Sunday, February 24, 2013

What If My Purpose In Life Is Lackluster?

Over a year ago, I described how my perceptions of love have changed in the post It's Not About Personality. Before, I thought love was admiration of the other person's character and enjoying the other person's personality. Yet, my love of Owen does not stem from jaw-dropping admiration so much as from a deep trust and appreciation of our partnership. In other words my love for Owen isn't just about Owen; it's about Owen AND it's about me. Our love is multi-faceted. Not only do I like Owen and think that he's pretty dang smart, I also like how I feel when I'm with him, how well we work together on projects, and how each of us has found inspiration in each other strong enough to change the course of our lives.

Though I still struggle with purpose. Yesterday I received the news that I will not be a poetry MFA student in the fall. In the folds of my mind it's a small jump from rejection letter to fear that I will not enjoy my purpose in life. As many others wonder if they even have a purpose in life, my struggle is slightly different, but really pretty much the same. I fear that God does have a defined purpose for me, but that I will find it lackluster. What if my purpose does not include writing? What if it doesn't involve my intellect at all? What if it isn't community oriented? What if it doesn't involve children?

"Life is short but it is wide--
it is so magical-- filled with mystery and wonder.
Butterflies are special to me.
Their life is the examined life--
it has passion, purpose, and a destiny."
Joan D'Arcy qtd. in Joyce Tenneson's Wise Women 
In high school and early college I had similar fears about my future husband. What if I found him boring? What if he didn't want to travel? What if he wasn't funny? Now I know the reality of Owen. Owen is not boring and does want to travel, and even though he wasn't exactly funny when we got together I do love him, and even like him.  

Perhaps my approach to purpose has been similar to my previous approach to love? Maybe I'm thinking of it too much in terms of a life I would admire: part time writing professor, writer, mom, gardener, world traveler.  I would be thrilled if my purpose in life involved achieving high credentials in the profession of writing, learning extensively of the world around me, raising children and teaching others how to express themselves better through writing. And maybe that is my purpose! Or maybe it's not. Or maybe parts of it are, but other parts of it are just societally driven desires for achievement in my life. 

Maybe no matter what my purpose is once I live it and experience it, I'll find something much deeper than admiration or achievement. As the keynote speaker at the 2011 St. Olaf graduation suggested, perhaps I'll find significance.

Oh, and about that Owen not being funny thing-- he's learned. Tonight as he grilled us some flank steak, he danced around the kitchen doing disco moves to Love Machine. Oh yes. His continued desire to make me just a little bit happier in whatever ways he can has won my jaw-dropping admiration. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

For The Sake Of Lent, All Are Welcome

Typically I post my blogs on my Facebook... where half of my friends are southern baptists and the other half are either lutherans or atheists. So basically if Owen and I are honest about what we think, half will think that we are heathens and the other half will assume that we're dogmatic. Being moderate is always kind of like that.

Owen and I giving Saint Paul a high five
Thus, for the past year, I have much avoided speaking about our faith on this blog. But man, I LOVE lent. Lent would be as good as Christmas if I got to see my family. It's so pure in its avoidance of any secularism whatsoever. Don't get me wrong, I love Santa Clause and Christmas lights, but Lent is different. It's calm, not celebratory. In its quietness it is often forgotten.

Lent is the most reflective and cleansing time of the church calendar, reminiscent of Jesus's forty days in the wild and Israel's forty years in the desert. It is a time to shed all that is not of God from our lives. Thus in the spirit of Lent, I seek to free myself from the fear that has kept me from giving you the whole story.

Here is a real example of what living between two extremes looks like. After President Obama was elected for the second time, my Facebook wall filled with a crazy range of responses. Many people posted things like,
"It makes me so sad that the people of The United States don't care about life."
and many other posted things like,
"Good to see that America actually cares about women and people who are poor now!"

To complicate matters, there are people whom we love and respect on both sides of the coin. That alone is enough to isolate us from those who can't even imagine what it is to respect the other side. Yet, of the many evangelicals, lutherans, muslims, atheists, conservatives and liberals I have shared life with, I find that all experience love for all living beings, compassion, and a deep down fear that they might actually have it all wrong. In that, I would suggest that we all need to have compassion for one another and stop pointing fingers at fellow human beings.

With fear of judgement from both evangelicals and atheists, yet with devotion to our faith, this is us. Our shared desire to be nearer to God is the very root of our marriage. The purity of love is important to us. We also support our brothers, sisters, and gender-confused siblings in the LGBTQIA community, and hope that our musings on marriage will be helpful to them as well, for Jesus says, "It is not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart" (Mark 7:15).

Owen and I have a deep care and respect for the Bible. We have studied it extensively with a genuine desire to know what it has to tell us sans the cultural atmosphere surrounding it. We continue to pray that we will better understand and love God, as God knows Himself(Herself) to be. We also have a healthy respect for the Qua-ran and other sources of love and wisdom. We are of the small and usually unidentified group known as the Religious Left.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Individual Alone Time (Together)

The greatest struggle I've had since graduating, getting married, and moving to Iowa City has been the hit to my confidence. Since early childhood, I can remember a certain self assuredness that has guided me through school and friendships with ease. For the first time, I fear that I will never accomplish anything in my life, compounded by the greater fear that I will feel inadequate. I don't want to live my life always feeling that I'm not doing enough or accomplishing enough. 

