A White World

IMG_4145I think we go through most of the day-to-day of our lives feeling invincible – or at least trying to convince ourselves that we do.

We micromanage, we plan, we predict, we protect and we perfect. We guard ourselves against the unexpected and the unpleasant.

I think I spend a good amount of time and energy trying to get to a place where I feel like I have a grasp on my life. Somehow, my life always feels slightly out of reach and I’m constantly forcing myself to retract my hand and admit that I, in fact, am not invincible and that I’m vulnerable and that I’m mostly just along for the ride.

But then there are a couple of things that completely shatter all sense of control that I feel, and then I feel small and helpless and – surprisingly – completely free to be a human being, subject to humanity.

Weather and death are two of those things, and I’ve experienced a lot of one and a little of the other over the past two days.

IMG_4150Yesterday, a snowstorm hit. Apparently, it’s the worst North Carolina has had since my friends were in elementary school. We’re now college seniors.

There’s a lot that’s beautiful and mesmerizing about the whitening of the world. It brings a lot of silence and stillness, both in itself and because it forces life to slow down a lot.

However, as I found out, snowstorms can also be terrifying if you try to defy them.

Yesterday, I tried to go to the grocery store just after the snow started falling. Not only did I never make it to the grocery store, but I also couldn’t get home for almost two hours. At first, it was because of traffic – everyone decided to drive home at the same time. But then the roads got bad way faster than I had thought they would, and I was stuck.

There were several heart-stopping moments when my wheels lost traction and I lost complete control of my car. Once, I slid right into the curb – thank God it wasn’t another vehicle. Shortly after that, I called my mom to tell her I didn’t think I was going to make it home without crashing my car.

IMG_4224The road got better a little further along, and my panic quelled a little bit only to come back when I was trying to get over the last hill before campus. As I pressed my gas pedal all the way to the floor over and over again, my car moved forward in little spurts, and I prayed aloud that I would make it over.

I did – only to get stuck on another hill a couple blocks away from my house. I slid backwards and then turned around, realizing I had one more option and if that didn’t work, I was going to have to leave my car somewhere and walk home in my sweatshirt and cropped running leggings.

I made it home. And then the snow became much more beautiful. But as I looked outside for the rest of the day, I was no longer fooled by what appeared to be innocent flurries. The world can be beautiful, but I had experienced its wrath in a way I won’t soon forget.

Snowstorms are powerful – much more powerful than I am. As I slid or got stuck on a hill, there was absolutely nothing. I. could. do. And the rawness of that isn’t something I experience very often.

Today, we woke up to a white world. When snow fell again this afternoon, the whiteness became even heavier – the sky, the trees, the ground, the houses – everything gets covered in a spotless blanket of powder and ice.

Like little kids, my friends and I played in the snow. We ran, jumped, slid and sledded. And it was beautiful to play like a little kid again and forget all responsibility or obligation because the world had shut down around us.

IMG_4236After such a great morning of feeling in touch with something that’s hard to unbury from deep inside of me, I received a hard phone call this afternoon. My parents put my dog to sleep today.

Zeke was old, probably about 13, and he had suddenly developed cancer. His quality of life had rapidly deteriorated. The thing I love about Zeke is his joy, and I can’t imagine seeing him live without being able to race around the yard or put his paws up on the chair while I eat at the table.

So I’m glad he went peacefully, and I’m confident he had a long and happy life. But unfortunately, there’s always something tragic about death. And I’m glad I felt that, because if I hadn’t, I think I would have felt heartless instead – which is actually much worse.

Again, I felt another kind of rawness. Yesterday I felt fear, this morning I felt wonder and this afternoon I felt sadness. These are a lot of emotions to experience in such a short timespan, especially because none of them are very ordinary.

The common thread between all of them is that they made me feel human and subjected to my own humanity. And this made me feel free.

I think we spend a lot of time leaning into lives that we’ve hand-stitched to resemble our best attempt at perfection. There’s a lot that feels forced about that, and I think there’s a lot that’s lost in that. But not the obvious kind of lost – the kind that you only realize is there once the lost thing is found.

IMG_4188I don’t feel fear because I avoid most situations where I feel fearful. I don’t feel wonder because I like to know what’s coming next. And I don’t feel sadness because feeling sad seems like being weak.

I think that since people feel things, it must mean we were meant to feel these things, or else we just wouldn’t. And if you follow that train of thought, when we deny or refuse or avoid feelings, it means we’re missing out on something we were made for, even if that’s just the simple awareness of what it is to be human.

Feeling things can be really, really hard work. When you go to places within your heart that you just don’t want to, it feels the same as running a half marathon or building something or playing in the snow for hours – exhausting, but good. And right. And like freedom.

Today was one of those rare days where I left some skin in the game. It’s a day ending in exhaustion but also a sense of wholeness.

I think that, at the end of the day, what we really are looking for is a sense of being alive. And maybe I would feel less alive if I had played in the snow by myself or cried about my dog where no one could see me or had let a snow day go by without taking advantage of it.

Regardless, I feel alive, and that’s enough. I might feel smaller or less in control, but something about actually realizing those things makes them a lot less daunting.

