Wednesday, September 23

The Crucible

I've got a professor who calls seminary "a crucible".  She talks about it in terms of test and trial, coming into a setting filled with requirements, deadlines, questions, and discussions aimed to get you to look deeper, to find those things within yourself which are so dark they have become unknown.  It was for this reason I signed up for this particular school.  Many universities and places of training offer top-notch professors and curriculum, convenience for scheduling, and test scores that will make you go "oohhh".  However, when I sat down with this same professor and she said to me, "You won't be the same person when you leave, as you were when you came.  It's not possible.  And that's not all our doing, we want you to know the material, but somehow this place creates a space where God really wears you down.  Your life gets turned upside down, and your only option is to fight and battle through it."

Where do I sign up?.

Which, seems crazy in a world consumed by comfort and the desire for it.  It also reminds me of the time, weeks before I walked down the aisle, when I said...out loud..."I'm going to pray for the hard stuff.  I want to know that God is using me and has something out there for me.  I don't want to pray for comfort and be lazy, I want to pray for hard and be used and be better."  (paraphrasing, I'm sure).  The company I held in that moment looked at me with either shock or disgust, still not sure which.  Because why, why would any right-minded woman pray for hardship, battle, sorrow, pain, and difficulty?

Here's why I said it then.  I was young, doe-eyed and had big dreams.  I wanted to accomplish something in the world.  I had also already made a few oopsies and wanted to know there was more to life than shame and blame and mistakes. 
Here's why I believe those words to be true today.  Sure, I still want to do big things and I still dream of being a more Wholehearted (thank you, Brene' Brown), well-rounded woman who has a lot of grit, a lot of tenacity, and a lot of love.  But today I know a little more about those words I spoke.  I'm growing to believe, with each day and courtesy of Brene', that I cannot have deep joy without deep pain.  I cannot close myself off to pain and growth and difficulty, and still be able to feel joy, gladness, and gratitude.  Just not possible.

Plus, I'm learning this.  When you Google the word 'crucible' you get a box with three definitions.  The first, a ceramic or metal container that gets very hot and melts things (paraphrasing again).  The second, a 'place or occasion of severe test or trial', and the third, 'a place or situation in which different elements interact to produce something new'.

You saw it, right?  A crucible is both a place of severe test and trial, and also a place where something new is born.  You cannot have deep gladness without deep pain.

And sure, I still get pissed when severe pain comes my way.  I feel inconvenienced ("it wasn't supposed to be this way"), hurt, betrayed, worried, afraid, and scared shitless.  But give me a minute, and I'll remember this life can be that way...deeply hurtful, very scary, and totally unpredictable.  But on the other side comes that birth, the something new.  Out of the fire comes something really beautiful.

Give me a minute and I remember I do not walk alone.  God may also be unpredictable, but unpredictable in a way that says, "I know best, but I've got you."  It is no accident that a crucible is both painful and wonderful, because a heart must also be the same.  There will be pain, if you allow it, and there will be deep love, if you allow it.  Shut out one, and you lose the other.

Or, in my case, pray for one and get a whole lot more than you bargained for.  Someday, I know, there will also be great joy.

Brene' Brown. Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution. (2015)

Image courtesy of

Friday, September 18

Silly Imperfection

We are working on perfection at our house.  Brene Brown is walking us through all kinds of skills and tools, including accepting we are not perfect, we cannot be perfect, and perfect is boring, anyway. We’re talking through combining all of our missteps and successes, our celebrations and our falls, to make complete, well-round, wholehearted, albeit frustrated, people.

For instance, little Reese is terribly afraid of the sound of the skillets on a hot stove, or the hour of 6 o’clock, or maybe afraid of missing a bite.  So, she finds herself perched between the two feet and in between the counter and legs of whomever is cooking.  You move so slightly, she moves so slightly.  You look down or tell her she’s in the way or making things difficult, and she stays put.  She has come probably the farthest in accepting and living with her imperfection.

Sophie, she has an imperfection about routine.  Her walks are to be scheduled, orderly, and the same amount of time on the same route.  When anything deviates, she promptly howls, cries at the door, stares at her leash, or “asks” to be picked up.  If she is picked up, she swings her body near the direction of the leashes, so you won’t forget. On a day where the routine is painfully detoured, she quietly lays by the door, lets out a sigh, and looks off into the distance where Disappointment and Sorrow must live.  She has come the least farthest.

Scooter, on the other hand, slowly accepts what imperfections come before him.  Reese chews on his face for entertainment, Sophie eats all the food, or Momma buys the wrong Chewies…again.  His go-to is sleeping in his big comfy bed, nearly all day long.  Acceptance or avoidance, we’re not sure. Alex, well, that’s his story and he can tell it later.

