Thursday, November 19, 2009

Corporate Bellies

Why is it that there are several things in life that always seem to evoke a total loss of any appropriate social conduct and conversation? Pregnancy seems to me to be the most consistently regular cause of a total lapse in sensitivity in the larger part of the population.

Why do people make comments like "It must be in the water..you should drink some," when they, and seemingly everyone around them, is getting pregnant? Or, "He just looks at me and I get pregnant, har, har, har!" What the heck does that mean? And why would you say that to me when I barely know you? Do you have any understanding that there are millions of women who want to be pregnant but aren't and would give anything for it to have been as easy as a sip of water or a look? Any inkling that I might be one of them?

And what about once you're actually pregnant? Why does every random person cross personal boundaries and rub you? Why do they feel the incessant need to express how large you look and how you must be having more children than you think you are? Do they think this makes a woman feel good? Do they think this is funny? Like gaining 40pounds is fun for a woman.

Perhaps it's just that the thought of an impending baby really excites people and they let down their guard. Maybe it comes down to "It Takes a Village" and people see other baby bumps as corporate belly property. For me, it comes down to insensitivity. People sometimes just cannot fathom that their story is not the story of those around them. We don't think ahead to wonder if we are being potentially hurtful, we just barge ahead, holding up humor as our torch and burning everything in our path for the sake of a good laugh.

Well, for every dumb comment I've made to a pregnant woman, I'm sorry. For every insensitive word to someone regarding my own story with my first son, I repent. I'm praying that God will grant me sensitivity and words of life for those around me as well as continued patience for people who assume that I must not be pregnant on purpose. I'm also praying that I can honestly respond to those people and maybe help them understand why it's less than helpful to make such comments. Who knows? Maybe it'll spare someone else having to laugh falsely along while aching inside.

Hope Stands

War movies are intrinsically about hope. Hope that, eventually, the horror will end and there will have been some greater purpose to the horrific suffering of so many people. Rarely will you see a movie that doesn't have some sort of moral or inspirational message interwoven with the carnage. If there wasn't that hope, even I could probably not continue to watch them. If Band of Brothers was only set during those cold, despairing nights of waiting in the Battle of the Bulge, I'm guessing it wouldn't be considered one of the greatest war movies of all time. It would be dreary and heart-wrenching and we'd wonder to ourselves what the point of it all was.

It's taken me some time to learn how to hope. I've spent months living in this place where I've kept my hope suppressed in anticipation of disappointment. Perhaps if I didn't hope too much, then the disappointment wouldn't hurt quite as much. I've learned pretty painfully that this is total hogwash. Even after weeks of not hoping very much, disappointment is still disappointment. It's even worse, actually, because it's disappointment delivered to a soul that has chosen fear and self-protection over abundance and trust. That's a pretty toxic combination.

So, for the past few weeks, I've chosen to stand in hope. I've chosen to place my trust in a mysterious God whose timing confuses me and whose presence sometimes feels elusive. I've leaned on those things I know are true of Him, his trustworthiness and his goodness, and fought against the lies that try to convince me that hope is fruitless and God is vindictive. I've called several friends to hope alongside me and to remind me of this choice I've made. My husband and I have boldly and unashamedly prayed for the desires of our hearts together and eagerly wait on God.

Like soldiers in war, I have to move forward not knowing when the end of the war will come, not knowing how my hope will play out and knowing that, inevitably, there will be disappointments along the way. I do know that choosing to hope opens me to hearing from God in a much greater way than do self-pity and despair and that no matter how long this waiting might be, I'd rather do it with God than without Him.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Injured Reserve

I have a knack for injuring myself in profoundly stupid ways. I found my arm in a sling for two days once from "overuse" in tambourining. I ended up with a major headache by slamming my own head inside a cabinet. Just tonight I opened a door, quite hard mind you, right into my own head and already have a large knob forming on my right temple that should be fun to explain tomorrow morning. If I were on any kind of team, no doubt I'd often be on the injured reserve list.

I'm starting to think that this is not just coincidence and that there is something else going on. Some might suggest stupidity. Certainly my husband derives a great deal of amusement from said mishaps and one of my son's first sentences, accompanied by an infant giggle, was "Mommy trip!" However, I think it often comes down to the fact that I don't live well in the moment. As I'm doing one thing, I'm already starting to do what needs to be done once the thing I've already started is finished. I'm not paying enough attention to finishing the "now" to realize what the "next" might do to my body.

I think this holds true for me in more than just the physical realm. It's hard for me to be right here, right now. I'm always wondering what's next, in both my future and in my walk with God. As a campus minister it can be hard to just enjoy time with God without thinking "How can I use what I'm learning right now on campus later today?" It's actually good to let what God is doing in me inform what I'll share with my students, but when that becomes the focus of that time, when I can't enjoy the moment with God for what it is? Well, that IS a problem. When I have a constant need to know the next step in life or what I need to do to get there? Not helpful, because it causes me to steep in discontent and lose focus on whatever it is I am doing right now.

