Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fitting In

I woke up yesterday morning in a cold sweat, trying to convince myself that the world I had just been living in was only a dream. I had been in high school again, back in my old room at my Dad's house, desperately trying to remember the last time I had attended the math class whose final was happening that day. When did it meet? Did I own the book? Could I possibly cram enough to pass? I wracked my brain to remember my class schedule, and frantically tried to get ready for school that day. Then the alarm went off, and I woke up, dazed & confused.

Most of us know that feeling-- waking up from a dream of public nudity, a forgotten locker combination, showing up for work unprepared, or being chased by an unstoppable foe. I'm not much for elaborate dream interpretations, but it seemed pretty clear to me, as I
woke up on my first day of "classes" that my dream came from some underlying stress & insecurities.

This summer, I am calling Fort Collins, Colorado, my Home and six weeks of training & conferences my Job. While I readily admit that I am looking forward to some [much-needed] leadership training, blue skies & sunshine, and not being in charge of anyone or anything, I do have a confession: I am afraid.

I show up to most of our ministry's conferences dragging my feet,
making a half-hearted attempt at a good attitude, with the mild anxiety that comes from not fitting in. I usually spend the first day at a conference feeling closed off & cranky, the second talking to God & asking if something's wrong with me, and the third having a heart-to-heart with Chris wondering what in the world we're still doing here. Somewhere along the road, I remember that I love my job & my students, that every family is dysfunctional, and that there's really no place else I'd rather be.

No matter how many times I go through that cycle, I always have this low-grade panic in the pit of my stomach that someone is going to find out that I am not spiritual enough, that I don't do things by the book... and that I have a hard time understanding half of what's in "The Book" (especially all those models & acronyms-- I'm practically illiterate when it comes to all the insider lingo. It's like listening to people talk about Lost).

So when my alarm went off the morning of our first training class, I lay in bed confused about my dream
, wondering where I was, and realized that the fear of failing a math class was really just the fear of the "kids" at school not liking me. Thankfully, no one beat me up & stole my lunch money. Even better, I learned that several other people felt insecure, out of place, and a little nervous about the summer. It's nice not to be alone.

It's true that seven hour long meetings are exhausting, that my brain feels like mush at the end of this first week, and that I have an incredible doodle collection on my notebook. But right now, as I sit on the porch, watching an amazing thunderstorm pass through the Colorado sky, I feel privileged. Maybe it's just because I made it to Friday afternoon and can sleep in tomorrow. But more than that, I'm actually looking forward to the Fall, being back on campus, starting a new year with those troubled, dysfunctional students that have wormed their way into the tender places of my heart. Lord love 'em.

Last night I had another vivid, incredibly real dream-- but this time, instead of feeling
panic & confusion, I was left (and still carry) with a feeling that can only be described as the warm fuzzies. I was walking through the gates of Child Voice, our home in Uganda last summer, wondering how I got there. The women & children gathered to welcome us, singing their song of greeting, and a friend came out, giving me a huge hug that I can still feel against my chest. It felt like home, and I felt like I belonged there.

And maybe, just maybe I can even start to feel at home here, too.

Friday, June 12, 2009


A few days ago, I laid on the bed, staring out the window at the clouds taking shape & forming overhead. Although we have been looking forward to warm, sunny Southern California weather, since we left San Francisco, it's been nothing but gray, gloomy drizzle... with the exception of the day that I found myself watching the clouds.

It was stormy and the air seemed full, with giant thunderclouds moving across an impossibly blue sky (impossible, at least for LA-- the one great thing about the rain is that it scrapes away the layers of smog). I laid there and talked to God, thinking Big thoughts and asking Big questions as I watched him push the clouds across my panoramic view out the window.

Everything inside felt heavy, with the weight of the questions I was asking and the little drama that was unfolding. It was one of those times when we look into someone's life, at all the pain & brokenness, and wonder why it has to be that way.

The Question is, I think, the biggest mystery that we wrestle with, and sometimes I feel my chest filling with something that I cannot put words to, but in the simplest form is just sadness.

I don't mean that in a melodramatic, "get me a straight jacket & some
meds" kind of way. But I think it's healthy & appropriate sometimes to grieve for the pain & brokenness around us, and even to ask God why things are the way they are.

There is someone that we care for whose life and mind are slipping, and we are in a position to help them. But these situations can be tricky & delicate, and my words and actions have been coming out cautiously-- cringing as I lay each one down, hoping that it won't topple everything over.

It has been a strange process, stretched out ov
er the last several weeks, hanging heavily in the background, and stepping forward at unexpected moments. There is a sense of expectancy-- like tensing up before an accident, but in slow motion.

As I lay on the bed, watching the sky, I opened up all those feelings-- the questions of what to do & when to do it, and most of all Why?. The clouds rolled & took shape, sometimes swallowing up the blue patches, sometimes meeting and forming with others. I remembered Job's question of God: Why?
Why did you let this happen? I thought of the other people I knew who had lived through similar situations, and thought about the millions of others that I didn't know. Mental illness is one of those things that is so difficult to understand & explain-- something that happens without anyone to blame or any explanation of Why.

The feelings and questions I had been wanting to avoid & numb were exposed, and none of my questions were answered. But as the clouds drifted & changed, I felt a sense of purpose behind it-- something bigger than myself that I couldn't understand. Instead of answers, I simply felt a Presence that didn't take away my feelings, but shared them with me.

Mixed in with (or maybe I should say underneath) all the anxiety, the fear, the unknown is that calm Presence. I suppose in the religious world, it would be called faith, but I don't want to put a name to it, especially because Faith almost sounds like something I made myself, and this is something I can't claim.

There is a small ache inside, knowing that this is Reality--
that most of the world lives with some sort of wound like this, that there are no guarantees. At the same time, though, I have had moments over these last few weeks where I have felt swells of gratitude, of joy-- where I catch myself smiling over some small thing. It's hard to know how to hold these issues in balance: the reality of our brokenness and the goodness that's around us; how to mourn and celebrate at the same time.

I think, though, that as I stay in tune with these feelings and allow myself to ask these questions, that balance seems to work itself out naturally. It's when I close them up inside and try to hide from it all that I start to tip one way or the other. And as I expose those tender places, that Presence, which is such a mystery, makes me feel at home with myself, with my situation, with reality, and the Questions don't seem quite as big.