Letters From Abroad – 24 JUN

Dear Family,

Can we talk about pain?

That sounds excessively dramatic, and it probably is. Maybe I should begin this the way I began every childhood letter…

Dear Family,

How are you? I am fine.

Today we trekked up to the castle, ventured out to a museum, found lunch on a cold and blustery day belonging more to March than June. Today was going to be a full, lovely Saturday, stuffed with things to be seen and experienced. Today was begun and ended and muddled in the middle with simple, ordinary pain.

How are you? I am fine, but I’d like to talk to you about pain: physical pain, specifically. And I need to be honest. Because pain tells many, many lies, and maybe putting them down on paper will make the black and white between truth and falsehood a little more clear. Because pain siphons away worth when the group trundles along the street at a faster pace than you can manage; pain taunts your inadequate muscles when the stairs are just too difficult to climb today; pain blots its dreaded inkspots into the agenda of the coming day; pain whispers of a lesser life when your mind is cloudy and your hands shake and your speech stutters in unfamiliar ways. Even those things that you once did or planned to do are not untouched, like the phantom pain of a lost limb. I know it’s something any retiree can tell you: your sleep will become a privilege, clarity of mind a rarity, and even your feet will betray you and keep you where you do not wish to be and lead you where you do not desire to go. I’ve been told that I’m in my prime of life, but pain speaks its classic lie to me as it does to any age: it says that I am not truly living, that I am experiencing less, drifting more, whittled down to joints and muscles and neurons that are all rusting too soon.

I’ve questioned myself: is it my will that is not strong enough? After all, I’m a walking antithesis of every sports t-shirt and self-help slogan: Just Do It, or some other unhelpful phrase. When do I say “I think I can!”, and when do I roll over and take a nap? When do I relinquish the backpack to someone else’s shoulders, and when do I muscle through on my own? When do I stop deciding my day based on the physical factors, and when do I start? When and how do I do both?

Today this was the part of pain that I struggled with: the lie of less. That this different sort of life is somehow less. That this is less when I watch the world from a window and leave my running shoes at the bottom of my suitcase. That this is less as one blissful day of wander and wonder steals the stamina from the next three days. I know it’s a lie. I know that I’m not alone or different or special. You live life tired, live with your own creaks and aches, live with your breath stolen in its own way. Physical pain is universally experienced and individually endured.

I just wish I knew when it was lying to me. Someday maybe I will be able to speak better of pain as a gift, not a lie. Maybe I will be able speak of how it shapes my relationship with the Lord, or how I am living differently–not less–for staying at the bottom of the stairs or handing off the water bottle for someone else to open. I’m not yet ready to declare those with confidence. But in the midst of the lie of less is the first step that I need: wisdom. The physical and the spiritual are not battles I have learned to fight together. Days like today remind me that James’ plea for wisdom is not simply for better spiritual sight or to gain a sort of ephemeral wisdom that takes me to a higher plane of piety. The struggle to know when to push forward and when to stay back is exactly the sort of wisdom I crave, the same wisdom that can recognize the quality of life in the midst of a quantity of pain. There are a million decisions and small struggles for which I am unequipped, but James speaks of confidence before God: that when I bend these knees before the throne in prayer, the Lord gives generously to all without reproach. He does not look at me less because I know so little of how to live like this. He gives as one who intimately knows my every need, who knows the spiritual bent of my soul and the physical bent of my body. He walked here, too. He who gives wisdom knows even the requests to which I cannot give voice.

And the wisdom He is giving in these moments is also what reminds me that my pain is not so bad. There is thankfulness in all things and new mercies every morning. There is the ordinary joy of another day spent travelling in places I never thought possible. There is the simple joy of breakfast at a kitchen table, pressed down and shaken together by the fellowship that does not care that we are eating differently. There is the biting joy of weather I cannot control, sharp with the reminder of the extraordinary Creator who sent it. There is the unacknowledged joy of freedom and taking steps to new places on ground that is steadier than it once was. There are the unrecognized joys of sight and sound and smell and touch and taste, countless unrehearsed joys for the journey. There is the expectant joy of Scripture that speaks truth when all I hear are lies. And there are those who have walked years far beyond mine, who look at these little things with eyes and hearts full of wisdom that has been asked for and granted in undeserved measure.

