Thursday, March 12, 2009

In Living Color

There is something safe, predictable and easy about following the rules, and Life fits into nice, tidy categories when lived in black and white. Sometimes I think there's even more freedom within a set of well-defined boundaries: you know exactly where you can & cannot go, and you don't have to be stuck, constantly worrying "Have I gone too far?"

In my younger years, my faith was lived out in a rigid set of constructs that went somewhere along the lines of the old saying "Don't drink, smoke or chew or go with girls [guys] that do". Sex, drugs and rock & roll were BAD (unless, of course, it was Christian rock & roll-- then it was okay), and doing anything on the List of vices (the one I sort of made up without realizing it) made you a BAD Christian.

Somewhere along the line, my vision started to move away from the Black & White mentality. Rather than saying that I started to consider the various shades of gray in between, I think my shift was more like starting to see things in color-- like when Dorothy steps into Oz, only slower and more gradually.

Some would call it "Deconstructing my faith", others would probably call it blasphemy, and still others would simply view it as a time of seasoning & maturing. Either way, I love my colorful world in San Francisco, and the prism that is found in our ministry.

As th
e numbers in our modest college ministry grew proportionally with my levels of stress & anxiety, I came to the brilliant conclusion that it was time to put some of our capable, colorful students into leadership. The only problem was that our vibrant students don't quite fit into the Black & White constructs of what most would define as Model Christian Leaders.

Don't get me wrong-- our students are a breath of fresh air. They are eager & honest, full of life, authenticity & growth. They just resemble Jesus' rag-tag gro
up of followers a little more than the board of elders at the local Presbyterian Church.

I was carefully
considering how to proceed, and who to invite into our exclusive little inner circle of leadership when Chris let off a bomb in my brain. He had spent the evening with a friend of ours who happens to rub shoulders with some of the Christian Super Stars of our day-- the ones whose books we read, whose sermons we download, and whose brilliant thoughts we quote. It turns out that the vast majority of them aren't as shiny and polished as they appear on stage.

Now, of course I know that nobody is perfect, but I think that most of us don't really believe that
about the people we look up to-- especially our spiritual heroes. If we envision their imperfection it's probably along the lines of swearing when stubbing a toe, or overindulging in a bowl of ice cream. When our icons truly reveal their flaws-- addictions, affairs, divorce, anger, greed-- its like discovering that Santa Claus isn't real. Devastating.

So, when I heard that some of my heroes of the faith were not so heroic, a part of me shrunk back. My immediate response (after disappointment) was fear-- fear that I would end up behind a pulpit someday, speaking beautiful, relevant words that had been made hollow by my own emptiness. Let me be a barista at Starbucks for the rest of my life before that happens.

My next thought was for our students. What is the most important thing in a leader? I asked myself. I thought of Sunday School characters, like King David (murderer, adulterer), Peter (denied Jesus), Thomas (full of doubt) and how their hearts were pure, even though their actions didn't always live up to their lofty desires.

So, I decided to throw out the rule book-- to live out our lives & our ministry in color and not in black & w
hite. It felt good, right, and free. We invited all our students to come hear about leading with us, and told them that what we were interested in was people who were willing to live their lives in the light-- open & honest, but not perfect. No rules; just willing hearts.

As fate would have it, one of our student made a fairly public "Christian faux pas" the very night of our big leadership unveiling. I had to smile as I thought of God
chuckling softly to Himself-- not at the student (I truly have no judgment there), but at me. Oh, the irony of taking the road less traveled, of trading rules for color & adventure. "Do you really mean it?" asked God with a wink & a smile.

In the end, I would much prefer the messy splatter of colors on our canvass than newsprint-- not just because it keeps life interesting, but because it reminds me that I have no idea what I'm doing. And I know that to be a good thing, because it keeps me constantly before my Creator.

What's next? I really can't say. I can only go one step at a time... which helps me enjoy the scenery.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Re-Run: Daylight Spending

Although I have supposedly been saving up daylight for thirty years now, whenever that cursed day comes around and I am forced to "Spring Forward", I am caught off guard. Is it possible that it's getting worse-- that with the economic crisis, it has become more difficult to save daylight?

I decided that if MASH can still be airing re-runs, then I can post a re-run of last year's Daylight Savings Gripe. After all, it is still just as valid today as it was a year ago. Enjoy (or at least commiserate)

Blah. This is an official gripe. Consider yourself warned.

Daylight Savings is a conspiracy. I'm not sure what they're getting at yet, but I know they're after something. I wish I could protest, like Arizona, and simpl
y refuse to change my clock-- just show up an hour late for everything & start a revolution (hey, that's not a bad idea, considering I'm usually at least 10 minutes late for everything! I could call it a Daylight Savings tax, or something).

Why do they call it "Savings" anyways? It's like those obnoxious car salesmen on the radio: SUND
AY, SUNDAY SUNDAY! HUGE SAVINGS YOU CAN'T AFFORD TO MISS!! Usually, it saves me a whole lot more money when I just don't go down to their used car lot & partake in their savings. I'm pretty sure I'm not saving any daylight (unless there's some offshore account in Switzerland that has all my daylight saved up for me, and I don't know about it).

