Peace Is Not What We Should Pray For

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”… Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

“For peace in our nation.”  I paused.  “We pray to the Lord.”

The congregation, slower in its responses here than in my home parish on the other side of the state, mumbled, “Lord, hear our prayer.”

It’s not my job to improvise the intercessions – lectors just read, we don’t write – but at that moment I wished I could add something to the single, well-meaning, inadequate line of that particular prayer.

Because peace alone is not good enough.

Peace is easy for people like me to find.  Peace is what we get because we are white, and heterosexual, and cisgender, and above the poverty line.  Our peace is not truly disturbed by the reports on TV of violence elsewhere, of fear elsewhere, of hate crimes elsewhere, because, if you noticed, it is always elsewhere, not next door.  And even if it is next door, we can draw the blinds.  We can change the channel.  We can shuffle to and from our cars and listen only to radio stations that agree with us and read only the same old books we have always read and we can do this because we are the ones who are represented in those places.  We have the option of shutting ourselves off from those different from us.  And when we cannot ignore what’s happening outside our comfort zones, we can at least use it to reinforce the mentality that allows us to shake our heads gently and think, “At least We are not Like Them.”

Peace is easy for people like me to find.

But it is a “negative peace which is the absence of tension.”  The things that might bring us true peace, a “positive peace which is the presence of justice,” are more complicated.  And it’s not a terribly peaceful process.

Probably the writer of that intercession was hoping for a deeper peace, not just peace of mind or the bliss we speak of that comes from ignorance, but the peace we are promised in the Gospels, the kind “that surpasses all understanding,” which is good because a lot of other things right now surpass understanding.  But we are creatures who need the process spelled out for us, the true meaning defined and articulated point by point.

So this is what I’m praying for.

For peace and protection of marginalized groups and minorities as they face growing violence and aggression on top of the daily struggle of navigating a culture in which they are not the group in power.

For peace and communication between opposing views, that they may allow themselves to be coaxed toward a middle ground in which they can recognize the humanity of the Other standing before them.

For peace and humility in our leaders, that they may recognize their responsibility to those they represent and to the world as a whole.

For peace and true justice as we continue to work toward equality and a more perfect fulfillment of the American vision.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Purpose

the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc.
an intended or desired result; end; aim; goal
determination; resoluteness
As the Engineer waits to hear back from grad schools and I wait to hear what part of the country I’ll be living in come September, I itch to start a job search.  But not just any job search.  At the risk of sounding like An Entitled Millennial, I admit that I want a job that gives me a sense of purpose.  I wouldn’t mind working as a waitress, a barista, a data entry person – at least, not at first.  There are many necessary jobs that make our society run smoothly in the ways that we are used to, and I respect the people who fulfill those needs.
But it turns out that I am the kind of person who, if she is unsatisfied in her job, is unsatisfied in general.
I blame some of this on my brain’s deeply entrenched habits.  I’m already much better at exaggerating negative emotions, consequences, and difficulties than celebrating and remembering victories and little happy things.  And if I spend a week writing down good things for my Gratitude Jar and journaling every night and Naming and Recognizing My Emotions, I do notice that life is not quite as Blah as it seemed the week before.  So I do try to do that.
The problem continues, however, when I try to make my job relate too closely to my passion.  I have already figured out that I don’t want writing to be my career in a traditional sense, at least not now, so I thought working at the Writing Center would be a good way to earn money while sticking close to the field that already provides me with a sense of purpose.  So I spend several hours a day showing students how to better put words into sentences, and then I come home and I open my laptop and I open my own Work In Progress…and the last thing I want to do is put words into sentences.
I read an article in a magazine a while back about the concept of “reservoirs of energy.”  The gist was that everyone has three reservoirs: Mental, Emotional, and Physical.  A full day at work might deplete your Mental reservoir, so coming home and being asked to figure out what the heck is wrong with the refrigerator because it’s making that high-pitched noise again is only going to demand Mental energy from an empty reservoir, making you feel more exhausted.  The trick is recognizing activities that might drain one reservoir and not pushing yourself past your limit in using that type of energy; for instance, you might exercise after work because your Physical energy is still nearly full, giving your Mental and Emotional energy a chance to refill in time for dinner with your family.
I think working too closely with writing on a daily basis does something similar.  I think it depletes my Writing Energy (more probably just Mental energy, but humor me).  This, of course, wouldn’t be a problem if my job were only focused on my own writing projects, where I could finish the day tired but satisfied at a job well done.  But right now, I’m so focused on helping other people with their writing that I still feel dissatisfied with my day’s work because I so rarely manage to make progress on my own projects.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “A vocation is a terrible thing.”  He was talking about the call to one day join God in Heaven, to go through the difficult work of preparing for that kind of relationship, but I think the quote applies equally to those of us who know what we are meant to do on this earth but don’t know how, exactly, to go about it.
Writing, it has long been clear to me, is my God-given purpose.  It is “the reason for which [this person, Grace] exists.”  But while this gives me a long term goal, a desired result for my life (fantasy books, and maybe a historical fiction or two), and though I have been determined and resolute in this goal for years (despite every unoriginal snarky comment in the book), that leaves a bit of a gap in my daily life.  Because I’m still trying to figure out how, exactly, I’m supposed to find a job that gives me a Daily Sense of Purpose without sapping energy from my Big Picture Purpose.

