adulting coupla steps ahead of me

I was feeling people-weary and in serious need of a nap after a few weeks of busyness. Even this meet-up had been delayed by weeks (weeks!) of missed schedulings and packed agendas, but Mary sought me out and even treated me to a dinner — work had run late and I was coming to 7 pm on an empty stomach.

The tiredness, combined with our shared — though light — history, made me especially honest and vulnerable with myself on this evening. I’ve known Mary for a long time now, though never closely. I munched and aired all the struggly thoughts I’d been (not) working through, and she was patient and gracious to listen.

About friendships. About disappointment. About feeling like I’m regressing socially, though society tells me I am progressing just fine (“wait, how do I make friends again?”).

About small talk and the dread of it on Sunday mornings.

About writing. And feeling like I was doing a lot, at the expense of thinking a lot. Cause it does feel like a zero-sum game. Time is limited; so am I. This is especially so for time belonging to me.

She responded with wisdom that made me think that even this lil sandwich-and-tea meeting — such a small little blip in the grand scheme of everyone, everywhere — had been preordained. Made me think that she’s been where I am and that she’s stepped forward into betterness. Made me think: “There’s hope for me, too, then!”

She heard my woes about friendships and affirmed, yes, that the conclusion shouldn’t be a deflated, disappointed one. There’s more to hope for there. We were made to live in community for a reason, and friendships are a huge part of that. Shifting, changing, sure, but not disappointing.

She agreed about the social regression and the small-talk dread and the limitedness of time and energy. And with her agreement, helped me feel not so alone, at least.

She said that she had asked herself all these questions, too. And interestingly, the progress was found in asking even more questions. Sneakily similar to the ones before, but really crucially different.

  • Instead of “what does it mean to be a good friend,” ask: “what can I do differently to be a better friend?”
  • Instead of “when will I finally feel comfortable and belong-y here,” ask: “how can I better serve the people of my community and love them first?”
  • Instead of “why must I make so much small talk in life,” remember: “small talk is the juice and the glue of the every-day Wednesdays.”

It’s all about slight shifts in perspective. I hadn’t been all that off track. The tiniest pivot will catch different glimpses of light, display different hues, make different shapes.

Thank you, Mary unni. Yeah, it feels right to call you “unni” at the end of this dinner and this post.

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fruit in the gray areas

What does it mean to “bear the fruit of the spirit”?

Love, joy, peace, patience…alluh them fruits.

These little nuggets can feel so frustratingly and unsatisfyingly un-nuggety in the context of a real life. So intangible, unspecific. Yeah, we’re supposed to “love like Jesus does,” have “joy like a fountain,” embody “peace like a river” — so many attempts at corporealizing these inherently disembodied whisps — but what does that look and smell and feel like? What flavors do they come in? Are they chewy? Are they soft? Will they be a lil off because I didn’t measure out 3/4 of the egg but instead used a whole one?! [Currently baking a rare batch of cookies; clearly obsessing.]

A discussion bit during the DC small group on this Tuesday night, though, gave me a glimpse into what it might actually factually mean to “bear” these “fruits” in our actual-factual lives, here on planet Earth.

That maybe fruits are borne as we delineate between the Right and the Wrong in those pesky little areas of life that are unruly and gray and subjective. Those situations where you keep asking God, “What really is the right decision?? Can you just show me with a shiny light? A metaphor secret just between us two? The proverbial neon sign?” because either path is just a humdrum Italian blend of pro-con lists, parsley and dried basil, and it really feels like it’s up to you to make a choice and then take charge and responsibility for the results. (#adulting, gross.)

That these fruits are seen when you find yourself in moments of true, ambivalent uncertainty and must forge your own boundaries because the Bible doesn’t have any explicit advice for you re: dating. re: your diet restrictions. re: self-confidence, sorry. All those areas of actual-factual life with their actual-factual particularities that aren’t covered in any rulebook of the universe; where one answer might be Right for you in a sitch but totally Wrong for another in the same. Where answers may vary depending on the season and the temperature and the holder of the thermometer, if you catch my drift.

Those ones you’re supposed to figure out despite the silence of the voices of old — by application of previous wisdoms.

That, in this way, the bearing of fruits parallels the figuring-out process of the specifics of living that makes my life different from yours and different, yet, from his over there. That the fruits and their bearing, like those areas of specific gray, are what make each life unique and very interesting. Full of flavor and texture, if I may, and chewy with a lil crust of crunch around the browned edges — and often, too, quite forgiving of the extra quarter egg tossed in there despite the recipe’s specificity.

[insert photo of 5.5 giant oatmeal choc chip cookies here, more picturesque than real life but perfectly chewy, just like she wanted.]

Danielle and Paul and Don

Paul continued. “I’m saying there is stuff I can’t tell her, not because I don’t want to, but because there aren’t words. It’s like we are separate people,and there is no getting inside each other to read each other’s thoughts, each other’s beings. Marriage is amazing because it is the closest two people can get, but they can’t get all the way to that place of absolute knowing. Marriage is the most beautiful thing I have ever dreamed of, Don, but it isn’t everything. It isn’t Mecca. Danielle loves everything about me; she accepts me and tolerates me and encourages me. She knows me better than anybody else in the world, but she doesn’t know all of me, and I don’t know all of her. And I never thought after I got married there would still be something lacking. I always thought marriage, especially after I first met Danielle, would be the ultimate fulfillment. It is great, don’t get me wrong, and I am glad I married Danielle, and I will be with her forever. But there are places in our lives that only God can go.”

“So marriage isn’t all that it is cracked up to be?” I ask.

“No, it is so much more than I ever thought it would be. One of the ways God shows me He loves me is through Danielle, and one of the ways God shows Danielle He loves her is through me. And because she loves me, and teaches me that I am lovable, I can better interact with God.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that to be in a relationship with God is to be loved purely and furiously. And a person who thinks himself unlovable cannot be in a relationship with God because he can’t accept who God is; a Being that is love. We learn that we are lovable or unlovable from other people,” Paul says. “That is why God tells us so many times to love each other.”

Blue Like Jazz, Don Miller

Tuesday 16 February 2016

The Danger of Wisdom
by Jack Gilbert

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We learn to live without passion.
To be reasonable. We go hungry
amid the giant granaries
this world is. We store up plenty
for when we are old and mild.
It is our strength that deprives us.
Like Keats listening to the doctor
who said the best thing for
tuberculosis was to eat only one
slice of bread and a fragment
of fish each day. Keats starved
himself to death because he yearned
so desperately to feast on Fanny Brawne.
Emerson and his wife decided to make
love sparingly in order to accumulate
his passion. We are taught to be
moderate. To live intelligently.
“The Danger of Wisdom” by Jack Gilbert from The Dance Most of All. © Knopf, 2009.