Questions My Anxious Self Asks Non-Anxious People

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What is it like to just relax and not worry that you’re forgetting some huge responsibility and therefore can’t allow yourself to fully enjoy your self-care time?

What is it like be like to hear someone’s story and not immediately use it as a yardstick against which to measure your own quality of life and well-being?

What is it like to understand right away that when someone asks you a question, they do so out of curiosity, not because they’re trying to trip you up or make you feel insecure in your lack of knowledge?

What is it like to hear someone critique you without feeling your complete sense of worth drain away from you?

What is it like to wake up from a weird dream and simply accept it as a dream and not as if it is said deep, terrible things about who you are and how your life is?

What is it like to make a mistake at work and not immediately assume you’re going to get fired because you’re useless and replaceable?

What is it like to look at your partner and just understand that they love you unconditionally instead of assuming they are so annoyed by you that they only reluctantly deal with your garbage?

What is it like to accept that you love this person more than life itself without second-guessing yourself anytime you notice someone attractive or see other people more “lovey-dovey” than the two of you are?

What is it like for your friends to do things without you and not assume they are leaving you out on purpose because they can’t stand you?

What is it like to have questions about life without becoming so fixated on them that you can’t see the world around you?

What is it like to have political conversations without either blowing up on those who disagree with you or shrinking into yourself because you don’t trust that your answers are good enough?

What is it like to be secure in who you are and confident that you are enough?

What is it like to not panic about the state of your bank account every time you hand over your debit card or hit “Complete Purchase” on a screen or pay a bill?

What is it like to not have to worry about when the anxiety is going to come back in ways that will crush you after months of peace?

What is it like to not have almost every single memory touched by anxiety’s constant presence?

What is life without anxiety like?

I still don’t know. I don’t know if I ever will.

So tell me: what’s it like?

Tremble

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Immediately after reading that the AHCA passed the House, my shoulders shook as I held in my rage and sobs, because letting it out at my new workplace didn’t seem like the most appropriate place to vent my fear and frustration.

Days later, I read the Wisdom of Solomon for the first time in my life, and my heart shook within me at the power of those ancient words admonishing the righteous and praising the just. I read Jesus’ words uplifting the poor, weeping, and persecuted, and berating the rich, happy, and secure, and my voice shook while I spoke them out loud, the living room softly aglow with morning light my pulpit.

Sometimes, it causes me to tremble.

Ten years ago, my mom came into the stable at the end of a riding lesson, her normally calm eyes watering with tears and her usually steady body and voice shaking  with emotion. She managed to tell me my grandfather had been in an awful accident, and we needed to get to him and our family in Pennsylvania immediately.

There are mornings when my body shudders in fear, when the the power of my silent sobs forces my body into mild convulsions in the midst of panic attacks, as I physically and mentally fight my inner thoughts.

The ground in occupied Palestine, my family’s homeland, and in Syria, the first home of countless refugees, continues to tremble with bombs aimed at civilians, including mothers and children.

Tremble.

When my dad called me for the first time in 15 years, my fingers trembled so hard I worried I would accidentally hit “End Call” instead of “Answer Call.”

Almost 7 years ago, in a dorm kitchen, I prepared to tell a boy that I had a crush on him. When I looked up at him, I noticed his lips trembling slightly. Somehow, he knew what I was about to tell him, and it was moving him as much as me, if not more.

Five and a half years later, our hands trembled as he slid the engagement ring onto first my right ring finger, then after a laughter-filled correction, onto the left one.

Tremble.

Trembling comes in the midst of seismic shifts.

Earthquakes occur when plates shift and bump up against each other and try to move away. They change land masses and push once unmovable landmarks into new locations.

Our bodies shake with pain, anger, fear, joy, and excitement.

The earth quaked when Jesus breathed his last, and it shook to expose the empty tomb.

Were you there…

Earthquakes and resurrection. Tremors and new relationships. Quaking in fear and body-racking sobs. Movers and shakers.

Change comes, and it jostles and unsettles.

Brace yourselves.

 

Sometimes, People are Amazing

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Sometimes, people are amazing.