Like you.

Maybe missing you,

~Rae

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Letters From An MBI Student – 4/12

Dear Family,

Decision-making isn’t really my strong suit.

Maybe you knew that.

I’m learning that on the hamster-wheel of immediate consequences, although I think it might be the pace of college that has shortened that timeline. Choose not to read that book and regret it within the next week. Forget to do laundry and lack for real pants tomorrow. Drink lethal amounts of coffee and enjoy your brain functioning while your body yells at you in sundry disagreeable ways. Stop to chat and arrive late. Buy the food now and bemoan the school bill next month. Consequences are not served cold here at school. No, tomorrow’s face gets slapped by today’s hand.

Like I said, decision-making isn’t really my forte.

I think I’ve forgotten that the tumbling pace of consequences right-now covers up the slow shaping of life not-yet. Lately, I’ve been picking the easy side of life and living with the little bruises of my own decisions. It hasn’t really mattered if the crossroads are trivial or less-than, I’ve just gone the way that asked less of me or seemed like it did. Exhibit A: Daily Crossroads

Set out matching clothes the night before//Throw on yesterday’s shirt the next morning

Pay for a cup of coffee as you’re running late//Take your noisy grinder out in the hall to let the others sleep but your coffee brew

Write your paper in the blurry P.M.//Write your paper in the bleary A.M.

Spend quality time with a friend//Or a book (Bonus question: a book for class//a book for you)

Study alone and plow through the necessities//Study among and meet no deadlines

Rewrite the paper//Submit the draft

Make the phone call//Put the phone down

Step into social media//Step away from social media

Take a nap//Drink more coffee

Dash to the next free hour//Linger in the classroom

Text back//Or not

Speak//Don’t

Volunteer//Abstain

Set aside//Give away

For a world-class over-thinker, I’m actually not sure I’ve done enough thinking. Here are a few more I’m less pleased to add to the list:

Spend time with God//Spend time with homework

Choose Christ//Choose self

Like I said, decisions? Not my métier. The decision that I do least well is the decision of what is important, and I’ve forgotten that every “yes” is also a “no.” I’ve lumped my own underfed union with Christ in a collective basket of “things to be decided,” along with the color of my socks and an unanswered text. Enough days of careless decisions and my character and body and soul grow into something I never thought they would.

But decisions? Praise the Lord I decided to go to class today, because I was reminded of the One who pursues me down these winding paths. I was reminded of the One who picks me up with the skinned knees I’ve gotten on the way to growing up. I was reminded of my pitiful faith He undergirds with His own staunch faithfulness. I was reminded of the decision He made, once and for all, to place me in Himself, so that no matter how much I blacken my soul and batter my mind with the consequences of my hand and others, I am yet His. My own faulty decisions are made within a life claimed by the faultless decision–no, being, of Him.

Like I said, my decisions are scarcely laudable, but, then again, neither am I. But I’m found in Him who doesn’t stand at the crossroads of life and flip of a coin or glance at the clock. He does because He is, and with every little choice I make now, I fight for or fight against the shaping of the being that I am in Him.

So here’s to tomorrow’s decisions, whether that’s another letter to you or an unfortunate yellow shirt or a heart that actually listens. Today, one of the decisions was Philippians 3:7-14, and it was good, both for today and for the imperfect crossroads of tomorrow. Praise Him.

Maybe missing you (sorry, I guess that decision is still in the basket with those socks),

~Rae

Letters From An MBI Student – 11/30

Dear Family,

Am I poor?

Please don’t answer that question. I think I know your answer. It’s not actually a question, or maybe it is. Consider it rhetorical, one I’ve asked myself daily.

Am I poor?

But I mean it in regards to money. I’m not talking about poor in spirit or poor in thankfulness or that sort of poor. But money poor. Pennies-in-the-bank poor. Tomorrow-is-the-1st poor. So maybe it’s not entirely rhetorical.

Am I poor?

