Monday, December 12, 2011

Over Time, and By My Own Free Will

Anne Jackson writes about the "everyday, ordinary cell phone" she had early on. It was the kind designed for phone calls and nothing else. Things changed, though. "Over time, and by my own free will, I've upgraded to the superphone. It emails. It sends texts. It checks the score of the Dallas Mavericks games. It wakes me up at 5:30 every morning and lets me snooze twice for ten minutes at a time. It keeps my calendar and gives me directions."

I've got a phone like that. It's a great little device. And I can relate to what Jackson writes next about gradual shift in power -- from owning a cell phone to being owned by one. Her example of the phone is really just an example, or more accurately a symptom, of larger issues. The part of her description which captures me today is this:

Over time, and by my own free will...

When I stop and really think about it, the musts and shoulds which cause me the most stress are usually the ones which are not for me to own. When I stop and really think about it, I sometimes discover that the tight spots I find myself in are largely of my own making, growing from a long series of small decisions made individually over time -- usually from creating faulty expectations of myself or choosing to accept faulty expectations of others, rather than intentionally seeking out and following the path God places in front of me.

It reminds me again of Hummel's "Tyranny of the Urgent." Over time, and by my own free will, I can become distracted from my purpose, my values, my intent. Yet over time, and by my own free will, I can also choose to reorient back toward my intended purpose, values, intent. I want the "little" decisions to reflect that latter, better orientation.

Today has been quiet and refreshing. I feel like my soul has been catching up to my body today, and I am looking forward to tomorrow.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Distance Perspective

"In front of me sat a large pile of cattle carcasses, still smoldering from the fire that had essentially destroyed them. Occasionally, I'd hear a crackle or pop coming from the heap, but for the most part, the grassy English field was silent.


Thankfully, I was four thousand miles away, cozied up in my apartment and watching this on TV, far removed from the smells that would have been carried by the damp winds. I was tuned in to a BBC channel, viewing a documentary about bovine spongiform encephalopathy, an affliction better known as mad cow disease."
-- Anne Jackson

Thus begins Jackson's approach to a different subject marked by its own dis-ease, close and tender to her own heart and to the hearts of those she seeks to reach with her writing. I am intrigued by her starting point because of the distance it introduces, and I wonder what she'll do with that.

Distance creates barriers. Like sitting comfortably and far away on a couch, it is tempting to deal with difficult and messy subjects by creating an intellectual separation so the issues cannot reach the heart. Until the heart is engaged, though, mental assent doesn't mean much.

At the same time, distance has the potential to create safety. Sometimes it helps to step back a little, to gain the perspective of standing a little further away and perhaps from a different angle. This may be just what is needed to create space to explore and express what feels particularly risky.

I don't want to find myself living always so close that I find myself swallowed up and lost in complex issues, unable to find my way out.


At the same time, I am cautious about standing so far back that all the details blur together, allowing neither recognition of the different aspects of the situation nor the understanding to successfully navigate whatever immediate situation I find myself in.


There is something to be said for bifocals -- or better yet, those newfangled transition lenses that allow for seeing well at a variety of distances. That is how I want to see the world around me. I love Jackson's image of distance as she approaches a difficult subject, both acknowledging the messiness which can be quite personal and allowing enough distance to make it palatable. I hope she writes in the balance of the two.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Box o' Memories

I was in our storage room today looking for Christmas stuff when I saw this:


I was suddenly intrigued by it. It's my box, presumably with my memories, right? But I haven't seen the inside of that box since... um... I don't know when. I have no idea what is in there, and I wonder what my filtering process was in choosing those items. I wonder, too, what I would put in a similarly-sized box if I were to create one from within my current stage in life.

Of course, the obvious solution to some of my questions is to open the box and see... but not today. Too much is going on right now, and if this is a good Box o' Memories, I don't want to be rushed through it.

I'm awfully curious, though.

Monday, December 5, 2011

"Coffee" Shops

I don't like the taste of straight coffee -- even the so-called "good" stuff. Even so, I spend a decent amount of time in coffee shops. Why? It's not about the coffee, but about the space such shops create.

So, what is it about coffee shops?

Space for projects, relationships, and relaxation

Public places that leave space for private conversations

Abundance of power outlets

Wireless internet access

Comfy couches

Cozy tables

Sense of movement

Temporary "office" space

Quiet enough to start working

Noisy enough to continue working

Lovely variety of beverages and pastries

And good memories

Looking back over the past year, much that is important to me has happened in coffee shops -- pausing to rest and ponder after significant experiences, engaging in meaningful conversations with others, developing thoughts and ideas that have eventually borne good fruit, reading, writing, learning, and simply enjoying time "away."

The taste of straight coffee does not appeal to me, but I do very much appreciate what we mix it with these days -- steamed milk, caramel syrup, hospitable space, and some of the people I love.



Thursday, December 1, 2011

Windy Tale of Woe and Not-So-Woe

I read a story recently of a pastor who cheerfully began prayer on a cold and stormy Sunday morning with thanks "that most days aren't like this." That sums it up for me pretty well right now.

Waking slowly this morning, I sat up and turned on my phone to check messages and weather, then Facebook. My internet connection was unusually slow. Eventually I started to see status updates – apparently I had slept through quite a windstorm. My still-groggy brain processed that information and I began to realize there was a lot of noise coming from outside. Big noise. Windy-sounding noise.

I don't remember why I first went outside, but I found most of the front section of our fence had been blown down.


Going onto the lawn to investigate the damage, I looked across the back yard and saw much fence down on the back side, too.


The still-strong winds were threatening to destroy even more, so we went out into it and took down strategic sections to provide a bit more stability.

Immediate situation stabilized a bit more, I went online looking for reliable fencing repair companies.

Until we lost our Internet connection.

And then our internal network.

And then our electricity.

*sigh*

Clearly we were not going to find a fence repair company quickly.

But, as it turns out, that really did not matter because our cell phones would not make calls, and texting was iffy, too.

We could see the freeway from our place and the cars were not moving. Still, Mark needed to go to work, and it was clearly going to take a while to get there, so he kissed me goodbye and headed out.


A few moments later, he came back in because he needed to take my car -- the back window of his had shattered when the basketball standard came down in the storm.


So… I'm at home. The dog has been out of sorts with all the excitement. There is a bunch of shattered glass across the seats of the car, which would be awfully windy and cold to drive anyway. A load of still-wet laundry sits in the dryer, and the soapy mess of the next load is in the wash. No lights, no furnace, no cooking.

I really wish this day had been different, that we were not having high winds and the damages they cause. I wish I were not listening still to stuff coming apart around the neighborhood.

