Brokenness and pocket knives

I took a deep breath as I stepped off the stage and out of the lights, disentangling my microphone.  I had just finished telling the story of Peter walking on water to my Sunday school class — and it went surprisingly well considering I forgot to prepare the lesson until the day before.  As another leader took the stage to lead the kids in songs I stood at the back of the crowd and sighed, exhausted as I always am after trying to keep 100 kids engaged for 20 minutes.

“I can’t believe I have to stay for two services.  I hate this!”  I turned to find the source of the voice, a first grade boy a few feet away who was staring at me with narrowed eyes.

Kids stay for both services if they have a parent helping at one of them — at the info desk, handing out programs, directing parking.  Kids that stay for two services always have a bit of a tougher of a time because they have to hear the same story twice, sing the same songs twice, do the same small group twice.

I may be good at telling Bible stories on stage, but my weakness in kids ministry is definitely unruly kids and discipline challenges.  The attitude of this boy was clearly one of I’m testing you, what are you going to do about it?

I started with an attempt at redirection and re-engagement.  “When I’m frustrated, I like to sing” (which is true, and conveniently what the rest of the room was doing right then) “and dancing helps get my wiggles out.”

It was a stretch, and I could see in his glare and posture that he wasn’t going to fall for it.  Besides, there was something in his demeanor that said this wasn’t just a kid having a bad day.  Okay.  Distraction, then.  “I like your hat.”  It was ball cap, black and white plaid.

“My dad sent it to me.”

Sent.  Dad wasn’t at home.  “That’s nice.  Where did he send it from?”  Did he live in another state?  Was he deployed?

For the first time he broke my gaze and turned away, glaring into the noisy crowd of kids and leaders singing along to a video.  “I don’t want to tell you that.”

Jail, I thought.  It’s not the first kid I’ve had in class with a parent in prison.  I remember once sitting at a table full of kids coloring pictures who were talking about their moms, and one girl’s lip trembled as she said, “My mom’s… in jail.”

“That’s okay, you don’t have to.”  Privacy is allowed.  “It’s cool that he sent it to you.  Means he’s thinking about you.”

With fire in his eyes, he turned back and yelled, “My dad’s in jail!  He’s been in jail 15 times!”

Whether the number was truth or hyperbole didn’t matter.  The point was dad had been making bad decisions for a while, and consequences were falling on this kid.

I’m a problem-solver.  I’m not great at listening sometimes, jumping straight to wanting to find a solution.  If a friend tells me they’re sick I’ll immediately ask about duration and symptoms, mentally trying to come up with a diagnosis.  God’s been reminding me that I can’t solve everyone’s problems, and moreso that solving them isn’t the point.  Sometimes it’s just about being present with people in their struggles.  Here, certainly, was a problem I couldn’t solve.  There was nothing I could say or do that would come close to addressing the pain and anger this boy felt.

I looked at him in silence for a few seconds.  “That sucks.”  What you are feeling is completely valid.  I know I can’t fix it, and I’m not going to pretend I can.  “That really really sucks.”  I meant it from the bottom of my heart.

“I hate my dad so much.”

I sat down next to him.  “Do you think your dad hates you, or that he loves you?”

He looked away and exhaled forcefully through his nostrils.  “I think he loves me.”  Then he turned back and put out his arms in a pleading gesture, dropping his tough guy mask for the first time.  “But if he loves me then why does he keep doing things that get him sent to jail?”

Damn, this kid is smart.  And asking the real questions that matter.

This week in my Bible study we were talking about conditional grace.  We were talking about how God doesn’t offer conditional grace, but as humans we rarely offer anything else.  We draw arbitrary lines in the sand.  “I’ll forgive you / let you stay in my life if you mess up this much, but no further!”  Our lines are in different places, but we all have drawn them somewhere.

One woman in the group talked about a group of friends that judge her daughter for having tattoos.  It made her mad that these people gave conditional grace.  In the next sentence, she said she couldn’t stand it when parents didn’t take care of their kids.  (She’s an interventionist at a low-performing school, so she’s seen a lot of abuse and neglect.)  I’m not sure if she realized that she was complaining about conditional grace in one breath and justifying conditional grace with the next.

