College Dreams

A few months ago, an old friend of mine attempted to take me to task over my old college dreams. The statement went something along the lines of, “Back X years ago, you had dreams and plans, and I don’t see that in you now.”

Well, around 10 years ago, I was in college. During that time, the future I saw for myself included being a well-known writer/speaker, marrying a certain someone (who hadn’t shown the slightest bit of romantic interest in me), and being financially well-off and well-traveled.

Pretty much none of those things have happened. But I’m okay with it; in fact, I was a little baffled that it bothered her so much.

Here’s why:

At some point in life, you have to grow up and take responsibility for your own life. Dreams and otherworldly guidance are nice, but essentially going wherever the wind takes you can easily leave you confused. At some point, divine guidance has to meet up with common sense. If you are in an abusive relationship, but you thought God told you he was the one, at some point you have to make a choice: Do I stay here just for the sake of what I think I heard, or do I leave and understand that the lesson here may have been less about a soulmate and more about developing a backbone?If you dream of starting a company, do you not try to provide for yourself until that’s accomplished, or do you work hard and keep your eyes open for opportunities to pursue that dream?

I’m not saying that dreams are bad or should be tossed out the window with the onset of adulthood. However, I am saying that if we were all judged by the expectations we had for ourselves in college, most of us would be considered failures at life.

Life happens. And that’s okay; it’s supposed to. As we get older, (hopefully) we get smarter and better equipped to handle those dreams, should they come true. But there is nothing wrong with going along with the twists and turns in life’s road. Of course, in the midst of particularly beleaguering detours, it can be hard to feel at peace with the current situation. Still, though, many times detours provide different scenery, unexplored places, new adventures, and a stronger character.

No, I have not achieved all my college dreams. But that’s okay, because I’m not in college anymore. I’d like to think my dreams are maturing with me.

Love and Loss

The last couple of months have been…interesting, I suppose (depending on one’s definition of interesting).

I finally changed from my maiden name on all my documentation for the other side of the border.

On New Year’s Eve, my best friend and I got into a big fight over e-mail (which I’m not sure we’ve moved on from).

Then it was my birthday; I am not only another year older, but also in a brand new decade.

A job offer I had been considering fell through. 

And I am now starting on another step of immigration paperwork for this side of the border.

So far, I can’t say 2014 is my favourite year; the proverbial “bag” isn’t quite as mixed as I would’ve liked. But technically, I’m not even a full month in, so it’s probably too early to judge. Somewhere in the middle of all the kerfuffle, though, I did manage to make a list. I got the idea from my hubby. He made one several years ago. It’s not exactly a New Year’s Resolution list. It’s more of a “things I’m hoping for/things I’d like to do if the opportunity arises” list. There’s no deadline on it. It’s just a list to keep in mind as you’re going about your life.

Here are a few things on mine:

  • Go to a comedy club
  • See a band I really like in concert
  • Travel more/go on more outings
  • Attend a TEDx event
  • Do more volunteering

If you like the idea of having New Year’s aspirations but don’t like the idea of those aspirations turning into sinister guilt-mongers later, I would highly recommend this method.

 

 

But There Are Expectations…

In the last several months, I’ve noticed a rash of articles about twentysomethings. If I were to try to summarize them all into one tidy sentiment, it would be, “There’s no cause for panic if you don’t have life all figured out in your twenties; there is no schedule.”

There’s only one problem with this rationale: it’s unrealistic.

I like to think that I generally don’t obsess over what people think of me, but for this logic to work, everyone would essentially need to go through life with blinders on. 

I’m not saying it’s right; I’m saying it’s reality.

Life confusion is more forgivable in one’s early twenties because at that point, society sees the person as just starting the “adult journey” (and even then, anyone who’s spent decent time at a university can attest that the word “adult” here is often a figurative term). However, the later you get into your twenties, the more expectations you start to feel. Eventually, your eyes wander to the lanes on either side of you, and the inevitable comparison begins.

If you’re not married, you start noticing that most of your Facebook newsfeed has to do with engagements and/or weddings. People either try to push you out into the dating scene, or they leave you be–and you wonder what’s wrong with you. If you’re in a relationship, the question becomes, “When will you get married?”

If you’re already married, repeat the first sentence of the previous paragraph, but replace “engagements” and “weddings” with “babies.” Based on my experience and observation, most people will leave you alone for the first year, maybe two. But, definitely by year three, the baby question will start floating your way–sometimes from people you barely know! You want to treasure alone time with your spouse? Nope. You aren’t sure what your respective expectations on having children are yet? Nope. You can’t even financially afford a dog right now, much less a child? Nope. (Often) in the eyes of the questioners, these are not good reasons. You need to get on it right now–you’re not getting any younger, you know. As friends’ profile pictures morph into new infant faces, comparison is there.

