Monday, January 14, 2013

Life's not fair.

 The calendar tells me it's a new year.  I had some time off for the holidays, went to a party celebrating the new year, and then went back to work.  I have finished a week of work already, and sometimes it doesn't feel like anything is different.  Life as usual.

But yet everything has changed.

Over the winter holidays, I was actually waiting in great anticipation for news of what my future would be like. 

Would I stay at my job another year?  Would I move out of my apartment?  Would my roommate stay in Japan or return to America?  Could I afford any of these changes (or non-changes)?

Once I started getting answers, it really began to feel like a new year.  Change.

It can be scary.  It can be exciting.  It can be daunting.

But there is always change.

 Often I find myself wanting change.  I don't like the cards I've been dealt.  I want life to be more like 5 card draw.  Exchange the cards I don't like for new ones.  Sometimes you can.  Sometimes you are out of draws and stuck envying someone else's Full House or Four of a Kind.  (Sometimes you are beat by a Two Pair, which is kinda worse...)

This year, I find myself faced with all the cards I didn't want.

I'm working at my current job one more year, unable to quit without closing down an entire school.  Just one of the prices of responsibility,.

My roommate has decided to return to America to be closer to her family.  And I understand how important family is.  As much as I want her to stay, I don't have the right to keep her here.  But I will go back to living alone.  Good roommates are hard to come by, and it takes a special person to be able to live with me.

We are moving out of our apartment in two months.  There is a ton of stuff to do, things to get rid of, things to pack, and a small fear of where is the money for all of this going to come from.

Which apartment should I choose?  What area do I want to live in?  Do I want to move closer to work for the sake of a single year, or do I want to choose a place that would be more convenient for future employment options?  Do I want to sacrifice space for cheaper rent so I might be able to attempt to save some money, or do I want to save my sanity by renting a larger space with a nicer bath/toilet options?  If I get a place with a loft would I be able to use it with my knees in pain?

Fear of a new year...  Being alone again, in an unchanging financial situation (only wait, it looks like the dollar is becoming stronger, which means more of my paycheck will be going to pay student loans instead of less.  Am I a terrible person when I prefer economic hardships for the rest of the country just because it makes my loan payments a bit easier?), in a new place...

It's easy to become frustrated and stop and complain...  It's not fair.

Why do the things I want to change not?  Why do the things I want to keep change?  Why do others have what I want?

It's not fair.

It's true.  Life isn't fair.

It never was.  I am no longer a child who petulantly demands fairness.  Or at least I shouldn't be.

I've been listening to stories of other people.  Reading tales.  Remembering old friends.  And it dawns on me.

Life isn't fair.

I reflect on stories of betrayal.  People I could have been jealous of for seemingly fairy tale romances, left shattered and broken by the men who should have been protecting them.  I hear of women who are more lonely after they are married than they ever were alone.  Christians who suddenly loose their faith, betraying those who pledged their lives to them.  Children growing up in broken, dysfunctional homes.  Slavery still exists in this world.  Children are exploited.  Women are abused.  There are people who can't eat.  Children who only wish they could go to school.  Girls who are shot because they want access to education.  A woman younger than me who will have to deal with the fact that she will probably not live long enough to watch her two little girls grow up into women themselves because she has an inoperable brain tumor. 

One of the things that really frustrates me when teaching Japanese children, is the fact that they don't appreciate what they have.  They complain because they are forced to learn English.  They think it's horrible they have to stay awake in class.  It's terrible because they are not allowed to die their hair, or wear earings.  And heaven forbid if the teachers tell them to pull up their pants or stop rolling up their skirts so short.  They don't care about the girls on the other side of the world who fight to go to school and live in fear of being shot.  They don't care that there are children who work in factories or rolling cigarets and get less to eat than what these kids skip for breakfast.  But it's not fair when we ask them to turn in their homework.

Yes, all of these things frustrate me greatly, and I often lecture children about them.

And then Call Me a Hypocrite if I don't go around and do the exact same thing in my life.

Oh boo hoo, oh woe is me.  Life is hard.  Oh no, I'm single.  Oh no, I don't have enough money.  Oh no, I don't like my job perfectly.  Poor poor me.  Life is so unfair.

(please tell me you can read the sarcasm here.)

I personally know other women who are still single.  I in fact know of three people exactly my age who are still single.  That doesn't count those who are older than me either.  But poor poor me.