Even so, I am reminded that I have much to be genuinely grateful for. And really, all this is not so bad. Yes, it will be expensive, time-consuming, and inconvenient. But our house is still standing, and even our large tree seems to be holding strong. We will probably have power and heat by tomorrow. In fact, our house had heated up already this morning before the power went out, so it is not freezing cold in here. I am grateful for crews of police and power company people and others who have been working for hours in uncomfortable and potentially dangerous conditions to get things back to normal. I am grateful for hats and layers of warm clothes. Oddly, though I still can't make phone calls, I have email and internet on it, which has been helpful.

And... I am grateful that most days aren't like this.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Black Friday...

One of our nation's seasonal customs is Black Friday, so named for the time when retailers finally go "in the black" for the year. It has become increasingly crazy as retailers have ramped up marketing intensity and stores have started opening earlier in increasingly frenzied attempts to woo shoppers.

It is therefore not too surprising that another of our nation's seasonal customs is talking about the seriously out-of-bounds behaviors observed in the midst of Black Friday shopping. This year's stories include pepper spray, guns, knives, looting, and muggings.

(For the record, a number of my friends went shopping on Good Friday this year, and not one of them was pepper-sprayed, shot, stabbed, or mugged. First, I'll say "Yay!" Second, I'll appreciate this as a reminder that the news stories about a handful of out-of-control shoppers are not representative of the majority.)

I read an article recently about the excesses of Black Friday, including some of the ways self-correction may be coming about, such as through online shopping. That makes all sorts of sense to me. "But on Saturday many shoppers said they still prefer buying a the big stores, despite the frenzy. [One] said she likes the time with her sisters and the hustle of the mall too much to stay home and just shop online."

Huh. I cannot fathom the thought of actively seeking out massive crowds of frenzied shoppers.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Context of Hope

This is the first week of Advent, and on Sunday we lit the first candle to signify hope. One thing that has stuck with me is the idea that the word "hope" has a joyful feel to it, and at the same time hope is most truly apparent when the circumstances don't seem particularly joyful. Hope does not ignore the present reality, just refuses to believe that the present reality is the end of the story.

I love the image of the first candle representing hope. It stands alone, the other candles still just shadows of what is yet to come. And the one small flame is only a spark, not a raging fire. But that little flame is enough.

Dignity in Customer Service

I called a company's customer service line this evening in an attempt to find out when the item we ordered is likely to arrive. Their original delivery estimate on the purchase receipt was an eight-day window. Eight days! I can make some adjustments in my schedule to be home for a shipment, but... eight days?? That is much too broad.

The guy on the other end was patient and polite as he examined the details of the order and explained their shipping procedures. Unfortunately for me, their shipping procedures are quite unhelpful. That huge window is built into the system and they have apparently decided it is acceptable. Even when explained by a persistently personable customer service guy, the attitude portrayed by this company's system is that if I really want the item, I'll do whatever it takes to make sure I can be home whenever it is that they decide to show up with it.

Grrr.

I asked clarifying questions, trying to narrow down the possibilities at least a little bit, and the agent on the other end gave another lengthy explanation of the same information. He was still patient, still polite. Just not helpful.

I became more annoyed and actively fought the temptation to take it out on the customer service agent. After all, the company does not meet my expectations and he represents the company, right?

Thankfully, a brief article by Gordon MacDonald came to mind and, as I paused a moment to consider the situation, MacDonald's words helped me gain some perspective and respond more appropriately.

The issue I was having wasn't the fault of the customer service representative. He didn't create the system. He doesn't adjust the system. He's just the one stuck explaining the system. Over and over, to unhappy people, especially in a high-volume and extra-stressful shopping season. Ugh. I do not covet his job.

And I was impressed by how he conducted himself in it.

My issue was not with the customer service person, but with the customer service system, and I decided to acknowledge that. I summarized briefly that I'd called for more precise information about shipping and would end the call feeling frustrated by the situation. I told him it would be unfair to demand more information of him than the company's system provides and, at the same time, I wanted to express quite clearly that their system is inadequate.

My message was clear -- I am not upset with him personally, I am definitely dissatisfied with the company he represents, and there is nothing he can do to fix it.

That's why his response is all the more interesting. He seemed to relax as he spoke with new warmth. "Thank you," he said. "I wish I could give you more information, and I appreciate your understanding." He did not complain about the company, about me, or about other customers. He spoke with dignity. And he sounded genuinely grateful.

I find myself in all of this feeling a little more sad about a cultural trend of treating others poorly, even as objects, because I can't help but wonder how much of this guy's work time includes being berated for issues he cannot fix within the company.

It is sometimes reasonable to be dissatisfied, but that is not reason to be unkind.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Quote

"Our merriment must be between people
who take each other seriously."
(C. S. Lewis)

This is a season of parties and events, of spending time with others. I enjoy the cheerful, fun folks in my life. At the same time, not everything is cheerful and fun, and I am especially grateful for those folks who also leave space for those other parts of life, too.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Vacuuming Efficiency

Our big yellow lab sheds like it's his personal mission in life. Not just the big coarse hairs, but the fine little ones, too -- the kind that stick to my hands and clothes and everything when I pet him, and the ones not currently clinging instead float through the air in search of their next target. It has been driving me nuts.

He needed it anyway, so I brushed him thoroughly and gave him a bath before we left on Thursday. By the time I got him out of the shower, he'd lost so much extra fur that it looked like a very soggy guinea pig was stuck in the drain. Brushed him again as he dried, then during a stretch break in Nowhere, Idaho, and one more time when arrived at our destination. His fur was curlier now and smelled good... and kept fleeing his body like crazy.

In times past, my husband has remarked when vacuuming that it would be a lot more efficient to just skip the carpet and vacuum the dog. And so -- I did. There wasn't a dog-vacuuming attachment (go figure) so we made do with what we had available.

It worked surprisingly well, especially for getting those pesky little static-furs contained. And it didn't bother the dog too much since he got snacks in the process. I'm thinking this may become a regular part of our dog-grooming routine.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Muppet Movie

We saw The Muppets movie with a whole bunch of friends this evening. Lots of themes -- significance of memories and stories, honoring the past while moving forward, priorities, identity, risk and reward, interplay between individuality and community, uniqueness and value of each individual, purpose and meaning, and overcoming adversity. Perhaps the thread I saw most strongly throughout was considering "relevance" in modern culture, with the end result of more intentionally choosing which characteristics of the culture to keep and which to fight.

And, of course, there were Muppets :D

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving

It is a day designated for giving thanks. So, with a grin toward such lists in grade school, I'll go with an alphabet of gratitude...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Phone Conversation

My new phone has a feature ("Siri") designed to receive and interpret voice input, then respond accordingly. For example:
Me:  Send a text message to Mark.
Siri:  What do you want to say to Mark?
Me:  I will be home in an hour.
Siri:  I updated your message: "I will be home in an hour." Ready to send it?
Me:  Yes.
Siri:  Okay, I'll send it.

