Job Hunting


So, I have a confession to make: by the time I gave birth on May 20, I weighed 183 pounds.

Huge! Just days before delivery at my hubby's graduation from seminary.

Huge! Just days before delivery at my hubby’s graduation from seminary.

I am 5’4″; I weighed 138 pounds pre-pregnancy. That’s a total pregnancy gain of 45 pounds!

By the time I left the hospital just two days after giving birth, I weighed 17 pounds less, thankfully! Baby, placenta, blood, uterine shrinkage, and a lot of water weight played a role in that weight loss, I’m sure. But at 166 pounds, I still had a long road to haul when I came home.

I waited until my 6-week postpartum checkup this past week before really thinking too much about the weight issue. I was glad to see I’m now down 9 more pounds (157 lbs) seemingly without trying. I’ve been very focused on my baby and making sure he grows and gains, so it’s been easy to ignore my own chub, for the most part, while passively donating my fat store’s calories to my breast milk.

But pictures like the ones below from Zeke’s dedication ceremony at church definitely remind me that, while my body did great work making a beautiful baby, it’s also become a whole new shape, complete with wobbly arms and thighs, Buddha belly, and muffin top!

At Zeke's church dedication. The baby chub is only cute on the baby.

At Zeke’s church dedication. The baby chub is only cute on the baby.

image

Pregnancy really changes the body: it tilts the pelvis (creating a swayback that throws the belly forward and allows the buttocks to get flat and flabby), causes shoulders to curve inward as the body curls and slightly collapses in around that huge belly, opens and temporarily widens the lower ribcage, loosens all ligaments in the body and pelvis, leaves flabby, loose skin on the belly, adds stretch marks in some places, creates huge stores of water in the body’s cells, builds up 50% more blood in circulation, and separates the rectus abdominus muscles on the sides of the abdomen to make room for a watermelon-sized uterus. Let’s not even discuss how the thoracic organs get shoved around to make room as a part of that process.

After you give birth, it takes around 6 weeks for the uterus to go through involution and shrink back to pear-size, for your organs to slide back into some places near their old locales, and for the ligaments to firm back up as pregnancy hormones recede and excess water leaves the cells of the body. At the same time, new hormones flood your bloodstream and bond you to your baby while also turning on the milk production process in your breasts, which become very engorged, enlarged, and soft. During all of this transition, your body still has to deal with the fat stores you gained during pregnancy on your hips, thighs, tummy and breasts, putting some of it to use (300-500 calories a day!) by enriching breast milk and retaining the rest as a source of backup-reserve. Overall, your body becomes a soft, squishy landscape that resembles less of an hourglass and more of a pudgy cylinder with boobs!

Beyond breastfeeding’s gift of calorie use, dropping that extra retained baby weight is a tricky game with a baby to care for. Drop weight too quickly and your body freaks out and stops making breast milk–as a way to keep from expending calories that your body seems to need, while simultaneously starving your poor baby!

My doctor is convinced that the only healthy way to go about it is nice and slowly, using exercise to re-tone the body and to burn just a few calories at a time, while remembering that the body uses 300-500 or so calories daily just to make breast milk for the baby. Crash diets don’t fit in this scenario, although good nutrition certainly does–for mom and baby both.

To that end, I’ve started some clean eating goals and recently started jogging again for the first time in over 7 months. The first jog last week was pretty pathetic–about nine-tenths of a mile before I felt winded (yeah, my lungs are still relearning how to expand to full capacity again) and my faster-twitch muscle fibers really burned. I came back inside and did a set of abdominal exercises designed to help close separated ab muscles (as I recently felt the two sides of the rectus abdominus close two Tuesdays ago; it took that long!) and called it a night. I’m still following this pattern on days that aren’t pouring rain and when Boaz can watch the baby.

It’s slow going so far. I recognize that my body’s done an incredible thing and that it had to radically transform to do it. I have to be patient.

I also know that while it’s possible to get back to my pre-baby weight, it may not be realistically possible to get back to my old shape. As Mammy famously pointed out rather plainly to Scarlett in Gone With the Wind, my figure will never be the same after the structural remodeling that happened during pregnancy that shifted muscles, organs, ligaments, and even ribcage and pelvic bones:

But even if it can’t be as small as it was, my body can be strong and toned in its own way again. To that end, I’ll share my goals here as a way to stay accountable while I try to tighten up my soft mommy-body, which at the moment resembles a kangaroo:

  • Shrink back my post-baby 32″-waist measurement to 28.5″ (a full inch larger than my pre-pregnancy best)
  • Trim my 41″-hip measurement back to 39″ (a half-inch larger than pre-pregnancy)
  • Tone up the 24″-circumference of my upper thighs to 22.5″, roughly where it was when I took weight conditioning classes

Right now, this is visually where I am — stretch marks, linea nigra, and all:

Six weeks postpartum after my first run in seven months. Long way to go!

