I Didn’t Know

I have officially written as many drafts here as I have actual blog posts.  The fact that this blog has has over 10,000 views also seems remarkable.  Yet what really caught me off guard when looking back through this blog’s history, was that I started scribbling thoughts here 5 years ago.

I don’t feel like I am old enough to have been doing something for 5 years.  I’m sure some hobbies can claim that longevity, but in my mind, I started blogging when I thought I had something worthwhile to say which is  when I thought I had achieved some standard level of maturity and adulthood.

5 years ago, I was a freshman in high school.  I knew nothing.  But I also knew that I knew nothing, which helped a lot.  I knew that I was the product of society and my school system and The Town and my family.  I didn’t do much about it, yet I knew it.

But there were a lot of things I had no idea about.

I didn’t know that I wasn’t going to be an engineer.  I didn’t know that I was much weaker in some ways than I thought.  I didn’t know how many people that I would see die.  I didn’t know how much brokenness there was in this world and how little I could do about it.

But I also didn’t know how much of a help I could be if I looked beyond myself.  I didn’t know about the sleepless nights and tired days.  I didn’t know how writing would simultaneously save me and destroy me.  I didn’t know that God was truly my only Savior.  I didn’t know that I would go to a Christian college, or even that I would still be a Christian at this point. I didn’t know about the incredible friends and memories I would find here.  I couldn’t have anticipated the amount of mental strain I would have to learn to overcome. I didn’t know that I would see lives fall apart and God piece me together.

While I’ve never put much stock in who I am, I have an inexhaustible source of confidence of what can I can do.  Even so, alone, I am nothing.  With God, I am still nothing but I am with God.  Being able to say that is more astounding than 5, 10, or 15 years of life-changing experiences.

Things Don’t Make Sense

To my rationalist mind, the worst judgement that I could pass on anything or anyone is: “That doesn’t make sense.”  I’ve caught myself saying that a lot lately.  For something to be good, it must be logical.  Unfortunately, this rules out a lot of the best things in life.

Like love, for instance.  Love doesn’t make sense.  It is irrational to put someone else’s needs in front of your own.  Likewise, emotions don’t make sense.  They are messy and pointless, but they are what make people real.

War doesn’t make sense.  Fighting with swords instead of words doesn’t make sense.  Unfounded hatred doesn’t make sense.  I don’t make sense.

I contradict myself daily, whether in word or in deed.  I have unrealistically high expectations for myself and circumstances beyond my control and expect the world to fall into my preset categories and calendars and it never does.  Some days I want to smile for no reason at all, and other nights I feel like crying into my pasta salad.  And that doesn’t make sense at all, because according to my calculations, happiness is supposed to be circumstantial and pasta salad doesn’t need anymore salt and it really isn’t sad at all.

The world doesn’t make sense.  It never has, and the stubborn desire of one 19 year-old girl won’t change that.  The world is broken, which doesn’t help this confusion, but so am I.  We must learn to live in this broken, senseless world regardless.  Stomping my feet and scowling at the surrounding nonsense doesn’t help anything.

You know what also doesn’t make sense?  Friends that love you when you are unlovable.   Loyalty that lasts through the test of time and trials.  A perfect God that loves an imperfect people.  Beautiful sunsets that fall every night on a world that doesn’t deserve them.

Role Play

A case study was done in the basement of the psychology department at Stanford University where 24 mentally stable participants pretend to be prisoners or guards in a mock prison setting.  The simulation was meant to last two weeks but was ended after 8 days due to concerns about the prisoners’ psychological health who lost touch with reality.

This might be an extreme example, but if there is anything we are good at, it is playing roles.  Even when we know that the role is completely false, it is only a matter of time before it becomes our identity.

Your role in life is shaped by the people you grew up with, the stories you were read as a child, the dreams that inspire you, your peers who surround you, the mentors that guide you, those that try to derail you, the culture that shapes us, and hopefully, the God that created you.

I’ve spent a great deal of time and energy trying to fight this reality.  In my mind, there must be some way to rise above this scenario where everyone typecasts me into a character and expects a performance that follows their script.  I hope you have the complete awareness of self and external influences with the strength to view life from the clouds with your feet on the ground.  I certainly don’t.

If I could be anywhere else or do anything else with my life than attend college in Western PA and run this race, I don’t think I would.  I believe that we experience life in the way we perceive it be.  Our location and surroundings are secondary to internal perspective.  I can live life fully here, in Michigan, or across the ocean.

Even though life can easily become a game of make-believe, I am willing to live within that structure.  I could waste my time trying to be completely independent from my situations and circumstances.  I’d rather be aware of what is shaping the roles that I chase and make sure those sources line up with who God instructs me to be.