It is interesting technology, built with consideration of psychology and relationships in addition to electronics. The programmers worked to mimic something of humanity in this machine. They had some creative fun with it, too. For example:
Me:  What is your favorite number?
Siri:  I don't really like talking about myself.
Me:  What is your favorite color?
Siri:  My favorite color is... well, I don't know how to say it in your language. It's sort of greenish, but with more dimensions.

Siri seeks information, too, more successfully at some times than at others:
Me:  What is the square root of 256?
Siri:  Let me check that for you... Okay, here you go... 16.
Me:  Where do you come from?
Siri:  I, Siri, was designed by Apple in California.
Me:  Where do babies come from?
Siri:  I found two baby stores fairly close to you...

I decided to test out the speech-recognition capability by writing yesterday's blog post, so I powered up the phone and started talking:
Me:  Take a note.
Siri:  (notepad screen opens) Okay, I can take that note for you... just tell me what you want it to say.
Me:  "I injured myself a few weeks back -- torqued my back while picking up a piece of paper. It was not heavy paper, mind you, nor large and awkwardly shaped..."
Siri:  (interrupting) I found nine hospitals fairly close to you.

That last part reminded me of some human conversations, too -- listening for main ideas and responding quickly, while missing the point in the process. The fun and creative parts of being human, the things which make each person unique, also sometimes lead to misunderstandings. But those parts of being human can also help us work together to clarify, confirm, and find new ways to communicate.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Many Little Things

I injured myself a bit a few weeks back -- torqued my back while picking up a piece of paper. This was not heavy paper, mind you, nor large and awkwardly shaped. The motion just threw me off somehow.

My backpack is more clearly in the "lift with your legs, not with your back" category. I was surprised this afternoon by how light it felt as I pulled it from my car. In fact, I immediately thought I'd left my computer at home, so I opened up the bag to see. Everything was there except the assortment of papers I'd removed this morning.

A standard piece of paper is a small thing, not likely to be noticed when added to a good-sized pack. So, as I am leaving the house, I frequently add whatever documents are current. A few pages at a time through the recent weeks, those lightweight items had added up and I hadn't noticed how much they were weighing me down until the burden was lifted.

Life can be like that. Little tasks, small responsibilities, minor stresses -- each easy to carry on its own. When joined with others, though, they add up. Even a "lightweight" addition is enough to upset the balance. Today was a good reminder to "clean out my pack" -- to prioritize and focus rather than "carrying" too many things around in my head and heart.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Giving Thanks #1: Melvin

Melvin was 90 years old when I met him. That is a lot of years. I've been thinking about him this week. Much had changed during his lifetime, and I did a search to get a better picture of what that meant. The year he was born, for example, first-class postage dropped to two cents, Oregon was the first U.S. state to levy a gasoline tax, women were given the right to vote, the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic was made by an airship, Afghanistan gained independence from the United Kingdom, the cartoon character Felix the Cat appeared, and World War I officially ended.

And in the years following?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Giving Thanks: Nurturing Gratitude

We enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast at church today with about forty others. It was a great meal, and wonderful to be together for this celebration. There is something significant about sharing these times with others.

Pastor Joel spoke about gratitude during the sermon today, starting with this brief portion in one of Paul's letters:

"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances,
for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

The "always" and "continually" and "in all circumstances" caught my attention today. These remind me that gratitude isn't something that just happens to us, like eye color or weather. It is a an attitude and an action, a character trait developed through nurture.

I remember some years back when I was going through a rough patch. I taught through the week and then led children's ministries on Sundays. It was a stressful time in general, made more difficult by physical weariness. I began to set aside time after church on Sunday evenings to talk with God about the day. Frustrations were certainly a part of it. Eventually, though, I found my way to recognizing and acknowledging the good parts, too. Those quiet Sunday evenings, especially through those difficult months, began to shape my character, my outlook, and my leadership in good ways.

That experience came to mind again this morning, and as I remember the influence it had, I am considering how I might more intentionally nurture gratitude within my soul during the upcoming year, and not just the upcoming week.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Traffic Mimes

Venezuela apparently has some crazy driving -- running red lights, stopping in the middle of the street to drop off passengers, riding motorcycles on the sidewalks, driving in reverse through oncoming traffic, stuff like that -- and the standard law enforcement tactics haven't brought about sufficient improvement in the situation.

So, in the category of thinking creatively about a complex problem, over one hundred professional mimes are now using their skills to help address these issues. Dressed in brightly colored outfits, they silently engage the public on a more personal level, using a great variety of nonverbal communication. Some offenders curse and yell in response to silent corrections, but most have responded in a more civilized manner, and initial reports suggest things are getting better. (Check out the story here.)


Turns out, Venezuela is not alone in this tactic; there are a number of other places where something similar is being done. I'm feeling kinda left out here in Utah. Our driving situation probably doesn't merit traffic mimes, but maybe we could get some anyway, just for the fun factor :D

Friday, November 18, 2011

Looking Back: Mules

I went on a little bunny trail today. Hadn't planned to, but found myself there and decided to follow the path for a bit. It was a worthwhile trip.

Years ago, my grandparents did quite a lot of research into the family. I think it was Grandma who typed it up using their little manual typewriter, pasted in photos, and made copies for us. It was no small task -- the whole thing is around 100 pages. The best part is that it's not just a bunch of names and dates; it is filled with stories and all sorts of other reflections of the humanity of people who otherwise would have remained simply distant figures represented by names, dates, and locations.

I had reason to pull out this history today and look inside. Along the way, I found these photos of my grandpa's twin cousins with their wives:


Accompanying the photos and the story was this cautionary little rhyme:

"On a mule you find two legs behind and two you'll find before.
You must go behind before you find what the two behind be for."

It is an old photo of people I never knew, and a rhyme about mule safety probably isn't something I'll find much practical use for in my contemporary American life. But these are far more than than an old photo and a short little rhyme. There is something deeper here, a connectedness to my own history and to broader humanity, and I am grateful.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Space in Between, Part XII: Holding Space

Looking back at some of my chaplaincy writings...

The Israelites were camped at the edge of the Jordan River. After three days, the people were told, "When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before." The priests carrying the ark of the covenant were told, "When you reach the edge of the Jordan's waters, go and stand in the river." As their feet touched the water's edge, the water stopped flowing from upstream and the riverbed appeared. "The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground" (Joshua 3).