Six weeks postpartum after my first run in seven months. 157 lbs. I have a long way to go!

I’ll be trying lots of methods to see what works, and I promise to share those, too! Hope you’ll stay with me on the journey… and wish me luck as I try to get back to fighting form!

-Ruth

Update post!  It’s been a long week of blessings.

First, the job search process came to an end.  On Monday night last week, at around 5:15 p.m., I received a call from the preparatory school that I applied to in response to their need for an event coordinator/scholarship steward.  They offered me the job.  Feeling underprepared, overwhelmed, and very grateful, I accepted.

After a hectic half-week of orientation at the school and evenings spent finishing projects at my marketing internship at the hospital, on Thursday, I officially closed out my marketing internship with all requisite exit interviews–and, of course, with a luncheon with my department there. I’m going to miss them, and their safe, lovely nest from which I flew. 

Now, I’m starting the slightly-less scary job transition process. I’m learning the history of the school, the fundraising software, the names and faces that I’ll be working with every day from now on, and researching (today) all of the previous events held there so that I’ll have an idea of where to put my feet before I can even move them.

And by the way, my neighbor rocks for helping me put my car back together. My replacement bumper cover arrived on Tuesday night, and I had my “butt” back on my car by Friday night, thanks to the amazing semi-retired metal worker/engineer living next door.  I made him brownies, a little compensatory check, and a funny thank-you card with a picture of a car with a bandaid on it for his troubles.  And I missed my dad more than a little while I was getting all dirty and sweaty working with him to get my tail lights off and back on around the installation process.

I’m convinced, after too many days of having things handed to me this week, that there’s a lot of God and only a little bit of your pal Ruth involved in this whole process. So I’m going to watch what happens next. Wish me luck!  I’ll be back to update when I can.  Right now, I’m off to write thank-you notes to my old nesters and to study up on my new digs.

I’m in that job-searching place again (and how apt that it’s almost been exactly a year, and I’m once again staring at my own writing on the subject in print here). I’ve filled out at least half a dozen applications in the past two weeks to various jobs, from my home here in the Indiana boondocks to Lexington, KY.

That doesn’t sound like a lot of job applications to you older folks, who used to go out driving and dropping off résumés, but consider the fact that today’s job searching is all done online. And consider, too, that hospital and university HR departments (where I’m mostly applying) want more than just a résumé and brief cover letter. They want writing samples, recommendation letters, and a complete online career history profile—including your high school jobs, your references, and your ethnic/sexual/relationship/police record history status.  It takes about six hours for me to apply to a single job, but about two weeks and thirty seconds to get a stock email back telling me my hours were wasted.  The current way of doing things—online applications only, please, no personal calls—sucks.

So, I’m still applying, but I’m also taking a slightly passive stance. I’m finding that acquaintances of mine who are aware of my internship-ending-soon-with-no-openings-in-sight position are very helpful and are doing some networking for me.  I’ve been getting emails from these helpful saints about job leads, and I’d like to say ‘thank you.’

The reason why I’m being “lazy” (to some minds) has something to do with my tendency to trust the things I see in nature as being facets of God’s original design. At my old volunteer gig at the Zoo, I watched a tiger hunt–stalking a bit towards the potential target, waiting, sneaking a little closer, waiting again–and this practice is, and has always been, efficient enough to feed and sustain the tiger.  Moreover, to quote God himself in Job 38, the situation is really out of my hands/paws:

“Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of the lions when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket? Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food?” v. 39-41

I, maybe foolishly, see God’s providence in this job-hunting process, too: in one supportive networker friend at a time, flushing the career field bushes for me, or passing by with an easy opening in their hands and a personal insider in the company to boot.  All I have to do is wait . . . and pounce.

Meantime, I’ll sharpen my newly learned marketing skills, and I’ll try—try not to freak out about all the life transitions I’m facing once again this summer as I re-enter the job market feeling only slightly prepared for a real career and very uncertain about where I’ll wind up if I miraculously land one.  Breathe. Be calm.

After all, when tigers wait for a meal and get anxious or nervous about it, their tails start to move, and they give themselves away. That’s when the opportunities suddenly vanish.

One more thought: a bit of wisdom from the eminent Bill Watterson and my favorite tiger of his.

