GUEST POST: Take the plunge

This guest post hit me like a ton of bricks. As I’ve written multiple times, dear readers, I (Mabel) am a pretty big coward. I’m afraid of so many things — barking dogs, sudden noises, hospitals, theme parks, confrontation of any sort, saying something stupid, broken bones, and many, many other things I won’t go into here. I’m grateful for Andrea’s candid look at her own fear, and her encouragement for all of us to stop letting fear get the better of us. Life requires courage. It isn’t by any measure “safe,” and it’s not really supposed to be. That’s part of the adventure. 

 Andrea Scott

I never have been one to be fearful.

If you would have told me, or many of my friends for that matter, that I was living in fear I would have laughed. “I’ve held babies with active tuberculosis in Haiti,” I’d say. “I’ve worked with the underground Church in China. I nearly got attacked by a man with chopsticks while sleeping in the Vienna train station.” Fearful? Not me.

A recent move from Chicago to Washington D.C. showed me how fearful I had become, however. I had settled into a comfort zone—and quite honestly an awful rut—at home, needed to shake complacency, and wanted to try something new. But I knew I had to face every fear and insecurity I had in order to make a change, and I had no desire to do that.

In June, right before I decided to move, I went to Hawaii with my soon-to-be-leaving-for-pilot-training brother. We spent five glorious days on Maui and then six days on Oahu. While on Oahu’s North Shore one day, we visited the famed jump rock at Waimea Bay. Ascending 30 feet in the air at the highest point, the gargantuan rock was a playground for locals and visitors alike—crowded with intrepid daredevils diving, flipping, and belly flopping into the ocean waves below.

The thought of jumping seemed exhilarating, but also intimidating. I’m not scared of heights, but I had never plunged off a cliff. After much coaxing, I nervously climbed the jagged rocks and crawled to the top. I peered down to the waves below, overwhelmed by the enormity of the gap. The more I hesitated, my legs teetering on the edge, the more scared I was to jump.

After a few minutes, I knew I couldn’t stand there anymore—the anxiety was too much. I needed to face my fear or leave the rock. Somehow, I mustered a deep breath and convinced my toes to leave the safety of a solid foothold. I breathlessly glided through the summer air and surged into the invigorating sea.

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That’s how my life was. The more I waited to take the plunge—to make a change I knew I could and should make, even if it was uncomfortable—the greater fear and anxiety grew. The longer I waited, the higher the jump looked and the more content I was to descend off the rock and not take any risk.

When I chose to jump, however, I chose to experience one of the most fully-alive, extraordinary moments of my life.  

I cannot lie—I miss the Midwest and the most beautiful city in the world (objectively Chicago, obviously). But every day I start to fall more in the love with what I have been given in D.C. And every day I realize another reason why I am here; I’m so grateful I will not have to live with a “what if.” A wise former colleague of mine reminded me of the familiar notion that I seemed to have forgotten: often we regret the things we don’t do, not the things we chose to do.

Matthew Kelly wrote in his book, The Rhythm of Life:  

“The measure of your life will be the measure of your courage. Courage animates us, brings us to life, and makes everything else possible. Fear stops more people from doing something with their lives than lack of ability, contacts, resources, or any other single variable. Fear paralyzes the human spirit. Life takes courage.”

No matter if you are at a turning point or merely the daily juncture of everyday life—it’s time to step out into the deep, whether that means moving halfway across the country or simply saying hello to the homeless man you pass each morning. There are moments in each and every day offering you the opportunity to take heart and choose to be courageous. There are opportunities to step outside of a settled-in comfort zone and live consciously, with passion and purpose. Retreating simply out of fear does not give us the opportunity to live an abundant life.

Choose courage. The measure of your life depends on it.

Andrea Scott is a writer and editor who works in DC. Follow her on Twitter at @andreajeanscott 

 

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Sucker punch

A week and a half ago, I heard a really nasty, second-hand description of myself.

Dear readers, a word of advice: if anyone ever says to you, “So I was talking to someone the other day and you came up,” don’t lean forward expecting to hear something pleasant. You may be in for a nasty shock.

I can’t remember what was said word for word, but apparently the final analysis boiled down to this: they agreed that “‘Mabel’ would be pleasant enough, if she’d just get contacts and smile more.”

