Friday, July 26, 2013

Starved for Affection

I've had my fair share of adventures in the past six months, in the past six years actually, but an awful lot of them have taken place this year. My most recent adventure began on July 8th, when I started taking care of Owen and Mona (age 13 months and four years, respectively). It has been one of the most educational and entertaining jobs I have ever had.

I never would have looked into child care as a first option of employment, but I had just returned from Europe, I only had two months in the midwest, and to be honest I really didn't want to fill out another set of W2's. My nannying position is supremely flexible and the couple I work for are truly great. Still, I would be lying if I said I was comfortable on my first day of work.

I walked into the house prepared to handle a four-year-old girl (my three-year-old niece and I seemed to have bonded rather well earlier this summer), but I was a bit hesitant about caring for something that couldn't communicate with me. Both of the kids had colds, they were adjusting to a new house, and there was more than a little separation anxiety going on. I had never so much as changed a diaper, much less comforted a crying child and wiped snotty noses for hours on end. But I survived. And so did the kids (which is perhaps even more impressive).

By the second week we were all in a better mood and I began to realize that I needed the kids even more than they needed me. Owen has become quite the little walker in the past three weeks, but he still asks to be held and wants to be carried, especially when he's upset. Though I quickly learned that there are times he just needs to cry it out, I've also found that picking him up is the best way to pacify him. Sometimes I just don't have the patience to figure out what "ehmmm-daht" means.

My first weekend away from the kids I sensed an emptiness about my arms and felt something like phantom limb syndrome even though Owen and his groping fingers were 15 miles away. I just wasn't use to that much physical contact. When I arrived on Monday all I wanted was to scoop Owen into my arms and kiss his soft blond head - and this from someone who was afraid she'd be expected to fake "baby love" when we met at the Reading Reptile two weeks earlier.

That afternoon while Owen was napping, Mona and I were playing tea party in her bedroom. "We needs to gets ready at my vanity," she said, pointing to a small plastic dressing table. "First I brush my hair, and then put on lipstick." She proceeded to show me. "Ok. Now you." I got down on my knees and tried to balance myself on her tiny plastic stool. "I'll help you," she said as she picked up her brush. I pulled out my hair ties and Mona began managing my wavy brown mane with her small white hands. As she gently handled the locks of my hair I felt something in my heart break just a little.

It's been nearly seven months since my last relationship ended, and there has been precious little physical affection in my life since. I knew I would miss the intimacy and crave the companionship, but I don't think I realized that pieces of my heart would go dormant. And would remain that way until someone brought them to life again.

Cuddling a toddler isn't the same as being held by a lover, but it comes surprisingly close. Closer than I would have imagined anyhow. So when Owen is crying to be picked up for the twelfth time in two hours, I don't really mind giving in (even if I am in the process of making lunch). I know my time with him is limited, as perhaps time together always is, and so I make the most of the affection I can get, not knowing how long it will be before that opportunity comes again.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Bridges and Borderlines

I was running past Brush Creek this morning when I came to a bridge. I smiled, as much as one can when they're running in the middle of the day in the middle of June. I love bridges. I love walking over them, passing under them, standing on top of them, photographing them. I've recently visited Paris, Dublin, London, and Prague - cities that grew up around rivers and rely on their bridges.

Crossing over the water in the cool of the evening or the early light of dawn just seems terribly romantic to me. There is a bridge in Paris, Pont des Arts, that has been nicknamed "lover's bridge." I call it the "lock bridge." For the past 10-15 years lovers of all shapes and sizes have purchased padlocks, attached them to the bridge and thrown the key into the River Seine as a sign of their unending love for one another. The occasional combination lock gives you pause, but the sheer number of locks is a testament to the swarms of romantics out there.

As I near the bridge that crosses Brush Creek I think of lovers stealing kisses in the darkness of its shadow. I pass under and my musings are interrupted by broken bottles on the footpath and a strong stench of urine. In a matter of seconds my lovely fantasy dissolves. The bridge becomes foul, and I rush to pass under.

The line between beautiful and disgusting is surprisingly narrow. Sort of like the line between romantic and obsessive, which is something I've given quite a bit of thought to recently. Six months ago my boyfriend and I broke up. Three weeks later I left the country (not on account of the fact that we broke up, that just happened to be the way things panned out). Within a month's time I was longing to be with him again.

