Tongue Biting & Name Calling

I’m just going to go ahead and say it: it’s fun to be mean and degrading. Giving people nicknames you’d never repeat in front of them, making jokes about a person’s mannerisms or appearance, talking smack about the people you don’t like – all of that makes for entertaining, hilarious conversations. And boy, am I good at it. I mean, really good.

Then the other day, I was listening to someone talk about how lust is simply the act of dehumanizing a person, making them into an object without seeing the value of their entirety. And I thought, holy hell, I do that all the time with my name calling. It’s not any different, you see. A person who is a brother, a son, a friend, an uncle, a grandson, a child of God becomes [insert derogatory nickname here]. That’s all I see when I look at them or encounter them. Pretty quickly, that’s all they become to me. My words dehumanize them without them even knowing it, and their worth is reduced to the singular thing that made me mad or the mannerism that irks me.

Most of the time, the name calling starts because I have expectations of people that don’t get met. I expect that super attractive guy I’m flirting with to eventually ask me out, and when he doesn’t he becomes an asshole. Or I expect that other person to be aware of the fact that laundry shouldn’t be done only once every couple months, so when they don’t grasp that concept, they become the dirty asshole. Eventually, I can’t speak of this person with respect. I can’t look them in the eye and value who they are because all I see are my unmet expectations. Like a two-year-old, I throw a tantrum when people don’t give me what I want but it’s cleverly disguised under the adult variant of sarcasm and disrespectful humor.

How am I that different from that guy who only sees a body to mentally disrobe when he looks at me? I get furious when the conversations of lust and shame and who’s to blame come up. I have strong opinions, and I’m not ashamed of them. But what makes his dehumanization of me worse than my dehumanization of him? We’re reducing each other’s humanity to fragments either way, but my method of choice just happens to be more socially acceptable.

I think a lot about the woman I want to be – the kind of wife or mom or friend I aspire to become. Her beauty shines from the inside out, and you come away from any time with her feeling valued, loved, and at peace. That woman will not miraculously appear as soon as someone puts a ring on my finger. Her beauty is cultivated now  – in my words, and speech, and thoughts today. If today, I become mean and degrading as soon as my expectations are not met, how much more when I’m faced with someone else’s humanity in my heart and in my bed till death do us part?

I want to learn to celebrate a person’s humanity and imperfections even when it’s uncomfortable and everything in me wants to berate them. I want to love selflessly, not just the people I’m friends with, but everyone I encounter. I want to be like my mom, with her quiet dignity and gracious words about the people who did her the most harm. So I’m starting by keeping my mouth shut and my eyes open to see and appreciate the value of the whole person. After all, we’re all more than the sum of our broken parts.

“Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out.” – Colossians 4:6.

Seminary is Killing My Soul

There were a lot of things I was expecting when I moved here for school. I expected everyone to be uppity, gliding around piously on their high horses and looking down on me because I have a potty mouth, I drink whiskey, and I wear pretty tight jeggings. I expected everyone to be insincere and inauthentic, spouting off Christianese lingo and being completely unapproachable. I expected God to feel closer. After all, I’m at a seminary.

Contrary to my expectations, everyone seems normal, aware of their incompetence and brokenness, and openly seeking growth. Maybe it’s unique to the Counseling department, since we’re all drawn to broken people anyways, but I haven’t met a single person yet who fits my expected stereotype. And in like fashion, contrary to my expectations, God seems farther than he’s been in a long while.

I’m surrounded by Christians all the time – a culture shock, to say the least. And other than the family I work for, I don’t get to have conversations with people who don’t share the same faith I do. You’d think this would be spiritual growth heaven, instead, to borrow the words of a friend, I feel like seminary is slowly killing my soul. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been to church in about a month thanks to unavoidable circumstances. Or maybe it’s that I’m so focused on being productive each day that I write off my formerly habitual morning coffee, Bible, and journal time. I think it’s really because I have an aversion to living in this holy huddle, and the only way I know how to get some air is to avoid the one Being who controls my breath.

This time, I’m not running from him and he’s not hiding from me. I know without a doubt that he’s only one step away – all I need to do is move. But I’m not ready. I don’t want to move. I fear that taking that step would mean that I become that person who only listens to Christian radio, only watches Fox News, and hands out tracts to strangers. And I desperately do not want to be that person.

