Fall journal excerpts – Activity, passivity, and becoming dry bones

I’m always hesitant about writing these journal-entry-posts.  Since these words were scribbled quickly in a notebook with a pen (no eraser/backspace), it’s not my most polished writing.  But it is my most honest.  And if I want to show a movement into the home space, I have to start with where I was.

Different times in our lives require different speeds of movement, but I have noticed something about my own tendencies.  I have a lot of steps I need to move through.  It takes a while for me to adjust to a new routine or a new space.  How I get there varies, but in the end I always have to come to this conclusion before I start moving upward again: I will never get where I want to go until I let myself go where I need to go.  Sometimes I need grieve and mourn.  Sometimes I need to rest and slow down.  Sometimes I need to find myself stripped of my own strength so that I stop relying on it.  

Ezekiel 37:1-14

The hand of the LORD was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.  He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry.  He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

 I said, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!  This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.  I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone.  I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’  Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.  Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them.  I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’”

 September 4 

It was easier to fight back melancholy and malaise in Ukraine.  I had a purpose and a goal.  Teach English.  Get through the year.  Here, back home, whatever that means, everything is much more nebulous and slippery.  I haven’t arrived here with a missionary mentality, I have no sense of what will be short term and what long term, the well of strength I pulled from has been all used up.

I start my new job in two days, and I am excited to have a regular schedule again.  I’ve felt I should take advantage of all this free time I’ve had, but I’ve not been very good at it.  All the things I’ve had down on my running “possibility list” would perhaps tempt me under different circumstances – crocheting a rug, making a collage booklet, reading, working on the dollhouse, writing letters.  The problem is that after spending most of the day alone, it’s hard to look at that list and get excited about doing one more thing alone.  This was an issue in Ukraine but expected there.  I’m supposed to be home now.  And I think I might have, by the end, had more friends in Transcarpathia than I do in Bloomington.

I don’t know why, but going to bed here always seems so terribly anti-climactic.

September 19

In Péterfalva, I had an evening snack of bread as often as I could, plucked from the bread-scrap bag left out by the cooks after dinner.  Sometimes the students had picked over and hoarded everything (I often saw them the with foot-tall piles of bread as they walked toward the dormitory), and I was lucky to get a few heels. But, oh! the bliss of a few chewy slices of bread as I sat down to watch my latest BBC infatuation.

Tonight we actually had good bread in the house – Mama purchased it especially for me – and I ate two small slices with banana in between.  That was a combination I ate in Péterfalva a few times, usually as part of a on-my-own meal, bread being the cheapest available food and bananas, surprisingly enough, being the most readily available fruit.  I remember how lonely and, yes, bored, I was sometimes in Ukraine.  But I can’t help feeling homesick for the simple, pleasurable routines I created there.  For how small and big I felt all at once.  I really wish I could have one big debriefing session so that the whole thing would stop feeling like a dream.

September 27

I still can’t get used to strangers talking to me.  The woman tonight at the roller rink – in the U.S., being in the same place as another person creates a bond.  People who smile at me in the street – I can’t react fast enough.

October 24

[In reading my diaries from 10 years ago that I found in the basement, I’ve found another thing] I need to be careful about: over-committing myself.  My 14-year-old self was spread too thin. Soccer and violin and youth group and Conference Board of Youth Ministries, and ballet and musical theatre, and playing music with Dad, and sign language, and writing, and leading worship.  Oh, yeah, and I was a freshman high school student.  And a daughter and a sister and a friend.  No wonder I was feeling overwhelmed.  In the pages of my diary, I constantly bemoaned why.  I think I believed that I couldn’t be over-committed if I liked everything I was doing.  I put all the blame on loathsome math, convinced that this one thing I didn’t like to do was causing most or all of my stress.  Hogswhallop.

So much of my mental energy, too, was poured out in other ways: feeling out of place, the tension of being at an in between age, loneliness, heartbreak at my new discovery of how senselessly evil our world could be, questions of identity.  How could I expect myself to move gracefully through those growing pains if my schedule was jam-packed?

I have a lot of growing to do right now, too, and at 24 I think I’m more resistant to growth than I was at 14.  I’ll need more energy to do it.  So in my clamor to find meaning and purpose and a life outside this house, I need to be mindful and respectful of my limits.