I know what I have, pennies included. I know I have more than the average college student, but I know I’m hip-deep in debt, but I know I’m where I’m supposed to be, but I know that God’s will doesn’t mean debt-free…

Right?

Being a college student is doing weird things to my outlook on life. It’s hard not to resent knowing that when adjusted for Chicago living, I used to make more than my current bosses. It’s hard not to resent the fact that I don’t get to plan extravagant Christmases just because I can. It’s hard to look at church opportunities and support letters and the vast need for finances in ministry and to know that I have no pennies to give because I need fifteen cents for a scantron on Friday.

Am I poor?

I’m still learning to live like I’m poor, and I despise it. I still want to buy chocolate for my sister every time I’m at the store. I still want to ship random Amazon packages to my sister just because I can. I still want to take my siblings out for birthday trips to buy their new jeans for that year. I still want to send those birthday flowers, because this is year five and it’s a tradition now. I still want to give the way that money used to enable. That’s not selfish, is it?

That’s not a rhetorical question, either.

Am I poor?

No. Yes. No? Yes?

No. No, no, forever, no. Nuances to this conversation abound, but in asking this question over and over again, I’m realizing that the question itself is a dangerous thing. Because the minute I say “Yes,” I start living like it. And I start despising all those things I can’t do and other people can. I despise the Amazon boxes and plane tickets and resent the careless pennies of Apple and Spotify. I cut corners and bury my money in the ground and hope a tree of Benjis will appear. I stare at the sidewalk for the dime that will save my life, or stare out at sea waiting for my ship to come in. I wait and wait to not be poor because I hate it so much. Because I have chosen that as my title and it has made me so, so, so much less. It has shrunk my pennies to be tiny, bitter things, but it has also shrunk my perspective so that all I can see are those things that will never be enough.

Here, let me start this conversation again.

Am I poor?

No.

Why?

I am not materially poor because I have a thousand more pennies than I could, praise God. I have food in the fridge on even the worst day, an apple a day in the SDR, and three ways to make coffee in my room. I have gift cards to Starbucks and student discounts at Treasure Island Foods and rice cakes all day long. I have had gift cards in my CPO and emergency cash to tide me over to the next cycle and a doctor that takes very, very late payments.

I am not materially poor, because once upon a different season, I had the opportunity to buy many uncounted treasures: sturdy shoes, dress pants, a yogurt maker and coffee pot and a vehicle that has passed 150k with only the occasional murmur. I have clothes that meet the dress code, a winter coat that has lasted me four good years now, and Christmas lights stolen from home to drape around the window that looks at Chicago.

I am not materially poor, because I have a paycheck every two weeks and my church takes electronic deposits to take it off my hands the very next day. I had long days of work this summer and bosses that asked me to stay and the ability to take care of the little things and still, pennies in the bank.

Am I poor?

I’m trying to say that I think I may be as poor as I choose to be. I haven’t even scratched the surface of the thousands of priceless things that fill me right now: carols and Christmas lights and the hugs of a friend. I have my sister to bless me with words of cheer when I only have two pairs of jeans because I ripped the other one and when my six-year-old shoes finally give up the ghost and I can’t replace them. I have running shirts galore and sweatshirts I love that were $4 at Goodwill. I have plaid for days because “Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart, that’s our store; we shop there because we’re poor!” I have a friend that trades me in coffee purchases and a mother that sends a jar of yogurt with me back to school every time. I have so many things I could try to count and yet still fail to value.

It’s true that I can’t pay my bills with high-fives, and smiles aren’t currency in the bank. So I sit in an office and make my pennies and save them for coffee at Joe’s and don’t go if I can’t leave a tip. I pay my late doctor bills with sticky notes of apologies and thanksgiving that I could actually pay it this time. I take out a loan with a sigh and a prayer for those pennies as the trickle their way to Moody and return to me tenfold in the wisdom and love of those who teach and care for me. I write a support letter for Chorale with the yo-yo of shame and marvel, because if I am poor I hate that I have to ask, and if I am not poor I am eager and brimming with the gratitude that these people will even consider sharing their pennies with us.

