Secret Admirers and Popular Kids

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In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line.” 

― Henry David Thoreau

I had an admirer in high school. His name was Ben. I cannot recall exchanging more than a sentence in the two years we attended school together. Each Valentine’s Day, Birthday, and Christmas he would purchase a school sponsored offering for me – a rose, balloons, candy – and it would be either delivered to my first period class, or tucked in against my locker. Upon discovery of the sender, my hopes deflated and I  blushed upon the realization my gift was not from the Molly Ringwald-esque crush I held, but from Ben, my steady gift giver and unshakeable admirer.

I’m not sure what became of Ben. We didn’t know one another. I’d like to think I said “thank you” for the recognition, but I’m not convinced I cared more for Ben than I cared for myself those days. I’m certain he liked me and wanted more from me than a terse acknowledgement of his kindness, but I had my sights set higher.

My middle and high school years were spent longing for a bid to the next echelon of teen society. I studied the yearbook without end, dreaming of rubbing elbows with athletes and ASB presidents. While tooting my flute in the marching band, I hungered for an invitation to go out with cheerleaders and football players. I wanted to be noticed and included. The friends that did include me, the smart, humble, kind, generous were not enough. I wanted more, shinier, better.

As a pastor’s kid with a penchant for being terrified in the name of Jesus, there was no way I was getting in. While too preoccupied with my own misery, I failed to claim the beautiful, precious people before me. I couldn’t appreciate the friends who saved a seat for me at lunch or on the band bus, or who helped me understand a concept. I couldn’t fully embrace the kindness of the souls who cracked jokes until I felt better, who guided me towards discovering myself. I have many regrets, this might be the greatest – my inability to be present, to see the gifts in my possession.

I have learned from the painful days of my youth. But I still catch myself living in scarcity, with one foot stepping towards the future, while the other foot drags out of the past. My body straddling the present, I look ahead to the next thing, engage the plan, rather than settling into the discomfort or the tension or the delight of now.

These times are tough, many distractions pull. The news is overwhelming, the vitriol contagious, the tweets obnoxious. We want what’s next because right now is tricky and disjointed and scary. But what are we neglecting in our desire for the past or our clamoring for the next? What are we failing to notice or hold? What are we failing to appreciate or feed? The future holds no guarantee, one way or the other. All we have is now. What do I do with now?

Instead of wishing things were as they were or wishing things were better than they are, look at the remarkable things happening before our eyes as a result of these pressing times. People are coming together, seeking to understand, finding new expressions of community. We are educating ourselves, discovering the tenuousness of democracy and the impetus for each one of us to contribute in our unique way. We are donating hard-earned time and money to make our towns better, to bring relief to people who need a break. We are protesting, making our voices heard through phone calls and postcards, holding our elected officials accountable while reminding them they work for us. There is beauty. There is hope. We are living in historic times and we have a front seat to the demonstration of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking in humility with God (Micah 6:8).

Many nights I lay my head on the pillow after spending far too much of the day worrying or fearing or wishing I was somewhere else. The secret sauce, our success, depends upon our  lean into the discomfort, finding rest in what is, standing fixed on the uneven terrain, discerning what we can affect. This is where we garner our strength and resources, where we press into injustice and ache and fight like hell for justice and love and truth.

Thirty years have passed since those days of walking the halls of Savanna High School. I want to return for just one. I want to find Ben and thank him for seeing me. I want to find my friends and thank them for loving me when I was miles off dreaming of some other reality, gazing off to the impossible places that were not safe or inviting.

I want to live here, now, standing in this present with purpose and hope, ready to defend the causes of love and justice, while appreciating the consistent gifts faithfully delivered.

No More Nice Girl

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My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” 

― Dalai Lama XIV

 

Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.

― Mark Twain

My days tend to be pretty quiet. As an introvert I prefer the house’s clicks and groans as appliances whir and water cycles through the baseboard heaters. I like to hear the outside noises, too, the hens’ egg announcements, the cockadoodling of roosters, bleating of sheep and shrieks from the kids next door. Shuffling through the day in my slippers and oversized sweater, I prefer my children occupied at school. I do enjoy their presence, but the days with the house to myself are priceless.

I am fortunate to have a life that lends itself to listening to the inner draw of my breath, that can move and flow with the recovery from busy weekends and family demands. I relish the solitude and stillness and the mundanity – until I don’t – but that’s a story for another day.

I have begun spending more time in the gym, reducing running to a couple days per a typical week. My body wanted a new challenge, my muscles needed a shift, something to protect and usher me into the next stage of life. After five months of three mornings a week, I have become friends with some new folks in my city, at the local recreation center.

I’ll admit, for weeks after the election I eyed people with suspicion, men in particular. I did not feel safe in the world – my innocence and comfort under attack. The election of 45 stole my sense of trust and safety in my community. I have felt betrayed and vulnerable. Something has torn in our national fabric, faith in our government is frayed and now we must live with greater awareness, greater distrust.

As much as I preferred to hole up in the cocoon of my quiet home, I remained faithful to my gym workouts, tending to body, mind, soul, sanity. The extended proximity has moved my new friends and I beyond pleasantries and grimaces in the mirror.  I have a gym posse, and I like them.

Grief is a funny business and disappointment stinks. It serves no one when we live in the space of suspicious and afraid, so I attempt to combat with generosity and kindness – a smile, a wave, a cheer and a compliment. Kindness might be our salvation.

I don’t know how Jim voted, the elderly gentleman who hobbles from machine to machine and calls me Gina, but I know he’s precious.

