February 22, 2008

i have recently discovered that i am more like my mother than i thought. most of the time i think about how my likes and dislikes, the choices i’ve made, and the way my life looks are different than my family; most of the time any similarities i might share with them are left unnoticed. this week, however, i realized that perhaps we are more alike than i knew.

it was a square table and mom was sitting across from me (dad and adam occupied the other two sides). the majority of our conversation that evening had revolved around politics, which i suppose is to be expected (or hoped for) during election years. we had enjoyed our cocktails and starters, and now sipped on wine (a deep malbec) as we waited for the main course. i looked across the table covered with empty salad plates, wine glasses, bread crumbs, and asked mom (for the second time) if she wanted to travel to africa with me. i could sense immediately that the topic had been discussed at home, when she and dad had been alone, and there seemed to be some tension surrounding it. mom responded, “well, lisa, i’d like to but it’s a little outside of my comfort zone,” her eyes were becoming wet with tears, and her voice began to quake a bit, “and it’s even more out of my comfort zone without dad.” she paused for a moment, glancing at him, and then added, “which makes me so mad.” i understood. i understood that feeling and i understood hating that feeling. all i knew to say in that moment was, “well, mom, maybe that’s the exact reason we should go.”

i like to think of myself as a strong woman. whether it’s an accurate assessment or not is beside the point, i like to think that i’m some sort of progressive woman: independent [not reliant], capable [not weak], and brave [not fearful].

last night i finally got to spend some time with friends i see not often enough. we sat around the dinner table (this one circular in shape) in their home and shared a beautiful meal…homemade soup, tasty salad, and round glasses of wine (another malbec). throughout the evening we talked about their growing son, laughed about old television programs, talked about summer plans, about jobs, and about life. towards the end of the evening, when all that remained on the table were empty salad plates, wine glasses, and bread crumbs, we began discussing, specifically, the stuff of my life: grad school decisions and everything surrounding those – the INN, loneliness, goodness, the lack of balance in my community, calling, sadness, and the need for change. they asked questions about all of it and i did my best to articulate (failing miserably, in my opinion) response. i had given them permission to ask. and their willingness to listen, process, and speak into my life meant more than they knew. we went back and forth, talking about it all, until suddenly i said something i had no intention of uttering out loud. with a lumpy throat, tears squeezing themselves from my eyes, and a trembling voice, i said, “what i really want,” i croaked, “is to be a wife and a mother.” i caught my breath, “i can make decisions about all the other stuff in my life – i can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to everything else – but not that. and that is what i’d pick.”

i suddenly felt dependent. i suddenly felt vulnerable. i suddenly felt frightened. i also felt stupid, silly, and pathetic. i knew these feelings. And i hated these feelings. the battle inside me continued: independent women don’t need men. strong women don’t admit stupid thoughts. brave women don’t cry about things they can’t control.

these friends didn’t reply with annoying empty promises that “it would happen someday.” they didn’t attempt to cheer me up by saying that i was “still young.” they didn’t try to console me with lame stock responses. in fact, i got no sense that they thought my confession ridiculous. what i did hear was one question: “so, how are you going to find a way to live out that desire to love as a wife and mother in your life as it is now?”

wanting to be a wife and a mother has always made me feel inferior. but wanting to learn how to love another person, and love well, is not pathetic. to be a woman loved by a man is not needy. to crave knowing the child that has grown inside of you is not silly. to want to live in a home filled to the brim with all the richness family can offer is not pathetic. in fact, it would be weak, fearful, and pitiful to believe any of that. i think, at the core, i don’t hate my desire, i hate how i’ve allowed it to make me feel. i hate that i’ve made a bad list of what it means to be a “strong” woman and i have tried to live by that list. i hate the choice i have made to ignore myself, the desire i have for certain things, and have therefore diminished who i am as a woman. i hate all these things because they are what have left me feeling stupid, weak, needy, and pathetic.

