Category Archives: Thoughts About Life

Limping Through December

This year I learned one of the uncomfortable truths about post-college life: Most people don’t get a month-long vacation over the holidays.

I’m used to the terribleness that is the two weeks after Thanksgiving: Illness, dead week, finals week, giant projects you should have started on three weeks ago. But then, I’m also used to it all being over after the first week of December, giving me recuperation time amid holiday parties and shopping sprees.

Granted, in my current job as school secretary, I get a nice two-week vacation, which is more than many people can boast. But goodness me, this year it was not enough.

I got absolutely hammered with illness this year. The whole month of December I’ve been either in bed sick or just barely recovered and ready to be hit with the next onslaught of sore throat or fever or what have you. The worst of it happened in the two weeks leading up to the Christmas play at school. I’d drag myself to school, direct the play for an hour, and then go home and crawl back into bed, my quota of energy used up for the day.

And then, oh my! The play was happening in three days, and the sheep did not have sheep costumes, and the cows did not have cow costumes, and the angels did not have wings. Mom, Amy, and Jenny leaped into action. We congregated in the sewing room. I cut up old blankets that looked like animal fur. Mom sewed them together. Amy sat on the floor and cut angel wings out of foam board with a utility knife. Jenny bought a quarter yard of faux fur, came home, and fashioned it into a beard.

The play went well, all things considered. I can’t complain on that front. But the Christmas season was in full swing, and there were family gatherings and Christmas concerts and I still had to go to work until December 19, and then a friend came from out of town and then my Mom and sisters and I drove up to Seattle to watch Howl’s Moving Castle: The Musical.

Christmas Eve I had horrible insomnia. After three hours of sleep-ish, waking up every 20 minutes or so to cough, I got such horrible stomach cramping that I woke up for good. After a couple hours of pretty intense pain I threw up and felt a little better.

I went back to bed. I could hear my siblings start to get up, and I didn’t know if I should get up to or try to catch a few winks before breakfast. I went with the latter, which meant that I was woken up for breakfast during my first REM cycle of the night, which meant that I was so disoriented and miserable that I started crying for no good reason.

“No one cares if you go back to bed,” said Matt.

So I did. Not the greatest start to my Christmas. Thankfully it only took about 20 minutes of rest before my system re-set itself enough that I was okay again.

Despite being one of the most exhausting miserable Decembers to date, it has also been astoundingly magical. How often does one get the chance to write and direct a play? To see one of their favorite books get turned into a musical? To have their whole family home for Christmas? To take a trip to Seattle with their Mom and sisters, and only a few days later, to spend four days in the stunning beauty that is the southern Oregon coast?

I wanted to blog about all the magic, I really did. But all my energy went to other things. Like surviving.

Oh well.

After all, tomorrow is another year.

 

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Thanksgiving

My friend Simone and I sat outside on the porch swing, with only a light blanket over our laps for warmth. The winds blew, sending wet leaves to the sidewalk with a splat. We watched the kittens peeking timidly at us as we sipped our tea and ate pumpkin cheesecake.

“It feels strange being out here in this weather,” Simone said as the rain began to fall. “Like walking on a dry riverbed. That feeling like you shouldn’t be able to be here, but you’re here.”

I first noticed this strange warmth on Tuesday. The sky was as cloudy and cold-looking as usual, and I did my indoor work without once wondering what the temperature outside was. But just before I was about to leave for the day, I saw that there was a row of garbage bags on the sidewalk. I’d asked parents and church members to drop off their empty pop cans, so we could recycle them as a fundraiser. And here they were, bags and bags of them.

I went outside to move them to the play structure, bracing for the usual blast of cold air, and what I got instead was a balmy 64°. Delightful. Of all the random things I do as secretary, moving bags of empty pop cans was the highlight of my week.

Unfortunately, by the time I got home that afternoon it was past 4:30, and the sun was setting.

Wednesday was lovely too, but again, I was working, and the sun sets so early these days. I prayed that this strange weather quirk would last just one more day, and then went out to read in the hammock by flashlight.

