on the feeling of being crazy and how to not care about it

Caution: word vomiting starts now.

“Who am I? Is my voice worth anything? Do I even have a voice? What’s it sound like? If you hear it can you please call me because I miss it? Do you want some cake?”

All these questions are cropping up one after another, like mint stalks spreading throughout a garden that my bunny just wants to chomp through. Every moment there seems to be another, and it leads immediately to the next. Before I can answer one, the next sprouts up.

I’m in a small, strange, and rare phase of life that is allowing me to take a respite from nearly everything and just focus in on those many questions. It’s a necessity, a luxury, a terror all in one. I don’t know what to do with my time or how to start answering all the mess that’s constantly churning in my head. And though the space has all just begun and I’ve not nearly accomplished all I want, I’m so ready for it to be over already. I want to return to normalcy, schedule, to living. But I have been leveled, and a rebuilding is in order.

Recently, at least, there’s been a springboard. One small homework assignment from one session of counseling, and a side gate has been opened. As I reflected on the trend of feeling bulldozed in my life (i.e., my opinions not being counted, my voice falling away into silence, my viewpoints being less than), I started to realize that while there have been relationships and experiences that have contributed to this general feeling, ultimately, it seems that it’s been mostly self-imposed. I’ve been putting myself in the bulldozer’s way over and over again. And my life is my own responsibility; it’s no one’s fault that I’ve done this, but it’s about time I learned to live otherwise.

For most of my life, I’ve based my opinions, decisions, views almost solely from those of my inner circle. And for a while, that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with healthfully engaging with those closest to you who have wisdom and insight. It’s helpful, when you need someone you trust, when you’re in confusion or crisis, when you’re growing up and don’t know what to think of the world. But it seems that somewhere in the act of this engaging, I lost the ability to form my own thought or opinion. I never stopped to teach myself the skill. And it is, indeed, a skill, which I now know because I literally do not have opinions or answers to questions that are not terribly difficult. “What do you want?” “… I actually don’t know.” Until asked, I realize that I’ve never really landed on resolution in regards to many things. I’ve just skirted around having to decide because it’s easier and less offensive that way. And if I do have an answer, I’m so hesitant to say it because heaven forbid I offend someone else with my own genuine thoughts.

And such is the poisonous cycle of fear and people pleasing, put on repeat for 25 years. There will always be someone to displease. Always someone who disagrees. Probably always someone who feels discomfort from a certain honest word. But must I allow that to hush and halt my own convictions? In this forest of confusion, one thing is clear to me: I am very much done with that way of living. Realistically, this will be a lifelong struggle. Hoppers, by DNA, tend to be people pleasers. This is not an easy habit to crack. But I will not live like this anymore.

Note: There is a crossover point here. I want to spend my life loving people with the Grace that I’ve been loved by. And more often than not, that means giving up some comforts and some wants. But, that does not equate to becoming a lifeless shell of human that robotically answers “yes” to everything. Somewhere in the theology of loving people, I became a doormat. I put peoples’ value and worth and desires and opinions so far over my own that I flattened myself. And the thing is, it’s not like these people asked me to do that for them. Their intentions were not to suck the life out of me like a mosquito. I just surrendered anything I could offer because I just so often want everyone else to be comfortable. But in doing so, I shrunk myself to a nagging, worthless gnat under the belief that my voice was worthless. Not good.

So now, I’m taking responsibility for my self-shrinking. I’m saying “no” when I don’t want to do something that I otherwise would agree to out of sheer people pleasing. In fact, I did it this morning. And it felt great.  It was like a little latch unhooked itself, giving myself a little morsel of free living. I want more! So I’ll keep asking myself the important questions. “What do I think? What does my voice sound like? How can I live as if it’s actually as important as anyone else’s?” And not only will I keep asking, but answer, with confidence and discernment and Ellyn-ness.