Money is a little tight, but I still manage to get internet and ice cream and buy things with my favorite character design.  Yet I know someone who lost quite a bit of weight because she couldn't afford to eat.  There are people living in cardboard boxes, and I'm wondering if the next apartment will be big enough to hold all my stuff...

I enjoy my students and the freedom of my job, but I complain about the commute and the stress and fantasize about the "perfect" job.  while there are people who can't get jobs, or who have jobs in factories where they are more like slaves than anything else and who have no option to change.

Life isn't fair.

And I'm insulting so many others if I think my life is more unfair than someone else's. 

So maybe it's time for me to stop complaining about how unfair life is, and start trying to find things to be grateful for.

Unfairness is universal, and guaranteed.  Kinda like death and taxes. 

It's how we deal with our unfairness that matters, and exposes our true character.

I hope this time of of change and transition starts to expose a little more character improvement in me.

Even when life's not fair.

(On a side note, I will be busy with a lot of details with moving and such for a while, so I might not post much.  Then again, I might have plenty of things to process and stress to relieve, so I might post more...  Who knows.  Be warned.  I might be really wordy about moving stuff, or I might be really silent.  And one last sobering recognition of unfairness:  turns out I'm moving into a new place (yet to be decided) on the anniversary of the Great Earthquake that took the homes of so many people.  It's a bit sobering to think about.  Prayers for wise decision making and being open to God's guidance and graceful acceptance of "unfairness" would also be appreciated.)

Tuesday, January 01, 2013


 "Sing, O barren woman, you who have never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband," says the LORD.  (Is. 54:1)

My hometown is in West Texas.  I grew up surrounded by barrenness.  But I guess I never really thought of it as barren.  I mean, it was full of stuff.  Like rattlesnakes, catcus, stickers (the kind that get stuck in your feet, not on papers), Black Widow spiders, well, all kinds of spiders, including a few tarantulas, snakes, scorpions (itty bitty ones), mesquite (I once had a mesquite thorn puncture my car tire!) coyotes, bobcats, horses, cows, cotton fields, pump jacks, skunks, jackrabbits, prairie dogs, horny toads....

Hey, you could actually fit quite a lot in that barrenness.

I actually found it beautiful most of the time.  The open sky, the straight roads, the sunsets.

Of course you had to tolerate the brownness of everything.

Actually, as a child, I did a report one year about Texas Wildflowers and grasses.  I remember trying to illustrate my report and being confused if I should color the grasses green or brown.  Because they don't actually stay green for long in West Texas.  Everything just seemed to grow in various stages of brown.

While I loved my Texas, and the big, big sky...  I dreamed of places that were green.  Like bright vibrant green.  Ireland for example.  In fact, one of the things I was really looking forward to when I came to Japan was... greenness.

 Now, I'm sure you are wondering what the point is right about now.  Actually I am too.  I'm kinda just trying to sort out my own feelings right now.

My friend shared with me a Bible passage today, and I quoted the first verse above. 

This passage always seems to make me cringe lately.  It's like pouring hydrogen peroxide on a flesh wound.  I can just feel ugly parts of myself bubbling up and reacting to those words.

O Barren Woman.

Wait, that felt more like a knife than anything else.

The more I ponder it, the more painful those words become.

O Barren  Woman.

I am a barren woman.  I come from a barren land.


Doesn't it kinda feel like the word echos around deep in the caverns of your soul?

Well, maybe it's just me.

When I was a child, around 6th grade I believe, I tested into the Gifted and Talented group in my school.  Of course I was proud of my Gifted and Talentedness, but what really made me happy was for that one year I was the only girl in the program for my grade.

I was special.

I guess many girls hate being the only girl, but I loved it.  Somewhere I guess, being the only girl somehow made it more apparent that I was in fact a girl.  I became more feminine by default.

I loved it.

But the next year there were 3 girls and I wasn't special anymore.

But I never forgot how that felt.

I guess it was part of my search for womanhood.  What does it mean to be a woman?  What is my identity?

John Eldridge examines masculinity and femininity in his books.  He talks about how Eve was created in the image of God: the image of beauty and life.  This is what she brings to the world.