When she said it I thought about this boy I had met a few days before.  I don’t know what his dad is in jail for, but ultimately it stems from brokenness.  The kids my friend sees at school who are being abused or aren’t given enough to eat, it ultimately stems from their parents’ brokenness.  That’s not an excuse for the things the parents do.  It’s just true.  And until that brokenness is addressed, nothing will change.  And brokenness isn’t something that’s fixed overnight.

One of the things that’s awesome about kids is their honesty.  Especially about their own brokenness.  As I sat with this boy he told me more about himself.  “I have anger problems.”  He straight out said those words, and I wondered who had said them to him.  As he said them he stared at me with those narrowed eyes, like it was a challenge.  Like I’m warning you now, lady, if you want to continue this conversations this is what you’re getting into because this is who I am.  He continued, “I lie.  And sometimes I steal.  I like to beat up my sister.”  He told me about the five other people living at his house.  He said he’d get sent to his room when he acted out, but that he actually preferred that — being alone in his own space.  He kept a treasures chest in his room.  He softened a bit when I asked what he kept inside and he told me it was his pocket knives (the ones that hadn’t been taken away from him yet).

As I listened, I was reminded that Christ is the only one that can heal our brokenness.  Period.  He’s the only one with the power to take the messed up junk in our lives and use it.

But God has given us an opportunity to help in that process of healing and restoration.  It seems that everywhere I turn lately I run into verse after verse about loving each other:

“No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:12)

It all comes back to love.  Expressions of love to each other over and over and over and over and over.  God showing his love to people through us.  Our words, our actions, our listening, our giving of our time and resources.  A crop doesn’t come to harvest from one rainstorm or one sunny day.  It comes from a good season and from being watered over and over and over and over again.  We rarely see results when we try to love people.  Each action is just one more cupful of water poured over a thirsty plant that’s still growing.

Part of it is working on erasing the conditional grace lines that we’ve drawn.  As long as we have boundaries, we’re going to encounter people who keep pushing them.  And the people that most need love usually ask for it in the most unloving ways.

Before I left the room for second service I fished something out of my purse.  My pocketknife.  I usually keep my purse in the car during church, but for some reason I brought it in today and stashed it in the closet.  I went to where this boy was smashing a wall of giant Legos.  Normally I might have told another kid to play nicely with the toys, but I decided to ignore it.  (Plus those blocks of plastic are nearly indestructible anyway.)

I called him over and showed him my knife.  I told him how much I loved my pocketknife, too, and that I take it with me wherever I go.  That my big boy cousins always got pocket knives for Christmas when we were growing up and I always wanted one, so I finally went out and got one for myself.  I flipped open the scissors and told him they were my favorite part.

“Are those tweezers?” he asked.

“Yup.  It has tweezers.  And a toothpick.  And a little knife over here.”  I pulled each part out in turn.

“That’s cool,” he grunted.

I put it in my pocket and turned to go.  “I’m glad I got to meet you today.  You’re a cool kid.”  And you taught me something.  He huffed and turned back around to kicking the Legos.

One cupful of water at a time, I thought.  I hope I have a chance to give you buckets and buckets.  

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Reclaiming Valentine’s Day

Okay, I’m about to write a SUPER cheesy post in which I admit something SUPER unpopular:

I like Valentine’s Day. 

*ducks as people hurl conversation hearts at me*

Yeah that’s right, I said it!  It’s one of my favorite holidays!

I’ll admit, I didn’t always like Valentine’s Day.  I loathed it.  Like many, it just seemed a painful annual reminder that I was single.  But over the last few years it’s really grown on me.  And then it became one of my favorites.  I didn’t flip flop because I found myself in a relationship.  Hallmark didn’t finally convince me.  And it’s not because I wanted an excuse to eat candy — who needs an excuse to eat candy?  :)  Admittedly, maaaaybe I like it a bit because of red.  I do like red after all…

red

It’s because a few years ago, I inadvertently reclaimed Valentine’s Day.