“so, how are you going to find a way to live out that desire to love as a wife and mother in your life as it is now?”

i think that is part of what africa is about. i think that is part of why i am at the INN, and why i am not ready to leave. i think it is why i enjoy transforming my house into a home – by creating within it. i think it’s why i want, so badly, to figure out how to love myself, so i can truly love others. i think it’s why i am not interested in shallow relationships – but long for deep commitment on both sides. i think it’s why i hate not having the time to invest in people. i think it’s why feeling disconnected from others leaves me so utterly alone. and i think it’s why having to sacrifice so many of these things, in one way or another, the past year and a half, has left me squelched. tired. sad. and asking if it’s really worth the price.

i think i am more like my mom than i realize. we both feel things intensely and we both believe ourselves to be weaker women because of many of those feelings.

i’ve thought about my mom all day. i have thought about the young woman she was when her husband joined the army. i thought about how, as a newly married woman and the mother of her first child, she had to move to germany, away from family and friends. i thought about how effortlessly she balanced working and creating a home. i thought about our trip to miami this summer to visit my dying aunt – and the deep love i watched her gracefully offer there. i thought about how i have watched my mother care for her own aging mother during the recent years and the patience that has grown inside of her. and i thought about how she chose to go to africa with me.

i thought about my mom today. i thought about how ordinary and incredible she is. i thought about her strength, which although threatened at times, quietly and steadily remains. and i hope i’m more like her than i realize.



February 11, 2008

[lately, for some reason, i have been repeatedly reminded of the one funny summer i spent in skagway, alaska. i am not sure what, exactly, is drawing these memories to the forefront of my mind. it could be the anticipation of another summer away or it could be my longing for rest like i knew there, but for whatever reason i have been remembering, appreciating, and missing that little place. i wrote this while i was there. as i re-read it tonight i realized…it was the firstborn of documented “holy moments.” i like that. it’s been a while since i was there…but the memories of that place continue to carry with them the healing that my soul found there.]

i just wanted to be bake. i wanted an hour tonight to be alone…with a wooden spoon, some tasty ingredients and my thoughts. i suppose i selfishly wanted to feel a bit normal – to pretend i was at home with all that is familiar. yet tonight something altogether different has happened. i am not alone. the cookies i’ve created are flat and disappointing. the dough tastes fine, though, delicious in fact, and my belly aches from my over-indulgence. outside the lawn is spotted with unattractive, yet functional, bicycles. ordinary people are strumming guitars and i listen as their voices muddle their way through verses they are uncertain of. i am sitting here in the corner filling postcards with words in an attempt to share my current life with friends back home. the sound of a soccer ball against bare feet directs my attention out there once again. those boys from tennessee have just arrived on their unattractive, yet functional, bicycles. their skinned up knees remind me that they were friends as children. conversation is being shared out there through words spoken too softly for me to hear…suddenly the murmur breaks into laughter and faces are covered with smiles. inside i have just pulled out the last tray of cookies from the oven. the kitchen is warm and the scents of peanut butter and oatmeal fill the air. in this very moment your presence overwhelms me. in this typical, ordinary evening you are close. there is nothing formal about it – nothing religious – and yet you are here – the stuff of you is all around. life. life so rich it would be outrageous to believe it came from anyone other than the giver of good gifts. friendship. laughter. voices singing. belly aches and skinned knees. delicious treats [however flat and disappointing in appearance]. bare feet on cold grass. not to mention the magnificent, snow-capped backdrop. all of this – a reflection of the grace you offer each imperfect person present. the peace welling up inside me carries me to a place of thankfulness. gratefulness. rest. hope. longing for more of this.


February 3, 2008

occasionally life offers you a moment that touches you so deeply it causes your heart to ache wildly, your mind to slow, and your breath to shorten. these moments often creep up on me without warning, catching me off guard, and unexpectedly leave me with the inability to maintain any semblance of emotional stability. one taste of such moments leaves you with an insatiable craving for more. as someone hungering after these moments i tend to search for them in the fancier corners of life – occasions including small black dresses, multiple courses, flower arrangements, and designated dates. though they can be, and have been, found there, i am frequently surprised that most often these aching moments usually find me in the midst of the most ordinary of times – during the workday, driving the I-5 corridor, while chatting online, during a family dinner in a neighbor’s home, in everyday conversations with familiar people, and on usual evenings at home with any one of my roommates.

life offered me one of these moments this past week and i’d appreciate your grace as i bumble my way through sharing it in the words that follow…

on wednesday afternoon i found myself in the most ordinary of places: sitting at my desk. an email from a mission contact open on my computer screen which, as i read, frustrated and discouraged me. a wave of exhaustion rolled over me as i spotted, sitting on my desk [to the left of my computer], the small square of blue paper on which i had scribbled a lengthy list of things to do. i wondered how [on that particular afternoon] that list was going to diminish with all the students coming in to meet with me for open mic night auditions. as i said, on wednesday afternoon i found myself in the most ordinary of places [for me, anyway]. with no time to waste, i dove into my tasks. i began working in a highly “productive” manner, efficiently crossing off listed items one by one until the first auditioning student walked into the office and found his way to my back corner. this familiar student tiredly sat in the cushy chair beside my desk and i cut right to the chase [i didn’t have time to spare]: what song was he planning on singing? what technical equipment would he need? approximately how long would the song run? i took clear notes as we chatted [so as not to forget], offered my typical witty quips throughout our conversation, and when we had discussed all we needed to, i quickly [yet politely] redirected my attention back to my list. this was the cycle of my afternoon: working diligently on my administrative tasks, stopping only long enough to preview songs and discuss guitar pick-ups with students desiring to perform at the end of the week, and then continuing on down my to-do list.