I’d rather know who I am becoming than fight an impossible battle.

Heavy Backpacks

My backpack got progressively heavier and heavier throughout the school year.  I’m sure it had nothing to do with my tendency to accumulate unseemly amounts of flashcards.  Every night/early morning when I’d get back to my dorm I had the opportunity to experience one of the best feelings of relief: taking off the 40 pound weight that I had trudged along with me up and down the stairs to my classes, meals, and dorm.  No matter how many ribbons I put on it, that backpack was the bane of my college existence.

Yet I couldn’t go anywhere without it.  Without my backpack, I lost my immediate access to study materials and homework.  Without this access, I could potentially be in a situation where I was not being productive.  Without productivity, I felt purposeless.  Tasks and to-do lists gave me the feeling of meaning that, while ultimately hollow, kept me motivated to keep moving and learning and making more to-do lists.

The problem of the heavy backpack lies in me grasping tightly onto an identity that was built on empty definitions of accomplishment.  I don’t carry around a backpack during the summer, yet I still have multiple cross-referencing task lists to perpetuate this unfounded identity.

The paradox of the heavy backpack is that the thing that I couldn’t let go of  was the very thing that was dragging me down.  A never-satisfied need to be productive is what could make and destroy me simultaneously.

Sometimes other people’s backpacks aren’t as easily seen as mine.  Maybe they aren’t tangible at all.  I think it would be safe to suppose that almost everyone carries their own burdens that they both need and despise.

Let’s try lightening the load a bit.

The Uncertainty of Adventures

There is so much I’d like to say to myself.  Things that I’ve known forever, thought about forever, and written down a thousand times.  Repetition is my friend.

I have a tendancy to look at life like this:

Life is a constant exchange, a continous change of location and people but with one common theme of stress.  There will always be a crisis to fixed and struggles to overcome.  I will always be failing in some or every area of life and I will always be trying to pick myself up and come up with a new strategy on how to fail a little less next time.  This semester has been wonderful in many ways but rather stressful in almost every way.  The train of thought I was on would take me to the next stop of summer and see it as just a switch into more stressful circumstances.  Just different relationships to balance and new situations where I’d be over my head and incapable of doing what was expected of me.  All of a sudden, its next semester where I’m no longer a freshmen and I’m responsible for other people and need to grow up in 15 weeks and learn how to micro-manage my time and I wake up one morning to realize that I’m stuck in the adult world forever.

Today, I choose to look at life like this:

Life is a constant exchange, a continous change of footing and placement but I’m not being asked to jump to the top of the mountain.  I’m asked to get through this weekend of finals.  I’m asked to take a few more steps in becoming a better friend and student.  This summer will make me a little less woefully unprepared for the next semester and each day, week, and month will prepare me a little more for the next one.  All of a sudden, each little new stress is really a new opporutnity to grow and be a little more ready for the next challenge.

I could say that life is always full of stress and I just need to learn how to best deal with that reality and that would be true (and Fitwell would agree with me).

But I’d rather say that life is always full of opporutnities and adventures and new things and the small things I am doing now will mean that I will be able to better fully experience those opportunities in the future.
I could find something wrong with life if I wanted to, but I’d rather say that there is nothing wrong with being irrationally happy.

Uneven Sidewalks

I bruise easily.  Yet I never realized this before I went to college where I would wake up every morning to find three new bruises with no recollection of how I got them.  I was exclaiming about this to my friend who pointed out that, at home, I knew where everything was.  At college, the probability of me running into things and hurting myself was so much greater because everything was so much more unfamiliar.

That’s one of the things I love most about being home.  Familiarity creates comfort which instills security.  Life doesn’t pause or stop while I’m home but being surrounded by things that are known, constant, and unchanging certainly helps.

I like that when I’m running, I don’t have to look down to avoid tripping on the uneven sidewalk.  My feet already know where to land instinctively.  I like that the sidewalk is one that I’ve traveled down hundreds of times.  It’s led me to the park, to parades, to farmer’s markets, to the grocery store for last minute ingredients, to the bakery with friends, to art shows and fishing trips and the library and friend’s houses.

I like that I can make scones on a whim or do nothing at all for the afternoon and not feel like I’ve disturbed the delicate balance of a life that has no room for relaxation.

Breaks are only satisfying if they actually break you away from something vastly different.  Which is why I also love my fast-paced, always-changing, bruise-inducing, absurdly productive life at college.

Nonsense.

Somedays I just like to play popular music obnoxiously loud while reading about computer programming.

I feel like jumping around and up and down and tackling and tickling people.

I don’t want to be responsible and serious and calm and composed.  I want to be crazy and silly and slap happy and experience true hilarity.

