I’ve got a lovely (pun intended) post for you today–an uplifting post about how love changes us, always for the better. This was a sweet post to write and revise, and I hope it will bring some brightness to your day as well. 🙂
Officially speaking, I should be a high achiever in adult society. After all, I performed very well all through school (from kindergarten up through grad school), and I have natural talents scattered throughout the arts and technology. Why, then, am I still at home at age 28, having been unemployed for almost 4 years?
Part of it I can blame on the lack of jobs in my fields around home. My skills in creative writing, music, and web design/development don’t seem to be in much demand around here; retail workers, nurses, and industrial workers are more needed. Plus, I’ve had a plethora of health problems which have kept me from working (not least my crippling headaches which have made even “fun stuff” impossible–more about that in a later post).
But there is another part of this that up until last Sunday, I had completely failed to acknowledge. Despite my skills and knowledge, I lacked one important thing to make me a self-starting dynamo: faith in myself. And that, more than anything, has kept me not only unemployed for years, but sick and depressed as well.
Sitting in church on Sunday, August 11th, I listened as our pastor told us exactly what God demands from us–utter trust. “But sometimes,” he said, “we are too stubborn to depend on the plans God has for us…or we are too fearful of where those plans will lead.”
I sat in the pew, silently angry with that statement. Where had all of “God’s plans” left me so far? Waiting 4 years for the right job opportunity, one that I actually had the skills for? Trying to write a novel that I wasn’t even sure would have an audience when it was finally finished? Making music that it seemed only I would ever fully enjoy, playing away at my keyboard in the basement? I was such a useless human being! Why had I even been made, if this was all I was capable of?
And then, a thought that was most definitely not my own burst like a bubble into my mental stream of self-hate: “You are capable; I made you that way. You just haven’t trusted Me yet.”
In that instant, anger turned to tears; I wept the rest of the sermon, as if each tear were a frustrated prayer, prayers I thought God had put off indefinitely. That one thought, which I firmly believe was a thought from God, had started a cascade of new understanding.
What God’s Little Nudge Was All About
Like I said, by all outward appearances, I should be a very successful person; not only do I have a lot of skills, but I have dreams and ambitions. I daydream about the reception my first novel will get from the public (in these daydreams, it’s always overwhelmingly positive). I think about performing onstage as a solo pianist and singer, in some unnamed auditorium full of family, friends, and fans. I plan for a future in which the money raised by these creative efforts goes toward repairing my parents’ house (the only house I have ever called home), tithing to my church, and preparing a beautiful wedding at long last for myself and my boyfriend.
But in some part of my mind, all these dreams have been reduced to just that: dreams. Increasingly, I have come to believe that I don’t have the skills to make these things come to fruition.
I wasn’t always this way: I remember sharing my talents joyfully with others, and seeing the happiness I brought to their lives by doing so. I am a pleaser, and am happiest when my works give joy to others. But my first foray into the working world soon quashed that idealistic spirit. I learned, shatteringly, that sometimes my best would just not be enough, as I struggled to teach middle-school Language Arts and found myself overwhelmed by the mental workload, demanding time schedule, physical strain, and emotional toll of the job. My hat is off to teachers everywhere; I attempted the job, thinking I would make easy work of it because I was “so skilled,” and I simply could not do it–I nearly committed suicide just to escape it.
What I had not realized until last Sunday was that the scars of teaching school had never healed; indeed, they had spread infection into every last bit of my spirit. Because of my massive failure in teaching, I had learned not to trust my own instincts about the quality of work I produced. Even as I confidently told others that I simply wasn’t made to teach and that I would soon find my “place” in the world, the doubts snuck in: “What if I’m no good at ANYTHING anymore? What if I’ve lost my touch at absolutely everything?”
Subsequent attempts to work resulted in failures as well; I got a retail job that I had to quit after a week because my legs swelled and bruised so badly I could barely walk. Not to mention the webdesign job I got, in which I gave the customer every chance to veto any design components, and I presented the person with the finished product only to hear “Can you design it all again? This isn’t what I want.” It seemed, at least in the working world, that my efforts would be either frustrated by my own disabilities or pooh-poohed by the people I needed to please. It all began to feel absolutely hopeless.
As silly as it may sound to those who have never suffered depression, anxiety, or just plain ol’ self-doubt, these thoughts and situations began to cripple me mentally. I stopped applying for jobs because the massive lists of required qualifications intimidated me. I quit sharing my music with others for a long time, because I thought it “probably wasn’t good enough for anyone else to hear.” I even quit writing on my novel for almost a year; “after all,” I thought, “who’s going to want to read a book like mine? It’s so different from everything out there–it’ll probably never sell anyway.” And I kept writing my blog here, but every week I went without comments from readers left me more and more desolate. Was anybody even reading? Was it even worth it to continue anymore?