Even now, ten days later and a few emotions removed, I have no idea how to respond to that statement. I think my friend told me about it by way of offering constructive criticism, and I’m grateful for the intention. Something about me needing to be more approachable or something, but the bulk of the message got lost in the weeds of delivery. It may not come across that way, but I’m a sensitive person, so this statement hurt. It hurt a lot. I’m not going to lie, I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut.

I don’t know who said those things about me, and I don’t care to know. The point is that someone who runs in my circle of acquaintances has passed some pretty harsh judgments on me based on little more than my appearance. Apparently my choosing to wear glasses instead of contact lenses–a) I think they look good on me, and b) contacts hurt after about three hours–and not having a naturally cheerful face make me not even worth attempting to get to know. On two pretty shallow points, I’ve been sized up and found wanting.

It’s damaging enough to your vanity to discover that people who care about you have found fault with you in some area. But to learn that a near stranger is passing judgment on you from afar because you don’t look quite right? Because apparently there’s some ideal standard and you just don’t measure up? “Ouch” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Maybe I should lose ten pounds and come up with a better acne cream, while we’re on the subject.

Then earlier this week I was introduced to a new colleague. I sized him up in one quick glance: unironed shirt, unwashed pants, thick glasses, funny voice, uses nasty language. And I immediately filed him under “he stays in his corner, I stay in mine,” and moved on. It wasn’t until later in the day I even realized I’d done it. I have no idea what his past looks like, what his talents are, where he comes from, or where he wants to go. I don’t know anything about his family or his education or his interests or his favorite foods. I only know what I saw in a 10-second introduction, and I passed a harsh judgment on him, and it was wrong of me. Worse than that, considering I’m still nursing my own little wound, it was hypocritical.

That got me thinking: How many times in a day or a week or a month do I mentally put someone aside as not worth my time? How often do I take in the externals and decide, whether consciously or unconsciously, that I don’t care to dive deeper and learn who this person is? Worse, how often do I create an entire persona for them inside myself based on what little I know, and then pass judgment on that image as if it were the real person?

I’m ashamed to say that I do it almost daily, on some level. I may defend it by referring to my personal “boundaries” and silly rules about how many relationships one person can naturally handle. I may tell myself “it’s obvious” this person is a certain way because of specific traits or mannerisms. But there’s no real excuse. I am a raving hypocrite. I cheerfully judge people I barely know because they don’t have the right “look,” or because they aren’t approachable, or because they seem too full of it. But when someone else looks at me and sees the same unattractive qualities, I curl up in a ball and whine that it’s not fair, because there’s more to me than my glasses and my facial expression.

Clearly it’s time for a serious gut check. You can all stand in witness: I’m going to start checking my reactions when I meet new people, in any situation. Am I really giving them the time of day, or am I mentally logging them away in the “not worth my time” file for some stupid, shallow reason?

http://Baby Pics

For the record, I’m going to keep wearing my glasses, and I’m going to hope and assume that if marriage is my true calling, the man who can love me will also love my spectacles. And while I have no problem smiling when I’m in conversation or there’s something legitimate to smile about, I’m afraid there’s not a whole lot I can do about the physiological structure of my face. Sorry, God made me this way, and my natural expression is somewhat somber. So to my nameless judge, I can only say: you sound like a jerk.* But I’m not going to judge you yet, because I don’t know who you are — and you’ve actually done me a service. So I forgive you, and I even thank you. You’ve forced me to see the uncomfortable truth in that Gospel line: “Stop judging, and you will not be judged.”

— Mabel

 

*In all fairness if, as I suspect, you are among my male acquaintances from the broader church community in the DC area, I may have been rude to you or curt with you, because that tends to be my “default” position when I don’t want to give someone the wrong impression. It’s not right, and if I have been rude, I apologize. In that sense, I will work on “smiling” more. But if you like your women without glasses — well, find a chick who doesn’t wear them.

Social Media: Not Always the Best Option

I am in the middle of a Facebook hiatus. It’s mostly self-imposed, I admit, but there were others present when I made the challenge, so I’m telling myself they put me up to it (if for no other reason than accountability).

