Faith, Hope and Love

Confession: I’m vaguely embarrassed at how much time I’ve spent in the past two weeks thinking and writing about a man. I’ve been pretty decent at making daily time for writing these past two weeks. Not all of it is writing for the blog – sometimes it’s an article I’m working on, or a policy piece. But every day, the first thing that pops in my head is, “Do I need to write about him today?” Not want; need. That’s … weird to me.

While part of my sense of urgency is the girlish infatuation at which I have excelled since I was a girl, there’s a deeper level to what’s happening here. After so many relationships where I’ve been hurt – and so many terrible narratives I’ve constructed about what is wrong with me that causes me to keep getting hurt – having romantic feelings for someone isn’t fun anymore. It’s awful. It’s just become something to fear, something where I wait to see what new emotional trauma is on the horizon. I feel hope and joy for like, a day or two; almost everything after that is spirit-crushing doubt and despair.

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Win Some, Lose Some

It’s amazing how quickly you can go from feeling like a great organizer to a terrible organizer in the space of a few hours. I’m trying to remember that everyone makes mistakes and that part of taking risks is also erring and failing and then taking time to reflect on the lessons you learned. So this is me trying to reflect instead of wallow.

In the organization I work with, we do this practice called agitation. It’s a way of creating tension to help someone make a decision to change an attitude or behavior that gets in the way of their building power. It can be a very effective tool in the context of relational leadership development; I’ve experienced significant transformation through agitational training.

But “context” and “relational” are key words here. Agitation is something you plan to do as part of an ongoing public relationship you establish to build power together. You have to understand someone’s self-interest and have clarity around what they need to be agitated on and why. Even in an agitational training, trainers review the reflection forms of trainees and think about where they may need to be agitated in relation to the content.

The point is, you don’t do these things ad hoc, like I did today.

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Making space

I’m always trying to figure out how to be “disciplined with my time.”

There’s real value in this. I’ve been realizing over the past several months that I’m always talking about wanting to have time to do the things that keep me healthy, but saying that I can’t find the time. And then I realize: well, I just spent two hours browsing Facebook. I’m pretty sure I could have used that time to write, or exercise, or cook, or any of the things I’m always saying I don’t have time for.

So when I got back from my leadership retreat last week, I was very serious about calendaring. I was very rigorous about allocating time to the things I kept saying were important: for prayer, for writing, for spending time with family and friends, for sleep. It felt a little weird to schedule my sleep and my chill time, but it also felt comforting to know that I had actually set aside that time and that I wasn’t just leaving those things to the whims of however my day went.

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Falling in… something.

I met a man I like, and now I’m terrified.

I can’t stop thinking about him. So that’s the first thing I’m afraid of: that I’ll be so overwhelmed and distracted that I won’t get anything done. I’m too busy to be distracted. I rigorously blocked out my schedule for the week, and “daydream about a boy” was not on it.

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“Oh, no, not that old ugly boy again!”

Lookie what we have here – a bonus post! Part of my new healthier approach to life is choosing to write my feelings instead of eat them.

The above quote is courtesy of my youngest sister, who spoke those words when one of my high school boyfriends came to pick me up from the house. She was only four, but I was still mortified; at sixteen, you don’t always have the zen to laugh off the outrageous outbursts of young children.

I have more presence of mind now when it comes to kids, but not yet when it comes to men. Early on, I began substituting sex for love and hoping that it might magically yield love as a side effect; and despite that never working even once, I clung to that pattern until it went from being second nature to first nature. Lately, I’ve doubled down on the disappointment and started choosing as my romantic attachments men who aren’t even interested in the sex part. Maybe my real turn-on is emotional masochism.