And, seriously: Do you want some cake? Email me.

important morning babble

Mornings. They have always, forever, been my companion. I used to wake up for school before my parents, before my sister, just to savor the quiet, dark moments that hang so tangibly before the world breaks open. Some of the stillest images stamped into my memory are from summers spent as a camp counselor, when I and countless others would wake before our cabins and scatter across the landscape. Those few wonderful, albeit damp, minutes spent alone on the lake, praying, watching the dawn’s mist float across the water’s surface, they were treasures. My job now demands waking at an hour that many people would not even consider morning. But even still, I love it, for its whispering beauty. The morning is a mysterious acquaintance, but waking within its secret borders starts the process of befriending. Everyone knows about the friend that is night, but what of the personality of the morning? Yes, rough around the edges at first as you shake off the clinging slumber, but then so gentle and careful. And you’ll only befriend it properly if you approach it in stillness, giving it the time to speak into your soulful depths.

I hate sleeping in, as much as I need it sometimes. I have to take a few moments to mourn when I sleep past the sun’s breaking. We have these massive bay windows in the apartment where we live now. The view is nothing spectacular: a few shops and restaurants; some spindly street-side trees; a construction site whose plan, I believe, is to absolutely obliterate the world record for longest time spent on a street corner project. But, as our eye-level is situated just at the tops of the city buildings, we get sky. Loads of sky. Sky that blares into our entire, one-roomed living space, that shouts its colors against the wall opposite our bed. Sometimes, when I wake before my alarm, I’ll catch the sunrise reflected on that wall, and it’s like a rope tied to my waist, tugging me forward. It’s all I can do to hop out of bed, shove my glasses onto my blind eyes, and race the few steps to the top of our stairs, where I can better see the colors splitting across the sky and the light approaching in the way only it can be: both gentle and powerful.

And I think it is that, the light, that grips me so hard for the character of the morning. It’s always about the breaking of the light. This is the cause of the color wheel of blues, purples, pinks, and oranges that slowly emerges from the just above the bricks in the right side of my view. This is what makes the birds sing louder.  This is what makes my plants all peer in the same direction. This is the reflection on every building face, light post, and twig that makes my eyes shoot east down Broad Street, in hopes of catching a glimpse of the source. Every morning it’s different, but every morning it’s there. The beauty of the reflection is just too much for my eyes and my heart to handle. 

Isn’t that the way He works? Isn’t that the point of all this beauty? From every little branch to every created soul, anything on which His light reflects causes our eyes to bolt towards His face, in hopes of catching a glimpse of the Source. And when we look, He never withholds Himself. These mirrors here- the mornings, the light, the black and white woodpecker with the red stripe that visits my feeder- they are, indeed, beautiful. But only as beautiful as He can be. People recall God’s character in very different ways. I have found that in my confusion and my cluttered head and my weak little spirit, it’s the beauty that grounds me, that speaks truth to His character. When I experience beauty here, I’m reminded of the fact that it’s just a minuscule fraction of His beauty. But still it’s enough to sweep me away. And then I’m aware of His goodness. And His gifts. And His grace that both gives us these incredible beauties and gives me the heart to cherish them. All for the purpose of understanding Him better. And that is just wild.

So, thanks, God, for the morning and the woodpecker and the brick wall boasting a faded “Coca Cola” ad that reflects the light everyday and spins my head into a whirl of understanding. You are beautiful.

the poison of ingratitude

Yesterday morning there was a shift in my heart.

These few months have been dry. I’ve been stubborn, cold, in one of those phases that no one likes to talk about because they’d rather just hole up and have no one bother them. In the moment, that’s all you want. Leave me alone, I’ll figure it out eventually. Fortunately for my soul and unfortunately for my prideful heart, that doesn’t last. Your loved ones peer in, start to ask, try to help. And don’t you just love them and hate them at the same time.

But then you find yourself glancing up. Walking. Approaching the good things you’ve pushed away for weeks. And you’re timid and you’re scared but you know it’s the best for you. And you find yourself just a tiny bit grateful for their tough but tender love. And you walk a little farther, become a little braver. And then one day, all of a sudden, you have a morning like yesterday’s.

For a couple days, in the back of my head, I’d been thinking about thankfulness. I was realizing how ungrateful I live my days. I walk about and breathe and communicate as if I just deserve, as if I’ve earned, all the incredible graces in my life. And I was gradually becoming more aware of how completely opposite that mindset it. Then yesterday morning, it all broke. Aaron and I read Jesus Calling (November 26, if you want a reference) and we prayed and the tears kept pouring out as I listed person after person, gift after gift, situation after situation that I do not deserve. And the thankful list kept growing. And I felt, deep in me, the kindness and generosity of a God who cares about me, even in times when I don’t give Him more than two seconds of my attention. 

