Becoming Bethany

Observations on becoming and being

A Disappointing Year

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I’m not gonna lie. 2017 has been a pretty disappointing year. It’s been a year where many things haven’t panned out the way I thought they would – personally, nationally, globally. In a year filled with global tragedies and personal tragedies for more than a few dear friends, my concerns feel petty. But I also know I’m not the only one who has had a disappointing year.

This time last year I was filled with hope at the changes I believed were coming. I expected those changes would bring good things – increased social justice, growth and advancement, opportunities to push a little further into who I am and a little further out into the world. There have been changes for sure but not in the way I expected.

It’s been a year of hearing a lot of “no” and not a lot of “yes”. It’s been a year where more than once I have wondered if I’m headed in the right direction or totally missed my turn somewhere. It’s been a year where I’ve pushed myself past where I’m comfortable and then wondered if I am better or worse off for it. It’s been a year where the fear of failure and inconsequence has been making rustling noises just outside the door.

It’s not the worst year. And there were several unexpected changes that brought a lot of joy. (New sister-in-law! New nephew! My family all in the same country! A chance to work with amazing artists on creative projects!) The disappointments of this year are small in the grand scheme of life. It’s entirely possible that in a few years I won’t even remember them at all. But for now, they are dampening my hope for good things in a way that I don’t like.

I don’t believe in forgetting the past but I do believe in letting the past live in the past. I think being an adult is making decisions and then living with those decisions as best you can. Yet it is all too easy for me to let past failures and disappointments keep me from being brave and stepping out into something new and uncharted. Each disappointment makes me a little more cautious about being courageous again.

The beginning of Advent (and my birthday) are coming up in a few weeks and I am ready to push the restart button. I’m ready for renewed hope and dreams and vision for the next year. I’m looking forward to the holidays to taking a break, time with family, and making time and space for refueling my dwindling reserves. (My Christmas plans include a few days of silence and meditation at a monastic retreat center and I’m so excited.)

There are good things on the horizon. Irons in the fire. Exciting collaborations forming. Relationships deepening and expanding. There are always, always changes and I’m hopeful for a few good ones. I’m proud of myself for the risks I’ve taken even when the payoff isn’t what I expected. I’m not losing hope. I am just spent and tired now. This year has used up more of me than I thought I had. In an odd way, that is encouraging though. The wells of strength and courage and hope are deeper than I think.

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The Most Shivering Sight

The most shivering sight
I have seen is
the death of soul.

It keeps me up at night
wondering where
the spirit goes.

Seeing a dead man walking
only more reminds me of
the pink of health.

Where does the spirit wander
when rejected from
the flesh and bones?

It must be lonely
and so deeply cold.

In Between


I have been waking up at 4am pretty consistently for the last couple weeks. Not afraid, not worried, not excited – just awake. But not really awake – drowsy awake. Not awake enough to get out of bed or do anything productive. Just awake enough to be hanging in the whirly space between sleep and not sleep. Dreaming and questioning the dreams. What do you do at 4am? It’s not night but it’s also not quite day.

The weather has been jumping back and forth between summer and autumn. One day last week it was 90F during the day and 55F at night. I wear clothes somewhere between summer and winter – unsure when I will be hot or cold at any given point in the day. The clouds roll in at night and stick around for the morning one day. But the next morning my room is as bright as noon by 6am. I shiver and sweat and am comfortable in rotation as I seek equilibrium through sweaters and sleeveless dresses.

I am working my way through my list of things to do and tasks to complete but with only a hazy idea of how to do what I really want to do. Excited and working toward possibilities but also feeling like I’m not passing the mile posts at the mph I thought I was driving. Am I there or on my way? Is this a rest stop or a destination? Do I just keep driving or get off the road and look at a map for a while?

Loud opinions ring in my ears. I listen to them all – closely. Trying to hear past the vocabulary to the fears and loves and passions underneath. Sometimes I think I hear something that makes sense, something that resonates with my experience of being human but the next sentence pushes me away with more force than a shove. I feel like a boxer hopping up and down, back and forth in a ring. Not quite engaging the opponent (because I don’t want an opponent) but also not feeling like I can just leave the fight. So I keep hopping and listening and hopping but not striking. I’m not convinced a hit would end the fight.