As I sat sulking about another year without a significant other, I thought about all of the other single people also out there wishing they weren’t single mid-February.  Part of me wanted to go find all of these people and give them a hug and remind them that just because we’re single doesn’t mean we aren’t lovable and don’t still have value — something I was struggling to remember about myself.

And I wanted to do something, though I wasn’t sure what.  So, while watching TV I started cutting out hundreds of colored paper hearts.  And then on Valentine’s Day morning I scattered them in the snow on a busy pedestrian path near my home.  Sure, it was technically littering and some people probably saw it and scoffed at the sentiment.  But I also prayed that others would see it and feel loved and valued and special — even if just for a moment.  That it might brighten their day that there was someone out there thinking of them when setting up this colorful mess.

After I did it, I realized something.  Valentine’s Day didn’t just annoy me because I wanted to FEEL loved.  It also annoyed me because I want to EXPRESS love.  God is love, and we were made in his image.  Therefore I think we all desire to have avenues where we can express affection to others.  I was surprised how much joy I discovered creating an expression of love for random strangers.

Ever since then, I’ve discovered that I like Valentine’s Day because it reminds to me to be grateful for the people in my life and my community.  If Thanksgiving is being thankful for everything, for me Valentine’s Day is being thankful for people specifically.  And also to remind them that they are loved — directly or indirectly by me, and absolutely and thoroughly and completely by God.

It’s a shame that we hear the word “love” and default to associating it primarily with romantic relationships.  No wonder people abhor Valentine’s Day and have given it the nickname Singles Awareness Day!  We’ve been brainwashed to think that the only love that counts is love between significant others.  That’s great, but we sure need to broaden our perspective to see and appreciate and celebrate all of the other great relationships around us.  (The advertising industry doesn’t help at all in this by bombarding us with messages that Valentine’s Day is all about chocolate and flowers and diamonds and sex and — above all — not optional if you’re in a romantic relationship.)

Don’t get me wrong: being in a loving relationship with a significant other is amazing.  But it CANNOT completely fulfill your need to BE loved and TO love.  And it isn’t meant to!  Thank goodness because that’s ENORMOUS pressure.

There are many ways that people have shown me love and kindness.  Like the coworker who left a doughnut on my desk a few weeks ago just because she knows I like doughnuts.  And another coworker who gave me a cute little Angry Birds Valentine today.  Like the friend who was driving past my house and stopped to rearrange some rocks on my front porch into the shape of a heart, just because.  Or another friend who randomly bakes cookies, cakes, and truffles and shares them with me.  Like when staff at church send me a card in the MAIL (yay, fun mail!) just to say thank you.  Like how every year for over a decade my dad sends me Valentine’s flowers to remind me that he loves me.  #parentingdoneright

flowers

All of this is just a cheesy post to say that — like so many things — Valentine’s Day is what we make it.  And like Jackie DeShannon sang: “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.  It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of…  No, not just for some but for everyone.”  We’re doing a great injustice to one of God’s greatest creations if we hold our ability to love in reserve, or only direct it at our significant other.  Take a risk, unstopper your heart, and sprinkle some of that love around.  The more you give, the more you’ll find you have to give.  And you might find some joy as a bonus.

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.” -Mother Teresa

Random citizens of Boulder, if today you encounter some rocks painted with hearts on a bridge it’s a message from me to you:  You are special.  You are valuable.  You are loved.

End of cheesy post.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Secretary Tales, Issue #14 — bacon and doughnuts

Me via email: “Hey guys, we have that 8:00 meeting coming up on employee empowerment.  There’s little money in the budget for catering, what should we get?  I know you all are going to say ‘BACON!’ but there’s still some vegetarians in the building, too.”

V: “Bacon… and carrots.”

Boss: “Bacon… and beets.”

L: “Bacon, bagels, and fruit.”  <– a bit more helpful

D: “Em-Power-Ade.”

Me: “D wins.  You all fail.”

L (who is new to the dept): “Clearly I need to work on developing my sense of humor.  Maybe eating more bacon will help.”

V: “It will come with time, bacon or not.”

Boss: “But bacon will hasten the process!”

* * * * *

Boss: “A reminder there’s that two-hour presentation this afternoon, and all of you are invited to attend if you wish.”

