Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Come, Emmanuel

     I have seen a flurry of conversations online (and I'm sure on TV & on the radio, if I were tuned in) about the shooting in Newtown, CT: reactions, solutions, sympathy, sadness, blame. It actually took me until last night to sit down and read the details of the shooting-- I just couldn't find the desire to enter into all of the ugliness. And as I drifted off to sleep, wondering just how one should respond or how to make sense of any of it, all I could think of was Emmanuel.

  Emmanuel: God with us. There was a period of time for me when that idea or phrase was painful-- when I had heard the promise that God would always be with us, and I just couldn't feel or believe it. I don't pretend to understand the brokenness in our world or lives, or even have answers to making it right-- the issues are all so complex. But one thing I walked away with, during that dark time, is a deep belief that one day it will all be made right. It is rooted down into my bones, even deeper, and I have known people who have had everything taken from them, who celebrate the reality of that future wholeness, restoration and Presence that we are all aching for now. 

The Advent devotional I read this morning said that in medieval Europe, worship services leading up to Christmas included seven invitations for God to come: Come, O Wisdom; Come, O Lord; Come, O Branch of Jesse; Come O Key of David; Come O Dayspring; Come, O King of Nations; and Come O Emmanuel-- all were ancient titles used for the coming Savior, pleas for God to come. One of my favorite Christmas songs, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, is a compilation of those seven pleas:

  O come, O come, Emmanuel!
  Redeem they captive Israel
  That unto exile drear has gone
  Far from the face of God's dear Son.

  O come, thou branch of Jesse! Draw
  The quarry from the lion's claw;
  From the dread caverns of the grave,
  From nether hell, they people save.

  O come, O come, thou Dayspring bright!
  Pour on our souls thy healing light;
  Dispel the night's ling'ring gloom,
  And pierce the shadows of the tomb.

  Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
  Shall come to thee, O Israel.

How appropriate those words seem. In the face of brokenness, we can call, we can plea, we can invite, and we can even celebrate the coming-- someday, the coming-- of a Healer who will be with us.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Following from the Couch

Confession: I've been having elaborate fantasies late at night when I can't sleep. Usually it is about a brownie sundae: the feeling of the spoon as it glides through the melting vanilla ice cream on top, and then the weight of the fudgy brownie underneath; the combination of warm & cold, chewing together in my mouth.

Even worse, after a day of having nothing but crackers, grapes and smoothies, I fantasized about eating a slice of Costco cheese pizza: the slightly waxy texture of the cheese, and the tinny tang of the sauce. It just sounded so, so good.

I know, its pathetic-- maybe even sinful, but what's a [pregnant, sick & tired] girl gonna do?

The last few months have felt, well, a little bleak. I have spent the majority of first trimester of my pregnancy in a horizontal position-- either on the couch (watching our lil' one play with his trains in the living room), laying on the floor (watching our lil' one play trains in his bedroom), or laying in bed (either passed out, nauseated, or fantasizing about pizza). I can barely eat, and (being hypoglycemic, and a big ball of hormones) I have the feeling that I might not always be the most charming person to be around.

It occurred to me, at some point along the way, that I was really just waiting for it to all be over-- and my waiting mostly involved scrolling through Facebook, fantasizing about the food I couldn't eat, and half-way listening to a toddler's conversation about Thomas the Tank Engine. I've been waiting, hoping & aching for a time when I could start living life again, start being useful, start participating in the universe around me, regain some of my worth and value.

I realized that so much of my faith, my identity, my life is based on action-- getting out there & doing something, or at least talking to people, and helping them to get out there & do something (I'm actually much better at that last part). And, of course, there's nothing wrong with that... but what happens when you simply can't get out there, or do anything. What happens when you can't even get out of bed, or change your kid's diapers, or keep thoughts in your head long enough to make any use out of them? Do you just wait it out until you can be of some use again, or is there life to be lived from the couch? Is there a way to live out your faith, to follow Jesus, to love, give, and experience life when you're just plain sick for months & months?

It has definitely been a huge lesson in receiving-- receiving help from others, receiving grace when I can't contribute anything, receiving love when I haven't done anything recently to deserve it. It's just plain hard to feel useless, and to know that nothing is going to change for a little while.

But I'm trying. My default discipline when I feel frustrated, mopey, or dissatisfied to is force myself to thank God for the things that I have in the moment. And let me tell you, it really helps to have been sick for weeks in a African refugee camp to give you a sense of gratitude for the rest of your life (thank you for indoor plumbing, thank you for clean water, etc).

My next question has been "What do you have for me in the moment, God?" I have a feeling there's more I can get out of this than the discipline of holding my breath & waiting for something better. Perhaps something along the lines of finding worth & identity in things other than my usefulness. Perhaps it's trusting God's plan for me in something unexpected, and undesired (we were in the process of adopting, so this pregnancy is still something I'm adjusting to).

The last part, I still haven't gotten very far with. My hope is to actually find God, and life, and hope and joy right here-- on the couch, nauseated and worn out and maybe even a little cranky. I believe its possible, but I confess that I haven't pursued it very well yet.

I'm still not sure what it looks like to follow Jesus from the couch. I secretly hope that I won't have too much longer to figure it out-- but I know that it is a question that will come up again in life, especially if (as I am discovering) much of my identity is wrapped up in what I do.

I know that they say that forming a baby is "doing" enough, but there's not much to show for it (yet), other than a growing belly, and a fridge full of ginger ale. It would be quite a task to discover Life right here in this place. As much as I want to resist it, I have the feeling it is my job during this season to make that discovery... and, strangely, it seems like an important job.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Money Pit

The subject of money always seems to put a tiny pit in my stomach, and makes my shoulders feel a bit tense. I am not the most organized, detail-oriented person in the world, and things like budgets, and remembering that little bill on the bottom of the stack of mail are not usually the things floating around at the front of my brain. Just the mention of credit cards and auto loans used to be enough to put me into a cold sweat. Lucky for me, I married a man who is fantastic with money-- saving it, watching it, remembering to spend it on things like phone bills, etc-- so now, my cold sweats have been reduced to the aforementioned tiny pit in my stomach.

When you dig a little deeper into that tense subject of money, into the area we call Charity, Giving, or Tithing, I get a little more anxious. You see, we have to raise our entire income on the gifts & donations of other people-- from health care, to travel expenses, conferences to retirement, we have to get out there & find people who believe in what we do enough to buy us lunch (and breakfast, and dinner). And since that hasn't been going very well for the past... oh, seven years, I've developed a funny Love-Hate relationship with Giving.

I was reading lately about the story of the Israelites wandering through the dessert, eating mannah, which magically appeared on the ground every morning. The story goes that God provided the mannah-- just enough for the people to eat-- but didn't allow it to be saved for the next day. He wanted his people to trust him daily for food, rather than gather it, store it, and feel secure, knowing that they had a few days of security in their hands. It was his way of saying, Trust me. I've got this covered. I'm not going to forget your breakfast. Don't get caught up in fear & greed & self-reliance-- I've got you.

I read that there is a crucial distinction between abundance-- a fearful response to scarcity-- and sufficiency-- which evokes an experience of satisfaction and well-being. The Israelites always had a sufficient amount of mannah each day-- none of them ever went hungry or needed more. But they wanted an abundance, to provide the security of knowing that just in case something happened tomorrow, they would have more than enough.