I love love love this image.  God did not move all the obstacles out of the way before His people arrived.  Instead, they had to get their feet wet, taking steps of faith into seemingly-insurmountable obstacles.  My mind goes readily to conversations like that, when I don't know where we'll wind up or how we'll get there, but we step in faith into the soul waters -- sometimes deep, sometimes cold, sometimes swift and dangerous -- and watch as God begins to do miracles.

The priests carrying the ark of the covenant -- a symbol of God's presence -- entered the water.  In that simple act of faith by obedient people, God cleared the way for forward motion by removing barriers they couldn't cross on their own.  The presence of the priests created and held space for God's miracle -- and all they did was stand there as a symbol of God's presence, pointing attention to Him.  It is worth noting, too, that they waited in that in-between place until all had gone through.  They stayed present rather than running ahead.

I don't think this is only about priests long ago; it can be a metaphor for today, too. In my own life, God has sometimes cleared the way for forward motion by working through fellow human beings to remove barriers in my heart and mind. Sometimes the engaged presence of another has created and held space for God's work. Sometimes what I have most needed from these friends is for them to remain present and represent God's presence, helping me to see and attend to Him.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Space in Between, Part XI: Samuel and Eli

Some conversations can be really awkward. Samuel had some of those when he was just a boy, and it started with what was apparently his very first conversation with God.  God didn't start easy, either. Instead, He told Samuel some difficult things about Eli (Samuel's mentor) and then Samuel went back to bed.

Samuel's conversation with God happened pretty early in the evening, and it wasn't until the next morning that Eli and Samuel spoke again. The two faced each other, each with decisions to make. Eli insisted on the truth, probably both fearing and expecting it. And Samuel was anxious, but did not let that keep him from speaking the difficult truth. I imagine it was a very awkward conversation.

Not mentioned much, but still important, is the in-between space of that long night spent waiting. What was Samuel's night like, and what was it like to be Eli? What did they think about? What were they feeling? I suspect it was a difficult night for both of them, without much rest, and I wonder what God was doing in each during those hours. I don't fully know, but I suspect they were both different in some way by the time morning came around.

That's what happens during in-between times, I think. We wrestle and struggle and wait, and for good or ill, we become somehow changed in the process. I am not excited about waiting, and that is okay. But I do want to be respectful of those times, knowing that God is at work and seeking to follow His lead.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Auscultation

The many parts of the human body usually work together in harmony, both diverse and united, and it is easy to forget the complexity which exists beneath the surface. Perhaps that is why there is something so amazing about listening to its inner workings -- the beating of the heart, air pressing in and out, gurgling of the digestive system, even the popping of its joints.

One of my favorite new words from the past year is auscultation. It is used to describe the way a doctor listens to a patient's innards -- intently, attentively, with strong awareness. Implied in this is purpose of evaluating health and enabling appropriate response.

The fellow who introduced me to this great word is D. Michael Henderson as he related it to how we listen to each other in conversations. Like a physician can distinguish sounds of health and illness, we also can learn to attend well to each other, attending to signs of what is beneath the surface in addition to that which is expressed more directly. And when we listen well, we can better engage in ways that bring about health and wholeness.

Like the physical body, the many parts of the human mind and soul are designed to work together in harmony, both diverse and united. It is easy to forget the complexity which exists beneath the surface when the surface is "loud." Perhaps that is why there is something so amazing about listening attentively to the inner workings of another human spirit, and why it is so important to listen with great care.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Choosing Excellence

On hurry:
"We worship at the shrine of the Golden Arches, not because they sell "good food," or even "cheap food," but because it is "fast food." Even after fast food was introduced, people still had to park their cars, go inside, order, and take their food to a table, all of which took time. So we invented the Drive-Thru Lane to enable families to eat in vans, as nature intended." (John Ortberg)

Fast food restaurants were created to feed people quickly and easily. That is why they exist, and that purpose is reflected in how they are run, with an emphasis primarily on speed and convenience of service.

I had been craving a cookie dough shake awhile back. Ortberg can say what he will about fast food -- and he's generally right -- but Arctic Circle makes a mighty tasty cookie dough shake. I wasn't looking for anything else fabulous, just ice cream. That was my expectation when I arrived.

And the shake was quite good. But what stuck with me from the experience was the people. They greeted me promptly, were genuinely invested in serving customers, busied themselves with cleaning during slow times, and even came to bus my table after I'd finished my food. Each one was polite -- to customers and to fellow employees -- and everyone seemed to be working pretty hard.

The employees could have figured it's "just fast food," not a fancy restaurant. Most were young, too, perhaps high school age. My guess is they don't see this as a lifelong career, so their excellence probably isn't motivated by the possibility of climbing the restaurant ladder. They could probably meet basic expectations, earn a little money, and go home satisfied with being average, but they didn't. Rather than settle for mediocre, they worked with excellence.

And that? It's not just about speed. It says something admirable about character.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

"Free"


Hey, look! This group is offering to give us some stuff if we give them money. How generous!

Seriously -- this does not inspire trust.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Grateful: Mirror

I entered a conversation not because I knew what I was thinking, but because I didn't. My mind was filled with stories and ideas and questions, not well-ordered. That's when a hello became a question became a conversation as I sought clarity. My partner in the interaction was hospitable, creating space for undeveloped thoughts and, in the process, helping them to take shape. When I left that shared space a little while later, I saw more clearly, understood better, and felt more at ease. I am grateful.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thankful: Security Forces

I am not accustomed to being seriously evaluated as a possible threat to national security. Sure, I've had the various TSA searches in airports and other such encounters, and they seem alert to the possibility that I might be a hazard, but I've always had the sense that they aren't really expecting me to be a terrorist.

We went to Washington, D.C., in September. I took lots of photos, of course. (My husband is very patient with me...) One day we were walking along on our way to somewhere-or-other when I saw a big fountain thing. The image brought to mind several metaphors and I really wanted a picture of it, so we turned quickly aside, drawing a little closer and moving from the middle of the sidewalk as I pulled out the camera.


What I hadn't noticed until that moment was the nearby man in uniform who saw my change in direction and turned efficiently to face me. I don't remember much about him, except his uniform, rectangular build, and very large gun. He did not appear agitated or nervous like someone anticipating attack, just deliberative in evaluating a potential threat.

I paused, too, to assess the situation. I didn't see any need to stop what I was doing; I was simply a tourist using a camera appropriately in a public place. At the same time, I was pretty intentional about not making any quick or sudden movements, and about looking quite benign. I did not want to create unnecessary uncertainty for this already-alert man.