Hobbes' Wisdom

Calvin and Hobbes (c) Universal Press Syndicate

Here’s the short version of Post I:  Ruth got overwhelmed the week of January 10th  (the time leading into the anniversary of her father’s death) and left–left Naomi and left home. The situation is related to a previous post, https://ruthsgleanings.wordpress.com/2009/10/15/naomi-sweet-to-bitter-and-back-again/.  Everyone on board? Yes?  Great.  Here’s the second part of the story, which is the most important:

After I left, I spent that Sunday night in a strange (well, not-so-strange–rather comfy) home belonging to extended family.  They were very kind from the moment I walked in the door carrying a bag.  And thankfully, my sister-in-law had prepared them for the eventuality that I would freak out, panic, get depressed, or otherwise need to escape my environs and head to their house for awhile. So when I walked in, they asked no questions. They handed me a box of tissues and let me have the still, spare room for the night.

I spent the night crying, making calls for advice to friends and grief counselors and my brother, who all told me I should come up to my brother’s apartment in another town and try to start over there.

And, as the night got cold and the strange house got quiet, I prayed.

I remember talking to God about the times when I knew I’d failed my mom and she’d failed me.  I told Him about how I was scared of how angry and depressed I’d gotten.  I told Him it was so hard, now that Dad wasn’t with us any longer, for me to know what to do, where to go, and how to start out on my own.  I told Him I felt like I’d failed my father because I couldn’t be strong enough to help dig my mom and me out of our depression–and I told Him I felt guilty that I’d hurt my mother in the process of trying to shovel my own way out of the grief in our home.

Most of all–and it didn’t help that she called me to wish me a tearful goodnight–I felt guilty about leaving my mom as abruptly and as bitterly as I had.

My friends and counselors had told me that leaving was the right thing to do, that I needed the perspective shift of an emotionally healthier environment, and that I needed to go somewhere where people were striking out on their own and doing brave things in order for me to find the encouragement to do the same.  I needed to be shocked out of my little shell; I needed to get moving again.

But a part of me wondered about home, family, and my duty to my mother.  After all, hadn’t she raised me?  And who was I to throw her away like she didn’t matter, even if she had dragged me down with her in grief?  Shouldn’t I be helping her, not making things worse by abandoning her, like my father (symbolically) had?

And then I told God the truth–the bottom line–the simple motive under it all: that I’d decided to change my lot because I was tired of hoping that things would get better where I was. That I was exhausted with faithfully waiting for a spirit of joy to come back to the house and to my life.  That I was tired of being disappointed, and that, ultimately, I didn’t trust Him.

I think you can tell,  I dominated the conversation for a long while, and He listened.  But when I told Him I didn’t trust Him, that’s when He made a suggestion.  As is His usual manner when dealing with me, God decided to send a message through the only medium that I, in my anger and pain, would not shut my door against.

He sent me a warm, fuzzy critter.

Bell, a basset hound and the patroller of the household, nosed open the bedroom door and struggled up onto the bed, wheezing and panting from the effort of getting her stubby legs that far off the ground. Her nose was cold where she snuffled it against my leg. Her ears were floppy and moist–she’d gotten them wet in her night-time bowl of water–and she wanted to be petted, now. She smelled like wet fur, more specifically, like wet dog fur, and I struggled to put aside my cat-fancier’s disgust at her scent and slovenly ways as I patted her and assured her that I wasn’t a threat, even if I was a stranger.  In a few minutes, she relaxed. Then I relaxed, and that’s when God finally spoke.

Test me in this.¹

What?  I knew the scripture reference, and it seemed oddly out of context. So for the present, I ignored it, reasoning that I’d just let something random enter my mind. Also, Bell was being distracting; she groaned and rolled over on her back on top of the bed, and her floppy, dewy ears made smear marks on the coverlet as she stretched, spread-eagle, inviting a belly rub.  As I scratched her tummy, all I could smell, and all I could think about, was the doggy stink of wet animal fur.

Wet. Animal. Fur.  It got me thinking…

There you go.

. . . about a story . . .

. . . a story from the time of Israel’s Judges. . .

. . . about a guy named Gideon who, like Ruth, spent a lot of time threshing grain and worrying about his uncertain circumstances instead of trusting God.²  In an act of theophany, the Lord appeared to Gideon in flesh and told him to do something very difficult. Gideon asked God-in-Flesh for several signs of reassurance along the way.  His most famous sign involved a wet, and then conversely dry, hide of smelly sheep’s skin.  The elegantly simple test became known as “Gideon’s Fleece,” and God didn’t seem to mind fulfilling it.

Here’s how it went:  God listened to Gideon’s request to do impossible things to the sheep skin during the normal nocturnal pattern of condensation.  One night, God drenched the fleeece and left the around it ground dusty; the next night, he soaked the ground on which the fleece rested but left the fleece itself perfectly dry.  These were little signs of fulfillment, little miracles of reassurance.  Baby steps toward’s Gideon’s trust, and in the end, huge leaps and bounds for the nation of Israel’s independence from the Midianites, whom Gideon rose up and destroyed.