Eve is given to Adam as his ezer kenegdo-or as many translations have it, his "help meet" or "helper." Doesn't sound like much, does it? It makes me think of Hamburger Helper. But Robert Alter says this is "a notoriously difficult word to translate." It means something far more powerful than just "helper"; it means "lifesaver." The phrase is only used elsewhere of God, when you need him to come through for you desperately. "There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you" (Deut. 33:26). Eve is a life giver; she is Adam's ally. It is to both of them that the charter for adventure is given. It will take both of them to sustain life. And they will both need to fight together.

Eve is deceived . . . and rather easily, as my friend Jan Meyers points out. In The Allure of Hope, Jan says, "Eve was convinced that God was withholding something from her." Not even the extravagance of Eden could convince her that God's heart is good. "When Eve was [deceived], the artistry of being a woman took a fateful dive into the barren places of control and loneliness." Now every daughter of Eve wants to "control her surroundings, her relationships, her God." No longer is she vulnerable; now she will be grasping. No longer does she want simply to share in the adventure; now she wants to control it. And as for her beauty, she either hides it in fear and anger, or she uses it to secure her place in the world. "In our fear that no one will speak on our behalf or protect us or fight for us, we start to recreate both ourselves and our role in the story. We manipulate our surroundings so we don't feel so defenseless." Fallen Eve either becomes rigid or clingy. Put simply, Eve is no longer simply inviting. She is either hiding in busyness or demanding that Adam come through for her; usually, an odd combination of both.

In Ancient times a Barren woman was considered to be a failure as a woman.  Fortunately society has changed, and women aren't as shamed by barrenness (although the shame is still there, just less obvious.  It comes out at family gatherings when well meaning family members wonder why you aren't married yet, or when you watch your group of single friends grow smaller and younger while the rest of your friends families grow larger and the children grow older.)

But if you think about what a woman's unique gift to the world is, the ability to bring life, and what barrenness is - the absence of life...

Is it any wonder I feel that the term O Barren Woman is a declaration of failure as a woman?

Those feelings shake and echo in my heart, like banshees - angry and accusing, whipping around out of control on the wings of a tornado that threatens to pick me up, body and soul, to deposit me in a hell of shame and brokenness and defeat.

And in the middle of that, God is telling me to rejoice?  And sing?  Burst into song?  Shout for joy?

The concept is shocking enough that the banshees stop their howling - shocked into silence by the absurdness of it.  I mean, seriously, how are you supposed to react to that?

In the shocked silence, I have a little time to ponder these things.  The numbness helps me deal with the facts.

Yes, I am a barren woman.  Not because my body is broken.  I've had a good friend who struggled over a year with infertility and the fears and the tears and frustrations.  It's hard for me to empathize, but I know it was a huge emotional and spiritual trial for her.  In the end, God granted her prayers and her time of barrenness has been filled with life.

But my barrenness is different.  I think I could bear it better if my body was broken.  That is something out of my control, and doesn't have anything to do with my identity or value as a woman.

No, my barrenness is because...  I am alone.  A woman cannot give life alone.  A woman is carried and filled and delivers life, but a woman cannot produce life alone.

She needs to be filled by someone else.

This is a much harder reality for me to bear.  This feels like I am a failure as a woman.  Because I am not wanted, I am not needed, therefore I cannot give life.  I have no husband.

I am empty.

It's scary, and lonely.

And I have to face the possibility that it may be permanent.

Yet, I am told rejoice.

Break into song.

Shout for joy.

My cold heart reacts like Sarai, with a disbelieving laugh.

Hah.  That's funny.

I, the Barren Woman, should rejoice in my barrenness.

Very funny.

But who can stand against God?  Is there anything that God cannot do?

I have a long way to go.  I am not calm and accepting like Mary.  I am old and bitter like Sarai.  But I think that very bitterness is what is causing my true barrenness.  Barrenness of my heart.

Because if I allowed myself to be filled with Jesus, like Mary, life would pour out of me, because I would not be alone.  I would give birth to joy and song and dancing.  In my heart, there would be Life and Light.

But if I stay in my barrenness, then the only things that will grow are the bitterness and shame that want to consume me.

But on the up side, my barren heart is very empty right now.  So that means Jesus has plenty of room to grow in.  He doesn't have to compete with a husband or children or even love of my job.  I have even let go of my dearest dreams, returning empty handed like the prodigal son after chasing empty things.

So my prayer for the new year is a year filled with Jesus growing in me, taking over my barren spaces, and filling me with joy and song.

I hope to go from being a Barren Woman, to being a Blessed Woman.

Happy New Year.