I, on the other hand, have had quite an opportunity for seeing and accepting imperfection.  Last spring, I was told to adapt the mantra “B’s and C’s get degrees!” and to stop pushing too hard or too far for each assignment to be my best work so far.  Then, over the summer, I adopted a Procrastinate Isn’t Late attitude, and found that the work still got done.  But, yesterday, I forgot to put on deodorant and sat next to many people in many close spaces in the duration of my 14 hour day.  Today, I found old gym socks in my tote bag, which also carries my professional notes, clipboard, and keys.  Then, a scoundrel at the mall captured me, unguarded, and wanted to talk to me about my pores, lines, wrinkles, and acne.

Someone may as well peg me as the old maid who lives in a shoe…

No more tests of imperfection, please.

Sunday, September 6

The Seminary Diaries: everest

The other night on Grey's (a re-run, not a new-run, so no spoilers here) a few men were fighting for their lives on hospital beds after fighting for their lives on a trek up Mt. Everest.  Frostbitten, afraid, starving, and nearly without a pulse, four men had been rescued literally at the end of their ropes.  I know I don't only speak for myself when I say that hearing others talk about Mt. Everest inspires something inside of me.  It makes me wonder about climbing that beast of a mountain, fighting for my own for months and maybe years, preparing my mind and body for the adventure and skill of a lifetime.  Sure, sure, there are some individuals who have done the trip a few times...alone...blind, but even once seems like the journey we all wonder about at least once.

Then, I look to my left where I have a blanket, hot tea, and the remote, and to my right, where one, two, or three little four-legged babies are curled up and snoring.  I remember that Everest is a pipe dream for this little lady.

It's much like the movie 'Wild' (which I have only seen once and question myself often if I'll see it again, simply because the powerful experience I had the first time seems like it may dwindle if I re-watch). What if I set out on a solitary trek, on a path, a road, a trail leading to the highest mountains and deepest valleys?  A formidable journey only spoken about in certain circles, and only accomplished by the most prepared or the strongest?  What would happen if I met those same obstacles and difficulties, only to find myself incredibly strong, incredibly prepared for life, and incredibly changed in every way possible?


Many people ask, 'Are you crazy?' or say, 'Maybe you should slow down' on a daily and weekly basis.  My course load is hefty and my schedule is pinched to the minutes and seconds.  A typical day has at least one obligation, and the week seems to have more obligations than there is space for.  This is not to brag or to say I am a pioneer of sorts, others have gone before me and carved out a pattern, a trail, and some are venturing along the path with me.  However, for many classmates, a slower, more eased pace is preferable in order to enjoy life.  These classmates still makes plans, go to parties, and have holidays.

So, on days like yesterday and all of last week, when it seems like my emotions cannot be tamed and my stress causes bursts of tears and spirals of worry, I question and say the same things to myself.  'Why are you in a hurry?'  'Is this actually what you feel you are supposed to be doing?' 'Are you pleasing yourself or Him with this?'  Don't you worry, I have had tons of thoughts and ideas about my current "plan" and the speed at which I am employing it.

And then I remember those men on that mountain, that woman on the trail.  I remember how many times they probably laid down and yelled or cried and asked themselves why.  I remember how many times they swore they could not move another muscle, blink another eyelid...that this minute may be their death.  I remember how they had to dig down deep, deeper than ever before, and deeper than they knew possible to step forward, to push through the worry, fear, apprehension, doubt, and critics to keep going.

This school thing isn't just my education or a certificate to a career.  This school thing is my mountain, my solitary trail.  Sure, I often look around to see who is with me, try to pull my husband into it, too, but this school thing is my thing.  It's the thing that will push me harder and farther than anything else I've done.  It will ask me to dig deep and find strength, pain, and courage to keep moving.  It's the thing, the beast, that will not allow me to be the same person I was before I started.

Truthfully, I was not and am not the most prepared.  I did not learn how to study well, or get my shit together before I started.  I did not get the pack, the book, or the maps to bring with me.  I am also not the strongest.  I'm not the student with the 4-year traditional background, the clean moral history, or the largest biblical knowledge.  I'm just not the person you would peg or ask to join you for the climb.

But I do have this thing called grit--this drive to keep going, to make it through, to fight teeth and nail for the finish.  I've also got some rough edges, some extra pain, and protective barriers.  I have worked hard to make my way this far through life, and now it's time to let go of a lot of those tools.  So, I am here, on my mountain asking for the pain and unbearable obstacles.  Sure, there are lots of things in life which will change and shape me, ask me to grow, and give me new light and experiences.  But this one thing, this challenge, I believe, is the mountain and solitary trail I so desire, the trail I know will ask me to leave the old life behind and step into the new one. This is the mountain which will prepare me for all the other mountains I'm hoping to explore in life.

This is my Everest.