Perhaps one of the hardest ones, in my opinion, is the career expectation. I’m not talking about the “Generation Me” twentysomethings fresh out of university that waltz into an interview at a multimillion dollar corporation demanding $100,000 per year salary. I’m talking about people who are willing to pay their dues and let their work speak for itself. Again, there is an unstated expectation that by age 30, you should have your crap together: at least a life plan (far as spouse and kids are concerned), a good stable job, and prospects for the future. You may even feel sure that you have those things, but again–the eyes start wandering. In the left lane, you see someone who’s younger than you and has already traveled the world. In the right lane, you see someone who’s younger than you and already has a “C” in front of their work title. And you really start to question where you are in life.

Now, I’m not saying the younger ones didn’t work hard. They probably worked very hard. What I am saying is that because the expectation exists that from age 20 to age 30 is your timeline to set yourself on a good path in life, it becomes incredibly difficult to remain objective when your perception is that you are being outgunned by a young gun. You start to wonder, “What did I do wrong?” or “What could I have done differently?” Being older, you should theoretically have more in your bag of tricks, but your bag’s running low.

Even social lives are not free from comparison. While you may not be envying the college student who comes to class hungover, it’s harder not to envy the friend who just went on a group vacation in Australia, or a coworker with amazing industry connections.

All this to say: while I am sure that those articles preaching “be your own person” and “follow your own path” are well-intentioned, in my opinion, they’re full of crap. If we all lived in isolation chambers? Absolutely. The rate at which you excel in your own life would not matter one bit. However, right or wrong, because we live in each other’s peripheral vision, eventually, we all succumb to comparison. Spouses, children, career, social life–these are all cultural milestones. In a way it’s almost like cultural gamification. There is always another level to achieve, but many of the hardest levels come fairly early in the game. And, I think, that’s part of why the expectation exists: if you can’t master those first challenges quickly enough, how long will you survive? 

As someone stepping out of the “proving ground” of the twenties, I hope that I can keep up with the rest of the world!

I Am Not a Delicate Flower (or, Why I Screen Certain Calls)

Image

A friend shared a quote with me not too long ago, and I found it quite accurate. I don’t have the source, but the quote goes something like this: “The church tends to treat female believers like women first, and Christians, a far distant second.”

I think that quote best encapsulates why I have a love-hate relationship with women’s events. On one hand, yes, I am female. I know that having “girl friends” is important, just like a guy having “guy friends.” It’s something we all need. And I can have fun shopping or goofing off with makeup as much as the next girl. But I also like to play video games and shoot guns. The photo above was a few days after I shot a few high-caliber rifles for the first time. Granted, I avoid the high-kick guns now if possible because I remember how painful that bruise was. But, at the time, I was also proud of myself. I had earned it. Where are the women’s events for someone like that?

I’ve only been to 2 specified “women’s events” ever, so I do realize I can’t judge them all like this. But there were similar patterns to both. One was a small gathering. There were lots of flowers and frilly things, and pregnant women, and a warm fuzzy devotion time. The other one was a Beth Moore conference last year. I went for a friend; I didn’t want her to be stuck in the group with nobody remotely her age. I have nothing personal against Beth Moore; I think it’s great that women (especially in conservative circles) are leading more and being recognized for their giftedness. But when I walked into the stadium, there were sparkly things and butterflies and pink/purple drapings everywhere. It was like My Little Pony, Barbie, and a glitter bomb had been thrown together and exploded. And there were gift baskets, which were a nice gesture, but even those had equally puzzling things. (Sorry, no, I don’t need a decorative stake to put in my nonexistent garden/houseplant.) And it didn’t help that Mrs. Moore was addressing us as “girlfriend” every fifth sentence or so. I don’t even call my girlfriends “girlfriend.” And it was a shame, because she did have some good things to say. But, the saturated environment was distracting to me. My husband had a guy’s weekend the same weekend, and after the first meeting, I told him I was very tempted to find a fake ‘stache and try to sneak into his thing.

I had been fairly at ease with my decision to avoid traditional women’s events. Although I knew I needed that community, I also felt very out of place in it–not “girly” enough. But that conference pretty much cemented my decision. I made sure to “miss” calls from certain church ladies who I knew were only calling to notify me of the next women’s group meeting. After church one Sunday, one of them caught me to invite me to their Easter gathering–which included Easter bonnets. Seriously? Bonnets and glitter and butterflies and pink everything–is that what femininity is nowadays? 

