Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Orienting in faith

art by Suzanne Vinson, 2012
Take a deep breath, here goes.

The energy and the anxiety on campus is palpable.  After a long quiet summer, the momentum and noise is building as students return to campus.  It's a trickle now, but by Thursday we'll have all the new students, followed by the rest of the community over the weekend.  It's exciting for staff, as this is what we're here for, but also overwhelming as we think about the responsibilities that loom.  It's been said that the first two weeks are critical in getting students connected, and that is a big concern to me as so few choose to connect with their faith anyway.  Some are so concerned with cutting ties with family that religion is severed as an artifact.  Others want to explore for themselves, while the majority of students these days have no identified spiritual connection to begin with.

And yet, this is the time when young adults seek to establish their identity and search for meaning, and faith is a crucial part of that.  According to the book Big Questions, Worthy Dreams: Mentoring Emerging Adults in Their Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Faith,

"Faith is not simply a set of beliefs that religious people have; it is something that all human beings do...Though faith has become problematic, the importance of meaning has not...the purpose of an organism is to organize, and what human beings organize is meaning...It is this activity of composing and being composed by meaning--this "faithing"--that I invite the reader to associate with the word faith."

The task is huge--to connect students with one another and to their studies, as they also seek to figure out their roles and identities in this new culture, and in their new world of emerging adulthood and independence.  So much rides on it, and so we have created so many different opportunities to learn, grow, and explore,  As I look over all the programs and events that have been planned, I'm simply stunned.  There is just so much...I can't even keep track of all I've planned or figure out a simple way to share it with the students.  I have the sinking feeling that my plans are counter to that still small voice inside that keeps imploring me, "Do less.  Be more."  In this community of overcommitted women, I feel that my calling is to show an alternate way, to model a life that makes room for the spirit, for nurturing the soul in quiet and still moments.  But I bought into the culture, with the pressure of the community asking me at each interview and in each meeting, "What MORE will you be doing next year?" when my inclination was to do less.  But I am not paid for less (well, I'm sure my pay would be less if I went in that direction).

So my struggle now is to work against the system I have created, and to carve out those moments to pause and reflect and to encourage the students (and faculty and staff) to do so as well.  I've named our weekly worship service "Sanctuary" for this purpose, and the logo for this, "find Sanctuary", will soon be plastered all over campus as a call to do just that.

It's appropriate that my devotional reading for today included this:

"Augustine of Hippo said, 'Let us leave a little room for reflection in our lives, room too for silence.  Let us look within ourselves and see whether there is some delightful hidden place inside where we can be free of noise and argument.  Let us hear the Word of God in stillness and perhaps we will then come to understand it."

"Teach us to listen, Lord.  Quiet the noise of our lives so we can hear your voice.  Amen."

In these moments of preparation, I'm soaking up the moments of stillness and silence, hoping they'll take root in my heart and soul, carving a place I can retreat to even while the chaos swirls around outside me.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

50 things I want to teach my children

1. You are loved.

2. You are enough.  Just as you are.

3. As much as we (your parents) love you and try to show unconditional love, God loves you infinitely more.

4.  God has an amazing plan for you.  It will not always be clear or easy, but it will be fulfilling and meaningful.

5.  God never leaves us, even when we leave God.

6.  Failure is a necessary part of learning.

7.  Admitting failure is a great act of courage and maturity.

8.  Forgiveness not only restores relationships, but also heals your own heart.

9. Be you.  Always you.

10.  Be open to listening to and learning from others.  Be respectful of their perspective and experiences.

11. See God in everyone, and show God's love to everyone.

12. Everyone is important.  Everyone matters.

13. The things I try so hard to teach and instill in you are the things I've learned the hard way.

14.  I want so badly to protect you from pain, but I won't always be able to.  But hopefully my love and God's love will get you through.

15.  Faith, hope, and love remain...and the greatest of these is love.

16.  Do as I say, not as I do (but know that I'm trying to be better, and expect more of you and myself)

17. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

18. Love the strengths and talents you were given...not the ones that other people possess.

19.  Use your gifts to serve others with humility.

20. Some things will come easy to you, and some will require some work.  Both are important.

21. Gratitude is one of the biggest secrets of happiness.

22.  We have enough.  More than enough.  We are abundantly blessed.

23.  Because we have been blessed, it's our responsibility to share with others.

24. The grass is not always greener on the other side.  If it appears that way, remember it's because of all the crap that fertilizes it.

