of excess and roommates

Have you ever read a book that sort of ruined your life?

I did recently, and I blame book club. A few months ago, we read a book called “For the Love,” and it was okay. Not life changing or life ruining, but funny enough that when I was at the library and saw another book by the same author (7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess , by Jen Hatmaker), I thought sure, why not? and checked it out.

Since At and I have been going to work together and since I can’t stand to watch him navigate the rush hour traffic, I decided that reading to him aloud made good sense, and so decided to tackle 7 first.

The premise of 7 is simple enough. It’s about – well, mutinying against excess – in a time and a country when consuming is the order of the day. Not all of it made perfect sense to me, I’ll admit, and neither did all of the seven things that the author chose to reduce resonate, but overall? Yeah. It made me really stop and think about the ways in which I contribute to the problem and not the solutions.

It has touched off a lot of discussion between At and myself, mostly about our house. You see, not that long ago, I was hardly batting an eyelash over the fact that the two of us – plus two cats – have a 4 bedroom, 4 bathroom, 2600 sq. ft. monstrosity to call our own.1

It’s ridiculous.

I started batting my eyelashes over the size of my house a little more than a year ago, when I went to the UK, and got an idea of what living space can be like when one doesn’t have all the elbow room that we’re blessed with in America. Meeting a newly married couple who were so happy about their 400 year old house with the refrigerator tucked in a closet under the stairs gave me a bit of a pause regarding my attitude towards my 10 year old house with the refrigerator in my kitchen that I’m confidant wouldn’t fit through any of their doorways.

Sitting outside a cottage in Wales and feeling all the sheer perfection of that place, I told my husband that we needed to sell the house when we got back home. Sell the house, have a smaller mortgage payment and travel more. All the stuff I possessed back home was nothing to the experience I was having.

Obviously, we didn’t sell the house, since I’m still sitting around feeling appalled that we own it. In fact, we’ve spent the last year pouring a lot of time and effort into making it nicer and making it our own.

But reading 7, as I said, rather rekindled all my feelings about owning it in the first place. During one of the many conversations we’ve had since reading the book, my husband proposed that we might consider a roommate since we have the space and it could be a chance to minister to someone.

“Well,” I objected immediately, “God would have to make it pretty damn obvious that we were supposed to have a roommate in the first place. It couldn’t be just anyone and I am not going to put out an ad looking for some random stranger to come live in my basement. I will basically need this to be dropped in my lap.”

And that night? God dropped a roommate in my life.

We had a friend over for dinner and during the course of conversation, he mentioned that he was needing to find a new place to live. His landlady was jacking up his rent and he didn’t have the space where he was to really work on retrofitting his bus to make it into an RV anyway.

Glances were exchanged. I was heard to mutter, “It didn’t need to be that obvious!” to no one in particular. An agreement was made.

This was all about a month ago, and you guys, I am not going to lie. I’ve been having a tough time with the whole thing.

The new roommate is super chatty. I want to be left alone. The new roommate is of a certain generation where the general feeling is that if there’s a woman in the house, she is in charge of all the cooking and cleaning. I say, “Oh, hell no,” to that notion. The new roommate talks over the television shows when I’m watching something. I am biting my tongue more than I would like.

And I am convicted all over again, because I am not loving a friend any better than I am loving shitty drivers.

But I don’t question that this is the right thing to do. It absolutely is, and not least of all because it is challenging to me and is making me deal with my failings.

The really scary thing to me is that this morning, out of nowhere, I was thinking about another friend and it occurred to me basically out of nowhere that once the current roommate is gone, it might be good timing for offering my home up to this other person.

I have no idea if that is something this friend even needs or why I thought of this as it relates to them or why I’m looking ahead to new roommates when I’m having such a hard time with the current one.

All I know is that I blame 7. And God.

  1. I feel like my European friends may have just died a little at that admission.

so it begins

I had a really bad panic attack a few days ago.

I’m not entirely certain as to why it happened, although I had kicked off the morning with a mimosa and then several hours later had been the one to drive my two friends to the airport so they could return to their lives in Chicago.

Drinking champagne – excuse me, sparkling wine – makes me nervous. I do it anyhow, mostly because I want to challenge these irrational fears that so often spring up as a result of my generalized anxiety disorder. After Saturday’s excursion, I’m not certain that I ever want to do so again, because the panic attack was that awful.

But I also have to recognize that it wasn’t just the champagne sparkling wine. It was also the trip to the airport in extremely bad traffic with my husband unable to shut up from the back seat about what he thought I ought to do and which route I ought to take.

