Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Fat Tuesday (or training for a triathlon, part one)

Today is Fat Tuesday, eve of the season of repentance that begins with Ash Wednesday. The ashes remind us that from dust we have come, and to dust we return. In repentance we recognize that without God, we are nothing. With the ashes marking our foreheads in the sign of the cross, we say that it is because of Christ we have complete forgiveness and complete freedom. And so with this repentant heart that recognizes Christ as the giver of life, we embrace life with a willingness to change for the better.

When you are trying to get pregnant, it's easy to put things off with the "well, when I get pregnant I won't be able to do that" naiveté. So before Christmas when our friends mentioned participating in the Wildflower triathlon sprint in May 2006, I decided against it because I was planning to be pregnant by then, and mountain biking isn't so good for the pregnant lady. But as those who have struggled with infertility can tell you, better off living your life than putting things on hold. So when the new year rolled around and I still wasn't with child, I decided to ahead and do it, secretly thinking "Sure, once I sign up and pay the registration fee, I'll get pregnant, ha ha ha (insert sneaky laughter here)."

Well, a few months later, I'm ten pounds lighter and in better shape than when I started. You could definitely say there's a benefit to living my life in the present instead of in the future. My endurance and strength have improved, as has my attitude! So on Fat Tuesday I can say my physical health is improving (not to mention a clean bill of health this year--no more colitis!). But what about my spiritual health? Am I cleansing my soul the way I am attempting to cleanse my body? What extra "fat" am I carrying around my spirit?

I can say with honesty that the infertility struggle has been the single most difficult factor in my spiritual walk with God. So the reality is I would rather be fat and pregnant than 10 pounds lighter and not. Sad but true. About a year ago I was writing in my journal about my totally irrational fear that God would withhold from me the one thing I wanted most desperately--to be a mother. And over the next several months I learned things about my body that made this fear a bit more rational.

But I cling to my faith, for this is all I have! I remind myself that it is not God who withholds, for I am sure that every good and perfect gift comes directly from him. Just to have life is a gift, just to know him a gift, to have a loving family, amazing friends, a roof over my head, food to eat, a job...these are all good gifts, undeserved but given anyway. As a friend who is also experiencing difficulty getting pregnant said, "Becky, motherhood is a gift, not a right." Her words stung because they were (and are) true.

And I still struggle. I cringe every month when my fears are confirmed and a new cycle begins. Just last week an acquaintance let me know she was pregnant, and it was really difficult. I was so happy for her, but so sad for me. Later that week, as I was laying in bed wondering about all of this, I found myself asking God (in a very immature, adolescent tone), "what else do you want from me?" And the song that immediately popped into my head..."Devotion" by the Newsboys.

What my Lord wants from me is devotion, pure and simple. He wants my heart to desire after him above all else. This is so easy at times, so difficult at others. I want to want God above all. I want to serve him above all. I don't want to hold out on him because my selfish and stubborn spirit at times thinks he is holding out on me.

Praise be to God that I am changing for the better. I know I am because I have seen growth this year, and just as I have experienced an increased physical endurance with my triathlon training, I am learning to endure spiritually as well. I have witnessed my faith maturing and deepening even in the course of disappointment and unmet wishes. I have felt the faith and encouragment of others when I didn't have the strength to stand on my own. I have learned that nothing I do or say or am is deserving of the gifts I have. It is all God's doing. And that is precisely what lent is all about.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

family is what you make it

Last night we were out with some of our friends at In-and-Out burger for dinner, and we sat and marveled at our friends' little boys as they did what toddlers do best...laughed, ran around, repeated words over and over looking for a response, spit out too-big bites. On the way home, Ben and I discussed how blessed we feel at this point in life. Blessed to have such amazing families, and blessed with the family we've made here in Danville.

For years we've wanted real community and authentic relationships, where people feel mutually supported and challenged to become more loving, more caring, more aware of their own belovedness. And this is exactly what's happening to us. In our midst we have found people who love us and care for us and help us to become more of who we want to be, more of the individuals we were created to be. We would not be here, at this point of self-discovery and growth, without the support and encouragement and challenge of our friendships. And the amazing thing is, it's happening to each of us, to every single person within our small group. The commitments we made to each other, of devotion and prayer and support and love and sacrifice, they're really coming into the light.

Kelly said the other night that she thinks of us as Tyler's aunt and uncle, and that is precisely how we feel. I am fiercely devoted to these friends and their children, as if they are my own flesh and blood. My heart leaps when Tyler says my name and Jack gives Ben a hand-painted birthday card. My eyes well up when I hold little Wyatt and see how he's growing so fast. And I've lost count of the belly laughs brought on by comedic Tyler E. Even as I write this entry, my heart wells up and my eyes tear up. I thank God that he has given us such amazing friendships, the kind that feel more like family. I love that I can send out an email in the middle of the day asking for prayer or letting friends in on my struggles. I love that we are starting to "get" each other, and see past the facade to ask the harder, deeper questions.

And I know this is how we're meant to live...we are not solitary beings, we are not meant to be in isolation or to handle our sorrows alone or celebrate joys by ourselves. We are to share in each other's lives in a real, emotional, physical, life-changing way. My light shines a little brighter for the support of my friends, and for this I am humbly grateful.

Friday, February 24, 2006

cultural proficiency

It's kind of crazy when your work life and spiritual life intertwine so perfectly. Our church, thanks in large part to my husband's countless hours and creative energy, is launching a new series this week. It's called "If I Could Change the World." As a church body, we're going be studying and looking at big issues: racism, poverty, oppression of women, intolerance, among others. I've been thinking a lot about how this series may affect our community, which is a very homogenous upper-middle class white crowd. I've been praying that it will make people uncomfortable, in the sense that it will make them struggle with these issues like never before.