25. If you want me to be sweet, patient, non-yelling Mommy, please listen to me the first time.

26.  Taking care of our bodies is important.  You come from parents that love to sleep and eat (and exercise occasionally).  These things are good for you, too.

27.  It's okay to be angry.  It's not okay to hurt others in your anger.  Sometimes you need time by yourself to write, cry, scream, read, or think.  Sometimes your parents need this, too.  Then we can come back together, talk, and apologize if we need to.

28.  Your sibling is your best friend (on good days) and will be your family and partner forever in navigating our family life.  Stick together and support one another.  You will need each other when it's time to care for your aging parents.

29.  Everyone wants to be liked, but even more important is being able to like yourself.  Don't do anything you would regret to become part of a group.

30. "I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always; As long as I'm living, my baby you'll be."

31. To seek God in everything and to find the spiritual and sacred in all of life.

32.  To laugh and not take everything so seriously (wait, this is what you are teaching me).

33.  The difference between playfulness and hurtful teasing.

34. Taking your time and doing something right the first time saves time and frustration later.

35. You are so beautiful.  Yet what is on the outside is not nearly as precious as what's on the inside.

36.  Don't allow others' judgement of your appearance to affect how you view yourself.  That is their issue, not yours.

37.  Don't fall into the trap of labeling things by gender.  There aren't "boy" or "girl" colors or behaviors.  We all have a mix of feminine and masculine and this is a gift.

38.  Remember all of our inside jokes and the stories we tell and retell about your babyhood.  These are our family memories and what binds us together.  "Da-woo."

39.  I don't have all the answers, but I'll do my best to figure them out together with you.

40.  Always keep learning.  That's what makes life interesting.

41.  Don't take your life for granted.  Be grateful for every day, everything you have.

42.  Give generously.

43.  Receive graciously when you need it.

44.  Use your nice words.  You'll get what you want a lot sooner.

45.  Think before you speak.

46.  Always come talk to me when something is bothering you.  We might not always have the same opinion or go about things the same way, but I always want the best for you and will try to be open to understanding your individual needs.

47.  Open your eyes and your heart to see the beauty in the world and in your lives.  You are so full of joy over the simple things now, and I pray that lasts forever.  Sometimes adults have to work harder at what comes more naturally to you.  Take the time to savor the beauty and know that's one of the greatest ways of connecting to God.

48.  Don't believe what the commercials, ads, and TV try to tell/sell you.

49.  There are finer varieties of music than the kiddie music we keep on repeat these days.  Let us show you other options (please).

50.  You have changed me for the better.  I couldn't be happier because of all the joy you bring me.  Thank you for teaching me about love every day.  Let's keep learning together always.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The dream...and the reality

I loved school when I was younger (who am I kidding, I loved it when I was older, too).  There was nothing better than scanning the aisles for the coolest school supplies and picking a new backpack and lunchbox each year.  Clothes shopping was a hassle, but I enjoyed dressing up in a new fall outfit for that first (85 degree) day.

So each year I eagerly anticipate shopping with and for Brady in preparation for school.  I feel lucky that he loves school as much as I did and counts down the days months in advance (so am I, but for different reasons these days).  I check out all the ads, compare the deals, collect my coupons, and am prepared to do business.  Brady joined me this year, and we tried to make a game out of crossing the items off his school list.  It went well for the first ten minutes or so until he got hungry...then bored...then spied a $30 backpack that was NOT on my list.  I decided we had come to the end of our productive time and we checked out.  I'm not sure how the total got so high, even with my coupons and smart shopping, and we still had clothes for both kids and supplies for Maryn left to go (and the teacher gifts that are in no way a bribe, but just a friendly reminder that I'm here to support them).

Clothes shopping promised to be less stressful as John had the kids at home while I went out myself.  It took four or five trips to separate stores to find what we needed in prices I was willing to pay.  They were washed and ready weeks before school, so of course the kids got into them and demanded to wear them immediately.  Maryn dressed herself in a long-sleeved shirt with rainbow stripes and hearts, along with hot pink pants with polka dots.  Brady selected a striped pirate shirt with multi-colored plaid shorts for his meet the teacher day at school.  By the time the night before school arrived, I decided I should try on Brady's new shorts, only to discover they were way way too big (the opposite problem from last year, in which Maryn outgrew all her new clothes the night before school started).  This necessitated another run to the mall as it was closing to find another pair of shorts in the correct size (three stores later).  Of course, he was oblivious to this, as well as the new backpack I had snuck in as his old one was lost.  Then I got busy preparing his lunch, which he and Maryn begged to eat immediately, even though it was bedtime.

