Some Days

Some days you don’t want to go to bed because it means waking up the next morning. At that point, you know that the next day is going to be SOME day.

That was last night.

Then today actually started. I don’t need to go into all the details, but it included a fairly intense conversation with a parent before first period was even over. An hour into the school day, and I felt like throwing up and really just wanted to crawl into a dark hole and hide. I felt like I was splitting at the seams, and if you poked me too hard, all the stuffing would come out.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take much. During lunch period, in front of my high schoolers, a fellow teacher and dear friend asked a harmless question that sent me into defensive mode. The stuffing was leaking, and there was nothing I could do about it. There was tension. There were tears. I left the room.

Not only had I hurt her, but my poor high schoolers, who certainly don’t need any more drama and emotion in their lives, were treated to tension between two trusted teachers. Not okay. Not in any way okay. And it was all my fault– unquestionably my fault. I frantically scooped up the stuffing, grabbed a needle and thread, and got to work. Apologizing to my friend in front of the kids was the best way to patch up the situation, but it was, after all, a patch where something had been irreparably torn that should never have been, and I left school today feeling like the biggest waste of oxygen on the planet.

This happens, you see. I make mistakes. Even worse, I do things I know are wrong. And I keep doing them. Then I realize I’ve been doing something wrong, and I sit back and imagine God’s perspective. But, after all, I am human, and this projected dialogue with God is a dialogue with my humanized imagination of God. It usually goes something like this:

Erika: “So I did it again. I know it was wrong, I knew it was wrong when I was doing it, and I did it again.”

God: “All right. I love you anyway, but hey, girl, I want to USE you. I want you to be an important part of my story here, and you’ve got to get your act together if you want that. You want that, don’t you?”

Erika: “Of course I do!!!”

God: “All right, then. Get your act together!”

But God, as we’re clearly told, does not think the way man thinks and doesn’t see the way man sees. In fact, sometimes (usually, I find) His workings are so completely and totally opposite anything we would plan out that there is no way they cannot be “other,” that they cannot be divine in origin. I see this in salvation; no human who really takes sin and evil seriously would invent a system in which their sin gets completely paid by someone else. It’s just irresponsible; we want to feel the pain, we want to feel like we’re atoning for things. We want to earn our way, to do penance.

But oh no. God had another plan up His sleeve, one so “other” that it can’t help but be divine.

It’s easy to see it in salvation. It’s not so easy to see it in the nitty gritty stuff in life.

For example, I’ve been noticing a very odd, very “other” trend. Every time I do one of these things, every time I do something I know is wrong and then feel terribly sorry for it and beg for forgiveness, what I would expect is a setback. I would expect a probation period, a time during which God wants me to come closer to Him and learn some obedience before he gives me a new assignment in his Story. A time to sit in the corner and think about what I’ve done.

But oh no.

Instead, I usually find that within twenty-four hours, I have been thrown an assignment of more-or-less epic spiritual proportions (usually involving a person in need) and have experienced victory in it.

This happens way too often for it to be a coincidence.

Back to tonight.

I think it’s safe to say that today was one of my biggest failures (out of many) that I’ve had in quite some time. I really, really blew it in front of a lot of people who mattered to me and who I’m something of an example to. If there was ever a time for me to get pulled out of the game for a while, thrown into the penalty box to ponder my ways, this would be the time.

Instead, four hours after leaving school in tears, I found myself on the back stairway of my church beside a fourth grade girl as she prayed the fourth-grade version of “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner” and became, as she called it, “God’s kid.”

You see, I’m beginning to understand something absolutely mind-blowing. God doesn’t always respond to my mistakes by telling me to sit in the corner and think about what I’ve done. He knows– he knows very well– that I want to be a meaningful part of the Story. He also knows that I’m weak and have issues. So, instead of dangling a “someday” in front of me and telling me to get my act together, the conversation runs something like this:

Erika: “God, I blew it again. I really messed up. I did it even though I knew it was wrong. I’m going to go put myself in the corner and think about what I’ve done.”

God: “No! No! Get back in the game! I have something I want you to do RIGHT NOW!”

Erika: “But I’m not your person. Didn’t you hear? I knew it was wrong and I did it anyway.” (looks up from the corner) “Oh! Look! Something needs to be done!”

(Goes and does it)

Erika: (comes back with a grin) “That was so cool!” (remembers earlier failure, head droops) “Wait, I messed up. Why did you use me? I need to sit in the corner and think about what I’ve done!”

God: (just grins)

Erika: “WAIT. Hey, that’s not fair. You didn’t play by the rules. You’re supposed to wait until I get my act together before you use me, right? Right?”

God: (just grins)

Erika: “Are you trying to tell me that the whole sit-in-the-corner thing was my idea?”

God: “Maybe. Hey, if I wait till you get your act together, you’re not going to get anything done. That’s too discouraging. So I’ve figured out something better. How about you get back in the action and actually DO some of the cool stuff in my power, and remember how much you like it.”

Erika: (grudgingly) “That DOES sound a whole lot more motivating.”

God: “How about I help you get your act together, instead of you doing it on your own, and we do it WHILE we’re doing the cool stuff?”

Erika: (sigh of relief) “Now THAT sounds like something that could actually happen.”

Of course this is all coming out of my imagination. I’m not even trying to say that God actually says these words to me. But it is actually how He’s been working. No dangling-carrots. No penalty boxes. Just… grace. Grace, which is frighteningly, gorgeously “other.”

