I’ve been trying to write this blog for weeks. As a quasi-perfectionist by nature, each draft has simply fallen short. I don’t know if it’s because I’m having a tough Lent (tough as in lazy verging on non-existent)…or if this topic has, in fact, been the main focus of my Lent; so it’s tough to express accurately. It’s the topic of measurement.
In this strange transition out of college, I struggle a lot with how I measure myself. All the tangible ways I found my value have been ripped from under me. No more papers. No more exams. No more classes to ace half asleep. Many of my awesome friends- a direct reminder of my worth- are miles away. I left a job I loved; a place where I worked hard and felt truly treasured; where I saw visible fruits of my labor. I left my first apartment, a beacon of independence and self expression. I left pieces of my heart with good men, no longer there as part of my identity. I left my beloved state of Florida, whose soil has mixed with my soul and whose spirit runs through my veins, giving me a sense of peace about the world. I left the altars and quiet chapels where I fell deeper in love with God. I left the town I really grew up in- and all its affirmation, its encouragement that I know who I am- had to travel a thousand miles north.
In the perfect summer after graduation, full of lazy river floats, lots of wine and sandy clothes, I remember saying to my friends, “I’m nervous, guys. Because when I move home, I’ll find out if I really am who I think I am.”
I sensed then, without knowing exactly, that my view of myself was about to be challenged. All the ways I calculated my value- let’s call them measuring sticks of life- were about to experience a huge shift in data. At first, I thought my measuring sticks would disappear, or that I would get new ones. You know- more adult scales- but that wasn’t true. The ways I measure myself are exactly the same; the only difference is now, when I’m alone, I see how destructive they are.
These are my measuring sticks.
I’m 22 years old. I have two bachelor’s degrees. I’m smart, outgoing, and hard-working. Still, I’m not sure what career I want to pursue. I’ve transitioned through 3 temporary jobs in 8 months. Graduating simultaneously feels like yesterday and a vague thought from a different life. And when I’m honest, in many ways I still feel like a child.
I see my peers on different paths. Getting married. Having kids. Working full time jobs with their own apartments. Making tons of money. Just when I’m confident I know what I want, I start to feel like I’m not enough. I start to question all the sacrifices I’ve made for the lifestyle I want; I wonder if I’m wasting time, wasting my talents. I always feel like I’m waiting.
Sometimes it’s tough having such smokin’ hot friends. Especially when they’re beautiful inside and out. We’re told beauty is fleeting; that vanity is unbecoming. It’s true; I hope I can always be ready to leave in 10 minutes and care more about my brain than my lack of makeup.
Yet still, I’ll be honest- feeling beautiful and desirable as a woman plays a huge role in how I view myself. We dress ourselves every morning; I know I think about it. Oh, I’m having a bad hair day; I feel bloated; these bags under my eyes make me look old; I need to whiten my teeth; I should have worn another shirt….the list goes on and on. The questions roll in like poison, too. Am I pretty enough to date this guy or run in this circle of friends? Will men prefer my friends to me because they’re so beautiful? Or any other woman for that matter? They’re petty questions- with obvious answers- and still, they always pop into my mind.
I’m openly careful with my weight, too. I’ve lost thirty pounds on weight watchers…but for me it’s still not enough. My healthy body now seems fat again. It’s never enough to stop and see how far I’ve come. Those last twenty pounds seem like fifty. Everything will be better when I slip into those jeans a size down. But isn’t that what I said about the jeans that are getting lose now?
My effort to stay thin, certainly vanity in part, is mostly the desire to stay healthy. I work really hard to stay active because there’s a direct positive correlation with my joy and quality of life. It hurts me to stay inside when I could be outside. So I get into biking; I try skiing; I keep jogging; I never turn down hiking. I kick-box and swim anywhere there’s water. And I love it…but I always want more. I’m okay at everything- but not really an expert in anything. I see other girls at the gym killing it in basketball or running laps around me. I know incredible athletes- and I’m so happy for them- but it sucks to feel stuck on the JV team of life- scared of heights, pretty uncoordinated and generally slow.
I’m an addict for new places. I can’t get enough new experiences. Camping at the Grand Canyon; walking through the red wood forest; ice fishing in Alaska; looking out from the top of the Eiffel tower; driving the coast of California…those are just some from my bucket list. There are so many places I want to go and things I want to do! I start to feel irresponsible- sometimes placing more value in my external environment than my internal peace. I ache for freedom, for adventure- sometimes as the cost of relationships, or simply ignoring issues in my life I should take time to examine.