Maybe it’s completely selfish and sinful, my desire to remain separate from the holy huddle. But maybe it’s because I believe I’m called to bring light to dark places and right now I feel like a candle in the middle of a sunroom at noon. Where I was expecting to feel alive and free, I feel restless, caged, and numb. In the two months that I’ve lived here, the closest I’ve felt to God was in the middle of wandering around in the most beautiful blizzard of last week. Something about the complete quiet and minimal visibility spoke words to my soul that my morning quiet times hadn’t been able to speak in a long time.

But the blizzard is now in the past and once again my heart feels distant, restless, and caged. I need to somehow simultaneously take two steps in two directions, one toward God and one toward people who are not like me. Or maybe only one step is necessary, and I’ll find him in the faces and eyes of those people, contrary to my expectations. That wouldn’t surprise me at all.

 

Giving Up

I’m not gonna lie, I used to live in the “Lent is stupid” camp for a really long time. I believed it was laughable – like New Year’s Resolutions – and just a silly excuse to give up sugar/tv/cursing. Like everything else in our church calendar, it had become commercialized, and was no longer about the man that hung on the cross. I just couldn’t understand why people needed Lent as an excuse to give up things like sugar or television. Shouldn’t the point of whatever you give up be about closing the distance between you and God? Just give up sugar if you want to, you know?

Honestly, I wish I still lived in that camp. It’s easier to be cynical and judgmental in the name of religion. It’s easy and it feels so damn good. But last year, I gave up something for Lent. No one forced me; I wasn’t dragged to the altar kicking and screaming. In a quiet moment alone in my room, I heard that soft voice I often overlook asking me to give something up. For him. So I obliged – I gave up complaining. For forty days, I wasn’t going to allow myself to complain about anything. And every time I was tempted to grumble, I had to write on a piece of paper something I was thankful for and place it in my “Gratitude Box”.

Man, those first few weeks were every kind of rough you can imagine. In fact, the very next day, I remember having the worst fight with a good friend that made me want to shatter beautiful things left and right. And all I wanted to do was complain about how he was the worst and I couldn’t believe he said that and blah blah blah. Instead, I grunted like a cave man, went into my room and wrote down something I was thankful for. I found that box recently, and in it the sheet of paper from that day. It read, “I’m thankful for growth even when I hate it. I’m thankful for people I care enough about to fight with. I’m thankful that I can feel mad and hurt and sad because it means I’m alive and not numb.”

Those forty days changed my life. It’s now a part of who I am to pause in the middle of my rants about how the world doesn’t work the way I want it to, and say, “But I’m thankful for _____.” My glass is no longer half empty, and I’ve found that it’s much harder to lose your joy when you live in an attitude of gratitude. If you were to read my journal from last year, you’d find the words “thankful” and “thank You” scattered on every page. Every little thing is a gift that I try not to take for granted.

So this year, I thought, Should I give something else up? What needs to change? While my experience last year was awesome, I haven’t at all become an advocate for Lent. In fact, if you asked me if you should participate in it, I’d have a hard time saying yes. Yet, again, in a quiet moment in my apartment this afternoon, another seed was planted in my heart. It’s time to give up your desire to be perfect.

I’m absolutely loving graduate school so far. The professors are all incredible, and every day I am surprised at their frankness and wisdom. I mean, who knew we’d be having an open discussion about masturbation as a part of human development at a Seminary? I’m still picking my jaw up off the floor, and simultaneously applauding. I love it here. But it also scares the air right out of my lungs.

Every time we’re given more information about the requirements for completing this journey successfully, I have a mini panic attack. Yes, it’s incredible that I’ll have a team of mentors who will be monitoring my personal and professional growth for the next two years. It’s incredible that they don’t just care about my grades, but also about the state of my heart. They want to make sure that I’m healthy before I’m given the title of professional helper, and that I’m truly learning the skills essential to be a therapist – empathy, listening well, asking good questions. It’s incredible, really, that so much attention is being paid to me.

But honestly, it makes me want to wet my pants. I want to be the perfect student who graduates with honors, and completes every single requirement in two years instead of the usual 2.5 – 3 years. I want to be the one who can balance a full load every semester while working part-time, being involved at my church, maintaining all my friendships, and flirting with attractive, bearded men. I want to be the one who’s got all the answers, the one who permanently fixes every client she meets with in practicum and internship. I want to graduate at 25 so that if I have the insane urge to pursue a PhD, I can attain that goal by 30. I want to always be ahead in every single class at any given time.