I spent days filling out the necessary paperwork for the school, then packed it in his backpack along with the teacher's gift, and her requested toys for the treasure chest.  It was so full that he had to carry his lunchbox separately (with a love note tucked inside), and I reminded him several times not to leave it on the bus or he would be without lunch (we had forgotten in all the preparations to put money into his lunch account).  We all accompanied him to the bus stop and took pictures, and waved him off to new adventure.  I wondered all day what he was learning and how he was enjoying his new experiences.  I couldn't wait to hear about it when he got back home.

A promising start

As I was at work when he got home, I got a text from John letting me know that Brady was in no mood to talk.  He was starving and exhausted and was already fighting with Maryn.  On top of that, his backpack was still full.  In spite of opening it numerous times today and adding more stuff to it, he somehow overlooked the three big bags of stuff that I had reminded him three times to give to his teacher.  SIGH.  When John finally got Brady to call me, he was grumpy and asked why he always had to tell me about his day.  After trying to grab his interest by asking specific questions about school, I learned that he had gym and that the playground was too crowded.  He didn't eat his fruit at lunch because I didn't pack him a spoon.  ARGHHH!

I don't know why I expect it to be different.  I know that he gets cranky when he is tired and hungry (like me) and that he needs a little down time after a busy day at school.  The things he remembers are a detailed listing of who was on what color (the behavioral warning system), but not one bit of the new knowledge he picked up. I forget, too, that after the exciting build up of the first day, there comes a let down that night when we are all exhausted, yet realize we have to be up early again tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow to repeat the same process over and over and over again.

I found myself grumpy, achy, and tired even after a run tonight, so after putting the kids in bed (twice), I decided to soak away the negativity in a bubble bath with a new magazine.  I had just gotten comfortable when I heard my name being called, then yelled repeatedly from upstairs.  A few minutes later, I heard the feet on the steps and then two heads peeked around the bathroom door.  "What are you doing, Mommy?", Brady asked, as Maryn described to me a minuscule boo boo on her foot.  Then they complained that they never got "high baths" like me.  I sent them off back to bed, and they both kissed me sweetly before saying goodnight and heading back upstairs.

It's all worth it in the end.

Monday, August 20, 2012


It's not really a secret that I'm an introvert.  I crave space to think and reflect.  I like prayer, meditation, and other contemplative practices.  I'm not so great at small talk, and parties and extensive socializing wear me out.  Over the years, I've found ways to cope.  I do well connecting one-on-one, and I'm a good listener.  Although I have to work a little harder, I am able to reach out and meet students on our busy (yet small) university campus.  There are days when I long to hide away in my office, but after the long silent summer without students, I realize that I do need time to connect with others.

I grew up thinking that introversion was some sort of disease or problem.  I remember being a child and my mother asking me what had happened to me; I had been so talkative when I was younger.  I was perfectly content to sit in (what I thought to be) companionable silence while she thought it was a sign of me turning away from her. Although I excelled academically, I wasn't showy or social like the ones who got the most attention in school.  The people who were famous or well-revered seemed to be the ones who could give a good talk, perform, and tell a lot of jokes.  I learned about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator from my campus minister in college, who administered the test to student leaders.  I discovered I was an INFJ and a little of what that meant.  I discovered that my campus minister, whom I revered, was also an introvert.  For the first time, I understood that perhaps introversion was not something I had to overcome, but something I could use positively, even in becoming a leader.

I just finished reading Susan Cain's interesting book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking which provided further illumination.  For example, between one third to one half of people are introverted.  We have unique gifts such as persistence, concentration, insight, and sensitivity that actually makes us great leaders once they are heard.  We are also more inclined to be empathetic and to be more spiritual in our orientation (which explains all the introverted ministers I know, which are in contrast to the public images of loud charismatic mega-church pastors).  Introverts can work on being more extroverted when needed (such as in public speaking).  But we will need opportunities to "recharge" afterwards.  Studies are showing that group work, a bane in an introvert's existence, is not truly beneficial to the overall creativity of products and not as helpful as people working individually and then sharing their ideas electronically before meeting to discuss them.  Companies are starting to re-think open office concepts and mandatory brainstorming sessions as a result of new research that proves them to be inefficient.

