Monday, March 25, 2013

SOLC 20: The Other Side of the Battery

Drafter's Note: I think I'm going to reframe my personal SOLC goal from writing every day of March to writing 31 slices as soon as possible. Because this weekend's travel, running a conference, and being sick, it should surprise no one that I haven't sliced in a week.

Drafter's Note, Part B: That was the note I wrote when I started this post 5 days ago. I am awesome at this.


My visual for this post is a battery. Your standard, copper-topped, AA battery. As I vaguely remember from Mr. Grabowski's science class, one of that battery's ends is negatively charged, the other, positively. And apparently that somehow makes stuff do its thing. (I liked Mr. Grabowski, really I did--it wasn't his fault that science just never snagged my attention...) Anyway, my visual is me, like a little dust mite, crawling on that battery. Because I'd opened Facebook on my lunch hour to post some snarky self-important thing about  work, but one of my goals lately has been to me less negative in general, and at work specifically, so I am, to coin a phrase, turning this frown upside-down.

Reasons Why I Actually Love My Job:

- The People. I work with some genuinely awesome people, and get to spend huge chunks of time cracking up, getting sound advice, and generally being valued. Having worked at places where this was not necessarily the case, I am particularly grateful and appreciative for that last piece. Put simply, we like each other, and it shows. Of course there are issues. Of course there are snags. But all in all, we're pals. And in addition to my coworkers, I've met amazing, inspiring, wonderful people around the country, from authors to distributors to customers, and I am consistently blessed & impressed.

- The Perks. I can't go far down this list without mentioning the obvious. I get to travel, and frequently. Because of this job, I've added six states to my have-been list, pounded the pavement of a couple dozen new cities, and been able to visit a smorgasbord of friends and family around the country. I've had amazing meals in great restaurants, experienced various sights, museums, and theater, and learned that I don't hate cities, and I love seeing the world from the air.

- The Profession. (Yeahhh, I'm rocking the alliteration. Who's surprised?) I do, in fact, love my actual job. It suits me incredibly well--a mix of introvert-ish, organizational, spreadsheet-ridden planning, and cocktail-party-hosting, booth-running schmooze. My mother apparently used to say that I was just looking for my own little world to be in charge of, and I have found that here, and an ever-shifting but semi-constant booth space that I should probably call "our" but in fact use "mine."

- The Purpose. A coworker was talking about teachers the other day, saying that while they are terribly underpaid, they are personally valued more than most--that no one will come to us years later and say, "That marketing campaign? I mean, wow. Such an impact on my life." Now, fair enough, but what I do matters. Not to a lot of people. Not in the grand scheme of things. But when everything boils down, my job is to take care of people, and that is something I'm pretty damn decent at. In the past couple weeks, three authors have specifically stopped to say how well-treated they are, how what I do helps them feel and do better. I don't say that to toot my own horn (though, let's be honest, that's something else I'm decent at), but to say I wouldn't be able to do something I didn't find some real, relational value in.

Okay, it's officially taken me nearly a week to write this post. That's a wrap.

Monday, March 11, 2013

SOLC 11: What's My Isaac?

Drafter's Note: It's a good thing I can still call this SOLC (Slice of Life Challenge)--which is to say, I'm thankful it's not called D(aily)SOLC or something, because then I would clearly be lying. But whatever. MOST days of this month will have slices. Some not. Keep on keeping on.


Our interim pastor preached an awesome sermon yesterday. (Yes, it's going to be one of those posts. We'll get through this together.) And one of his points was the difference between walking in (to a church, but it's applicable to any communal thing) with a "What Do I Get?" vs. "What Do I Bring?" mindset. Because if we come in with the former, we have a list of expectations, and we grade our experience based on our personal preferences. If we come in with the latter, we add our unique gifts, experiences, and personalities to a community on the move, and we see where it takes us.

An ideal glimpse of this is the idea of tithing: in "What Do I Bring?" mode, I am supporting the mission and services of this body with not only my time and energy but a financial offering. In "What Do I Get?" mode, I am paying for a ticket to a schedule of events and services that should be tailored to my desires and needs. Thus we leave a church at noon saying things like, "I just didn't like the music today," "That sermon didn't address my present situation," or (my personal favorite) "Jeepers creepers, that ran long today." *

Now, should you be in a church that fits you--your style of worship, your doxology, etc.? By all means. But if you're looking for a church service that is precisely--every song, every announcement, every point of the sermon--as you, personally, would desire it, you should really stay at home. I mean it: you can pick out a playlist from your personal favorites, find yourself a sermon to listen to or watch online (you'll even see how long it will be, so it won't interfere with your schedule), and skim over the news that doesn't affect you. And all from the comfort of your own couch.