As I continue to think through living in "this day" I'm realizing that for me, I've got to think on an even smaller scale. Probably something more along the lines of "this minute." Perhaps once I've mastered that, I can move onto "this hour" and eventually, with God's generous help, "this day." For now, I'm going to hope that I can keep off the injured reserve list and just keep playing. If I can just get a bag of ice and go lay down for a minute...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Painting and Perfectionism

At around 5:48 pm every Tuesday I find myself inching along I-40 towards my oil painting class. As I sit in my car, surrounded by traffic, I pray that I won't care if I'm good at it or not. I ask God to keep curing me of my perfectionism so I can just show up and have fun. I'm not going to be a professional artist, I don't even want to be a professional artist, so it's not going to matter if my pumpkin looks like an grape.

There are people who have been taking this class for years and show up on Tuesday nights for the camaraderie of painting with friends and the expert critique of the teacher. Some of them are pretty darn good and others, well, at least they are having fun! It's been nice to be surrounded by people who are taking time out of their week to do something they enjoy, whether or not it is "successful" in the world's eyes. They've been welcoming and encouraging and not one of them has made any negative comments about the shape of my fruit.

My sabbatical director was excited that I take this class. Doing something new and creative, he says, opens up new ways that we might hear from the Spirit and see new works that God is doing in us. It's been interesting to see the ways in which he is right, yet again. I don't know all that is going on in my soul as a result of this, but I do know that when I step outside, I see the world with more detail. I immediately try to figure out which colors I need to mix to get that exact color of brown of the bark of a tree or what shape brush I'd use to try to capture the curve of a leaf. Colors and contrasts are really vibrant. It probably doesn't hurt that it's autumn! But, the thing is, I'm slowing down. I'm seeing things I haven't seen before and I'm just enjoying them. I'm not thinking about what I have to get done but what I could do to try to capture that beauty on canvas if I wanted to. It feels good to soak in creation.

So, I'm thankful that God seems to be answering my perfectionist prayer on the way to class each week. I'm feeling no pressure to master the intricacies of oils and start a worldwide tour. (And unless said tour was of preschools, I think my audience would be less than impressed anyway!) I'm just simply and undeniably enjoying myself. No agenda, no strings attached, just showing up and enjoying the process and letting God continue that process in me long after I've put the paintbrush down for the night.

Monday, November 9, 2009

It All Comes Back to George

Recently my son was standing stark naked in the middle of his bedroom and, pointing to his train engine, said what I thought to be "I have Josh engine nudie, Mommy." It's actually rare that I can't decipher something he says, so I asked him what he meant and he said, "You know, like George has monkey engine nudie?" Ohhh. Monkey ingenuity. Curious George. Got it. So, I gently said, "I think you mean ingenuity, sweetheart," and he, being the child he is, made me explain what that meant in the kind of speak a three year old would use. I'm still not sure he gets it, so if anyone knows how to helpfully put that word into simple meaning, let me know.

A lot of events in our house or our lives seem to come back to George. Should we build a sandcastle? Of course we should. George did. Should we go to the zoo and look for a baby panda? Duh, if George did it, it's on our to-do list. It's funny to me, though, how much I've actually learned from this sweet little show and from how much my son adores George. George is just unashamedly himself, he takes everything quite literally and approaches nearly everything, with the possible exception of cleaning his room, with abandon. Just like a 3 year old. My son has found his hero.

This devotion to George has a great upside for us- if George has done it, we can reference it and generally Josh will be on board. Lately, though, I'm watching the man in the yellow hat a little more intently and trying to learn some lessons in laughter and patience. George has, in turn, cost him hundreds of dollars over a miscommunicated donut order, totally trashed his house more than once and made it possible for him to wake up with a pig licking his face. His response? He laughed. I'm not so sure I would find it so funny to wake up to Mike the pig in my bed, so I've got to hand it to him. No matter what George does, no matter how much the man in the yellow hat is probably in his right to be totally angry, he sees the intent. He sees his innocent little heart and what George was trying to accomplish and so he usually rolls his eyes, laughs, gently explains to George where his plans went awry and then they clean up the mess together. Next day, new episode, new misadventures, more patience. All this, and still no one can see fit to give the poor guy a name.

I figure if he can keep it together when George has emptied every food container in his house and buried the contents in his yard, there isn't much I should react to before first finding out what my son was trying to do. 99% of the time, he has a very logical reason for whatever he's done and while I don't have a yellow hat, I might start wearing my hot pink, wide-brimmed straw hat more often just to take myself a little less seriously. If anything, it would at least make the neighbors laugh.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Lessons at the Midpoint

There's a vivid scene in Band of Brothers, when the Americans are hunkered down in their foxholes on Christmas and they can hear the sounds of Stille Nacht drifting across the battle-scarred forest. It's this moment of stillness and beauty, a moment that reminds them that at the end of the day, they are all, Germans and Americans, still a part of humanity. During this slight reprieve, they find a little time to take stock before the shelling starts again.

