I haven’t blogged in a while. And to be honest, this isn’t so much of a blog entry as it is a confessional of sorts. Lately, I haven’t felt like I’ve had much to say. That and the fact that 90% of my writing energy has gone toward my book since July have meant my little corner of the Internet has become cobwebby and neglected.
I killed a decent-sized spider this morning, though, and since that’s an accomplishment, I thought I’d make use of this energy while it lasts.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned in 2015.
1. Question what you really need
I’ve long been somewhat of a minimalist. Even before living abroad for eight months out of what I could stuff into a 60-liter backpack, I’ve become very used to not having an excess of things. My rule of thumb is that everything in my house must be useful for more than one purpose or it gets thrown away. Whenever possible, too, Luke and I make our own stuff: everything from the bread on our table to the décor on the walls is either repurposed, made by one of us, or a gift from friends or family.
In February, though, I upped the ante significantly and made the decision to stop using conventional hair products, namely shampoo and conditioner. If this decision seems out of left field, it isn’t: on top of the DIY streak, thanks to my terrible hair genetics, I’ve been slowly losing my hair since I was a teenager. Last winter, I began to wonder if not hitting my hair so hard with products and heat every day might give an extra couple of years of life to what’s left of it. And as it turns out, there’s a large subcommunity of people who have quit shampoo—before taking the plunge, I read up on as many varying accounts as I could and brushed up on my chemistry.
Going shampoo free (known popularly as “no poo,” I kid you not) is one of the most empowering things I’ve ever done. I wasn’t expecting a lifestyle change. Nevertheless, this process made me hyperaware of one of my biggest insecurities and forced me to confront it head on.
(Pun fully intended.)
The first three months after you quit shampoo, your hair turns into a veritable grease pit. I don’t like to wear my hair up because it draws attention to my round face, but for those three months, I had no choice. I still showered daily, but the challenge—what makes most people who go shampoo free quit—is that “transitional” stage, the one where your hair is still used to having all the oil your scalp produces cleaned off on a daily basis. When it’s not cleaned off anymore, it builds and builds. And builds. Your appearance becomes questionable. Your vanity is obliterated.
I didn’t really think of myself as a vain person until I quit shampoo. But it turns out, I had been—for as much as I’ve always been someone who favors my brain over my face, I still had significant insecurities about my appearance that did things like making me feel I can’t leave the house until I’m wearing makeup. I still have many of these insecurities. But forcing yourself to live without “critical” vanities remains an exercise I’d recommend to anyone. It has an effect similar to travel: it forces you out of your comfort zone, and in this case, it does so in front of everyone you know. Somehow, that’s even worse. But I’m glad I did it.
2. It’s impossible to run away from your own dissatisfaction
In September of last year, Luke and I moved to Wilson, NC. I anticipated the move the way I’ve anticipated every other move I’ve ever made: by checking out of where I was currently living. I was physically in Waco, but my attention was somewhere between the two towns. Also, the facts that I’d graduated and that most of my friends had left town made the consequences of checking out early much less palpable—I felt I had nothing left to live for in Waco, so surely Wilson would be better.
I was both right and wrong. Wilson was a fresh start, but it took us months to make friends here. In addition, Waco is downright cosmopolitan compared to Wilson, something it’s taken me a while to get used to. When my job searching came to naught in our first months here, I became very disillusioned. Bitter. More about that in the next bullet, but the moral of the story is that the only things greener about Wilson were the trees.
Partially as a result of my bitterness, I didn’t let myself settle here until after July. In March, we booked a trip to visit my parents that I thought would solve all of my problems—Family! Friends! Gorgeous scenery! Great weather! Things to do!—and between booking the trip and when we left, I found myself checking out again. The trip was the only thing I had to look forward to, so I wrapped my existence around it. Then, by the time we made it there, nearly everything I was hoping to do there fell through. My family was going through stuff; most of my friends were busy, had moved away, or, in more than one case, had purged themselves so thoroughly from the Internet that I had no way of contacting them even if I wanted to. Also, of all things, it was unseasonably cold during our visit, too cold to make things like swimming in alpine lakes palatable for a couple of tourists. By the time the trip ended, I was relieved, in a way—grateful for seeing family and for the trips we had taken, but surprisingly ready to go back to Wilson. Once again, I’d learned that running away from my problems never works. That complimented the greatest realization I had this past year, possibly the most important I’ve ever had.