Sometimes, while driving through a rain storm, we roll the car windows down and put our hands out to catch the drops.

Sometimes, we stop what we’re doing to watch butterflies.

Sometimes, the kids clean up the room with little prompting after completing an activity, and they do it with gusto.

Sometimes, people write beautiful, thought-provoking, intelligent, biting, and necessary stories.

Sometimes, we call out hate crimes, at home and abroad. Sometimes, we hold a work meeting just to publicly apologize for the way they treated a co-worker.

Sometimes, we do fantastic things.

And other times, we don’t do the fantastic, awe-inspiring things.

Other times, we ignore the rain, and make big messes without cleaning them up, and destroy and censor beautiful works of art, and are behind the hate crimes, and degrade our co-workers without repentance.

We are human, after all. Sometimes, we remember that being human is sacred. Other times, we feel the weight of the burden it can be.

But we are still amazing in our capacity to do both, to do the wonderful and the awful, to be so complex that we are neither good nor bad, but simply human. There is nothing simple about being human, but there is always something sacred about it.

Maybe we are always amazing, even when we don’t act it.

Maybe.

1%

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Human beings have occupied 1% of the earth’s existence.

And we continue to demand a reason for being here, a greater purpose, something beyond ourselves.

We find God, and instead of making religion a story about the Divine, we make it about us.

We find art, and we use it to tell stories and explain the inexplicable, to give reasons for our pain, suffering, joys, and triumphs as if they were anything less than ordinary or expected.

All evidence points to humans being a blip on the radar, a fleeting breath, a candle extinguished in a gust, but we refuse to accept this as true.

We push ourselves towards greater milestones and achievements.

We make and consume art and culture as if it can define us.

We donate to charities and get involved with our communities, thinking our small actions will result in some extraordinary greatness in the end.

We fall in love and start families and make friends, claiming these humans, who are as finite and temporary as we are, are worthy of the bonds which we forge with them.

We devote time to satisfying our egos and desires, stuffing ourselves with more and more, realizing we will never be satisfied.

Why aren’t we satisfied with the fact that we are alive?

Why am I not satisfied enough with that?

Life is silly, and it’s sincere.

It’s stupid, and it’s rational.

It’s so human and so holy.

It drives me nuts. It gives me peace.

Goodbye/Hello

Choir

On Sunday, I processed with the choir. Somehow, I found myself at the head of the procession, and I freaked out a bit. I never lead this part. I always follow. After seven months in the choir, I still didn’t feel confident leading us down the aisle, up to the front of the purple tule covered cross, and to our seats.

But on my final Sunday, I led the way.

On Sunday, I heard the story of Ezekiel and the dry bones, how the Word of God brought the bones, sinews, and flesh together, and finally breathed life into them.

With the choir, I chanted Psalm 30, a plea to God to hear Israel’s cry for mercy, a thanksgiving of God’s grace, a prayer for God to continue to draw near.

I heard the story of Jesus weeping over the death of Lazarus, a death he could have prevented but instead chose to undo, and how Lazarus walked out of the tomb when Jesus called his name, still bound in his grave clothes.

And as I sat in the choir loft, one final time, I thought about the dry bones and the garments of death.

I wondered if I reeked to the high heavens of death like Lazarus, if my bones and body were without the breath of life. I wondered if, in saying good-bye to my two jobs in the span of four days, I was surrounded by the stench of death, and I wondered if anyone else could smell it on me.

Despite the financial hardships which accompany working two part-time jobs with no benefits, ties are made. Routines are established. A sense of normalcy, including the panic which comes at the end of each month when bills need paying and the numbers aren’t adding up, brings with it an odd sense of comfort.

Now that I am entering a full-time position, with a salary and benefits (health insurance! retirement! paid time off!), I am able to move into a new life, something I always imagined but never thought would come to fruition: stability.

But at what cost?

On Thursday, I had to leave a friend who gave me a job fresh out of seminary, someone I bonded with after I gave his wife a meal before she entered an operation to remove her breast cancer, someone with whom I had weathered the early struggles of his first pastoral job out of seminary. On Sunday, it was difficult to listen to the prayers of a friend who shares my Doctor Who obsession, and to bid farewell to the teens I had mentored, .