This uniformed man with the serious-looking gun has come to mind a few times since our trip. He was clearly operating in a security role, and I imagine it being the kind of role which is boring and forgettable on the best of days, exciting and memorable on the bad ones. And I keep going back to the fact that he seemed to seriously consider me as a possible threat. He is trained and practiced at seeing the potential for harm in even benign, ordinary people. Being so thoroughly on guard can be hazardously stressful.

On Veterans Day, we honor those who "have made the ultimate sacrifice" -- that is, who have died in service to our country. On this day, I also honor the many more who have willingly entered training and daily endeavors to seek out threats -- and who have been changed in the process.

Searching...

I heard a statistic today about how many billions of Google searches are done during a month. There is quite a variety of topics explored...

Why is the sky blue?
How do political debates work?
Where do babies come from?
What is known about [a particular person]?
What are people like in Iraq?
What is the meaning of life?
How can I cope with depression?
What are the first signs of pregnancy?
What is the prognosis for [a particular disease]?
What is the Bible about?
How are dreams interpreted?
Are fortune-tellers reliable?

And then came this: To whom were those questions addressed before Google?

Google is great for many informational searches, and I can certainly appreciate that. Still, I am saddened by the image of so many billions of questions being asked in isolation, when so many of them belong in the context of community.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Story/Development

"Ethics are more formed by the stories with which we surround ourselves, than [just] by the rules that are drilled into us." (Daniel Taylor)


The past two days have held many stories -- telling stories, hearing stories, remembering stories -- and I have seen again how character is shaped through story. It reminds me to pay attention to the stories I allow to take hold in my soul, to guard against the influence of some while celebrating and actively pursuing others.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Giving Thanks

Friends,
Family,
Faith,
Hope,
Love,
Joy.

I have reached the end of this day tired, grateful and abundantly ready to sleep, anticipating renewed energy for tomorrow.

All is well.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Giving Thanks

Holidays are pieces of time we designate for particular purposes -- anticipation, preparation, celebration, etc.  Halloween is one of those. Thanksgiving is another. Christmas is a third. It is becoming difficult to focus on the one at hand because our surroundings keep pushing us to look beyond too soon -- especially the stores. For the record, eggnog is NOT a Halloween beverage. And it is disturbing to hear Christmas music while walking by aisles of zombie costumes.

There is a lot about these mixed-up seasonal messages that I do not like, but one good thing is that it has triggered me to be much more intentional about focusing on the season at hand, being in this moment with this purpose rather than always looking far ahead. Practicing this discipline has been healthy in so many ways.

Thanksgiving is coming up. A tradition in my family is to sit together for a short time after dinner and express gratitude. Each person drops an unpopped popcorn kernel into a jar for each thing on his or her list. Popcorn kernels are small -- our gratitude need not be only for the "big" things -- and they add up.

I've been trying to practice that kind of thing in these weeks leading up to Thanksgiving Day, intending for November 24 to be a natural product of a season of intentional gratitude.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Redefining Brutal

Not my photo, not my mouth...
I don't remember much from the day my wisdom teeth were "pulled" -- a very gentle way to describe what was apparently a more violent process -- but I do remember the woman who came to me afterwards to ask me to rate my pain on a scale of 0-10, with 0 being no pain and 10 describing the worst.

I'd just awakened from the anesthesia and was still pretty fuzzy, so it took a few moments to assemble my thoughts. The 0-10 scale was the tool at hand, so I pondered what a "10" might feel like. My first mental image involved a motorcycle crash at freeway speeds with no special protective gear. Hmmm -- my whole head hurt something awful, and in ways I hadn't even realized were possible, but it was way better than my imagination of a 10 on the pain scale. (Then I wondered -- is this a logarithmic scale? a linear one? or a different scale I'm not thinking of because my brain feels like it is filled with a viscous ooze? Eventually it dawned on me that the gal asking me for a number was not thinking of logarithmic vs. linear scales; she just wanted a number to write in my chart.)  I settled on a 6.

Six? she asked. Yes, I responded -- on a scale of 0-10, my pain in that moment was a 6. She appeared disappointed and left. We repeated the interaction several more times as she returned to assess my pain; it still really hurt quite a lot, so I kept naming it a 6. She kept writing that down and leaving. Finally she told me that, as part of the pain study I'd signed up for, they were waiting for my pain to reach the level of 7 before giving the medication.  And, having given that information, she asked again: Are you sure it's a six, and not a seven? Arggh. Of course I was sure. I'd thought this through, and it was nothing like the worst pain I could imagine, and trying to manipulate the data wasn't going to make it any better. Sheesh.

I told this story to Mark, and he chuckled understandingly. Years later, we still talk about "establishing the scale" -- shorthand for recognizing the range of possibilities and describing a situation's relative place within that range.

That came to mind today when I read a newspaper headline:
2012 Presidential Race Likely to be Close, Tough, Maybe Brutal

Brutal? Really? It may be time to establish the scale. On election day in 2008, one of my friends commented with grateful seriousness on the peacefulness of the voting process in this country. Yes, there had been debates and mud-slinging and such, but at the end of the day, we could be pretty sure that all the people listed on the ballot would go home alive. There are places around the world where that isn't true, where those not elected may be seen as a threat to power and even eliminated completely.

When we elect a president in 2012, it may very well be a close, tough race. But when I establish the scale of possibilities, it is nowhere near "brutal."

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Shepherd

"The Lord is my shepherd..."
(Psalm 23:1)

The 23rd Psalm is one of the best-known passages not just in my faith tradition, but also much more broadly, even among those generally unfamiliar with the Bible. Many speak of it as a peaceful, inspiring writing, and Christians in particular paint pictures of Jesus (based on his words in John 14:14) as a sweet, gentle fellow who is nice to sheep.

There is some truth in that image, of course. But it is overly simplified; there is a lot of truth missing, too.

The man who wrote Psalm 23 was David, who started out as a shepherd in his family. This is the same David who killed Goliath. When he volunteered to fight one-on-one against this giant who'd had the Israelite army running in fear for weeks on end, this is how he argued his qualifications for the task:

"When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by the hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; [Goliath] will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God..." (1 Samuel 17:34-37).

There is much nurturing gentleness in the Psalm 23 description of the Lord as Shepherd -- green pastures, quiet waters, restoration of soul, guidance, comfort, goodness and mercy. But life brings other things our way, too -- the valley of the shadow of death, and threat of evil -- and it merits David's picture of shepherd as courageous, fierce, powerful and bold.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Expectation and Pursuit

Sirius was antsy last night and wouldn't settle. He kept pushing his big nose into the tiny little space under a heavy piece of furniture. After a brief argument and some determined work by a human friend with thumbs, creativity, and a long ruler, we found the pea-sized snack he had been trying to tell us about. Sirius loves food. He really, really loves food.

