Rising Above the Oooh

I’ve always considered myself someone who likes to travel. I mean, it makes you sound so accomplished.

“What do you like to do?”
“I’m a writer, and a big reader. I also love to travel.”
“Really! Where have you been?”
“I’ve been to Europe,” *shrug*.

I live for the Admiring Oooh.

In all seriousness, I really do enjoy travel, not just for the Admiring Oooh. Visiting new places and seeing life done in different ways has always fascinated me. It’s wonderful to think that while you’re at home doing whatever you do, all these people are here, miles and miles away, doing what they do. It doesn’t stop and start when you arrive, it happens simultaneously with your own timeline. And for a moment, you get to step into a story not your own, and watch it, and sometimes even write some of it.

However, as I’ve gotten older (and this is really sad because I’m not even that old), I’ve found that I have to remind myself how much I love traveling, because more often than not it really stresses me out. New places are unfamiliar, full of a million unknowns, and I hate unknowns. Also I have a sensitive stomach that gets ill easily. Also I need to have enough sleep, and who knows if this will happen? Also I sunburn, literally, like hell. Also I am easily dehydrated. Where’s the closest water fountain? I pull away from my house, my place, with all my things in it, and see it looking so forlorn and abandoned, and I want to run back and cancel everything.

(And this is just going to visit my parents.)

I’ve learned that some things are worth hacking through a slew of fears for. I’ve done it before, and I regret it when I don’t. I want to cling to home, to peace, to the familiar, but not always for noble reasons. Often, very often, I cling to these things out of fear, thinking that without them I will no longer be myself. I forget that I am becoming evermore myself because of the times I travel, the times I encounter unknowns, the times I uproot myself now for better roots later. I would rather be that sort of person than to spare my house’s feelings.

I really do want to be the sort of person who travels, and not just for the Admiring Oooh.


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Good Enough


I’m graduating this weekend.

Well, that’s not quite accurate. I’ve been done with college for months now. I have my diploma. I just finished my first semester of grad school.

But I’m still going to walk across a stage in a cap and gown and throw a little party with my family. My best friend says she’ll get emotional. And knowing me, I probably will too. But I smile and roll my eyes at her a little bit, because while I’m sure I’ll enjoy the day’s festivities, right now my graduation feels more like a formality than a milestone.

When I sit at commencement and hear the speaker they brought in from Scotland talk about God’s plans for the rest of our lives, I’ll probably smirk a little. Not because I don’t believe God has plans, and not because I don’t like Scottish people, but because in many ways I feel like I’ve already moved on. The graduate glow has already faded from me. Now I’m just a little nonplussed. A little disillusioned. A little scared.

I graduated in December with a lot of wild plans of hitting the ground running, being a go-getter, and starting my writing career with a precocious flourish. Goodbye menial, part-time, minimum wage jobs! I’ve moved on! I’m good enough to go pro!

But now it’s May, and I didn’t do any of that. I was too busy living, I guess. Too busy taking care of other things.

I wasn’t good enough.

My biggest fear is that I’m not good enough. It’s been my fear for a while. The fear waits for the perfect moment to whisper to me, and it knocks me down every time. Friendships dissolve? You weren’t good enough. Arguing with the husband? You aren’t good enough. Didn’t finish a project? You weren’t good enough. Can’t find a job? You aren’t good enough.

The worst thing is, a small part of this is true. I can always be better and do better. And because I know this about myself, I will believe the fear every time.

Yesterday I went to the store to find a dress for graduation. Five years ago, when I graduated from high school, I got a beautiful, silky dress with a smocked waist and bateau neckline and full skirt. It was white with pink flowers, and it made me feel like Jackie Kennedy. Every time I wore it I felt perfect and beautiful and… good enough.

But this time, there was no magic Jackie Kennedy dress. Just a bunch of weird limp things with no lining and odd cutouts and garish prints. (My mom will be at this graduation, guys. I can’t wear stuff like this.) I did not feel perfect. I did not feel beautiful. I didn’t feel happy at all.

I drove home in tears. “God, this is a really stupid thing for me to be upset about,” I said. “Like, talk about first world problems. I feel bad even talking to you about it. I do have clothes. I will be wearing something under my graduation gown.”

And then my fear whispered to me: “There was nothing wrong with the dresses; it was youYou weren’t good enough.”

So of course I cried more. Because I know, I know, I know I’m not good enough. I will never be 100% good enough. I will always have shortcomings and faults and bad habits. I will always have parts of me that I regret and hide and smooth over.

I will always despise myself just a little bit, cringe at myself just a little bit. I will always feel guilty for asking people to stand in the gap for me, for asking God to stand in the gap for me.

“I know I’m not good enough,” I said. Got it, duly noted. “But what can I do about it?”