So I thought awhile about what fleece I could put out while Bell grunted and snored. I thought about the events I already had in motion–like leaving home–and I wondered how, as emotionally drained and unsure as I was, I could ever know if I should go back. I thought about how God could communicate that to me through a supernatural reversal (wet to dry, dry to wet), and, if He was willing to kill two birds with one stone, maybe even  provide for my eventual independence in the same step.  I figured that would be the best thing God could do to restore trust, and to restore my sanity. So I aimed to strike a bargain; call it a truce.

“God?”

Hmm?” grunted Bell, and maybe God.

“You know, before Christmas, that I was taking aggressive steps back home to get a new job so I could work my way to independence.  If you really want me to go home, then have one of those potential jobs offered to me before I commit to anything in my brother’s town.  Then, have all the counselors in my life–friends, family, therapist–who have told me that I should leave home, tell me to go back and take the job.”

Silence.

“. . . And, if it’s not too much to ask, help me to restore my relationship with my mom over the coming days. She’s hurt, I’m hurt, and we have a lot to forgive if we’re going to ever live peacefully together again.”

Bell yawned.  More silence.  Then, as if she’d heard her name being called, Bell pricked up an ear and rolled off the bed, trotting out the door.

I guessed her work there was done.

The next day, I went up to my brother and his wife’s apartment, some forty miles away.  And I applied for every job listing I could find that seemed even remotely within my capabilities.  I reconnected with some mutual friends in that town. They were all very encouraging; my sister-in-law even took me grocery shopping and asked about my favorite foods, as if to say, “See, we can live together for as long as you need to.”  I slept on the couch with their cats, and started to hear a trickle of interest from potential employers. I kept applying, hoping to hook an interview or two within the week.  I kept hoping to find a job quickly, so I could move into a different apartment with a roommate, and give my brother and his wife back their privacy.

I called my mom nightly, trying to gauge her emotional state, looking for signs of resentment or, miraculously, progress.  I saw some of the latter—saw that she’d seen what I saw, and that she wanted change as much as I did. It seemed like we were healing the breach by building bridges on both sides of it.  But that meant that only a part of my fleece was being fulfilled, but not all.  I stayed where I was.

Surrounded in my newly-laid plans, my siblings, and their clean cats with their silky fur, I almost forgot about my fleece.

Until Thursday came, and I got a call out of the blue–offering me a marketing/PR internship I’d applied for during the first week of December, a position that was at the same hospital where my mom works.  The HR representative  told me that, at the marketing team’s sit-down departmental discussion, I was decidedly their strongest candidate.

Okay, God.  There’s fulfillment number two.

I told the HR recruiter that I was thrilled, and I would make one phone call and call her right back with a definite answer. On instinct, I called my sister-in-law, who pretty much said, “What the heck are you waiting for?  Call back! Call back! Take the job!”

So I did, with very little hesitation.  The internship starts next week.

My brother, when he came home a little later, supported my decision, and my grief counselor was thrilled when she got my text (at only 27, she’s within her rights to be a high-tech Christian grief counselor).  Fleece fulfillment number three fell into place.

So I did what I told God I’d do: I went home.

Naomi and I are patching things up and trying really, really hard not to fall into old patterns of depression, discouragement, and disparaging talk when we fail each other.  And God and I?  Well, we’re working on that trust thing.  He’s made the biggest step.  The rest, as C.S. Lewis would say, is up to me– to give up, and to try harder:

“[H]anding everything over to Christ does not, of course, mean that you stop trying. To trust Him means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus, if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way . . . because He has begun to save you already.”³

Me, try not to worry?  Sounds impossible without a lot of medication.   But at the same time, I know we’re commanded by God not to worry (Matthew 6:25ff, Phillipians 4:6), and so I really need to work on that aspect of obedience.

The rest of the work ahead will involve learning to really and truly love my mom, in spite of our failures, and without fear of either of us getting hurt, lost, or abandoned the way we were when Dad died.  And that means trying not to worry about any of the above.  It also means adhering to Cassandra’s mantra at the end of the film discussed in the previous post, Capturing Castles— “I love. I have lov’d. I will love.”

 “For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”-Isaiah 41:13

 

Notes:

1.  The quote is from Malachi 3:10, which is actually about tithing and trusting God with your money. See what I mean about it being kinda out of context?

2.  The Book of Judges chs. 6 and 7 have Gideon’s story in full, including the bit with the fleece, as well as Gideon’s many other tests for God’s guidance.

3. Lewis, Clive Staples.  Mere Christianity. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. New York: Harper Collins, 2002. p. 81.

Photo credits:

*Basset hound from http://Kendisian.files.wordpress.com,  an eclectic blog by a struggling writer.  Check it out!

 

A/N: Sunday’s post, “Capturing Castles: A Week of New Territories, Part 1” was originally posted for the first year on password-protected viewability. Naomi’s feelings were hurt by my posting it–even though I thought I’d edited it enough without destroying the truth element.  Out of respect to her, I changed accessibility until time and distance allowed perspective.