Working for Rest

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After some traumatic experiences a few years ago, I was feeling very disconnected from my body. It had started to feel like something I was dragging around rather then something I truly inhabited. I’ve never been particularly aware of my body but this was a new feeling of estrangement from myself.

I had always been curious about yoga but had never tried it. I’m not athletic or coordinated and photos of yogis’ contorted poses on Instagram intimidated me. After many recommendations and reading articles on integrating yoga into mind-body-awareness therapy methods, I finally decided to give it a chance. I figured I would make it through a couple poses and leave.

As I stepped into my first beginner class though, I was surprised that the first thing we were asked to do was to sit quietly and breathe. To listen to the air filling our chests and bellies and then slowly leaving again. I don’t know how long we stayed there breathing but when I opened my eyes again, I felt more embodied than I had in a long time.

The instructor then gently and smoothly talked us through a series of poses. The language she used to direct our positions made sense to me in a way that all my years of P.E. and high school sports never did. She spoke of the body lovingly. I was used to physical training that spoke of the body as something to be whipped into shape. Something we struggle to tame. Instead, she directed the transition to a new pose using descriptions that made sense to me like, “Your legs are heavy like earth and rooted. You cannot pull them up on your own. You must reach down with your arm which is light and free and pull them up that way. Let your arms teach your legs how to move toward the sky.”

Correcting and re-aligning that was not a rebuke or chastisement but an encouragement toward a better and more freeing way. By the time we got to savasana (“corpse pose”) at the end of the session I think I cried. I was so overwhelmed with this new way of thinking and talking about my body and movement.

I started practicing yoga more regularly. Learning new poses and new ways to think about how different parts of my body hold and release stress. How different parts affect other parts. My balance and posture has improved slightly but I’m still working up the courage to try any upside down poses. Some fears take more time than others to work their way out of my body. I quickly realized that savasana – the last pose of every session – is the most personally rewarding but also often the most difficult.

In English it is referred to as the “corpse pose” because you release all tightness in your muscles and just lay limp. Most people practice it by laying flat on their backs with legs outstretched and arms long by their sides with their palms facing up. It is a moment of surrender and also of rest. It is a reward for work completed and also a moment to refresh before heading back to real life.

In one particularly rigorous session, the instructor saw we were all getting tired and our poses were getting weaker. In an effort to encourage us to keep going she said, “You’re almost there. Remember we’re all just working for savasana.” The whole class laughed and found the strength to move through a few more poses knowing that rest and surrender was just a few minutes away.

That phrase stuck with me long after class mostly because it’s easy to see how it’s an encouragement for so much of life. Working hard on a seemingly never-ending creative project? It’s only Tuesday and you wonder how you can possibly make it to Friday? Trying your best to be a faithful friend, spouse, parent, colleague? We are working toward rest – whether that rest is a Saturday morning sleeping late or 30 minutes of quiet in the middle of the day to let your mind wander or finding the time to just enjoy the relationships we put so much work into or the Eternal Rest we are all working toward everyday.

I think we all long for surrender – when we can lay down our work and responsibilities and burdens and efforts and fears. For the moments we can open our palms to the sky and release control. It is not easy. Sometimes it takes everything within me to release control and surrender. To allow myself to rest and be refreshed rather than to keep working and pushing and forcing. It’s hard to believe that everything really will be ok if I stop moving forward even for a few minutes.

Another Doctor’s Appointment

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“We need to watch these numbers. If they dip too much lower, you’ll probably experience mood swings, depression, and a low to non-existent sex drive. So stay on the supplements,” my doctor advised.

I nodded. Of course I am concerned about staying healthy and will follow whatever guidelines necessary. Mood swings and depression are not symptoms I want but honestly in that moment, a low to non-existent sex drive didn’t sound too bad.

It’s difficult to be a 31-year-old woman who enjoys sex and is also celibate. I was celibate before I married and I have been celibate since my marriage ended. But when I was married I was (happily!) not celibate and would have gladly stayed non-celibate for the rest of my life.

Aside from the strictly biological purpose of procreation, I think the whole point of sex is to draw people together. It’s a deep and almost uncontrollable tug towards a closer relationship with another person. It’s a desire to know someone else more intimately. Sometimes sexual desire serves as the fuel to the courage we need to risk being vulnerable with another person.

