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.

When Your Worst Fears Don’t Come True

Occasionally I have nightmares where Bird or the Engineer or some other loved one is hurt, or even killed, and I can’t get there.  I am on the other side of the country in these dreams, or even in another nation entirely, and all I can do is cling to my phone and rush around demanding that someone, anyone, help me get there.  Even if I can’t actually do anything, even if the person is comatose in this nightmare and probably won’t make it, just being physically near them somehow makes me better able to handle the situation.  But, since this is a nightmare, I never quite reach them.  I just struggle against unreasonable transportation until I wake up.  Then I lie back, heart racing, and remind myself that it’s not real.

Until it happened when I was awake.

About six weeks ago, I got a phone call from an unfamiliar number.  The person on the other end seemed to know a bit about me, introducing himself as a friend of the Engineer, who was down in California for the weekend.  We exchanged brief pleasantries, then:

“He’s okay, but he was in a car accident.”

Only a few words made it through after that.  Everyone’s fine… hospital now… let you know more… he’s talking… asking about you…

“Did you call his mom yet?” I managed to ask.  No, he hadn’t, she was his next call.  (Actually, as it would turn out, he wouldn’t be able to get through and I would have to call her and tell her the news myself – a call I never want to make again!)

I hung up and walked into the living room, where Bird – at least in this nightmare-come-true she was safe – jumped up from the couch at the look on my face.  When I told her what had happened, I think I just kind of dissolved.  “Do we need to get you to LA?” she asked, hugging me.  “I will get you on a plane, I will buy you a ticket myself.  I don’t have any money, but I will get you on a plane.”

I knew, logically, that that wasn’t feasible.  There was no reason for me to go down and sit around with a bunch of strangers waiting to hear more.  It would make much more sense for his mom to go, if anyone needed to.  He might still be home in a few days – hadn’t his friend said he was talking?  Talking was good, I thought.  So I walked around the house and refused to put my phone down for a moment, just in case.

Even after I talked to the Engineer himself later that day, and again that evening, I still felt on edge.  The worst had happened, I thought, and yet it hadn’t.  He was (mostly) fine, no broken bones, no internal bleeding, no measurable concussion – none of the horrors from my nightmares, besides the accident itself, had come true.  So I was left waiting for the Real Worst Thing to descend.  His head injury would take away his feelings for me, I thought, or some overlooked complication would leave him clinging to life a few days later.  Somehow I couldn’t let myself believe that the nightmare had come, had passed, and hadn’t manifested my worst imaginings.  I couldn’t believe life was letting me off so easy.

Now, I don’t mean to downplay this.  The accident did take its toll on the passengers in both cars; the Engineer took a few weeks to recover fully.  But he was home the next day, walking and talking, acting normal, if a bit tired.  And in the days afterward, everyone involved kept saying how fortunate they had been to escape with comparatively minor injuries between them.  A slightly different angle, a few feet farther, a little faster – it all could have been so, so much worse.

As it was, life went on.  Stiffly, perhaps, and with a slight twinge occasionally, and maybe a few more naps, but it went on.

I still fear harm coming to people I love.  I still hate that helpless, hand-wringing feeling I get when all I can do is carry a cell phone from room to room, waiting for news.  I still plan out what I would do in some broadly hypothetical worst-case scenario.  But I’ve come to realize – slowly, painfully – that the worst-case scenario isn’t the only scenario possible.  It’s as if God was saying, “You see?  It happened.  One of your greatest fears happened, and you came through it.  That can happen too – it doesn’t have to turn out for the worst.” I don’t believe God sends bad things our way, but I do believe He uses them to shape us a little more into the person He wants us to be.  In this case, I think He was helping me to be less fearful, more hopeful.  Somewhere down the road, one of my nightmares will probably come true, in partial or full form, again.  And it will be scary and awful and I will wish it hadn’t happened.

But unlike my dreams, unlike wrenching myself desperately into consciousness, that situation will have a resolution – and it might even be, with His help, for the better.

Sister Car Dancing Level: Pro

19a4839788909bdabb46838c9630e130One of my favorite things to do in traffic is defuse the tension by being that weirdo jamming out in her car, and I blame my sister for that.

My family has always been vehicularly musical; our road trips to visit relatives always involved rotating through tried and true soundtracks.  I knew the words to CamelotGodspellYou’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, etc. before I started first grade.  We still bust out Hairspray and The Best of Andrew Lloyd Webber.  So I sang in the car a lot growing up.

