Friday, November 28, 2014

Confetti Joy

















I admit it; I was surprised by the confetti. My mouth gaped open, there was a sudden intake of breath. And then I smiled. I wasn’t expecting anything fancy for a $20 concert, even though it was one of my favorite bands. I loved it all. I loved the concert. I loved the confetti.

After my initial happiness at the fluttering colors, I began to think of how foolish it was to like bits of paper flying around in the air and how someone was just going to have to clean it up later. But then I realized how stuffy and cynical I sounded. Why can’t I just take joy in the beauty I’ve been given? Something that was meant to give me pleasure, did. And here I am complaining about it in my head.

The next day I was cycling through my thoughts about confetti and staring out my back window. It was a frivolous blizzard of yellow leaves. They were stunning in the sunshine.  And then it hit me. God also likes confetti; after all, he invented it! And we, all superior and grown up, instead of taking a child’s joy in them complain about how much work it is to rake them up.

So many things in life are like this. I spent a good bit of time convincing one of the 1st grade boys in our after-school tutoring program that participating in the activities was going to take some hard work but that it would be worth it in the end. He would learn and he would probably have some fun too. Take joy in the work.

It’s the same thing I tell people when I try to get them involved in volunteering and working with refugees and other internationals. It’s not easy. It takes a significant amount of work to become friends with a person who barely speaks your language. When cultural differences cause confusion, you can feel lost and idiotic. But it’s all worth it. The joy, the friendships, seeing God’s stories in the lives of people very different from you, seeing God work in your own life through it all, all these things are incredibly beautiful and valuable.
Sure, you may have to start with a bit of death like the trees do, a bit of choosing the hard thing over the temporary thrills of the moment, deciding to turn yellow at the edges. You may have to become open and bare and vulnerable to the elements and break free of the shell of your comfortable living. You might have to say “Hello” to a Muslim, or a Mexican, or your next-door neighbor. And then they may want something from you: your attention, your love, your service. Sacrifice your perceived safety on the altar of God’s call to the world. And then joy in what God adds to your life, the confetti colors of his creation, the overabundance of leaves and laughter.
Join me in this Isaiah path to joy.
...if you pour yourself out for the hungry
   and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the Lord will guide you continually
    and satisfy your desire in scorched places
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters do not fail.


Monday, September 29, 2014

Heavy

A few months ago, a kind woman gave me a couple of hand weights to share with some of the refugee women I work with. Some had mentioned an interest in exercising. I tossed them onto the floor of my back seat in a plastic bag. And there they sat.

In a few weeks they had escaped their plastic bag and would roll and rustle every time I turned a corner. They were taunting me with my inadequacy on many levels. First, I should have gotten around to giving them away. Second, maybe I should be using them myself!

And then it hit me. How many times in life do I let people give me their expectations, the weights of their standards, the burdens of their dreams? Just because someone else wants to live until they are 120, doesn't mean I have to strive for that. Just because someone wants to run a marathon doesn't mean I have to start training. Just because someone takes a certain vitamin and calls it their miracle drug, doesn't mean I have to spend half my income on it too.  Everyone has their own obsession.

I've got my own. When the woman in class mentions her traumatic memories of finding body parts of a relative, and it triggers the memories and fears of another lady who cries for her family in ISIS controlled areas, there is little to do but listen.

I've realized I can't care about everything; I don't have it in me. Some weights belong to other people and not to me.  But even more than that, I'm not the one who is supposed to carry any of these weights. Jesus bears my burdens.


Thursday, September 04, 2014

Lamentations Poem

Tides rush down un-wooed by the moon
And the soft grey wool of the sky unravels
Like myself all undone to the earth
A puddle weeping into the broken cracks

Neighbor drummer pounds the sounds
Inside my sorry head late at night
Intoxicated with too much thinking
The plants outside too drunk with drinking

Will I awaken tired and sad?
The plants will thrive and green.
Or will the tears be spent tonight
The stains be dry in the morning light
And new mercies shine again?

Lamentations 3:22-23

Monday, September 01, 2014

Preaching to Myself

I'm always going around telling people to do things they are afraid of. For example, "Talk to the lady with a headscarf. She's not scary. She could use a friend and probably someone to speak English with her." Or, "You could teach in a foreign country. It's actually really fun!" Or even sometimes things that are a little more mundane, "You can step out of your shell and talk about something deep, something that hits below the surface conversation about the weather."

And all this is pretty easy for me. I'm not the type that is easily frightened by the unfamiliar. I moved to Iraq when my country still had an active military presence there. People called me brave, but it didn't feel like bravery because it wasn't scary to me in the first place. So sometimes I'm not very compassionate towards people who are afraid of things. I see their fear and how it keeps them from doing amazing things and I just don't understand.  Get a grip, people!

That is, until I run into the wall that is my own fear. When my own insecurities and inadequacies are on the surface of something new, suddenly fear is a totally understandable and reasonable response! I mean, that wall is made of brick! How could I possible get over or go through THAT!