But the most interesting bits hit closer to home.  They talked about "highly reactive" children.  These children were the ones who, as babies, would wildly flail their arms and legs and cry when confronted with novel situations or people.  In later life, these children are often labeled "highly sensitive" and are prone to be shy introverts (shy and introvert do not always go together).  I thought of our saucy Maryn who in good moments we call "unpredictable" and in bad moments we call "difficult".  As a baby, she would only be happy if I were holding her and would cry if anyone else tried.  As a toddler, she stuck to mainly John, Brady, and me.  Over time, she began to warm up to extended family, but at 4, she is quick to tell you that she's shy, and usually responds to a friend's greeting by glaring or hiding instead of returning the "hello".  When she's mad, she hits and kicks and flails and screams (highly reactive, it seems).  Sometimes I worry about her, but in a different way than I worry about her tenderhearted brother.  I'm relieved that she will likely stand up for herself as she is fierce in her reactions.  And she's been quick to defend Brady, even sending away our 10-year-old neighbor away in almost tears after his playfulness with Brady went too far in her (strong) opinion.  You always know where she stands and what she's thinking.  She's also highly creative and has been able to play in her own fantasy world independently from a young age (unlike Brady the extrovert, who needs constant stimulation and company).  I worry sometimes that her feisty nature will get her into trouble or that she won't be able to control it when it benefits her to do so, but that's a minor worry.  Mainly I wonder if others will see the beauty and brilliance in her as she keeps it hidden from most people.  I worry about her being uncomfortable and limited by her shyness as I once was as a child.

And I guess that's the main revelation.  Since her birth, I've often looked at her with awed curiosity...where did this girl come from?  She didn't look or act like me (or so I thought).  But now, in reading the descriptions of such children, I remember another small, quiet blue-eyed girl that also held strong opinions and desires.  It wasn't always an easy journey for her, but she has found her place and is loved and accepted.  As we provide the love and support for our own spitfire, may she continue to shine brightly and find her own place in this world, teaching us all along the way.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Running away, and letting go

I laced up my shoes, steam coming from my ears before I had even hit the pavement.  As I ran from home, I could feel some of the tension falling away, yet it would take miles for me to return home to my normal self.  I had been grumpy and irritable, and critical with the kids, as I yelled at them to clean up their mess and LISTEN TO ME.  Unfortunately, that's not the atypical part.  What was strange was me breaking down in tears, realizing how awful I was acting and yet being powerless to stop it.  As John managed the fallout from my breakdown, setting the kids to their tasks, he encouraged me to take a break, and I took the opportunity to run away.  With each step I left behind the messiness of my kids and the demands of our back-to-school preparation.  I gained distance from my fears that I will not be ready for the busyness of a new academic year at work.  I gained some mental clarity as the anger and stress started to dissipate, and I started to wonder how I had gotten so out-of-whack.

It could have been the incessant whining of the kids through the church service, or the two meetings I sat through after church.  It might have been the mess I had to climb over on my way into the house after hours of running errands in preparation for school this week.  I was tired and hungry and ill, and although I thought coming home to my family would make it all better, sometimes the rosy picture in my mind doesn't match the messy reality.  Any combination of those could have sent me over the edge.

But then it hit me that it all started with a backpack.  Last week, I helped to organize a "blessing of the backpacks" during our worship service.  Students came forward with their backpacks and the congregation and the students prayed together for the school year ahead.  After church, I led a meeting with a group of 5th through 8th graders and their parents in anticipation of a new ministry we're hoping to start.  I made a mental note to go back to the sanctuary later for Brady and Maryn's backpacks, but it got lost in the busyness of lunch, games, planning, and John wrangling our distracting children.  Needless to say, I walked off without them.  I looked for them first thing this morning and found Maryn's, but Brady's was gone.  We realized that it was likely sent to a local elementary school as our mission project to help provide low-income children with school supplies.