The fear didn’t really have an answer to that. And honestly, neither do I. I still don’t know the balance between getting better and being okay with never being good enough. I’m a little depressed that I couldn’t just pray about it and suddenly have an epiphany (or at least find the perfect graduation dress).

But I do know this: there is life beyond not being good enough. I haven’t reached it yet, but I know it’s there. I am told that God’s grace meets my weakness and makes me not just good enough, but perfect. That Jesus stands in the gap, and that He chose to do so even before I knew I needed him to. I am clad in righteousness even if I never find another Jackie Kennedy dress.

I poured out my clothing woes to my husband, who, even if he doesn’t fully identify with my struggle, still tries to understand.

“Wear that green dress you wore the other night,” he said. “It’s you. It looks great. You look beautiful.”

“I don’t think it’s good enough,” I said. I really meant I didn’t thinkwas.

“Who cares what other people think? It’s you. It’s perfect.”

To those who love me, I am loved. To those who love me, I am good enough.

And that’s good enough.

Runner and Doorman

I’ve been reading a book about quelling anxiety. Not for myself, of course, because I don’t need it at all. Ha.

One thing I’ve learned is that the fear of anxiety is what makes anxiety something to fear. Anxiety in itself is nothing, just extra adrenaline. Becoming hyper-aware of it and then fearing its arrival is what makes anxiety so crippling.

The thing to do about this, the book says, is to dare anxiety to do its worst. When you start to notice the symptoms of an anxiety attack, you’re supposed to call them out. “Heart palpitations? Is that all you can do? I’ve gotten through that before. Try harder.”

This approach is based on the premise that running away from fear makes fear more frightful. It makes its steps sound louder, its voice more resonant, its whispers more chilling. You try not to look until you can’t bear to look.

But when you do end up forcing yourself to turn around and stare fear in the face, you find that it’s really small. It’s pitiful. It’s laughable. When you run toward it, daring it to do its worst, you find as you get closer how utterly small and insignificant it is. You find its claws dull and its voice nothing more than a squeak.

Wartbug Door Handle

One day a friend and I were talking about fear. We noticed how fear is often like a door that swings shut, and if you leave it alone, if you choose not to indulge it, it’ll stay shut. It’s not strong enough to open the door itself. But idiot humans that we are, we indulge a peek. We crack the door open, and then we stick our foot in, and then we keep it there, even though what we let out makes us miserable.

But running is tiring. And a heavy door on a small foot hurts. So why do we torment ourselves when the thing we’re running from and the thing we’re leaving the door open for is just a knee-high squeaky nebby jag* who’s only alive because we indulge it? To be honest, it doesn’t make sense. And it’s just plain impractical.

Running away from fear is one of my main hobbies. And every time I manage to outrun it, I double back, crack open the door, and stick my foot in to let the fear catch up to me. I’m both runner and doorman. It’s exhausting. It’s moronic. But it’s my nature.

Recently, during a super stressful week, I tried out the book’s strategy. I dared my fear to do its worst in the little knots of life that often turn into my biggest sources of anxiety.

The fridge is getting empty and I’m not sure when I’ll have extra money to go to the grocery store? Excellent. Let’s see how long I can round up what’s left in the kitchen and play Iron Chef.

The new month means a new round of bills more expensive than last month? Sweet. I can’t wait to see how much higher the heating bill is this month. I am actually very interested; the weather’s been cold and I live in an old drafty house. Let’s see how drafty, shall we?

I’m tired and emotional and need to take care of some similarly tired, emotional people? Awesome. I’ll see how long it’ll take before I quietly burst into tears. Maybe I’ll break my record and make it three days instead of two.

Of course, my snappy comebacks helped. I’m always one to laugh at my own jokes. But I realized that calling fear’s bluff helps immensely. Because fear can’t ever keep its own promises.

The book cautions me that I have to keep up with this approach until it’s second nature. It’s a process that won’t be overcome overnight. And sometimes I forget altogether. Sometimes going through the process of calling fear’s bluff is too exhausting. I’d much rather run away and get my foot stuck in the door instead.

But that’s okay, because I have another trick up my sleeve that neither fear nor the book are counting on: I happen to be a child of God. And when I’m tired of running or holding a door open or turning around and going through a set of bluff-calling questions, I can look up and pray one of my favorite prayers:

“I can’t wait to see how You’ll turn this into something I can worship You for.”

It’s a work in progress. But it gets me to stop running. And it helps me shut the door tight.


*Nebby Jag (n). A term of derision. A contracted form of the phrase “nebby jagoff”, taken from the Pittsburghese “nebby” meaning nosy and bothersome, and “jagoff” meaning an unintelligent person, a jerk.




