Hopeful Realism

People who know me from only interacting with Work Me think I’m an optimist. Others have accused me of being a pessimist, others a cynic, and still others a realist.

None of those sit right with me, though. None of those fully encompass the way the world reveals itself to me.  I see the potential for future disaster, but I don’t believe catastrophe is unavoidable. I see how those with power abuse those without, but I realize not all the powerful are cut from the same cloth. I see kindness in people, but I know that people are naturally bent to darkness instead of light.  I see the state of the world around me, but I have hope that life can improve.

That’s what hopeful realism is all about: Recognizing that all is not well with life, but retaining a deep seated belief that the what comes next can be better than what went before.

Hopeful realism is not merely the naïve dreaming of a girl yet to experience life, but is rather the result of a life transformed by faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Is that not the essence of hopeful realism? I am confident that when time runs out, the One who created time will still hold us in His hand.  I am assured that even if I must suffer hardships, “he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13).

Books: Paper Towns by John Green

 

I recently read Paper Towns by John Green, who happens to be one of my favorite Young Adult authors. Once again John Green made me laugh and then immediately followed it up by provoking me to think deeply about life. Two main themes resonated with me: people are more complex than the masks they wear, and life cannot be lived solely for the future.

Margo Roth Spiegelman is surrounded by more legends than Zorro and more myths that Merlin. She has purposefully built a reputation of mystery and excitement for herself, so no one is all that shocked when she goes missing merely weeks from graduation. No one except Quentin Jacobson, her childhood friend. Jacob sees the wild, mysterious persona she portrays to the rest of the town, but he knows another side of her too, a part of her left over from childhood.

During his search to find Margo, Jacob is forced to attempt unraveling Margo and all her hidden layers, but the more he discovers the more he realizes that there is more to Margo than anyone realized. Each person perceived Margo differently based off of how he/she wanted to perceive her.

We tend to see in people only what we want to see. In love interests, we overlook negative traits and inflate positive ones. In enemies, we ignore the pleasant parts of their personalities and dwell on the repulsive ones. In friends, we focus on similarities and pretend differences don’t exist. It is incredibly difficult for us to look past our own expectations of people to see who they truly are.

Maybe that’s what Paul the Apostle was talking about in 1 Corinthians:

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:12

On earth we cannot perceive people for who they truly are because it’s like we’re looking through a dirty window at them. But once we enter into eternity, we will be able to see people for who they truly are, all masks aside, and they will see us the same. How wonderful will that be! To not have to worry about people not understanding you? That definitely sounds like heaven to me.

The other theme in Paper Towns that struck a cord is that of living life for now instead of always living for the future. Margo postulates that almost all people live out their lives so that they can do something else later. For instance: People go to school to make good grades to go to college to get a job to get a car and house to have kids who will go to school to make good grades to go to college to get a job to get a car and house, ad infinitum

This isn’t enough for Margo, though. She wants to live life now, not sometime in the future. At one point when Jacob asks whether she is concerned for the future, Margo responds with a line from an Emily Dickinson poem, “Forever – is composed of Nows” (for the whole poem, click here).

Many times in life we do get caught up in the endless cycle of preparing for the future. “I can’t do _______ because I have to prepare for _____.” We allow ourselves to become slaves to the future, bound too tightly to even breathe comfortably in the present. The future consumes us to the point where there is nothing left to merely exist in the moment. Yet the future is not a destination; we are never going to wake up one day, check the calendar, and discover the date reads “The Future.” No, all we have is a series of nows, one now instantly replaced by another now and another and another. To enjoy forever we have to enjoy now.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Paper Towns, although I personally would have preferred less profanity and vulgarity. The book is an accurate reflection of American youth, though, which I believe is what John Green was aiming at. Good job, John, good job.

“I Kept Biting Them”

In the first episode of the fifth series of the British TV show Doctor Who, the main character, the Doctor, reunites with one his friends, Amy Pond. This is the scolding she gives him for his too-long absence:

Amy Pond: Twelve years!
The Doctor: You hit me with a cricket bat!
Amy Pond: Ha! Twelve years!
The Doctor: A cricket bat!
Amy Pond: Twelve years, and four psychiatrists!
The Doctor: Four?
Amy Pond: I kept biting them!
The Doctor: Why?
Amy Pond: They said you weren’t real.

The Doctor’s twelve year absence left scars on Amy, scars that led her parents to believe she had serious issues. She bounced from psychiatrist to psychiatrist, but none of them were able to help her because she was irrevocably convinced of the Doctor’s existence. When anyone dared to question his existence, she did the only reasonable thing: She bit them.

Amy’s scars weren’t as bad as her parents and psychiatrists believed because the Doctor actually was real. She really had met him, and he really did come back for her. She wasn’t crazy. But she was scarred.

Amy was scarred because she put her hope in someone and that someone let her down. Broke a promise. Abandoned her.

Those are issues enough to cause a person to need counseling.

Life is scary and scaring. Sometimes life takes you through childhood and adolescence and leaves more scars than unblemished skin. And sometimes, when that happens, you don’t even realize it has happened. You spend years denying anything is wrong, you’re not scarred.

And then one day you wake up and realize, “Oh my word. I’m broken.”

I’ve been in one-on-one counseling for three years solid, with another year and a half of group therapy before that. I haven’t bitten any of my counselors (yet), but there have definitely been times when they have told me things I didn’t want to hear. I have been blessed beyond belief to have a counselor who is wise enough to recognize when I am and am not ready to deal with certain issues. She recognized anger issues in me the first time we met, but was willing to work with me for two years before I was ready to start dealing with the anger issues. I wasn’t ready. She recognized relationship dysfunction from the first time we met, but worked with me for two and a half years (past the end of the relationship, I might add) before I was ready to deal the dysfunction. I wasn’t ready.