But if you're entering Church--and with that capital C I'm drawing on an ancient history, initially documented in the Book of Acts and practiced around the world for thousands of years, most effectively in environments of extreme persecution--with the idea of joining a group of people who share (though cannot precisely replicate, and may therefore occasionally challenge) your beliefs, who love and support each other, and who reach out to their surrounding community in an effort to actively demonstrate love, kindness, grace, and humility**, you will need to recognize that there are other people in the room. And that by coming into that room, by joining that community, you are adding something, not just taking. You are bringing something, not just getting. And by the adages we've all lived out--it's greater to give than to receive, etc.--you'll find that by pouring out what you brought, not only financially but with your time and energy and passions, you'll come away with far more than a good show.

Eric's means of phrasing this yesterday was, "What's my Isaac?" For those unfamiliar, I cannot adequately unpack this story quickly--it's too big. But for the purposes of this post, the question is, "What is the ultimate, most, best sacrifice I can make?" It is not, "What's the bare minimum?" For a community to thrive, for God to lavish grace and power on a body of believers, we cannot come into it having allotted a comfortable gift and call it a sacrifice. We cannot each come in with a list of demands and leave frustrated when they're not met. As a friend reminded me yesterday, the Church documented in Acts thrived because its members "were of one accord." They caught the vision, they shared the passion, and they didn't mess around. They shared one another's joys and burdens. They reached out and made active, much-needed change in their community. And they met the knee-jerk reaction of their government and culture with grace and humility. My church, my ekklesia, does not presently meet this ideal. Oh, there are sparks of it. There are moments. But it is the vision I hold for it, and it is the prayer I pray over it.

So, the morale of this little post, the challenge I am accepting as well as posing: For your church, for your workplace, for your community, what is your Isaac? How is your community different--better, we hope--for your presence and contribution? What can you bring?


* Fair warning to members of my beloved ekklesia: So help me if I hear you complain about the length of what is, ever, at most, a 90-minute service. I might haul off and hit you. In, ya know, total Christian love... Also, I really hate the exclamation, "jeepers creepers." What does that even mean??

**There's a whole separate post (sermon?) on that right there--how and with what motivations does a church reach its community? We've messed this up on a national scale (and I, on a personal scale) for so long, and we've only just begun to reap the benefits.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

SOLC 7: Well Met

Fair warning: I have no idea what to write about today, so this is going to be just good old-fashioned random...


I muse (as, I think it's fair to say, most single women do) from time to time about how I'm meeting this future husband of mine. Don't get me wrong, I'm still in unprecedentedly smooth waters on that front, and am really, genuinely content being single these days. I'm not feeling desperate or needy or overly daydreamy--and haven't for the last year. But it's still fun to think about.

This particular thought bubble was brought on a couple nights ago, when a friend asked me how tall I was. I confirmed that I'm plain old regular six-foot-nothing, and she nodded and said, partly to herself, "Well, there's this guy..." And then we were interrupted, and got to chatting about other things.* But those four little words have a way of lodging themselves in my brain like few others do, and I was thinking later that night: one of these days, it'll be it. It'll be the story I tell eight thousand times when people ask, "So how'd you two meet?"

And while I'm a romantic through and through, and while I joke (JOKE, I tell you) that it'd be helpful for him to have a little divinely-lit "THIS GUY! RIGHT HERE! HUSBAND!" halo rotating around his head, I am expecting that when we do meet (if we have met?), it won't be a "I knew it was him from the start" kind of situation. I'm not waiting for angelic arias and flower-filled meadows. And it was amusing that, since my brain was on this setting anyway, I stumbled on a Disney bloggy thing yesterday, rating the meet-cutes (I really hate that term) of several "classic" Disney movies. (Sidebar: I have no major issues with "Tangled," but classic?? I think not. Second Sidebar: Out of the way, Snow--Philip and Aurora all the way.)

Anyway, it's just one of those muse-y things that flits across my mind sometimes. A friend has a theory that I'll meet him on a plane to one of my conferences. (I vote against this: I hate talking to strangers on airplanes. You start talking to me, you are working from a negative score.) For quite a while I've joked (...mostly...) that my favorite author and I should bump into each other when next I'm in The Other Portland, home to him and my cousins/godchildren. After making a Women's Community announcement a few weeks ago, I joked with a friend that I was leaving the door open for a seemless pick-up line: "Sooo... how do I get together with you?"

And how's this: I went to email our interim pastor, in reply to a letter that I'd received, and got a lovely little reply from an interim pastor in Albany, TX, letting me know I had the wrong address. I mean, I'm just asking... Is that guy single? :)

* Not to worry, fair reader: I'm seeing this friend again tonight, so I'll get the scoop then...

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

SOLC 6: Argentina in Technicolor

Anytime I can't think of what to write, I'm just going to go see what NewTreeMom has done lately. She gave me the idea for one of my most favorite pieces of writing I've done lately in last year's SOLC, and came through again for me last night, for today's slice...