I am celibate for religious and personal conviction reasons and I know how strange that may seem. I also find it strange sometimes. Sex is a natural and healthy desire that I am choosing not to indulge. I believe my sexuality and ways of expressing it are part of what makes me who I am. I affirm that a healthy sex life is part of being a whole person. And personally, I believe that abstaining from sexual relationships is currently an expression of healthy sexuality for me.

This personal conviction does raise a lot of questions. From other people and even from myself. Thankfully, I’m not the only one who has looked for answers to these questions. And in this new season, I have been drawn back to the wise words of monastics who have long wrestled with what healthy celibacy looks like.

Kathleen Norris’ book about contemporary Benedictines The Cloister Walk explores this part of monastic life. Monastics describe the wide-ranging friendships they have been able to develop (with both men and women) because they are focused on connecting in deep meaningful ways rather than personal sexual gratification.

One Benedictine sister describes celibacy as freeing her up to love all and to love all well. Rather than focusing her love on one person (as one would in a monogamous relationship), she is free to love more broadly. No one holds claim to her love exclusively.

These monastics are not disparaging sex or sexual relationships and often compare the disciplines of a celibate life with the disciplines of fidelity in a marriage. They do not believe themselves to be more holy because they are celibate and in many ways regard it as an honor to make the commitment.

In my personal experience, I have seen how my friendships have both deepened and broadened since my divorce. Some of this came with the vulnerability I felt free to live with after losing everything I thought I was protecting. Some of this came with my need to depend on others in ways I never had before because I was so personally weak and depleted. But I also think a large part of the change I experienced in my relationships was because I was not focused on intensely loving and caring for one person and had the capacity to love more widely.

And yet even with all the benefits I know I have experienced, I still miss sex. And there are still days I wonder if there is any point to unfulfilled sexual desire. Why is this part of who I am if it is not being engaged? How can I live in a sexually whole and healthy way as a celibate? Will I feel like I have missed out if I continue to be celibate for the rest of my life? Is the intense love and relationship that I miss found only in marriage or can it be channeled to other passions and people?

I don’t think there are easy answers or maybe any answers at all but I believe they are still worth asking and living into the tension they present. So yes, I am staying on my supplements and trying to take care of myself physically, emotionally and relationaly. Even if sometimes it feels easier to be out of balance.

Love is Not Efficient

Love is not efficient.

Chalk this up to another item on my “List of Things I Really Should Have Learned By Now” but I think I am only beginning to truly understand this. I think I have been somewhat blind to this fact because of how highly I prize efficiency. I hate wasting time and resources. Ironically, most of my drive for efficiency is to free myself and others up from mundane but necessary tasks so we can get back to the people and activities we love. In many ways my passion for efficiency is because of my love for other things. But I am only now learning love itself is not efficient.

It’s not that I mind other people and passions taking my time but I try so hard not to impinge on the time and resources of those who love me. Sometimes I have been so focused on not taking too much time or attention that I forget that that is exactly what love demands. When we choose to love someone or something, we choose to give him/her/it our time and attention. Depending on the level of commitment, that love may take everything we have to give and more.

I have written before about how difficult it is for me to need. I am very comfortable with being needed and have based my career and many of my personal relationships on being dependable, trustworthy, and able to come through in any situation. But my ability to depend on and need others is very weak. It is a part of being loved that makes me uncomfortable and easily injured.

In trying to learn to love well, I am learning to recognize what I need from those who love and care for me and to ask for it – even things as simple as time for a conversation or a ride to the airport. I have lived too long falsely believing that I am an inconvenience and burden to those around me. I don’t think I’m the only one who believes and lives this way. I wonder how much love we are turning down simply because we are afraid of being a drain on someone else’s time or resources.

Love is not efficient. There is no lean production model for love. The amount of energy we give to love does not directly correlate to what we get in return. There may be ways to up our output but it will not automatically lead to increased profits. Thankfully, it is also beautifully true that the love we are given is not based on our worthiness or productivity either. Mercifully, love gives us many more chances at figuring it out than any efficiency expert would give to a failing factory. There is no economy with love.

