Oh my golly goodness gracious

Gosh.

I reach this point every year about this time where I have a hard time taking a full breath. Ask the people around my office, I turn into a chronic “sigher,” but it’s only because I have to take extra large gulps intermittently, in order to get the necessary amount of air. There’s a lot going on…and it’s not just me, I know! Students have finals, people are getting married, moving, changing jobs, etc., etc., etc. It’s a crazy, crazy time.

I arrived home two nights ago after a busy day at the office to discover a huge Crate & Barrel package waiting at the door. The wedding gifts for the sister are piling up, alongside our mounds of laundry, dirty dishes, school papers, work papers, bills, to-do lists…and in the midst of all the clutter, we both spend the bulk of our evenings on Craigslist, searching for new places to live, she with her husband, and me with two roommates. Lots of changes. Then there’s the bridal shower this weekend to prepare for, and final youth group events to plan, as well as end-of-year commitments with CCD and tutoring and piano students. And (put on fake advertising voice here) much, much more!

I wonder if God throws all this stuff my way just to remind me of how little I am. I feel basically like this right now:

But you know what? It’s okay. Sometimes I think God just wants me to love Him through the crazyness. And thank goodness for Easter–because there’s always chocolate…

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Money, money, money

I handed my poor, over-used debit card across the counter at Quiznos this afternoon and tried not to wince as the cashier (incidentelly, the only cashier in the entire District who puts on a smile for her customers…I really do love the Quiznos lunchtime cashier) swiped it and handed it back. In D.C., cashiers don’t tell you your total and then wait for you to nod your head; they tell and swipe simultaneously. In a way I think that’s better–like the nurse who tells you she’ll count three before sticking the needle in, but actually jabs it in at “one.” At least in the immediate moment, it hurts less that way.

But let’s be real: the immediate moment really isn’t the important thing when it comes to handling one’s finances. A long, long look at my bank statements this weekend was more than sufficient proof of that. Not that I’ve racked up some insane amount of debt, or gone on wild, uncontrolled shopping binges–I haven’t, and really (all things considered), my money situation is just fine.  But I still struggle with worry about money. Sure I have enough for today, but what about tomorrow, or ten, twenty, fifty years from now?

I struggle with a constant sense of agitation about money. Not fear or anxiety, just a certain level of unease and restlessness, especially when I’m facing big life changes (like an impending move). Besides, money is one of those responsibilities that’ s never alleviated, and it touches on just about every aspect of day-to-day life. I’m faced with a long, long list of “should’s”: I should be saving more; I should make a plan to finish paying off my credit card; I should adhere to a stricter budget; I should (learn how to) invest; and I should tithe. And then of course there’s the long, long list of wants: summer work clothes; shoes; a coffee press; new bookshelves; a piano (digital or used…at this point, I’m not picky); a sewing machine…

Somehow neither list ever seems to get checked off. They both hover over me, nagging and reproachful. I’m not necessarily irresponsible or out-of-control with my money, but I’m disorganized and somewhat careless. Yes, I keep receipts from debit and credit transactions, but do I use them? No–they just add clutter to my wallet and the bottom of my purse. Sure I maintain a file of my pay stubs, but do I balance my checkbook? (Just ask my poor mother about that.) Granted I hunker down and refuse to spend any money during the last week or so of each paycheck, but does that actually mean I’m saving anything? (Shouldn’t I be putting money aside at the beginning of each paycheck, instead of panicking at the end?) I’ll spare you any further details of my embarrassing lack of ability when it comes to being my own money manager…you get the picture, I’m sure.

For a little while in my post-college years, I fell into the trap of thinking that all this unpleasantness relating to money would be removed when (and if) I settled down and got married. An older, wiser self is all too well aware that that is not the case. If I can’t handle my finances–and settle into a comfortable attitude of peace with regard to them–now, there’s no way I’ll be able to do so later, when I’m no longer looking out for just one person. After I got over that initial fantasy, I fell into the worse habit of envy: “If only I were making [xx] like so-and-so, I’d be just fine…” But is that really true? More than likely, my spending habits would simply expand to match a larger paycheck.

