08 November 2013

7 Quick Takes, Family Edition

1. This week, I made a quick trip up to my parents' house in PA. My mom has a (very painful)herniated disc, so my sister and I cooked some meals and I took them up, leaving the kiddos in the care of hubby. I can't remember the last time I drove any significant distance without at least one child in the car--and most often, two children who consider the car to be the best place to hone their apparently much-valued bickering skills. Three plus hours alone in the car, listening to whatever music or podcasts I wanted? Bliss. Maybe my parents will need some more help in a week or two?

2. Speaking of which, my mom has been mostly flat on her back for the better part of three weeks, unable to do any cleaning or tidying up. My dad also has some trouble getting around. I, on the other hand, have no mobility problems to speak of, *and* recently hired a cleaning lady to come every other week. My parents' house STILL looks cleaner and (for sure) tidier than mine. I will now place the blame for this on our darling children (just ignore that derisive laughter from my sister, who stayed with us for a time before we had children).

3. So is it petty to wonder whose food my parents will like more, that cooked by me or by my sister? Maybe I should have given my parents a rating card for each dish, and not told them who cooked what. Except the meatloaf I made kind of fell apart, so after being frozen and reheated, it will likely end up being tasty meat crumbles. Wendy wins again--drat that chicken a la king!

4. Back to the appalling state of our abode--Monday is when I truly realized that tidiness vs. messiness is an inborn trait. My oldest is messy, and sees no problem with it. Asking her to clean up her room (or, when she was younger, her toys) is tantamount to torture, as far as she is concerned. I'm convinced that she really sees no reason for it. "It's fine!" she will say, as I look at her supposedly clean room, and point at obvious pieces of trash on the floor--right next to her trash can.

On the other hand, Monday afternoon, I said to my youngest daughter, "Your friend is coming over tomorrow--can you pick up your toys in the family room? Then later we can clean your room." (She's five, so still qualifies for parental assistance in room cleaning.) She happily (!) cleaned up her toys, then said "I'm going to clean my room now!" and disappeared for a good half-hour. When I checked her room, it was tidy, nothing on the floor, and she had even had a go at making her bed (difficult because it's a loft bed). I'd say it's amazing what the promise of a playdate can do, except that I have tried the same strategy with my oldest and still gotten moans, groans, and maybe one clear spot on the floor where her clean laundry used to be.

5. One of the perks of going up to PA was the chance to stop at the local tea shop. After reading this article about pesticides, plastic teabags possibly leaching chemicals, etc., I have sworn off buying more tea at Teavana, which is the only place I've found here that sells loose tea. If any fellow NoVa residents know of a locally owned tea shop, please let me know! But I don't know that anything can beat the blend I'm currently in love with, an organic black tea mixed with coconut. Yum.

6. In the past year or so, I've really become interested in people's stories. Rather late in the game, I realized that if I ask the right questions and engage with other people, they will tell me the most fascinating things. This is in stark contrast with my modus operandi since childhood--when the stories in books were far more interesting than actual living, breathing people.

Last week, I was sitting on the playground while my younger one played, with my Kindle in hand. A young woman sat down near me. I had seen her briefly the week before, when (who I thought was) her son played tag with my daughter. She struck up a conversation with me, and instead of giving her noncommittal answers and going back to my book, I asked her where she was from. And that led to a very interesting story: a young woman from Jordan, who had come to the U.S. to visit relatives (the boy was actually her cousin) and decided to stay and get her nursing degree at the local community college. She already had her bachelor's degree plus a master's in social work, and had worked in her field, including traveling around the world doing music therapy for an international NGO, for nearly a decade. But she had always wanted to be a nurse; her parents had discouraged her from majoring in nursing when she was younger, because the long hours would make it difficult for her to get married and have children. Now, she was still unmarried and without children, but she was in the United States and an adult, so why not pursue her dream? She was eager to finish her studies and get back to Jordan, though, because she disliked the NoVa weather and missed her family. All this from a random woman on the local playground. And I would have missed it if I hadn't paid attention and listened.

7. And here's a different take on pursuing your dream: Phil Vischer, the founder of the hugely popular Christian cartoons, VeggieTales, now speaks and writes about what he learned when his company disintegrated around him. What happens, he asks, when your dreams die? Listening to this, I was struck again on how truly following Christ can sometimes be the opposite of what culture tells us is important. "Follow your dreams," says the American culture, and people arrive from all over the world to do just that. But Christians are to be about the business of following Christ. How countercultural can you get?

Here's a short version of Phil's story, though I find the graphic shenanigans every time they make an edit annoying. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJw_njstsNg

And here's a talk he did at Taylor University, which I found funny and thought-provoking.

For more Quick Takes, go to Conversion Diary.

02 November 2013


Here’s how it went from my perspective. The two primary leaders of my church’s women’s Bible study retired in the spring, so a call went out that new volunteers were needed to replace them. [As background, about 50 or more women attend each Wednesday morning. First, everyone meets in a big group for snacks, “fellowship” (Christianese for social time), and a short worship/devotional time. Then, we break up into smaller groups for study (five groups this year, each on a different topic).]

