In an eerie twilight, the bright grey sky looming, lighting solos occasionally piercing the horizon, the writer in me is coaxed into a state of creativity which evaded me indoors only moments ago. I sat still in the mist of the rhythmic rain, gaze averting from the computer screen to the evening glories sprawling up the porch slats. Vines are doubling over; they need to be trained up, but that’s Wednesday’s investment. Tuesday’s is writing.
And so I resist the urge to begin untangling vines and looping them around the fishing line strung up past the hanging baskets. While trying to find writing inspiration, my brain was visualizing the act of fixing them. Rather than dismiss the evening glories, I saw, amidst their interlaced leaves, my greatest weakness.
The need to fix things that are broken is almost palpable at times. When my sister-in-law tells me her phone isn’t getting texts, I actually get excited. When my brother needs to install software without a virtual drive, I’m energized by the challenge. When my mom can’t figure out how to move a Google Drive folder, I drop the lawn mower and hit the computer.
I’m not sure why I’m driven to fix things. Maybe a little writing therapy can shed some twilight on what I get out of it. The optimist might claim it’s born of good Christian charity or a selfless heart, but I know myself too well to let that explain the acts of service. Something compels me to right ships, whether the vessels are technology, plants, or people.
My mind is flooding with images of living in my parents’ house after I’d left my husband. I was existing with no job for the first time in fifteen years. A family friend’s daughter was getting married, and she needed some technical assistance printing the programs. The first visit evolved into weekly sessions where I helped plan and coordinate the ceremony and reception. Though it was strange to prepare for someone else’s nuptials while I was signing away my own, it felt good to be useful.
And I was pretty good at wedding planning. I’d done a few for friends and members of my congregation back in Nashville. The stereotypical overachiever, I see what needs to be done and can usually do it. I might have to cue up a few YouTube videos or tutorials, but organization, order, and structure are the Fort Knox that protects my sanity. When chaos threatens, I have a knack for finding a way forward to resolution.
This need to fix things benefits others. As I sit and write, all the while worrying that letting the vines grow one more night in the wrong direction will make the task more difficult tomorrow, why do I identify this need as a weakness? Because I am unable to leave well enough alone. Because this need is indiscriminate. It knows not if someone wants to be helped nor if I have enough resources to meet the need without personal loss.
My high school boyfriend was from the wrong side of the tracks according to my mother. He was rough around the edges, fighting a losing battle to the legacy of an abusive, alcoholic father. His brokenness enticed me. I saw his wounds, and I thought my love could heal them. Despite my better judgment, I started a relationship with him hoping to bring him around to faith in God. I wound up bruised and alone in the end. I’m not sure I fixed anything, but I broke myself trying.
And my longest-lasting best friend. Her exuberance, charm, and passion for living fully seemed to attract drama as a part of her lifestyle. Whether sharing a couch or chatting miles apart on the phone, I gave her advice and counsel. I always saw how her life could be better, richer, fuller, healthier. The cumulative result after years of trying to help her fix life was that she ended our friendship in an email. She was tired of having me judge her. A decade later, I can’t blame her.
I started serving in the church during my early teen years, whether leading worship or working with children’s ministries. While teaching fulltime, I spear-headed the audio-visual team for my father-in-law’s church. They had many needs, and I never said no. I designed and managed the website, provided equipment for the team, recorded services, and prepared the media presentations. I led worship and taught the youth class. I couldn’t sit in the service; I had to be in the AV booth where I had some control over resolving any problems.
Six years of that burned me out completely. I operated at top speed, doing too much for too long, unaware of how depleted my reserves were. I worry about the evening glories because I know I can do something about it. I worried about my girlfriend, so I told her what I thought she should do. I worried about my high school boyfriend, so I decided to be what he needed. I worry that my sister-in-law won’t be able to reply to an important text, so I tinker with the phone.
I think I fix things because I’m trying to escape the worry. There’s this vague cloud of anxiety that hangs over each of us, I believe. Some people are better at navigating the distance of it, sending it out and reeling it in like a kite when they’re ready to deal with it. Others, like me, can’t take naps. If I’m awake, I feel the weight of things unresolved, and I can’t sit still longer than to make a plan or a to do list.
I maintain my order Fort Knox by preparing for each day like I did for my friend’s daughter’s wedding. Think about everything that should happen. Then, think about everything that could go wrong. Finally, make lists, and cross items off as you go. Basically, by anticipating future worries, I can avoid them.
For me, the desire to serve others has turned to weakness when it overshadows reason. When I see what needs to be done, my instinct is to just do it, without regard to the cost. Like with my girlfriend, I had my eye too close on the microscope to see how my helpful advice was hurting her. Like with my high school boyfriend or the church, I squelched my own self-preservation needs in the pursuit of fixing things.
The rain stopped, but I still sense the clouds in the now dark sky beyond my evening glories. Fixing them can wait until tomorrow. Tonight, I was trying to find something in me. I was looking for a reason. I fix things so that I don’t have to worry about them. The fewer items in the cloud, the greater the distance it is from me, and I can enjoy living after I’ve survived thriving.
I told Charming once that I didn’t feel a need to fix people. I wasn’t lying then. He helps me broaden my perspective, question myself. I didn’t see it until the tangled vines began whispering, summoning me away from my writing to fix them. In the chaos of leaves, I saw the need for boundaries.
It’s hard for me to surrender control when I know what needs to be done and can do it. It’s hard to hold my tongue when I think what I have to say will help solve a problem. Sometimes, facing a worry means not taking action. You have to sit still with the evening glories in the storm for a few minutes before inspiration strikes.