I sent a series of e-mails detailing what went wrong and how sorry I was. I wrote letters and kept a journal in which I recorded all of the times that I thought about him, as well as the things I was learning during our separation. I couldn't call him or contact him through Facebook. But I did send lengthy e-mails in which I described the way my heart had changed. Then I waited. And waited. And every 2 or 3 weeks he would send me a response and my heart would sing, not because the response said what I wanted it to (in fact it never did), but simply because I had heard from him.

For six months I petered between bliss and despair. And then I kept it up even after I returned to the States and he made it clear that my hopes and desires were not mutual. It didn't make sense, but it seemed so second-nature. Love can be like that. Can't it? Or is checking your e-mail three times a day in the hopes that you'll hear from someone who doesn't bother responding for three weeks at a time less like love and more like obsession? I'm afraid that it is.

I didn't want it to be. Not again. Not after the way I handled my last break up. But obsession seems to be my natural default when I've been abandoned. As if my knowledge about the other person's whereabouts and activities is somehow going to make them care about me and come back. It never does. And telling yourself that all of your actions and emotions and obsession is merely the result of the fact that you've finally learned to love someone can only last for so long before your fantasy dissolves. You start recognizing your actions for what they are, seeing the trash under the bridge and smelling the stench of bird shit.

If you're lucky, you who have friends who give you space to make this realization on your own. And when you do, they help you walk out of the mess that you've gotten yourself into, taking you to a place where you can hope you'll find a garden. Where you hope that the next time you won't be so taken in by the allure of something beautiful.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

If your neighbor is thirsty...

Yesterday I went for a run on Kansas City's Trolley Track Trail (say that five times fast). It was late afternoon, probably 5:30 or so, and the weather was decent, especially in light of how hot it was a week ago. I left my car in a parking lot near the Roasterie and sidled over to the trail sign, trying to decide how far I would go.

The route was broken into odd legs of 7/8, 3/8, 1-3/4, etc. I figured I could do 3 miles down and back pretty easily. (I had, after all, run a handful of half-marathons and finished plenty of 8-10 mile runs in the past five years.) I might have been a overly ambitious.

By the time I reached 85th Street (my turnaround point), I was wishing I hadn't had such faith in my own body. I was also extremely disappointed by the lack of drinking fountains to be found along the Trolley Track - a trail explicitly designed for runners, walkers, and bikers: people who need water. I made the mistake of stopping, thinking that would give me a chance to catch my breath and dig deep for some energy and endorphins. It didn't.

Now ideally this would have been the moment that some sort of inspirational song shuffled onto my iPod. I'm thinking "Eye of the Tiger," "Don't Stop Believin'," "Defying Gravity," inspirational. But I had forgotten my iPod on this particular adventure, so I was left listening to the rhythm of my feet as they played in sync with the gasping of my breath.

I stopped every time I crossed a major intersection (roughly every half-mile), hoping it would be Gregory Boulevard, or better yet Meyer Boulevard. But it wasn't.

Then I spotted the telltale strip mall that marks the corner of Gregory and Wornall - the intersection that marked the beginning of the end, the last leg of my journey. As I waited for the little white man to beckon me on, I noticed a large man in khaki shorts and a red polo shirt standing beside a folding table and pouring gallon jugs of water into 4 oz Dixie cups. Now, who is that for? I wondered, a bit envious of whichever running club had their own Trolley Track watering station. As I approached the table I slowed to a walk, looking for some sort of signage as I passed the man with the water.

A runner coming from the opposite direction crossed my path and stopped at the table. He wasn't wearing a number or a uniform. He wasn't a part of any sort of group. The man started up a conversation with him, handing him one of the precious Dixie cups. I paced back and forth, hands on my hips, heart in my throat. I don't always like asking for things. Even when I really need them. It's not that I have a problem taking them if the giver says "yes," it's dealing with the rejection whenever they say "no." No, this seat is taken. No, I already have plans this evening. No, there isn't room for you. No, this is meant for someone else.

I hesitantly back track to the man with the water jugs. He sees me right away, discerning in my eyes the question I'm too afraid to ask. "Would you like some water?" he offers. A smile crosses my face. "I'd love some," I respond. I grasped the paper cup, savoring each of my four ounces of water. And then I boldly ask if I can have more. "Of course," the man says, filling my cup. "Thank you," I respond. "Thank you so much."

And that was it. No strings attached. No promotion made. No money exchanged. Just one person blessing another, sharing a gift and asking nothing in return.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Waterlilies and Life Reflections

Today I am going to Kansas City's Neslon Atkins art museum for the first time in a long while. I think the last time I visited was when my dad came to see me sometime last October. There are a lot of things I like about the Nelson. It's big. It's interesting. It's free. I really like that it's free. I also like that it's quiet. And cool. Not cold, mind you, but cool, in a way that allows your heart to slow and your lungs to involuntarily slow down.