Thanksgiving morning I was in the kitchen, scrubbing floors and baking pies, when the sun momentarily broke through the clouds and flooded the world with light. I dashed outdoors. It was warm! So warm! Why the bunnyslipper was I still indoors? I grabbed tea and a book and took a break from the Thanksgiving morning hullabaloo.

When I finally came back inside, I mentioned the strange weather to my Dad. “It was 60° when I got up this morning,” he said. “That’s probably only happened ten times this whole year. Even in the summer it’s cold in the morning.”

I got dressed, and then decided to leave the cooking to those more skilled than I, and focus on making bouquets. That way I could be outside. I took a pair of sheers and cut flowering weeds from the garden, apple tree branches with their yellowing leaves, hydrangeas that were turning a rust red color, handfuls of calendulas, and the last of the roses. Then the sun broke through the clouds again, and it was just unfair to keep this beauty to myself. “Amy! Jenny! Do you want to come make bouquets with me?”

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Featuring Mom’s writing cabin in the background


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Our Thanksgiving dinner was, as usual, a motley crew of distant relatives and people who have nowhere else to go. We ate dinner, had good conversation, and then Simone and I ate desert outside so that we could soak up the relative warmth while it lasted.

People hung around all afternoon, playing games and making jokes, but I was exhausted. I went upstairs and took a nap, and when I woke up, it was dark again.

I looked it up online. After December 9, sunsets will begin happening later and later instead of earlier and earlier. I can’t wait.

Note: After I published this, I remembered another story from yesterday I wanted to add.

Amy had printed questions on all of the place cards, and we went around the table and answered them. My great-aunt Allene had the question, “what moment from your past had the greatest impact on you?” (or something of that stripe) and began talking about working at a Children’s home in Kansas City.

“How old were you at the time?” Darrell asked.

“18 or 19.”

“Wow, you were young.”

“Well,” said Allene, “we could do whatever we wanted once we turned 18. The girls could at least. The boys had to stay at home until they were 21.”

We all thought this was really funny. “That’s not what they taught me in my family studies class!” said Amy.

It was a good Thanksgiving.

Why Personality Tests Always Misdiagnose Me

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I struggled through years of taking personality tests that gave me absurd results. They told me I was an ENFP, a Sanguine, a 9 on the Enneagram, and then I’d read the description for what “I was” and it never sounded anything like me.

“Don’t overthink it. Go with your gut,” people told me. So I’d take another one, get similarly silly results, and roll my eyes in frustration and annoyance.

I assumed that the problem was the false dichotomy of the questions. “Do you enjoy parties, or would you rather stay at home in your PJ’s?” they would ask. Can’t someone legitimately enjoy both?

I wrote a slightly rant-ey blog post about it, and all the Myers-Briggs-obsessed people came swarming out of the woodwork, insisting that I must give it another try, and I need to make sure I don’t overthink the answers, and I will get it figured out and feel so understood.

I thought they’d completely missed the point of the post.

It was inescapable, though. Once the personality people have you in their sights, they don’t let you go until they figure out what you are. During a sleepover with my friend Sarah Beth, we read over brief descriptions of every. single. one. of the 16 Myers Briggs types, until we landed on one that actually sounded a little bit like me: The INTP.

“The INTP personality type is fairly rare, making up only three percent of the population, which is definitely a good thing for them, as there’s nothing they’d be more unhappy about than being ‘common,'” we read out loud from the 16 Personalities website. Then we burst into gales of laughter. Finally, a personality description that fit me.

Once I’d “found myself,” so to speak, I became one of those personality people who tries to type everyone they meet. My friend Esta and I talked endlessly of personalities, typing all of our family and friends. Then we moved on to the Enneagram. Tests once again epicly failed me, but again, after studying the different types and discussing it with Esta I figured out that I’m a 5.

Last Wednesday I was at the ACE teacher convention, and I was listening to a talk on how to handle stress based on your personality type. The first thing the speaker did was have us take a short, 6-question test to figure out what Enneagram type we were. “Now don’t overthink it!” she said, pulling the quiz up on the screen.

For the first time, I was taking a personality test backwards, knowing the outcome before I’d even completed the questions. I saw the difference between what I knew my answers were and what my quick, automatic responses might have been. And suddenly I saw the problem. The reason I always got misdiagnosed.