I’d been going to this group for two years at that point, and I had me some thoughts and some opinions on the devotional part of the morning. I was also pretty sure that the hardest role to fill would be the person who spoke to the large group every week. I’ve heard rumors that some people don’t like to speak in public. So, Speech League girl thought, “I should offer to do devotions. I could do that.”  The undertone there, I’m ashamed to admit, was “I could do that better.
Anyway, on the end-of-year survey/plea for volunteers, I wrote that I’d be willing to “help” with devotions. By “help” I meant, “gimme that mike ‘cause I gots some IDEAS.” I did not follow up or mention it to anyone. I figured if whoever ended up in charge needed help, they’d call me. I dismissed it from my mind and went on my merry way.

In mid-August, I got an e-mail from the new leader of the Wednesday gathering. My response sheet (and another person’s) had been overlooked earlier, but was I still interested in helping with devotions? My first phone call with the leader was interesting. I did this thing I do sometimes—“listen” to the other person with the thing I want to say already in mind, so I can interject it as soon as the other person pauses. Except that the ideas that she was outlining were pretty much the same as the ideas that I had. We were already on the same page in terms of content, and we had never spoken before that moment.
One thing led to another, and I’m now the one who plans (with the music team) and delivers the devotion each week. I get to choose the stories I read, and the Scripture, and I get to use all my inherent dramatic flare (oh, and I do possess some Drah-ma on occasion) to read them. It’s not a lot of time up front—maybe 5 to 10 minutes of me with the mike, bookended by songs selected by the music team. I’m also trying to recruit other members of the group to speak about their faith stories, so it’s not always just me reading out of a book. It’s going well, and we’ve had some good feedback. I feel like I’m contributing my talents to the good of this group, which is made up of truly stellar and spiritual ladies, and which has contributed a lot to my own spiritual growth.

 The leader emailed me a few weeks ago about something or other and added that she was glad I had responded to God’s call to lead devotions.  My knee-jerk reaction was that I had heard no specific call. I volunteered because the job was in line with my skills/talents and I thought they would need the help. I supposed that I was acting on God’s principles of sharing your gifts with others, but there was no burning bush or strong impulse (or at least no impulse that was distinguishable from my, ahem, not-so-virtuous view that I could do it better).

Now, here’s the situation as told to me from other people’s perspective: The newly minted leader of Wednesday morning women had everything in place by midsummer (which is saying something in an organization this size undergoing its first leadership turnover in 15 years)--except someone to lead devotions. M. knew from the start, she said, that leading devotions wasn’t her thing. But she was willing to do it if no one else came forward. She said to me recently, ”But every time I thought that I’d just go ahead and do them, the Lord slapped me down. I just knew someone else was supposed to do it.”
At one of the team leadership meetings during the summer, M. announced to the leadership team that she was still looking for someone to take over devotions. (My volunteer sheet was apparently found at some point later.) Last week, a Bible study leader who was at that meeting told me, “When M. said that, the Holy Spirit told me it was you. Your name came into my mind. I didn’t say anything at the time, because I was unsure about speaking up. But I want you to know that it was supposed to be you.”

What gives me pause here is that I had never spoken with this person before September. I had heard her name, but hadn’t put a face to it until this fall. She had never been in a small group with me or had any meaningful interaction with me.
(Another woman heard this conversation and said, “Yeah, I thought of you, too!” This person I knew and had been in small group with, so that was not so disconcerting, though it was very nice to hear.)

The more I think about that conversation, the more it causes me to re-evaluate what I thought I knew about myself and about how God works. I have no reason to disbelieve what I’ve been told. I believe God speaks to people today—heck, I’ve been the occasional recipient of such communication. But not often, or at least not often in a way that has this kind of—supernatural?—feel to it.
The idea of God talking to other people about me is what really gets me. Are the 10 minutes or so once a week that I stand up and read from a book of God-stories  really so important? Am I really so integral to that 10 minutes? It doesn’t seem likely to me. Then again, “his eye is on the sparrow,” so why wouldn’t God be interested in that 10 minutes of someone talking about him and his work?

And does it count as being called if I just thought, “hey, I’m a decent public speaker, I could do that” and threw my name in to the ring? Most of the time, when God called people in the Bible, burning bushes or otherworldly visions or being struck blind was involved. And the person’s response was more like, “whoa, wait, you want me to do what?” Of course, standing up in front of 50 nice Christian women is on quite a different scale than arguing with Pharaoh in his throne room.
Maybe that’s the crux. I think of “being called” as a big deal—one is called to “let my people go” or to go into full-time ministry or to leave your cushy life and take care of dying people in Calcutta. But maybe God also calls us to the smaller things—to give a few extra dollars to that charity, to send that encouraging note, to stand up and read a devotion for 10 minutes each week. And maybe it doesn’t always feel so mysterious, or even terribly spiritual. Maybe it’s God working through our own willingness to serve.

And maybe, just maybe, we’re more important to God’s plan than we think we are. Maybe we influence people more than we know. Maybe the small tasks that we fumble through, with our mixed motives and our haphazard ways, are still vital to God’s kingdom. What if God’s calling you, quietly, faithfully, lovingly, to take up those small tasks, to learn more of his ways, to follow Him in the everyday--and not wait for that burning bush before you begin?