Now I'm usually quick to donate to such causes (it's an easy way for me to feel like I'm "doing" something without much effort on my part).  But something about this realization made me incredibly sad.  I knew it was silly; after all, Brady had been asking for a new backpack.  But this one, although nothing special to look at, had sentimental value for me.  I remember finding it as I was shopping for his preschool supplies and waiting until a combination of sale and coupon offers made it a reasonable price.  I bought a coordinating one for Maryn, although she was far from needing one.  Both were put in storage for a year as Brady's teacher didn't allow backpacks due to space issues.  I remember getting them out in preparation for our Disney cruise last May and how excited the kids were to pack their toys in their own bags.  I remember them trudging through the airport early on the morning of our departure, proudly and independently carrying their own bags on their backs.  I remember the fun we had on that trip, some of the best memories ever as a family (and I know, it's the small, day-to-day moments that really matter, and I hate to even place such value on a vacation when it's really such an extravagant example of consumerism...but really, it was amazing).  That same backpack accompanied Brady to kindergarten, and to trips to visit his grandparents.  It symbolizes to me his early childhood that sometimes seems to be rushing by.  Losing it is a reminder of the things I let slip by, the failures I experience when I'm doing too much to stop and realize what I'm leaving behind.

I get the irony in hanging on so tightly to things, and losing my patience with the bearer of the item, the one who is truly valuable and precious.  But maybe my love for him is just too big and complex, so constant and central that I cannot risk thinking thoughts of his loss.  So my heart breaks instead for a bag that has carried so many special memories, on the shoulders of one so very dear.

So farewell, bookbag.  I hope you find a good home with someone that carries you with as much hope as Brady.  May you lighten the load for another small boy and ease the anxiety of another mother fighting the hard battle of letting go.

Friday, August 17, 2012

To be known

It takes such trust (and no small amount of fear) to send the joy of your heart off into an unfamiliar world.  Even when it means sending your child off to school, which is not all that unfamiliar, and should not be so scary.  This isn't our first experience of letting go.  Last year, our family watched Brady climb the big BIG bus steps with his twig-skinny legs.

We worried, wondered, questioned, and feared; and he thrived, grew, settled, and loved every minute.  You would think we would get accustomed to the process, but worry has settled like a pit deep within me.  It's like the anxiety lives within my womb like he once did, and I feel the pain like the beginnings of labor.

The build up to school this year has been intense for me.  Although I'm ready to get back to the scheduled days of fall (especially for my husband's sake as he has braved many LOOOONG summer days solo with both kids), I wonder about what this year will bring.  Kindergarten was a big transition, but something about 1st grade seems so real.  We aren't testing out the routine any more.  This is school, the real deal.  Although Brady is a fantastic student and loves school, I worry that his excitement will end one day.  As our 6th grade neighbor keeps (unhelpfully) warning Brady, "You won't always like school.  At some point, it's just all about work and no fun."  

Our sweet boy has such a sensitive and kind heart.  He is not a rough and tumble sporty boy.  He loves music and drama and writing.  Will they nurture his heart and accept him for who he is?  Will they see that spark and seek to grow it?  Will he find friends that love him and will he ignore the awful meanies that seek to hurt him?  Will what he learns only enlarge his mind, heart, and spirit instead of bringing hurt and despair?  I pray that school does not crush his spirit or imagination, that he doesn't feel the need to conform to everyone else's expectations of who he should be (even mine).

Yesterday, we took him to his school's open house to meet his teacher.  The hallways were still full of furniture that needed to be moved, bulletin boards in progress, and piles of trash.  But then, we entered the room, and his teacher beamed and said, "Hi, Brady!  I'm so glad you're in my class!"  My boy is already known, and loved.  She recognized him, and had tested him in reading last year since he started kindergarten as a reader.  She talked about his gifts, and it put our minds at ease that she already cared for our boy and knew what he needed.  She shared about their schedule, especially the parts that she knew would pique Brady's interest (2 whole hours a day of reading a writing, with a special reading nook overflowing with comfy chairs and piles of books).  Brady had already made his home cross-legged in a chair with a book.

To be known...isn't it the greatest journey for all of us?  To know ourselves, accept who we are, and then find acceptance from others.  It is difficult and sometimes painful, and I want to shelter my sweet and tender boy from it all.  But yet, I look at him with his broad smile, his comfort evident in how he carries himself and speaks his mind, and I feel like he has a lot to teach me about the whole process.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A prayer for a new school year

O God, as we grasp the final moments of summer in our hands, feeling the sand and water, the sun on our faces, the hours of unscheduled time, as they slip through our fingers and become memories,

we thank you for transitions between what was and what is to come.

We are grateful for rest, for time with family and friends, and for the restorative rhythms of play.

We anticipate a new routine of early rising, schedules, classes, the smell of freshly sharpened pencils, and the creak of new books and notebooks opening.  Sounds will be amplified, echoing through the halls as we are surrounded by friends new and old, and find ourselves in a new community.

There is excitement and also anxiety as we anticipate change, and we seek your guidance.