Okay, okay, I'm done with the Bible lesson (everyone make it out alright?). What I am really thinking about are the boxes of baby clothes we've got in the garage. The clothes that were given to us, out of the generosity & abundance of friends & family. I think I have bought two or three shirts, pants or shoes for my lil' guy that didn't come from a consignment store, a bag of hand-me-downs, or a gift. And that guy is better dressed than I could ever hope to be. But I'm afraid that when we adopt our little girl, we may not have enough-- and so I hold on to all those boxes.

And my mind also drifts back to a conversation Chris & I had about our budget a few days ago, as we calculated how much of our income would go to charity. It was an uncomfortable conversation, slicing up the money we have been given, and determining how much we could "afford" to give back. Finally, we put down a number that was technically acceptable, but felt embarrassingly small, saying we would come back to it later.

But reading about the mannah put that weird pit in my stomach again. Fear, anxiety, and that squirmy, uncomfortable feeling called Conscience started creeping up my spine, and I saw that I am going about the whole thing wrong. In the twelve years that I have lived off of other people's generosity and God's provision, I have never once gone hungry, been unable to pay our rent, or lacked for anything I have really needed (although we've had some really close shaves). And yet my abundance has not produced a feel of sufficiency, but a feeling of scarcity, and a desire to hold, hoard, grab, and scrimp. I have a home that was literally given to us, a car that was also given to us, a garage full of baby clothes that were given to us... and in our need for more funding, I am holding a fear-induced death grip on our money and our things. I want and I pray for God to give generously to us, and when he does, I am absolutely filled with anxiety at the thought of giving back.

In the story of the mannah, the magical bread actually turned maggoty when they tried to hold on to it overnight. And I'm afraid the same thing might just happen to me. So (it embarrasses me to admit how hard this is for me), I think I have two steps to take, now. First, I need to clean out our closets, and take a trip to Good Will. Just let go, and trust that we will have enough. Second, I need to spend some time praying about where we are supposed to give our money & how much we should give, and make our budget from there-- not the other way around.

I might even add a third step in there, of (man, I hate this one) praying for opportunities to give generously to others. I was talking on this subject to a group of moms, and one of them mentioned that one day, her mother in law had no couch in her living room. "Someone needed a couch, so I gave her mine" was the simple response to the inquiry. My first thought was, "I love my couch. Please, God, don't ask me to give away my couch."

But I realize that the more we hold onto-- the more we collect and gather into our arms-- the less capable we are to receive something new, something better, even. We limp along in life, working so hard to carry our provisions along with us, when we are being provided for every step of the way. We are afraid to ask for big things, and we are afraid to give big things, because both require us to relinquish self reliance, and to simply trust. And trust is one of those things that is so very simple, and so very difficult as the same time. It invites us to put down our load, and walk freely & lightly... but it's that letting go that can be so very hard.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Living Dreams, and Paying the Rent

Each of us has been given gifts & talents-- unique abilities, personalities & experiences that shape who we are. We have this intrinsic worth and value, and we were born for a higher purpose. We have dreams of living out a life of meaning, making a difference in this world, and becoming the men & women we feel that we are inside. There are times in our lives when we get to use those gifts and feel that "I was made for this."

...And then there's the reality that most days, we just have to pay the rent.

I love my job. I am passionate about what I do, and I honestly can't think of anything else I would rather give my life to. But the past week, I have sat in front of a computer screen, doing mindless data entry, organizing financial contacts, calling strangers on the phone asking for money, and going to bed never having left th
e house, or seeing anyone but my husband (who spent his day doing the same things), my toddler, and my somewhat droopy reflection in the mirror. And there's not much of an end in sight.

We were talking to a friend yesterday who has been in & out of work for almost a year now, and admitted that it is hard to find his identity & worth without a steady income; that he sometimes feels embarrassed at where he is in life. Another friend loves making women feel beautiful, and works at a high-end makeup counter. They both wonder if this is what they were meant for-- and if not, how in the world do they pay the rent and find something out there that brings the fulfillment & passion that we are supposed to have?

I work with college students who are vibrant and full of dreams & hopes. I want so much for them to have a vision for a life that is lived deeply, openly, generously, and that makes an impact for good on the world around them. But I also know that many of them will end up in jobs that are not life-giving, praying prayers that feel flat, spending evenings zoning out in front of the TV and feeling dull & tired.

What do I say to my friends f
rom college-- who had the very same dreams, and are now in their 30's wondering if they somehow failed? Do we still maintain that intrinsic worth & value on those days, months, years when we haven't made a difference, haven't lived our dreams, haven't been the person we were meant to be? Who are we then? And how do we find that person? Can we even afford to look?

So often, we are unable to separate the idea of our value as a human, and the value of the life that we are living. If we don't believe that we are living out a worthwhile existence in the moment, it is easy to believe that we have somehow diminished in worth ourselves. And this idea of The American Dream has caused so many of us to believe that our jobs, vocation, and work-- what we do from 9 to 5-- is meant to supply us with that meaning, value, satisfaction and fulfillment we want out of life.

I know a man who, not very long ago, was an influential speaker, inviting people to follow Jesus in beautiful, risky, creative ways. He suffered a stroke, and is now a crossing guard, barely able to form sentences, let alone use the magnetic, dynamic gifts that are still somewhere inside. Where is his value? Where does he find his worth everyday, if not in the life he is living, the contributions he is making?

If we were to look at other times and other cultures, we would see men who are carpenters because their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers were carpenters, not necessarily because they felt some higher calling to carpentry. A man (or woman) worked hard at their job (in theory), and felt pride & satisfaction in knowing that they had done their best. Their fulfillment in life came from relationships, family, community, recreation, spirituality... and their jobs paid the rent.

I'm not saying that this is a better model, but I do wonder sometimes if we put too much our our identity into our jobs-- something unstable & often outside of our control. Is it possible to live a life of fulfillment, meaning & purpose in a mundane Office Space kind of job?

Brother Lawrence was a French monk in the 1600's who was somehow able to use dish washing, cooking & scrubbing as a medium for prayer, worship, and meditation. "We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God."

Now, I will be the first to admit that I am not usually singing praises while cleaning the kitchen, and especially not while I'm doing tedious admin work (although I do often listen to Queen, and sing along at the top of my lungs). But I do think there is something to this idea of using work as a medium for gratitude and maybe even worship, rather than expecting the work itself to bring me fulfillment, meaning and worth. And as much as I believe in and hope to live out a life that is passionately changing the world around me (and inviting others to do the same), I don't ever want to sell someone on the false dream that our days will all turn out like a scene in an inspirational movie.

I think that somewhere in all of this jumble, the key is to live fully in the little things-- whether it's selling makeup, searching for a job, fixing toilets, or doing data entry-- using it as a medium for thankfulness, prayer, worship. When we do that, our focus is ripped away from ourselves, and we can stop worrying about our own worth & value, and I think that makes all the difference.

Again, I admit that I am not very good at this. In fact, the whole reason I have been thinking through these issues is because I have been feeling a little lost & insecure, as we have left our "real work" with students to focus on fundraising. But I have, in the past, taken baby steps in these simple practices, and am reminded of the need to intentionally make mental lists of the things I am grateful for in the moment, and invite my Creator into my mundane activities. I really to believe that if we live fully in little things, we are living towards something much bigger-- something we may not ever see here, but something of significance, nonetheless.