If I am not poor, these coins are not mine. These scraps of paper are not mine, whether or not they are printed with Benjamin Franklin’s face or “FINAL NOTICE.” They are just another choice, another opportunity like the thousands God has given before.

Sorry for the long writing again. I’ll get back to the short ones, but this is what is on my mind. Tomorrow’s December 1st and I’m trying to figure out what Christmas looks like, and I’m trying to do it without “POOR” emblazoned across my forehead. I’m trying to figure out what generosity looks like without “CAN’T PAY FOR IT” barring the way. I’m trying to figure out how to love in new ways when I can’t afford the old ones. I’m trying to figure out what joyous work looks like when it will never pay the bills.

They say that tithe is just giving back to God what is His in the first place. I don’t want to look at my pennies with the view that maybe He didn’t give me enough. The bank may not say it is enough, but what does He say?

So I work and wait and save and make decisions based on what I have. I won’t buy new shoes or those jeans or tickets to the Nutcracker. But, dear family, please catch me when I say “I’m poor.” Because I’m not, truly. I’m not able to buy you the moon, but I will lay out under the stars and laugh with you. I’m not able to gift you with the wealth of the world because I have none of it, but I will gift you with the wealth of what I have been given: pennies and joys and love beyond measure.

Because I am not poor; I just have very little money.

Maybe missing you,

~Rae

P.S. Also…how can I be poor when I have a wonderful family like you?

Letters From An MBI Student – 10/22

Dear Family,

You’re the ones who listen to me when I’m rambling, right? That’s what family is for, right? Well, that and being the voice of reason on the other side of the table?

Because today I’m going to ramble. Here’s the brain dump, all under the verbose subtitle of “Thoughts On Being Sunshine When I Am Not.”

Our family was never big on nicknames, were we? Not when I was young, anyway, because I remember being inordinately proud of “Sunshine” and all that it entailed. Grandpa started it, I think, and I was always a little jealous if I ever heard him call someone else that name. It was special, it was mine (in my eyes), and it felt unique in our family of formalities (until Babes and her litany came along and the rest of us dissolved into the shortest versions possible, right? Heh.).

The new one is “Rae” here at school, unless you’re the dude at the counter at Joe’s last night who saw my ID and said my full name and threw me for a loop because only Lady and Nae really do that. I reintroduced my shortened self so it wouldn’t be awkward, which it was anyway. It was a bit of a jump, a blip in the day, a bumpy precursor to what happened today.

Something about a name…funny how a name wraps you up in a brand new wardrobe that you maybe used to wear. I’m my full name in certain workplaces, sometimes at home, and in a lot of old memories–some wonderful, some darkly less than that. Sometimes that name feels like a homecoming, sometimes it feels like an inside joke, but more often it feels far older than I am; something other than myself and what life is now.

I like “Rae,” though. I like being “Rae” at school and at home and at my new job. I like a new version to occupy, because so much of me feels new. Whether that is through the renewal of God or my own poor choices is still being sorted through.

But “Sunshine”…that is the old standby, the old spelling, the OG. The first other name I can remember that I wanted as mine. But sometimes it feels like the farthest thing from who I am now than I have ever been. I remember times when it was a glorious pinpoint of identity: times in middle school and early high school when someone else applied that designator without any idea of what it meant to me. But the flip side of that coin have been the times when that name was–is–dredged up like an old photograph: a toothless child, a version of me 50 lbs ago, myself in a tracksuit in garish 90s colors. I’ve never had a mirror quite like that name – a recalcitrant, encouraging, reflective, combative, warped, airbrushed, far-seeing mirror. A mirror that speaks back to me of pasts joys and past sins, present statuses and present failings, future possibilities and future impossibilities. I love and hate and don’t always want the expectation and promise and lingering of a name that doesn’t feel entirely mine but I can’t actually let go.

