Thursday, January 31, 2008

Perception is 9/10 of the law

Lately I've been thinking about how perception is 9/10 of the law. A little bit of back story. I used to watch ER, pretty regularly, and then after leaving to live abroad, I never really got into it regularly. But then I heard last season that they had added a female chaplain. I was intrigued to see what they did with that and took it up again. And much to my chagrin the first night I watched she went on a first day with Uncle Jesse, I mean, Dr. what's his name, and they had sex. I was so excited to see a chaplain on the show, let alone a female, and then she fell into the same sex crazed habits as the rest of the cast and I was heartbroken and frustrated.

It's strange how much time pastors, myself included, spend trying to convince people that we're normal, not perfect, that we have lives, have fun, maybe have a drink on occasion, or cuss....or whatever to try and normalize ourselves. And yet, if we dance too closely with that so-called normalcy, we lose integrity, or at least we tarnish the integrity of the office.

When my sister was in seminary, I went to visit. On the message board there was a workshop being advertised and the core question was, "Should pastors, and seminarians, be held to a different standard than everyone else." My instant reaction was NO!! Not because I don't think we shouldn't be held accountable, but because I think we should all have the same standards--of right action, right speech, right thought, mercy, compassion, justice. The bar should be held equally high for all. But at the same time, I had to acknowledge the fact that "everyone else" does not maintain the standard and that to say no may mean, more often than not, that we lower the bar for pastors/seminarians rather than raise it for "everyone else". In other words, because the cultural norms have become so loose, it is important that pastors toe the line more closely. There has to be some distinction between us and others, unless of course the others want to toe the line too.

So back to the perception is 9/10 of the law is not always our intentions that matter, but how they are perceived. We may mean to be compassionate and caring, but if we are misinterpreted because of a look or a touch, we may face major legal trouble, or an ugly accusation, or whatever else. The question ceases to be whether we were or weren't, it becomes how the action was perceived. The same can be said about honesty--we were perceived to be telling the truth, not were we, but what was the perception. Or even having "just a drink"--it's not (in my mind) about the one drink, it's about how that can be perceived...often if people see one beer, they assume 3 or 4...and that's a problem. Or we could have a bad day and be terse or abrupt and have people believing we're upset with them. Perceptions matter. We may wish they didn't. We may curse the way people confuse our words, or forget conversations, or fill in the blanks with whatever craziness may fill their heads, but perceptions are a reality of human relations, and we have to acknowledge them, for they are 9/10 of the law.

Quote of the Day

Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies. --author unknown.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Prayer for humility

Humble Servant,
Lord of my life,
Exemplar of love
Place in me a humble spirit
soften my heart that I might love my enemies
heal my wounds so they won't cloud my vision
open my ears that I might hear with compassion and understanding
help me to accept loss
teach me from defeat
remove from me a spirit of fear
and replace it with valor and courage
May I live in submission to your Divine will
anxious to serve
and gracious enough to be served
I earnestly seek a changed heart
and pray that you rid me of any residual resistance
In the name of the One who was and is and is to come.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Time to study?

Contrasted with my feelings of being old, this week I've been pondering the time I have left in my life and the things I can learn. I've got a lifetime left to learn and do things. I've been thinking about taking classes the next time I get an appointment near a major university, or even a good Community College. I could take art, fitness classes, web design (that's definitely a class I wish I'd had the insight to take earlier in my career), preaching with modern media tools, etc. I was also thinking I'd like to learn another language....maybe Korean, or maybe just Italian since it'd be easier! But heck, one could foresee another 50 years in my life, that's more than enough to learn and polish another language and put it to good use. I'd also like to take voice lessons. I've never had voice lessons, I just sing, and on occasion, lead worship music. Wouldn't it be great to actually have some honed ability?!?! I'm pretty sure my congregations would appreciate it! I could take up the piano again, or the flute, or both. I could learn to play the guitar (my stereotype about a good pastor includes abilities with the those standards, currently, I am not a good pastor).

Any thoughts? What classes would you take if given the opportunity/time/money? (I've also thought that I could use my liberties as a single, childless person to take advantage of this time...currently no one besides my dog cares if I take night classes and am gone for hours, or if I spend my free time doing homework or singing off-key, and the dog doesn't even mind that one since she can't hear!)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

To plan or not to plan

Last week I posted about expectations. I have continued to think about what is (and is not) expected of me and about goal setting, both professionally and personally. Chai wrote up a list of 108 goals for 2008 that blows my mind. I jotted down a list of my own that is nothing compared to hers, but, you know, some of us just have to take baby steps.

