I'm reading Paperdoll in bits and pieces, letting it settle, allowing myself to ponder each section. Some parts are more applicable than others. Chapter 6 seems especially timely.
"But there's another kind of paperdoll I'm guilty of becoming- a whole other kind of fake I slip on and off as easily as a cheap Halloween costume- and that's pretending I'm "fine" when my heart feels ripped into pieces. I convince myself that God doesn't care about my deepest places of hurt. I'm afraid to tell anybody how I feel, because 1) they won't get it, and 2) they'll just think I'm complaining. A paperdoll isn't just a metaphor for an infatuation with externals; its a tragic metaphor for a girl who looks fine but who is going to pieces deep down in her heart. Even churches have a way of becoming veritable theaters where we hide our true heart, or deep pain, behind a bright mask of "fine." Sometimes there is a tremendous amount of turmoil churning behind that paper smile. Like when we lose the people we love. Grief feels like an anchor pulling our hearts further down in our chest. It becomes hard for us to get up in the morning or go outside or think even weeks (or hours) ahead. I don't think it is ever fully possible to prepare for the emotional and physical response that grief can bring into a life."
She goes on to list other sources of turmoil, such as being diagnosed with a terminal disease, financial difficulties, moving to a new town, the effects of divorce, addiction, and abuse.
"We become beautiful paperdolls with frayed hearts, masking our pain from the world with another smile. In those moments, I even decide that if I pretend long enough, I'll start to find some semblance of inner peace. But that peace never comes from pretending. It only comes from the One who waited by the well. We get to bring the whole entire mess of our heart to Jesus, just as it is. We get to sort out the pieces there in His presence. We get to take comfort in His love. His offer to use is the same as His offer to Sam: living water. The kind that loves us unconditionally and covers every need." (p. 119-120)
That was a lot to read but take a moment go over the words again. Chances are they will resonate with you in one way or another.
I am often guilty of pretending that everything is fine. I am so used to being the one that everyone turns to for advise and comfort that I am at a loss when the shoe is on the other foot. I still feel the need to be "strong" when I am weak and vulnerable. My closest friends, including my mom, know that this is a weakness of mine and understand how to push through the wall I have erected. Other friends, acquaintances, even family at times, seem to not even notice anything is amiss- they're just glad that they can keep opening up to me in spite of my circumstances. This hit home especially shortly after my great-aunt had died and my grandma had been diagnosed with cancer. A coworker told me "you still look so sad." I was shocked because I felt I had good reason to look sad but I realized that she didn't want to acknowledge what I was going through, she just needed me to be there for her. I am better about knowing who to turn to in my times of need. When I do open up to my closest friends, I often feel I am just complaining about the same things. In fact in the last year I have been more intentional about dissecting whether I am complaining or processing. If I can take action, then I'm not complaining. If I'm rehashing the same sorry situation but am unwilling to make any change or my hands are tied, then I need to take a new look at my attitude.
Right now I'm processing a few things. We're nearing the 3rd Christmas without Aunt Teresa and Grandma. I feel Grandma's loss especially keenly right now as a close friend just loss her grandmother last week. She mentioned a few days before her grandma died how she was grieving that her grandma would not someday be at her wedding. How I related to this! Future wedding aside, life still feels so strange without my grandma. I probably think about her more now in my day to day life than I did while she was alive, in the way that we take our grandparents for granted. The very nature of my job probably leads to increased thoughts of Grandma, especially as I offer prebereavement and aftercare to children and teens losing parents or grandparents. It's hard to be in my line of work and not reflect on the similarities and differences with patients and families. And yet, this is not something I can share with many people. I dread telling people what I do for a living because the response is invariably how I'm a special person and they could never do that because they would cry all day. I end up feeling like I need to defend hospice (quality of life, people!) or undercut myself. I definitely put a mask on when talking about my job with strangers.
Job and grief aside, I am probably most concerned about my upcoming 30th birthday in less than a month. The past year I've been telling everyone that I'm choosing to embrace turning 30. That it's just a number. That I'll never look my age anyway. But as it draws nearer, I'm having a harder time sticking to my mantra. 30 seems so put together. If I'm lucky, that'll be a third of my life. Yes, I've done a lot in my 30 years that other people haven't. I recently found a "top 5 goals" list that I believe I put together during my senior year of college. I realized I have accomplished 4 out of the 5 goals in the past 7 years (Go to Ireland, become a healthcare social worker, get into a good grad school, become financially independent.) For some reason though, I hold on to the one goal that has not been realized- getting married. Why does one dream deferred carry more weight than all else that God has allowed me to do? I may look like my life is together but God and I both know that I am a mess in great need of His grace and strength. I know this next year will include a big test for me and I am excited and terrified at the same time. My prayer is that God would become bigger in my life, that I would become more like Christ each day, and that my heart would be burdened by the people and things on God's heart. Part of that is lifting the mask up and letting people in. And the other part is continual surrender to God and His perfect plan. Romans 8:28 has meant so much to me the past few years: "And we know in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." It's enough to know the big picture and let God work out the details.