I realize that in order to get into good money habits, I need to devote a whole lot more effort to staying on top of my spending, saving, etc. But I think the most important thing I need to do starting now to get my financial situation in order is tithing. I used to do this faithfully, when I was making significantly less money than I am now. And guess what? I never starved, I was never late on my bills, and I even managed (somehow) to afford a few random extras…like a trip to Rome, Italy. Hmmm.

Now? I’m going to admit a shameful secret I’ve been keeping to myself for several months: I haven’t tithed in quite some time. First I took an accidental hiatus when I got behind on balancing my checkbook. Then I lost my parish envelopes for the next month. Then bills started piling up. Then…then…then…I comfort myself week after week with that ever-dangerous mantra, “God understands.” Sure He does, like He “understands” all my failures in trust, but maybe it’s time to stop resting in His ever-immense understanding and force myself to overcome my own frightened stinginess. I need to start putting those parish envelopes to good use again.

“In my distress, I called upon the Lord, and He answered me.”

The Triduum liturgies commenced a little early for me this week; I attended a Tenebrae service at the Dominican House of Studies in D.C. on Wednesday night. What a profound experience. If you’ve never been, I strongly encourage it for next year. I have heard those Psalms and the readings from Jeremiah’s Lamentations countless times before, but never did they speak to me as they did this week. Stepping into these holiest of days, it was so good to be reminded of our desperate need for a savior. The image of Israel as a fallen, cast-off woman whose foes surround her on all sides really resonated with me this time. Does it get much more helpless than that? And what does a helpless, threatened, terrified woman do but scream for help?

Mankind screamed. God swooped in and answered. One of the priests at the church where I attend daily mass in the city spoke on a similar matter last week. He suggested that we mentally substitute the word “rescue” for “saved,” arguing that this is a closer translation to the original Hebrew. (Not being a biblical scholar myself, I can’t comment any further on that.) That little switch makes for an interesting meditation. The word “save” tends to have sweet, slow, sentimental connotations, at least for me. But to be “rescued” implies something momentous, swift, and lasting. We have been snatched back from the abyss; our menacing foes have literally been beaten back.

And now it is Good Friday. The weather has turned appropriately cold and gray. I can’t begin to describe the enormity of today, and I don’t intend to try. I did want to tie it back to singlehood, though, this blog’s theme. Israel moaned in captivity for so long, for thousands upon thousands of years, sometimes physically captive to conquering kingdoms, but always fundamentally captive to sin. We read the Psalms, where the psalmist cries, “Deliver me from the hands of my enemies” … “Rescue me, Lord, mighty God” … and for some reason, God chose to delay his answer. David died and generations passed before the fullness of time came, when God sent his only Son. How often do we singles pour out our hearts, begging God to give us a sense of purpose now? We want direction, clarity, stability, love. And instead we’re met with this long, long silence. May you find peace in this Good Friday, the day on which we receive beyond any doubt the reassurance that God does indeed answer our prayers, far beyond anything we could ever dream up for ourselves.

Lord Jesus crucified, have mercy on us.

Do You Ever…

Do you ever have those days or weeks when you feel like you owe the world an apology?

Do you ever wander back and forth from one room to another in your house because you just can’t figure out where you should be in a given moment, and you can’t make yourself want to be anywhere at all?

Do you ever pause in the middle of the work day and close your eyes and hold your breath because if you don’t STOP right now you’ll probably…scream…or sob…or goodness knows what else?

Do you ever shove all correspondence–emails, voicemails, text messages, letters–to one side saying, “I’ll get to this later,” and then never respond at all? (And yet somehow still feel overlooked and unloved when, eventually, the emails, voicemails, text messages, and letters stop coming?)

Do you ever say to the same friend(s) over and over again, “We should definitely get together sometime,” and then never make “sometime” happen?

Do you ever smile and mollify the people around you because it’s easier to gloss over the truth than it is to say what you mean outright, whatever the consequences?

Do you ever shudder at your own failure(s) in generosity?

I don’t think I’ve ever needed Good Friday as badly as I do this year. No, strike that. I always have, I’ve just never realized it so intensely.

On-the-Job Training

There are many perks to being an editor (like, you know, getting to READ all day long), not least of which is learning fascinating new words.

For instance, I stumbled upon this gem this morning:
Invidious–1. Tending to cause animosity or resentment. 2. Containing or implying a slight: discriminatory.3. Envious.