Young Sirius
As it turns out, this isn't all bad. Sirius was a bit nutty as a pup, and the Big Monster of his life was the vacuum. Whenever I turned it on, the dog would go ballistic -- barking, growling, snapping. Vacuuming was becoming hazardous. He wasn't getting better about it, either; he was actually getting worse. Finally, I decided to train him that the vacuum cleaner is his friend -- walked him near the machine and gave a snack, worked our way up to touching the machine and gave a snack, eventually was even able to turn it on and give a snack. The dog was still nuts, but his hatred of the vacuum was gradually being replaced by ambivalence. There was hope.

Fast-forward awhile, and we reached the logical conclusion with the Big Monster. For the past thirteen years, our vacuum cleaner has magically caused tiny snacks to appear randomly on the carpet around the room as Sirius and I vacuum together. Now when I walk over the vacuum cleaner and touch it, the dog automatically starts excitedly circling the room in search mode. Vacuuming is a lot more fun with my furry yellow friend :)

So anyway, it seems that last night's snack had bounced some distance under the furniture when tossed during the vacuuming game, where it had lain unnoticed for a few days. In many other households, I imagine it could have stayed there for years. But not in Sirius's home. Even though he couldn't see it or reach it, when he walked by, he knew that snack was there and he would not rest until he had it.

I love my dog's sense of expectancy. He lives in hope and trust that snacks will appear, so he is on the lookout for them. And as his belief fuels attentiveness, he often finds what he expects -- not because he believes it into existence, but because it opens his eyes to the possibilities.

And so I ponder -- what do I expect?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Showing Strength

Today's Tribune has a photo with this in its caption:

"Thousands of... protesters were in the streets as part of day-long events to show the movement's strength."

That is a fascinating statement. The caption does not report that the point of this gathering was to show the movement has logical conclusions or workable ideas or an established record of effectiveness. After all, those are often conveyed more persuasively by one or a few well-chosen representatives, not a crowd. Instead, the protesters described in today's paper sought to be heard and attended to, and was trying to accomplish this by demonstrating they have sufficient power to significantly impact others. It sounds like a group frustrated with feeling powerless.

Indian cobra with hood flared
I am leaving out details because it isn't only about this movement or expression or event. Like a cobra spreading its hood to look more imposing, people who feel threatened often try to make themselves appear larger in some way. We write more, talk louder, ally with others, try to exert power somehow over others' lives.

That article in today's paper contains news about a current issue in our country, and is therefore relevant to me. Quite frankly, though, I can't do much to directly address the concerns of those three thousand distant protesters, so the protest is merely information for me, not something that elicits a particular response.

What I can do, though, is recognize the frustrations of people on the many sides of complicated issues and create space in my world where individuals are respected and heard. I can listen first and then speak, aiming first for mutual understanding and then for mutual respect when the time comes for action. Perhaps this kind of movement, though much quieter than a protest, ultimately holds greater potential for bringing about lasting change.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." (source uncertain)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Thanks #1: Being Here

A few years ago, I arranged six weeks of travel, mostly for educational purposes. It included many flights, many car miles, sleeping in a variety of places, spending days with a variety of people. I particularly remember waking in darkness one time during those weeks and feeling very disoriented. I didn't know where I was, what I was scheduled to be doing, or even whether it was morning or evening. In all the transitions from location to location and event to event, I'd lost my sense of place.

My phone was nearby and the home screen included my calendar for the day. A review of that and a few logical deductions later, I looked around and decided my surroundings did indeed look like my usual room in my parents' home. I began to feel oriented again. Though my body hadn't moved significantly, I could in some way be more present in that place.

That memory came to mind today as I read the Bible story of Moses tending sheep at "the far side of the desert," where he saw a bush that was burning without actually burning up. Intrigued, he went to explore further. From within the bush, God called to Moses, by name.

"And Moses said, 'Here I am.'"

Moses' burning bush experience was ultimately an orienting one, I think. Rather than ignoring it and moving on when he encountered disorientation, he took notice and engaged. God had taken the initiative to be more fully present with Moses, and Moses in turn chose to be fully present with God. And his world was changed forever from that interaction.

I pondered as I read. I've been learning about being more fully present from the examples of some key people in my life. They're the kind of people whose behavior causes me to pause and consider what they are so attentive to, and even to realize sometimes that they have been listening to my words far more than I have listened to myself. By being genuinely and fully present themselves, they create an opening for me to step back in as my genuine and fully present self, too. Sometimes it is even life-changing.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Autumn Transition

Fall's arrival is apparent. The colors are changing, leaves are falling, temperatures are cooling, birds are migrating. The school bus routines of neighborhood children seem to be established again. Mark did the final lawn mowing of the season and we drained the sprinkler system while the neighbors winterized their swamp cooler. Mornings start now with the furnace kicking on before we get out of bed. This is a season of transition and preparation.

I journal inconsistently -- sometimes fifteen pages within a few days, other times not a word for weeks on end. It evens out, though, to around six months per notebook. I have begun, each time I fill one, to sit with it awhile before adding it to storage, taking time to ponder what is represented within its pages. And as I start writing in a fresh notebook, I pause to ponder, too, what I know and don't know about the coming months. It is a time of transition and preparation.

The start of November, especially this year, is a time of transition and preparation. Looking back and looking forward, I have a distinct sense that the next six months will be a significantly shaping time. Whatever it holds, I want to encounter it well, and to come out the other end betterly different.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Speaking of Weather

The weather has long been standard chit-chat conversation, a relatively safe topic for talking when nobody knows what to talk about -- or when everybody knows what needs to be talked about but refuses to do so.

That's what I keep thinking of when I visit The Weather Channel and see this:


As if conversations about the weather were not already adequately safe in their relational shallowness, this sounds to me like an invitation to superficial interaction through the anonymity of the internet.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Moving Grace

We have friends who moved to Washington this past summer. By the time we showed up at their place to help pack their moving truck, Angela had packed most of their possessions, printed clear labels for all the boxes (and even non-boxes!), and sorted them according to final destination. It was a wonder to behold.

I thought of that image this morning as I opened a box which still bears markings from our own move thirteen years ago. Our move from apartment to house happened very quickly. In fact, I think it was less than a month from when we started touring houses to the day we moved into one. It was also the first time we'd made a move like this, from one established home to another, as two functioning adults. In addition to being much less organized than our friends, we were also clearly inexperienced at such things.

We had scheduled the day and finalized arrangements on both ends of the move, then found the moving truck was available for just four hours, including an hour of driving time. Four hours! That's not much time. If we'd had everything boxed and organized and ready to go like Angela, it would have been difficult but maybe somewhere in the realm of possible.

But we didn't.