The Blessings Jar

I can’t work in clutter.  My room, in the upheaval and un-routine-ness that accompanies a new semester, had been in an Uneasy State of Chaos for a while, and I was sick of it.  So, working counterclockwise around my room from the door, I Cleaned – and yes, the capital is warranted, because it was no mere 10-second tidying up.  I dusted and organized and rearranged and adjusted until everything fit Just So.

I was on a roll until I got to my nightstand.  One of the Random Things that had come to rest in obscurity right next to my bed was a pickle jar with the label peeled off and many slips of multicolored paper inside.

2016-01-19 19.37.17

My Blessings Jar.

I’d forgotten about it, failed to keep up the habit, since last year when Bird gave me the idea (which I think she got from Pinterest).  As I swiped the dust rag over it, I thought now might be a good time to empty it, start fresh, swear to myself that I would chronicle at least One Good Thing each night from now on.  Settling criss-cross-applesauce on the floor, I poured out the tiny scraps and began to read.  Some made me chuckle, like liquid dishwasher soap from when the Commodore and I finally ran out of that awful powdered stuff and bought a gallon of the liquid we preferred.

Some, like Bird’s smile when she saw me in the chapel after her retreat, made me cry.

It amazes me, sometimes, the magnitude of things that can be tethered in tiny characters inked on paper.  The moments I had found worth recording were instances of love, support, and shared strength from my parents, my sister, the Commodore, the Southern Belle, the Engineer and his family, my friends from church, and my coworkers.  All the people in my life had contributed to these scribbly bits of paper showing me how many families I have looking out for me.

So often it’s easier to remember the one bad thing that happened at the end of an evening, or late in the afternoon, and let it erase all the silliness and contentment of the morning and lunchtime.  A whole day can be colored by just one negative thing.  But when I force myself to think of just One Good Thing, it’s funny how more Good Things start to come out of the shadows, shyly raising a hand to say, “Remember me?  You didn’t have such a bad day after all.”

I tucked the old blessings away in a box and set the empty, hopeful jar on my freshly dusted nightstand.

I think this is a habit worth attempting again.2016-01-19 19.38.25

Confessing to Depression

I was vaguely aware that there was probably something wrong.  My friend and I had sat on one of the lower bunks in our somewhat crowded retreat cabin for almost half an hour, talking. She kept asking me questions – how was I eating, sleeping, focusing in class, feeling about spending time with the Engineer?

“Just one more thing,” she said. “Are you reading?”

I shook my head.

“That,” she said, looking me in the eye, “does not sound like you.”

I hadn’t felt like “me” for weeks, but I was slogging through, wasn’t I?  I was still helping lead this retreat.  I was still maintaining my grades.  I was still fun to be around at our weekly church dinners, even if I did sometimes hang out quietly in a corner or slip out early.  But I was probably just tired.  Everyone gets tired.

These were the thought processes that kept me from telling anyone, from thinking about it too much, from pushing too hard against the curtain that had fallen between me and the rest of the world.  Because that’s what it felt like.  I was just numb, all the time.  Nothing really seemed worth the effort of pushing through that.

Besides, I was probably just tired, or maybe not getting enough vitamin C.  I didn’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill, even in my own head.  Why make a big deal about something I was “handling” just fine?

