Thursday, February 16, 2017

All The Single Ladies

I remember having a conversation a few years ago with a really wise woman I know. We were talking about her experiences as a single lady. At time time, all of my friends had recently-ish started relationships (okay, not all of them... only seven) and I anticipated that many of these friends were soon to become 'my married friends' (I was right). I wanted to know: how did she handle this transition? What did it look like? How did her friendships change?

She gently said many wise and helpful things, and I won't repeat them all now. One that stood out to me was that although I wasn't going to lose my friends once they got married, I would need to acquire some new single friends. Since she has been single for quite a while, she laughingly told me that this was a process that she has had to repeat multiple times as her recently acquired single friends became married friends.

To be honest, I wasn't super keen on this idea. First of all, I was quite attached to the friends that I already had, and I didn't like the idea that I would need any more. Was our relationship really going to change so much that I would need new friends to fill holes my married friends had left? Secondly, in the depths of my often selfish and unreasonable heart, I did not want to make long-term, sustainable plans for being single. My heart has a number of complaints about singleness, and the idea that as my friends got married I would have to make new friends seemed like another point in favor of moving out of this season quickly.

However, I am clearly not in charge of the seasons of my life. That responsibility goes to God, and I can only assume that He is doing a much better job than I would. So, four years after that conversation, what conclusions have I reached with regards to the friendship advice?

Friendships change, and they stay the same. This is true of both my married friends and my single friends. To my relief, my friends who have gotten married are still the same delightful people, they still know my heart, and they still love me. They are still a source of joy and encouragement, even though our friendships have practically changed. However, having single friends is a huge blessing, and in the moments when I need them, I am very grateful for my single friends.

Lady M and Elizabeth are both single, and they
seem to be doing just fine. Of course, they have
a single friend for when they need snuggles.
It's not that my married friends are too busy, too different, or too far removed from the #singlelife. There is just a sweetness in sharing what is unique about the season of life you are currently in with others who are there with you. It's nice to have single friends because:

-You have someone listen to you recount the number of times in 3 days that people have talked to you about your future children, men they have considered setting you up with, and men they anticipate you marrying, so your friend can tell you that you're not crazy or neurotic. Without a friend, I wouldn't know when I am actually being crazy or neurotic.
-You have someone to joke with when another engagement is announced on Facebook because, "surprise, it's happened again ;)" Left to my own devices, I might dwell on others' engagements for longer than is helpful, then feel guilty for dwelling. With a friend, we can have a moment to chuckle, eye-roll when necessary, and then we move on with our days.
-You have someone to sit with at weddings. Because it's true... at least some of the single friends you make are going to quickly turn into married friends, and they might not know where to seat you. Luckily, if you need someone who loves weddings to remind you all of the reasons why this is going to be incredibly fun, I can be that person for you because weddings are my favorite!
-You (sometimes) will have the blessing of a friend who loves the season of life they are in and can open your eyes to the joys you are missing. They can encourage you to rejoice in what is good about life instead of joining you in your pity party. But since they also experience the hardships of being single, they are tender to your struggles. If you are very lucky, they will remind you that it is unfair to compare the joys of someone else's season to the struggles of your own season.

So to my single friends out there, particularly the ones who are about to enjoy their first wedding season full of their own close friends: it's going to be fine. Your friends will still love you once they are married. It may be more difficult to have sleepovers with them and plan things spontaneously, though, so its worth the effort to make some new friends who are also single. Not because you need to, but because you will be grateful for those relationships when you take the time to think back. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Me Before You- Do Implicit Messages Matter?

If you haven’t yet read this book or watched the movie, I should warn you that this will have spoilers. But also, I’m going to recommend that you skip watching it (I honestly can’t remember the last time I actively recommended that people avoid a movie I had seen, this is so weird) so just accept the spoilers, read this post, and move on with your life without subjecting yourself to the movie.

I was expecting a tragic love story. I had watched the trailers, and I was prepared to cry (although to be totally fair, I hadn't actually read the book so I had only vague ideas about the ending and was thus not totally prepared) The movie did produce many tears, but they were unexpectedly angry tears. This was initially because I was angry and frustrated at Will Traynor deciding to end his life, upset at what seemed like a selfish decision that if he couldn’t have life on his terms, he wouldn’t live at all. I started my cry hurt by the devastating choice a fictional character was making, but I quickly moved on to being angry about the people selling me this story.

I wanted a love story and what I got instead was a depressed man insisting on his own autonomy while simultaneously attempting to convince a woman that the choices she is making about her life are a waste of her potential and that she needs to live differently. Her feelings grow from “I hate this job and I don’t want you to die” to “I guess I have feelings for you and I still don’t want you to die.” Meanwhile, both of them manipulate and keep things from each other. Now, don’t get me wrong, this is Hollywood and I don’t expect too much in terms of a love story, but the climax of their "romance" seemed to be that, as Samuel James wrote, “Louisa finally receives his affection, but his true love remains his life before the accident.” This movie has less to say about love and more to say about disability, human value, and what makes life meaningful, and these messages are where things get really disturbing.

Essentially, the message this movie sends is “If you are disabled in some way that you feel prevents you from living life the way you want to, death is a totally acceptable option. And if you truly love someone and they want to die, you will accept their choice and be there for them in the way that they want you to be.” Someone else curtly summed it up as "Live boldly... unless you are in a wheelchair".

“I can’t live the life I want so I should die” is simply, deeply, untrue. And before you tell me that it's okay for the movie to make that truth claim, or not okay for me to reject it because 'some people in his situation actually feel that way'... let's address that.

First of all, Will is a fictional character created by an able-bodied woman who knew nothing about quadriplegia prior to writing this book, and who somehow managed to avoid talking to a single person with quadriplegia during the course of her extensive medical research on the topic. Will represents less an actual person experiencing a life changing disability than he represents able-bodied people's perceptions of disability. As many disabled people have already expressed with much more eloquence and authority than I have, this movie perpetuates harmful stereotypes about disability while eliminating realistic pictures of what daily life with disability looks like (one can only assume because the makers find the realities of disability distasteful, shameful, or perhaps just unromantic). Secondly, regarding the 'someone somewhere actually feels that way' sentiment...  if I actually came across someone with a spinal cord injury that resulted in quadriplegia who felt hopeless and depressed and wanted to die, I would like to think that I could compassionately respond to them in a way that validates their experience and emotions without agreeing with them that they should die.

As I have said, disability activists have pretty clearly expressed the various problems with this story and the way that it was told, both from a community perspective as well as their own experiences. But I haven't heard voices speaking up on behalf of those who are depressed and suicidal, and so I would like to make one additional point.

For more than a decade now, we have been sending able-bodied and exceptionally fit men and women in the prime of their lives to go fight wars for our country. And many of them have come home with life-altering injuries. They have demonstrated totally understandable difficulties adjusting to civilian life post-injury, not the least of which because they devoted years to a mission that they are no longer a part of. That loss of purpose, as well as the daily realities of life with a disability, takes a heavy emotional toll, and is a contributing factor to the high rate of veteran suicide. What is that rate, you wonder? 22 people. Every. Day.

Maybe I am biased. Perhaps I am overly sensitive because of the work that I do, but in our current climate, do we really need the implicit messages in Me Before You? Are they what we should be telling people struggling with depression and suicide? Are they what we should be telling their families and friends?

Can we agree that anyone taking their own life is tragic? Because I think it is possible, if we don't pay attention to the messages filtering through our experiences, to become nonchalant and lackadaisical about this truth. And I think it is possible, if we aren't careful about the messages we are tacitly supporting, that real harm might be done in the lives of real people.  Either we decide, as a community, that life is valuable, so we support each other and fight for each other and help others find meaning and purpose in life, or... we decide its a grey area and don't fight and people die.

Perhaps you think this is over dramatic. I can accept that, and I will simply say, just in case the messages that we send matter: Every person is valuable, regardless of ability or disability. Every life has meaning, even in the midst of difficulty. Everyone should live boldly. Everyone should live.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Father's Day (When Yours Is Not Everything You Dreamed Of)

Father's day is a joyful day for most people, but can be a painful reminder for others. Children whose relationships with their fathers are marred by conflict, hurt, separation, and even death often don't enjoy celebrating Father's Day or watching others celebrate. I know of this from personal experience, and I suspect as well that some fathers may have difficult feelings on this day, as they are reminded of brokenness in their lives and the lives of their children.

Despite the way the Lord has been graciously working in my relationship with my father, I admit that I still don't always handle Father's Day very well, particularly in a church that celebrates fathers on this Sunday with great joy. But I am getting better at it! Two years ago was unexpectedly rough. One of my friends stood in front of our church and read a beautiful letter to her dad honoring him for the blessing he is to her. I, meanwhile, stood in the back of the church and cried, hoping that no one would see me. I didn't want to deal with anyone else noticing or trying to comfort me because I was busy being surprised and confused by myself... after all, my relationship with my dad
at the time was the best that it had been in years. Still, there was a sense of loss in realizing that I wished my father fit the description in that loving letter my friend shared.

So last year, I instituted some rules suggestions I created for myself, and they made a difference. This year, I am sharing them for anyone else who might struggle to deal with Father's Day when your father isn't everything you dreamed of.

See how inclusive this category is? Some people experience deep and serious hurt from the man who was supposed to love and protect them. Many others experience disappointment with their father at some point or another. I don't want to evaluate and compare this pain but rather come alongside and tell you: I have experienced pain, too. And it has made this day difficult for me. I hope some of the things that have helped me might help you, too.

1) Acknowledge and grieve what you have lost, and turn to your heavenly father for comfort. Healing always involves examining the wound, doesn't it? Whether you have a gash in your leg, a traumatic experience, or a person who has wronged you, you have to take a good look to figure out the extent of the injury before treating it. Just as forgiveness requires you to determine the debt owed before you can forgive that debt, I encourage you to identify the cause of your present pain. And what better person to seek comfort for that pain from than our heavenly father? He sees your hurt, and he longs to embrace you. You have a father who wants to comfort you and wipe away your tears with promises of "It's okay, Daddy is here."

2) Dwell on the ways that God is your perfect father. My earthly father is not everything I've hoped he would be. But my heavenly father is and more. In fact, in every way your earthly father lacks, your heavenly father overflows with abundance. He is tender. He is strong. He is kind. He is present. He is gracious. He is good. Above all, he loves you with an everlasting, unfailing, unconditional love. What aspects of your Father God minister to your heart and fill an aching hole you wanted your father to fill? Think of those things.

3) Consider how your experiences might equip you to care for and minister to others. Your sorrows do not have to be only painful. They can also be used, if you choose, to help other people. Maybe someone will open up to you about their life, only to find that you can empathize with them. Maybe you will see someone hurting in the midst of a situation similar to yours, and you will be able to walk with them through it. Maybe you will be a different kind of parent to your own children, and help others to be a different kind of parent. How might God redeem the pain you have felt, so that you can look back at it and say "God used it for good. He was at work in my life"?

4) Recognize that today does not have to be defined by your feelings. (My actual note to myself reads "Recognize that not everything today has to revolve around you".) Particularly if you have already taken time for yourself and your emotions in suggestion 1, I think it is acceptable and appropriate to choose not to dwell on them all day long. For me, Sunday morning of Father's Day offers examples of people I could be thinking about besides myself... look at those little kids who love their daddies! Look at that faithful grandpa who loved his children well and raised them to be parents who love their children well! Look at that first time dad! *Pray for that first time dad! ;) Look at that dad who is raising his teenage boys to be God fearing, women honoring men! Remember that Father's Day is a celebration of fathers everywhere, not just your own father, and that there are fathers around you who make your heart celebrate joyfully even if your feelings about your own father are more complex.

I hope you find these give you peace and help you to choose joy. My relationship with my dad and some of the mess in my heart still needs work, but I am grateful for the way that my Father God is at work both in my life and my heart.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Radio Silence

When things are hard, I don't write about them. It doesn't matter if these are messages to friends, journal entries, or blog posts for anyone to see. I just stop writing.

The result is that there are months and whole years of my life that I have no written record of. Not only is that frustrating because of the good things that happened during those times that I wish I could remember, but also because I don't remember the struggles well anymore either. Looking back, I wish that I had fought through it and written something down so I could go back later and understand how I was feeling once I wasn't in that place anymore. Instead, all I have are angst-y teenage playlists to deduce what I was going though.

Alas, I have pretty much done it again. Things have been hard and I have disappeared. Part of me is totally fine with this because the internet is not my diary, but I also dislike the tendency to whitewash our social media presence. It feels vaguely dishonest. So without further ado...

I was so looking forward to the day I could announce to you all where I was going to grad school and set a date for the finale of the postbac blog. But that isn't going to happen this year because, despite my best efforts, I didn't get a grad school offer.

Honestly, it's kind of devastating. I thought I would be over it by now but I'm not. I'm still disappointed, even though I am grateful to have a job and mentors who support me and remind me that "a one year setback for a PhD isn't that big of a deal". I'm not excited about basically repeating this past year of my life when I was so looking forward to moving on to the next step, but that's where I am.

I seriously considered calling it a wrap here, because I haven't been inclined to blog and I'm not super excited right now about still being a postbac. But then someone blogged vulnerably about all the stuff they had been through in the last year and I was encouraged by it. And then another person wrote about good things they are learning, and I was excited about it. And then someone else mused insightfully about something they cared about, and it made me think. I'm grateful when people let me see inside their minds and share their lives; it is one of the ways that I feel connected to others in the cyber-world where we spend so much time. All that to say, the catblog continues.

Also, I still have adorable cats, obviously
So here I am! Still in Frederick, still loving Jesus, and still passionate about clinical psych. There are good moments mixed in with the hard, as always, and every once and awhile, I get tiny glimpses that this season I don't want to be in might turn out to be a sweet time. Here's hoping that there is truth in that, and someday I may look back and be grateful for the current chapter.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Not So Great Expectations

I thought everything would be better once I got my grad applications in.


It seems that I have, probably for the hundredth time, mistakenly thought that I was about to get to a place in life where things would be easy... easy enough, that is, for me to do it by myself. I was expecting to reach this point right now and not desperately need Jesus.

Oh what a mistake. It's always such a mistake.

...Because the first half of January got me. I felt overwhelmed and I wanted to crawl under my desk and not do a single thing that apparently all need to be done at that very moment. And in the midst of this overwhelmed feeling, I thought, "It wasn't supposed to be like this!" I was angry because my expectations were inaccurate and I wasn't prepared for the way I was feeling.

Then in the midst of my midst of my frustration and dismay one week, I tuned in to the words playing on my (totally non-Christian music) Pandora station:

...Here I raise mine ebenezer, hither by thy help I've come
And I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home
Jesus sought me when a stranger wandering from the fold of God
he to rescue me from danger interposed his precious blood

Oh to grace how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be
let thy goodness like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee
prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love
Here's my heart Lord take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above

I suppose I can add "impromptu rendition of my favorite hymn in the middle of a hard day" to my list of things to be thankful for...

The point is that I need grace every day. I need Jesus every day. It's to today, by His help, that I've come, and it's up to Him for me to safely arrive at my (eternal) home. But there is some prideful part of me that continues thinking that I can be independent and that I should be unless it's necessary to depend on God for something that's too hard for me to handle. That is not how life works at all, and unconsciously assessing whether I'll be able to make it through the day on my own sets me up for epic failure... or at least unnecessarily stressful days.

So today some of the responsibilities that were overwhelming me in January are completed. Others have been added to the list. But I'll be okay, because Christ's grace covers me today, like it does every day.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Space To Create

I wrote the beginning of this sometime in July in a 15-minute flurry of words while samples were in a thermal cycler... I had a break from this but life is back to feeling intense as I focus on grad school applications, and I am sure it will be relevant at other stages as well. 

Some days I feel like my creativity is going to shrivel up and die... that I will no longer be able to create beautiful things with words, notes, or colors. I fear that one day, creating beautiful things will no longer feel right to me.

It certainly doesn't feel like I am cultivating a love or skill for creating. I haven't blogged in months. I haven't read a new book in weeks. I don't remember the last time I sat down at the piano. I spend all day with numbers... from miRNA protocols and data analysis in the morning to lists of graduate programs in the afternoon and finally GRE math review at night. Every day is scheduled tightly, more numbers telling me what I should be accomplishing at any given hour.

Mostly, I am loving the challenge. I have so many things to accomplish, so many tasks to cross off the list. I have a goal that feels much more tangible than it has for the last year. I have sub-goals categorized neatly in my google calendar. I need to follow the schedule exactly and give 100% because there is so much going on that a slight derailment of the plan leads to breakdown and tears over quantitative comparison questions (although, to be fair, the quant comp questions make a concerted effort to induce tears on their own). Essentially, I am feeling very purpose-driven, which is a familiar and generally preferred state of being for me. This is what much of college was like.

And yet, I miss the peace and quiet to simply observe the world around me. I miss reflecting on what I see through creating... creating anything other than scientific papers, that is. There is much drive in my life at the moment but not a lot of passionate creativity.

How do I create space to... create?

Several months later and I still don't have an answer. I am knitting when I have the chance, and I am enjoying sunrises on my way to work. Sometimes I just let myself talk about clinical psych (and the gospel) without trying to answer essay questions or write personal statements.

I'm mostly relying on the ebb and flow of busyness, knowing that this season will end if I just work hard and finish it. But I would love if I could learn to be busy without shutting down this aspect of my personality... since to the best of my knowledge, there will be busy seasons forever :)

Hopefully I will work this out eventually, and in the meantime, advice would be appreciated if you have any. Lady M and Elizabeth have no sympathy of course, since they maintain busy schedules of sleeping, eating, and intimidating any humans who visit their house and still manage to stare out the windows and contemplate life at length.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Summer Summary

Summer was fabulous, although not particularly glamorous. But it was warm, days were long, and I felt (dare I say it?!) rather content. Summer is my favorite time to be alive, and I spent time doing everything but blogging. Here is a smattering of summer updates:

-In June, I went with some college friends-and my Mother-to see Josh Garrels perform in DC, and it was so much fun! This is the third time I've seen him live (aka every time he tours on the East Coast, I am sooo there) and every show has been quite different, depending on instrumentation and setting, but equally wonderful. We got to do a Q&A before the show, and Gene and I were sad for a hot second that we didn't get to ask our questions... Except then Josh hung out for awhile afterward and we got to go talk to him and ask our questions directly. Not only does his music move my soul, I am now more certain than ever that Josh Garrels is an awesome guy and I wish we could be friends in real life. Also, that night got an A+ for getting to spend time with friends I don't get to see as much as I'd like.
Is this real life moment #1: My mother hangs out with me and my friends kind of often, and somehow it's not weird.
Is this real life moment #2: Josh Garrels makes a lot of eye contact when he talks to people... like, intense amounts of eye contact. I'm not sure how he can think about his responses to questions and make that much eye contact at the same time.

-I took the GREs at the end of June, which means that I spent most of May/June either studying or trying to convince myself that I should be studying. That quantitative score was not as high as I had hoped, so I studied like mad for the next 2 months and took it again at the end of August. Success! Good thing, since I don't think I have ever studied that much for a test ever. Also, working full time and studying 15-20 hours a week (hello, August!) is a serious impediment to having a life. So I didn't do too many exciting things, unless you find watching New Girl with your Mom exciting. On the other hand, I am really excited (aka equal parts exhilarated and terrified) about applying to grad school, so at least I am looking forward to the loads of work in my future :)
(This is how we study)
Is this real life moment #3: One of my family members told me that if I was serious about 'this grad school thing' and was going to go to school till I'm 30 or something, that I should consider freezing my eggs for when I want to have children because, "They're best now." I repeat: this is an actual thing that happened to me. I think my response was hysterical laughter but it was such an uncomfortable experience I can't remember exactly.

-Another June happening... one of my dear Gettysburg friends came to visit. It was truly a delight to spend time with Allison after much too long apart, and many chats occurred (basically non-stop) for the next 24 hours. There was also a happy mix of singing, snuggles, and Sovereign Grace time. I love going to church with friends; after 4 years of carpooling from Gettysburg to Hanover for church, I'm still adapting to walking in the door without an entourage, and its always nice to bring friends to a place I enjoy so much!
Is this real life moment #4: I took Allison with me to go shooting Sunday afternoon, because that's what you do when you have a farm and its a sunny summer afternoon. It was her first time shooting (she did great!) and I was reminded of how lucky I am to have grown up in a place with so much space for activities.

-Unusual amounts of paddling through water happened on Labor Day Weekend (although it wasn't the only time this summer). I went white water rafting on the lower Youghiogheny River with my family Saturday, mostly because my 'baby' cousins were coming from WVU and I wanted to see them. I did a bit of white water kayaking on the Potomac on Monday with my best friend's mother (aka my second Mom) and some of her clan. By then, when every muscle was sore, this seemed like a bad idea, but with the river low for kayaking, our trip down the river was much easier than it was the year before with my college roommate (still sorry, Elle!). So both days ended with everyone alive, and I learned a few more things about good life choices on the river.
Is this real life moment #5: One such life choice is to not encourage people who don't like adventure sports to come on adventures with you. As I was sailing out of our raft in the middle of some rapids, calmly considering whether I could say in front of the boat or had to go under and wait for it to pass over me, I could hear my Mom panicking. When I had been pulled back in and received a pat on the back from my father for hanging onto my paddle, she was still panicking. Why were my adrenaline-seeking father and adrenaline-avoiding mother both in a raft together? Because someone had not thought this through properly.

-My favorite Sovereign Grace moment this summer was probably our care group retreat to the mountains of West Virginia. I spent a wonderful weekend on the most idyllic farm with awesome people, and it was so great to just... be... for an entire weekend. Apart from going to the middle of beautiful nowhere, we shot guns, set off fireworks, lit lanterns, laid in the grass, hung out around a campfire on the side of a hill, and talked. And talked. And talked. I think there was even more talking than there was fire, and both were in ample supply to make me the happiest girl.
Is this real life moment #6: Pretty much everything about the weekend was surreal, especially since I left the day I took my GRE's and had a perfectly abrupt change in my schedule. No time for anything and then all this time and beauty and friend chats? It was delightful.

So, in summary, it is sometimes hard to believe that this is real life, because life is crazy and joyful and unexpected... just the way I like it. As fall comes, and it gets harder to get up in the dark every morning, I try to hold on to feelings of sunshine, fields, and friends that made the summer so lovely and remember that God is good...and that this season will come back again, just like it always does.