And so I give to you, Argentina in Technicolor. I spent 6 weeks in La Plata (with brief visits to Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls), and here are pieces that are still with me nearly 8 years later. In an effort to be brief, and actually get to bed before midnight for the first time in weeks, I'm going to test my skills in brevity...

Sickly orange fruit perched in pristine trees, inedible and lost.
          Bitter or poison, I was never certain.

The Mothers' white scarves stark on stone, children unforgotten.
          A heritage of devastating loss and open wounds, decades of unrepentant power.

Single-side green ostrich feather earrings--a city of separated twins.
          Does a single earring cost half of a pair? I never found out.

The universidad: black swastikas across the face of an American president.
          The first time I saw national hostility face to face; finding ourselves saying we were Canadian.

The crisply cream stucco chapel, studded white with roses.
          The welcome sigh of a few days in quiet nature after weeks in the city.

Pounding blue water, storming or silent?
          In a place without lawsuits, a different Niagara drops away just below & between your feet.

Pale pinks and lavenders in styrofoam buckets, shared spoons.
          Sharing gelato like secrets, giggling like children, scraping the sides.

Electric hues of La Boca, with a heartbeat of the tango.
           Mission trip kids trying to keep their jaws from slacking at such street-side intimacy.

Green-tinted copper hands making horns to the crucifix.
           Ailen, an atheist, shows me the cathedral, but also it's adversaries across the plaza.

A mosaic of browns--hair, skin, eyes--welcoming into community.
          "Don't promise you'll write to them--they'll actually think you mean it."

The problem with brevity is that it doesn't say enough--there is so much more not here: learning to order a hot dog like a local, naming the desperate stray dogs, teaching the difference between "schmooze" and "smooch," a lifetime of brothers and sisters, keeping granola bars for the street children, the longest hour of our lives, sharing stories and faith.

No list does it justice, but neither does memory.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

SOLC 5: Joyful, Joyful

I. Am. Joyful. Tonight.

And I will tell you why.

A few things:
- I was reminded tonight that 5 years ago--the first time I was doing this particular Bible study I'm in--I was in the midst of a major struggle, one that would continue to plague me for years. I was given the basic precepts for breaking its hold back then, but for whatever reasons, I wasn't ready for it. About 8 months ago, God broke those chains for good. (I'm aware this sounds like jibberish to some--here I can only quote Sara Groves and say, "I don't claim to have found the Truth, but I know it has found me."*) Because mindsets are habits, and hard to break at that, I've found myself wandering back into the same snares, but, in the words of Beth Moore tonight, it's not so much that I have to start back at Day 1, but that I get to start again. Clean slate. And if freedom isn't a cause for joy, I'm sure I don't know what is.

- I have been, as anyone on Facebook can tell you, a little excited about Women's Retreat, our annual getaway each summer. Two years ago, God used it to call me into this ministry; last year, He used it to confirm that calling, but also point me to the very obstacles that still held me back (see above), and proceeded to bring me to a place of freedom. This year?! I can't even deal. But wait, it gets better: of the 26 women coming, three of them are teens that I worked with while in youth ministry. As I posted this evening, I have a serious concern that my heart will not be able to contain itself, and will self-destruct before June. Cannot. Even. Deal.

I am freed. Secured. Loved. Called. Rescued. Redeemed. Restored. And hopeful.

There are still struggles I carry with me--how to be this joyful self when the stresses and frustrations of life crowd me in; how to wait on a divine timetable when most of me rebels and demands autocracy; how to bring finances and personal health and time management under better lordship than my own... But this I know is true: "How kind the LORD is! How good He is! So merciful, this God of ours! The LORD protects those of childlike faith; I was facing death, and He saved me. Let my soul be at rest again, for the LORD has been good to me. He has saved me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. And so I walk in the LORD's presence as I live here on earth" (Psalm 116:5-9, NLT -- my testimony psalm).

Joyful, joyful, we adore thee: God of Glory, Lord of Love...

Oh, and just in case that didn't get you singin'... Try this...

*From Sara's awesome "Conversations," off the record of the same name:
"I'm not trying to judge you--no, that's not my job.
I am just a seeker, too--in search of God.
Somewhere, somehow this subject became taboo
But I have no other way to communicate to you
That this is all that I am, this is all that I have...
And I would like to share with you 
what makes me complete:
I don't claim to have found the Truth, 
but I know it has found me."

Monday, March 4, 2013

SOLC 4: Arcade Games for Grown-Ups

...What? What do you MEAN you don't see an SOLC post for yesterday? That is SO WEIRD. My assistant* must have dropped the ball. That girl is getting SACKED.

Ahem. Moving on.