L: “I have a meeting.”

T: “I’m presenting at her meeting.”

D: “I’m supposed to attend that meeting, too.”

V: “I need to work on the budget.”

Me: “I have work to do… and I just don’t want to.”  Everyone laughs.

L: “Besides, I mean, you haven’t told us anything about if there will be snacks.  Food increases our likelihood of attendance.  Like bacon.”

D: “Yeah, or doughnuts.”

V: “You know, every time I eat a doughnut I’m disappointed.  I’m like ‘that wasn’t as good as I was expecting it to be’.”

Me: “I completely and totally disagree with that statement.”

L: “Me too.”

V: “Okay, fine, maybe if it was a high quality doughnut.”

Me: “No, not even then.  I think everything except three-day-old stale doughnuts.  Doughnuts are amazing.”

L: “Yeah, I guess we just have lower standards than you.  And we’re okay with that.”

(An hour later, L sets a box on my desk containing a doughnut.  She’s my new doughnut soul sister.)

Posted in Secretary Tales | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Perfect pressure

I like rules.  I suppose that’s weird.  Maybe it’s because I like things black and white, good and bad, right and wrong.  At work when our compliance coordinator gave me a list of 100 criteria we’re required to meet for our accreditation, I jumped into it.  I liked knowing where we were doing well and what we needed to fix.

And then during our accreditation survey last year we got marked for partial compliance on two criteria.  Three years ago we got partial compliance on a few dozen and still passed with full accreditation.  Only getting dinged on two out of 594 is basically unheard of.  It was the best survey result my boss had seen in decades of work in the industry.

While I was proud that we had improved, I was also sad that we weren’t perfect.

I’m that annoying person who got As in basically all her classes.  I wish I could say that it was only As, but a couple of Bs did sneak in there.  And I was so disappointed with myself when they did.  (Even over a decade later, I can still list which classes they were.)

I took a logic class in college and I got every homework question right the entire semester… except one.  I went to the teacher afterwards and asked how to solve it, he showed me, I facepalmed, and when the identical question showed up on the final I got it right.

In my first performance evaluation in this job, I got a 390 out of 400.  Despite the fact that it was my first year learning a job, that my boss didn’t believe in giving perfect scores, that it landed me in the top performance category, AND that I got a promotion, I sulked over those ten little points.

I know.  I’m sick.

This desire to follow the rules and be perfect bleeds over from my school life and my work life into my spiritual life.  I put pressure on myself to be a super Christian.

Just believing in Christ isn’t enough for me.  I also need to go to church every week.  And serve in kids ministry.  And read my Bible regularly.  And lead a team each year at Fall Fest.  And volunteer at other events.  And tithe at least 10%.  And and and and and and…

…and this is all incredibly stupid.  I don’t know what I think I will prove.  Yeah, there is a part of me that wants to prove something to God.  As though my doing all these things will gain me more favor — not necessarily more than other Christians, but more for myself just for me not in a competitive way.

Last year in addition to all of that, I was also helping out with high schoolers.  It was fantastic and I really enjoyed it.  But I was also exhausted.  Even though it was only one night a week, I felt frazzled and worn out and over-scheduled.  It wasn’t the high school ministry stressing me out; it was my life pace.  (The fact I was running / training more than I ever had before probably didn’t help — even if it did result in a year of great performances.) When my seniors graduated in the spring, I didn’t sign up to continue this year.

This year, my life is very quiet and my schedule is much less full.  There’s a part of me that really wants to go back to high school ministry because it was great, but there’s a stronger voice in my head telling me that I NEED to go back and berating all this free time I now have and how I should be filling it up with things to serve Christ.

Never mind that I can NEVER do enough things to serve Christ!  That my feeble little works and gifts and acts of service don’t amount to a hill of beans compared to how much Christ has done for me!

Why am I doing this to myself?  What am I so reluctant to accept grace?  Why do I think that God’s grace got me INTO salvation, but it’s my works that KEEP me there?

Unlike last year’s no-spending challenge, I have no resolutions or challenges this year.  Instead I’m spending the month of January doing a type of fast.  I went into the fast with the idea that it would be a good time to listen to God and get direction from him on what he wants me to do next.