It was also on top of a week of having two extra people under my roof and in my kitchen and wanting to get out and do things, all of which was perfectly reasonable but which also couldn’t help but be a strain on my introverted sensibilities.

By the time we arrived at the airport, I was shaking and sweaty. My hands and left leg had a pins and needles feeling. I proclaimed myself unequal to driving home and made my husband take over. We hadn’t gone a quarter of a mile before everything intensified. I felt dizzy and was gasping for air but not feeling like I could possibly get enough oxygen. In the irrational grip of panic, I figured I was probably hemorrhaging blood from somewhere, possibly internally, and was about to die there in the passenger seat of my car, out on the industrial northwest side of town.

“Jesus,” I said over and over, not a curse but an inchoate prayer.

My poor husband tried in vain to talk me down. “You’re okay,” he soothed. “This is all in your head.”

“Shut up,” I snapped. “Shut up, shut up, shutupshutupshutup. Shut. Up.”

I felt bad for it even as I said it, but couldn’t stop myself. We finally got to a likely exit and stopped at a shopping mall. Neither one of us needed a thing, but I bolted from the car as though it were on fire and the relief was nearly palpable. I wasn’t trapped. I could walk off some of the massive amounts of adrenaline that was coursing through me. I could maybe take one more breath. And then another. And then more until I ceased to be so conscious of the effort.

Eventually, I was able to find the wherewithal to get back into the car and drive home. The rest of the day wasn’t easy. My throat was so tight I couldn’t eat or drink without the fear of choking being perched on my shoulder, although I know from a year and a half of dealing with it that my dysphagia is an artifact of my anxiety, just like the pins and needles feeling in my limbs, or the tightness in my chest, or the headaches that last for days, or the nights where I wake to the sound of my own heart beating madly away and can’t drown it out enough to sleep.

Lindisfarne The reason I mention all of this as the maiden post of this blog is because of the next day. Sunday.

I woke up and felt more myself after a good night’s sleep, although my throat was still noticeably tight. After coffee in bed and laughing at the cats and their antics, I pulled myself together and we went to church. Somewhere in the middle of worship, which is always my favorite part of any church service, I realized that I’ve been spending the past several months asking God for a healing of my mind. I haven’t always been this person who gets panic attacks and struggles just to make it through a day, and a wholeness of mind is still something I hope to someday have again.

Somehow though, I never spent any time praying for release from the physical manifestations of my anxiety. So I did pray then and there and my throat gave a twinge and then… nothing. It’s been remarkably normal ever since.

Hallelujah.

After the service had ended, I didn’t bolt immediately for the doors as is my usual practice. The pastor came over and asked my husband and me if we would be interested in helping to run the media booth and we said we would be and then I fell into conversation with another woman and we fixed a date to have dinner together, which is sort of freaking me out a little, because I’ve never even met her husband. The last thing we did before going was to stop by and sign up to help out with a carnival that our church is putting on for the residents of the local neighborhood.

And to the point now – that whole weekend was a perfect microcosm of my life as a whole, and the best way I could think of to illustrate the syncopated rhythm of my days. In the background is that I spent many years being angry at the church and some of that emotion sort of splashed over onto God. If I had never needed Someone bigger than myself and capable of all things, I might have stubbornly remained in that state, because after all, it wasn’t as though I were rejecting the idea of God Himself or renouncing my belief in the path to salvation provided by Christ’s death and resurrection.

I just didn’t want to bother myself with the collection of broken humanity who would say in one breath that they were following Christ and then do anything but live by that example. My distaste for that hypocrisy was perhaps my greatest blind spot, for there was no meaningful way in which I was any different. Perhaps I was worse for all the moral superiority I felt but did not possess.

But now I’ve arrived through circuitous means back where I started, realizing that not only do I absolutely require God and a real relationship with Him, I also have a great need for community.

John Donne once wrote that:

No man is an island,
entire of itself ,
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main…

How right he was. How much more stable my life is becoming with the additions of people who are both immediate and accessible, who have loved me and allowed me to love them in return.

So, in part, this blog is about that. One can never just start writing and expect to have community happen overnight, but with patience and work,  it can be built over time. I was fortunate enough to do so before and I have hopes that I’ll be able to do so again. After all, I am an introvert and I find online friendships are the best supplement I can possibly have to the few people I manage to connect with on a personal level and face-to-face.

Isle of Wight

To me, my anxiety has been and is both a blessing and curse. It has been – to paraphrase Charles Spurgeon – the wave that has thrown me against the Rock of Ages. And in fetching up in that place, I have also rediscovered and am beginning to rekindle those needful human interactions as well.

Welcome to my deepest life.