May we find our place in this new setting, this new beginning.  May we hold on to comfortable truths that ground us while also being open to explore the unfamiliar.  May we greet each person as our neighbor, our friend, and seek to support one another on the journey.

May we seek and find You in each face, and touch others with Your grace, Your love.

Grant us the courage to become who you are creating us to be, ever stronger, ever hopeful, ever graceful.  As we learn and teach, may we grow in humility and kindness.  Help us to respond with service and care for your world and your people with all the creativity and love with which you designed creation, and lead us to continue your process of redemptive healing in all the broken places.

Keep your place in our heart, and open our eyes so that we may see you in every circumstance.  So guide our lives that our steps may bring a smile to you and all those whom you love, offering welcome and acceptance, and pointing to your greater Love.

Remind us that we are never alone and that we are always enough, just as we are, in your eyes.

Help us to step forward in eagerness and not fear into the beautiful plan you have for all of us.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Falling for fall

Fall is such an exciting time.  Between the leafy color show to the crisp air, the taste of pumpkin treats, and football (for those who enjoy it), the season shines with newness.  Perhaps I'm still a student at heart, but the first sighting of school supplies hitting the shelves fills me with excitement.  September always feels like the beginning of a new year, and it nearly is, as the church year starts late in the fall with Advent.  There is a sense of so much anticipation, so much hope and potential ahead.

Working for a university, I've enjoyed the respite that summer has offered.  A time for vacation, for family, for planning, and for rest.  And yet, I'm ready for activity and busyness to invade the campus once again.  It's been TOO quiet (and that's saying a lot coming from me).  While I crave silence and time to myself, I'm starting to realize that there's a limit.  Left to myself for too long, I start to get a little melancholy, and my productivity and creativity starts to drain away.  I begin to focus on myself and the negativity and doubts start to creep in.  Without a deadline or something to work towards, not much gets done, to the smug satisfaction of my inner critic, who likes to take note of such failures.

But now, the calendar is beginning to fill up.  Next week, our son returns to school to start the 1st grade, and soon after that, we'll begin orientation here at Hollins.  I will be caught up in the frenzied joy of meeting new students, greeting familiar friends, and continuing to seek God's guiding in the ministry here.  It will be another whirlwind of a year, filled with learning, struggles, celebration, trial (and error), excitement, satisfaction, success, and second chances.  It will be a time to reflect back on all those new beginnings I've experienced in my life and to be that welcoming and supportive presence for others as they experience it for the first time.  In the midst of the chaos, I seek to offer opportunities for Sabbath and Sanctuary, and to remind myself that I need them, too.

I am grateful for another new beginning, another new turn in the journey that continues ever on...

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Room to grow

There are days when the rhetoric turns my stomach, when the black-and-white us-versus-them thinking wears me down.  I have to step away from Facebook and wander out into the bright light of the real world.  There are times, too, when my peaceful devotions in the bright light of the garden outside of my office do not speak to me, and I find myself, instead, walking away, seeking for a greater communion beyond words and ideals and religion.  The other morning, in such a walk, I started to feel connected again for the first time in a week or more.  I walked alone, and yet I felt a part of the ground, the air, the trees...I felt the Spirit of creation around and within me.  I realized community even as I was set apart from it.

Perhaps because I had been so opened, I ran into an acquaintance who serves as a security guard on campus.  He is a friendly sort that is always happy for the chance to stop and talk.  He is amicable and pleasant, and yet I've learned that if I'm not careful, he will talk longer than I have time to listen.  I know, too, that his background is different from mine, as he goes to a very conservative church, one that I've had run-ins with before.  Last semester, I had to confront the church's evangelism and outreach pastor after a student handed me a religious tract she had been given outside of the chapel, condemning homosexuals to hell.  The church's name was stamped on the brochure and I groaned.  This same church visited regularly at my last calling to minister to the youth whom I served and I regularly had to berate the leaders for their tactics and counsel the youth who were angered, hurt, or confused by the altar calls that seemed more like spiritual abuse.  Sometimes, it seems, that even though we're playing for the same team, we're on very different sides.