And that’s more than enough to get me through some days.

A Resolution to Celebrate

As summer gave way to fall this year, I made myself a resolution. I was going to celebrate this year.

Maybe it’s my hobbitty heart, with its love for the sparkle and merriment and food of the holidays. Maybe it’s that they represent something innocent and childish. Maybe it’s my love of stories, which entwine themselves around all holidays. Maybe it’s the colors and the foolish beauty of decorations. Maybe it’s the gathering together of friends and family, painted in my head in the most idealized Dickensian lamplit colors. Maybe it’s my passionate love of gift giving and receiving. Whatever it is, there is a deep idealism in holidays that my heart yearns for.

And I sure didn’t have much of it last year, for whatever reason. Last fall, I was in the thick of my student teaching, doing little else besides school-related activities. Furthermore, as I’ve discussed before, it was a spiritually and emotionally draining school year. Students were wracked with tragedy; the school took several hard hits. For those reasons and perhaps more, I spent the holiday season in a sort of dark fog. The holidays passed, and I nodded soberly at them as they went by, going, “Huh. That was Christmas. Christmas used to be so much fun. Is it always going to be like this now? Over before I can hardly register that it happened?”

But a sort of change happened in me this summer. I made a new friend, and I developed a crush. I know. Alarming. And, as you’ve read in previous posts, it’s been thoroughly dragged into the light, analyzed, and given a proper and respectable place as a friendship and nothing more. But in the middle of the summer, when I was working hard and happy outside in the natural beauty of Whidbey Island, the peculiar heart-glow that comes with the giddiness of a girlish crush, especially when it is reciprocated by the kindness of friendship, lit me up from the inside. And as my overdeveloped imagination painted blooming future images in my mind while I scrubbed toilets and weeded walkways, the paintbrush strayed toward the upcoming holiday season.

Why, now that I had someone to do them with, I could do all the holiday things I’d been too busy or serious to do for the last several years! I could go to a corn maze with him, and then, by George, we could carve pumpkins afterward! Then would come Christmas. Would he go caroling? Would he like to walk around and look at Christmas lights? What about going to a Christmas concert of some sort? Suddenly all of the holiday sparkle, which had struck me as a jaded, gleaming veneer last year, seemed joyous again. 

Thus I resolved to make this season the season of celebration once again.

Now that the relationship has taken a more substantial and less romantic turn, I look back on the giddy, ephemeral source of my resolution with a little bit of embarrassment, but I will not say with shame. There is no shame in the rekindling of the heart. And the truth is, that somehow, God used my girlishness to not only bless me with a supportive friendship but to lift me, at least a little, back toward a sunnier outlook. And for both I am thankful.

But back to my resolution. As the fall rolled around, the corn maze and pumpkins happened, crowned with an evening of Doctor Who at a friend’s house. Halloween came around, and, even though I never celebrate Halloween on principle, I set aside said principles, figured that there was nothing fundamentally wrong with dressing up and watching a spine-tingling movie or two. So over the week, I crossed a few classics off my list, including “The Nightmare before Christmas” and “Arsenic and Old Lace.” Halloween night, I put on my long coat and went to the new Dracula movie with my friend. By now, our relationship had been carefully categorized; it did not lessen the charm of the evening.

Then came the Thanksgiving season, and my resolution to celebrate encountered its first hiccup. The week before Thanksgiving, my father and I had a telephone conversation, which I have already blogged about, which threw a very wet blanket on both my friendship and my celebratory spirit. And, lucky me, it was right before that holiday which, more than anything else, focuses on family. I got to go home and spend the week with people who were unhappy with me about something that made me happy. Great.

But sometime around Thanksgiving and the struggles that surrounded that week, I had to ask myself why. Why should I celebrate? Really, truly, why? Because I had a crush with whom I could share the sparkling delights of the season?

Or maybe these holidays were like my own giddy feelings. Once the sparkle floated away, there was something more substantial, more valuable to be found.

For the first time, it occurred to me this Thanksgiving that maybe my resolution to celebrate could be carried out despite all occurrences otherwise. That even if the circumstances surrounding this holiday season should become as clouded as they were last year, I could still celebrate.

And this Christmas, I will. That is a resolution and a promise.

Sure, the celebration might look a little different. Maybe it wouldn’t be the giddy, superficial fun, although giving that an try couldn’t really hurt. Maybe it would be possible to set the burdens on my heart in the hands of my Heavenly Father for long enough to enjoy some true holiday merriment. It would certainly be worth a try, should those burdens become overwhelming.

But there is so much more to Christmas than glittering trees and Christmas carols and presents (although those things are a source of particular pleasure to me). It is about showing love to others, selfless love that is not dependent upon any conditions at all, because that is the kind of love that Christ showed when He left Heaven to take on bodily form. No matter what the circumstances are, I can celebrate in the deepest form this Christmas.

Now, the best part of this is that I can use that kind of celebration to fuel the other parts of celebrating. I can celebrate by helping my mom make Christmas dinner, and by eating the Christmas dinner we’ve made. I can celebrate by giving gifts that speak my love to my sisters and family. And every time I show care or love–deserved or not, felt at the moment or not– I am celebrating.

So with that I laugh in the face of wet blankets and fog. Come rain, snow, or sunshine, I will celebrate Christmas this year.