It is so easy to forget, though-- so easy to believe those voices telling us that we should be more. But maybe what we need, instead, is to do exactly what we are doing, but with greater presence.

[Side Note: Richard Foster's Book, Prayer, has a beautiful chapter on this practice, called Simple Prayer. Very practical, very profound-- and much better explained!]

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Let's Hear it for the Boy

Have you ever noticed the way that men are portrayed in the media? Action movies, romantic comedies, cereal commercials... It seems like the entire gender is seen as either 1) a machismo, invincible hero, or 2) a thick-headed, clumsy, forgetful, insensitive Neanderthal who can't tie his shoes without the help of a woman. Why is that? What did you guys ever do to deserve that image?

In honor of Father's Day, I would like to salute all you men out there-- to pat you on the back & say "attah boy". It's a tough world to be a guy. There's a fine line to walk: Should you open the door for a woman and be a gentleman, or will that imply that she's less than your equal? Women do all they can to be noticed, but if you comment on it, you're a drooling dog. And is it really fair that the toilet seat always be left down, in the "girl" position?

Before I go on, let me say that I am a feminist. I believe in the dignity and value of women
. I believe they are created in God's image. I am grateful for the privilege of being a woman, and wouldn't trade it for anything. I am hurt and offended when I see, experience, or hear about women being treated as second class citizens for any reason, and I am grateful for living in a time & a place where I have as many opportunities as I do.

But I would also like to throw out there that it seems like we have de-valued our men-- and I would like to just cheer you on for one day. You guys are awesome. I can't imagine my life without the amazing, strong, responsible, loving & generous men that I have around me. I love our differences, and am so grateful for the ways that the two genders balance each other out.

I know that there are plenty of books out there on how men can embrace their identity, and all of that, and I confess that I've never read them (with the exception of Wild at Heart. Yes, I have actually read that book). I am sure that those guys have a lot more to say on the subject. But for the rest of the female world, like me, who will probably never read them, I just wanted to give a charge to my ladies: Let's honor our guys, respect them, build them up, expect good things from them & allow them to live up to our expectations. Let's speak well of the men in our lives, try to hold our tongues, and not lump them all into one category.

I know, I know: there are so many guys out there who will disappoint, hurt, take advantage... I'm not even going to ad a "but" in there. We will get hurt. We will be disappointed. There are a ton of jerks out there. I admit that I can be one of them. And I'm not going to make any excuses, or try to solve the world's gender problems-- that's far too big a task for one little person, in one little blog. I am simply saying, "Here's to you, guys. I think you're pretty great"

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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Home Body

The words "Home Body" evoke in my mind images of frumpy middle-aged women in muumuu's with excessive amounts of cats and Snackwells cookies. We tend to think of staying at home on a Saturday night as something kind of sad, boring, even lonely-- something reserved for old, out of touch people. But I'll go right ahead and say it: I love being at home.

From the time that I was eight years old until I went away to college, I moved every day. Every day. My parents were divorced, and lived only a few minutes away from each other, and so rather than spending a whole week at one parent's house, and then a week at the other, my brother and I simply packed our bags: Mondays, Wednesdays and every other weekend with Mom; Tuesdays, Thursdays and every other weekend with Dad. And for some reason that God only knows, I have chosen a profession that keeps this home-body away from home several months out of the year.

I married a man who had seen more of the world by age 16 than most people could ever dream. When we were engaged, he talked about being "travel buddies", and on our wedding night, he gave me a set of vintage suitcases, and we dreamed together of the adventures we would have, and the places we would go. And while some of those travels have brought us, side-by-side, to mud huts, wine-country mansions, remote cabins in the woods, and high-rise hotels, most of our traveling consists of conference rooms, meetings, and eating at chain restaurants.

To be honest, when I look back at the last two months, and see how little we have been home, it makes my heart heavy. And when I look forward to the next few months, it gives me little knots in my stomach. But really, what can you do? There are certain aspects in most of our lives that simply go against the way that we are wired. There are elements to life that seem to take away life; things that we have to push through, tolerate, endure, and figure out a way to survive.

There are moments when we are at our worst-- when we are raw, worn out, unfiltered, and red-lining-- and we simply have to keep pushing and do our best. And there is also this idea that following Jesus somehow means that we have a mysterious abundance, an overflow of love, grace, & kindness, with warm-fuzzies, and pearly-white smiles. Some people, Lord love 'em, experience that in their lives, but let me be the first to admit that I am sometimes drained, complaining, martyred, and ache for home-- not in some spiritual heavenly sense, but I just want to sit in my living room with the front door closed, and my suitcases far from sight, and simply take a deep breath.

I don't pretend to comprehend (let alone live out) Jesus' words about living water that causes us to never be thirsty. I get "thirsty" all the time. But one thing that resonates with me is this:

"Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you... I've loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love... I've told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you."
-John 15 (The Message)

For someone constantly aching for home, these words are a mantra-- something I breathe in and out as I fall asleep at night, an anchor that keeps me centered, and a compass that orients me. Make your home in me, as I make my home in you. Make yourself at home in my love. I sink into those words, and something seems to settle inside of me... if I will allow myself.

So often, when I am traveling (and traveling, and traveling), all I want is my own space, my own time to sit with my thoughts (or without them), and to not have to acknowledge human presence for a while. That’s the thing about traveling, is that you never really get your own space, routine, food, bed, or much of anything you can claim as your own.

But the interesting thing about this invitation to be At Home is that it all seems to revolve around loving people. I don’t quite understand how that works-- how being at home in my Creator, and being at home in his love is connected with loving other people. When did they come into the equation? I was just sitting at home, in this love, and joy, and intimacy, breathing deeply and feeling centered, and my zen got interrupted by all these other people.

In fact, I’ve never really thought about the connection until just now. I have always used this passage as an invitation to close the door, take off my shoes, put on my PJ’s and get comfortable with God in some imaginary, clean & quiet retreat center for my soul (maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but it sounds nice, and if I’m honest, it is bit of a picture of what I imagine as “being at home” with Jesus).

But when I really look at that invitation, the two themes that he keeps returning to are being at home (abiding, if you will), and loving one another. It seems like the two ideas are inseparable. And, if I’m really going to be honest, that’s kind of a bummer, because when I am worn out & home sick, I would much rather focus on centering myself than intentionally loving the people around me.

I’m not saying that I shouldn’t unwind, re-charge, or even crave quiet alone time. But it seems like the key to really feeling at Home (even when I can’t be at home) might lie somewhere in the act of loving other people. Perhaps that’s why God drags me out of the comfort of my own four walls so often, and why it seems difficult to find time alone. Maybe I need an extra little nudge out the door.

I’m not sure what this looks like on a practical level-- what it means to be at home through the act of loving others. Oftentimes, love is risky & uncomfortable, which to me sounds like the opposite of being at home. But I also know that some of the moments when I have felt the most alive, and the most comfortable in my own skin have been when I have entered deeply into life with someone else, loving sacrificially and taking the focus off of myself. I suppose that is a bit of what being at Home looks like...

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Cost

During the Holocaust in France, in a tiny mountain Huguenot village 350 miles from Paris called Le Chambon-sur-lignon, 5,000 Jews, mostly children, found shelter with 5,000 Christians, almost the entire population of the village.

