They’ve taken their toll.

What a beautiful piece of heartache this has all turned out to be. -Over the Rhine

I am well aware that being a thirty-something and quoting “Latter Days” on my blog is the ultimate in cliches. But when it comes down to it, I’m not sure I know of any better expression of . . . what it feels like to be exhausted by life. That’s kind of where I am right now.

When I started doing the yoga class at church, I almost quit after the first or second week. I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t flexible enough and I was embarrassed and my butt was up in the air and it was not fun. Also that whole “downward facing dog” thing? Not for me. I went home and cried. A lot. I wanted to do something to better myself, but it was too hard.

I am nothing if not competitive, even with myself. So I went back. And I went back again. And it got easier and easier. I wouldn’t say I’m good at yoga, because I’m still not very flexible. But I have gotten better and for the most part it is something that makes me feel good – relaxed and healthy. Although I still hate the downward facing dog.

I thought about that last Monday when I went to my pottery class. The instructor got pulled in too many directions and I didn’t get any help, so rather than making anything productive, I ended up with a big sticky mess and this random guy who likes to hang out around the studio essentially said, “You screwed that up.” (Also he spoke to a group of women and called us girls. So he was totally endearing himself to me, is what I am saying.) I told him that wasn’t necessarily helpful after the fact. And when the instructor came by, I told him that it took a lot of courage for me to sign up for an art class, and that I needed some help. And I didn’t cry. (Until I got home.)

I finished Don Miller‘s new book last week, and I don’t think I am going to write an official review, but I will say that it was definitely the most mature of his works, and one that I wouldn’t mind revisiting. I didn’t take a whole lot away from Blue Like Jazz or Searching for God Knows What, but as someone who enjoys writing and someone who cares about life’s meaning and purpose, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years had some things to say to me. Like this blog post, it is about writing a good story with our lives and what that means – overcoming adversity to reach our goals and get what we want.

At one time, like many young people, I thought that there was going to be a point in my life when I had things figured out, when I would do life correctly. I remember the day when I realized that it wasn’t true. Perhaps that is a strange thing to remember, but I can see myself standing in church and realizing that adults screw up, too. That I would, like them, continue to make mistakes. It was completely shocking.

I want my life to tell a good story. I value meaningful relationships and the beauty of the ordinary. Those are the reasons that I do things like yoga and pottery. It’s why I care about running and writing and spending time with my friends and loving my family. But I am confused about what we are to do when it seems that other people’s decisions hijack your story, when things happen that you cannot change or control, and when there seems to be nothing you can do. When you try to make decisions that are in line with the story you want and it doesn’t work out. It seems to me that Don Miller has more control over certain parts of his life than the average person, and I wished that there were some words for those of us who don’t have some of those same opportunities.

You can’t quit your own story like you can quit yoga or pottery. I think the jury is still out on how much good it does to go home and cry about life and then try again, especially when everything seems out of your hands. For me, these days, the jury is also out on where God is in the midst of my story. I don’t think that prayer should mean that I always get my desired result, but I wish I could believe that it meant something. These days, I’m not so sure. These days, I don’t really know what to pray. I’ve asked for help and gotten nothing. I have been determined to do my best and it seemed all for naught. If I was going to pray, it would probably be something like the quote below.

“She knew that was not an honest prayer, and she did not linger over it. The right prayer would have been, Lord . . . I am miserable and bitter at heart, and old fears are rising up in me so that everything I do makes everything worse.” -Marilynne Robinson (Home: A Novel)

Last night, I went to my pottery class. Both the instructor and a nice man named Bruce helped me. I made two pots and a lopsided bowl. I thought about all those things the Bible says about God shaping our lives like a potter. I paid attention to the difficulty of shaping the clay. I thought about my story and whether there is anything I can do to shape it, or if I have to go on feeling completely helpless. And I made some plans. Even if nothing changes, I don’t want to be the person who is so angry. I don’t want to be the person who does nothing. Or, as Over the Rhine might say, “Ah, but baby if all else fails, nothin’ is ever quite what it seems.”

There is a me you would not recognize, dear.
Call it the shadow of myself.
And if the music starts before I get there dance without me.
You dance so gracefully.
I really think I’ll be o.k.
They’ve taken their toll these latter days.

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