Yesterday I needed some information that I knew was in a Facebook message from last week, so *gasp* I had to log on briefly, find the message, resist all urges and use tremendous willpower NOT to click on my notifications, get the information I needed, and then log off. Easy Peasy.

Well……yeah. Except for the fact that I saw plain as day that in the 4 days I’ve been off, I had 9 notifications. 9. NINE. I had a minor interior meltdown when I saw that, and my first thought was “DOES NOBODY EVEN MISS ME??” I normally get at least 10 notifications per day, so why this dreadful lack of love? (Don’t worry, I slapped myself upside the head for thinking that – I know that my self-worth is not based on my Facebook relationships.)

Catharsis!

I have a disordered view of friendships, based on social media. Facebook has made having “friends” so easy! Add someone to your friends list, and then read what they have to write. Occasionally “like” or comment on photos and posts, sometimes write on their wall, and maybe even sometimes send them a message. It’s great for keeping in touch with the meaningful friendships that already exist, but for those mere acquaintances, It’s easy to tell yourself you’re great friends (because Facebook says so).

We’ve all said it at least once: “It’s not legit until it’s on Facebook!” What started as a joke has, sadly, become reality. Engagements, relationships, marriages, babies, etc. All are supposed to be posted to Facebook according to societal norms, and we are even almost indignant when someone tells you “Oh, I’m not on Facebook.” Or when they never change their relationship status even though they’ve been dating or married for years.

And then, for those who are as transparent on Facebook as I am, they even get upset and feel genuinely disappointed when their page gets minimal activity despite their absence. I admit it wholeheartedly; I’m much more popular online. Online I am witty and humorous; I can post only the photos I like and crop out parts I don’t like or even discard photos that don’t make me look like a hottie-batottie. I have hundreds of friends, and I post awesome stuff (don’t deny it). I can hide that I’m currently on a “nursing break” and am working in a coffee shop. I love the coffee shop, though! I just don’t necessarily like blasting that nursing and I have had a minor falling out (we’re reconciling though, so more details later). In real life when people ask what I do for a living, to say anything other than what I really do is called LYING, and is generally frowned upon.

In real life I can’t crop out the parts of me I don’t like – not instantly, anyway. I can work on them, but it takes time and practice and dedication and work (lots and lots of work). I talk to too much, I enjoy playing with my hair more than I should, I’m constantly second-guessing myself and the compliments people pay me, and I care far too much about what others think or say about me than is healthy. So yeah, sometimes I like online Virginia better. Which is silly, because who wants to live a life with only online relationships? I need physical connections, I need real relationships, and I need more face to face or even phone conversations. When someone is so available on Facebook, it’s easy to take communication for granted. All the conversations I have are over a social media site, and as soon as I’m off, I get disappointed by the lack of communication in my life. I have been texted by 4 people this week, whereas on Facebook I’d have had numerous conversations.

So where’s the disconnect in all this? Sooner or later this was bound to happen: I needed to find the disconnect and somehow reunite it or at least reconcile it. And since retreating online completely is a terrible idea, the only way to do that is to get offline and make the real-life Virginia better. I need to work on my real-life friendships. That’s not to say that I’m getting off Facebook entirely, but I just need to become less involved with my relationship with Facebook.

We’re “taking a break.”

That being said, I love phone calls and I love texting. Heck, I even love emails.

–Virginia

(Also, I have my settings such that this posts automatically to Facebook, so when my friends come back with “YOU WERE ON FACEBOOK! You posted your blog. I WIN!” I can say “You didn’t actually read my post then, did you?” I consider this a win-win.)

A hot mess

At the risk of sounding negative and petulant and all the things I’ve been trying to avoid on this blog for the past three years, I’m going to admit something: This year has not been an easy one for me.

I always thought growing up meant getting to know yourself and settling into a life-long sort of routine, not just in outside things like when you wake up in the morning and where you buy your gas, but internally. I thought I’d reach a point in my late twenties or early thirties when everything about me just clicked and settled into place, and I could get comfortable with who I am and what I think and want and sort of “cruise” through anything life might throw at me.

Okay, so I never “thought” this in so many words, but I definitely carried the idea around with me in my subconscious, and I sort of staked a lot of my plans on it.