This horrible little merry-go-round of self-hatred was what God was trying to free me of that Sunday morning. In fact, He’d probably been trying for a lot longer. But on Sunday morning, I finally heard Him, and the merciless round-and-round in my head stopped at last.
Where Do I Go from Here?
“So what do I do with this?” I found myself wondering, after the bulk of this very blog post had crystallized into an understandable form. “Now that I know to depend on God, where do my dreams and ambitions fit into that?”
I’ve prayed about it quite a bit over the last week, and here is what I’ve come up with:
- Quit trying to do everything myself out of pride. I need a support system, full of people who understand what I’m trying to do and can help me do it better. (And I also need to actually listen to their advice instead of being offended that they’re offering me advice.)
- Quit pre-disapproving my efforts before I show them to someone else; I need to give someone else a chance to observe them before I haul off and hate on myself for “not being good enough.”
- Quit being afraid to share my efforts because someone else might steal them. God gave my talents to me, not to hide them or hoard them, but to use them for His glory. It’s not about me anyway!
- Quit being afraid to attempt things which I’m not sure I can do. The worst anybody can tell me is “No” or “Try again.”
- Quit being afraid! THIS most of all!!
So, from today forward, I will seek to connect with people who are professionals in all my fields of talent, people who know the business well and can guide timid little newbies like me. After all, I know that God will lead me to the right people, if I will only step forth in a prayerful decision.
This really terrifies me, to be quite honest; I’ve become so withdrawn and isolated that stepping outside this shell feels like putting my toe out into a frozen wasteland. But I have to, if I’m ever going to “make anything of myself”–if I’m ever going to actually live my life instead of being scared of it!
(I hope my story will help others break out of their own merry-go-rounds of self-defeating intimidation and depression. Let me know in the comments 🙂 )
For the past couple of years, I’ve had the privilege of being able to sing with two different choirs–my local Choral Society and my church choir. But I hadn’t really stopped to think about how differently each choir affects my life, and how differently I sing in each setting. Both provide me with uplifting experiences, as you’ll see!
Choral Society: Performing with a Community of Singers
In my local Choral Society, I sing with a variety of other people in the community–some who have trained in professional solo singing, some who just enjoy singing for its own sake, some who also perform in small ensembles, some who use their voices as part of musical theater, etc. The common thread that binds us is that we all enjoy the craft of singing, and we’re all pretty great at it.
Because of this, I feel myself lifted to a higher standard of singing when I rehearse and perform with this group. I’m in the midst of lovely voices, and I have the honor of adding my voice to this. Within Choral Society, I can use my abilities to hold up the alto part, and both hear and see how our voices blend together in graceful swirls of colorful melodies (thanks to my synesthesia).
Church Choir: Performing for God
In church, I’m still singing alto with a choir, but I’m performing with a group of people who love to use music to praise God. That is our form of worship, to use our voices to tell about God’s power and grace; that is what pulls us together as a choir.
Because of this, I am less concerned with being as perfect as possible during “rehearsal” and “performance”–those two words don’t even really fit church choir, because every time you lift your voice in church, it’s just for God and no one else. Instead, I concern myself with understanding the meaning of the text we’re singing, letting that meaning move me emotionally, and allowing that emotion to be seen and felt through my singing.
And Yes, Both Experiences Are Perfectly Valid!
The best part about being able to sing in both of these choirs is that each experience brings me joy in a different way. In Choral Society, I enjoy music for music’s sake, and enjoy the process of learning, polishing, and performing choral works with others who are just as passionate about singing as I am. In church choir, I use music as a way to speak to God, reaffirming my own salvation story and experience of God every time I sing with the choir.
I enjoy both choirs, but for different reasons, and it’s a rather unique experience to have both those experiences in my life. I love that about the arts–they are so malleable that they work into every area of your life and give it a little touch of awesome.
The “love” of which I speak in this article can be romantic love, the love of friendship, or the love of God, but its power does not get diluted in the slightest by its different denominations. Love is a powerful force is in our lives, and I have personally witnessed and experienced what a profound effect it can have on us–I believe love can change us when everyone and everything else cannot.
(This post, admittedly, is my attempt to speak of what I don’t quite grasp yet, so it might be a little out there. But it’s been a rare uplifting topic on my mind for a few weeks, so I decided to write about it.)
