Tiny Leaves

My plants are finally growing.

I live in an apartment; I don’t have a yard or even a balcony, so I have to grow everything inside in pots. This method is not something I have a talent for: I’ve thrown out plants covered in mold, plants withered past desiccation, and plants that threw up their hands at life for no reason I could discern. 

Perhaps it has to do with my choice in plants: mostly I rescue them, from events and church services and other short lives as centerpieces that will end in the trash. I can’t stand the thought of plants being thrown out. It seems such a waste. They could keep growing, keep adding to the green in the world. 

Which is why I rescued almost ten poinsettias last Christmas. A few promptly died, dropping all their leaves and turning brown. The rest died slowly, dropping their leaves a few at a time until there were only two or three or five stubborn wrinkled leaves, discolored and brittle. I kept watering them; the stems were still green, mostly, except for the few that had also died, so that mostly they all looked like sticks stuck in a pot by a toddler with a better imagination than me. I kept watering them. I figured they weren’t quite dead, I guess. 

And now they’re growing new leaves, six months later. Finally. They have tender little leaves, of that brilliant green that is only in infant growth, growing out of joints on those still-green twigs. There are four of them, lined up on a shelf. They have passed the message along from one to the next, and they have all sprouted anew, right next to the Easter lily that is finally yellow and brittle and dead. 

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They’re growing new leaves! They aren’t dead!

And it gives me hope for all that I’m trying to grow in my own life, to the morning prayer and to the exercise, the cleaning and the writing, the unpacking and the decorating: everything I’ve added and taken away as I’ve been working to grow roots here, where I am. Every small thing I’ve done that felt like a tiny wave to a cruise ship when I can’t even see any windows, like whispering into the dark when everyone says only a shout will do, is something. It may not grow, like my poor Easter lily, but maybe it’s worth trying either way; maybe it’s worth rescuing no matter what the end result.

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Cleaning and Loving

Confession time:

I haven’t been cleaning very much. And by “very much” I mean it’s been more than a month since I’ve done anything that wasn’t laundry. (Necessary about laundry?)

Ugh.

It’s not just that. I’ve been at my place for almost a year now and still haven’t hung anything up, except for one post it reminding me that “The internet does not inspire you.” (Truth!) As much as not cleaning has partly been about being exhausted and overwhelmed, it’s also been about a lack of permanence. I know I won’t live here forever. I plan to move out when I find a church. I’ve been actively trying to not set down roots: I have more boxes than furniture, and most of my books and winter clothes are still packed (because last September, I optimistically thought I wouldn’t need them before I’d moved). I haven’t really bought anything for the room. I haven’t bought anything future-oriented since I moved in.

And I’ve been thinking about that, as I try to get over the hump that is “I haven’t cleaned and nothing has exploded!” so that I can reach the other side and start cleaning again. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not completely unpacking, or not buying things I’ll just have to move again–but intentionally distancing myself so I don’t form any attachments is not really the goal. I don’t like it. What’s wrong with loving the place where I am, even if I’ll be moving someday? Why do I feel the need to hurry through instead of getting to know my neighbors?

I’d like to love this place, even if I’m not here much longer. I’d like to clean, and leave it better for whoever comes after me. And I’d like to remember that organizing and cleaning and putting pretty things on the walls and shelves is good for me, too.

Which is why I’m going to the store in a bit to get a new shower curtain. Which is why I’ve been rearranging my room so that there’s more than one path (because it’s a start) and making piles to donate.

Which is why I found myself mopping the bathroom today, dripping with sweat because I made the bright decision to start cleaning when it was pouring rain and so the humidity was through the roof.

And…loving is mostly hard work, and messy, and made up of moments that aren’t particularly memorable.

But I think I’m ready to love a little more.

Little Fears

I write a lot on here about fear. I think a lot about fear. The more I get to know myself, the more I see threats fear influences all the little parts of my life: not reading because I’m afraid of not liking a new book, being afraid to start a sermon and so finding a million other things to do, staying home because I’m afraid of seeing that one person again…. The list is endless. 

And it feels kind of pathetic to admit. I can just imagine some sneering voice asking, “You really avoid every day things because you’re afraid of silly things like that? Coward!” 

To which I say:

  1. Several swear words. Irritating voice!
  2. So often I don’t even realize that my fear is influencing how I’m behaving. I just think I’m not in the mood. I think I’m just really tired. I think about how I’m no good at whatever-it-is. 
  3. Realizing that I’m reacting out of fear is a good step. I can’t very well face my fear if I can’t or won’t recognize it.
  4. Trust me, I feel silly too. I wish my fear didn’t come out in all sorts of strange ways. But without realizing what I’m really feeling, I can’t accept it and then gently lift it aside and start doing those things even though I’m afraid.

So, yeah. I’m afraid of some things that make even me laugh. I’m afraid a lot. But I’m working on it.

On Reading Again

Reading has been hard over the last few months. I love reading, and I missed it, but I just couldn’t find a book that either sounded interesting or kept me interested. 

The amount of TV I’ve been watching didn’t help. For me, watching TV and reading a book are two entirely different experience: a book invites you in, to imagination and experiences and emotions. TV is, for the most part, a much more passive experience: there is nothing to imagine, no connections to make. There is only what is, playing out on the screen in front of you. And I know that’s not entirely fair: TV invites us into fully imagined worlds and visceral experiences that aren’t possible in books. But I find books far more participatory and inspiring.