Sorry, I told you it was a ramble. Here’s the pb&j version, the 411, the juddering in my day after yesterday’s brief tremor: I was introduced to my replacement at a job. A lovely, lovely person: an older newlywed, new believer, excellent conversationalist, good listener, and already a friend (in the “I-just-met-you-today” sort of way). I was my work self, which means I can be chatty, laughing, engaging…all of those proper things that were made easier by her honest and friendly response. [Side note: I just realized that I have truly have the best sort of people to train. People who do my job far better than I and who allow me to exit with peace that the job will be done well, regardless of whether that means my way or not.] We laughed, talked, and will probably meet for coffee outside of our two Saturdays together, because her interests and mine converge in a way that can’t be explored when we’re talking about investments and securities.

Half an hour into the morning, after introductions and wheres and whys, she asked, “Is your family Christian?” –I nodded and smiled [and by the grace of God in your lives and mine, Parentals, I was able to be proud]–“because you have such joy.” The conversation blinked into something else and that comment didn’t initially register. Not until we left at the same time, after only two hours together, and walked out to see her husband waiting for her. She eagerly wanted to introduce me and in the quick, muddled conversation that happens in unexpected introductions, she said: “She’s such a ray of sunshine!”

And I returned the compliment–genuinely, because I’m looking forward to a longer time with her–and walked down my little alleyway to the train that takes me back to my home here in the city where I’m “Rae,” which she didn’t know, 520 miles away from where I used to be “Sunshine,” which no one here knows, where I’m not “[full name],” where I’m a version of myself that feels like all of those don’t coexist. I can’t describe to you what it feels like to have someone ignorantly, instantly apply those names to you as if they are the most natural thing in the world and of course these three iterations of myself are all the same person. Of course what’s on my birth certificate and what was my childhood and what is myself now are all the same person. Of course. Of course.

Funny how saying that doesn’t make it any easier to reconcile. Because I’m not “Sunshine,” and I haven’t been in a long, long while. I’m functioning in endless variations of different worlds: one where God is so, so good; the other where He is so, so incomprehensible. The former is external, my lexicon, the world of “Sunshine,” the world of Moody speech and Moody expectation, the world of conversation and pat answers, the world where I’m drawing from the words of faith that I have existed in for as long as I have been alive. The latter is the internal, the heart language, the world where names attack and answers falter and words feel as useless as paper promises that never become real.

Yeah, I should have probably warned you that this is not a brain dump; this is a heart dump, too. Someday I’ll write to you of the faithfulness of God that is continually and graciously walking me from the words of His goodness to the truth of it. Today I heard all of the names I have ever wanted for myself and today I heard all of the names I have that used to be myself and today I heard all of the names that are not myself. And they were all the same.

Final thought [Side note: if this letter were in ink you’d never receive it because the postage for this book would put me in the red]: I am not any of those names. I am not the name on birth certificate, I am not the name first written on a whiteboard inside a welding cell, I am not the nickname heard while smelling lacquer and sawdust. All of those are mine, but they are not always me. And I cannot return or embody all of the history and assumption that each of those names create.

I have to untie those threads of expectation, I have to acknowledge those old photographs, I have to confess those good and dark memories, but I do not have to occupy their paths, because they aren’t me. They’re part, not the whole, and not the fault of the label or the labeler; they exist and mean something but not everything and sometimes I forget that.

Sigh, sorry, I think this is actually the end of my ramble: Today I was jarred by the realization that I am not what I would like to be, but what I would like to be is not who I was. Today I was grabbed by an old and present and future self and saw my warped reflection in an unexpected mirror. Today I needed my God for the simple reason that I needed to be known better than anyone else has ever known me. Today all I wanted was to be named by the He Who calls me His. Today I needed to know that who I truly, truly am is a wavering sinner rescued by unwavering grace. Today I needed Isaiah 41.

 

“But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel:
‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.'”

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.”

“Since you were precious in My sight,
You have been honored,
And I have loved you;”

“Everyone who is called by My name,
Whom I have created for My glory;
I have formed him, yes, I have made him.”

Maybe missing you and realizing again that you love me a little like Him,

~

Documenting Life

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I take pictures. Of stuff. And people, sometimes. I can’t really call myself a photographer, because I don’t try hard enough to be a good photographer. I don’t think of my photography as some careful art…I think of it as just…it.