Yet in this conversation, the guard and I shared what we had both been studying from the Bible, and then he asked me if I had seen him talking to a man on campus the previous day.  I had, as I had waved, and tried to keep my distance as I was pressed for time.  He shared a bit that he had learned about the man, an immigrant who serves as a housekeeper on our campus.  The housekeeper has done some work in the chapel, so I knew him for his strong opinions yet caring manner.  He often chastises me for my office set-up, in which my desk faces the window and away from the door.  He worries about someone "sneaking up behind me" without me knowing.  After talking to the guard who shared some of the housekeeper's story, I realized how the man's own background in a war-torn country must be behind his fear and his concern for me.  Then the guard shared, "and he's a Muslim."  We looked at each other in silence, and I was judging his reaction to this.  I certainly thought I knew what his church would think.  I carefully responded, "Yes, and doesn't he have such a sweet spirit about him?"  My acquaintance smiled and said, "yes, he sure does!"

It felt significant, one of those kingdom of God moments when we realize that what we have in common is far more than what separates us.  And I realized that my own tendency to polarize and separate is just as insidious as those on the "other" side whom I judge.  Really, when it comes down to it, we are all acting from our notions of love and faith.  We don't all agree because we don't yet see fully.  We see a part of the tapestry, our own small experience.  And yet, God is still weaving together the story, adding us in each person by person, joining our lives, attitudes, stories, prejudices, faith, hopes, dreams, and disappointments.  God stands back to survey the beauty (and also the messes where we have hurt and turned away from one another).  And yet the work of creation continues ever on, inviting us to join into the shared story, learning from one another and opening to all the possibilities.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Trying hard to be me

I've started to write many times about how blogging and Pinterest, both near obsessions for me, are also somewhat bad for my emotional health.  I start to read and see all that is out there and get so inspired...but also so very tired, overwhelmed, and discouraged.  There is so much that I would like to do, but I just don't have the energy or the time or the talent.  Sometimes I fool myself into thinking "one day I may try that amazing project", and I have boards planning all my kids' future birthday parties (although my newest scheme is talking them into a family trip instead of throwing parties because parties drove me to insanity even before Pinterest made throwing a party a competitive sport).  I get motivated to write by all the interesting stuff I read in other blogs, and then I think, "But that's already been said before...and more eloquently than I can say it."  This post has already been written, in fact.  Thanks to Rachel Held Evans' Sunday Superlatives, I found three articles that say what I want to say:

Lisa-Jo Baker's "Comparisons will kick you in the teeth and hijack your dreams every time"

talks about how we set ourselves up for failure through comparison and the thought that something's not worth doing if I can't do it as well as [insert name of talented friend, superstar blogger, or Pinterest diva].  And yet, our life, our gifts are as unique and necessary as our individual fingerprints.

shows how Pinterest sets up this troubling and dangerous competitive spirit, much like Facebook, where we only post the good and others assume our life is completely flawless (how many times have I fallen for that trap...and maybe even set it for others...even though I know better?)

is the perfect finisher as she wonders (rhetorically) what's the use in doing anything because will it really make a difference?  But yes, it does matter because we were made to share our gifts (our individual gifts, not someone else's gifts).  We were created to live fully out of the love and passion that God put into us.  As she says,

"Ireneus wrote that the glory of God is man fully alive, and we all need you to be fully alive for your life. It will matter in the world, more than you can imagine or dream perhaps, a ripple effect going on and on, touching the other shore, but it will also matter because you matter.
So stop asking whether or not anyone wants it or needs it, and simply do it because you were made to do it, because it makes you fully alive to do it, because you are working out what God has already worked in, because it matters."
In other reading lately, I've been repeatedly confronted by an important question:
What can you do that no one else can do?
I'm still working on the answer to that one.  I do believe that God has called me to this place and this time for a reason, and I do know my gifts and strengths.  But am I living my life to my full potential?  How do I break the cycle of comparison that prevents me from living out my dreams?  How can I embrace the dreams that God has given me and also celebrate others' successes without jealousy?  
Perhaps the answers (and the growth) will come when I simply live my life and take it as it comes.  My wise husband preached this morning on "going through the motions", basing the sermon on 2 Kings 5:1-19 where Naaman, a great army leader, seeks healing of his leprosy from the prophet Elisha.  Naaman is confused and angered when Elisha does not deign to even come out of his house to talk to the important leader, but instead sends a messenger to tell Naaman to wash in the river seven times and he will be healed.  Naaman leaves in frustration and almost doesn't even attempt what seems to be a silly ritual.  But after being convinced by a companion, he follows orders and is healed. 
Things do not always work out the way we plan or envision them.  I can create a perfect world on Pinterest and Facebook, and yet I don't live there.  My reality is often messy, loud, uncertain, or silly, and always imperfect.  And yet it is beautifully and fully as God created it to be.  This is God's gift to me, and how I use it will be my gift to God.