Don’t get me wrong, modern society’s view of women has some major flaws. But at least the idea is out there that you don’t have to be Paul Bunyan to be a good man, and you don’t have to be Scarlet O’Hara to be a good woman. Yet, this concept doesn’t seem to have reached the traditional church at large. Essentially, the only choices there are either big community with sugary, powderpuff femininity, or little/no community with realism and peace of mind. 

I haven’t given up on female community–though, truth be told, I think my odds are at least better with females my own age. But it’s still quite troubling. I mean, women in the Bible certainly weren’t all rainbows and butterflies. In Judges, Jael drove a tent stake through a guy’s head. For all I know, she may have been barefoot and pregnant, but either way, she was still a badass. I’m not looking to do anything like that, but I am looking to learn something concrete and practical. Yes, women need to vent sometimes (case in point, this post) and do weird girl things like bawl at movies and eat lots of ice cream; I am not exempt from that. But PMS, body image, families–these things are not all that defines being a woman. I don’t need hearts and flowers and butterflies and to be called “girlfriend” every five seconds. I’m female; I get it. Off days aside, I’m more or less used to that by now. But I’m also living life in a world where there are problems and issues bigger than how pretty I feel. And as a Christian who just happens to be female, shouldn’t I be equipped just as much as the guys so that I can also have something positive to contribute to those issues?

That’s why I say if all you have is frills and glitter, you can keep it. I’ll hang out with the guys and do something productive.

Like cold water…

Like cold water to a weary soul is good news . . .
-Prov. 25:25 NIV

Hello world.

I have big news: I have actually had a good week this week. 

I realize that sounds kind of lame, so I’ll explain as much as I can without going into specifics.

First, Mr. Miles and I have been stuck in a pretty toxic social environment for a least the last year. For me personally, the environment had become detrimental even before that. But this is one of those situations where we didn’t know what to do. We tried to stick it out because we felt that maybe we were supposed to. But, the longer we stayed, the more the social environment became entangled with our professional lives, and the higher the stakes became if we left–until we felt kind of hemmed in no matter what path we chose. In part of this tangled web, a bad (and quite prejudiced) report was issued regarding Mr. Miles. The report went to one of his supervisors. Thinking back, I don’t know that a better thing could have happened, considering that this supervisor knows both parties and therefore, both sides of the story. Ironically, this bad report opened up a great dialogue with the supervisor. He sympathized with Mr. Miles, confirmed our feelings that we should leave, and pointed us to some positive alternative options. For the first time, we feel real clarity about the situation and hope for a future beyond it.

The other good news was a case of change happening right when I needed it. My finances will be changing next year, and my current income wouldn’t support it. So I had been seeking a way to improve or supplement my income to bear the weight of that load. I wasn’t having any luck, and the longer my bad luck streak went, the more worried I became. It was incredibly disheartening to feel more and more panic as I kept hitting a wall. Well, out of the blue, earlier this week, I was offered a raise. It was a total surprise. I crunched the numbers and discovered that the raise would be just enough to cover my additional expenses. I won’t have much extra money, but I’m used to that.

So yeah, just goes to show, you never know what the universe is up to. 🙂

So, I’m That Guy….Except Female.

With Posterous shutting down next month, I figured it was time I high-tailed it somewhere a little more stable. I was torn between Tumblr and WordPress, but ultimately decided that since I’m writing to a general audience and not a teenage one, I should come here. There are still a lot of bells and whistles I have yet to figure out (for instance, I’m still waiting for my old Posterous blog content to cooperate and import here), but I doubt I’ll be offending anyone if all the kinks aren’t worked out on the first go.

With all that being said, time for my inaugural post.

I had a moment of enlightenment early in the week, and I thought it might be worth sharing. I’m not gonna lie, the past 2 or so years have been hard. Things haven’t been going as I would have preferred, and a lot of it is situational: good intentions have been questioned and dismissed; things I was hoping for have either fallen through or not come through at all. And, with my last birthday, suddenly I was face to face with what I’m not now, compared to what I was years before. And I had to reckon myself with my current place in life, even if it’s not the place I was hoping I would be by now. Feeling overlooked, put aside, or just like a downright failure can do a number on your perception. You start wondering, Does anybody who can help see me? And then, when nobody magically comes to your rescue, you start thinking it’s time to rescue yourself. Fixing the problem becomes priority. That’s why, when I read this story, I realized the guy and I have a lot in common.

