Saturday, November 5, 2016

Never Grow Up

Taken September 24, 2016, my twentieth birthday.
Six weeks ago was my birthday. I turned twenty years old. And the last year bridging the gap between “teenagerism” and entering “real” adulthood (by societal standards)--oh, how it has brimmed with joy, with hope, with dreams! Oh, how it has burst with sorrow, anger, depression, terror, loneliness, frustration. Oh, how God has placed His hand over all of it, sending loving, but difficult, reminders that He is still the One in charge, and that His plans are, thank God, much wiser than my own.

Maybe, if you're a regular reader, you've wondered why it's been seven months, and more, since I last published a post. The truth is that I'm no longer the woman I was a year ago. I don't find the same satisfaction in the somewhat superficial art of fashion. I still love the confidence that dressing nicely gives me, and I still love to follow fashionistas on social media--but my focus in life has moved, at least a little, beyond my appearance. I eat with less restriction, but with more mindfulness. I buy clothes that are comfortable and that I am happy in. I smile and find beauty in as many people and places as I can--and I stop obsessing over my own level of beauty. I stand and stare at rippling brooks graced by mallard ducks and framed by a medley of orange and red-tinged leaves; I crane my head to peer at the top of a majestic chestnut tree, in awe of the beauty of creation. God has used many circumstances in the last twelve months and, yes, even only in the last six, to grow me up almost further than I knew could be possible in a year's time, and in it, He has dealt with both my outward and inward selves.

I remember last autumn vividly. I remember the feelings of fear, because this would be my first year of calculus, and I figured that this year would define my desire--or lack thereof--to become a math major. I remember a torrent of emotions flooding me on my nineteenth birthday, during a day that was as alternately cloudy and sunny as my mood. I remember my feelings of inadequacy, because I was supposed to be at Oregon State University in Corvallis, and not stuck around Goldendale attending school full-time online while being dual-enrolled at OSU and my local community college.

I remember, with shame, the day I scoffed at my calculus classmate Kevin for asking the silly question, “Do you guys want to be friends?” when we were going to work on our first project together. I remember realizing that it was okay to not be completely rigid around people. I remember deciding that I was going to have fun. I remember how this decision played a bigger role in the following months than any other decision I could have made.

I remember with a bittersweet feeling in my heart how I started to learn to let people know me, and I remember what a freedom and a blessing it was.

I was so happy.

Yet this freedom of really knowing people came with its curse of ugliness. I thought in April, roughly seven months after I had first gotten to know a multitalented and beautiful group of calculus students, that I knew why God had shut every door there was to my pursuing my Bachelor's of Mathematics at Oregon State University. I thought He had used it to bless me with the knowledge of what being open to people is like, even though it's not always safe. Except I didn't actually know what it meant to say, “Love isn't safe.”

I didn't, because I didn't know how ugly love can be.

Depression, loneliness, insecurity, neediness, illness. Exhausted emotional and mental states from carrying so much baggage. Irritability, because I shouldn't have to shoulder their pain with mine, should I? Anxiety and concern. A growing realization that my anxiety and concern was for myself, not for them, and that what I felt wasn't love, and that what I did about it wasn't very loving.

I can only think what Mom said to me once: God uses every relationship to bring us closer to Him, no matter what that relationship was or is like.

Nearly two months ago, I left home for the first time and settled in a new city to pursue my dream. My dream of becoming a mathematician, of studying the beauty and the intricacy of the most applicable science mankind has invented/discovered. I have lived some soul-shaking days in the past eight weeks. I have felt such a yawning chasm of hurt in my heart that I feared I could never recover. I have been tempted to say “I have no need to stay here; I'm going home” multiple times. I have realized anew how incredibly selfish I am, and how crappy I am at building and maintaining relationships. I have felt settled and then that feeling has been shredded by the realization of my limited abilities in the area of mathematics. Associating with so many scientists and mathematicians has shown me how arrogant I really am. Coming from a tiny town, it wasn't hard to get a big head, especially when I was frequently told how smart and talented I am. Sure, I could pretend to be humble; I pretended to be humble so long that I believed it was true. Then I was thrown onto a university campus with twelve thousand other people, and I realized I'm not so smart after all. My fellow mathematicians are more effective problem solvers and they notice patterns more quickly. They have better memories than I do, and they have an even broader base of talent.

Yes, I have learned some things about math majors. They are tenacious, but the best of them are tenacious not for the degree but because they love the subject so much. They are some of the most broadly-disciplined people around. They are incredible musicians. They are well-read. They have intelligent opinions on subjects ranging from everyone's favorite television series to astrophysics to coffee to working out. They are so passionate about their subject that if you walk up to them and ask “What are you working on?” they will willingly--happily--spend the next five straight minutes explaining a proof and why they are struggling with it.

But math majors are pretty weird too. They tend to vary on two extremes: some are obnoxious, for example, and you wish they would shut up. Others are silent; they speak only when asked to speak. (And then when you ask them to speak they won't shut up. But you know.) They wear those funny black-rimmed nerd glasses. They love Star Wars and superheroes and lame jokes. They are whip smart but they have occasions where they just draw total blanks and tiny things, like arithmetic, go straight up and over their heads.

I read a poem posted on Facebook that mentioned the idea of Fall being the only season of life where change is actually appreciated. As the falling yellow, orange, and red leaves leave the chestnut and walnut trees lining Ellensburg avenues bare for the winter, and I reconsider how the last eight weeks, the last twelve months, the last twenty years of experience have shaped me into the woman I am, I fear the next year, the next two years. I anticipate the new experiences. I apprehend the possibility of unabated loneliness. But I'm trying to let go. I'm trying to learn not to say “Never.” I'm trying to see God's hand moving in my life, and relinquish whatever shoddy control I thought I had.

Take some pictures in your mind of your childhood room.
Memorize what it sounded like when your dad gets home.
Remember the footsteps; remember the words said,
and your little brother's favorite songs.
I just realized everything I had is someday going to be gone.

So here I am in my new apartment in a big city;
they just dropped me off.
It's so much colder than I thought it would be,
so I tuck myself in and turn my night light on.

Wish I'd never grown up.
--Taylor Swift

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