Here's my 13 for 2008:
1) Clean out my closet
2) Sort and get rid of excess knick knacks
3) Make a habit of fasting at least once a month
4) Go vegetarian for a month
5) Slow down while eating and don't double task during meals (read: no internet, no TV, no phone calls)
6) Learn to roller blade
7) Finish quilt for my bedroom
8) Take a dance class (on-going)
9) Finish Jerusalem wall-hangings
10) Make 4 baby blankets for friends
11) Exercise more regularly, including strength training and cardio development
12) Write and publish at least one prayer weekly
13) Write a monthly devotional

I spent a couple of days this weekend with my parents and my dad and I talked a lot about this expectation business and goal setting. I sort of feel like I am at the next stage of growing up (and let me tell you I seem to be fighting tooth and nail). I seem to be moving from external expectations and accountability to the need for internal expectations and accountability. I think part of the difficulty is that I was always in the world of education/academia. I spent 21 years in school where there is structure, a known order of development and achievement, degrees and diplomas to be earned and an obvious "next step" which follows. Sure, I had short term and long term goals--up my SAT score, get good grades, participate in X, Y, and Z, graduate high school, go to college, get a career. But none of those were terribly original or even self-generated. For me not going to college was not an option. In my family you go to college. Pure and simple. Not that that was a problem, it just was what it was and that was true for grad school too. The question was not "Will I go to grad school?" The question was "Which grad school will I attend?" There was always an outside voice to give at least general direction and clear ways to achieve a goal.

And now, I seem to be in grown up land where no one wants to tell you anything about expectations (unless you count the rather overbearing and unachievable ones of doing 20 visits a week, preparing the most fabulous sermons you've ever heard, bringing in 500 new people to the church, and fixing the issues of poverty, mental illness, and abuse in the valley while I'm at it). I told my dad that I feel like I stepped into a vacuum. "Do what you want/can" seems to be the motto, which for someone who has spent life in school living up to the expectations of others seems to be a most overwhelming task. Couple my general lack of experience at self-imposed expectations and accountability with my minimal experience in my field and I have no idea what is realistic or where to start. Acknowledging my desire for a truly diverse church that is committed to issues of justice and the reality of our homogeneous and often inactive churches, is it realistic to set a goal of a complete turn-around in 3-5 years? Is it feasible to truly diversify a church in 5 years? To change our habits and customs such that we truly make a difference in our community in such a short time? And if it is, is it then practical to simply say, "Yeah, I wanna do that 5 times over in my lifetime? Or are the goals supposed to be more varied than that? Not disregarding quality, am I supposed to do as many things as possible? (I started making this list too and already have a number of things I could mark off).

Pastor a church
Be a camp counselor
Be a camp dean
Lead a youth retreat
Lead a local church retreat
Lead a young adult retreat
Lead a district event
Lead a conference event
Do international mission
Do international study
Pastor cross culturally

Is it really supposed to be about achievement? Is my focus supposed to be on goals? Or on doing as many things as possible? Or growing into the image of what/who I think I should be? Or?

Or am I simply supposed to live as faithfully as possible, try to embody those things which I value, care with compassion, listen with understanding, lead by example, challenge those I lead with integrity and honesty, and simply "do my best" each day and pray that God will use those actions to lead me to where God wants me to be? Do I need to set goals and expectations and enforce some level of accountability or do I simply need to live the gospel and my call as fully as possible and trust that I will then get where I need to be? That sounds like the more faithful answer, but I do have to wonder if it's a cop-out so that I don't have to set any goals. I suppose the larger questions are who/what I want to achiever? (that's one of my gifts on some gift assessment...) a day by dayer? a tried-her-bester?

On outreach as evangelism

Often churches talk about using outreach as an evangelistic tool--that we will help those in need and then they will see the love of Christ in us and be prompted to come to church. Our growing numbers at the church food pantry contrasted with those of dwindling church membership indicate otherwise. Despite good intentions, I don't know of anyone who has come to our church as a result of the food pantry or even via the preschool. Last year we served over 4000 people at our pantry, plus countless others at the bread bank, but never do I see them on Sunday mornings, which, to me, indicates a major disconnect.

I think this Christmas season shed a little light on why and I want to share my thoughts. The revelation actually began this fall. Our church started something called "Live to Give," which aims to facilitate members helping members whether it's cooking, transportation, cleaning, companionship or otherwise, we have a list of members who need something and a list of those willing to offer themselves in service and we aim to match folks up. As a part of this ministry a young mother approached me and asked for help when her husband went on disability. She needed help with childcare. The church facilitated babysitters and help for this young mom and not long after that they stopped appearing on Sunday mornings. Further help was offered and provided for awhile, but still no return to church. One could argue that it's a scheduling issue, but I think there's something more. It seems our outreach efforts have had the opposite effect of what we wanted. We actually managed to push this family out of active church participation. Which begs the question--WHY??