Romantic Love: A Motivator for Personal Change
For years, I hated myself. Absolutely, definitively, hated myself. Imperfection was the big concern for me–I wasn’t mistake-free, of course, and I got picked on in school for every mistake I made, mostly because I made such a big deal about it. I even began to self-mutilate because of my perfectionism, ranging from beating my own head with my fist to biting the first phalange of my right index finger. I wanted to be perfect, and when I couldn’t be, I had to punish myself. Disturbed logic as it was, it made sense to me in the moment. I didn’t consider myself worthy of love because of my imperfection.
Though I am not completely free of self-mutilation today, I do it a lot less frequently (and with less vigor) than I used to. That, I can credit almost completely to the supportive, healing love my longtime boyfriend has offered me. He doesn’t yell at me or deride me when I begin to bite my finger (as is my wont when life is generally not going my way). He instead sits with me and talks to me, literally “talking me down” from hurting myself any worse. He’s told me several times that seeing me hurt myself frightens him and makes him sad, and that he would rather that I hurt him than hurt myself. (Of course, I would never hurt anybody else–that’s one reason I turn my anger on myself rather than hit somebody who might deserve a good punch in the face. XD)
Over the years we have been together, I have watched my need to self-mutilate shrink to an occasional thing rather than an everyday thing, and I find myself sharing my little successes with him, telling him that it’s been four days since I last bit, or maybe even a week and a half since I last bit. One day at a time? Indeed. It is a daily process, but his support and his love make it possible for me to let the dark crescents of bite marks on my fingers heal, and for me to stop needing to inflict more. This healing relationship has helped me to transform, in a way I never imagined I could be any different.
The Love of God: An Amazing Changing Force
In the mid-2000s, I knew a lady in her early thirties who was a friend of a friend’s family. She stayed with them a few weeks at a time, when she was between houses and between jobs; I soon grew to understand why she was often between houses and between jobs, since her drug use and drinking were a major part of her life, as well as abusive men who stole from her and tried to control her. She spoke often of being so strung out she didn’t know where she was, and on late nights my friend and I would hear her begin to cry, only to fall asleep in the middle of her tears. I didn’t really know what to say to her, how to talk to her so that maybe I could help her–it seemed like she was already an old woman in a young woman’s body, with medical problems and addictions that thinned her brown hair and shrunk her face so much that she looked like a faded portrait of herself.
She moved out of my friend’s house for the last time in 2007, and we lost contact with her afterwards. I worried that she was in prison or in a homeless shelter somewhere; I hoped maybe she had found a place to live somewhere else, away from all the bad memories. The last place I expected to see her again was my church in March of 2011, coming down the aisle to talk to the preacher about moving her membership there.
As I stood in the choir loft that morning, singing the verses of the invitation hymn that called anyone who wanted a few moments to pray at the altar to come down, I saw a trim but healthy-looking woman stand up from one of the back pews and walk down the center aisle toward the front of the church. Her hair, wavy and thick, was highlighted, warm blonde atop light brown, and she wore a smile and a glow that spoke of being whole at long last; she wore a simple blouse and skirt, looking put-together and professional. I did not know her, I was sure–and yet, as she clasped hands with the minister and began to speak to him quietly, I felt that somehow, I did know her. It was not until she turned and glanced at me, and her eyes brightened with recognition, that it finally clicked; she was the friend of a friend’s family from so long ago. She was so utterly changed, inside and out, that the memory I had of her didn’t match at all.
After church services were over, I came down from the choir loft and went to speak to her. There was a radiance about her that almost made me disbelieve she was the same woman I had known before–gone was the frail old-young woman who was sometimes too strung out to answer the door, and in her place was a woman with a new grace and stability. I didn’t get to speak to her long, but I walked away knowing that the love of God had transformed yet another soul, one I never would have guessed could have been reached. The completeness I sensed was so touching and poignant that I found myself weeping. Just as God had transformed my life through the love of a good man, so had He done hers through time and spiritual rediscovery.
I Don’t Know How It Works, But I’m Glad It Does!
I don’t know exactly how these transformations take place. All I know is that it’s hard for me to look back at the way I was before I met my boyfriend and feel the self-hatred thrumming through my memories, because I am quite different now. Yes, the hate does come back on occasion, when I’ve missed a turn on the road for the fifth time, or when I just can’t solve that last puzzle that will make a website work. But it’s a lot less often now. The love God brought into my life changed that for me, just as He changed the woman I once knew from helpless and broken to complete and joyful. Love, in all its forms, can indeed transform us as no other force can on earth.