Adding Hours


It was about a year ago. It had been a particularly stressful few weeks, with school, work, and extracurricular activities added to being newly married and some family/church crap.

It was the end of the day, and I couldn’t calm down. I was overwhelmed. It was a feeling of utter exhaustion, as if I’d spent all day climbing a mountain only to get to the summit and realize it was actually a little ledge a quarter of the way up. It was a familiar feeling, one I’ve felt many times before, when nothing I’ve done is enough and I’m consumed with guilt and I feel the need to do more, more, more, when all I really want to do is sleep. I sobbed and hyperventilated into my pillow while my husband tried to calm me down.

And then I had a sudden thought. “This is a panic attack,” I said through jagged breaths.

“Ya think?” Alex asked.

I couldn’t help but laugh a little, which helped me calm down. Of course, you dummy, I thought to myself. This is a panic attack. You get panic attacks. A lot of people do. You’re not dying; you’re not crazy. Why haven’t you realized it before?

It sounds silly now, but the thought that I got panic attacks had never occurred to me. I had passed off those moments of extreme overwhelmth as a personality quirk. I had let myself ignore it, tamping down my anxiety out of some kind of optimistic, overachieving guilt.

And then when I finally admitted to myself that I was a very anxious, fearful person, the anxiety came bubbling to the surface like a cyst. It’s like when you detox and all the systems in your body go to hell for a few days before getting really healthy. I found myself dreading car trips, dreading being in public, dreading any kind of unpredictability. I had to learn to admit that anxiety and push myself into it anyway, knowing that ultimately doing what scares the hell out of me is doing what makes me brave.

(My detox stage is ongoing.)

I was talking with a friend the other day. She mentioned Jesus’ words on worry in the gospels, and how significant it is that He stresses the importance of not worrying. Of course, those verses have taken on a deeper meaning for me lately, but I had not realized how true her observation is. God spends so much time admonishing us not to worry, and instead of working on that monumental task we instead spend our energy, well, worrying about doing other things right. It’s idiotic, really.

Jesus rather slyly asks in Matthew 6:27 : “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to the span of his life?” I love that. There are moments such as this when I feel God and I laugh together at my stupidity. Do I think I am somehow superhuman, the first of humankind to extend life by use of anxiety? No, of course not. So why do I act like my sticky, muddy blob of fears and anxiety will save me? Why do I cling to it as if it adds hours to my life?

I keep thinking that if I do cling to it, I’ll be able to clean up the mess, untangle the knots, wash out the stickiness, and everything will be peaceful again. As long as no unforeseen events mess up my plan or any new prickling thorns of panic and irritation join the blob, I’ll be fine. I can do this.

But I really can’t, and it’s futile to think so. (Also exhausting). So like a child who’s made a mud pie and stupidly tried to eat it, I hand the blob of sticky anxiety to my Father and say “here you go. I’m sorry that all I ever seem to give you is a damn mess.”

And with such love and beauty it makes me want to cry, He says “It’s really okay; this is what I do best. Everything you have is what I’ve given you, what I’ve mended and made clean.”

And at first, that seems really simple. “Okay sweet; you’ve got it. I’ll go about my life, and you work on the anxiety blob.” Until suddenly I find myself holding it in my hands because I took it back from Him without even realizing it. “Well crap. Literally. Here you go… again.”

And right now, that’s the stage my detox is in. Someday I’ll hand my anxiety to Him, and it’ll be the last time I ever have to hold it again. I can’t even imagine that.

But until then, I’ll just be honest that the sticky, shitty blob attracts me like a magnet, and as soon as I find it in my hands I’ll cast it on Him, because He cares for me.

Because He tells me to.


(Photo Credit Gabrielle Allman)


A Confession of Feelings

I’ve spent most of the past few months being really angry.

It started with some family crap, and finished with some church crap, and neither crap really needs to be explored here. All the crap is more or less being resolved. God has a way of making crap beautiful. Kudos to Him; it’s hard work working with crap.

beach 2

And although I’ve been more of a close observer than a direct victim of it all, the result of everything has been a lot of personal growth and also a lot of personal anger.

I’ve been angry at others for guiding me too much or not guiding me enough, angry at myself for being too strong or not strong enough. Angry at all the foolishness we humans are so gifted at performing.

Thankfully, I haven’t found myself angry at God. Plaintive, yes. Incredulous, frustrated, and feisty, uh-huh. But not angry. I just can’t logically be angry with God when it’s the perversion of His law, not His law itself, that causes so much crap. It’s not you; it’s me.

pennsylvania love

I came across the tail end of 2 Peter 3 the other day. One verse stuck out like one of those horrible jumping cactus needles that lies in wait like a bandit and leaps from the sand to lodge itself into the sole of your foot. In this chapter, Peter encourages his loved ones to watch out for false teachers who twist the Scripture out of ignorance and instability.