Then during the Christmas season I received a call and then a visit from a family of 8 who needed clothes for the kids. Mother and daughter came in to talk with me and tell me what they needed and daughter was clearly mortified at the thought of having to be there and ask for help. She had a 'hurry up let's get this over with' attitude as we went over sizes, needs, and preferences. A double dose of mortification hit her when we needed her bra size and her mother immediately started to lift the back of daughter's shirt with me in the room and the door wide open. I hopped up, turned my back and closed the door to offer whatever privacy was possible at that point to salvage some of this poor girl's dignity. I asked a few more questions and said I'd get back with them (we didn't have a fund for such expenses and I would have to do some digging to find donors) and they thanked me profusely and left.

As I thought about this family I wanted to try and make this less mortifying for the daughter and thought that giving her some agency in the process might help her feel less alien. I called and asked if she'd like to go shopping with me to help pick out the clothes and she did! She picked out clothes for a couple sisters, timid and cautious at first, and then a little more comfortable as time went by. After getting something for everyone, we loaded up the car and I took her home. I sat and talked with the family, played with the young girls, and invited the whole family to church and invited the older girls to youth group. Everyone thanked me profusely and hugged and kissed me as I left but I never saw them again.

Again I had to ask myself why. I don't really know, to be quite honest. And I'm not sure that if I outright asked either of these families that they'd tell me the real reason for fear of offending me, or maybe they don't even fully know why themselves. But the answer I keep coming back to is shame. I keep seeing the daughter's face of "Dear God, why me?!"

It is hard to ask for help. It can be humiliating to say you can't afford to go out to dinner or to the movies, to confess you can't afford college, let alone to say you (or your parents) can't afford clothes, shoes, or underwear. In our bootstrap, individualized, bigger-is-better, have everything you want culture, need is simply not cool. And beyond being uncool, it can be painful, humiliating, marginalizing, and alienating. And under the weight of all that, as if it weren't enough, when you receive from someone else (even if it's the benevolent church) there's the fear of being known as "that family" or "that girl" "those people". It's no wonder those who receive from the church don't want to come back. Receiving aid, if not in practice at least in sentiment, is as good as wearing a scarlet letter--"P" for poor.

And in the end I think it becomes either one or the other--either we let the church provide for our material needs or we let them provide for our spiritual needs. And if you're struggling to make ends meet, the choice is obvious.

Torture is a Moral Issue

Dear Friends,
Click here to watch the NRCAT video and to sign "Torture is a Moral Issue"
It's an ongoing pattern that doesn't seem to end.

I was shocked when I saw the photos of the abuses at Abu Ghraib. I was disturbed when I learned that our government uses "enhanced interrogation techniques" and has a program to capture people and send them to countries known to practice torture. This past summer, President Bush issued an Executive Order allowing the CIA to continue to use undefined and undisclosed interrogation methods.

In the fall, Attorney General Michael Mukasey said he wasn't sure whether waterboarding is torture. Some Presidential candidates have said the same. Last month, I learned that the CIA defied a judge's order and destroyed hundreds of hours of interrogation videos, including some that involved waterboarding. And U.S.-sponsored torture persists.

You can help end U.S.-sponsored torture. Join the growing effort by people of faith in the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) who are sending the message loud and clear to Congress, the Administration, the media and the American people: Torture is a moral issue.

Can you sign the "Torture Is a Moral Issue" statement?

Watch the NRCAT video, then read and sign the statement against torture. The statement is also printed below.

Almost 20,000 people of faith have already signed NRCAT's "Torture is a Moral Issue" Statement of Conscience. After signing the statement, along with thousands of others, you will begin to receive important email updates and alerts, giving you the tools to take action in our movement to end torture.

NRCAT was formed to stop U.S.-sponsored torture. It's a coalition of over 140 religious organizations, representing Catholics, evangelical Christians, Orthodox Christians, Protestants, Jews, Quakers, Muslims, Unitarian-Universalists, and Sikhs.

I support NRCAT because, as a person of faith, I cannot remain silent while our government ignores our most fundamental values.

People of faith can end U.S.-sponsored torture. But we must amplify our voice so that no member of Congress, the Administration or the media can ignore our message: Torture is a moral issue.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Boy is that a relief...