The other day I stopped at Starbucks after a hard swim to pick up some coffee on my way to work. A homeless woman sat outside. I've seen her there frequently, and at times have offered up a little prayer for her. (I started "stranger praying" about a year ago and it's been totally radical for me. Rather than stressing and worrying and hurting for all the hard things I see in these poor, rundown communities, I pray about it. I pray for complete strangers, and it is so liberating). That day, as I left Starbucks ($3.60 for a tall half caff coffee and reduced fat cinnamon swirl coffee cake) she asked for change. I turned toward her and asked if I could buy her some coffee or breakfast. She looked at me with disgust in her face, saying, "No, I don't want coffee, I want some change." I don't really like giving change to people because I really don't want to enable them to get a fix. I feel much more comfortable providing something of substance. But her face was so clearly displeased with what I had to offer. So I did something I'm ashamed to admit. I simply lied and said I didn't have change, but I'd be happy to pay for something to eat for her. She gave me the same look and made a "tch" sound with her mouth, turning away.

Today I attended a training on working with multicultural youth in a school-based setting. Usually these trainings are helpful, but so many of them just repeat the same message over and over. These presenters had new language and fresh ideas, which made me feel so empowered and encouraged and inspired. One key concept they shared was the idea of cultural proficiency versus cultural competency. Competency suggests that one has learned all there is to learn about a culture, whereas proficiency means you know enough to pass the test, so to speak. And I started to think about the homeless culture, about this woman sitting outside Starbucks and I felt so sad, like I had totally misunderstood her. I want another chance to talk to her, another chance to look into her eyes and try to understand her, versus trying to validate my own understanding of who I think she is.

So there is hope that I am changing, one little bit of me at a time. I really hope the day comes when I don't grow uncomfortable when I see someone asking for money, but where I put myself in their shoes and try to understand from their point of view. I guess my prayers are working, at least for me. I look forward to seeing her again...I hope I get the opportunity to learn more.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

i just love this kid

After I got my degree, I got a great job doing exactly what I wanted--working with grieving kids. Day after day, week after week, I sat in comfy chairs with hurting kids, doing art projects and talking about anger and sadness and death and heaven. At the same time, Ben was doing his chaplaincy internship at the city's trauma hospital. We started out that summer talking about our days and our clients(protecting their privacy of course), but soon it got to be too much. He was meeting families right in the midst of their trauma--drive-by shooting, stabbing, miscarriage--and I was getting them a few months down the road. It was pretty intense. I always knew I could handle the stress, as long as I didn't try to do it on my own. But obviously the whole taking your work home with you thing wasn't working either.

At the time, a colleague of mine offered some excellent advice on how to stay commited to my work without burning my family out. Every time she would meet with a client, she would pray for them afterwards, sending all their concerns and hurts and bruises and aches right up to God, asking for help and guidance to see them through their pain. She often envisioned each one like a bubble, floating right up into heaven. Since that piece of advice, I've tried (and oftentimes failed, though I am getting better) to offer the needs of my kids to something far greater, far bigger than this simple servant. After all, these are big problems, and I am so small.

So today I met with A, a sixteen year-old kid who is handsome, gifted, funny and good-hearted. It just so happens that trouble finds him no matter where he goes. His mom died about a year and a half ago and since then things have gone downhill fast. He came into my office angry, sullen, hardly making eye contact and fidgeting in his chair as he shared about almost getting in another fight his first day back from suspension. He told me people label him "angry" and "bad" and he's starting to believe them.

My heart just sunk and I found myself (as I am now learning to do) praying right in the middle of my session. It usually goes something like: "God help me find the words to bring truth to this kid, who needs truth so badly right now." And so I say to A, "You know, you don't have to be who other people think you are. I believe that's not who you are, that there's more to you." Now, anytime I say something like this to a kid there is a good chance they will throw it right back in my face, because the lies are so big and so loud and sometimes easier to believe than truth. He turned to look me right in the eye and I swear I could see into his broken soul for just a moment in time. His face softened and he told me that for the first time that day, when confronted by his peer, he heard a voice in his head tell him "walk away, it's not worth it, you don't want to fight." Now, the trouble with my kids is, they give me what psychotherapists call countertransference. Basically, I wanted to pull that big ol' kid right into my arms and hug him and hug him again and tell him everything is going to be okay. But of course I didn't because then I would never see him again. But he shared that he just might believe there is more to him than feeling angry because he was able to walk away from a fight, and he was able to listen to the voice that calmed him down, and, in my own words, he didn't give into the fire burning in his fists and radiating up to his heart.

Now I know this kid, like I know my other students. He will be back in my office in a week, and maybe not then, but in the future there will be other fights, other lies, and the strong voice of darkness and despair knocking at his door. But for today, I call a win for the light side, the good guys, truth, whatever you want to call it. All I know is, I feel great now. And my kid is back in class, calmer, maybe even learning.
This is my first entry, and, if I can manage, the beginning of a blogfest. For months I've been eating up friends' blog entries, savoring each post like little morsels of chocolatey goodness. There is nothing quite like watching your friends from afar, seeing their babies become small children, and laughing/crying/wondering about the daily intricacies of normal life. And so, I've taken the first step toward what hopefully is a transparent view into the morsels of my day-to-day life.

The header is a reference to Isaiah 58, a passage which I've recently found inspiring, challenging, and revolutionary in my thoughts, beliefs, and daily life. It is my hope that through my work, my life, and my growth, I find a way to let my light shine through the darkness, and that eventually I might see night become as the noonday.