For me, that meant being filmed... like... on camera. I think I had to pee every fifteen minutes that morning and visibly shaking as the time drew near. The first take had me looking like a frozen deer in the headlights. I had to preach the same message to myself that I so often give to others. "It's good to do something that scares you. It's worth it to step out of your comfort zone. This will help you grow and help others hear something new."

Thankfully, I was blessed to work with people who are my friends, who have great grace for me, and know me well enough to help me relax and laugh a little. In all, it was a good experience, even a little fun. I was running on adrenaline for the rest of the afternoon but adrenaline can make you very productive, so that was awesome.

So the message I preach to my friends here, I also preach to myself, because it is true. Our lives are better when we step into something uncomfortable, when we try new things, when we step out to do the things that God calls us to do, rejecting our irrational fears and instead walking in faith in the God who made us.


Thursday, July 03, 2014

Celebrity Teammates

I've really enjoyed watching the World Cup this year. I got into living overseas, four years ago, and it didn't wear off in the last two years in the US. The game between the US and Belgium was so much fun to watch, despite the outcome. The most of the press in the US has been on the fantastic goalie, Tim Howard, and rightfully so. He's amazing. His saves were fantastic. At one point the announcers said that he had not once dove in the wrong direction. All that, and he's good looking!

The aftermath of it, at least for him, is an incredible jump in celebrity status. He's trending on FB. He spoke to the president, along with the team captain Clint Dempsey. You know you've gotten into the big league if the president calls you AND films himself while doing it. I mean, wow.

The articles have been, as a whole, very positive. Even the captain of the Belgian team has respect for the play of Tim Howard. But there's something about all of this that I don't understand. Suddenly, there are also articles about how Tim Howard's a Christian and it's all shocking and wow, I bet you didn't know. What's up with that?

I'm all for supporting your team. As a Christian myself, I know that other Christians are my family. But the sudden interest in his faith seems, disingenuous. It's like we only care if he's a Christian once he's famous. Either that, or there's the idea that because he's a Christian and famous that I'll get some fame because I'm a Christian? I don't know, really. I know that's not what people were thinking when they wrote the articles, but I can't help but feel that its false boasting or something.

Maybe I'm wrong to be a little annoyed by these things. I mean, I'm glad he's going to Heaven and all; I'm happy when my family succeeds. But are we happy to know about believers who aren't succeeding on the earthly stage? Are we willing to identify ourselves with them as easily? Do we Christians just as excitedly claim them as part of our "team" as well? Or does our embarrassment over our less flashy relatives really mean we disown them and send them into exile.

I know there's a balance. Modesty is required for the unpresentable parts of the body of Christ. But somehow I don't think earthly success and celebrity is really the measure of a man.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Morning Snippets

This morning in my car I sang the Baby Shark song, Old MacDonald, If You're Happy and You Know It, and some song with Boom Chicka Chicka in it. The kids called out one song after the other asking me to sing with them. Their mother laughed at them and me, perhaps more at me for singing along.

I loved it. I'm still smiling. I'm exhausted from having to pull kids aside, make them look in my eyes, and repeat: "Keep the ball on the floor." We still managed to break one light shade. "No snacks in the main room." The little boy points at his brother all the while there are bits of chip stuck to his own shirt. After a whole pile of chips mysteriously gets spilled in one corner, the boy and I have another chat: "Do you see why I made that rule? You made a mess that has to be cleaned up." He understands and one thread of trust is built. I don't make rules for no reason.

One little boy is used to getting his own way. His habit is to slap the adult's face or spit if he is not given whatever he wants. But by today he has realized, that doesn't work with me. I told him no and instead he put his arms around my neck and put his head down on my shoulder. Trying a new tactic. He still wasn't allowed to clobber the other children. But I prefer this response.




Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Safety First!

With all the violence in Iraq now, more and more people comment on how they are glad I’m not there anymore, they are glad that I am safe.

Even before this, people have commented on how they are glad I survived, glad I am safe now, glad I’m in a safer place. It makes me angry. I know they mean well, but it isn’t better to have survived. It isn’t always better to be safe. Men in solitary confinement are safe.

Our modern American society and even especially the church culture has bought into the evolutionary lie that survival is the highest good. We have adopted a Hunger Games mentality where survival determines who is fittest and best. Caution is the new moral standard. Anything remotely perceived as reckless is no longer brave, but labeled as foolish. We have found a way to justify our cowardice.

But in the world of Scripture, survival has very little value in and of itself. St. Paul says that to die is gain. Living is mostly characterized by suffering. We are told to live a life that daily anticipates and accepts death, why else would we carry a cross? If safety is your greatest concern, carrying crosses is not your thing.

Survival can be good, but it isn’t an ultimate value. In fact, survival without much more becomes meaningless. Why does suicide even exist?

We are to live urgently, fully, patiently, courageously, carrying a cross with us wherever God has called us to be whether it looks safe or not. After all, our idea of safety is only an illusion. If God calls you to our glorious eternal home he can do so just as easily with a car crash in a small American town as he can with a bomb or gun in the Middle East.