I have a youth team I work with that oversees, plans, and leads our youth group. We meet once a month and cover programming things and I've also wanted to help them grow spiritually and as leaders. This week we are supposed to be looking at Spiritual Gifts. I gave each of them a booklet with a survey and tells you what your gifts are. I've done a couple of surveys through the years and know my top gifts (or so I thought) but figured I should do the same survey they did so I could be sure we are on the same page. After answering all 160 questions I added up my totals and looked over the results. My top gift.....pastor. Now that's exciting!! I've thought my top gift was hospitality for the last 9 years or so, but it was nice to know that one of my most important areas of life (my full time vocation/job/profession/ministry) is also my top area of gifting! Woohoo! I might have actually had that call/giftedness thing right! And the other ones (wisdom, exhortation, helps, mercy, missionary, hospitality, leadership, administration, and intercessory prayer) come in handy and aren't terribly surprising (at least not as far as I'm concerned). And my bottom runners weren't terribly surprising either (exorcism, speaking/interpreting tongues, suffering, miracles, and evangelism).

Coincidentally we had a workshop on spiritual gifts for the Hispanic congregation today and it was a really great way to get to know my people better. It was interesting to hear which gifts they think they have (and to compare those with the gifts I see in them) and we had two of our newer ladies (they've only been twice) and to hear their giftedness and think about how they can be in ministry with us. "What spiritual gifts do you think God has given you?" will definitely be on my list of get-to-know-you questions for the future!

And for you my faithful readers...what are your gifts? (for the record, the list I have has 32 gifts!! in other words, there are plenty of options and lots of different ways God gifts the body)

"I want to get in trouble more"

The other day I was talking to a youth and she said, "I want to get in trouble more." What?!!?! I'm confused. She went on to explain that right now she can stay up until 4 in the morning, can talk on the phone as long as she wants, whatever. (She's in 8th grade). She wants to get in trouble more. You mean, you want more structure? It seems like your current rule maker doesn't really care because there are no consequences?! Basically.

I'm a firm believer in rules, structure, and consequences, especially with youth. At camp I'm often perceived as "the mean counselor" because I have rules and consequences. But generally by the end of the week the kids love me because they know what to expect. They know that if they follow the rules, they'll be praised, and if they don't, they'll be punished and then offered the chance to try again. They know what to expect. They know what it takes to succeed and what will get them in trouble. Some are prone to test the limits, but I see that as them "wanting to get in trouble more"--they want to know that I'll make good on what I've said and that I actually care what they do--that I don't simply have rules for rules' sake.

Currently as I think about ministry and appointments, I'm left thinking, "I want to get in trouble more." When I took my current church my DS said, "I don't really expect you to do anything with the Latino ministry. Just take a year to feel them out and see if you think they are viable. There won't be any consequences for you if they don't grow." Talk about not getting in trouble. Some call that latitude, freedom even. That I could do whatever I want and there would be no consequences. They perceive that as a good thing. But a year and a half later when minimal growth has been achieved and no projected explosion of ministry expected I sort of wish there had been greater expectations laid before me. Granted, it's nice not to have an ax hanging over my head, but I like knowing what's expected of me and having accountability in that.

When I was in high school it was common to read, "not working up to potential" on my report cards. I used to get mad and say, "Well if I'm not working up to my potential then how do they know what my potential is? I mean, if I haven't reached it, how do they know what my capacity is?" I'm a little wiser these days, not much, but a little, and understand better how one knows such things. I also see that they were trying to raise the bar. The unfortunate thing many of my teachers didn't get (or the laziness I'm prone to, depending on how you look at it) is that if they didn't explicitly raise the bar, I wasn't going to work harder. If I could only skim a book and write a book report and still get an A--I was going to do it. But, if I actually had to read the whole book and write a good report to get an A--I'd do that too. I like to do well. I like to succeed. But I'm also human, and occasionally a slacker ,and if I can get by with the minimum, even if it's for a relatively high level of success, I will. But if you raise the bar--I'll rise to the occasion. Maybe it's my quirky personal vice, but it is what it is for now.

The thing I'd like to tell my DS is, you know, if you expect nothing of me, I'm sure to accomplish it, but if you expect great things from me (and there are consequences for not doing so), I'll accomplish that too. Take your pick!

Monday, January 14, 2008

They make me proud

Last night I decided to use the lectionary text for the UMYF Bible study. So we read through Matthew 3:13-17 together and then had our discussion. Bible studies for me are not very pre-meditated. They're pretty straightforward. Read the text. Name the words or phrases that stick out to us. Define the words or phrases. Try and figure out what it all means. Then try and apply it to ourselves. Some passages go better than others, but generally this is pretty do-able for any group, and the youth are no exception.

