Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I tipped him off when I asked for time signals

Today it finally came out. He asked me point-blank. I couldn't avoid the question. So I answered his question with an nigh imperceptible nod. "Have you done speech before this class?" Nod. "Have you competed in speech?" Nod. My professor smiled in a self-satisfied sort of way. "You're a ringer. I can always spot them."

My spirits sank at this confession, I spent the rest of the class stewing in self-pity. I've tried desperately to keep my competitive forensics background under wraps. It's not on my resume. I haven't sought out the debate team. I've never mentioned it to my advisors. I stack expectations against me by approaching speeches, presentations, and group projects with much trepidation. I managed to get all the way to my junior year without a soul in the communication studies department knowing I did seven years of forensic competition in secondary school.

But I think my beginning public speaking teacher was on to me. She pinpointed that nebulous criticism I had always received on my NCFCA ballots: my tendency to "put on" an stereotyped persona, to become a caricature of myself when speaking. She held me to a standard higher than just being able to stand in front of the class and sound coherent. I got my first A- in that class, and I was furious. Each subsequent semester I would pull my evaluations out of my folder, and begin assembling my grade appeal. Eventually, though, I just threw it all out. I deserved the grade I got. It took my pride a few semesters to see that. 

And this was exactly why I wanted to leave my speech and debate experience in high school. Let the truth be known: I am not a good public speaker. I lack the natural knack for dynamics and fluidity. I worked at speech and debate for several years before I made it to the podium for the first time. This is not to say that I have not honed a certain degree of skill in this area, but I still have much, much more to learn, with much more struggle and practice ahead. And an understanding of this reality offended my pride. I wanted low standards, I wanted little expected of me. I wanted to coast, I didn't want to be challenged.

But my secret's out. My advanced public speaking professor knows, and worse, our whole class is also privy to my handicap. And I'm petrified, of not being good enough, of getting a bad grade, of being challenged, and of being unable to rise to the challenge. And yet, how much more fearsome is it to be content with my own mediocre skill? Much worse, I think. And on that I will lean the rest of the semester.

Monday, September 3, 2012

"Where you invest your love, you invest your life," Part II

I heard a beautiful salvation story this evening, told over a few pieces of $1 cheese slices from my favorite Ronzio's location. She shared her heart with a sparkling conviction, her blue eyes brimming as she explained the waterfall of joy that welled up in her heart when she realized her need. I sat there rapt as we talked about Thailand and family and YWAM and church. 

Rewind an hour or two. I get off a long day at work, weary of talking to angry parents and making awkward dorm visits. I clutched a heavy tiredness as I headed to the quad to play frisbee with our Intervarsity chapter as part of our new student outreach. I showed up out of obligation, and glanced at my watch in between pathetic frisbee tosses, and made small talk like I was trying too hard. 

Last semester I was approached about joining the leadership team for my school's Intervarsity chapter, and without a second thought I filled out an application. It is the hand of God that has me here where I am, and I want to be working where He is working. But now that the fall is beginning and the rubber has to meet the road, I am finding myself timid and dulled by the sense of obligation that motivates me to show up. And an empty motivation it is.

My brain knows what's good for me, knows what I ought to be attending to and where I ought to be investing my life. Watered by ambition, it flourishes in the idealism of a productive life, one that loves and serves with abandon. It trusts and believes that the strength and love and joy that He pours into me is enough to overflow into others, and turn back into praise to Him.

By contrast my heart is weak and brittle. Besieged by apathy, it longs after the things my brain knows to be foolishness. With a sullen sense of defeat it contents itself with curling up in the silence of frivolous and solitary pursuits. It grows achy and feels helpless at the realization of its anemia, and to fight its own coldness it grows numb.

My brain wants to want faithfulness, love, righteousness, but my heart is too helpless to fight to desire these things.

But then there is the beauty of the story shared with me. The reminder that showing up to play frisbee and meet people is not an obligation but a privilege. And that the joy that poured from her eager face is the joy that could pour from my softened heart. Oh Father, so high above me, so close within me. So much like Lilith, strong in her rebellion and broken in her repentance, I cannot open my hand on my own. Unite my heart to fear Your name.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

"Where you invest your love, you invest your life."

I have this white board. Technically it's my mom's. The homeschooling stand-by that sported our daily grammar lessons and math tricks charts  lived in our basement for a while, until I redirected it for my own personal use. (Kids do this with their parents' stuff. It's the worst.) So "my" white board that previously enshrined my summer to-do list has received a makeover as my autumn goals list. Though I whipped up the goals arbitrarily and on a whim, one particular goal has been a nagging addendum to each campus-related decision I make.

It says, "Be available."

I feel pulled in so many directions, my heart caught by the things I know I ought to invest in. There are seven days in a week, and twenty-four hours in a day, and the things set before me are all good and important. Why, then, do I find myself disquieted by the lack of space in my schedule? 

Part of me is bitter. I look at the students in my honors' class, how they're on the executive board for three clubs, and in Greek life, and they have internships, and campus jobs, and they still have time for Applebee's trivia night every week. How do they do all that? Why can't I pull that off?

Part of me is selfish. My time is my time, and I will spend it the way I want. The sense of obligation and responsibility I feel towards my commitments leaves me with an acidic taste in my mouth, something my head can rationalize but my heart revolts against. Why do I hoard my time so hungrily? Why do the things I love and choose to do so often feel like obligations?

Part of me is overwhelmed. I am just one person, and I am not enough to do all that needs to be done. I cannot possibly love all the people that need loving. I cannot even learn all there is for me to learn. I am too weak and too busy and too self-centered to be what I ought to be. How can I cut off the things that make me small and hold me back? And what if I can't?

Oh, here is the really mysterious part. That I have to teach my brain to skirt around it, so I can think about it better. (Like you see things more clearly out of the corner of your eye.) It's so simple that I struggle with the mechanics of it, but this is it: He is my enough. He owns my time. He fills my heart. He gives me strength. What does that mean? What does that look like? How do I let Him?