Peaches & Summer Solstice

FullSizeRenderOne of the more hipster things I do is follow a peach orchard on Instagram. It started when I stumbled across them searching for peach desserts (my favorite kind!). I don’t do Pinterest but regularly scroll Instagram for meal ideas based on a #ingredient. (I know that whole sentence was gag-level millennial but no apologies.) At first I was drawn in by their beautifully photographed recipe ideas but before I knew it, I was fully invested in their peach crop’s performance. Are there enough blossoms? When will the first fruit go to market? Will the peaches last through July this year?

Living in Los Angeles, I am pretty out of touch with seasons. Aside from our annual rainy January, it’s always summer, almost summer, or just been summer. Our produce comes from Mexico and Washington and even further places so I have access to almost any fruit or vegetable I want at almost any time of year. Without meaning to, my peach orchard follow became a window into the seasons of growing and harvest and rest that I do not experience but quickly became comically invested in.

I think we are all looking for ways to mark the passing of time. As children, it was your grade in school or birthday party. As adults, it is whatever job we had at a certain time, or person we were dating, or how old the baby was. It’s easy to mock all the “social media holidays” – Pi Day, Siblings Day, Star Wars Day, etc. But I think there is a reason they work so well for marketing. We want a moment, a space to stop to commemorate the things that are important to us and bring us joy, even if it’s something as simple as the discovery of pi or our love of a pop cultural phenomenon.

This summer I have been acutely aware of the lengthening and then shortening of daylight. I think it has something to do with the fact that I am taking public transportation and getting used to a new work schedule. I notice how bright the sun is in the morning walking to my metro stop and how long the shadows are as my metro train makes it way through East Los Angeles in the warm evening.

On the summer solstice this year, I felt a tightening in my chest when I realized the days will start getting shorter again. Was I grieving daylight? Or just suddenly aware of how short the days and years are becoming? Time seems to be moving too fast and too slow at the same time and sometimes I want to just sit down and push the pause button until I can gather my wits about me.

The blessing and curse of time is that we cannot control or alter it. The earth continues its revolutions around the sun at roughly the same pace it has since the beginning of time. I don’t want to waste the precious days and years I amgiven. I want to live them as fully and intentionally as I can. On the bad days when I am most tempted to just rush and get them over with, I am trying to learn to breathe and live through them. I am trying to learn to look for and savor that one glimpse of beauty I find in the phrase of a song or the orange of the trumpet-flowers crawling up the side of my apartment building.

I don’t feel silly about celebrating National Friendship Day or the first day of Autumn or any of the other days we have designated to mark the passing of time and our love of something. And when the peach orchard in Georgia has a particularly good harvest, I celebrate. Life is just too short and too long to not celebrate joy where we find it.

P.S. National Peach Pie Day is August 24 this year if you want to celebrate with me!

The End of Missing?

When I woke this morning, I couldn’t remember what it feels like to be held. This may sound odd but for the past three years, upon waking, I have retained the cozy feeling of being held even though there is no one there. At first, it really bothered me and made the loneliness all the more stark. For the first several months, I would wake up and cry until the feeling subsided. But then, I just accepted it. For some reason, my sleeping self believed I wasn’t alone in bed and I let the feeling linger as I slowly woke up. It has been one of the longest remaining phantom sensations so it surprised me this morning when it just wasn’t there. And I wondered if this is what the end of missing feels like – nothing.

I have wondered when the end of missing would come. Different resources I read about divorce suggested different amounts of time for recovery – a few months, one year, two years, half the amount of time you were married. (When I heard that statistic, it made me ache for the people in my divorce recovery support group who had been married 20+ years and maybe a little more grateful for my own situation.) I wondered how these time frames were calculated and how recovery was defined. There just seems like too many variables to come up with a tidy formula.

Mostly I wondered what it would feel like and how I would know when I was “over” my divorce. At the beginning of our separation, it felt unimaginable to ever not miss him and our life together. Coming up with a picture of my life without him in it was nearly impossible. It looked like one of those photos where someone has taken scissors and cut a figure out. The empty spot is so immediately obvious and clearly defined, it’s almost like the person is still there. But as with all processes, slowly the empty space in the picture next to me got hazier and less clearly defined. Other people and interests edged into that spot until it became less stark and definite but still I noticed the hole – even if others did not.

My ex-husband cheerily reported to me three months after our separation how much better his life was without me. That he felt happier, more purposeful, and more himself than he had in years. It sounded like a vitamin or medicine commercial that ends with the tagline: “Divorce – it cures what ails you!” In that moment, with the phone clenched tightly to my ear, I simultaneously hated him and was jealous of him. Is that what “recovered” feels like – happier? more “myself”? When would that happen for me?