After naming the important words or phrases, the location, the cast of characters, and recounting the series of events, we got into a really good discussion about baptism and making the water holy and what being baptized by the Spirit actually means. I'm sure I'll in no way do my youth justice, but the progression of their discussion is worth highlighting.

First we talked about how you make water holy. I had a bottle of water handy and spoke into it saying "Be holy," and asked if that was sufficient--NOPE. So I asked how you make it holy--by blessing it. How do I bless it?--you use words from the Bible. Which words?--I don't know, words from the Bible. So do I make it holy?--Nope, God does. How does God make it holy?--with the Holy Spirit. So, can I make this water holy right now?--Yes!

Okay. So I go get a bowl and pour out some water and say, do I just say abra kadabra and that makes it holy?--NO!!! You have to bless it! Okay, how do I bless it? (I put my hand palm down over the water)--no that's not how you do it! It's not?--No. (one youth gets on his knees and bows his head and folds his hands next to the water. Another gets on one knee and puts out both hands like a magician.) The objections of an older, more theologically minded, youth start to emerge over the commotion. You can't just bless the water just because, you have to use it for something. You can't bless it and then simply throw it on the grass. No? No. (so the other youth start to suggest uses for the water.) Is Taylor [my dog] baptized? You could baptize Taylor. No, Taylor's not baptized, but we don't baptize dogs. Why not? ( one went over that in seminary, but I'm sure it's not kosher, let me think!!) Well, dogs don't think like we do. They don't know between right and wrong, so they can't choose things that are wrong, which means they can't sin. And they also can't understand Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and accept the salvation he offers, so dogs don't need to be baptized. Well, could you baptize one of us? (I knew this particular youth has yet to baptized and has been reluctant about it and I was hoping this discussion might prompt her in some way...) I launched into an explanation of how baptism isn't just about the water, or even the Holy Spirit, that I wouldn't just take someone off in the woods and baptize them there because baptism is also about community--being part of the Christian community, about our acceptance of what Christ did for us and offers us, our commitment to the community, and the community's commitment to us--to love us, teach us, support us, and help us grow in our faith. So, we need to do a baptism in front of the whole community (a.k.a., the church).

We went back to the discussion of making the water holy and asking for a blessing when we didn't have a real use for it. We talked about how it would be an abuse of God's power. One kid offered up, "'Cuz God's not a machine." That's right. God's not like a vending machine where we just make God do things because we can. (A few months ago we had a good discussion about prayer and how we can't treat God like a vending machine--if we offer up 3 prayers we get what we want). I was really proud of them. I asked again, "So could I make this water holy right now?" Yes. How? By blessing it. And how does it get blessed? God blesses it with the Holy Spirit. And should I bless it right now? No. Why not? 'Cuz God's not a machine. Good.

Then we moved onto the Holy Spirit--what does it mean to be baptized by the Holy Spirit? What does that do for us? Blank stares. My co-leader asked, "Does it matter if we're baptized by the Holy Spirit?" No. No? Yes... Why? What do we get? Blessing. Protection. Forgiveness. Good. What else? Strange crazy talking in weird languages. Speaking in tongues. I don't think it's crazy. We talked about gifts and fruits of the Spirit and looked up the 1 Cor passage about the gifts and then wrote them out and looked them over. There was some skepticism about tongues, healing, and miracles (as there often seems to be). I told them that I've witnessed each of them and told a couple of stories about it.

It was about then that we ran out of time, but I was pretty much blown away by their insightfulness and their reluctance to make the holy water just because we could. It was definitely one of those nights when I walked away thinking, "Man I love my kids."


The other night I went out with a friend of mine from college. He's a non-practicing half-Jew half-Christian, and occasionally we edge into the theological. After meandering through our personal lives, he asked me, "If Jesus were alive today, where would he be and what would he be doing?" Quite the question if you ask me. I thought for a minute and figured he would either be some place like Darfur or Kenya attending to the crisis, the broken, the wounded, the abused or he would be some place like DC or the UN challenging the powers that be.

I really thought it was a good question and am curious to hear where you think Jesus would be and what he'd be doing if he were alive today....