It’s a Bible story where there is a guy who can’t walk. There are several stories like that in the Bible, but the one I’m thinking of is the one where the lame man is camped out by the pool of Bethesda. The legend around that time was that if the water stirred, it meant an angel was stirring it, and the first one in is healed. It’s not stated whether this was a myth, or one of those stories that is “true” from 50 years ago (someone grandpa John knew when he was a boy who was healed), or whether it was something that was well-known and currently provable. But, however the story originated, it was good enough to draw a sickly crowd. The guy in the story had been camped out there for 38 years. It goes without saying, but that’s a really long time, especially given that people didn’t live as long back then. I would imagine he had been there since he was a kid. Jesus sees this guy, comes up to him, and asks him, “Do you want to be made well?” Hello, Captain Obvious.

I tried to imagine what it would be like to literally be stuck in the same old thing for 38 years. To wake up every morning with hope taunting you, only ten steps away. I would think you’d start out hopeful enough, with your childhood optimism, which would begin eroding in the teen years, until the twenties or thirties, when you start realizing that in fact no one is going to come for you, and you have to do it yourself. You would never take your eyes off the pool, because if today is different, and you can just get there, life is going to be better.

So, when Jesus asks the guy, “Do you want to be made well?” I find it totally understandable that this man, not even looking at Jesus, would say, “No one helps me into the water; someone else always beats me there.” Like us–like me–he’s focused on the opportunity. If the water stirs, and I’m the first one to get in, then things are gonna change around here. Pinning hope on a series of chances. Bingo, that’s me. If I can get out of this situation and into a better situation, then I’ll be able to live better and be who I wanted to be.

The only problem is, this scenario doesn’t really work out. Now, in the case of dangerous or physically unhealthy situations, of course this wouldn’t apply. But for the everyday task of trying to make my personal life better, if I’m completely focused on my own tinkering and scheming, I leave no room for God. He might be trying to talk to me, but I’ve always got one eyeball on the pool. I’m not really listening. He can give advice if He wants, but either way, I already have my own plan. Because I think I have to–even if it’s not working, as long as I’m working on my plan, the possibility exists that something good could happen.

Fortunately, Jesus is not deferred by the plans this guy already had for himself. He told the guy to grab his stuff, get up, and walk. And he did.

This story was a good reminder for me that I can’t rest all my hope on a series of happenstances. If I’m not mindful of Jesus’ presence and what He might be trying to tell me, I could miss out on even greater opportunities. So, now I’m trying to remember to pray, “Jesus, I’m waiting for you.” Even if it’s just every now and then–just to remind myself that I only know so much, and I can only do so much. The “right circumstances” are usually too elusive to plan for. I’d rather be pleasantly surprised than expectedly disappointed.

Nostalgia

A year from now we’ll all be gone
All our friends will move away
And they’re goin’ to better places
But our friends will be gone away

Nothin’ is as it has been
And I miss your face like hell
And I guess it’s just as well
But I miss your face like hell

. . . 

Been talkin’ ’bout the way things change
And my family lives in a different state
If you don’t know what to make of this
Then we will not relate
So if you don’t know what to make of this
Then we will not relate

. . . 

Rivers and roads
Rivers and roads
Rivers ’til I reach you
[Repeat]

-“Rivers and Roads” by The Head and The Heart

Nostalgia is a funny thing. It can sneak up on you at the oddest times, and it’s hard to predict what your reaction will be when it does. Mine snuck up on me recently when I had my 29th birthday. I’m generally not one to get homesick, but despite it being a fairly routine day (aside from it being my birthday, of course), I suddenly felt isolated and alone. My family and the friends I had grown up with were 2,000 miles away. My hubby had to work late. I was turning 29–the last year of my twenties. It was the beginning of the end of some of the best years of my life so far. It meant I’ve grown up; life will only get more complicated from here. It was a little scary. Did I mention I was feeling alone? When I almost burst into tears as my coworkers sang “Happy Birthday” to me, I figured this was going to be my “thing” for the day. I had made plans to meet up with one of my closest friends that night, and admittedly, I seriously considered canceling. Not for any good reason. Just so I could go home and embrace the alone-ness (read, curl up somewhere and cry). Thankfully I didn’t.

The first time I heard the song above was on the Chuck series finale (and then again later on How I Met Your Mother). It was engrossing, but the message didn’t really hit me. At least, not until my birthday. For good or bad, we will never get some things back. It’s impossible to recreate a time in your life. It’s impossible to spend a day with someone who’s already passed away. Time will always move forward and it can’t be stopped. Which is why we have to make the best decisions we can now, and sometimes that may mean sacrificing something good for something great. Sometimes the sacrifice may not seem glamorous or exciting, but it is a sacrifice nonetheless. As I was telling my best friend, even when we make the right choices, those choices still have consequences. Even if we’re “going to better places,” we’re still going away. I am truly grateful for everything that has gotten me this far. But this is the time when, to a certain extent, I have to “graduate from” what I had so that I can fully embrace what I have now and will have in the future.