Thoughts on the road out of Jericho

I don’t have writer’s block. What I have is almost worse: a long list of posts I should write, and I just don’t want to. Can men and women be “just friends”? That post has been hanging out as an unkept promise for a good year at this point, and every time I sit down to start it, I get fidgety and cranky and have to erase and start a post on something else. I’ve also been meaning to write a bit on vulnerability. But since the very process of publicizing a post on that topic involves being somewhat vulnerable myself, I’ve been bypassing that topic with a backward wave for months. Also on the list: a post on budgeting. I’d love to write this one, actually, but I feel I’d better start keeping a pretty careful budget myself, before I talk about what a great idea it is.

(Okay. Maybe now I’ve let you all see some of these topics, I’ll feel forced to getting around to them eventually.)

The Number 1 topic on my avoidance list since the inception of this blog, though, has been Discernment. Not vocation, which is ostensibly what you end up with at the end of the process of discernment, and not simple joyful acceptance of life in the now before vocation (which is what this blog is all about), but the active, aching, confusing, at times terrifying journey that is discernment. I don’t want to write about it now, either, but I’ve been praying about what topic I should look at next on this blog, and he just keeps throwing this one at me.

Because I don’t really know what I’m talking about, I’ll keep it very simple–I’ll let the Bible do most of the talking for me. We read one of my favorite Gospel passages on Sunday: the story of blind Bartimaeus and his healing on the road leading out of Jericho. In the past I’ve always found myself reflecting on the blind man’s admission of his own need and want. I’m still blown away by his courage in calling after Jesus, despite the people around him telling him to knock it off. As I’ve written before, it takes courage to ask for the things we need, because it involves admitting to ourselves and to others that we aren’t self-sufficient.

Reading the passage this time, though, something else resonated with me. Jesus at last hears the blind man, and the people say to poor Bartimaeus, “Take courage, get up. Jesus is calling you.”

Take courage.

Get up.

Jesus is calling you.

I realize we’re all in different places in our personal discernment processes. It’s a journey each of us makes alone, regardless of who may join us along the way. I’ve left this topic alone very much for that reason. Beyond that, I have to admit to some bitterness about the whole “vocation thing.” After years and years of discerning, praying, and waiting, sometimes I wonder if maybe I’m not called to anything in particular after all. Maybe the grand high purpose of the Christian life really is only for those exceptional people I see around me every day, people God has already called to the priesthood, to the convent, to beautiful, fruitful marriages. Maybe he did his best with me, and I’ve simply failed. I won’t walk you any deeper into the darker musings I sometimes fall into–suffice it to say, in recent years I have left the topic of discernment very much alone because I’m sick and tired of it.

So those words on Sunday morning went off in my head like a cannon. “Jesus is calling you.”

There’s no equivocation in that passage, no second guessing, not even necessarily in this moment a particular something he’s calling me (or you) to or for. So I’m still in the dark about what my main life’s work might end up being and the ultimate vocational setting in which I’ll end up doing it, but I can rest assured that I am called.

The daily process of discernment rests in that trust. Whoever you are, whatever your circumstances, the Master has need of you. He’s calling you. Discernment, then, means shutting up and listening. Moreover, it means getting up and going to him. For those of us still in the waiting period, that means making time for him every day. We tend to think of discernment as this grand grappling with God, like Jacob wrestling the angel. Of course, discernment can and probably will have that aspect, especially in the beginning while we’re still bringing our wills into line with his. We don’t just leave it there, though. Beyond that point, discernment should be a daily, quiet, habitual process of growing close to Christ now so that, when at last he’s ready to set us on the road, we’re already there, itching to go, confident that he loves us.

Take courage.  Get up, Jesus is calling you.

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Need a camera.

Dear Readers,

I’d like to take this blog to the next level with good pictures to accompany posts. I like my visuals same as anybody–but I’m limited to the abilities of an iPhone camera. Any suggestions on where I could find a good quality camera…without having to sell my firstborn child? I’m as green as green gets, so open to any and all advice.

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Your Imageless Blogger

For the record, I do like my new job

We human beings are an active bunch, and we tend to define ourselves by the things we do. Isn’t that the first question/answer exchange that goes on between strangers? Name, occupation. Check, check. In fact, I find I’m a little put off when people don’t ask me what I do on first meeting. “What?” I huff to myself, “do they not care to know who I am and what I’m about?” People who don’t like their jobs may hedge on the occupation self-descriptor and tell you instead about the things they like to do, but it boils down to the same thing: regardless of how much we argue that a person’s value lies in his very being above all else, we feel more worthwhile ourselves when we can do things, and do them well.