It’s always tough, when keeping a blog about grieving and being in a family relationship while grieving, to keep bounds of privacy when you feel the need to report major events that change you. For those of you who want the short story, this is it:  Ruth felt trapped and left home for a week. She’s okay now.

Part II, the aftermath, follows in a few posts.

“Some think that it is a miracle to walk on water. But I tell you, the true miracle is to walk every day on earth.” –Thich Nat Hanh, Vietnamese monk

I have too much to write about.

A few days’ worth of external quiet, and I’ve already developed a cluttered mind.

At the moment, I feel like I could use a second brain to store thoughts on, like an external hard drive.  So instead of going to the brain depository and snatching a brain labeled  “Abbie-Normal” (big points for you if you can name that movie reference), I’m just going to post some of it here. I apologize if this entry looks like a schizophrenic’s version of a literary review/movie review/to-do/have-done/might-do list.  That’s a lot of slashes, I know, but that’s how many “voices” I’ve got running around in my head at the moment.  Fittingly, this entry came out partially in the third-person, and in a weird, Gollum-like third-person voice to boot.  Enjoy (?) my attempt to organize it.  I feel like it was worth the effort to make sense out of it.

1.     Housecleaning, in the internal sense.

So, Ruth’s been gleaning again, she has, and that’s part of her problem. Reading. Watching. Job-searching. And it’s all strange stuff that nobody’s heard of.  Come on, have you ever read anything by Thomas A’ Kempis—namely, The Imitation of Christ? No? Okay, maybe you’ve heard about a director named Oliver Irving?  Still nope? 

Well, Ruthie stumbled onto both while reading and looking at other things. I think an Elizabeth Elliot book made passing reference to A’Kempis, and, of course, my pursuit of small-budget British independent films on Netflix led me to Oliver Irving—and right back to Rob Pattinson by virtue of the current nature of the universe, which puts his name/face/paparazzi photo EVERYWHERE. Who knew RPattz was that big of a dork before Twilight? Apparently, Oliver Irving did, and that’s why he cast Rob in the lead role of Art in How To Be (2008).

An etching of Thomas A'Kempis accepted by the Catholic Church as true-to-life.

Both of these works–How to Be and The Imitation of Christ–are tiny, fly-under-the-radar types of things.   The reason why you probably haven’t heard of A’Kempis is because his piece is admittedly an esoteric find: part 14th-century theological treatise, part devotional, and part mystical dialogue with Christ himself. It’s very bizarre in some parts, so it’s never really been accepted in traditional Christian circles, but it’s powerful. It’s been carried into the wilds of the world by some of the most radical, world-changing missionaries in history. And I bought it in a five dollar bin at Books-a-Million.  Yeah, I know.  It hurts to see how far literary popular culture has fallen.

Anyway, back to why they’re important to me right now.  A’Kempis speaks to me on that hard-hitting level that my dad used to; I’ll just plain say that straight right now.  Check out some of this and see if it doesn’t make you feel like changing yourself:

“Boast not thyself in thy riches if thou hast them, nor in thy friends if they be powerful, but in God, who giveth all things, and in addition to all things desireth to give even Himself. Be not lifted up because of thy strength or beauty, for with only a slight sickness it will fail and wither away. Be not vain of thy skillfulness or ability, lest thou displease God, from whom cometh every good gift which we have.” (I.VII)

“[T]o refuse to harken to others when reason or occasion requireth it, is a mark of pride or willfulness” (I.IX).

Also, some very preachy advice and sound spiritual wisdom:

“Do what lieth in thy power, and God will help thy good intent” (I.VII).

“The beginning of all temptations to evil is instability of temper and want of trust in God . . . ” (I.XIII).

“We must not trust every word of others or feeling within ourselves, but cautiously and patiently try the matter, whether it be of God. . . . A good life maketh a man wise toward God, and giveth him experience in many things. The more humble a man is in himself, and the more obedient towards God, the wiser will he be in all things, and the more shall his soul be at peace.” (I.V)

So, in keeping with A’Kempis’ wisdom,  I’m trying to learn from my hastiness over the last month or so, and I’m questioning the things I did during that time, like quitting the restaurant (although every spiritual and temporal authority and guardian in my life was telling me to). Has it been a good thing? A bad thing?  A self-thing or a God-thing?  I don’t know.  But I’m thinking about it.

2.    Listening and Watching.

At the same time, I took A’Kempis observation (and Josh Bales’ observation in his song “Ten Thousand Places”) seriously: “Without respect of persons God speaketh to us in divers[e] manners”(I.V).