I LISTENED TO THE PEOPLE WHO TOLD ME NOT TO OVERTHINK IT.

And you know what?

Every single person who ever told me not to overthink it was a Feeler, not a Thinker, on the Myers Briggs scale.

For example, one question asked, “What is your biggest fear?” Of the nine options, three stood out to me: not being loved, being overwhelmed, and being abandoned. I don’t like being overwhelmed, I don’t like it when people march off and abandon me, and of course not being loved sounds pretty nasty. In an effort to not overthink it, I probably would have scribbled down “being abandoned” and moved on.

However, after pondering it for quite some time, I realized that while abandonment and not being loved sound like they’d be nasty if they happened, I’m never actually afraid that they will happen. Ever.

But once, when I was sick with West Nile, I mustered up my strength and tried to go to a youth event. There was a fog in my head, and people were talking and laughing and I couldn’t follow the conversations or figure out what was going on. And it was awful.

That night I lay awake, terrified to my core that this would be my life. “I’m afraid of not being able to process amazing things as they happen.” I wrote in the dark corners of my diary.

I was afraid of being overwhelmed. But when that question popped up on the screen,  my “gut” didn’t immediately know that I’m afraid of being overwhelmed. I had to think about it for a while. Remember the incident. Recall that it was being overwhelmed that I was afraid of, even though I didn’t call it that.

So, the final point I will leave you with is this: If the results of your personality tests don’t make sense, try overthinking it.

The Death of a Beautiful Place

When people die we remember all the meaningful moments we had with them, even if we didn’t know them well, and when beautiful places die we do the same thing.

As the horrible Eagle Creek fire destroys the Columbia River Gorge, I remember the last time I was there, and what I felt, and how meaningful it was. I almost blogged about it at the time, because it was such a beautiful experience, but then it was the end of my very last term of college and blogging fell off the priority list.

At the end of last May I went to my cousin’s wedding in Michigan, and then road-tripped home with my brother Ben and my cousin Derek. We left after lunch on Sunday, drove straight through the night, and arrived home Monday evening.

Minnesota, South Dakota, and Montana were pleasant enough, although I must admit I slept through a great deal of it. Scrubby at times, perhaps, but at least the temperature was fine. And then we descended into the desert of eastern Washington. What a ghastly place it was that day. Barren, and a thick blanket of heat that my poor failing air conditioner couldn’t begin to combat. We opened windows, and the hot air moved, but didn’t cool us. I spread newspapers over my lap because they absorbed less heat than my black skirt.

But though we were hot, tired, and travel weary, with un-brushed teeth and rumpled clothing, we held out hope for the gorge. Maybe, when we got to Oregon, it would be cooler.

We got closer and closer, and then, as we crossed the bridge into Oregon, across the Columbia River, I felt it. A cool breeze. A cool breeze drifting over the water and into my soul, just for me. All of the sudden life was, again, something manageable.

We drove along I-84 with our windows down. The hot desert was replaced by trees of all species and sizes, and the blue of the Columbia river, and the cool breezes that drifted into our windows.

There was a car accident on I-84, creating a traffic jam, so we zipped off at the nearest exit and drove along the Columbia River Highway for a while.

The Columbia River Highway was the first road through the gorge I believe, but as it was just a regular little road, Interstate 84 was built parallel to it when more and more people began traveling through. I-84, though it has beautiful views, is very much still an ugly man-made rode. The Columbia River Highway, on the other hand, looks like it grew out of the mountain, with trees growing right up alongside the road, and little stone walls instead of guardrails, with moss growing through the cracks.

There was a traffic jam here, too, but I didn’t care because in the shade of the abundant trees, everything was cool and beautiful. Inching along, we soon began to see that this traffic jam was caused, not by overflow traffic from the I-84 accident, but by the giant crowds of people who had come to Multnomah Falls for Memorial Day. The parking lots were filled and overflowing, and people were parked along the side of the road, narrowing it so much that only one lane of people could drive by at a time.

And when we did get a chance to drive by, it didn’t feel like driving down a road, it felt like driving through someone’s yard while they’re hosting their annual neighborhood BBQ. There were people everywhere, and as we inched through them and tried not to hit anybody, I leaned out my window and watched the tall, tall waterfall and felt like I was part of the same grand party.