But car dancing didn’t really start until I taught Bird the moves to a dance associated with a particular retreat at my high school.  Although The Dance is and always will be connected to that retreat, the more I chauffeured my sister around, the more it became our thing.  If either of us was having a bad day, we’d put on The Song.  If we were bored driving home, we’d put on The Song.

Now, initially we only tended to do this while moving, so we felt like no one could see us (side note: I always toned down the moves enough to maintain full control of the vehicle at all times).  But one day, when the other drivers at a lengthy stoplight looked particularly irritable, Bird turned to me and said with that little-sister grin, “These people need Jesus.”  Before I realized what she meant, she had cranked up The Song to full volume and rolled down her window.  We were attracting glances from our neighboring cars, but the moves hadn’t started yet.  They thought we were just another couple of teenagers with really loud music.

I sighed and rolled down my window too.

When the lyrics began, we bounced in rhythm to the song and performed the moves in perfect synchronization.  The drivers across the intersection started to stare.  By the time the chorus came around, pretty much everyone was watching us.  The light turned green, and we drove on, still dancing and singing, but I definitely noticed some smiles.  Maybe they just thought we were ridiculous.  We probably looked ridiculous.

But who doesn’t love telling stories about ridiculous stuff?

Our car dance performances are not necessarily restricted to The Song or religious music.  We make up moves to Ariana Grande and Hunter Hayes.  The point is that it’s fun to get weird looks from total strangers and to make their day a bit more interesting.  (We also love to do this when we’re stopped by construction workers.)

car dance gif

And yet, for all our unbridled enthusiasm for car dancing, there has been only one spectator who dared to, as they say, get on our level.

Remember how Bird and I volunteered at VBS?  Well, one year we were given our own class to teach, a group of rambunctious 2nd and 3rd graders.  Like every other class group, our students had to learn a song.  At the concert at the end of the week, each class would perform their song, with the corresponding dance moves, for an audience of parents.

And as the teachers prompting them at the foot of the stage, Bird and I had to learn the moves too.

We were in the car on the way to St. C’s, practicing the moves and lyrics, music at full blast, when we stopped at a red light.  Since the choreography was designed for little kids, the chorus was mostly just waving your arms back and forth.  So that’s what we were doing – when we noticed the guy behind us staring.  And so was the lady next to us.

We bounced all the harder in our seats (restrained by our seatbelts, of course – safety first!) and exaggerated the ridiculous dance moves even more for our audience.  We figured we might as well.

And then, just as the light was about to turn, I glanced in the rearview mirror to see the guy behind us grinning and waving his arms back and forth in time with ours.

Well danced, sir.  Well danced.

Teaching Moments with Skits and Donuts

Summer always meant Vacation Bible School when I was growing up.  My mother complains says that she can still remember all six or seven verses of “the Moses Song” from my first year in VBS (“Mooooooses, floating in a basket, drifting down the river Nile.  Whoooooooo will, who will save him?  God will save this lit-tull child!”  There were hand motions and a lot of six-year-olds screaming the words.  I’m sure it was memorable indeed).  I loved this five-day opportunity to make summer as much like school as possible.  My mom probably loved the opportunity to have someone else entertain Bird and I while she ran errands.

You could only attend VBS as a student through 5th grade, so then, naturally, because I hadn’t had enough of the mind-numbingly repetitive songs and the cutesy themes (OK, I actually love the decorations in the Social Hall every year), I decided to be a volunteer for several years – until I graduated high school, actually.

One year, the Social Hall was set up to look like a Roman marketplace.  I forget the theme, but it was something about the book of Acts and the apostles trying to avoid persecution in the early Church.  There was even a cave (made of gray butcher paper and stacks of chairs) set up in the hallway for students to duck into whenever the “guards” walked by.  I worked in the abacus stall, helping kids string beads in cardboard frames (which usually took so long we didn’t have time to show them how it worked…which was fortunate, since we didn’t actually know).

I was also in a skit.

Every morning, volunteers would act out a short scene teaching one of the values related to that day’s Bible story.  I was supposed to be the kindly baker who buys a thief’s freedom from the surly guard, even though he steals bread right off my tray.  It was supposed to demonstrate forgiveness or something.

However, there were several problems with this plan.

