Saturday, September 14, 2013

authority & neediness.

One Thursday evening last February, as I crawled into bed to read before sleeping, I suddenly knew I could not muster the strength to go into work the next day.  I knew how silly it seemed--we were just one day away from the weekend, surely that was enough of a carrot to dangle in front of my weary face--but I completely dreaded the thought of sitting at my desk and trying to make the work I had stretch to fill eight hours.  After listening to my tear-drenched mumblings, Chris told me very firmly that I would be calling in sick the next day, for mental health purposes.  And that night marked a turning point.  We began to imagine and envision what it would look like for me to walk away from Ocean Beauty; we dared to dream of a season of living off one income so that I could rest and sort through some of the intense anxiety and anger that had grown inside of me.  About six weeks later, I gave my notice; about six weeks after that, I walked out of my cubicle for the final time.  Quitting a job feels dramatic, and in a way, it was.  I wouldn't have left work or planned for a season of on-purpose unemployment if I hadn't reached the point where I said, "This is too much.  I can't do it anymore.  I don't have everything anything figured out."


When I chose the word authority as my one word of 2013, I envisioned a reclaiming of my confidence, a re-discovery of what I had to offer to the world after too many months of feeling worthless and unimportant.  I imagined Sarah getting her groove back, with a clear direction in career established and a spectacular story of calling emerging, at last, from the murkiness of life.  I think I wanted a tidy conclusion; perhaps I even equated re-establishing authority with having "the answers" again.

Now I believe this movement toward grey in life is not a temporary one, and I am learning to relax into the discomfort and the in-between spaces even when it remains foreign to me.  I am determined to allow my priorities to be re-shaped and re-organized during this season, which means holding very loosely to the things that once felt critical, like success or busyness or impressive answers, so I can better reach my hands out toward the things that truly matter.

In March, after several years of mysterious stomach aches and excessive burping (it sounded funny until you'd spent 24 hours by my side), I impulsively decided to cut dairy out of my diet.  Chris had begged me for months to see a doctor for allergy testing, and other friends had made countless suggestions--gluten, processed foods, stress?--but for some reason, one conversation with an lactose-intolerant friend and I was ready to jump on the dairy-free bandwagon.  I celebrated with a last supper of creamy pasta, then bought almond milk and Earth Balance the next day at Trader Joe's.  Truthfully, it was a lucky guess on my part, but the quick results of feeling better were motivation enough to steer clear of creams and cheese (RIP).  While I occasionally pop a Lactaid and indulge in something buttery, it has been relatively easy to adjust, especially in the health-conscious city of Seattle.  I feel infinitely better, and I no longer need to worry about sudden stomach aches in the middle of dancing at a wedding or out to dinner with friends.  I listened to what my body was asking for after years of pushing aside warning signs and suspicions.

There is still a long way to go on the confidence front.  This is in part because many of the old identity markers that once gave me confidence have been torn down and I don't want to reinstate them, so I'm learning what to re-build in their place; in part because bitterness and helplessness can creep in, leaving me feeling stuck and pathetic; and in part because I have tried very hard to avoid pretending like I have my life perfectly put together--and living in such a vulnerable state can make it easy to slip back into self-doubt when things aren't going well.  

All the while, I have been learning this excruciatingly gorgeous lesson: we have value as people even when we appear weak or unimpressive to the world.  The things that once felt life-and-death important can be revealed to be less crucial than they once were.  The simple things that were once taken for granted can suddenly be revealed to be the most beautiful parts of being alive.


At church, I had been squinting at the pastors anytime we sat farther than a few rows back.  Fast camera movements on the big screen at the movie theatre made me dizzy.  When I was taking my turn driving during a road trip to Idaho, Chris asked if I was nervous about being in the driver's seat.  "No, why?" I asked.  "Because you swerve a little every time we come to a curve," he said.  "I think that's because I can't see it until we're right up on the curve," I offered.  "You're done.  Pull over," he said.  My failing eye sight was confirmed during a routine eye exam when changing my driver's license; one Costco eye exam and a Warby Parker home try-on later, I could see.  I'd always heard from those who wear glasses that the trees would suddenly have leaves; I also marveled at the crispness of road signs and views of the Olympic mountain range.  I didn't realize how small my world had become until--I could see.  I still like to take my glasses off and then put them back on, just to relish in the revelation of crisp, detailed sight.


My January expectations of how I would see the theme of authority blossom in specific ways in my life won't necessarily come to pass.  There was this lurking belief that being brave and quitting my job would result in a neat little story, something about taking a leap away from something familiar but problematic and being rewarded with something new and better-suited to me.  Instead, the rewards of leaving Ocean Beauty and abandoning my old identity markers are less tangible, more subtle.  I feel more humble, less frantic, and more willing to admit I don't have all the answers.  I've had the chance to experiment with baking and cooking, check out an absurd number of books from the library, visit family and friends, listen to new music on Spotify, get really spectacular at grocery shopping, go for walks on lunch breaks with working friends, visit parks in the middle of the day, sleep in, and remember the peace of being awake well past midnight.  I have slowed down and made lots of time for the people and things I love.


So here's what dairy and glasses and quitting have to do with authority: I stopped putting off things I needed to do in order to take care of myself.  Yes, it is good to wait on Jesus, and sometimes we are called to do just that.   But there is a season for everything, is there not?  I noticed the insidious ways helplessness snuck into my life--I always seem to be waiting for a magical solution to my confusion and disappointments--and it has been important to remember to take action when I can, even as I avoid rushing into quick-fixes and feel-good solutions.  At times, there is a fine line between staying still to listen and remaining frozen in fear.

Back in January, when I was casting this one word vision, I wrote:

After a few frustrated attempts to change directions, job-wise, I realized I'd started waiting until all the conditions were ripe before beginning.  The mindset went something like, why try again if things still aren't going to work out?  Better to wait until a sure success turned up (because real life gives us guarantees, right?).  The end result was to feel totally trapped, because I kept waiting for everything to line up for me to take a leap, and it wasn't happening...I get to play a part in deciding what I will do with my time, my money, and yes, my work--and I call that having authority in my own story.

Sometimes I find myself back in that trapped, helpless mindset, but I have to tell you--these mini stories I'm recounting here, about jumping the Ocean Beauty ship (pun intended), adjusting my diet, and getting glasses--these are small victories for me, because I stopped waiting around and did something.  I remembered I get to participate in my own life.  I get to enjoy my life.  And life sans blurriness and stomach aches and sadness-inducing job is much sweeter.  These triumphs are small steps, of course, but sometimes this is the only way to get where you need to go.  Somehow, this all comes back to authority--handing back authority to trustworthy sources, simplifying, slowing down, listening to my own sense of need and weakness, and taking care of myself when something is not working.  It isn't the transformation and definition I envisioned back in January, maybe, but I'm grateful for what I've learned in 2013 thus far, and hopeful for what's yet to come.

1 comment:

  1. You are awesome. I love that you and Chris are able to challenge one another and I see you both loving each other in such a kind way to look out for the others best interests. I love how you are capturing this time of your life, its raw and beautiful. I'm so happy for you. Taking care of you is actually taking care of those around you best. I love you!