Over the past few weeks, I have finally begun to read again. On a day when I was being kind to myself, I went to a public library and checked out a few books that sounded interesting. I did the same a few days ago, leaving with an impossibly large stack of books. There’s no way I’ll read them all before they’re due. But I had a few books in mind, and I had a lovely conversation with two librarians who recommended several more. It all made me feel generous. I may as well! And then I went home and read until midnight because one book was just so incredibly wonderful. I could have put it down, but I didn’t have any plans for the night, and it was such a fun book: I did a lot of laughing, and a lot of moaning and whisper-screaming at the characters. I still haven’t returned it; I finished it, but I enjoyed it so much that I don’t quite want to let it go just yet. 

Trying new books has felt too risky. I’m giving up time and emotions to something that might be awful. It might have a message that I hate. It might be just mediocre. 

But right now that risk feels OK. 

Seeing God [Off the Page]

Mountains stretched to the horizon, mountain after mountain: most of them blue-green with evergreens, a few tall enough to be topped with rocks and snow. The closest had a peak covered by a meadow bright with flowers: gold, scarlet, and violet swaths, with highlights of creamy white and tiger orange dotted with jagged boulders.

That rainbow mountain was why I was here.


 

I’ve always loved nature and seen God in it. Well, almost always. There were a few years there where that wasn’t quite true, and today I’m over at Off the Page telling my story of seeing God in nature, especially in those few years.

(You may especially enjoy it if you love hearing about flowers, bees, mountains, beautiful nature things…)

Lent Reflections

I went into Lent with two disciplines in mind: I committed to both giving something up (phone games) and adding something into my life (writing daily). 

From the beginning, I felt a bit weird about both goals. Was I just using Lent as an excuse to build good habits? I felt strongly about both of them–they occurred to me one morning a few days before Lent and immediately felt right–but I really didn’t want to use Lent as a goal-making scheme, as just a way to jump-start those habits I’d been pining for. But I trusted that feeling enough to choose them as my Lenten disciplines.

Giving up phone games went so well–why hadn’t I done this before, it was so easy!!–that I started giving up other things too: Netflix, sugar… There was a method to the madness: I had been reflecting on and struggling with my tendency to avoid God and feelings and important things in general by playing games on my phone, or watching Netflix, or eating sugar, or… There’s a longer list, of course, and I had every intention of working my way down that list until the entire enterprise imploded. My motivation disappeared, and it didn’t feel important anymore, and I went right back to all of my unhealthy not-coping strategies with barely a nudge of guilt. (And, of course, the guilt I did feel was subsumed by games, videos, and deliciously unhealthy sugary foods…)

Writing went much the same way. A few days into Lent, I realized that writing daily wasn’t about creating a good habit–it was about respecting this gift that I’ve been given. It was about trusting God and this desire that God has given me. It was about using this gift to write things worth writing. But it didn’t take long for writing every day to become a nice idea that never happened.

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And now Lent has ended.

I’ve started working towards both goals again. I’ve written four out of the past five days; I just deleted several phone games, and have cut down my playing time to almost nothing. And yet in so many ways, the habits I started with aren’t the point of Lent. They aren’t even the point of my goals.

The point was God, and all of the ways that I run away from God.

Lent is a time of reflection and sorrow. It’s a time in the wilderness, confronting head-on our own sinfulness and demons and need for God. It’s a time of repentance. And in all sorts of unexpected ways, that’s what I found this season. I’ve seen some of my own sin and started to confront it; I’ve been reminded again that God is by my side while I do that. I’ve been learning about doing hard, important things.

It wasn’t the Lent I imagined. It certainly wasn’t the Lent I was hoping for. But it was messy and difficult and very true to the wilderness-wandering spirit of Lent.

Ridiculous Expectations

I have a lot of expectations. Of myself, of others, of products and fictional universes–but mostly of myself. I’m perfectly willing to admit that other people are flawed, and do things that don’t make sense, and need days of rest. I’m almost as willing to admit that my favorite character isn’t perfect, or that the fictional universe doesn’t have to be what I really, really want it to be.

But myself? It’s so much harder to give up my own expectations for myself.

So many of my expectations are ones I don’t even realize I have. Like when it comes to adults: I can verbalize that adults are not perfect and do not have it all together. Really, though, I still believe that other adults are in fact perfect, or at least have this adulting thing down to an art, and I’m the only one still bumbling along, avoiding doing my taxes or taking my car to the mechanic. I have this expectation that adults doing avoid anything, ever, and certainly clean and do laundry on a regular basis and want to go to work. I’m not even sure where these expectations came from, actually, because I don’t actually know any adults who want to go to work all the time, and it’s ridiculous to think that no one ever avoids doing things or always does all of their chores. And, see, I can name that ridiculousness, but I still feel guilty thinking of the pile of laundry I need to do. 

And when it comes to writing–boy, do I have some expectations about that. I expect myself to write consistently, ideally an hour or two every morning before I go do some laundry or whatever. I expect my ideas to come regularly (but not overwhelmingly). I expect the words to come easily. I expect myself to always balance perfectly the need to write and writing for money and writing becoming addictive again and writing what I love and writing well. And then I get so frustrated when, oddly, I am not perfect. And, see, I can recognize that these expectations are ridiculous, too, but that isn’t that helpful when I’m in the midst of feeling like a worthless writer because I have no ideas or haven’t blogged in two weeks, or like a worthless human being because I’ve fallen into addictive, destructive behaviors towards stories, or like a failure because I want to write so much that I sit at my computer and watch Netflix because sometimes feelings are just too overwhelming. 

And, yes, recognizing a problem is the first step in solving it. Sure. But I’ve always struggled with this and I suspect I always will. I struggle with my ridiculous expectations, but I’ve also been doing the work to let those expectations go.