It would have been hopeless, except that we were part of a small group of young adults that met each week in the home of friends, and Kevin and Pat mobilized the group. That wonderful bunch of folks converged at our apartment.

My clearest memory of that crazy day was when Kevin and Pat showed up. Mis-matched boxes were piled somewhat randomly throughout the apartment. There were still sections of stuff not yet packed. The whole place was a picture of disorder. Pat looked around for a few moments, assessing the situation, then quietly took a deep breath and spoke. I don't remember what she said then, but I do remember clearly what she didn't say.
     She didn't say "Ugh."
     She didn't say "This is impossible."
     She didn't say "Why haven't you finished packing yet?"
Instead, her words communicated kindness and joy, choosing to offer grace by celebrating the occasion rather than focusing on the decidedly sub-optimal situation.

Several in the group started working together to move furniture. Others carried boxes and other smaller items. Some took on the cleaning as new areas of walls and floors were revealed in the process. We moved efficiently. We worked together. We talked through the process and made adjustments as needed. Amazingly, four hours later, all of our stuff was in our new home and the truck was back to the rental place on schedule. It was a wonder to behold.

That was a stressful day, and I'm pretty motivated to not move like that again. But I have good memories, too, of friends who showed up for us, who loved and accepted and celebrated with us. I am grateful for that day of grace.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Busy Busy Busy

(A great song by Sandra Boynton)

I love this song -- lots of truth in a fun little tune that still manages to paint a picture of something pretty serious. And the busy busy busyness is something I have to be pretty intentional about managing. My time and energy can't keep up with all the things that draw my attention. It is important that I not allow too much activity to crowd out what really matters.

My busy busy busy tendencies are on the list of reasons I don't want to deal with my hair. The whole routine of wash-condition-dry-style is pretty simple, but still bothersome. I've got other things to do, after all, and stuff like hair can feel like a persistent intrusion in the day.

Oddly enough, a bottle of conditioner offers a gentle correction:
"Work into clean, wet hair. Use the next 2 minutes and 45 seconds to think deep thoughts about your day. Rinse with warm water, then cool water, then go."

Waiting is inevitable;
being cranky about it is optional.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Life In the Fish

Maybe it's just a Protestant thing, but I've met a lot of people who talk about having a "life verse" -- a brief, memorable portion of scripture that holds particular meaning for them. As it turns out, one of my favorite Bible stories is that of Jonah, and one of the verses which has significantly influenced me is Jonah 1:17:

"But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah,
and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights."

It's not one of the standard life-verse-type quotes, I suppose. But I love it, and here's why...

First, Jonah's predicament was messy and smelly and weird.  His rescue included being eaten alive by a great fish, for pity's sake -- clearly nonstandard. I've never been inside a fish, but I've been in messy and unusual situations, wondering how it would turn out. I can relate a little to Jonah here.

Second, Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights. That's a long time. A long, dark, mucky time. It was an in-between time, one of waiting and uncertainty and unpleasantness. He didn't know what would happen, or when. He waited, wondered, prayed, pondered, complained, hoped, promised, and waited some more. Again, other than the fish part, Jonah's story is familiar.

And in all this, I keep going back to where it says "the Lord provided." Jonah was in pretty deep, and he'd even gotten himself into that situation. But God didn't leave him there. This being an unusual circumstance, God brought some extra creativity to it. In the midst of all the messy unknowns, and even in Jonah's rebellion, God was still at work. And like He was with Jonah, I trust that God is persistently engaged in my world today, too.

I'll stop short of claiming Jonah 1:17 (or any other) as "my life verse," but I do love the story and the very clear picture it paints of in-between times. It's a keeper.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Rooted

"I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted..." (Ephesians 3:16-17)

Tim was reading recently and I was listening pretty well until he got to the rooted word. Then I had a "Squirrel!" moment. What is it about being rooted that suddenly captured my mind and my heart in this familiar passage? I sat and pondered...

  • Roots reach down into the soil, obtaining what is needed for growth. They are often invisible beneath the surface and decidedly un-flashy, but roots provide for a healthy, happy plant.
  • Roots hold tight to the soil, providing stability. When well rooted, even very tall, very heavy trees can stand firm through powerful storms.
  • And roots establish a place. With firm roots, a plant has a home, its own little place in the world. It stays relationally connected to others while remaining its own distinct self.


Yeah, that was it -- nurture, stability, and space. I smiled. It was a contented moment.

Then I realized that Tim had stopped reading by this time and conversation had begun around me. I hadn't heard much beyond rooted and it seemed like maybe I should, so I returned to the passage and tried to catch up...

"And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love..."

I stopped again at these glorious words. Established, grounded, built on a foundation -- of what? Of love, affection, good will. I smiled again, envisioning my feet planted firmly in this kind of soil, recognizing the nurture and stability and sense of place.

"And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints..."

Power? This is not the squishy-soft, cheap love-substitutes so often portrayed in modern American culture. This is seriously joyful, thoroughly relational, wonderfully committed, genuine, life-changing love.

"And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge..."

I tend to think of power in terms of climbing mountains and battling enemies and stuff like that, but Paul's words steered my thoughts differently. Power to comprehend love? Again, this is clearly a different kind of love, and so much more thorough.

"-- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."

It is easy enough to talk about God's love, but to really grasp it -- to recognize and respond beyond the intellectual level, to trust and rest in it, to allow myself to be transformed in the process -- that is a lot more challenging. I read a description of God recently as the One who looks fully into our lives, every little nook and cranny, and does not look away. There is something beautiful in this picture, and difficult, too.

Whatever is inside of us, God is completely willing and able to recognize both the wonderful parts and the ugly bits, and to fully engage. Submitting to such honest examination takes a lot of guts -- a lot of power. This power comes from being rooted in love, trusting God's grace to fill us so thoroughly with His good character, bringing light to the dark corners.

I never did catch up to the conversation around me that day. But God captured my heart, and rooted me more strongly again in His love, and I am grateful.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Sunrise

During a retreat this past week in Cascade, Idaho, I woke one morning when it was still very early and very dark. I walked slowly down the path toward the lodge, staring up at the vast sky filled with stars.

A hot cup of freshly prepared tea in hand, I stood on the deck of the lodge for about an hour as a dim light began to glow over the mountains, the stars faded, the sky filled slowly with color, and the fog lifted. By the time breakfast began, the air was bright and a beautiful day was well underway.

Reliable sources tell me the sun rises in Cascade around 7:40 a.m. this time of year. When I left the cottage early that morning, I did so with full confidence in the coming daylight. I was content to wait, trusting it would come at the expected time.

Sometimes it is more difficult to wait, especially when the outcome is unknown and the timing, too. In such times, the night can seem awfully long.