The Nelson is not one of those insurmountable collections of art that you'll never work your way through in a single afternoon. It isn't MoMA or the Chicago Art Institute. And it certainly isn't The Louvre or The Vatican. It's smaller. Calmer. There's no pressure to get your money's worth (since you didn't pay in the first place), and no need to queue in line. You don't even need a map unless you're one of those people who gains security through knowledge of their whereabouts.

Despite all of this, I typically need a good reason to go to the Nelson. Usually that reason is a personal visitor or a group outing, as it happens to be today. The first time I went to the Nelson, however, I was on my own. It was September 16th, a Thursday. I had only recently moved to Kansas City and was looking for ways to maintain my sanity and appreciate my setting in between all of the job applications and resumé editing that I hoped would lead to a job.

I remember walking in and wondering why more museums weren't free. I breathed in the cool, air conditioned air, laced with the scent of stone and marble. I exhaled and wandered through the sarcophagus of Ka-i-nefer, a local celebrity among Nelson regulars. I've always had a thing for ancient Egypt - the gods, the myths, the makeup, the hieroglyphics. I became absolutely giddy when I saw my first onyx statue of Anubis at the Vatican museum in Rome.

From across the room of the impressionists' gallery I caught site of the soft pastel dabs of waterlilies. Monet's water lilies. Not realizing that the man created over 250 of these paintings in the later part of his life, I sank onto a wooden bench and spent a full five minutes gazing at the piece. Behind me I heard two middle-aged women discussing the painter and his home outside of Paris. "You know," said the one, "there is this little museum in the Orangerie of the Tuilerie Gardens. It's very intimate. A special place to see his work." I thought on that, wondering what kind of person living in Kansas City is capable of discussing the various art museums of Paris.

Little did I know that within the next three years I would visit Paris myself, not once, but twice, and that I would remember the woman's words and seek out the Musée de l'Orangerie, where eight of Monet's massive waterlily murals fill an entire oval-shaped room. I would go there with my boyfriend and we would queue in line for nearly 45 minutes on Paris's annual "museum night" in order to get in for free. Eighteen months later I would return to Paris on my own, this time for a full three months. And though I would not visit the Orangerie again, I would pass by it on my way through the Tuleries, and I would remember that night and the bit of overheard conversation that brought it about.

I like when these moments happen. When something in my present life causes me to look back on the past and to realize how much has changed - in my family, in my surroundings, in my life, in myself. I can get so caught up with keeping up and moving forward that I forget to look back. I forget to realize that I am living the life I used to dream of - not in an idealistic sense, but in a real and hopeful way. When I was a little girl, I used to dream of the day that someone would ask me out on a date and I would get all dressed up and we would have beautiful food in a fancy restaurant. I dreamed of the day I would get my first job - as a waitress, as a writer, as a youth director. I hoped for the day when I would move far from home (typically to New York or Chicago) and set up my home in a tiny over-priced apartment.

When you're in the throws of navigating that relationship, finding that job, or looking for that tiny over-priced apartment, you forget that you are living the future you used to hope for. Now, it may not be exactly how you hoped (If it was, I would currently be working on a book of poetry and washing the bottles of my second child), but it will be. It is. You are. Now.

I sometimes catch myself dreaming of the future - my first published novel, the husband I haven't met yet, starting a Fulbright in an undecided country - and at times, it is at the expense of my present. Of a summer Sunday when I run in the cool of the morning, shower in the quiet of my home, and take my breakfast while reading a novel on the front porch swing. I didn't know that at 26 years old my life would be like this. I wasn't always sure I would want it to be. But that's the beauty of remembering the past. Sometimes you don't realize where it is that you are until you have a reason to look back on where you came from.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Other side of the window

When I woke up this morning I did not feel like keeping the promises I had made the night before. Promises to get up early and begin the running regime that was destined to follow my three months in France. "You're staying near the Plaza," I reasoned with myself. "You're always wishing you could run by the Plaza. Don't waste it." It was nearly 11 am by the time I clipped on my iPod, laced up my shoes, and headed out the door.

This is my fourth summer living in Kansas City. When I moved here from Lincoln, Nebraska, I still viewed the city as a place where my family had gone for vacations when I was growing up. Kansas City was Worlds of Fun, Stephenson's Apple Farm, Cool Crest golf course, and jazz at Jardine's. Now it is a place I come home to.

