Letters From An MBI Student – 4/23

Dear Family,

Lesson of the day/week/semester/year/life-so-far: sometimes the kindest words hurt the most.

I’ve had many, many kind words this semester. I’ve had many, many painful words this semester. If the words were a Venn diagram, there would only be a thin crescent moon on each side of times when those were not the same thing.

They are so innocuous, these words that come out of alphabet soup, these words that sound and seem and are written down as extraordinarily ordinary words.

“How are you doing?”

“Can I do anything for you?”

“You say that a lot, don’t you?”

“Do you always have to do that?”

“Did you know?”

“How can I pray for you?”

“Did you mean to do that?”

“You look nice today.”

“I missed you.”

“I waited for you.”

“I was hoping to see you.”

“I don’t understand you.”

“Where are you?”

All of them, those plain little collections of letters, are stones thrown up against life-old bruises. Maybe it’s self-centered, with that ubiquitous “you”…but then again, isn’t it that little baby of a word that makes it mine? What hurts is the hand of care reaching out, what hurts is the someone reaching for a hug you don’t want, what hurts are the questions that stumble against what you hoped they wouldn’t find. They ask “you,” and “you” give them something of “you” and it hurts.

I’m still learning the difference between a hurt that I draw back from and a hurt I lean into. Some of the words on that list come from people or conversations that I never hope to have again. Some of the words on that list come from people or conversations that I need to have again. Some of the words on that list come from people or conversations that I will have to have again. I don’t get to use a Venn diagram to tell me the difference.

Because where kindness and hurt overlap is where the grace of God comes in gentleness to exactly where I most need it and least want it. I have to know Him to know His hand, and in knowing His hand I know His healing.

“Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” John 10:25-30

Maybe missing you,

~Rae

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 – 3/2

Dear Family,

Welcome to the caffeinated ponderings of this week: being tired. I think there are levels, because tired is not an unequivocal thing. To say “I’m tired” can mean one of sundry stages. Here are mine.

Stage One: I’m tired, but I haven’t really considered that yet. I am, but it’s white noise at this point, like walking the halls on Doane 3 and hearing music but not reflecting on it until asked. An annoying trickle of tiredness that I know is always there but don’t bother with. The coffee I hold in my hand is most likely out of habit, and I don’t know you well, so I will say: “Outstanding,” when asked.

Stage Two: I’m tired, and I know it, and it is habitually ordinary. I will add a dose of caffeine to my afternoon and look with far less enthusiasm at things that have no deadline, like the dishes in my sink. Homework will happen, because panic is still an effective motivator. The coffee in my hand is most likely my second cup, and I don’t know you well, so I will say: “Going,” when asked.

Stage Three: I’m tired, and I feel it. I become a minimalist in all things, whittling away at evening plans and extraneous conversations. My caffeine consumption takes the mug form of an IV line, with a dose before every class. The coffee in my hand is most likely my third cup, and I don’t know you well, so I will say: “Surviving,” when asked.

Stage Four: I’m tired, and I don’t know anything else. I’m counting the hours until I can crawl into a corner, and I’m in glasses and probably the clothes I wore yesterday. Classes will happen, fueled by countless unquestioned cups of coffee interspersed with unsuccessful doses of Earl Grey. The coffee in my hand is not working, and I don’t know you well, so I will say: “Here,” when asked.

Stage Five: Nope.

I don’t actually say, “I’m tired.” Not anymore. I asked Lady to hold me accountable on that, because, please note, there is no Stage Zero. We live this life tired.
The closer I am to Stage Five, the more blurry my perspective on life. It is far too easy to be tired of being tired and far too simple to make that my identity and not an adjective. After a week of wavering between Four and Five, getting back to Stage One will be the closest I get to some sort of ‘not tired.’ So I say other words instead, which sort of mean the same thing, but maybe can encompass other things, too.
For example, to say I’m “Outstanding” means that I’m thinking of you, Father Time, and your persistent slogan of my childhood: “Outstanding and Improving!” It doesn’t mean that I’m not tired, but it makes a little room for the other things in life; like delighting in the lazy snow, engrossed in the class reading, or enriched by unexpected conversation. I’m not not tired, but I’m not just tired. I’m other things, too.

Like maybe missing you,

~Rae

Letters From An MBI Student – 1/20

Dear Family,

I don’t think I have ever been so glad to see a Friday. Oh, glorious Friday, you came. Or the end-of- Friday, at least. You wonderful end-of-Friday you.

Brief recap: tour was great and fairly chill (but a little weird). But this whopping version of the flu started around right before tour, picked up a few new members on the bus, and settled in my lap on the ride home.

Yay. It’s been a dandy, with a cough that eats up your insides and the fever wobbling between 101 and 103 for four days. I managed to do the baby amounts of homework for each class the day before, so I wasn’t actually late on anything. And Lady was a champ, even if her reactions were totally different than mine.

I got ready for class Tuesday morning and lay down again instead of going. All Lady said was, “Good.”