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The weekend at the beach

This is why I love sunset at the beach! Hooray for two days without work (and without phones!)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Minor Freak-out

This morning I headed out to meetings in the Santa Ana area and then am off to Oxnard for a couple of days. About 15 minutes into the drive I reached back to find my purse so I could grab my phone and let my friend know my plans. Reach. dig. search. dig. Wait, no phones?!?! How am I supposed to function without a phone? I mean what if I get a flat tire? What if there's traffic and I'm late, how will I let my meeting know? What about my friend for dinner....oh man, how am I supposed to meet up with him if he's calling when he gets off work? Where? When? How? Oh man, the next 3 days without phones. Theoretically I could be really happy about calls from B, R, O, or T. Sweet! But what if there's an emergency? And no one knows I don't have my phones. After tonight I think I can stop stressing, but until then, while I figure out how on earth I will get ahold of my dinner friend...I can't even wrap my head around the notion. Because I could resort to a pay phone...who even uses those anymore? and how much does a call cost? But I don't have my handy-dandy contact list to find his number. I thought about calling my voicemail and changing the message, "Hi, this is Debbie, I'm a dufus and forgot my phone, if you need to reach me before Sunday, please make sure you leave your number so I can call back. If this is J, umm...let's say 7:30 at who knows where and leave me your number so at least we have half a chance of getting together while I'm in town."

This is proof positive that I am far too tied to my phones. I get that. It's probably a good chance for me to realize how distracted I am throughout the day b/c I have my phone. No phone calls in the car, in the store, at work, while watching TV, or reading, or doing my sermon. No phone calls. (Not that I'll be answering anyway). I'd be game if I were on a beach somewhere enjoying vacation. But this isn't vacation and I have things to do people!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


O God, there are so many needs in this world, and so many who need your touch, your healing, your strength, your inspiration. In our hope for better things we name those dear to us and reach out to you. Work your miracles God. Bolster our hope through your good works. Renew our faith as we witness the works of your hand. In the name of the Almighty Christ. Amen.

Almost 27

It's like being almost ancient. I know, not in a real sense, and no, I'm not calling any readers over 27 ancient. But 27 was the number I chose as "favorite" as a pre-teen and now it's right around the bend. 27 was light years away. It was so far in the distance I couldn't even really imagine what it or I would look like. Now, don't get me wrong, I did have hopes and dreams, things I figured would have happened. I think sometime in junior high school I decided I should be married by 23--who knows what in my adolescent wisdom actually guided me toward 23, but there it is. (apparently stuck in la-la land I also thought I'd have a size 3 waist...definitely not a reality, oh yeah, and by the way, I don't think I was EVER actually a size 3--simply skipped over that desirable size). And seeing as how I should have been married for almost 4 years now, I surely would have had a kid or two to show for myself too. No wedding. No kids. Heck, not even prospects on the horizon these days. It makes me feel so unaccomplished. I know, my life, my worth, my self, should not be about being married or about having kids, but that's what was (and still is to some degree) important to me, so bear with me in these musings, or simply switch to someone else's blog's your prerogative, really.

It's funny what life hands you and how it proves you wrong in your naivety. I used to think my values were being a wife and mother--indeed, my life's purpose. I thought those were the things that God had set before me. Yet here I am, as single as they come. No wedding bells in my near future (or even foreseeable for that matter), just those taunting numbers: 2-7, oh yeah, and
living the life and following the vocation I believe God actually has for me.

I had no idea of the woman I'd become--the one I'm still becoming. I still have no clue what she'll turn out to be. What will these next 15 years hold? Will my desired future be fulfilled or yet another perceived wash? What will I have achieved? Where will I have been? Will it surpass even my imagination as the last 15 years have my childhood notions of the good life?

I'm certainly too young to be feeling old, but man, 27 is seriously almost ancient. And while I laugh at those who dread 30, the thought of still being a single woman at 30 pretty much makes me feel like an old maid. I know, it's crazy. really, I get that I'm mildly neurotic, but man, 30?

I know this is all quite random and if you're just joining my blog, welcome! and just for the record, you might want to browse a little for a more normative look at what spills from my lips. If you've been around awhile or know me personally, this strangeness will sadly not seem strange at all.

In many ways (so many I probably shouldn't enumerate them here) I am glad I didn't get married young/early whatever. In large part because looking back on my dating selections, it's best that I didn't even come close to marriage. Trust me. But I'm also glad I didn't get married early because I've been free to do what I want, move where I want, travel when and how I want, in a sense be selfish to go, do, and see without worrying about how it will affect my significant other. And it's that *freedom* that has allowed me to visit 13 countries, to see Damascus, to road trip through Portugal and Spain, to walk the Via Dolorosa, to climb Mount Sinai at o'dark thirty so I could watch the sunrise, to swim in the dead sea, to float in the icy cold water of the Mediterranean, to tour Havanna Cuba with locals, to make tortillas over a fire in Honduras, to share a meal with workers from a maquiladora, to acquire a *boyfriend* in every country I've visited, to meet amazing people, try all different kinds of food and drink, and so much more.