3. God’s plan for my life has very little to do with my profession
Before I get into this, let me give some perspective. A year and a half ago, I graduated from a high-caliber university at the top of the top of my class. I walked out of there with two completed majors (and minors), a thesis with highest honors, as many little qualifiers after my name as the university gave, and three years under my belt working in a very difficult office.
I’ve been unemployed ever since.
Not for lack of trying, either. I submitted literally hundreds of job applications—online, in person, through the mail, even by “networking,” this mysterious and ineffable bit of sorcery which businessy types say produces jobs the way apple trees produce apples. I did everything I was supposed to. At one point, I had job after job offered to me and for some reason, one thing or another would keep them from working out.
I don’t resent the fact that happened. I can honestly say that now. I’ve been able to honestly say that since the end of April, and joyfully since probably September. Before then, though, I was stewing in resentment, frustration, and bitterness at God—how He could let me waste away like this? Why would He open every door to get me somewhere and then apparently destroy the bridge that was supposed to get me where I wanted to go? It was the most difficult year of my life, and those who know my testimony know that I’d already been through a lot. But for all the severity of some of the individual items in my history, not a single one of them—not a close family member’s death-defying battle with addiction, not being raped by three men in Argentina, not my health scares, nothing—came close to the agony of the emotional and spiritual ringer that the Lord let me go through for the first year or so of my marriage.
As I’m writing this, I’m tearing up as I remember that time. It wasn’t just the job search. It rarely ever is. In my case, it was because it took this incredibly difficult year+ for the Lord to get me to realize that my identity wasn’t in Him. For most of my active memory, my identity had been more or less in my achievements—particularly in school, because school has always been something I’ve been good at. As a result, though, I’d eventually succumbed to the thinking that this is all there is. As long as my purpose was in achievement—in school, work, or otherwise, anywhere my intellect would take me—then my purpose was effectively in myself, in what I was doing, and there was no space left for God.
This is the last thing I ever thought would be the case. When I was actually in school, I’d pushed myself hard and gotten the grades I had because I thought I was doing it to honor God. My life verse, after all, is Colossians 3:17: paraphrased, in everything you do and say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all while giving thanks to Him through God the Father. My problem was that I let the “everything you do and say” take precedence over giving thanks to Him. For so long, I’d gotten caught up in what I did being the measure of my worth as a person—something I now know is somewhat of a dysfunctional tendency in my family, but which I also know I gravitated to personally as a balm, a distraction, when things in my life were difficult.
Over the past year, the Lord systematically disassembled every distraction that had previously ruled my life. I graduated, and class was no longer an excuse. The book project I helped with in the fall of 2014 wrapped up in March. Every job or graduate school I applied to fell through. Again and again, I stuck my neck out and looked for other things—I didn’t want to let my time go to waste, after all—and again and again, nothing worked. It took until nearly April to realize the point: that the Lord wanted me to be still. And it took until midsummer to stop resisting, to stop looking for insipid ways to fill time, and just shut up and listen to God for me to realize He’d been talking to me this whole time.
Not only was the last year and a half necessary, but now, on the other side, I would go through it again to get where God has me now. Or rather, not go—it’s felt at times an awful lot like the Lord superglued my feet to the ground and kept me from moving rather than showed me where to go. Willingness has never been my problem; my problem is restlessness. And as important as the hours in my day are, it has never been more clear to me that what God wants most from me is my heart.
Sooner or later—sooner rather than later, I hope, but not too soon—I will have to stand before God and give an account of my life. When He asks how I used the time I was given, I want to say this: that I used it as He apportioned it and sought to live His will. Because even the busiest of busybodies can’t actually impress God with how much they do—He is ultimately so much greater, and what ultimately matters most is our faithfulness.
This past year has been unlike any other year in my life. In a lot of ways, I feel dormant. Almost nothing is working out the way I’d hoped it would. But truth be told, I’m not sure how much I care about that anymore. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past year, it’s that I can’t plan everything out, and even if I could, I probably wouldn’t know what I was doing. Whatever the Lord is teaching me right now, I don’t think I “get it” yet. But I’m listening. And I think that was the point.