And I realized- He showed me- the danger of ingratitude. It is a poison. A cloak that gradually covers you and lies to you and makes you full of yourself. My thoughts, my heart, if they have anything right to them, ought to tangibly reside in a posture of gratitude. That is the norm, the home base, square one. If there is any erring, it is a quick peek outside with an even quicker return. I want to live in the home of thanking. I want to consider every sight in my life as its true identity: a gift. Aaron, gift. Our home, gift. Our families, gifts. Our health, gift. A kitchen stocked with all the tools and food I could possibly need, gift. The peace and rejuvenation in our home, gift. The ability to love and celebrate and feel, gift. Why should I deserve any of this? These things are so good that they could only belong to my loving King. So I will live in this.

How timely of Him, nonetheless. This is the most celebratory month of the entire year and I love it so much I could burst. I can’t believe we get to join in on partying with the Creator of the concept of celebration. That is literally one of my top five favorite things about Him (we watched High Fidelity last night so I’m into the five groupings right now). But seriously- the thought of that makes me cry every time. And every year at this time I fear that I won’t be in tune enough to feel and understand and experience the wonder of this month. But then He goes and does things like this. He changes my heart and tugs me back and reminds me of What is good so that I can celebrate with Him all over again. That is grace. And it shows up in the coolest of ways.

I’m thankful that I get to be thankful, especially in this merry month.

on writing: a call to excellence

I’m a spill-writer. That’s my style. I’m writing that way now, as I always have. Get everything out on the page, quick, before I forget it. Then go back and tweak. Doesn’t matter how many times I use the same word. I’ll return, reread, change what needs to be changed. I just need to get it out.

I really, deeply want to be a great writer. The more I blog, the more I realize that while I love food, the process of making it, and the gathering it brings, it’s the writing that grounds me. It’s the artful process of stringing together words to explain a feeling, a thought, a belief that grabs the attention of both my head and my soul. 

Despite the discipline of sitting still and focusing, writing papers was always one of my favorite parts of college. Long or short, daunting or simple, the process was a thrill for me. The title, the introduction, the paragraph after paragraph of progressive thought. Everything but the conclusion, really (come on, who was good at those?). What would I discover? What would I learn from the styles of painting I was comparing? What would I grow to love about this architect, whose creativity works so gloriously? Every paper was unique. It was practice. Each time I tried to use new words, think more richly, write more precisely.

One of the sole reasons for playing the writing game was the constant, ever-living wonder at what could come out of my head, through my fingers, and onto paper. It’s often a marvel, sitting down to write a piece, and discovering what art that can emerge from the intertwining of your brain and your heart. It’s beautiful to me, and that is why every writer’s work is different. Generally, we all use the same alphabet, the same dictionary, the same grammatical rules. Yet our words are composed very uniquely. Our tones reveal our outlooks; our stories tell our experiences. This is the beauty of our wonderfully crafted selves.

The hard parts? I know very well the pit of repetition. Words, phrases, themes, ideas. It’s easy to find your linguistic rut. But that’s why I want to challenge myself again. Without the demanding deadlines of assignments, it’s all too easy to put aside the practice, to join the ranks of an unfrequented hobby. But I want to dig into the greatness of this art form. I believe that we are called to excellence, and that as children of our Creator, we ought to exercise our creative brains to find the richest parts of them, because that process and the gold bits we find along the way are mirrors of His creativity. This ability to reflect as wildly as the moon is one of the purest forms of our roles as glory-givers. I believe that He rejoices when we grow, He delights when we stretch our creativity, He dances when we learn something new. I believe that the challenge is worth it.

So, friends, help me out. I am going to develop a discipline, maybe a couple, that will help me exercise my creativity. First, I will set a schedule for myself. Right now, the most reasonable goal sounds like once a week. Secondly, I need to stretch my vocabulary! Any strategies or tools that I could use to do so? Rather than absentmindedly flipping through the dictionary, of course. Chime in, please. Leave me a comment or send me an email. Let’s challenge ourselves, people. For the ability to explain things beyond ourselves. For the story-telling of others. For the projection of a voice louder than our own.