Waking up on Sunday morning was brutal, but it wasn't as bad as waking up this morning. Because the sun didn't set until like 9:30 last night (it's possible that I am exaggerating), we didn't eat dinner until at least 11pm (again, this map may not be to scale), and finally made it to bed at 3am (well, maybe it was midnight). When the alarm went off at 6:30 this morning, it felt (and looked) like the middle of the night.

I feel so cheated. I mean, it's nice that we have all those "extra" lovely hours of afternoon/evening light, but when the sun doesn't actually rise until 7:28am (that is not an exaggeration; I looked it up), I really don't feel like I am gaining anything.

Maybe my griping has more to do with the fact that I have a case of the Mondays. We had a lovely weekend (maybe I'll blog on that later-- it really was golden), but I am dreading this week, and I am not quite sure at this point how I am going to make it through. On top of the normal "my cup runneth/spilleth over" week, I have an all day outreach, our church small group, and an entire weekend of training meetings to run. This means that my week will actually last 2 weeks-- how's that for daylight savings?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Goodbye, Old Friend

This week, I ended a 9 year, rocky, turbulent relationship. After trying everything I could to make it work, after having loved ones point out the glaring truth, after ignoring the bad & embracing the good for far too long... I finally succumbed to the sad, painful reality...
...and took out my nose ring.

Now, I know that it's really just jewelery, and that it doesn't define who I am, but I confess (feeling a little embarrassed as I do) that it feels like I lost a little piece of me.

I've never been one to wear loud, flashy clothes, and don't feel the need to stand out in a crowd (which would be a difficult feat in San Francisco), but having a sense of individuality & self expression is important to me-- something small that says "This who I am.
This is me, and I am different from the rest".

What is that desire, and where does it come from? Is it ego, insecurity, rebellion
, or vanity? While there may be ribbons of each of those running through it, it seems more like something living inside, that is important to express. And for some strange reason, that little piece of jewelry did that perfectly: a tiny sparkle of fun, spunk & sass; noticeable, but not flashy; edgy, but not tough & rebellious. Gosh, I loved that silly nose ring.

But, alas, it did not love me back, and after nine year of different remedies & solutions, I faced the reality that it was red & irritated almost as often as it was cute & sparkly.

What's a girl to do? I suppose I will have to face my thirties dull & boring, squelching the creative spark that lives inside-- retreating to the suburbs to buy a house with a picket fence, and spending my days scrubbing floors & watching soap operas.

Actually, I plan on dyeing my hair pink again this weekend-- which is a great consolation, but still not quite the same.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Princess and the Pea

It's raining sideways outside, as I sit at home in my sweats, feeling under the weather.

For the last few days, my body has been trying to tell me that something is wrong-- the nervous fluttering in my chest and the knots & nausea in my stomach may just be a
little bug, or they might be that feeling that I get when life is out of balance.

For better or for worse, I have a very sensitive gauge on my equilibrium, like the Princess and the Pea. When there is something "off" in my relationships-- with myself, God or others-- I am usually quickly and acutely aware of it, and it often takes form physically. Whether I immediately diagnose or act on that lack of balance is another topic all together (sometimes I'm like an ostrich with my head in the sand), but that feeling of imbalance stays with me in the background, like a speck of dirt in my eye, until I find equilibrium again.

I mentioned recently that life felt too big for me-- and yet was somehow a perfect fit. I still believe that to be true, on the grand scheme of things, but I am starting to see that some of the details just don't quite fit me, in the moment.

Oftentimes, the problem arises from another angle-- like discovering a hip problem through the pain in your knee. My big tip off (besides the nervous stomach) came from driving my one-armed husband around town, after he broke his hand. Now I admit that I am not the best driver in the world-- not the worst, but certainly not the most skilled at parallel parking or remembering directions.

Since Chri
s drives 90% of the time, he had many helpful tips for me: You'll want to get in the left lane ahead, this one ends soon; You're gonna hit the curb-- turn the wheel a little bit more to the left to park here... And despite the fact that we have been married for almost 5 years, I get nervous when he watches me drive.

I almost lost it this afternoon when, after asking a stupid question, he responded gently with "Maybe you should drive around the City a little more." I threw a temper tantrum inside (don't you wish we could behave like 3 year olds again, sometimes?), took a deep breath, and tried to diagnose why this was driving me to road rage.

The thing is, earlier that day, I had gotten that old familiar feeling of imbalance. I think that maybe-- just maybe-- I have taken on too much. As exciting opportunities have presented themselves to us in our ministry, we have struggled to discern when to say Yes and when to say No. Today, on an important phone call, I could hear the tension in the voice on the other end, and as I hung up, I knew he was disappointed in me.

Now, I confess that of all my phobias (birds, feet, germs, needles...) my fear of failure sends me into a panic. So when we drove home, and I felt that failure in my job and in my driving, it pushed me over the edge. Well, almost-- I didn't drive off a cliff, or stomp my feet and scream, but I did go to bed with a stomach in knots, feeling like I needed to puke.