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I just take pictures. Of scenes and slices of life that remind me of greater things. I take pictures of landscapes because the wider the horizon, the more I am able to breathe. I take pictures of things because the tiniest details can be captured and seen over and over again. I take pictures of people because I don’t want to forget. I take pictures because I document joy.

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Except when I don’t. I don’t take photos when I am angry, when I am sorrowful, when I am lost. Because in all of those times, I don’t know how to see those things in a photograph. I’m not looking at the world around me like it is beautiful, so I don’t bother to save a piece of it. There is no joy, so there is nothing kept. I don’t want to remember those times.

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And that’s the problem. Because it’s not because the beauty is gone or even tarnished. It’s just that my sight of it is a little dim. Eventually I come around to seeing the way the sun streaks through the clouds, and then I pull out my camera or pick up my pen, and I document joy once again.

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But shouldn’t we be documenting the not-joy moments, too? Shouldn’t we be telling of the days when life is less than glorious, when the sun-streaks are dull or not there at all? Look at the Bible. What if we were missing the lament of Job or the rebuke of Jeremiah? What if we were missing the tears of Lamentations or the repentance of Hosea? What if the only thing documented was joy?

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Psalm 51 is a photograph; a photograph without sunshine. At first.

“For I acknowledge my transgressions,
And my sin is always before me.
Against You, You only, have I sinned,
And done this evil in Your sight–
That You may be found just when You speak,
And blameless when You judge.”

Why take this picture? This is not a sunset that takes your breath away or a perfectly red rose. This photograph is snot and tears and mostly regret. And yet.

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“O Lord, open my lips,
And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.
For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart–
These, O God, You will not despise.”

But these photographs are the ones we need, too. The ones that are just as honest as the rest. Because the truth is this: there is sunshine and sunsets and glorious horizons. There is laughter and joy and yes, please, document it.

But there is sorrow, and sadness, and brokenness, and loss. There is sin and chaos and yes, please document it.

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Because the times of the thunderstorms come before the times of the rainbow. Because the records of sin and sorrow come before the triumph of salvation. Documenting joy is wonderful and necessary and keeps our souls healthy, but it is not enough. It is not enough to say that God is only good, or only delightful, or only as present as the sun we can see. It is far more honest to say that God is greater than these, delightful and demanding, and present in every circumstance.

So here is my document of both. Of both pain and pleasure, for the grace of God exists in both.

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Share your joy, O saints and sinners,
Share your grief, O saved of God,
Share your home, O long sojourners,
Share your hope, O redeemed soul

Letters From An MBI Student – 7/1

Dear Family,

I think something is wrong with me. Or the world. Or both? Please don’t answer that. Because all jokes aside, truly, there is an enormous list of things that I do not understand and, lately, life has involved a lot them.

Here’s one that is easier to talk about. Gossip. We all know it’s bad, right? One of those “Thou Shalt Not” sort of things that was black and white.

I know I hate it. I know I hated it when I saw people I knew sucked onto the gossip train heading straight down the line towards the sister towns of Mistrust and Unresolved Issues, stopping along the way to pick up Resentment and Self-Righteous Indignation. Oh, and a whole bunch of logs.

But now I’m not sure I know what it is all of the time. I knew when it was petty, pointless, a rant behind a closed door that contributed nothing to the solution. I remember the sign that a friend suggested I hang in my office: “Complaint box [tiny little square]” and below it “Suggestion box [huge square].” I liked the idea that the nuggets of other people’s lives that were distributed second-hand, malicious or otherwise, didn’t have space in my life.

The problem is that gossip here isn’t so black-and-white any more. What is it when you’re retelling a tale about other parties that is probably funny but is also making-fun? What is it when you don’t have contact with someone and you’re checking in on them by talking to those in their periphery? Where is the line between bad-mouthing and debriefing, between spreading rumors and sharing information, between gossip and fellowship?

Here at Moody, there aren’t a whole lot of boundaries on conversation. We’re a sharing/caring/burden-bearing community that is in the process of removing all dividers, including the ones that should rightfully restrain our tongues. We may not mean to be unkind, but I think dishonesty is its own unkindness and we don’t know how to define that any more. We don’t know what is true about ourselves and each other enough to know when to just shut up.