And then I contracted the plague last week and fell behind in all my classes as my brain turned to mush and my lungs worked overtime to keep up with my sickness. Oh, I still dragged myself to every class half-alive, but I couldn’t find the energy to go beyond that. And today, while I freaked out about the two tests I have this week and how I wouldn’t be this behind if I hadn’t gotten sick, I realized that I’d been trying so hard to be perfect that I’d forgotten how to just be.

More than all the things I listed above, I want to be a woman at rest in who she is and where she is. I want to be a woman who can ensure that her laudable desire for excellence doesn’t turn into perfectionism. I want to be okay with screwing this whole therapist thing up, and having to learn from that. I want to be okay with messing up and being a mess. And I don’t want to lose sight of the things I hold most dear in light of living up to these expectations. I love, more than many other things, long, organic, heartfelt conversations. A woman far too concerned with graduating in two years with a 4.0 has no time for people and long conversations. And I have no time for that woman.

So this year, I’m unclenching my fists for Lent. I’m giving up my desire for control and perfection, and I’m reminding myself that my identity doesn’t lie among the many hats I wear, or the title that will eventually be behind my name. My identity is first and foremost found in the Love that set me free, and if I let him, he’ll quiet my frenzied attempts at perfection with that love.

Today, instead of studying for a test, I baked tiramisu cupcakes with my neighbor and laughed at her “That’s what she said” jokes hysterically. It felt good to laugh. It felt good to be. And it felt heavenly to eat those cupcakes.
tiramisu cupcakes

On Aesthetics & Attraction

There are certain people who make the world better just by being in it. My bestest lady, G, is such a one. She’s the best combination of hilarious and down-to-earth, an observant listener and an excellent participant. She’s understatedly brilliant, and just all around my favorite person. Which makes it easy to spend two hours on the phone with her, chatting about everything from the absurdity of Colorado weather to love and relationships.

Which brings me to the topic at hand (sorry G, this isn’t actually an ode to you). Relationships. More specifically, attraction. Even more specifically, a guy’s wardrobe. I don’t do the Top 50 Qualities My Future Husband Needs To Possess lists – at least not in the way most girls do. I have very few nonnegotiables, which makes me feel a little more well-rounded than most. But when I mention that the way a man dresses is one of those nonnegotiables, people look at me like I’m crazy.

G and I talked about this at length today. I said that a well-clothed man was most definitely in my top three. She said it was more of a bonus for her and less of a necessity. [The nice thing about G and I’s relationship is how different yet compatible we are.] I mean, can I help the fact that when a well-dressed man walks into the room, I’m unable to focus on the proper formation of thoughts or words? I can’t, in fact.

It’s less about body type or fitting into a stereotypical look, like the hipster, or the working guy, or the mountain man. (I find all three attractive, in case you were wondering). For me, putting together an outfit is just as enjoyable as writing music – it’s a creative outlet, one that let’s me express who I am through what I put on my body. That’s how I observe people too. I like to think that I can almost accurately decipher a person’s personality based on what they’re wearing, most especially their shoes. If you wear chacos, I immediately think, “Here’s another outdoorsy acquaintance to add to the list.” If you’re wearing a pair of these, I immediately have a crush on you. I fall asleep thinking about what I’ll wear the next day (and what I’ll eat for breakfast). Sometimes, I stand in my new walk-in closet and giggle with joy, because all my clothes are hanging neatly, and are color coordinated. Seriously, that makes me happy.

So is it so incredibly shallow to want a man who values his aesthetic enough to put effort into it? And maybe even enjoy it? Shouldn’t you want to spend the rest of your life with someone you’re attracted to in more ways than just their amazing heart? People always say in response, “Well, you can always change him once you’re in a relationship!” That, I think, is pure madness. If you don’t like who a person is before you start dating them, then you shouldn’t date them. Period. Otherwise, you’re dating your imagination and not the real person in front of you.

Lest you think me completely superficial, my other nonnegotiables include things like being a man who values quiet and space, and being a man with vision and ambitions not just to better himself but the world around him as well. These are the things I’m the most drawn to, but in equal amounts I’m drawn to the guy who can look crazy good without my help much more than I’ll ever be attracted to the total sweetheart over there in chacos. I just want us to look good while we change the world together.

My mom thinks I’m shallow. My friends think I’m just being funny. What do you think? Shallow or legitimate?

P.S. The one exception is being a reader. If you look amazing and don’t like to read, I want nothing to do with you.