Somewhere, in my two decades on this planet, I had picked up social habits that informed the way I thought about my own mental health.  These habits led me to believe that as long as no one could tell anything was wrong, there wasn’t anything wrong.  Furthermore, these habits led me to fear others’ reactions when I admitted to this “fault” of mine, this depression.  Every time I told a friend or family member my shameful secret, I flinched at the words, preparing myself for the comments I’d already heard so much from myself.

“I’m sure it’s not that bad.  Just cheer up.”

“Focus on positive things.”

“You’re just having a bad week.  It’ll pass.”

“Wow, overdramatic much?”

I had only told my friend about my feelings on a whim – something she’d said about her own experiences in counseling had stuck with me despite the numbness, and I just wanted to see if there were any similarities between our cases.  Or rather, if I was being honest, I wanted to know that she saw those similarities too, that I wasn’t just making it up.

But even though she asked every day for the next week if I’d made an appointment with a counselor, even though the Southern Belle said I didn’t seem like myself lately and the Engineer expressed his worry for me, it took me another two weeks to actually go in.

And when I did?  “If I had the textbook open in front of me to Depression,” the counselor said, “it would say all the things you’re telling me.”

“But nothing’s happened,” I wanted to say.  “No one died.  I didn’t get fired.  There’s no trauma that should have caused this.”  Apparently, my brain didn’t care about my need to legitimize my depression to others.  This was just what was happening, regardless of events in my life.

Not one of my friends or family members said anything dismissive when I finally opened up to them.  They gave me nothing but love and support.

But I still dismissed my mental health.  I compared my own numbness to what I thought of as “real depression,” the struggles of people suffering from physical illness or devastating loss.  I felt like an impostor, and, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I thought others would see me that way too.

I worried I was talking about it too much – that the Engineer or Bird or any of my friends might secretly be rolling their eyes and thinking, “This again?  Isn’t she over it by now?”

Our society does not do well with mental health.  For one thing, it’s invisible – I can’t count the number of times someone has said (in the nicest possible way) that I “always seemed so happy.”  And the stigmas surrounding mental health issues encourage us to keep it invisible.  As John Green said in a recent video (which I highly recommend you go watch – the relevant part starts at about 1:00), “The central way we imagine sickness, as a thing that we must conquer and then put behind us, doesn’t really apply to chronic illness.”  I don’t blame anyone for wanting to assume I’m “better,” but every time I have to re-admit to having depression, it opens me up to that fear of disappointing them, as though I’ve failed to attain something, even though that something is actually out of my control.

This is why I want to talk about my depression – because those stigmas and those fears stemming from them make me so angry.  The way our society deals with mental health is preventing people from admitting to themselves that something might be wrong.  It’s preventing the friends and family of people with mental health issues from finding the best ways to help.

And this fear of talking about it isn’t helping any of us.


Some food for thought:

“Explaining My Depression to My Mother” by Sabrina Benaim (an excellent poem about an experience I was blessed enough not to have)

HPWritesBlogs, especially her post “Depression is a Liar”

10 Depression Myths We Need to Stop Believing from Huffington Post

A New Year’s Post

I’m trying something new this year.  Well, multiple new things, really.  In looking at my schedule, taking on all 27 or so of my proposed resolutions at once just isn’t going to happen.  For one thing, I have zero free time until the end of February, when I present my undergraduate thesis (further freakouts regarding the state of this ginormous project will be forthcoming, I’m sure).  For another, trying to implement a billion new pieces of a routine simultaneously just doesn’t work.  I’ve tried it.  It’s like carrying an armful of cats.  You want to hold onto all of them, but one or two are bound to wriggle out and go scampering off somewhere.  And you end up with a lot of claw marks from the ones that are left.