Multnomah Falls is a funny place. I’ve gone there countless times, and once I even blogged about going, but sometime between my childhood and now it went from being a pretty place to being a TREnDy place, and now it’s splashed across Instagram and always overcrowded. However, once we were past Multnomah and driving down the road like it was a road, again, we passed waterfall after waterfall that were probably just as beautiful, but no one seemed to know about them.

We twisted and turned around the mountains, past waterfalls, over bridges, always under the deep green canopy. And there were views, always views around this corner or that, of the wide river. And such a cool breeze, after that abysmal heat! A simple concept, but there are no words to describe what it does to your soul.

And I thought that I would treasure this forever. I took a few pictures with my phone, because I wanted to remember. I never edited or Instagrammed them, and they didn’t begin to capture the beauty, but I still get an inch of that feeling back when I look at them.

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They say to tell your loved ones that you love them, because in the blink of an eye, they could be gone. It never occurred to me that places could be the same way. That one day, a fire might destroy these trees, and it would never again look quite like it did that day.

I don’t know what the gorge will look like after this fire.

August 2017 Life Update

As I close out August, I thought I’d do a quick post with a few updates on my life.

My Poor Computer

The internet on my little laptop is not working at all, EXCEPT Youtube works. And Google. But not Gmail. So, needless to say, being limited to the family computer and my little iPhoney does not inspire me to blog frequently.

(If you have any insight into what might be wrong with my laptop, please share. I thought maybe it was a Chrome problem, but Internet Explorer doesn’t work either.)

Stories vs. Opinions

My eclipse story didn’t QUITE break my record for most hits ever in a day (that record is still held by my post on singleness) but it was my most-shared post ever. This got me thinking about how most of my really successful blog posts are opinion posts. But I would much rather be a storyteller than an opinion writer.

The Scarlet Pimpernel 

I backed myself into a corner with this one. I’ll admit that when I posted about finishing classics I secretly hoped that my readers would give me the necessary encouragement to finish, and in the case of The Scarlet Pimpernel that was overwhelmingly true. So I thought I’d read it and report on what I thought, only to discover that I have no real way to talk about my experience of reading it without spoiling it for those who haven’t read it. Oops. Sorry about that.

My Job

I’m starting my “real” job on Tuesday. Our little church school had a huge administration gap when my dad retired as principal last spring, so I was hired as secretary. (Not principal, because I didn’t want to discipline anybody, haha). Anyway, I wanted something part-time so I would also have time to write, and then this fell in my lap, so I took it.

Hopefully this means that more Emily-authored writing will hit the world soon.

Amy

My sister Amy came home from Thailand yesterday, so right now all three of us girls are living at home with no boys. I don’t know how long that will last, as I really would like to get my own place now that the thing-I-do-with-my-time will be earning money, not eating my money. But for now it’s fun.

She is going back to college to get a teaching degree, to make it easier to get a work visa to teach overseas. Which means that every single one of my siblings will be in college this fall, except me. Matt’s getting his master’s degree, Ben’s getting his PHD, Jenny and Amy will be working toward their Bachelor’s, and Steven will be working toward his second Associate’s.

We may not collect spouses or produce children, but we sure do collect degrees, haha.

That’s all. I hope you feel sufficiently updated. 

Friendships, Etc

When my friend Esta and her daughter Eden came out to the coast with me for my birthday, I was surprised by how many people commented (both in person and on social media) about how awesome it is that we remain close friends despite the fact that I’m single and she’s married with two children.

I think it struck people because friendships tend to shift and buckle as people move away, gain different interests and values, get married or stay single, have children or don’t, go to college, have a career, and ultimately deal with their own personal issues. Many times, friendships break apart amid the changes, and I think people like to see one that hasn’t.

For me, the hardest thing about friendship in adulthood has been the lack of a close-knit friend group of people like me. Oregon is not just swimming in single college-educated Mennonites in their upper 20s.

And so, I’ve accepted the fact that I can’t be the Rat or the Mole or the Badger or the Toad in any one friendship group, and I’ve chosen to become the Otter in many friendship groups.