There have been several others, especially in the past couple weeks. Our upcoming load of books is heavier than usual, and I have one author in particular who loves to pull his vocabulary from the dustier corners of the dictionary.

Words like “scion.” (1. A descendent or heir. 2. A detached living shoot or twig used in grafting.)

I let him have that one, but I’ve had to cut (much to my own dismay) some really fabulous words, simply because no reader will have any idea what he’s talking about.

For example, perspicacious: Able to perceive or understand keenly.

Doesn’t that word make you feel smart just reading it?

Okay, now I’m back to my actual work. Just really felt the need to share my expanding vocabulary. Have a blessed Thursday!

Rain, rain…

Confession: I’m a huge wimp. I mean, huge. And the one thing in this world that’ll make me wimp out faster than just about anything else is getting caught in the rain.

I wish I were kidding.

I break out in a cold sweat just thinking about that awful feeling of wet clothes smacking against my skin and water oozing into my shoes. I’ve been compared to a cat before, and when I’m caught in a downpour, even I have to acknowledge the truth in that analogy.

So imagine my frustration (frustration? Try fury) this morning when the skies opened up above me on my way to work. I had another six blocks to go, and was pretty much soaked through within two. My hair (which I actually took the time to style this morning) hung in the proverbial ‘ragged tendrils’ around my face, and my clothes were plastered to my skin. Where was my umbrella, you ask? Ah. Pardon my cynicism when I say it is true that no good deed goes unpunished. In an altruistic moment this weekend (it’s so easy to be kind on a free Saturday morning), I loaned it out to my sister. Who happens to be, as I remembered all too clearly this morning while I turned our little apartment upside down in my frantic attempts to find my umbrella, a perennial umbrella loser.

Although in this case the umbrella isn’t lost. She knows exactly where it is–as do I (now): it’s in Maryland.

And the lesson of this little anecdote? I’m still shivering in my damp clothes in my little office as I write this, and the sun is coming out–I saw it through my boss’s office windows when I stopped in for a brief meeting just now. I’m sure I’ll be laughing about this later. But for now the only lesson I can really say I’ve come away with is: hide your umbrella in your sock drawer, and if anyone asks you to borrow it…bite her. (Or him.)

The end.

Gated Communities

You know how some memories really linger with you…sometimes for years? And, in my case at least, it’s usually not life’s big moments, but the really quiet (and frankly forgettable) incidents that stick with me. 

I have this one vivid, somewhat uncomfortable memory of a late evening in early spring during my sophomore year of college. I was feeling particularly gloomy and self-pitying that evening, and terribly alone. (My whole life, all my worst moments of self-pity have been brought on by that awful sense of being alone.) Since the weather was particularly lovely that evening, I took my books to a bench outside, near enough to the student center that I could watch people come and go, but far enough away that I wouldn’t be dragged into conversation and distracted from my studies.  But I was distracted from my studies. I was distracted by my own self-pity and loneliness, mostly, and by the noise of my peers coming and going from the student center, talking and laughing and taking in the beautiful evening. I remember watching them all together and wondering what makes for belonging.

I guess I’m thinking about this memory in particular today because I found myself wondering the same thing yesterday. I attended a baptism at St. Mary’s in Old Town Alexandria, and as I sat alone in my pew and watched my acquaintances mingle and smile and clearly enjoy being together before the ceremony began, I wondered what makes people belong, and I think by this I mean, what makes people belong with other people. Some people settle into all their relationships with such delightful ease. For myself, I’ve always found new relationships a bit like new braces or glasses: really, really uncomfortable, to say the least. Growing up I could fall back on the safety of my family and all the comfortable relationships in my life where I knew I really belonged. In a way, I was more willing back then to make the effort to reach out, because if it didn’t work out I had a place to return to.

But that’s not really a luxury a single twenty-something has when she’s living out on her own. It’s back to that community question: in order to have it, you have to get out there and build it, and that process involves a lot of standing awkwardly at the back of the room, trying desperately to think of something (anything!) to say to engage these virtual strangers in conversation and thus continue the painful task of building relationships with them. The process does get easier as time goes on, and I’m grateful to be at the point where I know that from experience. And as I come to find myself actually belonging (it’s always a surprise) in more and more places, I find that my role in these community-building moments is changing. I’m not always coming into new situations as the stranger who has a certain social responsibility to make herself known or risk being overlooked. Now, in many cases, I am known; now it is my responsibility to seek out the newer strangers who may be standing with their arms folded in the corner, just longing to be involved in conversation.