I’ll get serious about pursuing my vocation when I’m finally grown up, I thought.

I’ll be more comfortable in my own skin and have an easier time facing things like confrontation, leadership, suffering, and (gulp) relationships when I’m finally grown up. 

I’ll be worthy, when I’m finally grown up. 

I’ve always known life and outside circumstances can throw all sorts of curveballs our way, but I thought as long as I could maintain a good grip on myself, everything else would be okay. It never occurred to me that I might be my own biggest curveball.

Not until I found myself sitting on my bed in the dark one Friday night this past spring, surrounded by a pile of clothes I’d tried on and decided against, dreading the prospect of smiling and chatting my way through yet another crowded house party. Five years ago I would have killed to have the social life I have now. On this particular night, I would’ve sold my right arm for the promise of a few hours’ peace and solitude. But we were the hosts, and already I heard guests arriving downstairs. And I lost it. I sat up there for at least half an hour, sobbing over everything and getting angry with myself for losing it and completely unable to figure out why I couldn’t just get it together and drag my butt downstairs and have a good time. I finally had to sneak out of the house for an hour, and showed up late to my own party, with a brave enough face that I didn’t frighten off too many of the guests. But my own inability to control my reaction that evening really scared me.

Apparently, no matter how hard we try, we never have complete control over ourselves. Sickness, physical incapacity, emotional disturbances, mental unrest all just happen, and they force us to see ourselves as we really are, not as we’d like to be. I have discovered this year that no matter how hard I try to build fences and construct barriers and make my own personal corner of the universe safe and pleasant and full of nice people and things that make me comfortable, I can’t change the fact that I am not and never will be perfect.

The worst part? Apparently I’m the only one who’s been fooled into thinking I might be, or at least I might be close.

As I wrote recently, it’s been a humbling year. It’s been a year of learning how to ask for help, or at the very least to admit that I need it. It’s been a year of letting people see me cry. It’s been a year of taking criticism and critique as an opportunity to become better, instead of letting it cripple me. It’s been a year of letting myself  voice an opinion or a desire or a need without apologizing for it. It’s been a year of going on dates even though I tend to find them uncomfortable. It’s been a year of asking family and friends for prayers on the really tough days.

I’m not there yet, but I want to look back later in life and see this as the year that I finally learned, as St. Paul says, to “boast in my weakness.” I don’t know where I’m going or what my Vocation will look like, but I do know that I will be a weak, sinful, redeemed woman, in every circumstance. I’d like this year to be the turning point in a life that bears fruit because I’ve finally, finally begun to understand that I’m a hot mess.

Yet somehow, I’m still worthy of love in spite of it.

-Mabel

September’s theme

Summer’s not quite over yet, but September has officially arrived. My morning run took me past the school kids waiting for the bus this morning, with smiling parents snapping pictures of the first day back — maybe for some the first day ever.

I’m always a teensy bit envious of students at this time of year. I know, I know, the stress of being a student can be killer, but nothing beats the smell of new notebooks, new pencils, new pens, and the feeling of “I can do this” that comes with new syllabi, new teachers, and new course loads.

vintage-school-advertisingThen again, I might be sentimentalizing the memories. Maybe just a little…

As for this blog, we thought a good September theme would be “turning points” — in particular, we’re interested in the idea of starting over, whether it be in a new school year, a new job, a new diet and exercise routine, or just a new outlook on life. Since both “Virginia” and I have been going through quite a lot of “turning points” in our own lives this year, we wanted to reflect on that, and maybe hear your reflections as well.

Please help us spread the word about guest posts! LifeInTheGap isn’t a huge blog, but we have a decent number of followers and are always happy to help spread the word about other blogs and writers by posting their good content and sharing it with our readers. We welcome thoughtful guest posts, whether on the current month’s theme or on anything related to being a single young adult balancing faith and life in the world.

If you haven’t done so already, please “like” us on Facebook (we’ve even included one of those nifty buttons right on this page) and follow the bloggers on Twitter — @Miss_Ladybug87 and @mb_baker.

Here’s wishing all of you the best as you embark on a new month, a new school year, and whatever “turning points” you might be facing right now.

-Mabel

*Got the cute vintage image from here.