I've hit the midpoint of my sabbatical and while it's not as dramatic as that snow-covered scene of silence mixed with a distant, haunting melody, it's a chance for me to take stock. To stand before God and see what He is doing and what He has taught me. It has only been two months, but like a battle, I think it has felt much longer than the actual summation of minutes and hours.

I spent a while this morning just sitting and reading back through my journal since we've moved. I've seen some really clear patterns and God has made very abundantly clear those things in my life that revolve around a false narrative of who He is.

(1) I operate largely out of fear.
(2) I am no good at all at trusting anyone, including God.
(3) I have become used to hiding who I really am, though I yearn to be myself.
(4) I have no idea what I really want to be when I grow up.
(5) I'm NOT a bad stay-at-home mom. In fact, I think I'm a lot of fun!
(6) I often unintentionally interact with God in a way that is attempting to
manipulate him into a specific response.
(7) I have trouble being present and content in the moment.

Stark list, huh? I imagine there will be much to add to it after two months, but let me take a chance on writing one more list, and that's a list of what I know to be true of God and what I hope will be true of me. No, not after just two more months, but after a lifetime of continuing on this path towards Him.

(1) God is not a God of fear.
(2) God is good and trustworthy- he hates death, evil and injustice and is the giver
of good gifts.
(3) God has created me to be uniquely and beautifully His.
(4) God already knows who I am and who I'm becoming and is ok with the fact that I
don't know something.
(5) God is my perfect father and the only representation of parenting that I need to
look to to understand how to love my son better.
(6) God is all-knowing and will not be manipulated. He wants me to come freely to
him with my desires, hopes and dreams, not manipulate him into giving them to me
based on my performance.
(7) God has two days in mind - This Day(today) and That Day(judgment day). He is not
a God who worries or hurries, but who has abundant provision and grace for each
new day. I must learn to live This Day in a way that reflects my trust in the
ultimate outcome on That Day.

These probably seem simple truths that I should've learned a long time ago. To me, however, they are profound. Because after years of knowing them in my head, of being able to speak them aloud to other people, I'm finally allowing God's spirit to impress them on my heart in a way that is replacing my false and pitiful dependence on myself. Fear, you have no power. Performance, back off. Hurry, release your hold on me. I choose life and life abundant.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Choosing My Foxhole

So, I'm not a big "church service" person. I grew up in a little church that was just starting out...it was made up of very messy people who weren't trying to hide anything and just trying to get to know Jesus better together. It wasn't perfect, of course. It had it's share of politics and infighting...but it never felt stuffy to me. It never felt like empty ritual to come together on Sunday mornings. At this point, however, church feels like that for me. Empty, oppressive, ritualistic.

In all fairness, we've moved to a new place and so we've been visiting way too many churches and call none home. Anglican, Baptist, Presbyterian, Non-denominational, UMC...all different from each other with different styles, foci, ways of doing "church." The problem I'm having is that I'm supposed to decide which one I want to go to based on the service and what people there can tell me about it. Based on showing up for the hour or, sometimes, two hour amount of time that has been put together each Sunday morning obstensibly for the purpose of worshiping God. These churches are fine...the people seem nice, the music is melodic for the most part and I haven't had the urge to jump up and run screaming in the opposite direction from too many of the sermons, which I take as a good sign.

The problem is that I'm tired. When I left Richmond I was burnt out. Since most of my activities there were church-related, it follows that I was pretty burnt out on the church. This is not God's fault, I know that. I did it to myself...no margin, poor choices, pride, pride, pride. So, I think that when I'm living in this place of huge margin with all these possibilities before me, I fear the tyranny of the church. There are always a billion things to get involved in and new social "rules" to learn in each place you go- I don't want the temptation of those involvements nor the oppression of those "rules." I don't trust myself yet to make the right choices or to unashamedly be who I am, rules be darned.

This leaves my family in a tough place. I think my husband would've picked a church back in August if it weren't for me and my poor son has probably met every nursery worker in town by now. So, I've just got to make a decision. I've got to listen to the Lord and just pick one and decide to trust Him that He will help keep those margins wide. That he'll give me the strength and discernment only to say "yes" to those things that will be good for my soul or necessary for the welfare of others. I've got to trust that once we've said "yes" to a community that my ability to enjoy the service on a Sunday morning and not be so distracted by fear and unmade decisions that I cannot worship the Living God will be replaced by a yearning to be around other believers each week and seek Him together. Sinfully, I want to just stay home. I want to stop looking and take a long break and I want to justify that by saying that the distance will be good for me. But I know that in this battle I'm fighting through, I would be giving ground to the enemy if I did so. So, I'm going to choose a foxhole, dig in and keep fighting. I'm hoping that the barrage of fear and indecision will dissipate and the chance to move forward and take up new ground will follow.