I've recently been in Europe, working as an au pair, gathering writing material, and generally trying to deal with my travel bug. It feels right to be back in KC, and to be arriving once more at the start of the summer.

I head down Roanoke and turn onto Ward Parkway. Brush Creek is on my right, the south end of the Plaza on my left. I remember walking around the Plaza not long after I moved here and wondering what it would be like to live like "those people." The people who shop at Ann Taylor, sip cocktails on the patio, and eat dinner at McCormick & Schmick's. The ones who stop by Starbucks and grab grande lattes on their way to the office that pays for their lavish condo.

Sometimes I still dream of living other people's lives, the ones on the other side of the restaurant window. I jog past Gram & Dunn and sneak a look at a four-top of brunch-goers, sipping mimosas and eating fresh omelets. A part of me wishes that I could trade places. I remember the last time I had a mimosa, with my boyfriend and my parents after church on Easter. Last Easter. I think of all of the fine meals and fancy cocktails that I myself consumed over the course of that relationship, and I realize that for a time I could very well have been mistaken for one of "those people."

But I wasn't. I could never really settle into that kind of privileged lifestyle.  I would catch myself making small talk with the waitress, wondering how many tables she had and whether or not Wednesdays were usually slow. I was a server myself for nearly a year, and have never quite gotten used to the other side of things. I actually miss waiting tables, though I also missed eating at them when I was on staff. Sometimes I wonder what is happening on the other side of the kitchen door, where the rest of life keeps happening.

I pass a café and lock eyes with a man as he glances up from the Sunday paper. He watches me run. I watch him sip coffee from a white paper cup. "I've been on that side of the window," I think. And I remember the times that I've pulled out a chair, straightened my skirt, and ordered a latte, only to wish I that I was outside running, burning off calories instead of filling up on them.

I continue toward Loose Park, where I wind my way through the trees and the people. I see dog-walkers and tennis players, young families, and smitten lovers. I want to watch all of them. To follow them home and see what they eat for lunch. I want to check their e-mail and scroll through their Facebook photos, to see if they're happy or lonely or angry or scared. And I want to ask them if they feel like they're really living life. Or if they're like me, still waiting for it to happen.

My therapist calls it "chronic discontent," an inability to be happy in my own life no matter which side of the window I find myself on. There is some truth to what she said, and for a while I tried to focus on my life without comparing myself to others. But then I got bored. And egocentric. My life, as it turns out, is actually not that interesting, not to me. Sometimes I have to remind myself that there might be someone on the other side of the window who may actually watch me in the same way I've come to watch everyone else. That person may just wish that they were a single young adult running six miles by themselves on a cloudy Sunday morning. It doesn't sound so bad when you put it that way.

In less than two months I will be moving again. To a tiny overpriced studio in a suburb near San Francisco. I will finally start the master's degree that I started entertaining almost five years ago - an MFA (master of fine arts) in creative writing. "Creative non-fiction" (CNF) to be specific. I look at it is as permission to spend the next two years people-watching, as I attempt to eek out a living. Most people don't need to take out student loans in order to give themselves permission to people watch. But most people don't plan to spend the rest of their lives observing other people either.

I think just about anyone would like to be written about, so long as they're depicted in a good light. Sort of like the way we would all be happy to be painted, as long as we look good. Everyone wants to know an artist, but not everyone wants to be one. I find this especially true with writing. People are fascinated with writers - the way they carry around little notebooks and pens so that they can write down their thoughts, capture their moments, and track their memories. But not many people really want to live the sort of insular, contemplative, introspective life that a lot of writing requires. It often means spending a lot of time alone, with yourself and your thoughts. But those thoughts are often of other people and their thoughts, so it's really a matter of perspective.

As I reach the end of my run, I stop seeing the people around me - in their cars, on their bikes, walking down the street, and drinking coffee on their patios. I feel the sweat soaking through my headband and dampening my clothes. The blisters forming on the balls of my feet remind me that I'm overdue for purchasing new shoes. But I can't think about shopping right now. All I can think about is getting back to the house where I'm staying and sitting down with a glass of cold water, preferably before Ira Glass finishes acknowledging the creators of this week's episode of This American Life. The narratives that have been entertaining me for the past hour empty from my head. I think only of myself. Of my life. Of the fact that I must get off my feet before they go on strike and refuse to carry me up the stairs and into a much-needed shower.