I don’t know how Martha voted, but  I love her fiery determination with the weights and her signature pink skull cap and sweatpants.

I don’t know how George voted, but I think he’s smitten with me.

I don’t know how Shelly voted but she sure works hard and WOW! She is strong!

When we have the opportunity, the ability, we press forward into our communities. We seek ways to make life better for another. We seek ways to alleviate the heavy load and provide relief, for another and for ourselves. We seek  ways to move beyond nice and we aim towards kind.

I refuse to be satisfied with nice. Nice is spineless and ineffectual, effortless and meaningless. Nice accomplishes little change in the world.

Kindness is not a soft notion, kindness is one of the trickiest endeavors we choose. Pitted against my own desires and needs and convenience, kindness takes nice a step further. Kindness puts skin in the game and with persistence, begs the questions: Do you see this person? Do you recognize the image of God in the life before you? Kindness happens in the gym, it happens on the drive, it saved lives during the Holocaust and will save lives now. If we are being tested at all, it is in our degree to which we will choose kindness toward our fellow humans. Do I continue the gossip-y conversation? Do I seek vulnerability in a friendship? Do I strive to elevate another’s needs before my own?

I aim to walk a little closer to how I believe Jesus walked, with intention, seeing and providing for the many multitudes, while caring for Himself. I trust this season will move us in the way of humility, in the way of grace. I trust this season will remind us all of the fierce defiance of kindness.

Miles beyond nice – kindness acts, kindness moves, kindness defies.

I don’t have to accept what’s going on, I don’t have to assimilate or accommodate, I can be fiercely opposed, but I can also choose to be kind. I can choose to elevate another’s needs beyond mine. I can choose to set aside my assumptions for the betterment of another.

And I will keep showing up – to the gym, the store, to church and in my home – seeking to demonstrate kindness to the people I know and love now, and to the people I will hopefully know and love later.

 

 

Friends, the pool is sloshing.

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We who lose our footing have lost our way.
― Anasazi Foundation

Well, it’s been one and a half weeks. How are you? The ground is rumbling. While none of this is a surprise it still feels like a shock. Decency feels far off and truth is a craved delicacy. I often wonder if I’ve missed something, why I haven’t been let in on the secret.

Resistance is our new normal. Gathering information, my daily task. Reading, writing, calling my Congressional representatives. I resist through living my life, trying not to succumb to fear and pressure. I don’t always succeed.  I seek time with loved ones and try to gain understanding and new perspective. I ask questions and pray and meditate and drive my kids to school and eat well. I take my frustration out at the gym and renew with laughter and naps. But the uncertainty threatens to undo, threatens to knock me off balance and send me careening.

I spent many years in Southern California, relocating from Washington State at the young age of twelve. Earthquakes were happenstance, often rolling and jerking us awake during the early morning hours. Each time was different, some episodes were smooth waves, others a jolt – some short, others too long.

We lived the dream those days, with a swimming pool as our backyard. After jumping out of bed to stand in the doorway while the earth bounced under my trembling legs, my main floor bedroom afforded me a disconcerting view of the backyard pool – the swish, sway and slosh of water onto the concrete sidewalk.

Friends, our pool is sloshing. The ground on which we stand rattles and quakes and our presumed national safeguards are crumbling.

I find myself often unsteady, unmoored.

Every day news has become another opportunity to recognize my uncertain footing. Things that aren’t supposed to be happening are happening  and I’m unsure how to make sense of this new world around me. The firehose of news is full throttle, most things a terrible shock.

I get it, this is a very privileged perspective to own. A sign at the Women’s March gives me pause: If you’ve only been scared since 2016, that’s called Privilege. Humbling and poignant and true. I have not needed to fear my own government. Many of us have not, on this American soil, needed to fear our own government. Wait, I should clarify: Many of us who are white, straight and male have not had to fear our own government. To be a person of color, to be Muslim or gay or trans or disabled – a much different story. A narrative where fear is the main course of the daily diet.

I cling to faith and I cling to prayer. I cling to my community and my self-care practices. I cling to resistance and finding like-minded people who want to gather together.

I find respite in the economy of the Beatitudes:

You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.

You’re blessed when you feel you have lost what is most dear to you.

You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more no less.

You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God.

You’re blessed when you care.

You’re blessed when you get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right.

You’re blessed when  you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. 

You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution.

-Matthew 5, The Message

And I remember, we are in this for the long haul. Our resistance is required with no end in sight. We cannot afford to get tired or worn out. We need to take personal breaks when necessary. We must have compassion for ourselves and others. This is a long road. We are early in the marathon, friends. In the early miles, we have to slow down, we have to reserve energy and motivation for the later miles, to be able to finish strong. Find your pace, what works for you and protect this rhythm. Seek relief and refuge and healing. We need each other. We need our efforts. We must hone our love for the world, for one another. Return to grace and hope through shared community, through honest conversation, through a good book. We must listen to our bodies and rest when necessary.

But the most important thing I return to, remembering I am the hands and feet of Jesus. My work doesn’t alter, it depends not upon who my President is. My work is love. My responsibility is to the least of these, to my neighbor, to my family. My greatest opportunity is seeking justice for the oppressed. This is where the relief is, where the true resistance lies, where hope rests. I can be afraid for myself, but not for long, for the work is plentiful and the work is life-giving and good. We are each created in the image of God, let this elevation of humanity be our foremost task.

The pool may be sloshing, the ground may be unsteady but our anchor is in the unwavering and steady hand of God. She is our touchpoint, our hope. And Jesus is the model for how we move forward – in generous and mighty Love.