I had a super fun weekend with my ole college roommate/best friend (going down to hang out in Boston, see an awesome play for which she's worked her tukhus** off, coming back up here, eating our way through Portland, and going to collect her new rescue dog), and took today off for same. Just spent a few hours with my adoptive family here, commemorating their oldest child's senior year on varsity basketball. And came home to start contemplating the week.

And just like that, it starts: the slowly building, adding up, merciless process of stress. (Now, a sidebar: I am so aware of how stressless my life is compared to plenty. But the premise is the same, regardless of the details.) And I got to thinking, perhaps because I've recently downloaded Letris to my phone, that stress is like a really lame arcade game for grownups. It starts as a few blocks dropping into place--maybe singly, maybe in clusters. Some fit together, if not naturally, at least semi-helpfully. Others seem determined to be in everything else's way. And just as you start to find a system, something trips you up--it seems to get faster, or the clusters are less easily nested. And you feel your shoulders creep up and press to the back of your head your muscles twist tight, your face crunch into an expression of anticipatory pain.

This isn't meant to be a depressing entry--in fact, I don't have time (either for the sake of sleep or getting this in under the wire for SOLC) to make it depressing or uplifting. It's just an idea, a mental picture I had.

So here's hoping you and I find ways to be more than gamers in a world of real life.

*If you think I really have a personal assistant, I have some employment paperwork to send you. There's totally an opening. The paycheck might get lost in the mail a lot...

**yes, I did just go look up how to spell that... ahh, Wikipedia, how did I ever know anything before you came into my life?

Saturday, March 2, 2013

SOLC 2: I'm Sorry, You're Sorry

[Drafter's Note: I don't think there could be such a thing as an exhaustive blog post on this topic. There are absolutely exceptions. There are absolutely if/thens. This is only what I've been talking and thinking about lately, and I hope it gets you doing the same.]

I've found myself in a couple conversations lately, digging through that always-simple issue of forgiveness. And I've been realizing that there are different types--or perhaps styles--of forgiveness. The one that I've found myself thinking on today is what I might call retributive forgiveness, in part because "retributive" is a fun word to say. " ("Reciprocal" is more accurate, but less linguistically enjoyable.) This is the style we've all practiced, at least internally: the variety of forgiveness wherein we (oh-so-helpfully) summarize not only our process of frustration and reconciliation but our partner's as well. "I said things I didn't mean, you said things you didn't mean..."

The problem is, this isn't forgiveness. It's settling accounts. "I owed you, you owed me, let's be pals and call it even." It's a great philosophy for minor financial conundrums, not so great for relational ruptures. It's problematic because we're highlighting--either to justify or lessen our own faults--that we were not alone in this fight.

And the fact is, of course we weren't. There aren't one-person fights (not external ones, anyway). We wronged, and we were wronged. But if we enter into reconciliation with the tally of Who Did What still rolling in our heads, we aren't really seeking authentic forgiveness, given or received.

In the midst of these recent conversations, I've been recalling and delving into a few true, authentic reconciliations I've had, searching for clues to what made them tick. And this might be the A+ Number One Thing I realized: I didn't come into it waiting for my apology, either in what I said or what I didn't. In the experience that leaps most readily to mind, I found myself focusing on The Place I Screwed Things Up. Of course, there had been more than one, and I don't mean that the key to forgiveness is throwing yourself in front of the train, but when we seek forgiveness we can't be coming to the table with the motivation of rehashing what was done to us.

Relationships--be they familial, friendly, professional or romantic (but hopefully not all four)--are hard. It's mushing broken people together to points where their faults and idiosyncrasies are not only revealed but sometimes exacerbated, and in such a state we can't help but, on occasion, wound and be wounded. And as a friend commented on her own situation this week, there is a nearly irresistible draw to close up, to break and leave broken. Our culture tends to suggest this in its urging to protect ourselves, to bring safety and stability to our lives by hedging bets, learning from the last time, keeping trust and vulnerability locked away safe. What is far harder is to fight. To tell our broken hearts to heal but not harden. To come back to the table, to try again.

I have a dim memory of hearing this, perhaps at a wedding: that there is a reason Paul points out in his famed "Love Chaper" (1 Corinthians 13) that "love keeps no record of wrongs," and there is a reason we are so drawn to it: because we are so very, very good at it. We (maybe women, especially, but men aren't faultless here) love to keep an ever-growing list of How You Messed Up, when all the while love--real, genuine, in-this-for-real love--comes to the table with a list thrown in the trash and an apology--just for oneself--on the lips.

And what happens next?

We trust.


Friday, March 1, 2013

SOLC 1: 2 minutes!

It's the first day of the Slice of Life Challenge and I nearly missed it. It's been a busy day, but still no excuse. So, a sumup of 3/1/13 in 17 words (3+1+13) ...

Reconciliation counseling.
Frank's Red Hot, cilantro cream.
PJs for work, iPad setup.
Slice just under the wire.