As followers of Jesus, the Huguenot villagers never thought of their acts against the Nazis as heroic, but simply a living out of their faith. When they were faced with injustice & need like that of the Holocaust, it was only natural for them to respond with love & compassion that risked not only their own lives, but the lives of their children, neighbors, and their entire village.

When I hear stories like this one, I am deeply moved. I've always been a sucker for those selfless acts of heroism; an idealist of sorts that still believes one person can (and should) change the world.

It's a difficult thing, though: changing the world. It's never as cut & dry as one would like it to be. If only these things were a little more straight forward; if only there were little instruction manuals that helped you with the tough decisions, and could assure you that it was all going to work out in the end.

Right now, we are entering into the process of adopting through foster care. Chris & I decided, when we first got married, that there are far too many children out there who will never have a family, and that we could (and should) be part of the solution to that problem. And as we have heard about the problems within the foster care system, and the kids right in our own neighborhood that need a home, we have felt very compelled to live out our faith by adopting one of these little guys.

It seems to me that following Jesus involves self-sacrifice, giving generously to those on the margins, on the outside, those in need. It seems to me that acts of heroism, like those of the Huguenots during the Holocaust, should be a lifestyle rather than a notable exception from the norm. I'm not saying that any of this self-sacrifice is easy or natural, or even that I am any good at it... but it does seem that it should be a defining characteristic of a life of faith.

Now, here's the thing: Not everyone is in a place to adopt a child. Not everyone is suited to rescue sex slaves from brothels, or move to the inner city & work with gang members. Not everyone has the opportunity or capacity to rescue 5,000 Jews from the Holocaust, or lead a Civil Rights movement, bring clean water to Africa, or meet any one of the millions of heart-breaking needs out there in the world around us.

Here's the other thing: As obvious as it sounds, there is a great deal of risk in self-sacrifice... and the risk isn't always our own.

It sounds good & noble to adopt a child through foster care, and I believe that it is the right thing for us to do. But I also know that it will be incredibly difficult-- not only for Chris & myself, but for Nolan. It's a heart-wrenching, emotional process to work through a broken foster care system, and my sweet little toddler will have to pay some of that cost.

I hate that my decision to care for the marginalized will hurt my baby. I can only anticipate the things we will walk through together as a family as we welcome a new member into our home. And yet, my job as a mother is not necessarily to protect my son from pain, but to prepare him for life; to do my best to model love, generosity, faith & courage. Obviously that doesn't mean that I throw him in the deep end to teach him to swim, but I believe that it sometimes means walking together down difficult paths for the sake of others.

Those things that sounded so noble-- so obvious-- when I was in college feel different now walking through them than they seemed from a distance. It's one thing to count the cost of selfless service, but it's another thing entirely to pay it.

I don't know where the balance lies when it comes to caring for your own children and serving others'. It seems like something you carefully weigh out day by day & moment by moment, rather than a line drawn in the sand. I think of all the beautiful acts of heroism throughout history and am so grateful that there are people who chose to risk their own family's security for the sake of others... but I also wonder what their families were thinking & feeling in the moment, and if they believed it was worth it.

I'm not claiming any act of heroism in my own life, but I know that what we are entering into will be difficult & costly. I wish that I could absorb all of that cost into myself, and yet at the same time, I know the depth, richness, and even privilege it can be to love sacrificially, and I don't want to take that opportunity away from my little boy. My hope is that we would live a life of daily, hourly generosity in the big things and in the everyday moments. I wish that I was more natural, more consistent in living out my values & beliefs, and I hope that this next step would simply be in line with those of my Creator.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Deep Breath

As a little girl, our family lived in a yellow house with a white picket fence, and a long, steep driveway leading to a big backyard. The dirt under the apricot tree was dark and cool, and the swing set sat next to it in the sun, squeaky and made of metal.

My dad built towers out of the wooden blocks, and I would get a running head start to knock them down. There was gravel on a slope leading down to the horse I named Blackie, on the path where I walked with my mom, and I was always a little afraid to slide down that slope. And down the street was a boy named Billy, who had big Great Danes, and a straight, grassy yard.

I know not everyone had a perfect, sunny childhood... but most people can at least remember back to moments of rest, peace, and long summer days with nothing to do. It's part of the innocence of being a kid that allows us to play, explore, and just be without planning, scheduling or scheming.

It's sad that we so easily find importance in having a packed schedule. Having one of those nebulous jobs that depend on the donations of others, I often feel the need to prove myself as a worthy investment by always appearing busy. It's almost seen as a sign of failure to stay home on a Saturday night and simply do nothing, when there's so much out there to see & do & eat (especially eat).

I mentioned before that we are trying to establish a rhythm with our family & in our home. To be honest, we haven't quite made the progress I had hoped for at this point, but one thing we are intentionally building into our weekly rhythm is a Sabbath. I've been reading this book about the importance of rest, of breathing, of carving out a sacred time to be restored, to reflect. It's not just a time to be lazy or do nothing, but a sort of deep breath that prepares us to act & move, and go about our weeks & our lives with a little more purpose, clarity & centered-ness.

The plan, for now, is to have a restful Sunday morning, pack a picnic, and ride our bikes to church. From there, we can go outdoors somewhere (weather permitting), have lunch, play, run, explore, and simply touch dirt & grass instead of concrete. After lunch is Nolan's nap time, and it's a pretty luxurious thing to have a quiet afternoon where we can sleep, read, tinker with bikes, or just connect with each other. Our hope is that Sunday evenings can include a big pot of simple soup, and an open door to anyone who wants to join our family for a meal.

Today, after church, some good friends that we have been wanting to spend time with for ages invited us out to lunch, and I sadly declined, wanting to stick to our plan for rest & family time. We went to the beach, ran in the sand, threw rocks, and walked along the Great Highway, watching the families ride their bikes. Then we drove up to a little coffee shop offering free pastries (thank you, Scoutmob!), came home & took a nap. Soup simmered on the stove inside while we all (Nolan included) went outside and did some gardening (well, more like gardening prep work) in the yard, and we ate dinner with a short reading from the book of Common Prayer.

It was kind of fabulous. No, not glamorous or exciting, but quite wonderful. It was interesting to see how much intentionality it took to unplug, to rest, to choose activities that were restorative rather than entertaining, and to just be present with one another.

This next week is going to be intense, and as I look ahead at my calendar, I can see a lot of business, travel, long days (and nights), and some potential stress. I am interested to see the ways that a day of rest, built into my weekly activity & work, will effect my heart & mind & countenance.

There is often a tiny sense of loss on a Sunday night, knowing that the weekend is slipping by, and that tomorrow will be Monday. Usually I stay up too late, indulging in Pinterest, Facebook, blogs & other distractions to try to procrastinate from the responsibilities of the week. But tonight I feel centered, peaceful, even ready.

There is something about slowing down that allows you to notice the details, and to live in a moment, rather than in a plan for the next activity. Maybe that's why I can remember the feel of the dirt along the path we walked from our yellow house, or the squeak of the blue, metal swing set. There's nothing particularly important about that path, or that swing, except that I was allowed to just be-- to be present in my own skin, to be unconcerned about my responsibilities, to live. We don't do that often enough anymore-- but I guess the point is that we can.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Risking Happiness

Is it just me, or is happiness is a bit out of style? Images of clean, well-groomed, khaki-clad families running down the beach are enough to make most people gag-- or at least smirk. I don't know about you, but I prefer irony, satire, and grit-- and sometimes happy endings in movies leave me a little disappointed.