As I unlock the door and sink into the soft red couch I realize that there is nowhere (and no one) else I'd rather be. It's sort of a rare experience. I do not celebrate it. But I acknowledge it. And along with it I acknowledge the fact that it won't be long before I find myself once again on the other side of the window.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A First Time for Everything...This Time, A Christmas Letter

There are many things I enjoy about Christmas at home—the familiar decorations, the traditional cookies, the secret code names on the gifts that taunt me from beneath the tree, the basket of Christmas letters that sits beside the fireplace. Each year the members of my family take turns digging through the basket, searching for photographs and looking for letters from people we know. I have dreamed of the day I would pick out red and green-trimmed stationary and share my own seasonal news. I’ve penned the Kuehn family Christmas/New Year’s letter eight of the past ten years. This year I am sending my own.

I wonder why it has taken me this long and why this is the year I decide to write. If I am honest—more honest than I believe one is supposed to be in a Christmas letter—I would say it is because my life has not seemed “letter worthy.” I am not yet a “real” adult, at least not the kind that sends letters. There is no new house, no fiancé, no babies on the way or big career moves to speak of.

I did manage to land a youth ministry position at a church in Liberty, MO. I was there for an entire 25 months (7 months more than the average youth worker) before I resigned. Youth ministry is just not what I was created to do. I am not really sure what I was created to do, but it must be something else.

My final Sunday at the church, I described to the senior high why I was leaving and where I was going. I explained that each of us has different talents, gifts, and opportunities. Sometimes, many times, we settle for what is known, comfortable or expected when we are capable of more. The doors are open, but we are afraid to walk through them. Other times, we long for escape the way I have longed to live overseas ever since I graduated. We push and we strive, but the doors do not open. And so we stay put. Because we must. We seek other opportunities to use our gifts and experiences, which is, of course, how I ended up living in a community house in Kansas City, KS, teaching ESL courses to Bhutanese refugees, and working at St. Stephen Lutheran Church.

It’s difficult to sit down with a group of high school students (most of them seniors and freshmen), encouraging them to try new things and pursue their dreams and desires, when you are not doing so yourself. I try to motivate my students to take risks, to move into spaces that may seem uncomfortable, and to chance leaving what they like in order to pursue what they love, what God has called them to. And those are the reasons I have chosen to leave a life that I like, so that I can pursue the life I was created to live.

Three and a half years ago (not long after I graduated from college with a B.A. in Writing and a fuzzy idea of the future), I set off for a four-month mission term in England. I returned from that experience with a newfound love for refugee and immigrant populations and a strong desire to get back overseas. I spent six unexpected months working my high school job at the HyVee bakery and living with my parents in Lincoln, NE. After that, I left for Kansas City, where I hoped to move in with a college friend. That didn’t work out, but Kansas City did, and I wouldn’t trade my time here for anything, not even the overseas teaching position I was offered two weeks after I committed to moving. I decided that Kansas City deserved a fair shot, but now I am ready to adventure again.

January 27th my plane departs for Paris, France. I do not speak French, but I will be staying with a family that does and I’m hoping I will be a fast learner.  For three months I will focus on writing and will serve as an English tutor for Nina, a tri-lingual five-year-old. I will spend May in England, visiting friends and reconnecting with a country and community that is lodged deeply in my heart. My flight is scheduled to return in June, at which point I will walk through whichever door seems to be open. I may go to graduate school, provided I get accepted. I may move to California. I may move back to Kansas City. Or I may end up on the other side of the world.

I am open to the unknown future. I’ve learned it’s better that way. It isn’t easy, at least not for me, but I do believe it is better. God calls us to hold our lives loosely. In fact, He calls us not to hold to them at all, but to deny them, to willingly give them up—not because He wishes to take anything from us, but because He desires to give us more. As long as our hands are full, our fingers clenched tightly around people, positions, promises, and possessions, we are unable to receive what might otherwise be ours.

This holiday season, as you unwrap gifts and open boxes, think not only of the great gifts that God has given you in family, friends, and fortune, but of the gifts He may still be waiting to give. Are you willing to let go of what you have now in order to take hold of something else? Are you willing to sacrifice what you know—what you may even like—that you might pursue something you really love? It is my hope that you will, and that you will become more yourself in the process.

And with that challenging thought, I will bid you adieu. I would love to hear from you, and would be delighted if you chose to follow my upcoming journey.

Grace, Peace, Joy, and Love be yours,

Amanda Kuehn

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Selling Myself

If I never write another statement of purpose (aka "personal statement" or "statement of intent") it will be too soon. Unfortunately, I still have three SoPs left, and that's assuming this is the only time I'll be applying to graduate school.

