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.