And then he says this: “You, therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability” (vs. 17).

This cactus needle stuck out because it is the crux of my anger. While I’ve had the gift of being surrounded with Godly people my whole life, I’ve shirked the responsibility of my own stability. Godliness, for most of my life, has meant following this teaching or soaking in that Bible study or laying out a spiritual cookie cutter and lopping off God-given parts of myself so I can fit into the mold of “Christian living”.

I’m angry, because I didn’t recognize the bullshit.

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I thought never standing my ground was being flexible and “led by the Spirit.” I thought never voicing my needs and desires was being “Christlike.” I thought feeling at peace in my walk with the Lord meant I was stagnant. I thought being uncomfortable meant I was listening to His still small voice.

And sometimes, yes sometimes, that is absolutely the case. But when you find yourself guilty for feeling feelings, when you can’t make a decision because you’re striving to discern whether your emotions are fleshly or spiritual when you’ve never known the difference, you might have a stability problem.

I think it’s telling of our Christian subculture that we perpetuate these unstable ideas as Godly. I think we coil ourselves up in shame and confusion so tightly that we go numb and we can no longer recognize the bullshit. And I think we’re wrong, because Jesus Himself said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matt. 11:30). What right do we have to add weight we were never supposed to bear? To do so is terribly blasphemous.

A relationship with God is harder than fitting into a spiritual cookie cutter, but it’s much more simple. It’s constant, it’s daily, and it’s beautiful. It’s living out the kind of childlike faith we were always meant to have. It’s cutting your own spirit-led path in the woods instead of deepening a rut that hundreds of well-meaning souls have followed.

When you learn to do that, you’re just not angry anymore.





One Does Not Simply Walk into Life

cornstalk edited

Life can be freakin’ terrifying.

And the funny thing is, I live in a pretty safe city, state, and country. There are no riots on my streets, tanks in my parking lots, or war in my backyard woods. I had food today (delicious food at that, and way too much of it) and I got to choose my clothes after I rolled out of my incredibly comfortable bed. I’m sitting in a coffee shop, satisfied after a cup of good brew, typing on my computer while my blue iPhone sits waiting for communication from the people who love me.

I am safe. My needs are met. My needs are more than met.

And yet, life can be so terrifying.

I’m one of those people who hates making mistakes, and since life carries the potential for real big ones, I can be so afraid of life. Afraid to meet people. Afraid of car accidents. Afraid that I’ll horribly fail this semester and have to take Political Science again (please God no!).

When Peter tells me to cast all my anxieties onto Jesus, because He cares for me (1 Peter 5:7), I say “Sure thing, Peter. Good idea!” And then I don’t. Because casting my cares onto the Lord is terribly risky. He might send me to Asia to minister to a foreign culture, or He might call me to let go of people I love, or to give up on the deepest desires of my heart. So instead I bear a responsibility I was never meant to bear: I try to figure out what I’m going to do with my life.

I got convicted about this last week. I was so twisted and bent up with worry, like a mass of spaghetti that’s too tangled to eat. I realized that I just can’t do it. I can’t decide what to do with my life. Not because I am weak or lack motivation, but because I am human.

Proverbs 5:21 says that “a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders all his paths” (ESV). I’ve read this dozens of times before, but this time it was different. I got a picture of my life as a map (cliche, I know, but stick with me), with all my actions, thoughts, motives and emotions, all my actions and non-actions, all that has been and is and will be or all that could and should be, all mapped out. All of these possibilities and opportunities, all of my ways are clearly before the eyes of the Lord. He stands over the map and he can see the whole thing, beginning to end and side to side.

I only see a part of it. I can only see what has been and what is, and I can’t even see those fully yet. And so I realized that honestly, I have no business to worry about what to do with my life. I physically, emotionally, and spiritually can’t. I can’t wonder if I should be in Asia, or if I should let someone go or if I should give up on the deep desires of my heart.

I can’t live my life trying to decide which path to take, because honestly there are so many paths, and I don’t even have the whole map. So from now on I can do nothing but trust the One who does. And that act of relinquishing control, far from feeling risky, feels incredibly peaceful. I realize that right now I am where He put me, with the people He has put me with and with the desires He has put within me.

It’s easy to snap back into my mindset of fear. But I remind myself that I can’t, because when I do I selfishly waste my time worrying about myself. That’s a terrible life to live.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving make your requests known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

This kind of peace is ridiculous. It is defiant of the people who tell me to make a ten year plan. It laughs at my attempts to be anxious about everything. It surpasses all understanding, all educated reasoning, and all human logic.

And you know what? I’m glad. Because human logic is pretty lame.