Friday, December 24, 2010

People Together

I've been out and about some yesterday and today, running some errands and getting a few more things done before Christmas.  Not surprisingly, there are a lot of people around, much traffic, clogged store aisles, and a clear sense of some holiday-related stress.  As I walked from place to place, I saw some serious-looking expressions that appeared rather irritable or unfriendly.  It reminded me of why I don't much care for running errands and getting a few final things done in the day or two before Christmas.

Then I unintentionally smiled at someone.  It was more habit than anything, acknowledging her presence as we neared each other's space.  She appeared startled, and I had the impression that she flinched.  Just a moment later, though, she recovered and appeared pleased.  She smiled back with a beautiful and friendly smile which seemed to take more permanent residence on her face.  It was like the expression had returned to its rightful home.

I was startled by the interaction, too, and particularly by the strength of her response.  As I continued on my day's path, I looked around more and wondered about the other people I saw.  What are they making final preparations for on this day?  What will they be doing tomorrow, and what significance does this holiday hold for them?  How much stress were they feeling?  How much joy?

I kept thinking of the lady with the sudden smile, and I smiled again at the memory.  I was surprised once more when someone else nearby responded, another day-brightening expression.  Interesting!  Two in a row is clearly a trend, and by this time I could not resist actually testing it out -- make eye contact, smile, observe, walk, repeat. And you know what?  I discovered a bunch of friendly people.  These were not just obligatory social smiles; the vast majority appeared quite genuine.

Unexpectedly, these two days of pre-Christmas errands have been a gift -- an opportunity to connect, even in just a very small way, with people around me, to step beyond just being in close proximity with other people and to be relational human beings together.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

What Is This?

This is the white elephant gift we brought home recently.  At first glance, it appears to be a barn-holding Santa riding a cow nailed to a wagon.

On the other hand, consider the possible symbolism.  Santa reminds us of Christmas and brings a barn.  Jesus was born in a barn-like place, so this could be like Santa bringing the real message of Christmas.  He is riding on a cow, which is a pretty lowly animal, not a magnificent stallion other spectacular beast.  Not only is it lowly, but it is unusual, too, suggesting that God works in ways we do not expect.  Finally, this humble cow is on a wheeled cart, which could arguably be tugged in God’s direction rather than following that which comes naturally to the beast.  Perhaps there is some powerful Christmas symbolism here.

Or maybe, just maybe, I’m making that all up to justify its existence or to make a point.  We do that sometimes – massage/manipulate reality to fit our own preconceived notions and/or desires.

Sometimes what looks like a barn-holding Santa riding a cow nailed to a wagon is really just a barn-holding Santa riding a cow nailed to a wagon.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Space in Between, Part IX

I woke this morning in Ontario, Oregon, and drove to the Boise airport.  That area had snow left over from a recent storm.  It had started melting off but not so much that the roads had become quite dry.  It was foggy out, too, and the temperature was just below freezing.  It was certainly daytime, but the day felt dim and murky.

In a Fog

We traveled a little more slowly than usual and I arrived safely in Boise.  The airport routine is familiar enough to do without much thought.  It all went smoothly enough that I was able to get some work done at the gate and on the plane before we took off.  As is my custom, I put my tasks aside so I could pay attention as the plane took off and gained altitude.  Then, within just a minute or two after we'd left the ground, the plane rose above the fog which had given the world around me a dim, grey feel.  The sunlight streamed through the window, inviting me to savor those moments.

Above the Fog

Not much had changed in the world below, but the change in my perspective made all the difference.  What had felt dim and murky was now beautiful.  I am grateful for new perspectives.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

How We Are

I sat in the vet's waiting room with Sirius one day and engaged in friendly conversation with a lady sitting nearby. The content of the conversation wasn't particularly memorable, just typical of two people passing the time. What I do remember is that her husband had taken the dog in while she waited, and he came out carrying their dog's body covered with a blanket. She burst into tears as soon as the door opened. He was quieter, though clearly grieving, and the two of them left quickly. Their purpose that day had been to have their pet put to sleep, and I'd had no idea.

It was years ago, but that otherwise-nonmemorable conversation with an unknown lady in the vet's office sticks with me.  That was a difficult day for her, and I did not realize until after our conversation. It reminds me that I often do not know the struggles of those around me, and I want to leave a little extra room for grace.

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
(often attributed to Plato)

That vet-office memory was triggered after a recent interaction in a parking lot with a man who is familiar to me, but whom I don't know beyond nodding acquaintance. "How are you?" he asked as we neared each other on the sidewalk. "Doing well," I said, "and you?" "Good." He smiled, I smiled, and we continued our separate ways, not slowing or stopping. It was a nice, civilized, and completely meaningless interaction.

