Tag Archives: stress

Askant, askew, and coddiwompling about

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A friend posted this to Facebook this morning.

And this week  (and probably all weeks), I’ve been teaching my students about the power of words–especially the ways in which words are coded with hidden cultural meanings, with gender, class, and race.  There is always more than meets the eye, metaphor dripping and resonating with import, value and privilege connoted in simple turns of phrase.

What’s funny to me about coddiwomple is that it doesn’t sound the least bit purposeful; it sounds more the stuff of vague wanderings, trodding, trudging, even.  For me it comes too close to the catawampus or the cattywampus, the awkward, askew positioning that some prefer to catty-cornered.

Over the past few days, we’ve discovered that things are a bit cattywampus in a 200+ year old house.  Stairs, floors, windows, closets, joints, gutters–give it 200 years and everything is a bit askant, askew, and disheveled.

And so are we.  

There’s been the stress of moving from place to place for months and finally into this home, and then the rains from this weekend flooded our department, some offices, and classrooms, and so even at work now I feel a bit aimless and displaced.  These are small inconveniences, ones that have lended much needed perspective for me to the challenges many in this world face on a much grander scale.

But they’ve also reminded me that we human beings need purpose.

When all else fails, even when we press on toward a vague destination, we crave clarity, connection, conviction.  What I thought this house might yield along those lines, though, I realize now, is only the beginning.  When we purchased this house, I prayed that it would be a gathering place for family, friends, and strangers, that it would be a place that blessed many and not just us.

But that purpose is still unfolding, amidst boxes and all that is askew, and I’m often impatient to discern the future.  What I’m recognizing and perhaps disappointed by is that although we seem to be home finally, we’re still traveling, always traveling, making our way though the way now be paved with local negotiations, leaky faucets, and neighborhoods.

When it comes to words, coddiwomple might be a nice mantra, a beginning, rather than end point, in order that I don’t lose sight that purpose, in so many ways in my own life and probably yours, is also still unfolding.  What I’m won’t to do in moments like these, is harvest the simple purposes in the everyday–in the fact that this area is crawling with amazing butterflies, in the serene walks atop the cemetery, in the union of struggle and working together that has to happen but also can and does happen when we meet challenges with patience.  

Maybe it’s possible to live purposefully even when you’re a bit disheveled, or at least I’d like to think so.  I’d like to be a bit coddiwomple in a world that is often askew.  I’d like to glean purpose, like a forager, a harvester, a woman who doesn’t let a little rains or floods or follies deter her…

But we’ll see, won’t we?

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10 Things I learned in 2014

This is one of my favorite posts to write, because it forces me to go through all the lessons of the previous year and cull together all that God has taught me and all that God is doing.  2014 was such an eventful year for me personally, with the birth of my daughter and the defense of my dissertation.  Both of those have opened up some exciting conceptual space for me to dream and imagine my future vocation and God’s work in my life.

Sometimes that opening is scary, because it’s always been hard for me to trust God with the future.  But if there’s one thing a new year brings, it is an opportunity to reframe what’s in front of us and see life through the eyes of God rather than our own limited vision.

A lovely cup of coffee. One of my favorite things.

Here’s what I learned this year.  What about you?

1.  Contentment is about living faithfully with uncertainty.

2.  Our lives are fuller when we yield to God and one another.

3.  We can’t have new life without the dirt and the worms and the mud.

Hoping for snow in 2015..

4.  Living as Easter people means risking earthly things for eternal ones.

5.  True love demands a shift in the way we view and live life.

6.  I desire to live with the humble heart of a student.

7.  When we view the world with open eyes, we find grace in our everyday circumstances.

8.  Stress-filled lives are also beautiful and holy, because God is present even in the thick smog of stress, enabling us to breathe.

9.  Everyday we choose whether to live in a world of abundance or one of scarcity.

10.  Whatever you’re feeling, God can take it.

* And the most viewed posts of 2014 were Five Chinese Phrases to Get You By,  International Travel Tips, and Imitating Christ’s Humility = Being “Like-minded.”

 

 

Breath by breath, bird by bird

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table, close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’” –Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

I remember the first time I walked out of the air-conditioned airport in Puerto Rico, and as the dense, humid air filled my lungs I began to panic that I couldn’t breathe.