Still I am reminded that, even in the midst of dark times, the sun always rises eventually, and I am grateful for that hope.













Sunday, September 25, 2011

Contrast

This is our first house, and also our first real encounters with home maintenance and repairs. It was well into chilly weather that early winter when we realized we hadn't done anything with the swamp cooler. Neither of us had ever seen one up close, much less the inside, so we had no idea what to do. Still, we were pretty sure something needed to be done before spring. I would go up and try to figure it out.

It was dark by the time we got home and started on the project. I climbed the tall ladder and gingerly made my way across the roof. The surface was covered with a combination of ice and snow. Thankfully, there was a nearly-full moon to provide light for the task. I fumbled about, poking and prodding as I pondered the beastly box. Eventually I managed to open it up. Awhile later, I broke through the icy surface of the reservoir with my fist and, even later, figured out how to open the drain hole.

Looking back, I am amazed that we survived the experience.

Years have passed, autumn has come again, and we decided to cover the swamp cooler today. I climbed to the roof on this comfortably cool evening, then stood at the peak and watched the sun slip slowly down behind the trees in the distance. It was beautiful, calm, peaceful.


On this day, the swamp cooler chore was not a serious risk, not bitterly cold, not marked by confusion and frustration. Instead, I stood a little apart from the busyness of life and paused to see the beauty of the horizon.

It was a lovely gift in the midst of the mundane. I don't want to miss such moments.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Wilted Plant

A fun little plant has graced our kitchen for a few months. It is the only plant we have inside, mostly because our plant-raising skills are... lacking. When we returned from a recent trip, our plant was terribly sad. Its pretty red flowers were dried out and turning black; the stems and leaves had wilted so much that the touched the shelf all the way around. It looked quite dead. I sighed, having failed another plant.

Still, I added water on Tuesday. Nothing to lose, right? Added some more yesterday, too.

Revived!
Take a look at it now. Amazingly, we have a plant again!

It reminds me of times when I have felt dried out and wilted, my outlook darkened. I think of times when I have been "watered" in some way by God, a friend, even a stranger. Like with the plant, it often doesn't take much. A simple conversation has at times made a world of difference -- giving strength to stand and restoring me toward full life again.

Looking at my happy little plant, I am encouraged by those memories.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Beyond Fun

I meandered through a shop in the airport recently, and found this happy little mug:

"Friends Make Everything More Fun"
It's cute and cheerful, like sparkly unicorns and fuzzy puppies dancing among rainbows. I don't like it.

It's not that I am opposed to unicorns and puppies and rainbows. I just think more highly of my friends.

Yes, friends bring joy, and often laughter. But some things simply are not fun, and no amount of cheerful cuteness will change that. And sometimes, true friends even take the risk of squashing fun when something more important requires attention.

I am grateful for fun times with friends, and I am grateful for friends who make space for un-fun times, too.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

DC Reflections: The Why

A friend recently recommended a movie, and did so with enthusiasm. Why? It wasn't based on the plot, but reflected significant underlying themes that reach far beyond one story and into the story of humanity -- complex relationships, messy situations, courage, truth, goodness, triumph.

Light Traffic
My husband and I recently spent almost a week in Washington, D.C.  With traffic, crowds, and other such factors, it isn't precisely a restful place to visit. The city is filled, too, with reminders of war, grief, Holocaust, and other difficult issues. There are some truly impressive structures and attractive park spaces, but none of that was worth flying across the country.

So, why go? For me, it overlaps with why I went camping the week before. Two very different experiences, but with pretty significant overlap in purpose.

On The Mall
First, Mark and I went together. It was wonderful to experience DC with him. We walked a lot, saw the same things, sometimes saw them differently, and talked along the way. Whether going to Washington, D.C., or Wall Drug in South Dakota, I like going with Mark.

Second, this time in DC was opportunity to connect with something broader than my own little world, to think in bigger terms, to see where I fit within a broader story, to be challenged toward something greater. Best I can tell, that kind of connection is central for many other DC tourists, too. It isn't easy, isn't restful. But it is important, and it is worthwhile.

I can recommend touring DC, and do so with enthusiasm. Why? It's not about knowledge to acquire or interesting things to see, but is more about significant underlying themes that reach far beyond individual stories in history and flesh out a broader story lived out through centuries. Yes, it is messy and complex. And it is filled with all sorts of courage, truth, goodness, and triumph.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Story Minus Zombies

"When you take away the zombies, what's the story about?" Mark introduced me to this question awhile back. It's a pretty good one. And it isn't just about zombies. It can be vampires, pirates, ninjas, aliens, dragons, wizards, prancing ponies, singing vegetables, pocket lint come to life, or whatever. The question is still the same -- what does a particular story portray about the human experience?

Consider the crime show CSI: Miami, which has survived a number of years despite the cheesy dialogue and acting. It's also pretty much the same plot told over and over again; all that changes is the details. Surely this show's popularity is not about creative storytelling.

How, then, does it manage to continue? I think it actually might be because it is pretty much the same plot told over and over again.

Spoiler Alert! I'm about to reveal what happens in pretty much every CSI episode ever produced! Here it is:  People are going about the usual business of life when somebody is found murdered, which is unexpected and horrifying, seriously interrupting the usual-business-of-life stuff. A group of experts with diverse skills and a thirst for justice is called in, with leadership from a caring and capable boss. The team works together to solve the crime, the criminal is revealed, the team goes home, and the business of life can resume again in some way.

It happens every week, and people keep coming back for more because there is something in the storyline that matters to people.

In this ultra-connected age, we are constantly bombarded by stories of tragedy -- disasters which may be natural or manmade -- which significantly disrupt business-as-usual. At such times, it is natural to seek assurance that someone is in control. We want to know that troubles -- and especially evil -- will not be left unchecked. Especially in such times, we crave relationships in which each person is recognized and has a place not in spite of his or her uniqueness, but because of it. There is confidence, too, in following someone whose leadership and character are competent and caring. There is hope for justice, for the world to be set back upright again, for return to a safer, more predictable situation.

Like a bizarrely morphed version of Mister Roger's Neighborhood, CSI speaks to fears and brings a measure of reassurance that good will in some way triumph.

"Take away the zombies," and I see some deeper truth reflected in CSI: Miami. There is comfortable security in the apparent predictability of everyday life, and that is threatened when evil rears its ugly head. In the midst of such times, it is hard to see how the pieces all fit together, and may be difficult to even imagine how life will continue, how a "new normal" will be found. But, when we look beyond ourselves for the answers, and stick together, evil will not triumph in the end. Ultimately, good wins.

It's no Narnia story, but there's still something of God reflected here.

"Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed." (G.K. Chesterton)