I took that statement very seriously when I heard these word’s coming out of Art’s mouth directed to his boss at the grocery store in the film How to Be and thought, yeah, that’s what I should have said when I quit at the restaurant:

“Look, I’ve decided I don’t want to work here anymore. I’ve got a lot on my plate at the moment, and I’m interested in other stuff.  I mean, I’ve got a degree. So I thought to spend some time on my music [or in Ruth’s case, writing] and  . . . find my call. So I quit. I resign.”

I thought, Go, Art. That took some serious bravery!  Then a little teacher-like voice inside me said, I think it might be better to admit that we need to do some painful growing and searching in life rather than to allow ourselves to stay in one safe, stagnant vocation for a long time. Quitting his safe pud job was the beginning of Art’s grand adventure, after all, since it opened up a big, wide world of terrifying possibilities, much like the one I’m facing now; hence, the craziness.

3.    Trying to fix things, or be fixed, and have faith in the process.

In How to Be, Art’s life coach, Dr. Ellington, advises Art to have faith in the process of figuring yourself out.  And he offers a visual metaphor for it that I thought was semi-clever: “If you think  of a problem as an unknitted jigsaw puzzle, try to imagine that the fragments of your lifestyle are the individual pieces. Now, as they lay scattered in the box they may seem random.  But remember, each piece has its place. They will knit. . . . [until then,] an unknitted puzzle makes for a cluttered mind.”

Art (Rob Pattinson) tries, and only marginally succeeds, at finding some direction in his life in "How to Be" (2008).

Art stares at Dr. Ellington here, and in his dubious silence, he seems to ask the unspoken questions that are so problematic for the quarter-life-crisee:  “But, Doc, what if we don’t have the picture on the box to guide the stupid jigsaw puzzle?  What if the pieces are broken and don’t fit?”

In Art’s life, the most influential people in his circle are telling him that his pieces won’t fit, that he’s a failure (“Arthur, your existence is an oxymoron,” says Dad), that there’s something not quite right with him (“Art, I really wonder about you sometimes,” sighs Mom), and that he’ll never amount to anything (both parents say this).  All they can talk about is their burden of worrying about him because he never seems to “do anything worthwhile.”  Art is terribly hurt to hear his worst fears articulated over and over, and he finally fires back sarcastically, “Have you ever felt guilty about producing such a pathetic, useless child?” When his mother responds honestly, “Of course I feel guilty!” that’s when Art hits his breaking point. 

Art spirals down emotionally, hits bottom, and then gears up for a radical life change. This is where the faith element comes in—when Art decides to “go it alone” and see what happens. After dismissing the useless Dr. Ellington and running away from home in his used P.O.S. car, Art sells all of his personal possessions (including the craptastic car) that are worth anything, gives the rest away to the homeless, and rents a tiny room in lower London. He then tries to get his old job back at the care center for disabled adults.  “I’m trying to focus less on myself,” he tells his old supervisor. “I feel like I want to help people.”

 And for the first time in the entire movie, Art gets actual encouragement from someone (!). It’s a scene that makes you cheer for poor Art, whose eyes get round with wonder and soft with happiness when the supervisor begins to be swayed and kindly opines, “There is definitely something to you, Art. You have a tenacious spirit. You just need to channel it, keep it in check. Don’t give up on yourself. All that stuff you’re involved in, it’s got it’s place; you just take things to extremes. This sounds too simple , probably, but, what gives you a buzz? What do you really want to be?”

Art takes this advice and runs with it—right back to the music store to buy a guitar.  One month later, he has a gig with his little band of friends. And for once, his parents actually come. So does his supervisor. And the homeless guys. The homeless guys clap. And we cheer, even though the band kinda sucks, because at least Art’s getting some love.  Okay, I cheered, anyway.  It’s hard not to—the poor lovable dork just steals your heart and reminds you too much of your inner loser.  You want to celebrate with him for coming out okay on the other side of his struggle.

Art gives himself a pep talk before heading on stage. "You're not a nobody. You're a somebody."

 4. Dealing with TEH SUCK in the meantime (for those of you who don’t speak Cat-pidgeon, or Leet-speak, “Teh suck” refers to things in life that honestly, well, are awful.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teh).

Anyone else gotten some rotten news lately?  Because Ruth sure has.  Like a person who I used to play with on the playground apparently just got diagnosed with stage four cancer. Yeah, I know. Stage. Four. And this is a person who is actually a little younger than I, actually—and my ex-boyfriend’s best friend, who is also ex-boyfriend to one of my best gal pals, to boot.   When that gal pal called me, I was in shock. When I got home about twenty-four hours later, I cried and threw things in my bedroom and might have called God a bully, a neglectful father, and a lot of other not-so-nice names. It was a stupid thing to do, like putting on a pair of sneakers to kick a tank—the only damage that was done was to myself, and I admit that freely, even as I borrow Ravi Zacharias’ kicked-tank visual to do it.