We have fashioned a God of our own making. Our obsession with safety first has created an idol that causes many to cease living at all, to hide away talents and callings in the houses of our lives like agoraphobic old women afraid to step out into the sunshine. The truest death is not found in the dangerous places, but rather found in the dusty forgotten corners where piles of dead bones lay having only wasted away, never having been used or seen or spent.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Overanalyzing My Self

I'm tying myself up in knots as I see how I've grown and changed over the last couple of years in the US. I've become more lazy (or maybe just more easily worn out?), more selfish and focused on my own needs, and I've somehow lost some of my best Bible reading habits. I came back to the States a giant wound open and bleeding, ready to show everyone, because no amount of bandages could hide the mess I was. But now? It's scarred over, and I'm glad for that. But there is less grace from others for being a bit of a mess still. Or maybe there isn't less grace from others, but rather I think there will be less grace from others. Who knows? In this Southern world of people appearing perfect, scars are scary.

Whatever the case, while much of the pain is gone, the adjustments to life in the US still continue. This afternoon I went to take a package to the mail. I was wearing a sleeveless dress around the house. Before I left I put on a sweater. It wasn't until I was half way to the post office that I realized that I don't have to make sure my arms are covered to my elbows here. It was such a habit, and still is, I guess, that I didn't even notice my reasoning for wearing a sweater out into the 85 degree heat. I still find these things as they fly out of the blue and crash into my mind. Sometimes the object is a water balloon or even a soccer ball. But sometimes the cleanup of the wreckage is more time consuming.

As I've gone back to things like teaching English I run into more of these things... different, the same... assumptions about life, living, people, how I'm treated, expectations. Culture affects us on so many levels. I've spent so many years trying to make things work with as little in resources as possible that I find having more things available overwhelming. I am accustomed to relying only on people I know well and trust to accomplish things, but here the networks stretch far and wide. It makes me nervous to trust that a friend of a friend of a friend will come through in this or that situation.

I'm learning more and more how much I desperately need God to walk with me through all of this. My trust should be in him, not in the people anyway. My resources come from him, no matter where I am. He is in control of the many planes circling overhead. I need to rebuild new habits and life patterns, making sure I take the time to spend with him. Because it's only through his help that I can conquer the SELF that cries so strongly for coddling and attention.



Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sticky Note

1 Peter 5:1-5
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

I am very blessed. The elders I have been under have behaved according to this passage. They love the church, serve eagerly, and lead well. Money and status have not been their object. I have learned from them all well. They will receive unfading crowns of glory and I am glad. 

I find though, that as I get older that these standards are also things I must apply to myself. These good leaders are to be examples to me and thus I should follow in their footsteps. I also realize more and more that people watch me and emulate me. I still, so often, feel like a foolish little girl struggling to even exist in the world so this all feels terribly odd. But God has given me a responsibility by the gifts and learning he has given me and I must also serve and lead.  That said, I am still young and am so very grateful for the mentors and leaders I have. I have many people to learn from and cannot forget that. In all my learning and growth I ought not to think myself greater than I actually am. I must then also be a good example by not being proud.

Thus, humility. Clothe yourselves with humility. Clothe. Am I naked without humility? Or am I merely wearing something else. Do I have a choice here? It sounds like I do. In the morning do I think of putting on humility? Nope. I have often been a proud person. I am smart, but often I think myself smarter that I am, or at least smarter than everyone around me. I am grateful for the men and women God has put in my life that prove me wrong on a regular basis. I am a fool and it is God's grace to me that he never lets my pride get very far before smashing it to bits again. I am thankful. 

For when I am humbled and then become humble I get to rest in his grace. 


So I'm putting up a sticky note. 


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Lazy Saturday

It's completely dark in my house now... except for the arresting white of my computer screen. Somehow it got dark while I sat here; the sun set, I didn't move.

I feel blah. You know that feeling where you were given a whole day to live and breath and accomplish great things and you did so little. One phone call, one missed call, another call forgotten. A couple of times of eating.  I do have a little to show for today. Several inches of afghan suddenly appeared in the dark green yarn. I did catch up on White Collar while the green pineapple shapes spread across my already too warm lap. But that is hardly an accomplishment. I should have weeded the garden even though I don't know what I'll plant there. I should have heated the labels off the wine bottles in my craft room so that I could have turned them into my own crafts. I should have swept the kitchen floor.

But you know, I could have done all of these things and while it might have taken the edge off of the blah, the deep heart blah would still be there. It's all because I didn't talk to God. Sure, I threw out a few phrases every now and then... maybe that's the wrong way to put it. Sure, I talked to God. But I didn't LISTEN.  I didn't read his word, or open my heart in the quiet stillness, or sit on his lap and just be. And that is why I'm blah, today.

I have no life if I hear not the author of life. There is still time in the day. I could take care of the garden, the floor, or even tackle those bottles. But a few hours of work and a night's rest won't dispel the fog in my heart.

Off I go. This dragon will die. I know a good knight who will fight for me.