Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mountain Release

My husband and I decided to take a few days away, just the two of us. There’s this great B&B up in the mountains of Highland County, VA owned by my colleague’s parents and recommended by friends. The views are breathtaking, the coffee flows, the owners are kind, the food is fantastic, the rooms are without televisions and it’s impossible not to rest. Anything you do involves fantastic scenery. Above all, it’s quiet. Deafeningly quiet.

With the quiet comes a slowing down. It’s not easy for me to slow down, to really let my brain stop. Sometimes my brain feels so busy that I can’t even pinpoint what it’s actually busy doing. When I hit that point, I know it’s not a good sign. And as we’ve started along this adoption process, I’m noticing my brain tending in that direction again, tending towards chaos. Keeping track of paperwork, wondering, waiting, waiting, waiting. Did I mention waiting? Trying not to be frustrated when someone takes two months to fill out one tiny little piece of paperwork and then when it is finally sent it you find out from the agency that it was done wrong and has to be redone. How many more months, my brain wonders?

It all comes down to a lack of control. I can’t make someone prioritize our adoption- to many people, it is just another piece of paperwork. To us, it’s a child and every minute that goes by is another minute in our lives without that little person in our family. Another prayer time at night where my 4 year old quietly begs god for a sibling and starts to, finally, hint at being impatient with this whole process and asks tougher questions. Why do some of his friends have multiple siblings and he gets none? Doesn’t God hear our prayers?

So, being here, being away, not checking email, not being able to know if, finally, this one person has gotten her part done has actually been a good break. As I type this I am gazing out the window of our room on a gorgeous pink and purple sunset over the blue and hazy mountains. I am reminded that no matter how much I enjoy the perception of control, it’s all an illusion, anyway. I can’t really control anything. I can’t control our adoption process, my fertility, the bee that just stung my poor husband in the neck. None of it.

This past Sunday our pastor preached another sermon in a series on discernment and decision-making. One of his points was that when we are waiting for something our prayer needs to not be that that thing would come or happen, but that we would be content, patient and faithful as we wait and learn to trust God’s heart. And as I’ve thought about that I’ve had to be reminded anew that I need to pray that I would know that there is purpose in the waiting – not that God is maliciously sitting up in heaven and chuckling as he decides how many months or years to make us wait for something but that in any waiting I can choose to listen and learn or I can choose to grumble and yearn. Pure and simple.

So, with mountain breezes here hinting at fall, with no phone ringing or child chattering, I am enjoying at least a few moments of sweet quiet, of just trying to wait and be content, of not checking email every hour or two to see if the agency has approved us. I am slowing down and it is everything I dreamed it could be.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Sanctification by Community Pool

Last summer we freeloaded on some friends a number of times rather than joining a community pool ourselves. In my estimation, Josh was still young enough that being at the pool was less fun and more work.  Going occasionally was good but going all the time sounded exhausting.

This year, however, after another successful year of preschool, a great first season of sports and still no baby to be cared for, we thought it was good timing to join a pool and Josh was really excited about the prospect of making new friends and learning to dive for rockets at the bottom of the pool.  I was, I think, blissfully unaware of the challenges to my patience that awaited.

Apparently my inability to even desire to understand teenagers or treat them with much patience was about to become a big liability in terms of pool enjoyment.

We've been going to the pool for a month now. Sometimes as a whole family, sometimes we invite friends, sometimes we end up being the only people there.  I have learned quickly when the "right" time of day is to go. Namely, the time of day when the fewest teenagers will be there. You see, in one short month, I have overheard all the gossip I'd care to, witnessed plenty of teenage mockery and disdain, been splashed, jumped on, swum into, seen my child's rockets stolen from right under him as he was about to dive, been used as a human shield in "marco polo" and watched my own 4-year old pushed out of the way while he was attempting to swim. All of this has been executed without a single "excuse me" or "sorry". Not a single one.

Now, I'm not the kind of person to randomly blow up at a person in the grocery store who does something rude or even really get too worked up in general when people are thoughtless.  But there have been moments this summer, and I'm ashamed to say many of them, when my very first inclination was to reach out and slap one of these kids across the face. The rage that has welled up in me when I've been knocked over or when my four-year old has asked me, ever so sweetly, "why do they keep taking my rockets, Mommy?" has overwhelmed me at times. It's like that surprising first moment in parenting when your child makes you so mad you could scream and you finally understand why your parents got so worked up when you did things wrong as a child.  My anger has surprised and confused me which is amusing because when I really think about it, I'm not surprised at all.

Most of us feel a righteousness in angry response if our space is invaded, if an injustice occurs or if our young are threatened.  I feel all of these things at once at the pool on a pretty regular basis. But the real reason I'm not surprised is because I've seen my heart. I've seen the ways I self-protect, the ways I choose myself and my family over others, the ways I choose "me"  and my agenda all the time. Rather than trying to interact with these teens and see if there's some greater way that I can care for them, I stand far off. I judge. I seethe. I complain. I rail about parents who can't teach their kids manners and vow that my child will be different. And I feel justified.