Now I’m wondering if that’s actually the opposite of what’s supposed to happen.  Maybe this time of refocusing needs to result not at all in ideas about things that I could do or should do, but entirely in redirecting myself to deeper life of worship for what Christ has already done.

Maybe I need to learn to be still.

Maybe I need to learn that God loves me through and through and through regardless of what I do or don’t do.

Maybe I need to let grace envelop me and seep into my bones like wrapping up in warm towels hot from the dryer.

Maybe instead of a year of challenge, I need a year of grace.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Discipline of Celebration

I didn’t make any formal resolutions this year.  But one informal one is to embrace the discipline of celebration.

It’s hard to celebrate the day-to-day.  Wake up, brush teeth, pack lunch, go to work, schedule meetings, type reports, go home, make dinner, read, crash, repeat.  But there are million little moment crammed in there that are worth celebrating if I just pause.  Breathe.  Look around.  Mindfully relish the moment.

Yesterday one moment was this.

sunset

Seeing the spectacular sunset outside my window at work, and just pausing for five minutes to watch the colors change as the clouds rolled in over the mountains.  Being grateful for a God who made the skies but also made US with a sense of beauty to appreciate his creation.

Today it was bidding adieu to my old old old mattress that makes my back hurt.  But first this had to happen.

oldI only hit my head on the rafters once.

And then in under five minutes the AFW guys dragged it away and replaced it.

So then there was this.

new

And tonight I will sleep like the happiest person on the planet.

God, make me grateful.  Help me celebrate the little moments in life.  Because life is all little moments strung together like a series of pearls on a string, and each is here one moment and gone the next.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Enough and more

I think there was always a runner inside me trying to get out.  I made several attempts at becoming a runner before I finally succeeded five years ago.  Each time I failed because it was harder than I thought and I didn’t have enough patience and perseverance to push through the difficulty.

Even when I did finally push through and make running a part of my life, I didn’t know where it would take me.  But I certainly didn’t expect to end up running a marathon.  I mean, really, marathons are long and hard and how could I ever do something like that?  I was the girl who didn’t participate in any sports or regular exercise until age 29.  For me to become someone who would run her first half marathon at age 30 and then a full marathon at age 33 seemed ridiculous.  I was just hoping to have enough dedication to run the Bolder Boulder 10K!

A few weeks ago I ran across this quote attributed to Socrates:

“No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”

It’s true that I had no idea what I was physically capable of until I actually decided to lay down my excuses and push myself and try.  I won’t ever be an Olympian, but I am so much greater than I originally thought.

How much moreso in matters of faith.

I admit that I also set limits on myself when it comes to my faith.  I read stories like the Pauline sisters who established Musana and think, “Wow, I could never do something like that!”  Is that true, though?  Or am I just holding myself back out of fear, afraid to dream big about the ways that God might use me?

I don’t think that it pleases God to see us live our little lives of safety — middle class existence, going to church and Bible study, helping out in kids ministry but never truly taking obedient leaps of faith into to unknown knowing that we serve a great big God who is more than capable of catching us.

I’ve been thinking a lot about two of my favorite verses lately.  The first is from Proverbs 30:

“… give me neither poverty nor riches.  Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.”

Obviously this was written in the context of material needs, but I’ve discovered that this concept of ENOUGH is just as true in mental, emotional, and spiritual needs.  When I started running I didn’t need the strength and energy to be a marathoner; I only needed the strength for today’s run.  Even when I started the marathon, I don’t think I had the mental strength to put in 26 miles — but as each mile marker past I found enough strength for just one more mile, just one more mile, just one more more.

Or when I look at an overwhelming amount of things on my to-do list at work and in despair think, “How will I ever accomplish all of this?”  But I pick it apart little by little, bit by bit, and find I have enough time and ability to get it accomplished.

God has always given me enough to meet my needs — physically, as well as mentally and emotionally.  And what continues to surprise me is that he doesn’t JUST give me enough.  In most cases, he gives me MORE.