I say this because changing jobs has thrown my happy, smug, satisfied self-definition of the past several years into a terrifying tailspin.

Some afternoons I stop in the middle of my work and close my eyes and try to remember that confident, capable person I’m pretty sure I was only two months ago. Did she actually exist? As I bumble from one idiotic mistake to another, feeling my way through daily encounters with fellow employees, with writers, with the fascinating individuals who make it their daily task to call newspapers and tell whoever they manage to reach about the impending doom of the whole world…I sometimes wonder if I really even know who I am anymore.

Only today did it hit me I never really did know. Who does? I just got comfortable in one safe corner, I got good at one particular function, and I let that take over my entire perception of myself.

I think sometimes, especially as single people, we allow what we do (whether that be our actual 9 – 5 job, our coursework, our ballroom dancing hobby, rec league softball team, on-the-side music gigs, dance classes, even our social lives if we’re especially outgoing, or our ministry) to determine our value – or even, whether or not we have value. Sure, mom thinks I’m great no matter what I do, or don’t do. But mothers are special cases.

We need to know we’re worthy. We ‘re constantly trying to live up to our own self-love, and to be worthy of love from others. So often we grasp at what we do well, and how well we do it as our best measure of how good we are as persons.

Striving after your personal best is all well and good, of course. It builds character, develops virtue, makes us stronger. Still, that striving has to start from the right base point.  Do I push myself to do better because I want to prove to myself that I am, in fact, good? Or do I allow myself to rest in the knowledge that I have been created good, and then strive to do well to give further glory to God in his work of creation? In other words, being always comes first, and we don’t get any credit for that. Doing comes second. (Or, in philosophical terms, agere sequitur esse: to act follows to be.) In fact, we couldn’t “do” if God hadn’t brought us into being in the first place, and if he didn’t keep us there every nano-second. I guess recognizing this is ultimately what humility is all about.

I’ll be reciting this to myself over and over in the coming weeks and even months, every time I feel the tears coming on because I’ve just received another “Just So You Know…” memo and I feel like I can’t do anything right and therefore I must actually be a pathetic, stupid, useless slob. I’m fallen and flawed and I’m going to mess up at everything I do for the rest of my life. But I’m also fearfully, wonderfully made…and I can do all things, through Christ who strengthens me.

Thankfully, on those days when my pride is still too much for me, there’s always red wine. And chocolate.

 

Catholic social guilt

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

So I’m looking at my weekend calendar and seeing back to back to back events and I’m getting this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach because I’ve once again given away every free minute I had and I don’t know when I’ll get any time to myself to get things done and just recuperate before another Monday. What, that sounds like your weekend, too? Funny. How’d you get into this mess?

Wait, don’t tell me: you felt bad.

You felt bad for always telling friends you’ll get together and then not doing it. You felt bad for the family you never get to see and probably even thought, “I’m such a bad daughter/son/sister/brother/niece/nephew/grandchild….” You felt bad the way you always feel bad because there’s a world full of people out there you’re supposed to love somehow, but no matter how much time you give away, there’s never enough of it — or you — to go around.

In short, you’ve piled your social plate far too full for yet another weekend because you feel … guilty. Of course, you also did it because you genuinely want to see everyone you love. You genuinely want to do everything you’ve agreed to do, and you only wish you could be in three, four, five places at once to accomplish even MORE. But the one thing that keeps you from bowing out at the last minute as your stomach sinks when you look at the clock and realize you’re already late, and you’d really rather just curl up on the couch and order takeout and watch old movies, is that awful feeling of guilt. It’s something I like to call Catholic social guilt.

My friends, you deserve better than this. I for one don’t want all my friends to feel guilted into seeing me or coming to my parties. Granted, I’ll shamelessly guilt friends into reading this blog or volunteering with my parish group at the local soup kitchen (October 27, 8:00 a.m., St. Rita’s. Be there.), but your free time ought to be a gift freely given. You don’t owe it to me. Some weekends you just need to wear fuzzy socks and sweats and have solo Downton Abbey marathons. Sure, we’re single and have no spousal/parental obligations making demands on our time, but we work, we volunteer, we take classes, we’re busy and we’re tired and it’s perfectly all right to scream, “Uncle!!!” and run inside and pull down the shades once in a while.