I lived hard today. Today has been a day well lived.

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Emaciation

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The view from a hike my housemates and I went on in October.

For some odd reason last semester, my metabolism started working on overdrive. I couldn’t seem to eat enough, and when I did, I’d be hungry again a few hours later. It was great because I got to eat awesome food all the time, but it was terrible if I happened to find myself in a place where food was inaccessible.

This happened when my house went on a trip to the mountains in October. We ate breakfast and went hiking for the day, planning to eat lunch when we returned. “Lunch” never quite happened that day, and around 4 we had stopped at another trail to look at a waterfall before heading back to the house we were staying at.

Needless to say, at this point I was starving. And I don’t get hungry the way a normal person does. I shut down, meaning I don’t talk and get really tired, and become irritable. My patience fades and I’m not very likely to be having a good time, and I can’t really help it. So as we pulled into the parking lot for this trail, I was pretty quiet, lethargic and annoyed with a good chunk of my housemates (especially the ones advocating for the stop).

So when I opened my car door and saw pretzels sitting on the rock I was parked on, it seemed too good to be true. Of course I would eat them – even if they were gross, I opted to deal with the consequences later. As my housemates laughed and judged me, I picked a handful up and started to gobble them down. No, I never lived that one down, but also I was considerably happier as we looked at the waterfall.

This and other just-as-not-serious occasions are probably the closest I’ve ever come to feeling emaciated, although I’ve seen people who are truly hungry. In Kenya, I saw a man get violently ill because he hadn’t eaten in days and had continued to take his AIDS medication. He almost died, but miraculously he made it. I watched the little girl in my “family” cry because she hadn’t eaten in a couple of days too – in fact, the whole village was suffering from an extreme food shortage. Needless to say, they knew what it feels like to be emaciated better than I probably ever will.

The thing about being hungry to the point of emaciation is that you’ll eat basically anything. You’ll take anything in that has the remotest chance of filling you up, even if in reality, you’re grasping at straws. That’s why people do things like eat dirt or drink saltwater – the body wins out over the mind and, no matter how illogical, people do things that will satisfy them. I’ve never been in that situation, but I imagine that some part of them believes – or at least hopes – that everyone else was wrong and the illogical solution will, in fact, make them feel better.

I’ve been realizing that the same thing happens in life. When we become emaciated, we’ll accept almost anything as truth, as comfort or as healing.

Unfortunately, however, we break down our defenses against what isn’t true, comforting or healing. Like people suddenly stop believing that dirt isn’t food, we stop believing things that used to be entrenched as truth but instead become foggy concepts that we used to know as fact.

And that’s when we start believing lies. We might not know quite how or when we got there, but we’re there. The things we never would have believed about ourselves, about others or about the world suddenly have taken up residence in our hearts and minds.

Or maybe it’s not that we never would have believed them but that we never should have believed them. Maybe some of us never had a chance to know the truth, if the lies presented themselves early enough in life.

Regardless, at this point, a vicious cycle has begun. Lies are presented to us as a way to fill up the empty spots, but then they create even emptier spots. Lies emaciate us. They hollow us out and starve us of life, and the scary thing is that we begin to consider the way that feels to be normal. We then unknowingly label lies as truth and believe them without ever realizing we’ve deviated from reality.

Unfortunately, emaciation isn’t sustainable, as a person can’t function if their insides are consistently being hollowed out. First maybe the kidneys go, then maybe the appendix, and then the liver, and then the lungs and then, finally, the heart. One after the other, the organs of the soul begin to fail and we become soul-depraved versions of ourselves.

Which, of course, doesn’t make us happy or pleasant people. Emaciation weakens us and makes us focus on survival over things like joy or love. So then our lives turn into being about surviving instead of truly living.

This world is filled with people just trying to make it through the day. They try to make it through without capsizing under the weight of loneliness, insecurity, inadequacy, fear, hopelessness or the feeling of being unloved. The goal becomes keeping these feelings at bay rather than eliminating them, both because of the herculean effort necessary to dispel them and because of the belief that these feelings are permanent and deserved.

Lies are tough because they try so hard to convince us that they are truth.

The thing is, lies are not truth. Truth still exists. Truth may be hard to attain, but it is attainable.

Finding truth is finding transcendence – the ability to actively choose to live in reality instead of the worldliness that surrounds us. Which sounds backwards – it seems as if the world immediately around us is reality. And that’s where we choose what to believe.

I can’t believe that this world around us is it. I’ve seen too much to suggest of its futility and too much that suggests something better. I’ve lived through the difference between lies and truth – I’m living through the difference between lies and truth, even though it’s painful.

And the way I differentiate the two comes down to one word: better. My soul recognizes, somehow, that what’s better is also true. It is true that I am loved, I am valued, I have meaning and this world has something good waiting for it.

And yes, this is hard to tap into and actually believe. But it’s worth it – and I’ve finally recognized that.

McMansion Trolls

IMG_2795As defined by the free online dictionary, a troll is “variously portrayed as a friendly or mischievous dwarf or as a giant” that “lives in caves, in the hills, or under bridges.”

