Monday, April 27, 2009


Every night when I get into bed, there is a period of time (which seems eternal, but probably last a totally of 3 minutes) where I am absolutely freezing. Sometimes I run in place (lying in bed) just to try to generate some heat. There is some strange sort of architectural mystery that keeps our little apartment just under 60 degrees, and no matter how warm it is outside, I always want the heater on inside. If I ever discover the secret, I will package it and sell it in Arizona.

As I lay in bed the other night, feeling the fingers of the icy sheets from my neck to my toes & waiting for warmth to finally arrive, I asked myself an interesting question:

How many minutes in a day do I feel uncomfortable?

I usually stuff my face within moments of the slightest twinge of hunger. If I am hot, I turn up the AC in my car, and if I’m cold, I sit in front of the [awkwardly placed] heater in the hallway. If I have a headache, I pop some Advil, take a hot shower, and put my heat pack on my shoulders to release tension. Yes, there are definitely days where I miss a few hours of sleep, and end up feeling tired & irritable, or when I have a pain (heartache or headache) that just doesn’t seem to go away… but on the whole, I would say that I spend at least 23 hours of my day in relative comfort.

As this thought occurred to me, I remembered my time in Africa. I played back in my mind the emotions and sensations of waiting for hours in hunger for our next meal of rice & beans, or walking for miles in the hot sun—sun that felt as though a magnifying glass stood between us. I remembered running out of water for bathing or washing clothes, knowing that the rest of the refugee camp was also stuck without drinking water.

And as I remembered these feelings, I wondered to myself how many hours a day the rest of the population of the world feels uncomfortable.

It’s amazing to think sometimes that I went for a month without running water or electricity, and yet am so irritable when I run out of hot water 15 minutes into my shower. So often, I say that we need something—milk, a new bar of soap, a snack, etc, etc—when really, I haven’t had much experience with Need.

This concept really hit home yesterday when our laptop met it sudden and untimely death. One minute it was there, and the next it was dead (as the guy at HP said), never to wake again. Of course, that sent panic throughout our home, thinking of the information we had lost, the work that needed to get done, and the money it would cost to replace it. Chris spent most of the afternoon trying to diagnose the problem, researching new computers, and working out our finances. Not exactly how we planned to spend our day.

The haunting question of Need returned to me, as I looked at the barrage of information on the desktop computer at our office (yes, we own two computers!)—endless possibilities of new computers to buy, and ways to spend our time & money rectifying the situation. It was amazing to see how one malfunctioning electronic devise turned life on its head.

Yes, it’s true that our jobs really do revolve around our ability to get/give information. It is also true that we are on the go, and that sharing one desktop computer would be a huge inconvenience, slowing us down considerably and making us less efficient with our precious time. But to think that we Need a new laptop, when I know that our counterparts in Uganda all share one (broken) computer for the entire National Office just seems extravagant.

The temptation to rush off and buy a new computer the day that our old one broke, slapping the bill on our credit card, was stronger than I expected. Watching our meager tax return slip through our fingers before we even receive it is disappointing (Do you think Best Buy would take an I.O.U from the state of California??).

Thankfully, we are going out of town this weekend for a conference, and will have to put all shopping and spending on hold for a few days.

My hope is that it will be a time to take a deep breath and ask ourselves what we really need, and what we can do without. I also hope that the impulse to buy that cute little red laptop with the flowers will pass away…

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Flip Side

My Grandmother weighed less than 100lbs, but could level a freight train with her eyes. One look from her would cause even the sassiest teen to snap his mouth shut and pray the rosary.

It's not that she was mean or scary, it is simply that she held a great power within her, and occasionally, it flashed out of her eyeballs like lightning. And that power, my friends, is called a "Fiery Guatemalan

Never having been to Guatemala myself, I can't a claim that it's universal among the entire feminine species of the country... but judging from the women in mi familia, I think it's a pretty safe bet.

There is some intrinsic strength, passion, and charisma among the women in my family that is both beautiful and (as a child) a little frightening (two words: wooden spoon). The stories-- go
ing generations back-- about the incredible hardships they endured and the dignity with which they endured them is incredible. Truly, I hope to write a book someday.

I have always hoped that, despite the fact that I'm only half-Guatemalan, I would somehow develop that same powerful stare, that same force of character, and the same incredible strength lying just behind my eyelids.

Of course, as with every strength comes it's flip-side, and I have learned that a passionate, fiery strength in the wrong context becomes critical, opinionated & judgmental. Dang it.