If you do this every weekend? Okay, it’s probably time to feel a little guilty. But otherwise, cut yourself some slack. In all seriousness, human beings simply can’t have that many close personal relationships. We’re not built that way. (It’s not just me: it’s science.) So focus your energy on the people you’re actually closest to, the people with the strongest claims on your time and attention, the people who maybe have a right to guilt you out of some of your free time sometimes. (Think: Grandma.) Everyone else? Rejoice in their company when you can and don’t sweat it when you can’t, or when your weekend planner is so full you’ve started writing in tiny letters in the margins to get it all in.

For myself, I’m going to have to do some schedule purging this weekend. That means reneging on some things I agreed to. I feel guilty about it, and I will continue to feel guilty about it, but there’s no other way around it. Social life imposes some obligations, it’s true, but sometimes we have to look at the hierarchy of obligations. God, family, church, friends…and self is in there, too. Take some leisure time. Call a time out. Breathe. And don’t apologize for it.

Here’s my pledge to myself and to you: Starting today, I’m renouncing Catholic social guilt. I will no longer start every email with, “Sorry this took so long,” will send no more apologetic text messages to friends I keep glimpsing at Mass but can’t ever manage to say hello to, will not leave penitent notes on people’s Facebook walls because I haven’t gotten together with them in a month and don’t see any free blocks in my schedule any time soon. No, friends, starting today I’m just going to do what I can, love where I am, and leave you all in God’s hands. Because try as I might and much as I want, I just can’t love everybody all the time exactly the way they need to be loved. And no one else  can love me that way, either. We’re not built that way, and that’s okay.

Please do know that in my heart, I’m hanging out with each of you, all the time.

If that sounds creepy, I’m sorry.

TMIphone

I succumbed.

For years I took pride in using the cheapest of cheap phones, and using them until they were literally falling to pieces. But on Day 1 of my new job, my supervisor asked me, “So what’s your Smart Phone situation?”

I stared at her. Blinked. Stammered, “Uh…well…it’s a…I have a ‘dumb’ phone, actually.”

I couldn’t quite bring myself to admit to her that it was three years old, that the battery had this embarrassing tendency to pop out, that while I could go online with it it cost me about half my monthly bill, but I did have unlimited texting. I mean, that’s something.

She just said, “Hm. You’ll want to get an iPhone or something. Think you could do that this weekend?”

So okay, I succumbed under pressure. And now I own an iPhone, and I think if I’m not careful it might ruin my life. Even in my dumb phone days, I had started sliding into that awful habit of compulsively checking my phone every fifteen minutes because you just never know when that Big Call might come in. Now? Well, now I can check for calls, texts, Facebook messages or updates, emails from work, personal emails, Twitter messages, and even comments on this blog. Oh yeah, and all the reminders I’ve set for myself lest I let even one detail of my life go for even a moment. Then of course there’s all the news I have to keep an eye on (mostly for work, but hey…it’s interesting). I can also read up on all those blogs I claim to follow, search for new shoes, pay my bills, find my way from here to there, look for recipes, and ultimately shut the whole world out because everything and everyone I could ever possibly need is here in the palm of my hand.

This leads to an interesting thought: We’ve become a generation of wizards.

No wonder every person under the age of 40 walking down the street in this city has their gaze riveted to their hand held device.

Think I’m wrong? Glance up from your cellular device, my friend, and look around you. I guarantee, you’ll notice what I just described.

Hey, I’m guilty, I know. It’s convenient to have everything at my fingertips, I won’t lie. But doesn’t that make it all the more crucial to leave the device to one side now and then and focus on the real, physical world I happen to inhabit? Fingertips were meant to encounter more than touch screens.

I stood with a friend of mine yesterday, who had her face buried in her iPhone the whole five minutes we were together; she only came up for air once to say, “Sorry, it’s so-and-so.” As if the virtual presence of so-and-so made her obliviousness to my presence somehow okay. I’m sorry, was so-and-so dying? Contemplating suicide? Was what he had to say so very important that she couldn’t glance up from the cellular device for a moment to encounter me? Could she not at the very least say, “I’m so sorry, I have to respond to this message–I’ll come find you in five minutes”? Small courtesies, but in this age of “instant” everything, too often we let ourselves think, “This’ll only take a second.”

Certainly I’ve been guilty of this, too. Who am I hurting, really, responding to this text message right now? Won’t my friends be angry with me if I don’t get back to them this minute? I’ve harped on this before, but I guess I just need to remind myself more than anything. Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing can replace spending time with people in the flesh. Real love requires real presence. And real presence requires a heart that’s really at rest. Smart phones are all very well in their way, but they feed that restlessness we all have–the desire to know everything, to be everywhere, to be involved in anything that might be going on. At least now and then, let it go. Friends, let’s recommit to being present to one another. I’m committing to it, and I want you to hold me accountable. 