  1. This skit took place at snack time, with a tray of actual pieces of bread/donuts to entice the kids, instead of during the morning assembly when they were all sitting quietly already. Obviously, the kids found the food more interesting than the stilted dialogue.
  2. The boy chosen to play the thief and the boy chosen to play the guard were brothers.  Identical twins, actually.  Who spoke very fast.  And got a little too into the whole “arrest” part of the skit.  Which led to…
  3. …an adult volunteer mistaking the spectacle for a real fight, coming over, physically separating the brothers, interrupting the skit to lecture them on acting their age in front of the kids.  At which point I noticed the students turning toward us with wide eyes.  Oh, sure, now they paid attention.
  4. None of us knew how seriously to take this, so we weren’t sure at what point we were supposed to break character.  I tried to explain to the adult that we were acting, but he didn’t seem to get it.
  5. The second time we performed the skit (there were 2 snack time shifts), no one had reset the gold I was supposed to use to pay off the guard, so I had to run around to the stalls looking for the plastic “gold” coins the kids used to gain entrance to their activities.  So essentially it looked like I was stealing in order to save a thief.  Oy.
  6. We were supposed to use a microphone so the kids could hear us, but passing the mic from person to person doesn’t make for a particularly realistic argument, nor does it make a lot of sense for a baker handing out trays of donuts to be holding a microphone in the other hand.

Hopefully our failure of a skit did not make or break anyone’s VBS experience.  But the important thing is, the kids learned their theme songs by the end-of-week show.


My Life in Books, Part 1: The Formative Favorites

I can divide up my life by books: epochs of reading indicated by the particular volume that served as my security blanket, my favorite refuge, for that period.  These are the formative few that found me at exactly the moment I needed them.

1. Angelfish by Laurence Yep

41LEKDC-oYL._SX343_BO1,204,203,200_The W-Z shelf in my elementary school library formed a corner with another, lower shelf that, when I settled criss-cross onto the nubbly carpet, made me feel safe – walled up in a castle.  The books at eye level when I situated myself this way included Angelfish, which I checked out so many times throughout the years at St. C’s that the librarian gave me that copy as a graduation present at the end of 8th grade.  She said it was clearly mine.  I called it my Belle book, after the scene in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast when the bookseller gives Belle her favorite book free of charge.  The reason I read it 17 times in a single year is that Angelfish is a love story about a girl and dance.  Robin, the narrator, loves ballet so much she declares she will always find some way to be a part of it, even if it means just sweeping the stage.  “That’s the way you love something when you’re young,” her teacher responds.  The plot involves Robin helping a victim of the Chinese Revolution rediscover his own art – originally dance as well, now painting – and reaffirm the value of having that joy in one’s life.  Having quit my own ballet lessons years before, I probably couldn’t have told you in 8th grade why I loved this book so much.  Now I think I needed it to give me an example of how to hold on to your passion despite the naysayers.

2. Dealing With Dragons by Patricia Wrede

51eC4uO6deL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_This must have been one of my first feminist books.  The stubborn, witty heroine, Cimorene, gets bored being a princess, so she runs away to serve a dragon.  Although irritated by the conventions that bind her (dealing with all those princes trying to rescue her against her will, for instance), Cimorene also frequently uses her society’s stereotypes of silly princesses to her own advantage (e.g., getting an evil wizard to let slip a few details of his plan).  She finds a way of life that makes her happy and fulfilled even though few people originally understand her desires.  Beyond the quips and amusing dialogue that appealed to me as a sarcastic teenager, Dragons showed me that if you persist in chasing your dreams, you’ll find people who will listen to you.  The dragon she serves, for instance, believes Cimorene when everyone else wants to write her off as just another hysterical princess.  Plus there’s swordfighting.  Who doesn’t love swordfighting?

3. Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner

41unxgoV6iL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I gave up reading anything but religious books for Lent one year, and it led me to this memoir of a Jewish girl turned Episcopalian.  Nearly every page held a turn of phrase that made me think, “Yes, exactly,” or “I thought that was just me!”  In a section on Lent, the author’s priest asks her to give up reading for the liturgical season, and I nearly dropped the book in surprise.  I just saw so much of myself and my own questions and confusion about faith (and life in general) in this book, even though I was raised Catholic and intend to remain in the Church.  I love the honesty about the difficult parts of belief and the self-awareness the author demonstrates in her writing.  Once I finished the book, I immediately turned to the first page again, this time with a pencil to underline and annotate the parts that spoke to me the most.  Since then, I’ve read it nearly a dozen times, at least once a year, each time making new notes and looking back on my past self’s questions and scribbles about faith and life.

4. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

6a00d8345169e469e2016760e64a3f970bFrankie does not get the guy.  Her friends and family don’t accept her as she is.  But that’s not the point.  When I started high school, I could identify with Frankie’s sense of confinement within others’ perceptions of her.  Her family doesn’t deem her smart enough to use her cell phone when she gets lost or attend a prestigious boarding school without a nice boyfriend to “look after her.”  The boyfriend is not much better; although most of Frankie’s schemes are designed to earn his respect, she soon discovers that he preferred it when she was arm candy in need of his protection.  But she keeps going, realizing that she actually wants to prove something to herself more than to her boyfriend.  After that, others’ opinions don’t matter so much.  By the end, no one quite knows what to do with Frankie, except Frankie herself.  In my freshman year of high school, when I discovered this book, I had just been frozen out by the group of girls I used to rely on for approval.  I needed the self-discovery role model that Frankie provides.  And I needed the honesty of the last chapter: “She might go crazy…They do sometimes go crazy, these people, because the world is telling them not to want the things they want…another possibility – the possibility I hold out for – is that Frankie Landau-Banks will open the doors she is trying to get through.  And she will grow up to change the world.”

Reclaiming Blue

I’m something of a pen thief.  If someone hands me a really awesome pen, the kind of pen that rolls smoothly across the page without smearing and seems to suggest beautiful things will come naturally to one’s head when one uses it, I’m liable to slip it into my purse without thinking and only later realize my transgression.

And then keep that pen for five years.

One such pen is a light blue ballpoint that has lasted me since study hall my senior year of high school when I accidentally stole it from Ashleigh H.  (I’ll probably apologize to her at our five year reunion.)  It’s lived in my pencil case ever since, usually employed to note important events in my beloved planner (which, as we’ve established, I love to color code).

Freshman year of college, I designated this blue pen for events pertaining to the Catholic student center where I spent most of my free time.  Dinners, movie nights, youth group, etc. were all recorded in light blue ballpoint, next to the green fountain pen reserved for work and the orange highlighter that means something horrible like a test or a huge paper is about to happen.  Through the beginning of sophomore year, I associated blue with this student center, and because this place was such a huge part of my life, blue showed up a lot in my planners.

Then, midway through sophomore year, a Really Big Conflict arose.  The details are a story for another time, as is the extent of the fallout, but it involved A Certain Person from the student center, and led to me pulling away from some of that involvement.

I fought with a lot of mental murkiness following this Really Big Conflict.  I fought to regain my faith, and I fought to maintain friendships, and I fought to keep the community that had become central to my college life.  Things have gotten better – a lot better – in the year and a half since.

But I realized that I stopped using blue.

The events I still went to at the center were labeled in plain black.  Even my blue highlighter was getting far less use.  Green, which now represented a job I love, made me happy, but when I flipped a page in my planner and found an event I’d written months earlier in blue, I flinched.  I was avoiding a color I’d chosen originally for its calming qualities!

So I’ve made an Executive Decision.  I am reassigning blue.  Blue is now for things that are good for me, things that help me with self care, things that make me happy.  My anniversary with the Engineer, for instance, or my dad’s wedding, or a girls’ weekend with the Southern Belle.  (I might even put some dinners at the Catholic student center in blue again.)

I am reclaiming blue.  And it does feel good to write with that wonderful pen again.

To Whom Much is Given

Mom, Bird, and I said grace before our meal in the food court at the mall last night.  No one shouted at us, threatened us, or asked us to leave.

We were at the mall to shop for dresses for a friend’s wedding later this summer.  Bird and I have never had to worry about whether or not our eventual marriages will be legally recognized in our home state.

I’ve been fortunate enough to live most of my life in a relatively tolerant community in one of the country’s most tolerant states.  I’ve been even more fortunate not to need this tolerance for my own sake, because I was born a white, middle-class, heterosexual female who identified as her biological gender.  I fell into pretty much every category of “majority” you can think of.  Admittedly, I didn’t realize just how blessed I was until I started college and the bubble of my existence dramatically widened (with the help of the internet, particularly Tumblr).