I can’t take credit for the idea of McMansion trolls. My roommate recently started referring to herself as a “second floor troll” as she rarely leaves the second floor (my house has three floors and the first two both have kitchens). I decided I could hop on board with the title, although I would probably expand mine to a more general McMansion troll and justify it by saying I probably spend the most time in the house, am most territorial of it, and have the fiercest attachment to it.

3My roommates all know how much I love this house. They know not to bring its future occupants around while I’m home or to talk about “the girls who are living here next year.” They know the stories from the summer when most of them were away and can reminisce about the memories we made together since August. They know that if they see “the boat” of coffee lying around, I left it there, and if there’s books or magazines in the nook, they’re most likely mine. They’ve seen my Young Life girls and teammates sitting in the second floor kitchen drinking coffee many times and assume that if the floor is shaking, I’m doing Insanity in my room (if this sounds weird, try the program – you’ll understand).

I’ve also put a lot of work into this house. I spent a lot of time this summer painting the downstairs living room, the second floor hallway and my room – projects mostly fun because they were done with friends. I ordered postcards, which at the time I didn’t know were from China, to hang in the nook because it was looking naked. I dragged furniture around the house, arranging and rearranging it over the summer and again when my roommates moved in at the beginning of last semester.

1I’ve decided that moving out of this house is going to feel like breaking up with someone. As I write this, I’m sitting in the nook outside of my room while sunlight streams through the window just in front of me, brightening the coffee table. I can hear friends downstairs, although the house is quiet for the most part. My “boat” of coffee is faithfully resting on the stool in front of me, although only a couple of sips are left. It feels like a Sunday morning, the kind that’s a little bit lazy but also ominous with the threat of a long to-do list.

I can’t really describe why I feel so attached to this house. It’s more than everything I’ve described before. Something about this house has made it home and has made me more of a homebody than I’ve ever been before. And while the unavoidable May breakup might be painful, I’m so grateful for what this house stands for and what it means to me.

Not everything in this house has been easy. My seven other roommates and I have had awkward house meetings where people leave angry or upset. We’ve made mistakes and had hard conversations here. People have cried and people have kept painful secrets and people have bled from the heart – I have cried and had painful secrets and have bled from the heart. But while not everything has been easy, eight months into my McMansion tenure, I can say it has been good.

IMG_3055This weekend alone, this house has been full of people. Thursday we had our monthly Pancake Night, where it seems like half of Chapel Hill shows up – no we don’t know all of them, not even close – to eat their body weight in pancakes. The house gets uncomfortably warm and my introverted housemates and I hide in the kitchen because we’re overwhelmed but also because we’ve discovered the kitchen is the most fun place to be during pancake night. We blast music from iPod speakers and dance around the pancake batter-splattered kitchen with spatulas in hand. We concoct our own flavors of pancakes – this month’s candy-themed night featured Nerds pancakes, Reeses pancakes, M&M’s pancakes and Aaron Carter’s one-hit-wonder “I Want Candy.” (We refrained from “take me to the candy shop” – too many innuendos). Thursday night ended with a water-and-pancake-batter fight that originated with a lost game of What are the Odds. Our estimate for how many people passed through totaled around 200.

2Friday night, most of our housemates went to our favorite brewery in Carrboro and then came back home to have a dance party in the second floor kitchen, blasting Timber and Dark Horse and other fun and flirty tunes.

And then last night, we had an all-area Young Life sleepover, where high school girls from four different schools piled into our living room for Fish Bowl, big cookie, Taylor Swift karaoke, and Mean Girls and then spread out across all three floors to occupy every bed and couch. In fact, two of the girls are still downstairs – the rest already left stuffed with, you guessed it, pancakes.

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It hasn’t always been fun when we have people over. Last semester, dozens of friends and some strangers silently crowded into the same living room that was packed last night with screaming high school girls and three nights ago with a bunch of pancake-eating college freshman. However, this time, people were gathered simply to pray and to mourn. The brother of our good friend had just had a heart attack and we didn’t know if he was going to make it. A couple years ago, before our friend even came to Carolina, some of us had met his brother while he was a cancer patient at UNC hospital, giving him a special place in some of my friends’ hearts. That night, we prayed, we worshipped the Lord and put our arms around those whose hearts were breaking. And something beautiful happened as we sat together in the midst of tragedy. A little while later, while everyone was still gathered together, we found out that our friend’s brother had gone to join his heavenly Father. The news came after a sense of peace had infiltrated the room, and everyone accepted it knowing that we weren’t alone and neither was he.

I think we are all wired with a longing to be home. I think it’s written in our DNA to want a place of comfort, of security and a place where we’re promised love, even if it’s tough love at times. And I don’t think that a house is a home. A home is something created, a reflection of the ultimate home created by the Creator. Home is a feeling, home is a commitment, and home is a person – or persons.

McMansion is home. McMansion opens its doors to people, including those who reside in it. McMansion welcomes, McMansion washes wounds, McMansion celebrates, McMansion fails, McMansion perseveres, McMansion tries again, and McMansion loves. I have discovered, through this house and the people who live in it and the Lord who makes all things good, what it means to go home and what it means to be home.

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