I never realized how hard it would be to print and fold my final bulletins and turn off my office computer for the last time. I didn’t think I’d struggle not to tear up when one of my students handed me an orchid in front of my congregation as I said farewell to my congregation.

When I accepted these jobs, I knew they weren’t permanent positions. I knew they were stepping stones to other opportunities.

But I didn’t know they would become so close to my heart.

In youth group, I remember my youth pastors teaching us to set physical and emotional boundaries with romantic partners, because they told us too much physical intimacy could make unmarried people “too close” and result in more heartache when the relationship ended.

I wish they’d told me this kind of extra heartbreak isn’t limited to the physical and the romantic.

I wish they’d told me about the pain you experience when you receive the broken body of Christ from your pastor’s hand and wonder if it’s the last time it will ever happen. I wish they’d told me how much a simple touch of my hair when receiving the blood of Christ from a dear choir member would undo me. I wish they’d told me how heart-wrenching it is to have to pull up your roots from the place you’ve called home for so long and plant them elsewhere.

I wish they’d told me less about setting up boundaries and more about how to love as fiercely as God loves us, even and especially when those upheavals happen.

If we are to live as God’s children, as people who want to connect more with God, we will touch the souls of the people around us in deep and profound ways, and they will touch the depths of our hearts, too. They will leave their marks and imprints, and the scars will remind us of their presence forever.

You can’t avoid it. To avoid it is to be the dry bones in the dessert, to be bound by the grave clothes and reeking of death.

I don’t reek of death. I reek of love. Beautiful, deep, painful love. That love is why I chose to sit with the pain of these losses, to insist that they mean something to me, and their losses demand to be felt and honored.

So I sang our final hymn, “The Bread of Life,” for the last time. For the last time, I hung up my choir robe. I gave out final hugs as I ate snacks from my final coffee hour. For the first and last time, I went to the house of my choir director and her daughter, a member of my Sunday School class, and made my farewells over plates of ravioli.

I said good-bye to the congregation which housed me.

Now, I can say hello to the next home which has found me.

Dreams Deferred and Reborn

Bouquet

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Several weeks ago, Mom and I went to Hobby Lobby searching for wedding bouquet ideas. We walked through aisle after aisle of multi-colored flowers, trying to find the ones which most matched the scheme we had planned (burgundy and gold).

We walked. We browsed. We talked about my financial struggles and whether they would get better.

And as we talked and shopped, I thought about Mom and her life.

As a young adult, she worked a difficult night shift job she didn’t like to make ends meet and afford things she wanted, like her very first car. Around age 30, she moved home with her new baby and a loaded moving van to finish her college degree. As I grew up, she took up extra jobs to ensure I could own a horse, play my own saxophone in the middle and high school bands, and go to college.

As I reflected on all of her hard work and sacrifices, I thought about her dreams, the ones she didn’t see come true, like becoming a vet or a P.E. teacher or a star athlete.

But she became a teacher to ensure she had a steady income and the same vacations and days off I had. She educated multitudes of children, and some of them still visit her, letting her know how they’re doing and how important she was to them.

And she did all she could to make sure I had the opportunity to have my own dreams and maybe see them come true.

I was always a dreamer. Every time I had to write an “All About Me” essay in school, I got giddy with excitement when I got to the “What are your dreams and goals?” section. I wanted to be everything: a marine biologist, a vet, a farmer, a writer, a teacher, a member of the Navy, a jazz musician, a pro skater, a jockey, and then some. I filled those pages with dreams upon dreams, and I had my ways to get to them, even if they seemed impossible.

And here I am, working multiple part-time jobs, still struggling to eke out a living and begin a new life with my fiance, and I wonder if I’ve let my mom down. She worked so hard for me, after all, and what do I have to show for it?

I wonder if I’ve let myself down, because I don’t always know what my dreams are, and I don’t feel like I’m on the fast-track to reach any of them. They seem so numerous and sporadic, disjointed and unrelated, and I don’t know which ones to pursue.