Again, I don't know this guy, and a friendly "How are you?" in passing is pretty much the same as a silent nod of greeting, a polite "hello" rather than an invitation to deeply personal assessment of one's life in that moment. But as I continued walking, I was particularly aware that I had no idea what this fellow's life was like, and our culturally established patterns of interaction won't change that a bit.

What bothers me here isn't so much the lack of depth in a brief encounter with a nodding acquaintance, but rather the conviction that such lack is also present with others, with people I see regularly and consider friends. I don't want to live like that, each putting on masks rather than being authentic with each other.

And so I will sometimes ask, "How are you?" in part because that is a culturally conditioned greeting. But though it is sometimes interpreted simply as a form of "hello," my intent is to make it a genuine question, seeking to better know those with whom I interact.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Intentional Destruction

A car crash crumpled my husband's car into the shape of a big red accordion, and I am grateful.

It was around nine years ago that I ran that car head-on at 45mph into a concrete barrier. Then, with maneuvers that seemed to defy the laws of physics, I managed to flip the vehicle around as it continued to barrel down the offramp so we hit the same barrier, in reverse, perhaps fifty yards further down. Seatbelts held us steady as airbags deployed during initial impact. When we finally came to a stop some seconds later, we were very quiet.

I was shaken by the experience. My nose was bruised and my lip was bleeding a little from being hit by the airbag. But that's all! It was amazing. The EMT who happened to be first on the scene very much expected to find us badly injured. The police officer who came later for the accident report sounded suspicious when we told him we were the two in the car, because he didn't see how that could have been true.

How did we survive so well? Because the car was designed with its passengers as the priority. The car, as it was created to do, crumpled like an accordion each time it hit the concrete barrier. And because the car absorbed so much of the impact, our bodies didn't have to. It totaled the car, of course. But it was worth the loss.

The people who make cars have many goals -- physical comfort, low gas consumption, safety, reasonable cost, attractiveness, durability, and so forth. They could have made a car that kept its shape beautifully... but at a personal cost much higher than that of the car. I'm glad they didn't.

This has reminded me of life lately. I have various goals and they sometimes are mutually exclusive, which often becomes particularly apparent in times of crisis/stress/etc. I need to consistently re-examine my values and make intentional choices consistent with them. When I do this, I am far more likely to absorb unplanned impacts in the right ways.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Quiet Beauty of Maybe

I don't know what it is, but I almost always wake up absurdly early on the mornings we're at District Team Retreat in Cascade. I gave up a few years ago on trying to go back to sleep, so I laze around a bit, then meander over to the big lodge to sip a hot beverage and take pictures as I watch the sun come up.

Trinity Pines
This is one of my first photos on a chilly September morning this year. There isn't much to look at, really -- it's mostly dark, and the landscape mostly consists of vague outlines. The colors on the horizon are pretty, I suppose.

But that's not why I like it.

I like this photo because it speaks to me of hope and fresh starts, loosening my grip on the past and leaning toward the future. I am reminded to look ahead with intention, recognizing potential and entering the day with a sense of expectancy.

This image represents for me the quiet beauty of "maybe."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Marking Time

I was thinking this morning about time...
"And God said, 'Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.' And it was so." (Genesis 1:14-15, emphasis mine)

God created the concept of time, and it is a very good gift. We see it in the apparent movement of the sun, in the phases of the moon, in the changing weather. These huge -- astronomical -- shifts are reminders that each moment is unique and temporary. The world will never again be quite like it is in this moment... or in this one... or in this one... Recognizing the passage of time can create a healthy urgency to make the most of each moment we're given.

Along with a sense of change, these same signs provide a sense of stable consistency. It is snowing pretty good right now, but I trust that warm weather will eventually return. Night has fallen, but I have full confidence the sun will come up again soon. At 7:25am tomorrow, in fact. The cycles of time give me hope, reassuring me of new starts.

Truth be told, I am not enthusiastic about the cold. I am grateful, though, for time, and for seasons to mark it. That alone is worth some blizzardy weather.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Not Time to Panic

We received a catalog in the mail yesterday. It's too early for Christmas music yet, but it's okay to have decorations and shopping stuff available. These things take time. I get that.

It's not the existence of the catalog that got to me, but the urgency implied: "Last Minute!" Unless they've got the world's worst shipping service, I'm thinking they define "last minute" very differently than I do.

In a season too often frenzied and rushed, let's not add to the craziness - in our catalogs, spending, overbooked schedules, unrealistic expectations, or whatever. There is far more to Christmas!