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work WITHIN US, to accomplish INFINITELY MORE than we might ask or think.” –Ephesians 3:20-21 (emphasis mine)

Just like God didn’t give me only enough strength to just do a 5K, but a 10K, then a half marathon, then a full marathon, he also gives me more in other areas of my life when I need it.  Like when looking around in exhaustion at the chaos of kids ministry thinking, “I don’t have the energy and patience and attention to give to all of these children!” but I start with just one for a few minutes and I find I’m energized enough to move to another, and another, and another.

God gives us enough faith to make it through the day to day even when it feels like the world will crush me.  But behind that enough, shockingly, there’s more.  According to Paul, infinitely more.

So what could God do through me if I stepped out in faith, trusting that he will not only provide enough for me to accomplish what he calls me to, but more?

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Breaking my New Year’s resolution is better than keeping it

image

All this stuff was bought in 2014.

I made a resolution for 2014.  Big surprise, lots of people make resolutions.  But here’s the thing I realized about New Year’s resolutions.  The big ones, the ones that matter, and that you really really REALLY want to keep and be successful?  Ideally they’re not just for one year.  They are habit-changing LIFE resolutions.  People don’t want to lose weight for a year just to gain it back.  People don’t want to quit smoking just to start again 365 days later.  People don’t want to get out of debt just to do an about-face back into it.

My resolution this year was The Compact, defined by Wikipedia as “a social and environmental movement whose members promise not to buy anything new for a year”.  I was excited about this resolution, and I loved it.  It was a great year.  But, it’s not the type of resolution that you can sustain for life.  Because even if I can put off buying a mattress for the year, eventually one day I do need a replacement.  (That’s my agenda for January 1, by the way: playing Goldilocks shopping for a bed – and I’m SUPER excited.  Did you know you’re supposed to replace mattresses every 5-10 years?  No wonder my back hurts after.. uh.. much longer than that…..)

So here’s how my Compact experience went.  In the first four months of 2014, I only bought two things: a birthday gift for my grandma, and something I had already known I would need to purchase and established as an exception on the day I set the resolution.  Keeping this resolution was surprisingly easy – realizing that I didn’t need these things that were temptations – and even freeing – not even being distracted wandering through the aisles “just to look” because I wasn’t going to buy anything anyway.

And then things changed.

As the year went on it became clear that there were some things more important than keeping my resolution.   I didn’t immediately fill up a shopping cart at Target, but I did start to shell out some bucks.  Two of my friends published books; in support of their years of hard work I bought copies.  In January I had no idea that before 2014 was over I’d have to train for and run two very long and difficult races; in support of my health and safety I bought replacement running shoes.  I went to Uganda and met widow merchants creating goods to support their families; in support of these women and the local economy I didn’t hesitate to spend freely and bring their wares back home with me to share with friends and family.

This morning I made a list of everything purchased in 2014.  It fits easily on a 3×5 card.  But what’s most interesting is that I can recall every single thing.  Every item on that list was purchased deliberately and with consideration, nothing was bought on a whim or because it was cheap or on sale.  Looking back at that list, I don’t regret any of those purchases.

So, technically, I broke my resolution.  But I’m okay with that.  Actually MORE than okay!

I went into 2014 with a goal of decreasing accumulation, spending, and waste.  But if I came out in 2015 with the same habits I had in 2013 and prior, what would the point have been?  Instead, I’m going into 2015 with a continuing life resolution to be thoughtful in what I own, how I spend my money, and the amount of waste I generate.

Living – and breaking – The Compact taught me a lot of things this year that I hope to carry well beyond a one-year resolution:

I have enough, MORE than enough!   I need to be more grateful for what I have, never taking it for granted.

I need less than I think.  In fact, there are some things I don’t “need” at all.

Stuff doesn’t have to be new, shiny, and in perfect condition to still be useful.  I don’t need to replace something as soon as it breaks – or possibly at all.

Quality is better than quantity.

Generosity is better than stuff – by not buying I freed up funds, and found I was delighted to treat friends to lunch or a movie, or redirect those to people in need.  Best “purchases” of the year, hands down.

Stuff is awesome and there’s nothing wrong with having stuff.  But it should be accumulated thoughtfully, responsibly, and with gratitude and joy.

Posted in challenge | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment