the unbearable heaviness of being

I wrote this quite awhile ago, but never posted it. It’s still true, so here it is.

Sometimes there is just too much.

Too much pain, suffering, sadness. Too much that is unfair. Too much that hits too close to home. Too much fear.

Why are things the way they are?

Oh, sure, I know the Sunday school answers. But those aren’t cutting it today.

I am a jumbled mess of sorrow and anxiety. Why are these things happening to these people? And what’s to say I won’t be next? Whether it’s me or someone close to me, it’s become painfully clear that no one is safe from the horrors of life.

Somewhere inside me is the knowledge that God is still in control, a seed of faith buried underneath a mountain of doubt.

I alternate between a fiery desire to live fully every moment I’m given and a crippling sense of futility that makes me want to pull the covers over my head and give up on it all.

I gave in, and admitted that God was God.

-C. S. Lewis

 

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detroit 

I wrote this last summer, but apparently never posted it. So here it is…

Aaron and I have given up on giving each other birthday gifts because a) we don’t need more stuff and b) we stink at actually going out and buying gifts. So we’ve decided that in lieu of gifts, each year we will head to Detroit for a Tigers game and an overnight stay.

Detroit, of course, is a city that needs no introduction. Anyone – anyone who doesn’t know the city, that is – will likely tell you that it’s an awful place. If you’ve been there, you know how wrong that assessment is.

We started our day at St. John’s Episcopal Church, with the sole purpose of enjoying the organ playing of Dr. Lewis, my college organ teacher. (Shout out to all my Hope peeps who survived Theory II and Senior Seminar with Uncle Huw. Here’s hoping your homework doesn’t have a fanged smiley face on it.) Figuring out a new church can be difficult when it’s within your own denomination, so asking a couple of lifelong protestants to be Episcopal for the day was a little intimidating. But we were greeted warmly, shown the best place to sit to see the organ, and if anyone was offended by our cluelessness, they certainly didn’t show it.

After the service, Dr. Lewis told us about the history of the church and introduced us to several people. And, honest to goodness, the altar guild (I hope I have that right) gifted us the day’s flowers. (Here they are!)


I got my pat on the ego for the day when Dr. Lewis introduced me as his student and explained to others how I had won Hope’s concerto competition on multiple instruments. (There is no affirmation quite like the positive words of a teacher you respect.) After some continued fellowship at the church coffee hour, we were on our way.

After the game (a pathetic loss), we headed to La Lanterna for dinner. We ended up having an extended conversation with the couple seated next to us – a pair probably about our parents’ age. She is a retired kindergarten teacher; he worked in the auto industry and then in higher education. (Side note for Hope folks: they live across the street from Paul Schaap – as in the science building. !!!) They finished their meal first; as they stood to leave, they shared heartfelt words of thanks for our work as teachers. We ordered dessert, and then prepared to pay the bill. It felt like a Facebook cliche when the bill arrived and it was only for the cost of dessert, because – as we found out from our waiter – our table neighbors had paid for our meal.

Detroit. It’s an amazing place.

New Year’s Revelations

Y’all. 7873bb0956e870b595de0df6edb03e7dHave you ever gotten into a really vicious cycle where you feel tired and unmotivated at work, but then when you don’t accomplish what you wanted to accomplish, you decide to take work stuff home in an effort to redeem yourself and your day, but you still feel tired and unmotivated so you don’t do the work at home but you spend all night thinking about doing work, but then the next day you feel tired and unmotivated again because you didn’t get any rest? Or the same thing, but on a semester-long scale? You don’t get enough done at the beginning of the term, so the pressure to do more, do more, do more, just keeps building as the weeks wear on, but the level of energy just keeps falling? Yeah. I think this is what getting burned out is like for me and it has taken a long time to identify just how insidious this cycle is: I’m convinced I don’t deserve time off because I haven’t accomplished anything, but there’s no way to break the pattern without stepping away. 
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So, I finally took time off over the holidays – and it was really great. I snuggled nieces, played in the snow, dove into wedding planning, caught up with mentors, went shopping, got pedicures and hamburgers, made Christmas cookies, spent a glorious weekend in San Diego with friends. I’m now wildly unprepared for everything, and behind on big projects, and the days I’ve spent trying to get back into work have not been the magical, productivity-blessed, success-fests I was hoping for, but nonetheless I discovered something. I’m a lot happier when I’m not working. So my resolution this year is to be not working more often. 

It’s not that I want to do less work (that sounds impossible, frankly, given how extremely my productivity bottomed out last semester) – it’s that I want to do more not-working. Or really, that I need to do more not-working. I need it desperately. I don’t really know how to solve my work-related issues (finishing a PhD is a slog and I’ll keep slogging – they don’t call it the Valley of Shit for nothing) but it appears that if I want to maintain any health, sanity, compassion, relationships, optimism, or energy, I need to have a life. (Surprise!)

So I made a January list. I’m attempting to keep my expectations low and my celebrations of victory big.

In January, I will 

  • read one book 
  • write one blog post (check!)
  • host one gathering in my home 
  • bake one loaf of bread
  • shoot one roll of film 
  • have one coffee date with a friend 

I’m also signed up to run the Lincoln Half Marathon in May, so it’s time to start running again. I believe I’ll love my job again someday, but for now, I’m going to focus on loving more rewarding things. Let me know if you want to help me out! Currently looking for recommendations on books, ideas for photo adventures, and encouragement and/or accountability for running. 6356455064543114321264004529_waffles-friends-work

Also, sisters, sorry not sorry all I write about on this blerg is productivity. Maybe I’ll have deeper or more meaningful thoughts again someday. For now, this is all I’ve got. 

Happy New Year!

I’m sure what you meant to say in that email critiquing my repertoire choices was thank you…

Dear sisters,

Today, my music teacher colleague and I ran six back-to-back rehearsals with about 50 kids in each group. We listened to fifth-grade narrators practice over recess. We inhaled our lunches to the sound of Feliz Navidad on xylophones. Then, we ran an all-school rehearsal for over 300 young musicians.

That’s crazy, right? Is this really what I signed up for?

Tomorrow, we’ll unload five bass xylophones over at the middle school auditorium, make sure the stage is set, and wait for the school buses to arrive carrying those 300+ musicians. They’ll pour out into the auditorium as it simultaneously fills with hundreds of parents, eager to catch a glimpse of their little snowflake, who’s all dolled up in their “Sunday-go-to-meeting” clothes.

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This colleague and I, we already did this once. Last week. Same story, different students. That’s crazy, too, right?

The other 170-odd days of the school year, I am alone in my little classroom on the prairie. The principal crosses my threshold once in a great while, and parents far less frequently. Teachers rarely have more than a minute to spend in my music room, because, as we all well know, those copies aren’t going to make themselves.

How do I reconcile these two sides of what I do? Nearly 200 days of music-making, unseen by outside eyes, just me and my students and my little classroom… and this one day of enormous production, preparation, stress. The learning really lives in the hidden days, but my reputation as a music teacher waits for me on that stage.

The show must go on,

Abby

sunday afternoon

Sunday afternoon.

We meet again.

You always fill me with unspeakable dread. This week more so than usual.

A big event at school that feels scary – I’m afraid of failure, of embarrassment.

And politics… Oh, politics. The state government is trying to pass so many awful pieces of legislation that time prohibits my naming them all.

Last week I was angry. Upset. Fired up. But that was when there was only one issue to fight for. Now there are

SO.

MANY.

If I called my legislators for each issue individually, I would not have time to go to work. And, well, that’s not an option, particularly given the aforementioned anxiety about school.

I love Jess’s description of the end of the semester. I know the point she’s talking about – where you abandon everything and cling to the shimmering Christmas tree, the promise of joyful time with family, and the hope of a fresh start in the new year. Another week, and I’ll be there, too.

At least, I hope so.

It is hard to have hope for the new year in our current political state. It seems that the country has collectively lost its mind, and our state is doing no better. I’m sure I’m driving all of Facebook crazy, in particular any political conservatives. (Who haven’t unfriended me yet…. Ha.) But how can I stay silent in the face of what’s happening? I want to run out right now and yell, to anyone who will listen, “WHAT. IS. WRONG. WITH. THE. WORLD?!?!”

There is a beautiful dusting of snow falling. It brings back memories of childhood Christmases, candlelight services at RRC, everything tinged with the special fuzzy camera lens (a la South Pacific) of nostalgia. It is trying to trick my brain into believing that everything is fine, that I can sit back, relax, trust…

But I can’t.

I just can’t.

The snow is only an illusion. These are not the shimmery flakes of beautiful memories. These are the cold, hard ice crystals of Narnia’s Wicked Witch.

Our world is frozen by our own hatred and ignorance.

We need Aslan.

I need Aslan.

courage2

Decemberween already?

Hello friends! Remember how we have this blog and also sometimes I write things? I’m following two inspirations today: 

  1. Sara did a blog post earlier this week or month (what even are units of time? let’s say semester. that’s the only time unit that means anything to me right now) with a time limit – 18 minutes of writing. This seems like a good idea! Attainable goals! Boundaries! 
  2. My friend Kiri and I did some habit-forming brainstorming earlier this semester (okay, it was probably September) and suggested that writing a blog post could be paired with a treat-yo-self trip to Goldenrod Pastries. So, I’m at Goldenrod currently, with a slice of pumpkin layer cake topped with sprinkles by my side.

 

I’m at Goldenrod, enjoying a slice of pumpkin cake with sprinkles on top, and it is snowing. It is really truly snowing for the first time this season. I think we had a few half-hearted super frozen flakes earlier this week, but today it’s the big wet fluffy stuff. In fact, it’s the big wet fluffy snow alternating with just honest-to-goodness rain. Is there anywhere nicer than a bakery to sit and watch the snow? Big windows frame the snowflakes falling on cars, bustling through the neighborhood; the pastry case full of colorful cupcakes and macarons and cakes and breads. Well, I could imagine it being nicer – I could be here without my grungy lump of a backpack and without the ever-lingering specter of work to do, projects to complete, papers to grade. Instead, I’ve set a timer for my writing and my next stop is the coffeeshop next door and the ambitious goal of finalizing the papers I’m editing.

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This is my Christmas tree. It’s the best.

I’ve been in school for a long time now; this is my ninth semester of grad school. That means we’re heading into finals week number nine at Nebraska – and this should be old hat by now. Truthfully, it kind of is. There’s something comforting about the letting go (is it giving up?) that can happen at the end of the semester. Now is the time to go into survival mode – get way too excited about Christmas trees and pumpkin cake and procrastinatory binge-watching of Netflix – turn on the focus mode that only happens with very tangible deadlines like the end of the term – let go of the big-picture questions and fears about what I should be doing or how I should be handling things or what I wish I was capable of – get through the end by dreaming about what could be the next time around.

Here’s to annoyingly persistent optimism and the sweetness at the bitter end – Happy December, sisters!

free write – 18 minutes

Where to begin….

Do you ever second-guess your entire life? Please tell me I’m not the only one. Some days everything seems like a great idea – fantastic – couldn’t be better – and some days everything seems all wrong – a big mistake – what the $(#*& am I doing?

I ended up here more or less by accident. I chose my major because I didn’t like doing homework for my other classes. I interviewed for one job. And here I am. Yes, this is an oversimplification, and there have been many decisions made along the way, and yes God has a purpose, blah blah blah… But sometimes I wonder if it would be easier – better? – if I had felt some CALLING, some magical something that pulled and tugged and told me THIS IS WHAT YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO DO.

I remember struggling with this idea in college, mostly because I always felt that eventually I’d have to focus on one instrument. (Lo and behold, here I am still playing all three and then some.) The older I get, the more I try to understand the necessity of being CALLED to whatever it is I happen to be doing at the time, even if it isn’t mystical or magical.

(Side note: Maybe if we all chose our majors/careers/whatever by pulling swords from various stones? Just a thought.)

When I feel anxious or inadequate or hurt or afraid, my brain tells me that I’d be better off if I was doing something different. If I had a different job, or if I didn’t work at all. The urge is so powerful, so overwhelming at times, that it’s hard to separate a true need – a true CALLING – for change from the voice of my anxiety, whispering that things would be better, I’d feel less anxious, IF ONLY I would do X…

Ah, anxiety. My old friend. The name of this demon should be LEGION, for they are many.

  • Fear of failure.
  • Fear of not being good enough.
  • Worry about what others think.
  • Worry about the “right” thing to do.
  • Fear of looking stupid.
  • Fear of being made fun of.
  • Fear of not being liked.
  • Worry about the future.
  • Worry about the past.
  • Worry about the present.
  • Worry about pretty much everything.

You get the idea.

For the longest time, I had no idea that anxiety – ANXIETY – was a thing. A thing that could be treated with counseling and medication. Anxiety’s tendrils reach throughout my family tree, and so I just assumed this was how everyone lived their life.

Anxiety doesn’t rule me.

Usually.

Days like today, returning to work after time off, looking at what comes ahead… Anxiety is a much more difficult foe.

(Right now it is telling me to stop typing, because this really isn’t very good writing, and I know I’m capable of better. The grammar police are going to get me. All my English teachers would be horrified at the atrocious form, structure, and syntax of this pile of word vomit.)

So now what? I really don’t know. I thought this was going somewhere when I started, but I think I’ve talked myself in a circle, and I only have a minute left before my self-imposed end time.

I guess I trust that even in the uncertainty, God can use me for something. He’s got a history of using broken people to do great things.

Good luck this week, Sisters. I love you!