November 1

As I neared the end of the final Emily of New Moon book, I felt all my internal organs tying themselves up.  I knew I would cry if she did not marry Teddy … and that I would cry if she did.

It had a happy ending.  Teddy and Emily came together in the end.  It was all very rushed, as if L. M. Montgomery didn’t know how else to fulfill the dream than with something dream-like itself.

I read my life and passion on Emily’s pages – until the end.  The end that I so ached for but also ached over.  Because my story doesn’t hold that ending (not yet), and I was left trying to convince myself of what should be a self-evident truth: I don’t need a romantic attachment to make me feel fulfilled, I won’t dissolve into the same loneliness Emily had without Teddy.

When I got up to clean the bathroom, I felt myself itching all over.  I wanted to tear at my skin, itch every cell away until that large, fleshy organ was gone and I was left only with bones and muscle.  Not raw.  But de-layered.

Life Cereal is giving out a few $50,000 prizes.  I thought about what I would do if I won.  Pay off my loans.  Donate to the family shelter in town.  Pay taxes.  Buy a ticket to Ukraine in time for graduation.  Work with the Roma preschool until November.  Go to Taizé.  Stay for 9 months.  Then?

I like that plan.

I told [the Bird] today, as she was looking at me in the rear-view mirror with exhausted eyes, that since our bodies get tired when we are having a physical growth spurt, maybe we also get tired when we are growing mentally and spiritually.

But what about when you itch?  Not growing pains, but an unbearable itch?  Is that when your body wants to shed some growth?

What if I became dry bones?

be ever thankful (3)

I was on a holiday – a full holiday from work and a partial holiday from electronic devices. And now I have returned – with a celebration of all things advent-y and Christmas-y.  I am thankful for:

– Advent candles; even in the middle of summer, the smell of a freshly-extinguished candle reminds me of an Advent wreath.  The end of the Advent season got a little busy for my family, and for the first time I remember, we didn’t finish lighting all the candles.  But we started out admirably and with a new (for us) concept.  Instead of reading an Advent liturgy, we simply discussed the meaning of the words associated with each candle: hope, peace, joy, love.  We often stayed late around the kitchen table on a Sunday night talking about our own experiences, understandings, and questions.

– an email from my Hungarian-Ukrainian friend Ildiko with an update from her family.  The email itself came as a great surprise – Ildiko’s family does not have email nor access to the internet; I had not expect to hear much from them and despaired of a letter ever getting past the crazy Ukrainian post offices.  However, Ildiko was able to borrow both the computer and email address from a neighbor.   Her short Hungarian phrases were easy for me to read and full of love and care;  I read that email several times and imagined the people and places it came from.  I didn’t realize how disconnected I had felt from my life in Transcarpathia until I got that email and felt the rush of warmth (and tears) that accompanied it.

– the Advent season’s defiance of one definitive emotional space.  We celebrate hope and peace and joy and love as we light each candle, but we are not required to feel those things, just to acknowledge them.  In Advent we do not pretend to have arrived anywhere, or even to be sure that we are going somewhere.  Of course we know that, liturgically, Christmas comes next, but Advent gives us plenty of space to wait and lament and fume and marvel.  Christmas may be a season we associate with coming home and settling in with family, but Advent shares the same root as adventure, adventitious, venture, avenue, invent … it is a word of movement, of restlessness, of not-yet-arriving. Advent is the only season I know that takes discontent and holds it until it finally grows into something else.

– Christmas music, even the cheesy kind like Manheim Steamroller – as Mama and I always say, the Christmas season is perfectly adapted to cheese.

– Game nights with the fami-lami-ly; my favorites include long, late nights trying to memorize the capitals of all the Asian countries and the pictionary-telephone game that started with a minister serving communion and ended with a dancing goul perparing breakfast.

– Car rides + books on cd, especially Harry Potter.  My sister the Bird and I, having listened to said cd during said car ride, have effectively addicted Mama to Harry Potter.

– sand castles and leaf flags; my brother Mr. Gershwin, the Bird, and I had grand sand castle dreams and labored long to bring them into fruition.  The contrast between that golden leaf and that vibrant aqua sea kept calling me back again and again into wonder and praise.