It really is just that: a responsibility. I always thought that if I could just get to that point where I really felt like I belonged somewhere, then I could finally rest. But this isn’t a “me-only” project. Belonging is wonderful,but those who belong can’t sit back and say, “Well this is great. I have friends and an active social life, and I’m happy.” We really need to be willing to look around and see who needs to be reached out to. If you feel comfortable in your friendships and your social sphere, remember that your job isn’t over. Keep an eye out for that newcomer sitting in the back corner. “Gated communities” aren’t true communities–don’t be afraid to expand. You never know what new and wonderful friendships God might have in store…

So I realize I need a new picture for this blog’s header. My apologies for the still-wintry image. I’m on the lookout for something appropriate. (Something to tide us over until my artist sister finishes the semester and has some time to help me give the blog its own unique look. Are you excited? I know I am…)

On edge…

Maybe it’s the spring, or the impending “upheavals” in my comfortable existence (sister’s wedding, a move, new roommates), or an intricate combination of everything, but I’m incredibly restless. And with restlessness always comes a certain level of edginess. I’m tempermental, whiny, and even a little blue. More than anything else, I’m driving myself crazy. I keep checking my email, checking my phone, surfing the internet for nothing in particular, and asking myself the whole time, “What the heck am I doing?”

I guess I’m just seeking rest. Welcome to the information age, where everything you need can be found in moments through a simple internet search.

Everything, that is, except the most important things. For instance, I may find a house through my online searches, but will I find a home? (The most persistent trial of the single young adult: homelessness. I’ll probably devote a whole post to this later.) Still, this restlessness may motivate me to get some things done. Like actually forking out the money for a summer wardrobe. Every year I talk about it, and every year I end up “making do” with the clothes I’ve had for years (most of them not *quite* professional) because I’m not willing to spend the money. So hey. To every cloud there’s a silver lining.

And now … work.

Love Languages

I had an interesting conversation with my sister this weekend about “quality time.” It’s good for me to be reminded now and then (okay, more often than that) that other people do not necessarily think or feel the way I do about things. My sister told me that quality time, while nice, isn’t really something she needs all that much of in her relationships with others. She can see her closest friends only once or twice a year and still consider them her best friends for life. That surprised me, because–as I so often do–I have always assumed everyone feels the same way I do about spending time with those they love: the more of it, the better.

I think I take this need for time spent together to an unhealthy extreme at times. I start to rate my relationships with people based on how much I’ve seen of them in the past week, month, or year. If I haven’t seen you in two years or more, chances are I consider you (and our friendship) a lovely thing of the past. One year is beginning to push the limits. And if I only see you once every few months, especially if you live close enough to me that we could run into one another more often than that, I’ll eventually cease to consider you a close friend, even if I still enjoy the relationship as one of more “casual” friendship. I don’t necessarily do this consciously, but since I rate not only how much I love, but how much I am loved in terms of how much time I’m able to spend with someone, I just can’t take a relationship seriously when I never see that someone.

It’s particularly challenging as a single professional to make that time for others, though. Work and other commitments can crowd out a lot of flexibility for spending time with friends, especially when their schedules don’t align with yours. It makes for a lot of frustrating weekends spent at home, wondering why the phone only rings when I’m at work, or just heading out for that volunteer thing I promised to do at church…

It also means I’m probably a pretty annoying person to have as a friend. My apologies to all for my neediness.

Still, it’s good to take a close look at your particular “love language,” to figure out what you need in your relationships with other people, and how you are able to give best of yourself. I’ve also found it helpful in dealing with my own frustration and hurt in my friendships and even in my family. (If I’m feeling “unloved” in a given relationship, chances are I’m dealing with a person who doesn’t view quality time as terribly important. And I’ve probably caused plenty of hurt feelings myself, since giving gifts or speaking words of affirmation are two things I tend to forget, though plenty of people need to receive love in those ways.)

This post is a bit discombobulated–sorry about that. I was fascinated by this conversation and thought I would share, and since it’s a work morning, I don’t really have time to organize my thoughts more clearly. Good luck reading…