And then I sat down and read some more of A’Kempis’s admonitions, and only felt a mild stirring of comfort to read that “though thou run hither and thither, thou wilt not find peace, save in humble subjection to the authority of Him who is set over thee. Fancies about places and change of them have deceived many” (I.VIII).  And, “He who seekth aught save God and the health of his soul shall find only tribulation and sorrow” (I.XVII).

So I’m going to watch and pray, take the opportunities that come (including doing some freelance writing. We’ll see if I can make a go of it!), and hope, against hope, that things will be okay, and that God will take my open stance to mean that I’m ready to be assigned a purpose for my existence.  Because I’m sure tired of trying to figure it out for myself.

There, I feel better now. So in the words of Art to his audience, I’d like to say, “Thanks for . . . listening.”

Ruth

 

Notes:

*You can read A’Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ online for free at http://www.leaderu.com/cyber/books/imitation/imitation.html.  It’s a pretty decent translation, too.

*Josh Bales is a singer/songwriter from Chattanooga, Tennessee, with whom Ruth had a two-week acquaintance (no, we never dated. But we did sing together to lead worship, which is like making out, pretty much. Right? No? Poooh.). “Ten Thousand Places” is a song from his old album Underneath the Armor, which is available on iTunes. You can listen to Josh sing from his latest album on his MySpace page, www.myspace.com/joshbales

*Ravi Zacharias uses the kicking-the-tank metaphor in one of his sermons, and I don’t remember which one.  But you should check out my link to his website in the side bar >>>> over there >>>>> and listen to a sermon or two. You just might catch it.

*Just so there’s no confusion, it should be said that RPattz only plays the role of a bad musician in How To Be, and that he actually had to train himself to sing off-key to do it.  This is what Rob really sounds like when he plays and sings—er, okay, this is what Rob sounds like when he’s slightly drunk and playing around with his falsetto and a Van Morrison song.  Just listen to it. It bounces around from kinda weird (but even he laughs at his falsetto and weird improvisations), to kinda sexy (esp. around 1:00 to 3:20), to seriously hot (again, that magic sultry space between 1:00-3:20), then back to just plain funny at the end. Gotta love a man who laughs at his mistakes but doesn’t skip a beat. He just keeps on singin’.

I apologize for the lack of posts in recent weeks. Hopefully you’re still reading.

I also apologize for the monster length of this post. I think it’s the result of weeks of pent-up, then messily unpenned  (bad writing pun) tension.  I’ve barely had the stretch of two uncluttered hours to put pen to paper, let alone fingers to keyboard.

And that’s because things are changing quickly in my life. Again.

Just in time for the anniversary of my father’s slow demise, I’m once again off to start—or restart–my life.

I think the shift started with the tectonic influence of my mother, a.k.a. Mara, who has been voicing for months now her complaints about my job at the restaurant: its hours, its lack of weekends, the way that my bosses have made unrighteous overusage of my helper-caregiver nature during times of economic distress (“Abbie, can you handle serving the entire restaurant on a Sunday night by yourself? We don’t have the money to hire another server right now.” “Uh, sure, I guess.”  ::Cue the anxiety attack::).  It hasn’t made living at home pleasant, and going to work is even less so.

Ruth can limbo really, really well when she has a stick to knock her head on. And a white tiger-print dress helps, too.

So I made up my mind to allow myself to start looking at other jobs. That was step one, which I took around the time of my last post. Then I made myself stay up later so I could apply for other jobs online—and this step happened about two weeks ago.  This week, I fell into the we’ll-call-you/interview-you-soon-so-stay-tuned stage, which is like playing limbo without any stick to tell you how far to bend while you try to continue on with your regularly scheduled days.

And on the night of the 19th, or really, the early morning of the 20th, I decided to simply quit; to allow myself to just have-it-up-to-here with the hassle of working on back-pay (still no paycheck: this is week two), having no weekends (and hence, almost no dating), working heavy shifts by myself, and being responsible for far more restaurant-running than I was ever contracted to be.

I wasn’t at work when I decided this; I was actually out with one of my old gal pals in the middle of a screaming, writhing, hysterical crowd of well over 200 people crammed into a movie theatre (out of a full 1,200 or so total in the whole building). At midnight.  Awaiting the second coming–of the next installment of the  Twilight Saga1, not Jesus Christ. But for all the anticipation in the air, you might have thought that we’d gathered there for that.

And I knew, while I was sitting there between groups of babbling fifteenish-year-old  and forty-something women, that I was being BAD. Very bad.