If you’ve ever read The Wind in the Willows you’ll know that it concerns four friends, Mole, Rat, Toad, and Badger, and their various adventures.

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However, every once in a while a fifth character appears and has an adventure with one or more of the core four. That character is Otter.

 

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Otter, the 5’th character, is there in the middle at the bottom, popping out of the water.

I don’t know why Otter is not part of the core group, but I assume it’s because, unlike the others, he has a wife and family. Since he’s in a different life stage, he’s sometimes on hand for adventures, but sometimes not.

When it comes to friendship groups, I am Otter.

Take yesterday, for example. My cousin Stephy, who was one of my closest friends growing up but got married and moved to Ohio, came back to Oregon for a visit. She texted me and said “do you want to go to the coast on Tuesday?”

“Yes,” I said.

But I really did not know anything about who was going along or what would be involved.

This was the group that went:

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Shout-out to Shelley for sending me this picture (because I forgot to take any), and to the kind stranger who snapped it for us.

That is Stephy, her husband Chris, her sister Jessie, her sister-in-law Shelley, and eight of her nieces and nephews. And me.

Hanging out meant snotty noses and whining for candy and listening to seven and eight-year-olds philosophically discuss what would have happened if Satan had never disobeyed God. It meant pausing conversations while moms chased down their toddlers.

All next week these people will hang out together, without me, because they are a family and I am the random cousin. I am the otter, popping in for one adventure. But it certainly was a lovely one, with long conversations about friendship (which inspired this blog post), and sunshine, and sand, and endearing children, and people I like to hang out with.

I wonder if it sounds a little sad and/or pathetic to be the otter.

To be part of a youth group where you’re six to twelve years older than the other members.

To be part of a church ladies’ group, even though they’d much rather talk about giving birth than discussing big theoretical ideas.

To be part of the Christian Grad Fellowship at a college where you no longer attend and were never actually a grad student.

But the glorious upside to such a life is that I’ve learned to be friends with people who are unlike me. And ironically, that’s how I discovered the people who actually are like me, deep down in the places that go beyond demographics.

Like my friend Yasmeen, who’s from an entirely different cultural and religious background, but who shares my deep fascination with cross-cultural nuances.

Or my friend Javen, who came to Oregon last year, barely out of high school, to sing with Gospel Echoes. He looked like the kind of young chap who only ever thinks about spikeball tournaments and keeping his hair just curly enough to impress the girls, but we ended up connecting over our love of writing, literature, and complex ideas.

Or Simone, who is married to my Dad’s first cousin and is a generation older than me, but knows about hard times like no one else I’ve ever met. She understands grief, and depression, and the power of the Holy Spirit, and we can talk for hours. My friendship with her has been extremely healing and beautiful in so many ways.

Of course that’s only scratching the surface of the meaningful friendships in my life, but what I mean to say is, if I only looked for friendships among people who are like me, I wouldn’t have very many friends, and even fewer close friends.

And that would be incredibly sad.

27

I have a weird relationship with aging. Every year I get a little older and feel a little younger.

Ten years ago I turned 17 and thought that the good times had finally arrived. I was a senior in high school, I had a driver’s license, and I was going to the BMA convention for the first time ever. Hello, fun social life!

Of course, within two or three months I was living the life of a 90-year-old woman. Sickly, tottering, tired. Shuffling along using a cane for support. No social life. Too mentally out of it to drive.

The year I was 17 was the most awful year I have ever lived.

I remember turning 18 and feeling so cheated. Cheated out of being 17. Somehow (too many teen novels?) I’d gotten the idea that 17 was supposed to be the best year of my life.

Instead, 26 was the best, and healthiest, year of my life to date. I expect 27 will top that.

I had a great day. My sister Jenny, my friend Ashlie, my friend Esta, and Esta’s daughter Eden hiked up Spencer Butte.

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Ashlie had to go to work, but the rest of us went to the coast for the afternoon.

Little Eden just LOVED the ocean, even though, according to Esta, she’d been knocked over by a wave the last time she was at the beach.

“It’s my favorite place, too,” I whispered to her.

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Photo by Jenny Smucker

If I could whisper to the Emily of the past I would say, You will be healthy again. Life will be fun. If you thought 17 was cool, try being 27.