Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Courage and Dragon-Slaying

But Adam said, "Why don't you talk to my brother? Charles will be going. He'll be good at it, much better than I am."

"Charles won't be going," Cyrus said. "There'd be no point in it."

"But he'd be a better soldier."

"Only outside on his skin," said Cyrus. "Not inside. Charles is not afraid so he could never learn anything about courage. He does not know anything outside himself so he could never gain the things I've tried to explain to you."

-John Steinbeck, East of Eden.


Looking at my life now, I see a vastly different existence from anything I pictured. Of course. This is nothing new, nothing I haven't articulated before. Gardening on a farm in rural Oregon, married to a surgical resident, staying home with an incredibly busy and interactive little boy, feeling a little girl grow and wiggle inside of me. There is not a glimpse anywhere of the person I once wanted to be; no place for ambition or career or recognition. Not now, not anywhere on the horizon. There will be years and years of this, of tending the garden and making gallons of tomato sauce to can, of reading the same books over and over, of teaching little hands to measure and stir and wipe up messes, of splashy bathtime and sighs of relief when it's finally time to sit and be still. Years and years of loving this little one, and those who will be his siblings.

I come back to this idea over and over because this is the biggest, deepest struggle of my life. I do not want to serve. I do not want to die to myself, to put down this cup of coffee for the tenth time and play with Legos or puzzles or trains. Consistently, daily, I fight this fight. And though I know it is not unique to my own experience, this culture and the pretty picture-lives of social media sure make it seem like I'm the only mother who's struggling to mother selflessly, as though I'm the only one who's fighting myself still, the only one left on the other side who doesn't just love this job every single day.

It isn't this job that is the problem, of course. There is truly nothing I'd rather do; I've never been the sort of person who's always wanted to work at one special job, and it suits my personality to stay home to cook and read and play. It would wrench my heart to take Jude to daycare every day. I'm so thankful--beyond thankful--to be home. It's not the job itself that makes my sinful dragons roar: it's the constancy, the complete and utter lack of space for me, for what I want to do.

Doing this life, this residency-wife-and-mother life means many, many things, but it means mostly that I'm utterly aware that there are much bigger things than my wants, or my needs. My life is not my own these days. I'm responsible for maintaining a home in the absence of my hard-working husband, for doing many tasks single-handedly that are shared in most households. There's not much room in this life for books to read, for long, hot showers, or hours to wander around Target just because. There's not much fresh air for the Millie that I thought I would be at this point in my life, the one I think I should be.

And, in light of that, I'm finally realizing that that seems to be exactly the point. All my life, I've been aiming at this person, idea of my future self. And that person is certainly not this person, the one writing this. This unsightly person is unshowered, still in yoga pants (because those $*@$%!! maternity pants make me mutter things Jude shouldn't hear), with dirty dishes in the sink and toys on the floor. I'm not really sure of the last time I mopped the kitchen floor, or put the laundry away the same day I washed it. Andrew's working late, so I'm planning to make blueberry waffles for supper. This person cannot possibly be doing it right, be a good mother, a good wife. She cannot possibly be doing what she's supposed to do, cannot be living up to her potential.

Can she?

Ah. Here, reader, is the daily struggle.

I have a college degree that came with high honors, awards from my academic department. I am, technically speaking, a published poet. I was voted "most likely to succeed" by my high school graduating class. And, as I hold those things in one hand, I look into the other hand, this hand that is so full of this life, this mess, and I cannot see how the two are compatible. Should I be ashamed of who I am becoming?

No. Whoever that person was, that person who raced after admiration and honor, that person who wanted nothing more than to write well that others might praise her words, that person is now being slowly drowned in a sink of dirty dishwater. That person, I'm slowly seeing, is not me, not anyone that I will ever be. But it is, I'm realizing, who I think that I still want to be. My selfish, sinful heart yells this to me every day, almost every moment of every day. And so I have this same conversation, this same struggle, every day, every moment of the day.

Because, reader, I know, beyond any doubt, that this life I live is a life that was given to me. God molded it for me, continues to fashion it for me, and gives me no choice but to walk in the way He sets before me. And, looking at this life, I realize that nothing will change, not for a long time. Andrew will work long, hard hours for many years. Jude will be Jude, and our little girl will grow, be born, and she, and other children, will add yet more busyness and stress and responsibilities to my life. There will always be meals to cook and clothes to wash, for I am responsible for feeding and clothing. My circumstances are what they are, for many, many years. As they should be.

The only thing that is changeable in this entire situation is me.

I am the only malleable factor here, the only thing that is capable of changing, adjusting, bending, becoming. And as long as I continue to cling to an idea of who I think I should be (or worse, who I think that others think I should be), I won't bend. I'll break, and important things and relationships will break with me. And that, reader, is not an option. So, I must bend, must be unmade to be remade.

Like Adam Trask in Steinbeck's East of Eden,  I may learn courage, because I am so very afraid. My fear is a fear of losing myself. What if I utterly change, become someone new? What will become of my old self? What if I look like a doormat, a '50s housewife, someone without a brain or personality or ambition or ideas? How despicable, unrecognizable! This terrifies me. I don't want to suffocate.

Reader! This, this is the beautiful question! What if I do utterly die? Then, I will have finally been given what is best: I will, I pray, look like Jesus instead of a distorted, twisted version of myself. The Millie who looks even a tiny bit more like Jesus after years of this death is truly who I'd rather be, the mother and wife I'd rather have my family see and know, even if I am unrecognizable from my former self. And I should be unrecognizable, shouldn't I? A new creation. The former things have passed away. Behold, I am making all things new!

God is in the business of making all things new, for in this newness, this Jesus-reflecting, I will be who I should be, even if that means living a life and being someone I never thought I would be. Even if certain gifts for a certain season, like my desire to write, are for a past season, and never for my future self -- gulp -- then, all will still be well. If all things that used to be my own are gone in five years, all will still be well, for God is the one stripping them away. Like Eustace, I'm wincing in anticipation of the claws of the Lion who peels away the deep dragon-flesh. All will be well. Better than well...

... And just like that, I'm tested, pushed, bent: Jude is up unusually early from his nap, asking for a snack and a playmate. And the dragon is clawing, roaring, spitting fire. Just give me five more minutes! Let me breathe!

But no. The Spirit tugs my conscious-strings, speaks truth; this is exactly what I'm called to, more than this writing and thinking and sharing -- and I'm up and off, reader, to attend my own funeral. Smell my burning, hear my roaring, pray for my selfish heart, and praise the Father who loves us too much to leave us in our own filth and sin and stench. May I be beautiful, as He is beautiful.