I was at IKEA the other day -- I love IKEA. I have a teeny, teeny kitchen in the new apartment I just moved into and it's killing me, so I hopped in my car and drove to Charlotte to seek solace with the IKEA kitchen master people. They were very helpful, and my kitchen now looks like a page in one of their catalogs (yay!), but that's a story for another day. There I was, combing through the kitchen gadget section, picking out some juice glasses, and I met eyes with a girl I ever so faintly recognized. She cocked her head to the side and asked, "Wofford?" and we figured out that she'd graduated two years before me and that we had a handful of mutual friends, but had crossed paths and circles unofficially throughout our overlapped time there. And then we bonded about the gloriousness of IKEA, and also the gloriousness of Wofford, and (to my surprise) the non-gloriousness of life after Wofford. I told her I was in grad school for school counseling, and she said, "Oh, yeah, I got my Master's in secondary education, but now I'm going to law school."
It hit me like a ton of bricks. One day at recess in kindergarten, I ran right into a giant plastic slide -- it knocked the wind right out of me and I couldn't really breathe for a second. It kind of felt like that. Law school. I haven't thought about law school in oh, a good month or so. (This is progress.) Not since I found out that UVA has a program of study for mental health law, which sounds like it has my name written all over it, but I'd managed to put that out of my mind. Until that day in IKEA. (And then again, now.)
This happens to me sort of frequently. I'm in the kitchen aisle, looking at stainless steel stock pots so shiny I can see my face in them, bouncing around, musing about how happy I am, and about my pretty new apartment with my pretty view with my not-so-pretty kitchen that I am about to make pretty (or so help me...) -- and something like this (I call it the contentment monster) comes along with a snarky so-sure-of-itself smile and begs the question: "ARE YOU SURE?"
Am I sure of what, that I'm happy? Well...now that you mention it, no. No, I am not sure. I thought I was -- I mean, look at these stock pots -- but that girl is going to law school. She was doing her Master's in education stuff -- like me -- and now she's going to law school, and that's my back-up dream (for when I get really scared about my life, but shhh, I don't actually want people to know that). And that other girl just got married, and my other friend, well she's engaged now and then that other couple is going to have a baby soon and she just started medical school and he can run faster than I can and all of these other people are living their dreams so WHAT AM I DOING? (Buying more kitchen stuff? Ugh.)
The panic sets in. The panic that I'm not sure I'm doing this LIVING MY LIFE thing correctly. I'm not even sure that I'm not sure.
It's hard to want to bloom where you're planted when you're not sure you're in the right garden, isn't it?
I hate moving. Kristin and I joked that our old apartment looked like a refugee camp for the last few days of our inhabitance. That vase of daisies was the very last thing I moved out; I'm not too sure why. Packing up my old apartment forced me to reflect on everything that happened to me and within me while that space was my dwelling place, while it was home. All the dinner parties and dancing and champagne, all the hard conversations, all the times I or someone else felt defeated and needed a pep talk in that big green chair. It's been a really, really hard year. I'm pretty glad that this one is coming to a close and I'm on the threshold of a new one. Freshman year of life was a rough one, as I'm told it is for most people. I hate in-betweenness. There's no spin class right now, and no actual regular school class, and I'm not even supposed to be working right now, but I am because I need something to do and my boss for sure thinks I'm a little weird. I need a schedule and instructions and a to-do list, because when I don't have those, I get antsy and buy a lot of stuff and end up taking a lot of naps. Mostly, I need to stay busy so that the contentment monster can't track me down to help me second guess myself and my plan and my goals and my situation. Sometimes I just get sad. For no reason. And out of nowhere. It's the nature of my condition, I suppose. I can't really complain about it too much now, because it happens waaaaaay less frequently than it used to. And there are things I've prepared to do when it comes, the weird-and-for-no reason sadness. Last time I just got in my big comfy bed and called my mama and other people to catch up on their lives -- you know, to get a bigger perspective. And this time, I'm writing this.