Yes: I have an iPhone. Yes, I’m now technically more available than I’ve ever been before, because you can contact me via email, text, call, Facebook, Twitter, blog comment…and I have it all available in one convenient place. If you really, really need me, just try all of the above. Still, be aware that I’m going to be setting this device aside throughout the day and doing my best to encounter the Actual World around me in a full, present way. Don’t take it personally. It’s just that I think the people in front of me in the moment, whatever the moment might be, deserve my undivided attention. And when you’re that person, I’ll show you the same courtesy.

Some thoughts on networking

Every year around Homecoming time I get a sudden influx of emails from old schoolmates. None of those emails ever have anything to do with Homecoming. Instead, they contain networking questions for the schoolmates themselves or friends or relatives of said schoolmates, often with resumes attached. I’m not really sure if Homecoming has anything to do with this (I haven’t been to my school’s Homecoming in three years), but the timing just seems to coincide. Maybe this time of year puts people in mind of old schoolmates. Or maybe it’s about now, when students have packed up their belongings and returned to school, that this year’s graduates begin to hit panic mode as they still seek employment, and they start shaking the old networking tree in search of work. (Hey, I get it! I was there in September 2008, believe me.)

I want to be clear upfront: I love helping people in their job search, and I’d be more than fine with 10 emails in my inbox a day from job seekers. The more the merrier. I remember the stress of trying to find work myself, and I know that I’ve been helped by some truly amazing people in my own (relatively short) professional life. If I can help, I’m going to and I want to. Please: keep the emails coming.

But first, we need to get some basics straight.

If you’re interested in a specific job that you heard about from me or someone else, put that in the objective line of your resume. What, you don’t have an objective line? Remember the hiring manager’s perspective. If he’s trying to fill a specific job with specific needs, what is he supposed to do with a resume from a recent college graduate in Whatever Liberal Arts Studies who has zero relevant experience but won an honors award back in sophomore year? He can’t just hire you on the spot for your potential. Build a statement of intent into your resume. If you’re applying for a specific job or area, make sure you tailor your statement of intent to fit. Who are you? What do you want? Why are you a good candidate for the opening my company happens to be seeking to fill? Make sure you work that into your resume (or at the very least make it clear as day in a good cover letter) before you send it over.

Also, after a bit of experience, I feel it only fair to warn all comers up front, I’m not able to pass along resumes from people who can’t give me a clear idea of what they want to do. “Hey, I want a job because I have to pay my bills” is legitimate, but it won’t work as a job seeking tactic. Especially if you’re networking, remember that people want to help, but they also need some direction in order to know what to send your way.

So be clear and upfront about what you’re looking for. If you haven’t taken the time to sit down and decide that for yourself, I suggest you do so. If you don’t know what you want to do, come up with three things you at least wouldn’t hate doing, and go from there. Just remember, at least in an economy like ours is now, directionless work-seekers need not throw their resumes into the ring for actual jobs that other people want.

Worried that you don’t have relevant experience? Maybe you don’t. Talk to people in the profession and find out. If you’re entry level, many places will cut you some slack, but that doesn’t mean you can waltz in with a resume that says “I have no experience!” and expect hiring managers to shrug that off. Do you have relevant talents? Interests? Snippets of experience? Taking my own profession as an example, I don’t care if your only relevant editorial experience has been shaking your head at typos in your favorite books or proofing your roommates’ English papers. Put it in your resume. Talk it up. Make it sound as important as it probably is. And I do mean that, experience of any sort can be really valuable. Don’t be ashamed to be entry level, but don’t be afraid to think outside the box a bit, too, if you’re trying to get into a particular field. I mean, within reason…

Finally, please remember that you do not deserve a job. No, like anything else in this life, you earn it. Having a job is a privilege. You can’t just toss a half-hearted resume at a hiring manager or a friend of a friend in the company and then sit back and wait for the job to come to you. Do you want it? Prove that you want it, and that you deserve it. Make it apparent from your very first email to me, telling me who you are and what you want and how I can help you network or even get your resume in front of the right person.

People love to help other people get jobs or find professional advice. I can’t stress it enough, I love it when people reach out to me. But I want to be really helpful to you, and in order to do that I have to know what you want and why you’ll be great at it. For my old school friends and their networks, it’s a privilege to be able to help out in something as momentous as a job search. I truly believe in the potential, capability, and professionalism of every person I know. When I’m passing resumes along, though, I can only say so much. Once the resume leaves my hand, it’s up to you–and what you put in that resume.