PR
Arecibo, Puerto RIco. My photo.

That’s kind of how I felt the other day when other graduate students and faculty started to infiltrate the premises of my previously quiet and calm office space and chatter away about how crazy things were about to get with the students arriving in the next few weeks.  The other night after I put my baby to bed I found that despite my body’s exhaustion, I couldn’t sleep because my mind was racing.  When I find my stomach in knots, I wonder if the stress will ever dissipate, whether I’ll ever be able to take joy in my work without a pang of guilt, or whether concentration will ever return.

I’ve been lucky enough to evade this kind of stress for most of my life, and I think that’s why I’ve come to think of it as somewhat of a weakness.  I’ve come to think that it’s my fault when I succumb to that stress, when I feel it, and when I panic.  I think a lot of us find ourselves thinking that the presence of stress indicates God’s absence or God’s displeasure with our sinful lives.

But as I took some deep breaths the other evening and the air patiently filled my lungs, I discovered that God desires to sit right beside us in the stress.  I remember this moment when I was a little kid and my grandma, who was a little gruff and aloof and kind of scared us as kids, plopped right down beside us and played with our fisher price little people in the living room.

And I think that when we release ourselves from the fear, responsibility, and guilt that often comes along with stress, we find God sitting in it, right beside us.  I think that ugly, insignificant, stress-filled lives are also beautiful and holy, because God is present even in the thick smog of stress enabling us to breathe.

Breath by breath, bird by bird, isn’t that how anything ever gets done anyway?

“Bird by bird, Erin,” God says.  “I’m sitting beside you.  I’m already there.  I’m present and I’m able.  So are you.”

Amen.

Fall is coming to Princeton.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Fall is coming to Princeton. Photo by Evan Schneider.

Where I’m meant to be

Bikes in front of fall vines at the university.  All photos are mine.
Bikes in front of fall vines at the university. All photos are mine.

It’s already been such a busy season.

I’ve been such a delinquent blogger because of it all, and while most of the busy-ness is good (I’ve completed 2 fellowship applications out of 4, my class is going great, the dissertation is coming along, and I’m heading to a conference in a few weeks and off to spend Thanksgiving with dear friends and family…oh, and there’s the whole every-growing belly thing), sometimes I find it difficult to rise above the stress and anxiety of the season.

I’m blessed to be a pretty low-stress, low-fuss individual, and so I’m often the one others come to  to vent, emote, and share.  And I love listening and being as much comfort as possible to those around me.

Glimpsing fall through Princeton University's arches.
Glimpsing fall through Princeton University’s arches.

But I’m discovering lately that my empathy supply isn’t endless, nor is my energy, and what it means to be me is to remain rooted in God’s calling on my life, to worship, to take time in silence, and to pray.  I love my colleagues in the Anthropology Department, but sometimes I need to step away to remember why I’m working so hard on this dissertation and this dream.

For instance, the other night, I skipped the third dissertation defense in two weeks at the university to attend a gathering for church communities who want to try to be more inclusive toward people of all abilities.  We visited and got to know one another over a meal and then had a simple worship service in which we prayed with and for one another.  And this amazing thing happened–it wasn’t the people with the more apparent disabilities that needed care and prayer, but the supposedly able people at the table.  And the friends with disabilities stepped in, naturally and full of confidence, to offer care and support.

Lovely light across campus.
Lovely light across campus.

And as tears came to my eyes and chills wafted over me, I took a deep breath and knew so clearly, this is where I need to be.  This is where I’m meant to be, with all the other broken people, the imperfect people, with the children of God.  And that experience reminds me why I write this dissertation, because the story I’m telling about foster parents and disabled children in China is so much larger than me, anthropology, or the job I may or may not get.  It’s a story about God’s transforming love, and I feel simply humbled to have been a witness to it.

So no offense to academia in this season–I’ll keep writing and applying and teaching, but I’m not going to stress out about it.  I’m going to spend the time with the people who remind me who God is and who I am, and they may not be the most likely people, but they’re some of the best around.  Today I’m praising God for God’s church, all God’s children, and the perspective that finds me when I’ve lost myself somehow.

Brilliant fall colors in downtown Princeton.
Brilliant fall colors in downtown Princeton.

Thank you God, for showing me, time and again, where I’m meant to be.