I recently took a 6-week course on Personal Growth, and part of the workshop involved getting feedback from people who know me well about my strengths and weaknesses. Before I dive into the "areas I need to change" part of the feedback (I'm a big proponent of soaking in the positive stuff before jumping into the negative), let me take a moment to say that it was one of the most loving, encouraging, uplifting experiences ever. I was (am) deeply honored.

Along with all the positive, loving affirmation about my passion & heart came some gentle words about the flipside of those "strengths". It turns out that the other side of "genuine" & "expressive" is wearing your emotions on your sleeve-- and when you're cranky & opinionated, apparently there's not much of a filter to what comes out on your face (or in your words). There are so many times when something ugly slips out of my mouth, and I wish I could have a magic fishing line to reel it back in, or a little eraser to make that speech bubble disappear.

I hate the critical side of me, and I hate that there are times when it slips out and reveals the ugliness inside.
I want so very much to take the bite out of my words, thoughts & heart-- to think and speak the best of others... but, gosh, I am not always very good at it.

My hope is that as I round out the sharp edges of my character, I my words will also soften. But I know that these things don't come about by hoping, but rather through intentionality. So I press
on with my gentle feedback, one hand over my mouth and a prayer on my breath... as my fiery Guatemalan mother prays everyday: Set a guard over my mouth, Oh Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.

Perhaps as I reign in my words, my eyes will gain that power that my grandmother possessed. One can only hope.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

White Knuckles

I can't imagine the type of person it would take to teach Driver's Education. The sheer willpower it must take not to scream, to grab the wheel, to calmly say, "Alright, now we're going to merge onto the Freeway" is astounding.

I remember s
itting the vacant parking lot with my Dad, the smell of burning clutch wafting, and the feeling that my feet would never gain the understanding of working in harmony with all those pedals-- let alone the shifter and the steering wheel. Poor Dad.

If you've ever been in the car with someone who is learning to drive, you can relate to the desperate straining as you press your feet harder & harder into the floorboard (hoping against hope to somehow slow the car down), or willing all your mental energy to the left, to avoid
sideswiping the parked cars next to you. It's like using The Force to reach out with your feelings... only nothing happens except white knuckles and exhaustion.

Lately, I have arrived at each Friday with that same battle weary feeling of exhaustion, like going on an entire road trip with a Student Driver. Chris & I have joked that we d
on't recover from our Mondays [which are basically 13 hours of leading meetings] until Saturday morning.

The thing is, we're not working crazy hours (except the aforementioned Mondays), or filling our lives with too many activities, or spending our days in
hard manual labor. But by the end of the week, my heart and my mind is just thread bare.

It's an interesting thing being a spiritual leader-- even if it is just a small college ministry. I feel my successes and failures at work so very deeply. They don't come in the form of stocks or shares, but in people's lives, relationships, and souls. Of course, seeing the natural ebb & flow of our humanity (along with the rash choices that college students tend to make!) should not send me into a tailspin of failure, but I admit that my emotions mirror my studen
ts' dramatic up's and down's.

I recognized the feeling of trying to drive a car from the passenger seat through the force of my will & emotions, like I was trying to slow everyone down by mashing my feet into the ground. It was exhausting. I recognized that I had no room for other relationships in my life, for creativity, or writing, or even engaging deeply "after hours". Believe it or not, but I actually went a few weeks without cooking much of anything (this is surely a sign that something is very wrong in my life).

Just as you unclench your fist when you look down and realize the tension you were holding
through a scary movie, I began to look around and see (and feel) the weight I was carrying to "save" our students. As I did that, I slowly relaxed and started noticing a desire to cook again (a great first step-- except that Chris is still in a cast, so I always had to clean up my messes in the kitchen). Then, I found in me a hunger to engage in relationships again, and other creative ideas started to flow. It was like I was carrying the eternal destiny of our students' souls around with me, and didn't have the energy to simply be who I was supposed to be.

Of course, the question I keep asking myself is: How do I continue to care deeply about the people I work with, without wearing myself out? How do I walk with others through life's up's and down's without constantly living on a Roller Coaster? How do I live life woven together with our students, without becoming entangled in it all?

It is a constant balancing act of centering myself, taking deep breaths and a step back, and focusing on Something bigger than myself. He brought me here... He'll get me where I need to be.

And then, of course, there's making sure that I am being intentional with those things that give me life. Next up: embroidering a sweatshirt, making crepes, and forcing myself to keep writing.
Wish me luck...