So my struggle has been finding ways to advance myself while following Owen to Iowa City. I've taken a few classes, blogged, learned yoga, and continued to grow closer to Owen. All wonderful, great things that have improved my life.  Yet, on the day to day, week to week, living, thinking, feeling, doing level, all I have time for is working, making dinner, doing domestic work, taking care of Owen, and if we're lucky, spending a couple of enjoyable hours talking or relaxing together. 

This break down of life would be wonderful, if the work I am doing were the work I dream to do. Someday I hope to become a professor of writing at a private liberal arts college, like St. Olaf, involved in developing programs for ELL students. Yet I don't feel any closer to achieving that dream than I was a year and a half ago. I need to spend more time thinking and creating. I need focused alone time to work toward my goals.

Alone time has been a complicated issue for Owen and I. Neither of us really feel the need to separate from each other unnecessarily. We'd be happy to spend 24/7 in one another's company. Also, Owen, having a more anxious attachment style, has in the past felt nervous at the suggestion that I need time without his presence. Lately, as both of us have been learning to be more mindful of our needs, Owen has become more calm on this issue. So, I brought it up to him this week.

Owen in his natural state pre-marriage:
alone and learning abroad
Always understanding and supportive, Owen is ready to help me in my need for that focused time. His first suggestion: having individual alone time together by spending Sunday mornings walking to the coffee house nearby in silence, and then working in silence at the same table. Appreciative of his willingness to try new things, I accepted this proposal with the slight alteration that we would sit at different tables once we arrived. Owen didn't necessarily like this change, but he agreed. 

Sunday morning arrived rainy and cold, but we were dedicated. We arrived at Java House soaked through in forced silence, ordered some breakfast items and got to work. I found myself cold and agitated. Once alone I didn't know quite what to do with myself. This was the alone time that Owen had gifted me despite his own anxieties, and I couldn't do anything productive with it. 

I used to be an expert at alone time! I found it everywhere and enjoyed every minute of it, productive or not, and having it in my life made me a more confident person. Reflecting on how I used to be I surmise that alone time does not exist in the form of forced silence on a once a week excursion. It's a rhythm that underlies the daily tune; it's a way of life wherein you step back from everyone else's opinions and just think of what you yourself want to think about several times a day. When it's consistent it can then become productive and creative, and provide you with greater confidence in your opinions and feelings.

This is going to be a learning experience for both of us. I'm not just going to start taking myself to Java House and leaving Owen at home during those times that have routinely become moments for us to enjoy each other's company. Neither of us are ready for that yet. We are ready to admit that we each have a need for alone time that isn't being met, so we are going to start thinking of how we can bring it more into our lives.

We've determined that we want to have our alone time together, not that we're going to persist in forcing ourselves into silence, but that when we reunite we want to share what we have learned on our own with each other, so that we can continue to grow and change together. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Different Strengths Create Partnership

Recently I took a values inventory that supposedly reveals my greatest character strengths. Considering this is the second posting in a row where I refer to a psychological test, I believe that being married to a counseling psychologist is starting to rub off on me... Anyways, the test is part of Martin E.P. Seligman's Authentic Happiness. Seligman suggests that in marital relationships, being able to use your character strengths in your relationship with your partner will lead to greater happiness.

1. Mercy and Forgiveness
2. Capacity to Love and Be Loved
3. Honesty, Authenticity, and Genuineness
4. Creativity, Ingenuity, and Originality
5. Curiosity and Interest in the World

1. Judgement, Critical Thinking, and Open-Mindedness
2. Love of Learning
3. Curiosity and Interest in the World
4. Spirituality, Sense of Purpose, and Faith
5. Creativity, Ingenuity, and Originality

Before we were dating, Owen and I travelled to Greece and Turkey as a part of the same travel abroad program. Both of us deeply value learning more about the world around us, and we are able to share in plans to live and study around the world. Our shared curiosity also shows in the tendency to go where we aren't necessarily supposed to go...

Other of our character strengths aren't so naturally shared. I can be honest to a fault, sharing every little negative thought that pops into my head, which can be difficult on Owen who isn't used to such candor. Owen's open-mindedness can prove inefficient as he examines every aspect of any decision, driving me crazy. Knowing that honesty and open-mindedness are more than just personality traits, but actually deeply held values helps us to be more understanding of these differences that arise between us. 

I know another ex-couple that never quite came to that understanding. One partner had Kindness and Generosity as a character strength; he desires to be of service to those he loves. He especially enjoys being helpful and doing favors. The other partner had a fierce independent streak and sometimes mistook such helpfulness as an indication that he found her incapable. This clashing of values eventually contributed to their break up.

For a relationship to succeed you must make the effort to understand and respect your partner's values and character strengths. The differences between you will provide a greater variety of strengths to contribute to challenges that you face as partners. Make the effort to learn more about what strengths your partner has to contribute and create a relationship where those strengths can flourish. 

If you are interested in taking the VIA Survey of Character Strengths visit