I'm not sure how this mentality has come about, but I confess that I am almost apologetic when things are going well. We live in a culture, and especially a city, that loves to critique, analyze, & compare-- and somehow being joyful, content, or just plain happy comes across as shallow, naive, or artificial.

Or maybe I'm just imagining it? I know I have a fear of seeming spoiled, and I suppose if I am
too happy, others might think I've got it easy & resent me. Or perhaps my happiness will some how rub against or call out the unhappiness of others-- like love birds on Valentine's Day making single people feel lonely & bitter. I also have a strange resistance to seeming like the bubbly, put-together Christian mom, and maybe there is a belief buried in there that if I am not just a little snarky or sarcastic or I will be stereotyped into a ditsy Stepford Wife.

And so, it is with great risk & hesitation, that I would like to say: I am happy right now.

My knee-jerk reaction is to qualify that statement with: There are still areas of my life that are lonely, incomplete, broken sad, etc, etc... and it's hard to just allow that statement to lie there, naked and innocent. But I am: I'm happy.

A few weeks ago, Chris & I loaded up the kiddo & spent the afternoon in a quaint little town up in wine country. It was this funny, golden, perfect little day: Nolan didn't throw a single temper tantrum, we sat on this lovely restaurant patio for hours, completely alone and soaked in the sun, just talking & being. We ate, drank, laughed, played, walked, and did nothing. On the drive home, we began reminiscing about the last time we made it up to that quaint little town: I had a week-long migraine, we were up to our noses in home-buying stress, we never spent time alone together, lived in a tiny, cramped apartment, and were basically worn out & empty.

And now, somehow, we found ourselves on the other side of home-buying, a Master's degree (well, almost!), sleepless nights & all the pain of life with an infant. We are settled in a home that we love, spending time together, deeply enjoying our son, doing work that we are passionate about, and our schedules have become more balanced & manageable.

It was like a light bulb went on. It's a funny thing to realize that you're happy. Usually you just feel happy. But it seems that, in so many ways, happiness is a choice, a perspective.

Even as I write this, I am qualifying my happiness-- balancing it & evaluating it-- by thinking of the fact that we have no money, that I am lonely more often than I would like, that we still have a long way to go in our marriage, and that fund raising is not going well. But the more I analyze and qualify, the more that sense of happiness, contentment & gratitude deflates & diminishes.

So, I will make a conscious choice to set aside my fear of being shallow & spoiled, my desire to seem deep, seasoned or savvy, and my compulsion to remember what I still lack... and choose the simple act of happiness. It's harder than I would like to admit, but in the end, I know it's worth it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Think Without Acting

We are a culture of armchair critics.

We sit on the couch and yell at athletes, telling them how to play the game. We comment on celebrities' relationships, weight & fashion choices, vicariously living the Hollywood life for the
cost of cable. We tweet, blog, Yelp, write reviews on Amazon, and webcast our opinions & critiques. I think the real reason people go wine tasting in Napa is so that they can feel like a cultured critic, swirling, sniffing and mumbling about hints of blackberry & oak.

And I'm no different. I wish I was less critical.

I can remember years ago, going to see a movie with my family. My brother & I whispered snide remarks through the whole, awful thing, like we were characters in Mystery Science Theater. But when we shuffled out of the theater and finally let loose on the movie, my Dad looked shocked, "I liked it!" That night, my cynical bro
ther & I wondered if we would rather go through life enjoying mediocre movies, books, food & whatnot and just be happy, or if we preferred our highbrow excellent taste. In the end, we decided it was better to be disappointed, miserable, cynical and cultured than be some average Joe that had no taste. ;)

All these thoughts have been swirling around in my head as I hear the incredible responses to the Kony 2012 video that is all the rage right now. It seems as though the whole world is circling the kill, waiting for their chance at a witty, pithy critique, a personal jab, and an "I told you so"-- especially since the filmmaker's very public & humiliating meltdown last week.

Like I said, I'm right there with the rest of them, ready with criticism, opinions, and (if I'm lucky) a little recognition for how I could have done it better. I want to be gracious and humble, believing the best of people, and not pushing to have my way on top, but if I'm honest, I'll admit that I bend more towards the critical than the optimistic-- at least in my knee-jerk reactions.

I attended a training last week on Creativity that got me thinking. Give me just a minute to unravel this one...
There are four different roles in the creative process, and each one is important:
  1. The Pioneer collects, gathers, wonders & dreams
  2. The Artist takes the materials around them & creates something
  3. The Judge evaluates the worth & value of the creation
  4. The Warrior goes out and does something with the creation

The first two roles tend to be more innovative, dreamy & imaginative, while the second two roles are more practical "get 'er done" types. But, in order to create something that is new, valuable, worthwhile or beautiful, we really need each role in the creative process. If we just have the first two, we sit with our heads in the clouds & get nothing done, and if we only have the second two, we either allow our criticism to stop us, or we jump into something that wasn't well planned.

Okay, I'm going to tie it together now: As I have heard & read the criticism of Kony 2012, I began asking myself: Is it better to act without thinking, or think without acting?

In so many ways, it seems that the boys at Invisible Children have acted without thinking. They have been Artists and Warriors, without taking the time for thoughtful analysis. But it seems that their "opposition" is so busy thinking through all the complexities of the issues in Central Africa that they have not acted. Is one better than the other? In this particular case, I might say Yes.

The criticism is that Invisible Children didn't do it right. And yet, here they are, with 100 million (and counting) views, and the entire world talking about Joseph Kony. I was upset about the simplicity of the film, as well, and have plenty of critiques-- but when was the last time I did a single thing for Uganda? Seriously. In all my passion & knowledge of how to approach the issue, when was the last time I actually approached it?

I am lazy and jaded, and I live in a lazy, jaded culture that would rather write something off as incomplete than step in and help complete it. We all long for something true, beautiful, creative & good in our lives, and when someone takes a stab at it, we jump all over them with our opinions as though they were a restaurant on Yelp, and not a human with thoughts, emotions, strengths and weaknesses.

We all have a role to play in the creative process, but I wonder if we have all taken the "Judge's" seat, and left the role of "Pioneer, Artist, and Warrior" vacant. I know I need more risk in my life. I need to ignore the voice of the Judge in my head a little bit more, and allow myself to innovate, create, and simply step out. Maybe the world needs a little more bad art in it. I know it certainly doesn't need another critic like me.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Kony 2012

I am torn.

My mind has been running circles around Uganda ever since watching Kony 2012 a few days ago. I've been reading blogs, & articles criticizing every aspect of the video and the organization. I've been talking with friends who are directly involved with the peace negotiations and rehabilitation of the abducted children. I've been thinking, talking, and reading about it so much that my brain feels a little melty. My goal was to synthesize the info a bit for all my friends & family who have been asking what I think
of it all. But after everything I've heard & read & discussed, I feel even more muddled than before.
Here's my attempt to sort it out:

-I love that the whole world seems to be talking about the injustice of the LRA, and that millions of people have been moved to do something about it.