If my life were what I thought it would or should be it wouldn't be what it is. I know, that's pretty obvious, but seriously, if I were married, I may not have made it to half of those places. If I had kids I couldn't just up and leave and fly to NYC or Atlanta or plan trips to Peru, India, or England. I may not be the woman I thought I'd be. I may not have achieved the things I thought I should have, but I am contented with the woman I have become (albeit " riddled through with flaws"--thank you SP for the words) and I wouldn't trade my experiences for the world. (I wouldn't even trade them for the aforementioned husband!)

To underscore what I would have missed, here are a few shots:

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, Israel

Palmyra, Syria

Petra, Jordan

Movie recommendation

For my sabbath I treated myself to a night out--dinner and a movie. I went and saw Juno and loved it. It was believable, it had depth, it was witty, and it had some nice unexpected twists. It was enjoyable and fun. (and did I mention witty?! The script was one of the best I've seen/heard in a long time). If you're looking for a night out....definitely a winner!

On depression

Dark brown murky mire
wet gray weight
uninspired plans
minimalist to-do lists
shame for the tiresome haze of being
merciless self-persecution
taunts of inability
tireless fatigue
stream of mediocrity
longing for the *real* self
knowledge of hope
leaded legs that refuse to move
emotional constipation
fortress walls refusing to acknowledge visitors, even friends
watchless waiting
tiresome frustrations
impeded relationships
burdensome vulnerability
calloused living
dull and tarnished thoughts
waning creativity

**to make this a prayer, one might add: "God free me from..." to each line

I think this sums it up...

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Gotta love California courts

Apparently when Mr Officer starts your holidays off with a bang, he can keep the cheer going by not turning in your citation. Which seems like it could be a happy oversight that means you don't have to pay, but after calling the automated system a zillion times and them not having your information and you give up and call the actual court you find out that Mr. Officer doesn't have to file your citation for a year. That's right ladies and gentlemen, a year...that's a year of waiting, oh yes, and a year of calling the automated system to pay your fine. Keep in mind that you have a court date listed on your citation, for which you can be arrested if you miss it. But if your citation isn't in the system it doesn't make sense to go to said court hearing. But, at the same time you run the risk of facing jail or a fine for failure to appear. Tell me how that makes sense. Please. Someone. I'm supposed to call the courts everyday for a year because Mr. Officer failed to do his paperwork? Why couldn't I get the uber-administrative cop who forces me to pay the stupid fine now?!!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Confirming visions

A few years ago I was on a date at a coffee shop. It was our first time out together though we knew each other from a shelter where we both volunteered and I had gone to see him perform (he's a singer/songwriter). As we sat and talked and shared the many details of our pasts there came a moment when he started to unbutton his flannel shirt to show me the image on his t-shirt underneath. As he unbuttoned I had an odd sense akin to deja vu. But it wasn't deja vu since this was my first time out with this man and I had never been to the coffee shop where we met. I had seen that scene before, in a dream/vision.

At the time I wasn't quite sure what to do with it. I understood it as a God thing and used it as a reason to "hang-in" with the relationship. Not that it wasn't worth hanging in for otherwise, just that I have a tendency of running, quickly, away from romantic relationships. So I didn't run, I waited to see what God might provide through this man. We dated for a few weeks and I learned what it was like to date someone normal and functional (without major issues). We broke up when our upcoming moves proved too much of an obstacle. Nothing more profound came of our relationship or from the vision. That was it.

Almost 8 months later as I sat in my senior pastor's office (half wondering why on earth I was at such a caustic church) I had a similar experience. I saw the scene I had had in a vision sometime earlier. While I didn't know why (or how), I knew I was where God wanted me to be.

I know there have been others (primarily because I remember having had a conversation about the meaning of such visions with a woman in 2005, pre coffeeshop date, when we were in the Middle East together...).

This weekend I had another. It's been over a year since there was one that stuck out in my mind, but as I preached to the group of young adults, I looked up and saw a repeated vision/scene (including persons I had never met before the weekend in a place I had never been to). I immediately looked to my Bible and it too was the same as from the vision. I was caught off-guard. While not new, it was unexpected. I was so stunned that I stopped preaching and shared the incident and the history of these visions in my life. I'm not sure why, it's not something I would normally do mid-sermon, but it felt important to say something about it. I do not know what God hoped to do with that confirmation or if things were fulfilled, or if it was simply so that I might know that I was where God would have me be.

Later that night the worship leader/musician with whom I worked at camp last summer and again this weekend came into the room and mentioned the visions and said he gets them too and that he interprets them similarly and that we should talk about them more sometime.

When I have them I don't generally know the place or the people, so it's not something I can consciously recreate or concoct. They just are what they are. I sometimes wonder if I need to tune in more so that I could do something more constructive with them, but for now, they simply serve as a confirmation of God's foresight and that I am where I am supposed to be.