around three o’clock a student named taylor walked in. i spun around in my twirly desk chair to see him standing with his guitar. i had never met taylor. to be honest, i was unsure as to whether i had ever seen him before. i smiled kindly, formally introduced myself, asked him to sit down, and we began to talk. i asked the same questions i’d been asking musicians all day and taylor confidently, yet gently, answered them. he’d need just one vocal mic, he’d be plugging in just one guitar, he’d be singing two songs [originals], and he didn’t imagine they’d last much longer than 8 minutes total. when i was done asking my questions and jotting down notes i placed my mechanical pencil on the desk, looked at taylor with a smile, and said, “well, let’s hear what you’ve got.” he picked his guitar up, placed it upon his right knee, and slung his arm over it. as i looked at the two of them – taylor and his guitar – i was certain that their friendship was honest and ran deep. he began to pick out a melody and moments later his voice joined in. i sat back comfortably in my twirly desk chair and listened.

it was there, in the midst of a student audition for open mic night, that life offered me a moment so vibrant, so prickly, so full that it caused my eyes to fill with tears and my heart to ache within my chest. my mind slowed as i watched taylor’s fingers move along the neck of the guitar and listened to his voice soar louder than the strumming. the air seemed to grow thicker, more tangible and real, and i struggled to take a quiet, deep breath. it had crept up on me, without warning, and sitting there [with taylor] i felt an inability to maintain any semblance of emotional stability. but somehow i coped. i slyly wiped my tears. i managed a swallow. i continued to breathe. when he finished he broke his gaze with the sheet of notebook paper his lyrics were scrawled across, and looked up at me. i shook my head, my mouth crooked. after what seemed like forever, i quietly spoke, “that was wonderful. ready to sing the second one?” experiencing something completely different in that moment, he spoke with casualty and ease, “sure.” he shifted the papers in front of him and, once again, began to play.

i don’t think it had anything to do with the lyrics. i don’t think it had anything to do with the particular melody being played. i don’t think it had anything to do with the time of day or how weary i felt.

i don’t think it had anything to do with taylor. and i think it had everything to do with taylor.

in that office. in that lowly, dirty, humble office life offered me this moment. and i saw things again. for the hundredth time. for the first time. i sat with taylor. and i wasn’t seeing him as some western student i’d never met. in that moment i saw God’s story. God’s child. he had words to write. songs to sing. life within him. imbedded deep inside him was the fingerprint of all that is good. he had a smile. he had sadness. he was a story filled with questions and a story rich with answers. he was sitting before me sharing a chapter of who he was. he was sharing his creation just as creation had been shared with him. he loved. he hated. he was precious and he was ordinary.

he was a part of the redemption story.

and the great storyteller was sharing this story with me. he had shared a half dozen with me earlier that same afternoon. the truth is, every day of my life the great storyteller shares the redemption story with me through the lives of college students. as i listen to them cry over broken hearts: the redemption story. as i watch them play music on tuesday nights: the redemption story. as i watch them pray with their peers: the redemption story. as i drink coffee with them and laugh about something absurd: the redemption story. as i receive their phones calls to share life’s goodness: the redemption story. what a blessing to spend my days knee deep in God’s redemption story. i just hadn’t been listening well…too distracted by tasks and emails.

he had my attention now. i was captivated.

i am thankful for this moment that found me sometime shortly after three o’clock in the afternoon last wednesday. i am grateful that the redemption story was illustrated for me then. the faces i see in the cars next to me at stoplights, the faces of the small children that play on the sidewalk in front of my house, the faces of people in the grocery store, the faces of my roommates, the faces of those i can’t stand, the faces of my mom and dad and brother, all illustrate the beautiful, complex, and aching story of redemption.

i suppose the tendency these moments have to sneak up on me in these unexpected ways is the reason i am increasingly captivated by the ordinary in ways i find difficult to express…and i’m so grateful.