So, this morning, when I'm faced with a rainy day and no pool prospects, I'm taking pause. What does the Lord have for me at the community pool?  What can my child learn about God in how I treat these teens who don't treat us well? What can I learn in humbling myself and letting Him speak and act through me?  What do these teens need from Him?  I am more aware than ever of my need for His grace in this process of sanctification, of becoming more and more like Him.  Since I'm pretty sure Jesus wouldn't actually reach out and slap these kids, I'm taking pause.

Next time I pack for the pool, I'll be sure to not only include our diving rockets, but a healthy dose of grace, mercy, patience and self-awareness.  Maybe God will do something really crazy in the middle of "marco polo" and surprise me. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

When the Foxhole Needs to Change

Well over a year ago I wrote about choosing a foxhole, about settling down in a church community even in the midst of feeling burnt out and fearful about the potential tyranny of church commitments mixing with my inherent inability to use the word "no".   At the time, we settled on a church that's a good place. There are people there who clearly love God, love others and are seeking to follow him faithfully in this world. It's not perfect and it wasn't my style, but we were happy with the choice. The only problem was, after months and months of trying to actually fit in, at some point you have to ask yourself that question: "It may be good, but is it right?" 

I don't mean to raise any kind of theological debate in asking that question. I merely mean that sometimes in life we choose to do things because they are good things but not necessarily because we are supposed to be doing those things.  This is how I got in over my head in Richmond. All the things I was doing were good, but at some point they were just things I was doing.

So, having committed to a place and tried in vain to feel connected, in feeling frustrated every week at still feeling like an outsider, we had to ask ourselves if it was ok to leave. We had to have that wrestling match with the Lord, because I have had roughly a million conversations over the years about how you don't choose a church just based on what you want or because you like the music or because the pastor is a particularly sassy preacher. You choose a church because of what the Lord is doing in and through it and how you might be a part of that. Not personal preferences, but how God wants you to be a part of His story there.  So, in my typical fashion, I began to wrestle with a lot of guilt about the possibility of leaving a church. Am I leaving because, frankly, I don't love the music? Is it because it's too traditional for me and I just can't adapt? Is this selfish? Or is it right?

For a long time my story with the Lord has been deeply interwoven with the story of race and multiethnicity in the church. I've seen this play out in our choices of where to live, in what I've bugged my students about, in the most difficult struggles of my own prejudice and sin, in my passion for worship and in my communities.  So each Sunday as we entered this community the thing I was the most aware of was how monocultural it felt. The music was the same and reflecting one specific type of style, the way things were done were always one way. And I believe my heart felt stifled. Staff who've tasted both the highs and the lows of multiethnic community often joke that InterVarsity has ruined us for the church. I felt that this might be true- could we really find a community here that was talking about this, that was willing to change to reflect the people who were involved?  It didn't feel possible where we were.

In the midst of struggling with this guilt of possibly leaving a church, we began to look around.  I went into it this time around with a little bit of a different outlook, though. One thing I could say about not being able to plug in at this church we had committed to was that I had had time to heal from my overcommittedness in the past. I had had time to begin to really yearn again for community, to have hope in my own ability to make the right choices in how to serve and love there, to be able to listen again to the Lord as he challenged me in new ways.  So as we talked over where to try, I was doing it this time with eagerness.  With expectation. Yes, the guilt warred with both of these emotions each week, but ultimately the Lord really freed me from it. We tried two churches, one of which we had checked out initially when we moved here but had decided against because of some uncertainties they were going through at the time.

After just a few Sundays, I knew. I knew this place that we had tried two years ago was the right place. It hadn't been before- I know that. The year we spent at our other church was a good time of healing for me.  Possibly if we had stayed at this new church back then, I would've immediately jumped in and had no time to heal. There's no way to know for sure, but I suspect it.

But what I do know is this.   This morning, I woke up excited to go to meet with the Lord in community. I was looking forward into running into people we've just met and excited for Josh to continue to make friends in his Sunday school class. I wondered what creative mix of music the music director, a man I've recently met and really enjoy and respect, had put together for the morning and so grateful to be able to get involved with what he's doing in the coming weeks and months.  I was humbled to look around the room at an increasingly diverse group of people and know that the Lord was doing something really great here.  I laughed as the worship leader made us all join hands and sway at the end of the service as we sang and laughed even harder when for some reason it ended up not being cheesy.  I felt drawn into what God is doing here and excited that multiethnicity is a conversation that is being had loud and clear.

And as I looked around at kids running around with blue or red tinged lips because of the patriotic cupcakes they had at snacktime I felt sort of like a kid myself.  A kid with all these new opportunities in front of me, who has felt welcomed into this new community and released from the old, thankful for what the Lord did in my time there and excited for what He will undoubtedly do here.  Our last church was a foxhole. This one, I hope, will be more like home base.