursue the most frightening dream of my subconscious. I am immersing myself in the world of theatre in the heart of the theatre world. I am afraid of failure. I am afraid of loneliness. But I fear succeeding most. To live a life of selfless vulnerability and collaborative teamwork terrifies me. Yet that life is the Christian life.

I have heard mention of something called a “safe place” when it comes to the theatrical process. While I heartily agree that there should be a “safe place” on this earth to be vulnerable and fail, on this earth there is no truly safe place. I cannot control what other people think or say of me or my art. I have to learn how to bear the criticism of others and be discerning. Only by vulnerability, which never feels “safe,” can I truly be safe. I learned this lesson in grad school. Only by bearing my soul open to the public and accepting the criticism of people who disliked what I created did I learn to feel safe. My safety is not placed in other people but in my Savior whose opinion of me and my work is the only opinion that truly matters.

I am moving to Chicago, safe in the Lord’s plan for my future, whether it include success or failure. No matter what the future holds, my life belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ to do with as He pleases, and that life will be a success.

Writing Should Be Practiced

I know I haven’t lived long enough to say this, but back in my day . . . people with something of value to say, communicated through writing. Today, anyone can write, and almost everyone does. The internet has enabled people with nothing to say to say a lot. Facebook has caused people to think that sharing what they ate for breakfast is classified as world news. Anyone can self-publish now, whether the book is good or not.

When I first began blogging, I took pride in my courage. One of the bravest things I’ve done is keep on living after my breakup with Fishie. I only knew of one other friend-blogger when I began my journey. At first I was gratified when friends asked my advice about the blogs they were starting up. Then the honeymoon ended. Almost all my friends have blogs now, so many that I certainly can’t read them all and some I wouldn’t want to read, no offense. (Side-note thought: if everyone is doing the writing, who is doing the reading?)

All this band-wagon-blogging has made me sit back and evaluate my own blog. Not everyone should be writers. I think everyone should write, but not everyone should broadcast their writing to the entire universe. I’m drinking tea right now that quotes Aristotle on its tag: “In all things of nature, there is something of the marvelous.” Clearly, his writing belongs in the marvelous category. In the past few weeks in between school work and rehearsals and scholarship searching, I’ve watched two documentaries, one about Steve Jobs and one about Roger Ebert. Both were fascinating, inspiring, and humbling. Steve Jobs was an artist with a vision. Roger Ebert was a writer obsessed with films who believed stubbornly in his own opinions. Yet both of these men needed to be heard.

I am a Christian so I believe everyone has a voice, an important voice, in the kingdom of God. In fact, one of the most encouraging bits of advice I got in my theatre training was the admonition that God created me in His image with a creative voice, and because God created me, my voice deserves to be heard. But is it really?

This blog began as a breakup remedy. It turned into a travel blog and then a coffee blog and then an exercise blog and then a whatever-I-feel-like-posting blog. I haven’t reached that many followers so maybe I’m not as accountable as I could be, but the fact remains: the more I say, the more I have to be accountable for in heaven. I want to be sure I’m saying what needs to be said and no more.

My question for my followers is should I end this blog? and if not, what would you like to hear about? If I’m going to keep this blog open, I need a niche. Niches create accountability.

Not Self-Love, But God’s Love

Valentine’s Day. I feel I have to address the elephant in the room. Yes, I am single. I’ve been single for a long time, my whole life in fact.

I began receiving condolence texts at the beginning of last week, glib words meant to be comforting: “I’m praying for you,” “I miss being single,” and “You’ll meet someone someday.” My personal favorite: “You’ve had to watch three of your best friends begin dating this year. That must be hard.” Thank you. What else can I say? The consumer shopping centers have been vomiting chocolate and pink teddy bears since the day after Christmas. It’s not as though Valentine’s Day sneaked up on me. Today is not the end of the world, even for single people.

And yet, in a way, Valentine’s Day did sneak up on me. All last week people were posting anniversary pictures and sappy one-week-dating statuses. By the time I woke up this morning, I only had one thought: Get up on time to shower. I did not plan a Galentine’s Day or a treat-me day. I had no idea today was the day until I walked into my once-gray office and discovered that not one of the chocolate roses, red balloons, or gigantic pink cards scattered on my desk was meant for me.

Don’t misunderstand me. I love Valentine’s Day. I’m a huge fan of it even without the half-off chocolate. (Great day for pranks.) And some day I do look forward to being able to say “I love you” to someone without feeling ashamed. Then I remind myself that my life is not a Nicholas Sparksimg_4439 movie.

But as much as I desire to share my love without conditions to an unknown masculine specimen, I already have plenty of people I can love now, without conditions. Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Bless them that curse you.

Plus, I already know someone who loves me unconditionally: But God commendeth His love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend.

God’s love is lavishly spent on unlovable sinners, of whom I am chief.

How can I not love Him? How can I not love the people He created in His image?