Three years later and I still don’t know if I am happier or more purposeful post-divorce. I think probably not but that was never really my hope in the first place. I hoped for healing and it has been a slow process and one I can sometimes barely discern in myself. But I do know I am healing and have tried to celebrate the healing where I see it. Is today just another step in healing? If so, I am disappointed. I want something more than nothing on the other side of missing.

This morning as I stumbled into the kitchen for a glass of water, conflicted about whether I felt more or less happy about this new (lack-of) sensation, the first thing I noticed were the huge peonies sitting on the dining table. My roommate brought them home three days ago and we have watched in amazement as they have opened wider and wider wondering where these flowers find even more petals to add to their already full display. Last night I joked that the peonies may just swallow our apartment whole and then we would live in a fragrant soft pink wonderworld like some character from Thumbelina. (There are definitely worse fates.)

As I stood there drinking my water and staring at those peonies that will not quit growing, I felt peace. If the end of missing feels like nothing right now, that’s ok. But it also does not mean it will stay that way. Just like everything about this healing process, I am sure I will continue to be surprised at the way it progresses. If I have not found something on the other side of missing, I am not done growing and changing. I am holding out hope that somehow, some way, my life will keep opening up wider until the beauty I so desperately want to see in my story is revealed. I hope when that time comes, I will be able to just stand in amazement.

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Some People Say

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The rocks where we used to sit by the sea and steal kisses in the dark are covered over by land now. They moved the coastline further out so it’s a longer walk to the sea and it’s hard not to try and find an analogy somewhere in there.

Some people say, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” But then would this ache be in my heart? This longing for a love I knew or thought I knew?

My mother asks the question that mothers the world over ask, “Is there anyone you’re even a little interested in?”

I laugh and remember the last time she asked me that question – years ago, right before that great big love walked into my life unexpectedly.

My answer then was, “No. I think I will probably be single.” And then a long rambling something about a career and a calling and not having room for something else.

My answer now is, “I don’t even know anyone to be interested in.” And then I stop talking because I do not know what else to say.

It’s actually true that I don’t know that many eligible single men but it’s also true that I don’t know if I know how to be interested.

What do you do when you get more than you ever wanted or asked for and then have it snatched away? It still doesn’t make sense and it’s hard to place in my understanding of life and who I am and how I’m living.

Some people also say, “It was too good to be true.” And everything within me fights against that saying because if something is good, isn’t it also true?

I think of seasons and how hard it is to imagine summer in winter and winter in summer. When you are cold, you cannot imagine ever feeling hot again. My imagination was not big enough to predict the romance I lived and I do not know if it is big enough now either.

Some say the love I lived was never real. Some say that love was true for me but not for him. And some nod their heads thoughtfully and say, “Maybe you lived something that was real and true – even if only for the brief time it was possible.”

I listen to each analysis quietly and nod – agreeing and disagreeing with each in turn.  And mostly I say (and write over and over again), “Life is a beautiful mystery – full of unexpected joys and sorrows – and all we can do it is live it the best we can.”

God bless those who always find the sea and land right where they left them. And God bless those of us who find the coastline a constant ebb and flow.

Lent and Desire

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“Now for the invasive questions – are you sexually active?”

“No. Uh. Not currently.”

“Date of last sexual encounter?”

I always wonder which questions are the non-invasive questions at the doctor’s office. Even just running through my basic medical history reveals a lot about me. And that’s not even getting into my parents’ or grandparents’ histories. Our bodies carry history and memories. I wonder if doctors are curious about the emotional side of those physical histories or if they see so many people that it becomes uninteresting. I think I would make a terrible doctor because I would want to hear the story behind each and every injury, surgery, allergy, and disease.

“Are you considering pregnancy?”

I knew this question was coming. It always follows closely on the heels of the sexual status questions. But I’m still not really prepared for it.

“I don’t know. Maybe. No plans right now but maybe someday.”

I think about the ways I have responded to that question at different times in my life and I feel further from having an answer than ever.

“Ok. No worries. You still have time. It’s just helpful to know as we review your hormonal and adrenal test results.”