Sometimes we’re made to feel like holiness comes in a visible package. If we do this or say that, or follow these rules, we’ll be holy. As if God could love us any more or less depending on our outward appearances. In college, and even sometimes now, I worried so much about fitting into a mold of holiness that crippled me. Sometimes I’m so busy comparing myself to others, I start to accept a negative view of myself: I cuss too much; I’m aggressive and vulgar; I enjoy the occasional drink and smoke, I question authority and definitely like kissing men…so there must be something wrong with me. I’m extremely private about my prayer and communion with God so it must be non-existent. I’m not devoting enough time helping others. I’m letting God down if I don’t do x, y, z.
So those are the extreme negative measurements…but I think you get my point. I don’t lie in bed at night and give myself a grade in each category. But it is the little daily things that add up. That slight pang of jealousy when someone you know lands their dream job, or gets accepted into their dream grad program. That moment when I find another grey hair or notice my skin is no longer seventeen. All the times I have to move over and avoid crashing when faster bikers race past me screaming, “Left!” The hours I spend working on a computer, really dreaming of blue water and clear skies in a foreign place. The times when I’m too tired to pray, or simply don’t feel like talking to God.
When I measure myself on such harsh, material scales, it’s no wonder I constantly fall short. So why is it I put myself through such scrutiny? I know in my mind the positive measurements on these scales- so why do I not feel it in my heart? Where did I get these scales? What good can come from this evaluation?
All these questions have been in my mind lately. Now, I’m not really one to quote scripture. I don’t know why, but it always sort of makes me blush. It feels so personal. But this past Palm Sunday, we read Luke’s gospel in mass and this one part always brings me to tears. If I had nothing else but this passage, it would touch me differently each day forever.
It’s the part when the repentant criminal on Christ’s side rebukes the other derisive criminal, Luke 23:40-43.
“Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? We indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
It struck me deeply because I realized, in a way, this is a measurement. The repentant thief measures his actions and takes responsibility. But this next part, this is what’s really important. Jesus doesn’t say, “You’re right, you’re guilty, I can’t help you.” Instead he says words that change the world; that I need to get out of bed every morning; the only words that renew my hope in something more than my failures.
He says, “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
And in these precious, few moments of clarity, I realize all these measurements are empty if they have no hope. They have some value; ambition for success, happiness, joy- these are healthy desires- but not without this perspective. Not without the deep and unwavering belief that God loves us just as we are.
I have the love of two amazing parents, a brother and sister-in-law, and countless family members. I’m a damn good friend where I root my loyalty, and I know I have friends who would die for me. I’m a pretty good writer- must be if you made it this far. I believe the purpose of this life is to make it back to God, and I count that gift as a success. I want for nothing. I’m successful in so many ways.
I have a beautiful, healthy body and mind. On the outside my mama gave me big ole’ baby browns, killer hair and ladylike curves. On the inside, she gave me a fire that’s always burning, reminding me what I look like has little to do with who I am, and to expect that attitude in others. God did design the human body so beautifully, so creatively. It’s normal to appreciate that; but when I get past that initial thought, and consider the whole person, I see it is people’s hearts that are so beautiful. Sacrifice, kindness, forgiveness- these are the only types of beauty that last. Romance will fall and rise like the tides until it's time to dock. And that will only happen with a man who can see with more than just his eyes.
Um, hello. I can jog five miles when I once could not. I survived a ski left. (Let’s choose our battles, Amanda.)
Again, girl please. Florida. Chicago. Boston. Philadelphia. HAWAII. No one feels bad for me. I save every penny to blow it on trips. Because it’s worth it. Rest of the main land United States, here I come. Oahu, wait for me. I will always love you.
But seriously. The best adventures I’ve taken are journeys with other human souls. No where on earth could replace the people I love. The land beneath our feet should only lead us to one another.
God loved me, each of you, into being; I think that sums it up.
I just want to break my measuring sticks in half. For me and all the other people I measure with them. He will never tell us we’re not enough. Instead I want to ask myself only one question- am I humbly and fervently asking Christ to remember me in His kingdom? Because His answer always sets me free.