This weekend's fun

It wasn't nearly enough snow...only about 3 inches by the time I had to head down the hill, but it was nice to be there while it snowed and to be in the fresh beauty of it all. This is a shot as I headed down the hill.

I'm convinced my dog might just be the cutest on the planet. She's certainly the sweetest. If only I could get this shot when the wind blow through her hair and makes her look like a soap star with her hair blowing in the wind!

It was the side of the road, a turnout really, and the snow was not very deep, but I couldn't resist the temptation...

When one does not buy the necessary chain tighteners but does accept the help of a friendly stranger, one ends up with a funky, but secure, chained tire!

The Weekend's learnings...

This weekend's lessons (and a few I've thrown in just because they are helpful).

1) Buy snow chains and chain tighteners (bungee like thing that keeps the chains from clack*clack*clacking all the way down the hill) before you need them. (thanks Dad for calling to insure I got the chains!)

2) Accept grace where grace is offered and the offered help of a friendly stranger

3) When you need to reprimand someone, do it in person first. If there are multiple incidents or if it could turn legal, keep written documentation, but first trust a person to respond to a simple conversation.

4) When emailing with a colleague or work associate, it's best to include "niceties" of how are you, well wishes etc and not just cut to the business of the email.

5) air mattresses are SO worth the investment

6) Potlucks might just be the best thing about church!

7) When going on an overnight youth or young adult trip and desiring to sleep--pack earplugs

8) It's important to foster your creative side--write, do poetry, paint, create, sew, cook...whatever.

9) Take the time to make a snow angel, throw a snowball, and enjoy the beauty of snow

10) Nothing beats a good friend who connects to your soul.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Take a stand

When I was an RA in college we had diversity training. As a part of that, we did an exercise called “Take a Stand”. We all stood in a big circle and a moderator read statements. If we felt the statement was true for us, then we took a step into the circle and after about 2 seconds stepped back out and waited for the next statement. It was a silent exercise, except for the moderators. At the end we sat down and talked about how we reacted. Many of the statements were race, gender, and class related. I’ve used it in other settings and tweaked it as necessary. I’m leading a young adult retreat this weekend and have designed yet another version of it. I’m posting it here both as a resource and as a work in progress. If you have other statements you think I should add, please post a comment. If you think this, or a version of it, would work well for your group, feel free to use it and tweak it as necessary. (They are in no particular order)

· I am a child of God

· I’ve been changed by my relationship with Christ

· I was baptized as an infant

· I was baptized as a child or adult

· I have doubts about my beliefs

· I have wondered about the divinity of Jesus

· I have doubts about the virgin birth

· I consider myself a faithful Christian

· I am willing to be challenged in my beliefs

· I use spiritual disciplines to grow closer to God

· I believe in the power of prayer

· I wonder how prayer actually works

· I wonder if I’m a “good enough” Christian

· I have been embarrassed to share my faith

· I have missed a chance to talk openly about Christ

· I have been compelled to help someone in need

· I believe faith makes a difference

· I believe God can use other religions to reach people

· God has done things in my life I think are worth sharing

· I believe in the power of Evil

· I believe in the devil

· I have been forgiven

· I have sinned

· I don’t feel I’m worthy of God’s love

· I consider myself an evangelist

· I have a role model to follow in my faith walk

· I believe the Bible is the word of God

· I believe the Bible is inspired

· I know what God wants me to do with my life

· I have not asked God what God wants from my life

· I am waiting on an answer from God

· I believe God has a plan

· I believe I have free will to follow God’s plan or not

· There have been times when I’ve chosen not to follow God’s will

· I care about the future of the world

· I believe I can make a difference

· I care about the future of the church

· Worship at my church is meaningful for me

· I have stopped attending church regularly

· Most of my friends are practicing Christians

· I’ve done things I otherwise wouldn’t because of peer pressure

· I pray at restaurants

· I wish there were more people with whom I could talk about my faith

· I pray regularly

· I practice Sabbath

· I have a prayer partner

· I have an accountability partner

· I came to this retreat expectant for what God has for me

· I came to this retreat for fellowship

· I came to this retreat for a chance to get away

· My soul is full of joy

· My soul needs to be replenished

· I want to leave this place different than when I came.

Some follow up questions (this can be done with a large or small group and if you have a large group, feel free to break up for the discussion questions...): What question were you surprised by? Which question were you encouraged by? What response gave you pause? Which question stuck with you? Which question made you want to change something in your faith life? Which question challenged you? Is there a part of your faith you want to share with the group?