I know I’m only a few years away from getting the “it’s probably now or never” speech. On the heels of my divorce, the Beverly Hills doctor I used to see asked me (at the tender age of 28) if I was interested in information on freezing eggs as it was the “ideal time.” I politely declined the pamphlet while silently horrified at the idea and that it was being offered to me. (No offense to those who choose this route – it’s just not for me.)

My new doctor ended the visit asking if I had any additional concerns and I wondered for a minute how thorough of an answer she wanted before deciding to stick with a strictly health related answer. I left the doctor’s office a little sad and a little more aware of my mortality but that’s not unusual for me. What felt different this time was the heightened awareness of really how little control we have over our lives especially when it comes to getting what we want out of it.

I think I used to believe a cultural narrative that tells us if we want something, all we need to do is go out and get it. Never mind if we have the skills or resources or education, all of that can be remedied if we just want something hard enough. In this worldview, wanting and desire only exist as an impetus to get us to where we need to be. If we do not get what we want, it is because we did not work hard enough (or in religious circles “pray hard enough”) or maybe because we did not actually want it that much in the first place.

Part of the reason for Lent is to remind ourselves of wanting and desire. Denying ourselves something we don’t usually think twice about reaching for (chocolate, wine, Netflix, Facebook, etc) triggers an awareness of longing and desire. I used to feel embarrassed by how hard Lent is for me. Giving up an occasional bowl of ice cream seems like it should not make me as aware of longing as it does. But the truth is, eating ice cream is pleasurable and it is readily available and so if I want it, I take it. It is a desire (however simple) easily satisfied, so why deal with the suffering (however unpainful) of the desire?

Of course my wanting for ice cream is minuscule in comparison with the things I really deep down desire. And Lent makes me aware of those deep down desires in a way that is acutely painful. I am intentionally giving up some of my easy satisfactions and allowing myself to experience even the simplest “suffering” that comes with self-denial. Somehow that opens up my heart to reveal all of the wants and desires I would rather ignore than experience. It makes me aware of all the things I want that I do not know how to get – or maybe are not mine to take?

Perhaps there are some people that really just need to want more or work harder and their desires would be fulfilled. But I think for most of us, we want things that we do not know how to get or cannot get for ourselves. We want to be cured of a chronic disease. We want to be less stressed. We want to feel happy in a lasting way. We want to be safe. We want a partner or children or both. We want to see peace in the world. We want to see justice served. We want to be loved. We want a comfortable standard of living. We want to be smarter or stronger or prettier or all of the above. We want a job that’s fulfilling. We want to rest. We want to be respected.

We do what we can to reach those desires – some of us giving all of our resources (time, money, emotional energy, physical energy, etc) to fulfill those desires – but how many of us actually have all of our wants truly satisfied? I would venture none. And I don’t believe that that’s because everyone is a failure at living.

What if wanting and desire do not exist simply to get us to what we “should” have? What if we want and desire to open up our hearts a little wider? To help us be more aware of our need – for one another, for God, for a community? To make us more aware of our smallness in this great big universe and walk more humbly?

I think of everything I want and what I know of what my parents want and my grandparents want and my great-grandparents wanted. I think of the line of desire leading all the way back to a garden with everything – where every wish could be fulfilled – and still there was wanting. What they wanted seemed like a really good thing – to know more and be more like God. But rather than letting their desire to be like God lead them closer to God, they tried to take an easier path – reach for the quick fix and easy satisfaction. I do not know what first experiencing sin was like but I wonder if it felt like the deep down suffering of desire – desires that will never be satisfied.

I do not have answers. I do not know which of the truly good things I (or you) desire will be fulfilled. I do not always know which desires to pursue or how “hard” I should try to make them happen. Honestly, sometimes I do not even know what I really want – it can feel like an endless sense of not enough. There is so much that feels outside my control and that is scary but also I think good. Believing I can make everything I want happen would not be healthy for me and I think would steal some of the adventure and unexpected pleasures out of living.

I was sad walking out the doctor’s office because she was asking me (however clinically) about things that I think I really want but do not know if I will get. I do not know if they are desires that will be fulfilled. My prayer this Lent is that these unfulfilled desires are not making me bitter or cynical or worn out with wanting but that these desires are moving me closer to God and my community. I pray that my heart is being enlarged in the waiting and the wanting.