“I know there’s a meaning to it all, a little resurrection every time I fall.
You got your babies, I got my hearses, every blessing comes with a set of curses.
I got my vices, got my vice verses.” – Vice Verses, Switchfoot
I have to remember why I’m in college sometimes. It starts becoming this mad dash through wind and sand and heat, and it begins to feel like I’m just surviving another week and trying to pass another course.
But college is really only another movement in this war against myself. Forth education! Drive out these small desires and narrow visions; be a headlong charge against my own apathy, laziness, and ignorance. Now I must push and shove, give and take, and dive into the humbling world where I know nothing and must, childlike, rely on those who can teach me. This learning is a conundrum, because there are moments when I must hold out my hand and share my pathetic pieces of knowledge like bread and fishes. And those moments when I finally understand a piece of this complex world or cradle a tired hope of my own, those moments are my victories and my vice verses.
I guess all students have classes that they have a hard time mustering enthusiasm for. There will always be chores and duties that I’d rather do without. I am laboring under no delusion that someday I’ll live a dream life where I only do things I love. Because all worthwhile things seem to exist at the top of very tall hills. And all tall hills seem to harbor an abundance of thorns and wild beasts and glittering distractions. Sometimes it’s hard to feel any kind of appreciation for the journey.
I’ve been making some colossal mistakes lately. It feels like the weight of my ignorance is growing heavier on my back. I wake up some mornings and realize that I am fully responsible for myself, all failures and faults, and all baggage in my heart and mind. I fall short so frequently, measuring up as a nothing-nobody against my peers. If I could mentally grade myself, as a human being, right now I would feel like I’m a 61%, barely-earned D. The broken parts of me keep baring their greedy teeth and taking out my hope and resolutions. Sometimes I don’t push myself hard enough and feel no pain at all; sometimes I push myself too hard and feel nothing but pain.
But sometimes when I look in the mirror and my own skin repulses me, I remember that vice verses is what life is all about. The great contrast between this sick, self-destructing idiot trying to scream demands louder than hope, and the redemption that has released me from those demands. Religious people have tried to tell me life is all about being moral, teachers have tried to tell me that it’s all about succeeding, and my peers seem to think money, grades, or fame are worth living for. But there are these vice verses, these little points in time when I know my life is a gift given to me, a pleasure and a present and a war all in one. As if, before I drew breath, Someone enrolled me in an all-encompassing Appreciation Course, and is daily trying to free thankfulness and wonder out of my fearful, bitter heart.
This week was a long stretch of beating my fists against nothing, trying to get through to more nothing. (A frustrating endeavor, I promise you.) And I failed God, friends, instructors, even myself…and there was grace waiting for me after the failure.
I want to dare to live this life, even if I never feel good enough for it. Only I can appreciate my life, only you can appreciate yours. There will be regrets, and they may follow us to the grave, but grace exists in these moments where you break your word and screw up again, where you see yourself once more falling short and disappointing others, and grace will teach you to open your eyes to appreciation, to life. Don’t try to succeed, holding yourself up against a red-hot measuring stick. Instead, fight against the wrong inside you, the lazy or fearful bits that want you not to try, the apathetic bits that slow you down. Take risks, fall down and feel the ground sometimes. Be adventurous and work hard. But don’t think of life as good days and bad days, successes and failures. Think of it as Appreciation.
As you learn what it means to breathe and how to tell the bad parts from the good…don’t neglect to applaud now and then. Notice the people who love you. Notice the people you were given to love. Notice the way an instrument fits into your hands, the way your kindest words sound when they leave your mouth, and the brushstrokes that comprise a whole, and never let yourself take these things for granted. These are your vice verses, the flecks of grace against a chaotic world.
I will never forget something my world history instructor told me several years ago, when I was upset over a B I had made. “Good students don’t make A’s, Joy. Good students love learning, they are grateful for the chance to do so, and they try to find applicable ways to fit the education into their life. Don’t make A’s. Make a life.”
I am most grateful for all of you. Thank you so much for ever proving to me that no matter how great a failure I am, love will still haunt my darkest nights.