When the Supreme Court made its decision on marriage equality, I was overjoyed for my friends who could now plan the weddings of their dreams.  When I heard about the Charleston shooting, I mourned the victims – and got angry about the ignorance displayed by those who tried to dismiss the racist implications of the massacre.  I was still seeing these things from the outside, and I was not directly affected, but that does not excuse me from working to change things for the better.

I’m still learning, still developing my worldview (and I pray it won’t become as rigid and cemented in ignorance or partial knowledge as some of the people giving out their opinions like candy from a stranger’s van), still figuring out what I can do from here to help – or at least not make it worse.  I don’t know.  Sometimes it feels too big.

014b868afc10c6e19990969f956e90f6And I’m realizing that the best thing I can do is listen.  I don’t say this as if I can somehow validate others’ experiences simply because I, a privileged person, take the time to listen to them, people who have been denied something (or several somethings) that I have been blessed enough to have.  Their humanity validates their experiences.  We are all people no matter how many variables we can or cannot check off on a list of too-easy identifiers.  Yes, we are different, but that does not negate the intrinsic personhood or value of those different from me.

And my privilege or luck or whatever you want to call it does nothing if I let it drag me into complicity with the current value system that wrongs so many other people.  I guess what I’m working on is finding not the role that society tells me I should take up by virtue of all these things out of my control (ethnicity, sexuality, etc.), but a role in helping all of us crawl a little bit further out of that society’s reach to where we can start building and changing things.

To do that, I’m going to have to learn.  And to learn, I’m going to have to listen.

It doesn’t feel like enough.  I wish I had more ideas, more answers, more words.  But at least I can demonstrate my respect for my fellow human beings and remain open to educating myself and others.

One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.

~Bryant McGill

Stuff To Do This Summer


Bible study with Bird.

Study for the GRE.

Enjoy and learn from my new internship.

Do DuoLingo or something to keep up my extremely rusty Spanish.

Maybe learn some basic Italian while I’m at it.

Keep up an exercise routine.

Keep up this blog.

Work on some of my own stories.

Get back in touch with old friends.

Go to a friend’s wedding.

Start research for my thesis.

Speaking of which, should probably get that proposal revised and turned in.

Visit the Engineer.

Visit the Southern Belle.

Learn my way around my new town, including finding a bookshop and coffee place to frequent in my down time.

Start journaling again.

Put on sunscreen.

Drink a lot of coffee.

Be happy.


1. simple past tense and past participle of lend
2. (in the Christian religion) an annual season of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter, beginning on Ash Wednesday and lasting 40 weekdays to Easter, observed by Roman Catholic, Anglican, and certain other churches.

I grew up hearing a lot about what I should give up for Lent.  (By the way, guys, I’m Catholic.)  There were the traditional years where chocolate hypothetically never touched my lips.  When I got older and my mom introduced the idea of giving something to God instead of giving something up, I said a few rosaries before bed.  Lent was the technically-40-days-but-feels-like-forever season before Easter, when my parochial classmates and I had to sit through weekly Stations of the Cross and go to extra all-school Masses and I looked longingly at the Easter dress hanging in my closet that I couldn’t wear yet.

Meanwhile, I heard another version of the word, uncapitalized this time, in the old-fashioned books we read.  The people in them talked about having “lent” someone a book, or a cup of sugar, or a carriage.  Like “dreamt,” it seemed so much more romantic than saying you loaned something to someone.  So, naturally, I tried to use such vocabulary whenever I could.  (I probably sounded pretentious to my third grade classmates, but then again I could spell “pretentious” and they didn’t know what it meant, so they just called me a nerd instead.)

And yet I never connected these two meanings in my head, the capital L and the lower case, until recently.  The term for the liturgical season originally came from an Old English term lencten, which literally meant the lengthening of the daylight hours.  This is the part of the year when the days oh-so-gradually begin to stretch themselves out like cats elongating their spines in the sun, digging their claws in for summer.  (And yes, when I was younger, the Lenten season seemed to lengthen itself just to torment me.)  But, ideally, isn’t this time of preparation for Easter meant to help us stretch our spiritual muscles a little bit?  The idea of lengthening, to me, now calls to mind the idea of reaching out toward God, lending Him something precious to me and, having lent Him the time I used to spend on that Very Important Thing, perhaps realizing that the hours were always meant to be devoted to Him anyway.  It’s not really lending God anything, because I already believe that everything is His.  So maybe Lent is about stripping away the arrogance that leads me to believe that I am doing Him a favor.  Maybe it’s about realizing it’s He Who is doing the lending here.