So we talk, we babble, and sometimes I just want to flee the scene because I know it is not right. It’s surface-level word-vomit about someone else’s life, habits, decisions, character, and it protects us from our own. If we don’t have to speak the truth about ourselves then we don’t have to figure out what that is.

Sorry for the rant. I may be wrong about where the line about gossip begins and ends, and I know I will get it wrong again. When the students come back, I’ll ask them about a professor whose class I intend to take. I’ll ask about their summer. We’ll talk about life and relationships and breaking up and breaking out and the gray spaces in between. And in that gray will probably be more gossip than I like. But I hope I never lose the sick feeling in my stomach when we get on that train too far. I hope I don’t mind exiting the station when that conversation begins. I hope I learn better how to ask and how to say and when to let other people’s business be theirs and when to let it be mine. Until then it feels a lot like muddling along in a world that is as wrong as I am.

But you probably already knew that.

Maybe missing you,

~Rae

Letters From An MBI Student – 10/10

Dear Family,

Does everyone truly remember their college years as the golden age? Do people really think it’s all rosy skies and a few chapters to read and a party every Friday night? Because holy buckets, college is hard.

College is hard because the homework wheel never stops turning, and there are always, always more chapters to read, more papers to write, more projects to complete, and more tests to take. It’s like a rat race with homework; you want to get out and the only thing you can change is your perspective. The gameboard never changes – only your place on it does.

College is hard because you’re thrown into the same pool with a thousand other peers and there are no swimming lanes. Everyone has a different direction, some are just treading water, and some are changing direction every length of the pool. We’d like to think that we know exactly what we’re doing, but each professor is like an individual swimming coach, changing your stroke a little bit each time and sometimes you feel like you’ve completely forgotten how to swim. And finding someone to stick with you the whole time? Whew.

College is hard because everything normal suddenly isn’t. You say tuh-may-toe and they say tuh-mah-toe and you wonder if you’re the weird one? No one understands your quotes or “you did it, Dahhhling.” There’s no one to have inside jokes with; or not the sort of inside jokes that mean the most to you. And that’s just symptomatic, because no one truly knows you down to your core.

College is hard because you have the opportunity to start over and fill out that new person walking around campus. You get to pick and choose the parts of you to stuff into that new person, and that’s who you’ll introduce to the world in freshman orientation. But the stuffing happens irrationally. Some of the parts are your best ones–the things in you that you like. Some of them are just there because you crammed them in during that panicked moment when someone asked about them and you gave an answer based on familiarity. You’re not sure if the new you should really like that, but the old you would and that’s what’s come out. Along with all of that are the bits of the old you that will lay dormant until someone gets hurt on them when they poke out unexpectedly. And what rounds you out and makes you feel fit to burst are the pieces and parts and edges everyone and everything gives to you.

College is hard because you’re surrounded by people that you don’t know who are changing you and filling you and wanting to know you right in that moment when you are no longer certain of yourself. It’s pieces of them that strain your stitches when you act like someone else and belatedly realize they don’t fit. It’s edges of them that bump into you and make you realize the parts of you that you don’t like. It’s also those same people who wonder who you are and you spend most of the time imagining what they think of you, until you realize that’s simply how you see yourself. You truly have no control over what or how people think of or respond to you.

College is hard because there are new people to let down and disappoint, new relationships to stumble through, new introductions every-single-freaking-day, new, new, new, and it should be rosy and beautiful but it can be as exhausting as the hampster-wheel of homework.

College is hard because the only way to survive is to deliberately claim joyful things every day. The optimism feels false and flimsy but it is the only way you will not race for the hills at the first sunrise. It will be work until one day it isn’t and you realize that college is hard but not impossible.

So no, not all sunsets and roses, but maybe that’s because you remember college on the other side of impossible, when it was finally transmogrified into something gilded. I think I might question your sanity if you said freshman year was your golden age. Maybe I’ll understand it in four years.

Maybe missing you,

~Rae