I tried to start reading Toxic Faith by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton yesterday. I thought I was ready to start intentionally dealing with my church issues. I was excited about it. 

I was wrong. I’m just not ready.

Maybe next year?

Things I (don’t) Miss about High School

People often laugh when I talk about “high school.” Well, the people who know me laugh. I was homeschooled, so they say I didn’t go to high school. True, I didn’t. But in our culture, the easiest way to reference the ages between 14 and 18 is by saying “high school.”

1. Math! Seriously, I have never once used trig or calculus since I left high school. I tested out of math for college, and skills more than algebra and geometry aren’t tested on things like the THEA and GRE. Completely useless skills for an English-teaching-librarian. However, I do miss the challenge of the puzzle of looking at a pile of numbers  and letters and making sense of them. I miss using math to solve complex problems in chemistry and physics. I miss the thrill of figuring it out and getting it right. Somehow I just don’t get that thrill from analyzing characters in literature.

2. Having no friends. High school was the Sahara Desert of Friendship for me. Every day I longed to have a best friend, someone to hang out with and confide in and generally have fun with. But my enforced solitude necessitated me learning to be comfortable in my own skin. The silence doesn’t scare me (unless we’re talking about The Silence, which is a whole other story), and I can enjoy peace and quiet in a way many of my peers seem incapable of doing. While I do have friends now, I understand that I don’t need friends to complete me.

3. Being a janitor. The last three years of high school my mom and I worked as the janitors at my church. While it wasn’t a mega-church, the building was pretty big and had to be cleaned two times a week. I learned to hate vacuuming. But years of cleaning a huge church gave me the practice I needed to be able to quickly and efficiently clean my house now. After all, what’s an hour cleaning my apartment compared to 15 hours a week cleaning a church?

4. Diagramming sentences. Grammar was pretty much all I did in English during high school. I corrected and diagrammed sentence after sentence, so much so that I literally had dreams about diagramming. It was hard work. But when I had to start writing all the time in college, I almost never got marked down for grammar. And when I had to take a senior level grammar course, I didn’t struggle very much with it. The endless grammar studying made me a better writer.

5. Not having a dad. Okay, I had a dad, but he and I didn’t get along very well. It was mainly just me and my mom. It wasn’t until after I left for college that my dad and I started getting along and building a good relationship. Now I go visit him on a fairly regular basis and talk to him on the phone all the time. I didn’t realize it during high school, but I had a gaping hole in me that could only be filled by my father. Now, I wouldn’t trade my relationship with my dad for anything.

I Love My Job

When I interviewed for this job, the director tried to talk me out of taking the job. Not because he didn’t want to hire me (he approached me about the job in the first place), but because he knew I could get a job at many other places that would two, three, four times as much as I will ever make here. He was concerned that I was going to unknowingly hitch myself to a horse with no flow.

He is not the last person to ask me why I work here for next to nothing when I could make more elsewhere – almost anywhere else. People seem baffled about this for some reason.

My answer is always the same: I’m not doing this to get rich; I’m doing this because I love it.

I love working in my library. I wake up in the morning excited to face the day of work.  Not many people can say that. Far to many people hate their jobs. They wake up in the morning dreading going to work, and by the time they get home they are too drained from a job they hate to enjoy life outside of work. What is the point of having a bank full of money if I am too miserable to enjoy spending it/giving it away? Why would I want to live dreading five days a week? Living for the weekends is not enough for me. I want to love every day (even Mondays)!

I work with a wonderful team. These people genuinely care – not just about me, but about everyone. I can be real with them and they with me. Our staff meetings always start with Bible reading and prayer. If I ever have something I need prayer for, every one of my coworkers will stop what they’re doing and pray for me.

I don’t have to miss church for work. In fact, I’m pretty sure I would get in trouble if I skipped church to work.

Will I get rich here? No.

But I will be happy, and happiness trumps money every time.

 

The God Who Is

Sometimes I look at people who call themselves Christians and cannot help but think, “I want nothing to do with their ‘God.'”

I am proud to say that I was raised in a Christian household and that I am a follower of Jesus Christ, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I love God. But sometimes people’s actions make me doubt whether we serve the same God. Vicious, malicious, abusing people do horrible, hurtful things, and then turn around and talk about how great God is and how wonderful life is serving Him.  Their lifestyles make their ‘God’ seem fake.  My reaction to that is, “I want nothing to do with the God of that person.”

Then I look at other Christians and cannot help but want to know their God. People who live good lives, who go out of their way not to hurt others, who have a simple intimacy with God. These people live out their faith on a daily basis with no faking or pretense.  They know God, and it is evident in everything they do.  How can I not want to follow the God of people like this?

I recently sat down and had a long talk with God about this dichotomy.  How can people who claim to follow the same God have such different expressions of Him? Surely the God of the first group cannot be the same as the God of the second?

I went on like this for a long time, not letting God get a word in edgewise. When I finally shut up long enough, I heard His quiet voice whisper to me: “Must I be the ‘God of this’ or the ‘God of that’? The pagans have their god of wind and god of love and god of war. But me? I AM. What else do you need Me to be? What else is there? I AM. I AM God, but My children reflect me with different levels of perfection.  When you look at some, you see a clear picture of who I am, but when you look at others you still see much of the world obscuring My image. I am still cleaning My children, making them into a better reflection of Me.”

Instead of following the “God of this person” or the “God of that person,” I now simply choose to follow “I AM”: the God who is big enough to handle even my own poor reflection of Him.