-I love the way that Invisible Children has raised awareness, and brought issues to light that so many had never heard of. I love that it was a bunch of college kids who didn't know what they were doing, but have held unwaveringly for almost 10yrs in their commitment to bring change. And I love the way that this video has captured the hearts of millions of people who
just want to do something to help.

-I love the smell, and the songs, the way the sun feels like it comes through a magnifying glass, the feel of the red, red dirt, the way the hammock sways back and forth at night in the mud hut, and the sound of the children in the Internally Displaced People's Camp in the morning. I love the hospitality, the pace of life, and a million other things that I had forgotten about until I watched that video, and found myself crying like a baby in my kitchen, as my toddler stared at me in confusion. I love Uganda, and I love Ugandans.

But I'm scared, too.

Even in our best intentions, we can enter a situation as outsiders and misdiagnose a problem. In our eagerness to help, we forget to ask questions, we forget to listen. We see a gaping wound and rush in to fix it, without understanding the complexities, the history, and the resources available. It is a good, noble, and beautiful thing to want to help, but sometimes helping hurts.

That has been the major criticism of the film Kony 2012, and there have been so many great thoughts (although most of them have been extremely harsh) that I will not repeat them. If you're interested, here are a few of the best responses I have seen. To sum it up, the video takes an incredibly complex situation and simplifies it into the logic of a 4yr old (literally). It also doesn't give great current information, or the viewpoint of the Ugandan people. Having said all that, though, Invisible Children has done a great job responding to all the criticism.

As I have talked to our friends who are directly involved in the peace negotiations with the LRA, and our friends who have been working directly with the child abductees, there is frustration and mixed feelings about the video. The main problem is that Northern Ugandans do not support the initiative to bring in US troops to "stop" Kony. It's their children who are out there, who would be forced to defend Kony if troops came in to capture him (just like the failed Operation Lightning Thunder, a few years back). They are working, and have been working towards peace negotiations and amnesty programs, and have seen incredible improvement in their region (I have had the privilege of seeing it, and in the tiniest way, even being able to participate in it, myself). The simple solutions (military troops) proposed in the video are not at all what our friends, or most of Northern Uganda, want for their country.

Okay, sorry. I know I said I wasn't going to do all that. Couldn't help myself ;)

So here's the real dilemma: What do we do with all of this?

Kony 2012 raises questions, issues, and brings to light a real problem-- one that breaks our hearts & moves us to action. But now we're all hearing that it's the wrong action, told in the wrong way, by the wrong people. So what do we do? How do we respond to the need without knowing any of the people who are in need? All of the brilliant & pithy criticism still hasn't led to a solution, or even an action step.

Is it better to do something rash, idealistic & ignorant than to spew criticism and do nothing at all? Is there a third option?

I've been asking our friends out there what we can actually do to help, and this is what they've said. (Warning: It's not sexy, glamorous, exciting or edgy)
  • Pray: As simple, and even silly as it sounds, that is the first thing that Ugandans ask for. Through the massacres, through the abductions, the mutilations, the rape, and other unspeakable injustices, I was humbled and amazed to see the unwavering faith of the Ugandan people. To be honest, I was ashamed of my own meager spirituality. They believe deeply in God, trust in Him, pray to Him, and want us to do the same.
  • Give: Find an organization that is working to rehabilitate the victims of the conflict and give sacrificially to them. In Northern Uganda, there are very few NGO's ("non-profits", to the American) left who are still providing relief and long-term rehabilitation. After spending the summer there, here are some of my favorites:
  1. Child Voice International: providing in-depth rehabilitation, counseling, education, job training & a whole lot more to youth affected by the conflict. (The group we lived/worked with. I can't say enough wonderful things about this organization)
  2. Doctors Without Borders: giving medical assistance to people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe. (They were doing great things while we were there)
  3. International Justice Mission: working through legal systems (in Uganda, and around the world) to stop injustice. (One of the many complexities in this conflict is the corruption of the Ugandan government)
  • Learn: Read up on the conflict, ask about the needs, and share with others. It takes more time, effort & commitment than hanging posters for a night, but it is so very important, if we want to help, to know who we are helping, why, what exactly we are helping them to do, and how we are going to do it. It is also key in this whole process to give help with dignity, collaboration & humility.
  • Be an informed consumer: Give me a second on this one... Kony & the LRA have fled up to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they have become one of many conflicts & genocides in the DRC, Central African Republic, Chad & Sudan. These genocides are being fueled by minerals like Coltan (used in computers & cell phones), silver, gold, diamonds, and copper that are mined (by these rebel groups) in these countries and sold to us. Ever seen Blood Diamond? It's like that. So one thing we can do to help stop Kony (and dozens like him) is to raise awareness for a need of conflict-free Coltan, diamonds, etc. There's a great little group called Call + Response that is a helpful resource to get started in raising awareness & asking companies to be responsible. We can also buy refurbished & second-hand products to reduce the demand for these minerals.

My hope is that some of this was helpful to someone out there. It is an issue so very close to my heart, and I am grateful to Invisible Children for reminding me and informing millions (millions!) of people that there is a pressing, compelling, heart-breaking need out there. I'm not sure that I will be sporting a "Kony 2012" poster in my front yard (if you've seen my front yard, you would know that's actually an act of respect to the campaign!) or wallpapering San Francisco on April 20th. But I promise not to judge you if you do... just promise me you'll look into some of the details. ;)

Thanks for hangin' in there through all this information. I will update Comments with anything new I hear from our friends in the thick of it.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


Believe it or not, I was in the Gospel Choir in college. And if I do say so myself, we were good.
Okay, to be perfectly honest, I dropped the choir's status a few notches when they let me in, but it was one of the best things I did with my college career.

Now, as a History major & Art History minor, I also admit that most of my classes weren't extremely challenging to me. I figured out how to write a 10 page paper with a perfect intro, thesis & conclusion, throw some quotes in the middle and get an A without breaking much of a sweat (unless you count the full sprint I usually did getting the paper into the professor's office on time). But learning how to sway back & forth and clap my hands on the off beat while singing required more mental energy for me than all my History classes combined. I am sorry to say that I will never live out my dream of being the drummer in a garage band. Rhythm has never been my strong suit.

My lack of rhythm has played out in the rest of my life, as well. I tend to move forward in awkward fits and starts, trying to pull together certain areas, while others are neglected. I over work, and routinely get sick every time I give myself a break (creating countless disappointing vacations).

There was this brief period of time where Chris & I were onto something. We called in Maintaining. We would set the kitchen timer every night for 10 minutes and clean as much as we could until the timer went off. We created a little weekly chart that we kept on the refrigerator with post-it's that marked how we would spend our free time each evening. We made sure that we included activities in our weekly and monthly schedules that were life-giving, and we also made space for the less-than-exciting duties of life. It was good.

We started the whole project by making lists of activities would restore us, dreaming up a life where we could go camping once every couple of months, hike every weekend, spend one night a week doing something creative or just hang out with the guys. Then we brought our lists together, looked at our calendars and did the best we could to match our fantasy life with reality. We took into account how many nights a week we tended to work late, how often we travel, and trips to the laundry mat and the auto shop.