I feel like being 5 and doing cartwheels everywhere that I want to go and I don’t know if its the nice weather or if I’ve finally snapped or my inner child is tired of being forced to be a young adult.

I’m also very tired and sleepy and maybe that’s why I don’t make any sense.

?

Sometimes I just like to question everything.
What if, just for a day, we completely ignored time?  We didn’t use clocks or shadows to determine our next actions but rather reacted with each other to figure out what we were going to do.  Or maybe we’d just do nothing.  Mostly likely, there would be chaos and confusion and no one would know when the day without time ended since checking would be cheating and everyone would end up confused and sad.

I wonder if we ask the questions of others that we want to asnwer ourselves.

Is it okay to be discontent?  Is there a difference between being discontent with your circumstances (not okay) and being discontent with your state of self (possible motivation for improvement?)  If you aren’t discontent with yourself on some level, isn’t that just personal apathy?  Don’t you just become stagnant?  To want to be better, you must recognize that you aren’t the best and there are greater things.

Shouldn’t a cinderblock wall be soundproof?

Is it possible to love others without a hint of selfishness?  Even the purest of love is out of a heartful desire to care for someone else because they mean something to you.  Although even an attempt at selfless love is millions of times better than satisfaction with self-centeredness.

Does laughter help you think better?  I’m pretty sure it does.

Relating Relationships and Realities to a River

You’re going to need more than a grain of salt to season this one properly.  Try a handful.  Or a whole shaker-full for that matter.

Some people dream of living on a lake or ocean.  I’d rather not.  I enjoy the waves and water despite having failed at least 5 different sessions of swimming lessons.  I’m more of a stream kind of person.  I think that’s why I picked Grove City.  It had a river and a clock tower.  Those were my two main requirements.

So, I was watching the river the other day.  I started wondering if my presence mattered at all.  I could see that if I jumped into the river and started splashing around, it would change the river.  Suddenly, it would become a river with a person in it.  However, if I just sat there watching the currents, I could change it in a different way.

It no longer was just a river.  It was a river being observed by a person.  Somehow, it was changed by no merit of its own.  Just by observing something, I could change how it was defined.  At the time, this discovery of definition by proxy seemed very profound.  I wasn’t even intoxicated with wallpaper dissolvant then.

It wasn’t until I got home that I realized maybe this idea could be applied to something other than running water.  The idea that I changed based on where I was and who I was with deeply disturbed me.  It made me feel false and inconsistent even though nothing (significant) changed about me.  So, using my incredibly sharp powers of deduction, I scanned my circumstances to see what changed.

Turns out, almost everything.  I was around different people, in a different room, a different state ( of America and of mind), a different routine, and trying to fulfill different expectations.  Let’s just focus on the first one though.  Just as I turned a simple river into a bubbling brook being studied by a girl sitting on its banks, the people around me define me on some level just by being there and interacting with me.

I will never simply be Chloe.  Instead, I am a daughter, a student, a church member, a child of God, a granddaughter, a cousin, and a friend.  Even if we are only focusing on the friend aspect of me, that looks so incredibly different for each person.  Chloe as the friend of Sally might be very distinct from Chloe as the friend of Diane*.  It doesn’t mean that I changed.  The river never changed because I observed it.  It just means that if I am defined in some way by my relationships with others, it only makes sense that this is a relative reality based on location.

This comforted me in part, but what truly helped dissolve my fear that I hadn’t a shred of consistent character was that one relationship never changed: the one with my Creator and Savior.  Considering this is the only one that really matters in the long run, I could rest at ease and return to over-analayzing landscapes and scraping wallpaper.

The End.

*I don’t actually know any Diane’s or Sally’s.  Except for the one from the Peanuts but that doesn’t count because she isn’t real.

Living Life Differently

She never was content with doing the same thing the same way more than once.  After she mastered tying her shoes, she had to do it faster and then with her eyes closed.  If she could do a trick on her scooter using her right foot, then it must be completed with the left.  Anyone can walk through the house with in the daylight or with the lights on but not many people can master the steep stairs in pitch darkness.  But she could.

The English language was far to straight-forward, she made up her own modes of communication.  The inanimate objects that surround us must serve some higher purpose, she assigned them personalities and goals and gave life to a weary world.

This world could not contain her, logic and gravity had no claim on her soul.  There were infinite lands to be explored and infinite ideas to be born.

This wasn’t a hectic rush to break social norms but an intentional oblivion to society’s restrictive ideas of how to live.  This wasn’t being an individual just for the sake of standing out in the crowd but forgetting that the crowd existed.  This was forgetting that the wind tangled others’ hair and that the sun warmed others’ faces.  This was forgetting that the map of life already had boundaries etched into it and a compass pointing everyone in the same direction.  This was living life differently.