But as Mom and I went about our day, picking out my bouquet, eating lunch and dinner together, looking at bridesmaids dresses and arguing about where the reception should be and if the bridesmaids all needed to have the same style dress, I realized something.

Not many people accomplish the dreams they initially set out to do. And that’s OK.

Mom didn’t accomplish all of hers, and while I’m sure she feels the sting of those losses from time to time, I know she doesn’t regret having me in her life, even if the paths she took weren’t the smoothest. I haven’t accomplished all of my goals and dreams, because they change so often and the world isn’t always kind to dreamers, but I know I will always have the love of my mother, fiance, and others to give me reason, purpose, passion, and joy in this life.

For most of my young, life, I used to think not accomplishing your greatest dreams was the worst tragedy to someone could experience. I used to think it would result in regret and despair, the shriveling up of a soul like a raisin in the sun, as Langston Hughes described in “Harlem.” I told myself I had to accomplish at least one of my big dreams to find true satisfaction in life, or else I’d doom myself to a life of apathy, of going through motions and putting one foot in front of the other with no idea of where the steps would take me.

Now, I see this whole deferment of dreams as a mostly inevitable part of life.

Dreams come in and out like waves in a tide. As life happens, so do our dreams and plans. The flexible and willing among us adjust. They let their passion remain even when the dreams depart, and they fuel their new dreams with that same passion and joy.

Dreams can be for ourselves. They can be for the ones who come after us. They can be put on hold and then reactivated.

But as long as we keep the fire within us alive, as long as we continue to be surrounded and powered by love, we will remain alive, even when our biggest dreams die.

Stuck Behind a School Bus: Some Musings and Meditations

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Two Row Times

It was the last day of my work week, and I found myself driving into the town of Woodstock, VA at the time I normally wake up. I had paperwork to give to my health insurance guy, who opened his office an hour and a half early to help me sort out some last minute paperwork with the Health Insurance Marketplace.

I was grateful for his willingness to see me before my work day (and even his) started. I was also still in the “waking up” process and wanted to be back in bed. Now that February had reverted back to somewhat normal winter mode, I’m content to be indoors under blankets all day.

Early into my drive, though, I found myself behind a school bus.

I have a special place in my heart for all things public school related. My mom is a 2nd grade teacher, and from 2nd to 5th grade, I attended the same school at which she taught. This meant I never had to take a school bus until I was in middle school. I rode in with my mom, hung out in her classroom before the school day started, went to my class, then returned to her room as the student aides called the buses over the intercom. After her students left, I’d work on my homework, watch TV in her classroom, or wander the halls in my socks or bare feet chatting with teachers and staff.

So finding myself behind a school bus, I found myself reminiscing about my old school days, the conversations I had with those teachers which stayed with me all this time, the feeling of bare floors beneath my tiny feet, the smells of pencils, recess equipment, and paper, and the feeling of being surrounded by knowledge and love. Funny enough, being stuck behind this school bus brought upon feelings of joy instead of the typical feelings of frustration at the possibility of being late for an important appointment.

I sat in my car behind the bus as I watched parents waiting on porches and in cars to see their kids safely aboard. In the absence of parents, older children kept an eye on the younger ones. When the bus stopped, its lights flashing and STOP sign extended, bundled-up kids ran across the street at full speed to climb aboard. A teenager in skinny jeans and a hoodie untangled their iPod earbuds while walking across the street at a much slower, more grudging pace than the younger ones.

The bus gave me time to pause, to breathe, and to be thankful. These every day actions of school buses and children and parents remind me so much is changing in this world, and yet so little does.

These students may go to school and be bored out of their minds, or they may go in excited and ready to learn, or some combination of both. They could find home in the school like I did, or it could be a place of fear, trepidation, and lonesomeness. They may encounter dear friends, crushing apathy, terrifying bullies, and understanding teachers. Despite what they tell their parents at the end of the day, they might end up learning something, even if it’s not something found on a Scantron exam.

I continued my journey behind the school bus until I reached the entrance to the town of Woodstock, where multiple lanes finally separated us. I turned in my health insurance paperwork, which my insurance guy sent off, then drove into work to continue my final day of the work week.