Surprisingly, our dream life looked pretty similar to what we came up with on our chart. And even more surprising was the fact that we were able to actually live it out. Our lives are full, we travel more than is healthy, and our jobs (although we love them) can be absolutely exhausting. But when we were living out this simple rhythm and were intentional about using our time towards restoration, it was as though the reserves that are so often depleted were protected a bit more.

It is so easy, when I am worn out at the end of the day, to plug into my computer and scroll through Facebook or Pinterest and lose that precious hour or two between Nolan's bed time and my own. It is so easy to turn on Hulu and watch a few episodes of Modern Family, when what I really needed was to sit and talk with my hubby. It's funny how, in the times when we need restoration the most, we slump into our chairs stare at a screen and give ourselves the exact opposite.

Chris & I have decided that it's time to re-establish that rhythm we lost, to make a new plan to fit the current reality of our life, and help us move into living it more deeply, more intentionally. We've been red-lining for too long. So today, Chris takes his last grad-school final EVER (I just want that to soak in for a moment), tonight we celebrate with a giant homemade Italian feast, and tomorrow, we will sit down and create together a structure that will help us really live. Chris describes it an ancient Christian practice called a Rule of Life, but I've never really been one to like the word "rule". I like to think of it more as a rhythm we're creating: clapping, swaying and singing off-beat & out of tune, but singing nonetheless.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

House of Cards

I don't usually have much to say about pop culture. We own a TV, technically, but it's not hooked up to cable, and I can't remember the last album I bought. I don't even have an ipod.

Even when the other seventh grade girls were wallpapering their rooms with posters from Teen Magazine (I honestly couldn't even tell you who they were posters of), I was vaguely oblivious. It's not that I am above it all or just too mature to stoop to that level, I just forget to spend my time keeping up. Perhaps is just an innate lack of coolness, or perhaps my inner self is really 90 years old.

And it's fitting that I am writing about Whitney Houston about a week late, long after all the hype has died down... but I've been thinking: We just never learn. We are fascinated with royal weddings, who's wearing what on the red carpet, who's engaged to whom now, and every golden celebrity's opinion on love, sex, and finding themselves. And I'm completely guilty, too. Even though I might be terrible at following it, I can't help but scan the magazine rack (or the Pinterest feed), secretly comparing myself to everyone on the cover. And-- come on, be honest-- who hasn't imagined their acceptance speech while holding an Oscar?

And yet, is one single celebrity out there happy? Do any of them feel secure in who they are, loved, known, content? What is the last celebrity marriage that lasted longer than 20yrs? Everyone is heart broken over the loss of Whitney, but it wasn't that long ago that we were exalting in the chance to criticize her would-be come back & drug use.

I don't say that to criticize Hollywood. More than anything, I am asking myself, What exactly am I attaining to? I confess, I am insecure about my weight, my body. I look in the mirror and see my flaws magnified. I worry about what to wear, and what others think about me. I wish I didn't-- I wish I was more of the confident, collected person I pretend to be, but in all honesty, I really just wish I looked like Rachel McAdams.

Even though I know they're all airbrushed & half-starved, I feel like I should look like all those bronzed, toned beauties, as though they represent a standard, rather than an exception. But even if I was-- even if I magically woke up tomorrow looking like a runway model, would that change anything? We watch celebrities, one after another, die of drug overdoses, check into rehab, settle for divorce and even get sent to jail. They are lonely; they are empty. They deserve my compassion, not my envy.

I hope someday that I can convince myself, deep down, that it is better to be a deeply loved, intimately known, content & authentic person with a few blemishes than an unhappy, addicted, hungry goddess, alone on my pedestal.

What's interesting is that I'm told it's all a house of cards. From what I hear, Cameron Diaz has terrible skin & needs special lighting to hide her acne. Editors go over film second by second to remove bald spots & wrinkles. Photoshop erases so many blemishes that I could very easily look just as good as Adele did in her last photo shoot (okay, maybe not quite, but, you know, close). I wonder what it feels like for Reese Witherspoon to compare herself to her own image on a magazine or in a movie. How sad to be unable to live up to yourself.

The moments when I seem to have the best perspective is when I am connected-- really connected-- with a few other people. It is completely freeing to sit in your sweats with someone and feel at home, unselfconscious, known. I never seem to worry in those moments about the surface. May I put more of an effort cultivating those moments & relationships than anything of less importance.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

One More Block

There's this reoccurring dream I have had throughout my life, and it's wonderful. The setting is always a little bit different, but the feeling is the same: I am running; running long distances, and sort of gliding over the air, as though there was an elliptical under my feet instead of ground. In my dream, I am always amazed at how easy it is, delighted that I have unlocked the secret that all those other runners must experience when I see them effortlessly bouncing by. I love that dream.

I have mentioned before that I am not exactly a natural athlete. I am sure that I must be missing something, because when I have tried jogging, it is simply not the experience that other people are having. It's like there are magnets in my feet, and I am trying to gracefully trot over a metal sidewalk. I usually make it a humiliating couple of blocks, feel like I'm going to puke, and turn around in disgrace. It's terrible.

I am told that if I were to stick with it, it would get easier. Maybe that's true, but when I feel like death after less than 5 minutes, I have to admit it's just not very motivating. Give me a yoga mat, and a peppy little instructor in my TV, and I'm happy working out in the privacy of my own living room. I will never experience the personal triumph of running a marathon, but I can fit into my jeans, and that's good enough for me.

About a month ago, I had this perspective & vision & insight into my own heart & the way that I am living my life. I wanted to make a change in my daily habits, living more openly & generously, releasing my comforts and really following Jesus into loving my neighbor as myself. I knew it would be one of those things that didn't come easily, but that was too important to let go. So, I decided to go about a 40day [vegan] fast, focusing on prayer, examining my heart, making intentional steps to live more openly, and the like.

A few days into it, I shared my thoughts & vision with our staff team, and invited them to join me in fasting & praying. That night, half our team came down with a stomach flu so violent that it made 6wks of Ugandan parasites & 9mos of pregnant nausea seem like a cake walk. I won't go into details, but I can never remember being so sick in my life-- and neither could our unfortunate staff. About a week later, I shared our vision with our students, and after poorly communicating what was on my heart, ended up hurting & offending several people, causing a huge rift, drama, pain & conflict. Chris & I started fighting over the dumbest little things, so angry at each other that we couldn't be in the same room. Our toddler got sick again, and we stayed up most of the night listening to him coughing to the point of vomiting. I can't even remember what happened after that, but you get the picture.

Each time I hit a road block, I got the feeling that I was heading the right direction, and that the opposition was trying to keep me from getting there. I'm not talking creepy Poltergeist type movies complete with a soundtrack, but the real, everyday Good-verses-Evil struggle that we so often forget about. There's a line in this great 90's movie that says "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn't exist". In those moments when you try to stand up and really create change, you can expect to run smack into a wall, and I don't believe that's a coincidence.

I am less than a week away from completing my 40day fast. It's kind of funny that when the big, obvious road blocks came up along the way, I actually felt more motivated to press on. But something happened in the last week or so: the stomach flu was gone, the conflict more or less resolved, we were sleeping through the night again... and I started running out of steam. The other day, I just crammed a brownie into my mouth (it wasn't even good-- it was 4days old, and I wasn't hungry at all), not caring about my fast, not feeling motivated to change the world, or even think slightly visionary thoughts. Over it.