So my theory is that gradually adding clusters of new habits every two weeks or so might be easier to manage, particularly since my schedule is already going to drastically change about halfway through the semester.  My loose idea for this organizational tactic is as follows:

Immediate

The daily changes I want to make right away – drink a full water bottle daily; get outside once a day; journal every evening; read for pleasure; write literally anything, even just a sentence, for my own personal manuscript

New Semester

The stuff that will be easier to start when I get back to school and therefore has been pushed back until then – cut out mindless snacking; don’t skip Zumba classes; set up a real workspace instead of just sitting on the couch with Netflix on in the background; do homework the day it is assigned; incorporate daily Bible readings into my new semester routine; block out specific times to work on my thesis; don’t forget about meals

Post-Thesis Haze

The bigger picture things that will undoubtedly nag at the back of my mind but that I physically cannot spend time on until my thesis is done – start applying for post-grad jobs; devote an hour minimum each day to my own manuscript; get certified as a Zumba instructor; seek out freelance editorial and authorial work, even unpaid internships; focus on online professional development

Post-Grad

Honestly, I haven’t really dared to think this far ahead.  But if I’m still not skipping Zumba and I’m eating healthy and staying hydrated and working on my manuscript and feel like I’ve got my job situation sort of under control for the moment, then I’ll probably focus on my general theme for the year: be present.

I’ve fallen down many a stress spiral before, particularly this past semester, and these are frequently brought on by focusing too hard on the future.  I will never be completely happy-go-lucky or loosey-goosey with my schedule (I love my planner too much!) nor do I think that thinking about and planning for the future is a bad thing.  But when it makes me forget about how happy I am in the moment with the Engineer or how much I’m enjoying this particular sentence in my book or how great this writing session is going, it does become a problem.

And, as stressful as it may be at times, I really am looking forward to the year ahead, so I want to hold onto that and appreciate where I am in the life I’m building for myself.

Decision

the act of or need for making up one’s mind
something that is decided; resolution
the quality of being decided; firmness
I make lists.  I run a pencil down the edge of a ruler and divide my cardstock into two columns, one Pro, one Con.  I begin jotting, neatly at first, then scribbling as it becomes a stream of consciousness, leaping from one side to the other like a Highland sword dance.
I ask advice.  I gather opinions like berries, examining each one for ripeness, letting them dye my fingers and adding my stained fingerprints to the already constructed lists.
I consider myself, my own head and heart.  I still have trouble with this one – for a long time, emotions had very little to do with my major choices, unless it was to tip a balanced scale at the last minute.  Choosing a high school came down to academic reputation.  Picking my college came down to finances.  Making a decision based on feelings didn’t seem “smart,” and I was all about making the “smart” choice.
Which is probably why I was so stuck.  Why I couldn’t articulate to my friends, my family, even to myself what I wanted.  Why my heart still beats a little faster when I say it out loud, much less type it out.
I’ve decided to stay in my college town for the next year after graduation.  I can keep my apartment and my job, both of which I love.  I can be near the Engineer while he finishes up his last year of undergrad (switching majors sophomore year throws things a little out of whack).  And I can work on my own writing so the next time I pitch a manuscript to someone and they want to read it, I’ll actually have something to send them.
And I’m pretty excited about all that.

Senseless

destitute or deprived of sensation; unconscious
lacking mental perception, appreciation, or comprehension
stupid or foolish, as persons or actions
nonsensical or meaningless, as words

We use this word a lot to describe horrific things.  “A senseless tragedy.”  “Senseless violence.”  And usually we take it to mean that there is no sense to this, that is it nonsense, this thing that has happened, we cannot make sense out of it because to any sensical person it is impossible to think this way.  Justifying it is meaningless.  You might as well try to argue that the world is flat.  We cannot make heads or tails of it.  Senseless.

But I think in the immediate aftermath of tragedies, we also mean that we are numb, that we are “destitute or deprived of sensation,” because sometimes the best way to handle such news is to shut down, at least for a moment.  Even worse, the hits just keep on coming.  Syria.  Beirut.  Paris.  After a while, the pain deadens the nerve endings rather than awakening them.  The sensation, the hopeless, helpless sensation, is there, but it is lessened with time and repetition.

Do we mean, perhaps, that our sense of outrage is limited?  That it is senseless to maintain a sense of anger because these things happen so often and the world is so dark?

I hope not.

I hope, instead, that we mean that we need to take a breath to ready ourselves for the feelings that accompany the confusion.

I hope we mean that we cannot make sense of these things because there is no sense behind them.  I hope we mean that it does not make sense to warp faith into violence, and that it does not make sense to blame the whole for the sins of one part.

And because we can recognize that, because we can say that we do not think that way and we will not think that way, we can do something.  We can change something.

It will be slow, and it will be hard, but we can make the world make sense again.