A statement of purpose is a 500-word summary of where you've been, where you are, how you got there, and where you're planning to go. It is also a summary of who you are, what you've achieved, why you matter, and how you plan to affect change in the world. I've had to sell myself before in job interviews and on cover letters and scholarship applications. I've never been very good at it. I attribute it to my Lutheran background. Something about confessing every Sunday that I am a poor miserable sinner who deserves only death and punishment makes me doubt that I really have the ability to change anything, much less the world. For years Luther has been telling me that there is no worthiness or merit in me and that any good that comes from me is a sheer miracle of God, a miracle for which I take no credit.

To counter my guilt and shame, I have been reading other people's SoPs, feeding my pride, and convincing myself that "Hey, I could do that." I don't know how "Christian" this is of me, but I've yet to see the fallout. In fact, I think God might be rather proud of me for claiming the gifts that I've  been developing and discovering since I was four years old. He may even be disappointed in me for not being more diligent in pursuing them.

Eight years ago I was a senior in high school. I was a good student, a fair speaker, a decent writer, and a "super Christian." I wasn't more holy, sanctified, or redeemed than anyone else. I wasn't particularly positive, kind, or happy, but I read Christian books, wore Christian shirts, listened to Christian music, and led Christian study groups. I chose a Christian college to which I received a Christian leadership scholarship. During a campus visit, I had met with one of the English faculty. He taught literature courses and we discussed Willa Cather and Nebraska authors and I was utterly enthralled with the thought of reading and studying books for the next four years. But I was a slow reader, with little knowledge of the literary canon. I feared falling behing my peers, and decided instead to enter the Christian education program and pursue a degree in counseling. I learned that counseling required seven years of grad school and switched to youth ministry. I wasn't particularly engaging. I didn't have a passion for kids or spiritual formation or recreational activities. I found it all interesting, but, well, I don't play dodgeball.

Meanwhile, I also entertained this idea of being a writer. I engrossed myself in books and words and  went to poetry readings and plays. I paired youth ministry with a writing major, reasoning that I could write Bible studies or work at Brio magazine (which was discontinued in 2009, but was similar to Susie). I was as if I had to "Christianize" my vocation, as if a sense of vocation (a summons or strong inclination to a particular state or course of action; especially : a divine call) wasn't enough. 

I was in the second half of my junior year before I realized what I had been doing, how I had been trying to prove myself and live up to my own ideas of what it meant to be called by God. Ironically, it was when I left the church that I began to discover my real interests and develop my natural gifts. 

By that time it was too late to switch majors and too soon for me to commit to a graduate program. I hadn't spent enough time pursuing my literary enthusiasm. I tried writing a statement of purpose--describing my writing background, my passions, my inspirations, my plans for the future--but I couldn't, because I didn't have any. I didn't know why I wanted to be a writer or what I wanted to do with a writing degree. I just knew that I wanted it. Essentially, I wanted to get a Master's in English because I'd spent most of my college career pursuing a Bachelor's in "Christianity."

But going to school because you "like to learn" doesn't really cut it with acceptance committees. So I graduated, and left college, and worked odd jobs and started blogging and writing and traveling and writing and then looking for any job that would give me experience as a writer. But the economy tanked and I moved to a new place and the only job I was really qualified for was in youth ministry. So I did that for two years. And here I am, trying to sell myself as a writer once again. But this time it feels different. I haven't read scads of books or acquired remarkable skills, but I have started to pay attention to myself, to the things that excite me and move me and affect me, the things that I've always loved, even when I didn't realize it.

I think of what God would say if he were to read through my statement of purpose, and for the most part I think he would smile (which is something I don't often say about God). I think God would be glad to see me finally doing the things that he made me to do, know that I've gotten the "parent-pleasing" out of my system. He might be disappointed by the little white lies I tell regarding the excellence of the university's faculty and my enthusiasm to work with professors whose bios I found online and whose works I've barely skimmed, but for the most part I think God would be okay.

It is difficult to get someone else to believe in you when you don't really believe in yourself. And it is difficult to believe in yourself when you are constantly being told that you don't measure up. The words I need to hear are not "You need Jesus," but "You are enough. You are gifted and talented and you are free to pursue those desires. You and your talents can meet the world's needs in a way no one else can." It's a bit lofty, I know, but it's a truth I need to claim if I am ever to write with conviction. What good is a statement of purpose if you don't believe it yourself?