Friday, November 19, 2010


I woke early yesterday, probably around 4:30am, and set about getting ready. There was a very full day ahead -- CPE group first thing, flight to Boise soon after, car rental/driving, meeting, various calls and texts and emails, return trip. Our flight back to SLC landed around 8:30pm. We got in the car and headed home.

And suddenly, it was quiet. Beautifully, gloriously, stunningly quiet. After the busyness of the day, and especially the people and noise of the airport and plane, the quietness created a space to breathe.

I needed that.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Road Trip

We took a quick road trip last week to Emmett, Idaho. It's around 340 miles each way, mostly freeway through desert, with the inevitable construction along the way. In other words, nothing particularly special about the road itself. And we were only there overnight, to eat dinner and play games and return the next day.

As a kid, I would have been truly perplexed by our decision to take such a trip. But now? It was great -- quality time, a break from routine, and good friends. We told stories, pondered important questions, challenged each other to grow, laughed. Logically speaking, we could have done all of that at home, right? But as it so often does, the geographical space between here and there created relational space as well.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Anonymous Letters

Attributed to former baseball great Yogi Berra:
"Why buy good luggage? You only use it when you travel."
"A nickel ain't worth a dime anymore."
"It ain't over till it's over."
"Never answer an anonymous letter."

A quick internet search reveals many lists of such Yogi-isms because they are often an amusing mix of foolishness and truth. "Never answer an anonymous letter," for example. After all, where would one send such a response? And yet... many of us move from day to day and place to place hearing message from often-unidentified sources that we come to believe are credible: "You're too _____" or "You're not _____ enough." (Anonymity cloaks sources of criticism far more than sources of praise, it seems...) We try to respond to anonymous -- sometimes nonexistent -- criticism, and end up majoring in image management, trying always to convince others that we're okay, really.

The question of source really is an important one, and I believe God is the ultimate Source. Whenever I hear or "hear" messages about my character, I need to take those to God, asking Him to help me discover the truth and respond accordingly.

Monday, August 16, 2010


I admit it -- I like Facebook. I enjoy hearing what is going on in the lives of people I love, seeing photos of their friends and families and fun times, getting the snippets of status updates. That said, I was challenged recently by something I read through my Leadership Journal (a great publication, by the way) subscription:

"In an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, William Deresiewicz examines the new forms of friendship that have emerged in the age of Facebook. While social media has allowed us the opportunity to be connected to everyone, it more often than not comes at the expense of deep, meaningful, shaping friendship. Deresiewicz writes:
[Concerning] the moral content of classical friendship, its commitment to virtue and mutual improvement, that … has been lost. We have ceased to believe that a friend's highest purpose is to summon us to the good by offering moral advice and correction. We practice, instead, the nonjudgmental friendship of unconditional acceptance and support—'therapeutic' friendship, [to quote] Robert N. Bellah's scornful term. We seem to be terribly fragile now. A friend fulfills her duty, we suppose, by taking our side—validating our feelings, supporting our decisions, helping us to feel good about ourselves. We tell white lies, make excuses when a friend does something wrong, do what we can to keep the boat steady. We're busy people; we want our friendships fun and friction-free ….
With the social-networking sites of the new century—Friendster and MySpace were launched in 2003, Facebook in 2004—the friendship circle has expanded to engulf the whole of the social world, and in so doing, destroyed both its own nature and that of the individual friendship itself. Facebook's very premise—and promise—is that it makes our friendship circles visible. There they are, my friends, all in the same place. Except, of course, they're not in the same place, or, rather, they're not my friends. They're a [superficial likeness or semblance] of my friends—little dehydrated packets of images and information, no more my friends than a set of baseball cards is the New York Mets ….
Deresiewicz concludes: 'Friendship is devolving, in other words, from a relationship to a feeling—from something people share to something each of us hugs privately to ourselves in the loneliness of our electronic caves.'"

-- Jerry De Luca, Montreal West, Quebec, Canada; source: William Deresiewicz,
"Faux Friendship," The Chronicle of Higher Education (12-6-09)

I'm not planning to give up Facebook anytime soon. But this reminds me to truly value and nurture genuine, soul-transforming friendship, and not settle for any superficial imitation.

My friends, please know that I am grateful for the unconditional love and support that have been shown to me. But we must not stop there. A friendship is only true when we're willing to risk sometimes-scary conversations as we lovingly challenge each other to more fully live according to what we say we believe and value.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pondering November, Again

That was the world's biggest NaBloPoMo flop. Not a single word blogged past Day 1 of that month, or the two months after it.

Sometimes a time of silence is a good thing.