Too Loud to Be Heard

Walking down the mall to work this past week, I had to veer around a medium-sized clump of people ringed around a shouting man.  The man shouted about damnation, Jesus, and sin.  Sometimes he stood on a milk crate.  Sometimes people shouted back.  Mostly they just laughed.

But then I got to work and I heard the conversations inspired by this man and his shouting.

“Christians are so judgmental.”  “They’re all just a bunch of hypocrites.”  “This is why I hate religion.”

“Would you say I’m judgmental?” I wanted to ask.  “Would you assume that I condemn all those who don’t share my beliefs?”

In my fantasy, they answer, “Of course not.  You are tolerant and good.”

“Well,” my imaginary self responds, standing to make a dramatic exit, “I must not be a very good Christian then, since you say they’re all so awful.” The less charitable part of me wants to leave them spluttering, awkward, wishing they hadn’t made assumptions about their audience, ashamed of drawing such broad conclusions about a large group of people the same way they say Christians do.

But instead I bit my lip, because I had a shift in five minutes and not enough time to explain how they shouldn’t judge the whole from the part, viewing all of us in the same way as the yelling fundamentalist.

Catholics, traditionally, shy away from street corner evangelism.  We are not comfortable with tabling in the student union, or even handing out candy in front of our own church door.  But I wear my cross necklace, and if someone notices and wants to have a respectful discussion of belief systems with me, I will gladly sit down with them.  I seek more to understand, and to allow the other person to understand my own beliefs, than to convert them.

And this is the problem I have with people who shout one the mall.  They are not fostering discussion.  They are not leaving their audiences musing to themselves that perhaps there’s something to this whole God thing after all.  There is nothing productive about the conversations stemming from seeing this shouting man because those conversations only reflect the judgment that people feel from him.  His content may be solid, but the method of transmission is off-putting to say the least.

So, if anyone cares, I’m open to discussion.  But please: no shouting.

Things I’m Trying to Be Better About

Praying.

Calling home.

Making healthy dinners.

Awareness of how much I’m spending on coffee.

Awareness of how much I’m drinking coffee.

Posting on this blog.

Posting on Changeling Scribbles (actually no don’t go read it because I haven’t posted anything in weeks).

Reading for pleasure.

Working on my own writing.

Doing laundry before the basket overflows.

Not overscheduling myself.

Eating a real breakfast, not just a protein bar on the way out the door.

Leaving the Engineer’s at a reasonable hour because he gets grumpy when he doesn’t get to bed before 11.

Leaving the Engineer’s at a reasonable hour because I cannot actually replace sleep with coffee.

Pulling myself out of stress spirals about what to do with my life post-graduation.

Going out and doing things occasionally.

Loving myself.

Want

to wish, need, crave, demand, or desire

to be without or be deficient in

“Tell me, right now, what you want.”

I sat in a springy armchair in a slightly musty room in a retreat center, twisted sideways to face my friend in the tweed armchair on the other side of the end table.  I had asked her advice, or her listening, I suppose, because she is my peer, in a similar place in life, and because it was a retreat.  You do things like this on retreats, I thought, even if you’re leading them.  You have these conversations with yourself.  It’s inherent.  Walking away for a weekend, leaving behind homework, shedding those surface attachments, it all leaves room.  Quiet, quiet room in my mind for those wonderings.

What I want?

There have been too many voices contributing to that conversation; my own was drowned out long ago.  I don’t remember anymore, without any outside influences, what I want.

I want my colorful planner to be already laid out for the next five years, the way it has been all my life, but it isn’t.

What I want?

I want to work on my writing, to be near those I love, to simply go to work and come home and have time to do what I love and maybe enjoy my job as well, small things, really, when I list them like this, but I cannot want them, because they are not what I have said I wanted, what I claimed for myself, what others want for me.

I want not to be found wanting.  I desire things of my own, but worry that by fulfilling my own wishes I will become deficient in outsiders’ eyes.

What I want?

I’d like to know that too.  Or be able to admit that I know it, and that I want it at all.  That I think it’s what God wants for me, too, because I wouldn’t still feel this way otherwise.

I sat in a springy armchair in a slightly musty room in a retreat center, twisted sideways to face my friend.  She wanted to know what I wanted.

And somehow, I told her.