I’d not only worked a full double-shift at the restaurant earlier that day, but I knew I was going to have to work the double-shift the next day, which was a Friday, and to top it off, would be a night when live musicians were coming to the restaurant. I should have been home, sleeping under the fog of sedatives, preparing myself mentally for the coming equivalent of waitressing hell—handling six or seven tables at once, managing chef s’ delays, pacifying upset customers, and making bad tips in spite of how hard I try to make everyone happy—but instead, I was out watching a teenage girl’s epic love drama unfurl itself on the big screen in the wee hours of the morning.

And I couldn’t really regret it; I couldn’t even regret going out for a drink beforehand.  And I felt actually sort of mad that I was going to have to sacrifice a lot the next day in terms of sleeplessness and exhaustion to pay for one night of fun with a friend for the first time in nearly a month of working six and seven days a week—no weekends.  I was seething over the loss of autonomy. I was angry—truly angry—about being caged in a lifestyle that wouldn’t suit a hamster.  It was that anger, I think, that sharpened my focus and brought me to the conclusion that my vocation had to change.

Bella (Kristen Stewart) tries to connect with her reflection in a dream sequence that forces her to face facts about herself in “New Moon.” Edward (Rob) stands beside her looking pretty as a dream in a period coat.

And as I watched the film, I relearned some things about myself. Ultimately, I remembered that I had no one to be angry at for my circumstances except for myself. As Edward Cullen commented, it was Romeo who “destroyed his own happiness” in his personal tragedy; he had no one else to blame. I decided that I didn’t want to be a tragic literary cliché—so I needed to quit acting like one.

And I was grateful for the emo soundtrack, the dark, depressive facials of Kristen Stewart’s Bella, the self-deprecating sadness of Robert Pattinson’s Edward, the spunky, no-nonsense attitude and protective friendship of Ashley Greene’s Alice, and the fursplosive (furry + explosive) tempers of the werewolves. It felt like one massive cathartic experience.  As an audience, we collectively sighed, cried, gasped, laughed, raged, cringed, and felt that curious relief of knowing that, in spite of the strange and unfulfilling ending of this particular book (New Moon is book two of the saga), the ultimate ending for all involved will be happy.

This seems counter-intuitive, but I love it when movies wake us up to the world of real life.  I love it when they remind us of our part in the God-authored stories we inhabit, stories that are complex, difficult, and sometimes frightening, but that God promises us will at least end well.  I guess the experience restored my faith a little.

So, when my gal pal and I walked out of the theatre at 2:30 AM, only to discover that her car’s battery was dead, we felt no real sense of panic. She called AAA, we returned to the bar from whence we’d started our evening to await our rescue, and we re-encountered the bartender who had flirted so assiduously with me some hours before (he’d brought me a whole bowl of cherries for my Long Island; apparently he’d been staring a me while I used a straw to chase down the lonely cherry in my glass and then decided he liked the combination of me eating cherries enough to bring me a bowl).   We talked to him and discovered that, lo and behold, he was not only a neighbor of mine, but that he was competent with jumper cables.   He had us safely on our way by 3 AM. Since it was a chance meeting in the first place that led to our deeper acquaintance with him, I felt like we’d experienced nothing short of a miracle in his act of chivalrous assistance.

Ah, real-world heroes.  They’re better than vampire-heroes anyday (sort of).  At least, they deserve a nice kiss on the cheek, if not a bite or two (okay, there was no biting, I promise).  What a nice ending to our Twilight Night!

So, now I’m off on another adventure of sorts.   When all of the counselors in my life back up my instincts when they tell me that it’s time to move on from somewhere, I take that as God’s voice projecting through the mind and the people he’s entrusted to care about me.  My allotted stint at the restaurant is over, and in good time.  I’m going back on the job market, this time looking for a position that has a little upward mobility, maybe benefits, and most of all, God’s stamp of direction. I’ll have my days free to actively pursue other job opportunities, to visit much-neglected friends, and to also have the requisite downtime required to handle the heavy emotional turmoil of the holiday season caused by my bereavement.  November 13th marked the anniversary of my dad’s “death sentence”–the day when the doctors told him there was nothing left to do but wait for his body to give in to the cancer.  The rest of this holiday season is going to be a landmine of emotional memory triggers from my father’s death, which means I’m going to be doing some heavy grief work in the days to come on top of my job-searching.  Wish me luck.

-Ruth

Notes (Skippable unless you’re a Twihard):

  1. “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” beat the opening-weekend records for the Harry Potter films, and it even killed the all-time opening-night record previously held by “The Dark Knight.” This just proves that women are a powerful economic group. Current stats have the audience for the films as being 80% female, 50% of whom are under the age of eighteen, with the other 50% being made up of twenty-somethings and Twimoms. http://movies.yahoo.com/news/movies.ap.org/new-moon-wolfs-down-1407m-opening-weekend-ap  The movie is now the #1 film in the world for this whole year.  Yeah.  I know.          Crazy.

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