Friday, August 3, 2012

My other full-time job

I am quick to admit that parenting is the toughest job around, and stay-at-home parents have my utmost respect and admiration.  It is a grueling 24/7 gig with few tangible benefits (if you take away those precious Kodak moments).  John and I have juggled childcare duties for the past 6+ years and we have been fortunate to have been able to flex our work schedules in order to be with our kids when they needed us.  We've been lucky enough to attend every school conference and preschool play (yes, even the ones where they stand still and in shock and refuse to say anything or move).  Full disclosure: we were somewhat forced into this arrangement by default as our first child was small and sickly and couldn't handle daycare.  But we knew it was what was best for him, and after a few (major) hiccups with our jobs, we settled into a routine.  In the beginning, it was exhausting.  One parent would be at home all morning with a crying, clingy baby.  When it was time to switch shifts, the other parent would return home, have a baby thrust upon him/her, while the first shift parent went to work (to crawl under the desk and nap).  Repeat, repeat, repeat.  John and I started missing each other, as we only caught passing glimpses where we had time only for a rundown of feeding schedules and medicine updates.  The kids also developed a complex where they would cry when one parent came home, knowing the other one was about to leave.  When there was a boo boo, they always cried for the parent that wasn't there.  When we grew to a family of four, the work and stress more than doubled.  I've written about my depression that followed, much of which could probably be attributed to pure, mind-numbing fatigue and the stress of numerous transitions.  We were blessed with a couple fabulous babysitters along the way (and many more BAD ones) that helped to ease the burden, but we also dreamed of a day when it wouldn't be so difficult.

When I accepted my calling to Hollins University, we knew things would have to change.  My schedule would be full and erratic.  While our childcare burden would be somewhat lighter with both kids in school all day, someone would need to be there to pick them up or get them off the bus.  There were holidays and sick days and summer to consider.  After talking it through, John decided to try being a stay-at-home dad while getting his coin business off the ground.  It was a gift to me and to the kids, and he has handled it all beautifully.  Through hard work, he has built a thriving business that helps to supplement our income (and provide for our daughter's private school tuition and our vacations).  He has also developed a deeper relationship with our children (it's a bittersweet twist that they often ask for him more than me now).  He cooks and cleans and does most all of what needs to be done for our house and for our kids.  This summer, he's been chief entertainer, taxi driver, teacher, enrichment planner, creative genius, fight referee, housekeeper, lifeguard, disciplinarian, artistic coordinator, chef, and more.  He is truly a superhero and I know everyday how very lucky I am (and some days I remember to tell him, too).

I still struggle with letting go of control and not being here more, at least in my heart where my guilt resides.  But I will also admit that I'm usually eager to get out the door and off to work, as it is a retreat of sorts from all the mess and noise and demands.  I am more in control at work, and generally my work has predictable results.  Kids are anything but predictable.  This morning, we woke to the sound that we fear most: the cries of a sick child.  I stayed at home from work to help out, and I was reminded again of all the work it takes to keep the household going.  In addition to the extra loads of laundry that a sick child generates (thank you, John, for the laundry), there's the delicate balance of keeping the kids separated ("quarantined") to prevent the spread of germs, and to entertain one while soothing another.  There is feeding one while explaining to the other why she cannot eat (and reprimanding the first when he rubs it in her face that he gets to enjoy ice cream).  There is the constant cleaning and manic spraying of Lysol that becomes pointless after the sick child spits in the well child's face.  There is the worry that things will get worse, the helpless feeling of not being able to make your child better, and the fear that the germs will spread and take out the entire family (especially as John is preaching and I'm leading worship on Sunday as our pastor will be out of town).  Plans are cancelled or tentatively put on hold ("let's wait and see") and now not only is the child feeling terrible, but may have to miss the birthday party she's been anticipating (and reminding you of daily) for two weeks.

After a day like this, I'm feeling like I've been hit by a train.  How's the sick one doing?  Bouncing off the wall, pulling me by the arm to come upstairs and play (again), begging for a brownie, running up and down the stairs, and dreaming about all the fun she will have tomorrow.  She's the queen of the 2-hour viruses (thanks be to God for quick healing and literally "bouncing back").  There go my hopes of sleeping in (like that's been an option since pregnancy).

Ahh...the resiliency and energy of children.  Now I wish THOSE were contagious.