I went to work, made it 2.5 hours, and went back to sleep. Lady didn’t wake me up in time for Chorale.

Wednesday I didn’t even bother doing anything. Lady brought me Perrier.

Thursday morning I decided I was going to go to class. I got everything together, made it to the bathroom, and had a rather embarrassing episode of needing to poop, puke, and pass out all at the same time and having trouble deciding which was most important. I may or may not have still had a fever and was a little delusion. Lady woke up in the midst of this little crisis, picked me up off the floor, and helped me decide my priorities, which included this insightful gem: “I don’t think you’re going to class today.”

I didn’t, but after sleeping, getting fed and babied all day by Lady, and finally kicking the fever into normal territory, I toddled my way to Chorale that afternoon and found a friendly chair for an hour and a half, because you can’t fall over if you’re already sitting down.

Today I went to class for the first time this week. In fact, I made it to work, to class, to sleep, to class, to a class that was cancelled which was glorious because I could sleep again, to work, and now heading back to glorious, wonderful sleep. Thank you, end-of-Friday.

Tomorrow I intend to do nothing. Except, maybe, the mountain of homework since I did almost none of it this week. And laundry. And cleaning. And things that living human beings do. On the other hand, I could just sleep, because the living do that, too, and that’s what I think will make me most feel alive.

Cheers, family. If you need me, I’ll be sleeping.

~Rae

P.S. One silver lining to all of this? I think my weight loss has finally reached the realm of “impressive.” Considering that this is my fourth time getting the flu in the last six months, it’s about time.

Letters From An MBI Student – 12/5

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Dear Family,

Today has been brought to you by four cups of coffee.

1: Measured and scooped and pressed and brewed in the hurried five minutes before Lady and I left for class. We walked across the slush leftover from yesterday’s snow and I wore my old work boots and G3 sweatshirt and missed a different lifetime but the smell and taste of my hasty Lavazza got me to class and back again.

2: Drained from the dregs of the unexpected dispenser in my second classroom. I walked in with sleep marks on my face and not enough wakefulness to make it through the next two hours, but those using that room during chapel hour had left their coffee totes and tea and bagels and popcorn and I sat in the back with warm coffee and stayed awake enough to take notes.

3: Watched and made and weighed and poured with thoughtfulness and infinite detail by small hands that love with coffee very well. I sat and looked and smelled and carried to class a cup of coffee tasting of brightness and care.

4: Brought unexpectedly at the end of the day, a light roast enjoyed with a dear friend next to the Christmas tree. I sipped and enjoyed and found second words and second breath for the small mountains of tonight.

This weekend was completely beautiful and mostly exhausting and today I was simply too tired to try to put the pieces back together. So today happened with four cups of artificial strength and countless amounts of tangible kindness.

Maybe missing you,

~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 – 10/30

Dear Family,

There is never a dull moment in Chicago. And that includes studying.

Tonight I escaped off campus to drink coffee and read the 400 pages I needed in order to write a paper. It was a predominately unsuccessful endeavor, for three reasons.

  1. I drank coffee (duh) in order to stay awake (yay) because I was so tired (sigh) that I was going to fall asleep (yep). But caffeinating an exhausted body is like putting electricity to Frankenstein: weird things happen.
  2. I sat by a window, because sunlight and sunlight and please let me see a sunset so I won’t be homesick.
  3. My coffee shop was on an unquiet street corner, and it was the weekend before Halloween.

So instead of reading my book and sipping my coffee, I kept popping up like a livewire and watching the parade of strangeness right outside my window:

Like the avacado that nearly got hit by a car. He was too busy talking to Mario to pay attention. Or staring at Mario’s impressive mustache, like I was.

Shortly after them was a leopard who, apparently, found Waldo!

And Goldilocks in a pink dress, with a beard and a beer bottle…or a lumberjack with a blonde wig and an identity crisis.

Then a black widow spider got into a taxi. Unsure if the driver made it.

The cats were out in droves, including a few that should never have been let out of the house, and that is no longer figurative.

Big Bird was…big. And obnoxiously yellow.

Catwoman didn’t chase after him, but probably because her pants didn’t let her do much more than shuffle.

And, of course, a parade of superheroes like Batman, if Batman wore a yellow belt and a t-shirt, and Thor, if Thor was 100 lbs skinnier and wore dark blue shorts and a shiny red cape that only came to his waist.

I dressed up as a very tired college student, and I really think I nailed the look. The heavier-than-I-am-backpack was the clincher, although I thought the sweatpants and sporty lanyard were a great starter kit.

So, all in all, it was a scintillating night! Drinks and a show, basically.

Now I just have to go finish my reading with all the other people doing Halloween as college students. I’m sure it’ll be exciting!

Ha. Sarcasm over, here was tonight: sometimes you get homework done, and sometimes you sit back and let Chicago do its thing.

And sometimes you watch someone in spotted brown onesie scurry over a crosswalk while holding her tail.

Maybe missing you,

~Rae