Long ago, I chose a boy who set my loins on fire over a boy who loved me. I’ve never stopped regretting that decision: how I hurt that nice, sweet boy, and the good relationship I gave up in exchange for a really crappy one. My therapist says I keep re-enacting that choice, trying to make it work out so that being with someone who’s bad for me will end up bringing me the love I truly wanted. My relationship history is the living definition of insanity … ergo, all the therapy. (And seriously, even therapy discussions that aren’t about my love life end up coming back to my love life. It’s pathological.)

The last year has been a lot about trying to separate myself from these destructive attachments. I’ve slowly gotten better at stepping back before I fling myself over the cliff – but only just. And even as I learn how to stop attaching myself to bad relationships, I despair of ever finding one again that’s good. It feels like the best I can ask for is that I stop wanting romantic companionship at all.

That’s so depressing. I’m 40; I’m not dead. I have a treasure trove of love and passion inside me, and no small reserve of skill. I’d really like to share them with someone who will appreciate their full value. Why is that so darn hard?

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(Sidebar: how is it that I’ve never created the category Love Life for this blog until right now? That makes no sense to me.)

What we see

My sister and brother in law have a Subaru Outback. I wasn’t particularly familiar with that make and model of car when they got it. In fact, it kind of surprised me, because the advent of minivans and SUVs had led me to believe that the station wagon – along with my childhood – had largely disappeared sometime in the mid-90s. But there it was, a very handy vehicle; and when my mother’s car was totaled in a horrifying multi-car accident, I found myself driving the Subaru quite a bit.

That’s when a funny thing happened. All of a sudden, I kept seeing other Outbacks on the road. They were everywhere, in every kind of color. I started recognizing different styles, and I started to be able to distinguish between older and newer models. Apparently, these cars had been all around me the whole time; I’d just never noticed them.

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Be ye transformed

​Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2 NIV

Additional election reflection: I just had an insight into why this election result, while disgusting me in the extreme, is neither all that surprising nor traumatizing. Many people on my feed are writing about feeling like this isn’t their country, like they can’t believe they live in a nation this racist/xenophobic/misogynistic, like they don’t know how to live in a nation where this is true, etc. Those reactions sounded oddly familiar, and it occurred to me that I already had that moment for myself and my nation: two years ago, after Mike Brown was murdered in Ferguson. I said these exact things in a sobbing phone conversation with my mother, as I sat in my front yard in Somerville trying to figure out how I could continue getting up and going to work and living life like the world hadn’t just exploded.

My pro-tips:

  1. It’s OK to be devastated. I was barely functional at work for the latter half of August 2014, trying to deal with the trauma. Don’t try to act like nothing has happened. Breathe, grieve, and give yourself some grace.
  2. Let yourself be angry, but not forever, and not so that it toxifies you. I’ve spent the better part of the last two years in a seething rage. It’s not that I was wrong to be angry; but it was an impotent rage that I had a hard time channeling into productive outlets. I wish I had spent more time processing my emotions through relational and spiritual spaces that allowed me to express what I was feeling, but then begin to heal and refocus on my purpose. Try to find (or create) those spaces for yourself. SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT YOUR FRIEND IN THIS REGARD!
  3. Let it change your life. Ferguson was the moment that changed everything for me. Within four months, I quit my job and moved from the place I thought I’d live forever to an area of the country I swore I wouldn’t return to unless a family member was dying. I spent 16 months away from full-time, 9-to-5 work, and instead spent most of that period caring for family members. (NOTE: none of those family members were dying, although both my parents gave us some good scares that I’ll thank them not to repeat!! 😛 ❤) That transition was EVERYTHING: it reoriented my priorities and opened up opportunities I could never have conceived, let alone planned for. The vision I had for my future and life’s work is becoming a reality that I’m walking in daily because of that move. Paradoxically, despite the election, today was an absolutely magnificent day for me because I am in the midst of this moment where so many amazing things are blooming for me that I can barely keep track of them all. That trauma was a real trauma – but it was also the doorway to blessings beyond measure.

There is no more business as usual. But the thing is, there never was. Live into that reality, because that’s where all the amazing shit becomes possible.