My mind was filled with thoughts of defeat, futility, and a dragging desire to just let go & rest. I thought about all the praying & talking I had done, and realized that I hadn't really changed any of my habits, or made one tangible step to "open my doors".

It felt like the difference between dreaming of running, and actually trying to run. I get these grand visions of saving the world-- like Frodo gripping the ring and marching off in the direction of Mordor-- and after a few blocks I'm ready to turn back.

From what I'm told, the best thing to do in those moments is to push yourself to run just one more block... and to go back the next day & do the same thing. I've never really tried it, but supposedly, after a week or so, your body starts cooperating & you get into a groove.

It's tempting to stop now, to admit defeat. But I'm going to try to make it one more block...

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Tracing Waves

As I walked past this giant, dog-sized bird, it's crazy googly eye followed me, and it seemed to give me a subtle, drunken smirk. Pelicans are goofy looking critters up-close. They tuck their enormous beaks down into their feathers, looking a little bit like a fat old man, resting his double chin in his chest to take a snooze.

I'm definitely not a fan of birds in general. They are dirty & gross, and when they flutter around me I get all nervous & jittery inside. Seagulls and pigeons are the worst-- filthy scavengers that are bold enough to walk right up to me & take my food. Pelicans always seemed like super-sized seagulls to me, and I've held a healthy (or possibly unhealthy) fear of them.

But yesterday morning, I took a quiet walk along the beach in Oceanside, and something about those pelicans changed my opinion of them.

I had never noticed before but as they scan for fish, they glide along the tops of breaking waves, tracing the crest with one of their wings and gliding along it until it crumbles. It is elegant & graceful, and almost even playful-- like a little girl running her fingers along the top of a fence as she walks by.

It is simply what they were made for, and as I watched them follow the waves over and over, I couldn't help but acknowledge the goodness of a Creator. What a beautiful thing it is to see something doing exactly what it was created to do. And how comical and out of place is can be to see that same creature in a different context-- like my pelican friend that watched me from the pier with a smile on his face.

It occurred to me that every single morning, those pelicans trace the waves, without me watching. I bustle about my day, my mind orbiting the million and one things I need to get done, and this perfect, tranquil scene happens everyday, with or without me. As I walked along the beach, I felt perfectly at peace, content, safe.

A memory popped into my head from several weeks back. I had been exhausted, stressed out, and felt empty & even a little depressed. I gave a seminar to a room exploding with students about justice, compassion & generosity, and as I spoke, I suddenly felt alive. A friend told me later that it just seemed like it was something I was created to do, and as funny as it sounded, it felt like she was right.

I can be awkward, clumsy and simply fail at times. I don't always feel at home in my own skin, and despite my efforts, there are some things I will just never be good at. But it gives me a peace to watch something as goofy & comical as a pelican skim across the crest of a wave, knowing there is a certain mysterious order and purpose to the way we each operate, the way we were each created.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Changing the world, from my couch

Alright, I admit it-- I've never really been one to push the envelope too far. I can tell a few great stories about bullets whizzing over my head in Compton, or living in a mud hut in a refugee camp, and I totally pierced my nose & got a tattoo before... well, before a few other people did... but when it comes down to it, I'm not really much of a risk taker.

My brother-- my brother, on the other hand, was the kind of kid who blew up sticks of dynamite in his friend's toilets, raced cross country dressed as a Super Mario character, outran cops, fired semi-automatic assault rifles for fun (don't worry, it was at a paper target) .... I guess people are just wired differently.

The highlight of most days happens about a half hour after Nolan goes to bed, and I can sip a mug of hot tea while reading a book on the couch in complete silence. A deep sense of calm and inner feng shui settles over me when the dishes are washed, the house is clean, and I can sit & be still. I absolutely love-- love-- that I can wake up early every morning, eat breakfast, pray, do some Pilates & take a shower before my little guy wakes up.

It's not that I'm a super neat, clean, structured person-- I'm actually pretty disorganized & a bit haphazard-- it's just that I really like having control over my space, being able to dictate my schedule, have time to myself, and basically do the things I want to do.

Now, before you start hating my perfect life, let me just say that my pretty picture of Life-As-It-Should-Be and Reality are usually pretty different. I get sick a lot. I travel a lot. We work late nights several times a week, and I often sleep too late to make my ideal morning routine happen. But in my mind, I'm kind of entitled to my own space, my own time, my own schedule & routine & rest & even just a little bit of pampering. Who knows why I believe I should have all that-- maybe I should blame commercials on TV, telling me that I need that vacation, that perfect moment with my cup of coffee, or that chocolate indulgence.

I do know that when those things I'm entitled to-- my sleep, my "me time", my exercise, my quiet-- are taken away, I don't always respond well. I'm realizing that I hold an iron-tight grip on my comfort; that I form an imaginary barrier around my home, trying to ward off any new variables until I can sort out everything I've got in front of me here. Maybe the real issue is that I don't want anyone to see that I don't have it all together.

Like I said, I don't really like to take many risks. I would much rather try to straighten up my little messes around me, and then retreat to the comfort of my couch.

I was confronted with this inconsistency a few weeks back, after having a conversation with someone who has lived most of his life without the option of any of those comforts that I feel so entitled to. It's not that I didn't know that brokenness like that existed in the world, it was the fact that it was sitting across from me at my kitchen table, sharing about a life without family, Home, belonging & care. It's one thing to read about it, to see it in a movie, or even confront it on the street, but all those elements of pain that put a pit in my stomach were in my own comfortable home, telling their story.

I was a bit shaken.

A dull ache settled into my chest. I am too comfortable. I cling to my comfort much too tightly. I wondered about who lived behind the closed doors I could see outside my kitchen window, what they were going through. I thought about how I close my own doors-- both physically & emotionally-- during my "off hours", carefully planning my time with people that I enjoy, who think like me & (for the most part) look like me. I thought about how I live out the teachings of Jesus to a certain point, until it gets too uncomfortable... then I just read about the rest of it from the safety of my own home.

Thoughts like this are scary. They're scary for two reasons: 1) What if I know these things are true, and never act on them, and 2) What if I actually did the things I'm thinking about right now. I've done just enough with my life to know that living a life of risk, openness, and genuine love & care is so very costly & uncomfortable. It is the kind of thing that makes you give when you're empty & worn out, in the middle of the night, when all you need is sleep and time to yourself. That is a difficult thing to walk into. It's not romantic or thrilling; there's no rosy glow around those moments, and you always wish they would have come at a better time.

But, unfortunately, if I'm going to be honest with myself, I know that is what following Jesus looks like. I don't know how I've been able to convince myself otherwise, but I do know that there is a belief that is pretty deeply engrained that I can give my life to my Creator and still be entitled to comfort at least five days out of the week.

I know-- it sucks to think this way, doesn't it? It's so tempting to ask rhetorical questions about self sacrifice, wait for an answer in the silence, and then move on feeling pretty deep & philosophical. But I didn't want to do that.

So, what I'm working in now is a time of extended fasting & prayer. I'll share more about it later, but I can say for now that 2+ weeks into it, it hasn't been pretty. As it turns out, I am incredibly ungraceful in my attempts at openness, self-sacrifice and stepping outside of my comfort zone. But I'm not being too hard on myself.
"To the stars, on the wings of a pig", right?
I pray that this lumbering soul will begin to learn how to fly...