I had a really good chat over coffee and ramen noodles with a friend here, at my new place on my new porch with the pretty view, the other day, and something she said really stuck with me. She was talking about a hard situation and said, in her wisdom -- "It's okay that it was hard because even though I've known a lot of pain because of it, I've also learned a lot about grace because of it."
I think that's something I would say to this last year of mine. Second hardest year of my entire life -- and if you know my story, you know that's saying a lot. A lot of pain, but also a lot of grace. A lot of unexplainable things, for me and for close loved ones, but also a lot of undeserved blessings. A lot of death, which is my #1 least favorite thing, as it always seems to come crashing in at the worst time...but also a lot of life and birth and growth. The point is, there's always another side. Cheesy. Yes. But true; it just might take a while for the good to unfold. I'm still waiting for some silver linings to rear their heads so that God can go, "See?" (reassuringly, never smugly -- that's so not His style) and I can go, "Oh. My bad."
Truth be told, I look back on the last year and am optimistic. The fact that I just said that seems almost impossible for me to believe. I'm optimistic about knowing I haven't found my niche? And that other people have their niches, and I just have a lot of kitchen stuff? I could write a whole post about what I've learned in the past year -- most notably that I am worth it and that I can do hard things and I can overcome the odds and that people believe in me for really good reasons. The fact that I actually learned those lessons -- actually let them in and allowed them to change me and claim space in my heart and mind and brain -- are why I'm optimistic. I have been forced to stare my inner strength in the face and call it mine, and the same goes for resilience. A lot of hard, harder, and almost hardest things cropped up, and even though that's pretty sucky, it's alright, because they're also the reasons why I learned to see myself as strong and as an overcomer. Even though it was the second hardest year, even though it was probably 90% hard and 10% not-quite-so-hard, it was such a good year. Good doesn't mean easy; good means that I learned a lot and that I'm proud of myself and that I survived -- and thrived -- even though Sad and Confusing and Melancholy were season regulars. So take that, hard things!
I am beginning to think that Good and Hard are made of the same stuff. Or are at least cousins. Maybe even friends. Maybe they meet up for coffee sometimes. I think Good likes iced chai (like me) and Hard likes straight-up espresso (also like me).
We learned about this thing, in my counseling ethics class, called "tolerance for ambiguity." Basically, it means that you have to learn to be okay with making decisions about things when there's not a whole lot of precedent or much of anything to go on. You have to work in the dark sometimes. You have to be okay with grey area. You have to accept that there are going to be times when life doesn't give you very good instructions. Life with God is like that, I think. He knows that I love instructions and plans and logistics, and I am finding more often than not that my plans are laughably far away from whatever He's got in store for me. That frustrates me to no end, and He knows that. This year, I wanted to take the LSAT and prove that I have a big brain, and date a lot and be in relationships and do fabulous things and accomplish a lot, and catch up to my friends who are all "Hey look! We're dating and engaged and married and having babies, so you'd better get good at baby shower things and start learning how to make little foldable diapers out of pastel washcloths!" That was my plan. That wasn't His. God wanted me to be in my "Hey, this is REALLY HARD!" place because He knows that's the only place where I learn anything. He wanted to fortify my character. He wanted me to be able to look at myself as a friend, as someone who is strong, as someone who loves and respects herself. And I do now. And I didn't before. And that was more important than my plan. And maybe I'm still not ready for all that stuff that I'm yearning for, but after looking around at everything -- at my life and everybody else's -- at the ways they're unfolding, I'm much more comfortable loosening my grip, taking the time catch my breath when the wind gets knocked out from me, and rolling my eyes at the contentment monster, saying, "I'm getting to the right garden as fast as I can, thank you very much."
I hope that Wofford IKEA kitchen section girl does really well in law school, and that she finds that is where she is finally able to bloom.
And I hope that you, too, find that place in your life.
And if you're not there, I hope you find the strength to just. keep. going.
(You'll find it. You'll get there. I promise.)