I realize that it wasn't really the phone call or Chris' constructive criticism (sometimes known as Back Seat Driving), but the fact that I am taking on responsibilities that I was not meant to carry. I sat at my favorite seat (the floor in the hallway, in front of the heater), and prayed that God would help to center me & restore balance.

As I prayed, I mentally removed the Big, Exciting Opportunity we have to grow exponentially and touch the lives of hundreds of people. Immediately, my stomach & shoulders relaxed and I felt at peace.

It's tough to let go of amazing opportunities, but I think that just might be the better course of action. Unclenching my fists, and opening my hands to let go feels like the right thing to do today. Sometimes it takes more faith to wait in patience for a better fit, growing into those big dreams at a better time.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Nurse Ratched

Our weekend started out with a trip to the vet, where we sought advice on treatments for our poor, lame dog.

A few days ago, he cut the cushy pad on the bottom of his paw, and as he
licked his wounds (which I had always thought dogs were supposed to do), he turned a little scrape into quite a problem. When Saturday rolled around, our normally clumsy mutt had become a full-blown cripple, hobbling pathetically and looking at us with big searching eyes that asked, "Why me?"

There is something morbidly humorous about a big pit
bull, bobbing his head like a pigeon as he limps around, and something even funnier when he falls over, lifting his leg to "water" a tree, or lands on his head trying to get out of the car. I know, I am cruel & unfeeling-- my heart does break for him... but really, its hilarious, too.

Our attempts to quicken his healing, however, were not so funny. Wrestling with 60lbs of pure muscle (not to mention a fearful, untrusting rescue-pup) is quite a feat, and keeping his jaws of steel away from the finished product of gauze & bandages required perseverance & creativity.

We left our little cripple at home for a few hours, while Chris went on a long bike ride & I got to spend some girl time with a friend. However, it wasn't too long before I got another one of Those phone calls: the kind of phone call that leaves you searching for your insurance card and the nearest ER.

Yes, friends, Chris took another tumble off his mountain bike, breaking (so he thought) his hand. You might be thinking to yourself, "Didn't Chris just break his hand mountain biking?" The answer to that question would be: Yes, less than a year ago. The weeks of sympathy & immobility were always met with the consolation, "Well, at least it wasn't your right hand."
Only this time, it was.

After spending 4 long, dull hours in the ER (and never actually speaking to a doctor), we were sent home with a splint and the happy prognosis that there was no break & that he should be healed within a few days (Chris is dubious, though-- he's convinced it really is broken. Time will tell). We finally stumbled through the door around 9pm, tired, cranky & hungry.

The next task was to re-bandage Gavin's paw (the blue bandage shards were scattered around his bed, as he had nothing to do all day but tear it off & wait for our return). Since Chris only had one hand available, and since Gain already knew what was coming, I got the charming task of lifting 60lbs of dead weight off the floor, dragging him to the bowl of iodine/water, and straining with all my might to hold him there for a few minutes while his paw soaked. Of course, in the process, he spilled the bowl of iodine all over my pants, the floor and two towels, I squirted Neosporin all over the rug, and his bandage fell off again within minutes.

After that, I had to help Chris unwrap his arm, get in the shower, re-wrap his arm, feed us both, and take the poor (lame) dog out for a walk (hobble)... and clean the towels, floor, pants & rug I had stained.

I wish that I could say that I was compassionate, gracious and loving through the whole process. I wish I could say that I supported my husband through his injury & pain, and that I joy
fully gave of myself in his (and the dog's) hour of need.

I could say that, but I would be lying.

As I sat through church this morning, I thought about my responses over the previous several hours. Yes, there were moments of genuine compassion, gratitude for health care & insurance, and relief that Chris was okay & his hand wasn't broken... but for the most part, I was irritated and snappy.

I wish that I could respond to situations like that with patience, love & grace. It broke my heart as I reflected on my tone of voice, after the little iodine/Neosporin spillage. Chris' patienc
e, good nature and soft words really are Nobel prize-worthy, and I realized this morning-- when I had to drive us to church & take care of the dog-- how much he does for me behind the scenes.

I decided today that I want to use this opportunity to exercise generosity, love & patience. They are nice concepts to talk about, but usually messy to practice. As I watch Chris calmly try to bandage his arm by himself, or hang up a jacket with one hand, I see so much the patience that I lack. And I want to grow, but Patience really should be the last virtue you ask God to help you grow in: everyone knows as soon as you do that, you end up in traffic jams, at the end of long DMV lines, in endless conversations with difficult people, or stuck with a broken laptop. And yet, I see my need for it so clearly, I can't help but ache for it.

Our weekend ended with me trying to reconnect with Chris, apologizing for my lack of patience. As I reached over to kiss him, he awkwardly tried to move his gimp hand around my back for a hug, and clocked me in the nose in the process. Alright, I admit it, I swore, and shrieked "Did you just break my nose?!" Oh, the pain, the itense sinus headache, the tenderness! Luckily there are no black eyes or sowllen noses-- the three of us would be quite a site walking down the street together.