Friday, August 29, 2008

Give yourself a break

Last week I told one of my friends to give herself a break. She had been running herself ragged, working long hours and getting little sleep. She was feeling guilty for not being able to make it to this get together. And I said, "give yourself a break." HA! This is actually hilarious.

Upon entering grad school I had to take a bunch of self assessments and then meet with a counselor. And the thing is, I’ve done these before, so I already knew what the results would reveal. And I’m guessing that many of my friends could tell me what the results would be too. And really, all I need to tell you is that all my book shelves are alphabetized by the author’s last name, and you probably know the results too. When I met with the counselor she said that I was very self aware. (Does that mean I get a discount on these tests I didn’t want to take in the first place?!) At the end of the session she told me that I maybe want to work on having more compassion. What?! My eyes went from my watch—is it time to leave yet?—to her. Excuse me? I have compassion! In fact, I have a lot of compassion! In fact I stress about not having enough compassion, which means I probably have enough compassion! She then continued though, not compassion for others but compassion for myself. Mouth half open to protest, I was suddenly speechless.

I’m hard on myself, always have been. I feel responsible for things I needn’t feel responsible for. I place crazy high expectations on myself in everything from academics and friendships to finances and my relationship with God. I’ve struggled with anxiety (for certain points in my life, this is a major understatement!). I stress about being 5 minutes late. I should really get an A, not a B+. Often, I hand-make the cards that I give to people—birthday cards, thank yous, congratulations. I actually feel guilty sometimes if I don’t have time to make one and have to go buy it at Target! Seriously. And if I forget to send one altogether?! Oh my gosh. (Believe me. I know my wiring is a little off, and I’m totally blaming mom for it.)

So there I am telling my friend “give yourself a break”? Who do I think I am?

I just finished reading The Shack by William P. Young. If you have not read, stop reading this blog, go to Barnes and Noble, purchase it and promptly begin reading. Anyways, I finished the book and a lot from it has been sticking with me. One thing being that I live in expectation instead of expectancy.

I live by my expectations for myself and for others, and when I do this, I set myself up for failure. Of course they’re not going to be met! I should be living in expectancy … expectancy for what God’s going to do today. For what He can do. For what He may do. That’s a life of hope and faith. Not one of frustration and disappointment, of to-do lists, watching the clock, and stressing out. If I lived in expectancy, instead of my own expectations, I bet that counselor wouldn’t have told me I needed more compassion on myself.

Psalm 5:3
Listen to my voice in the morning, LORD.
Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Lions and roommates and dorms, OH MY

This morning as I drove into work, lions on rollerblades threw candy at me. It’s Welcome Week on campus so all the new students are moving in, and I guess throwing candy at them through open car windows is a display of endearment. Didn’t the lions—our school mascot—see my name tag though?! I’m not a student!! And I couldn’t help wondering if some of the parents are thinking …great. We’re about to spend lots of money on our son’s education so that next year he can make of fool of himself on rollerblades in a lion suit.

I watched as hundreds of student volunteers unloaded freshman belongings—you know, papason chairs purchased at Pier 1 with the student discount, mini-fridges, irons, stackable shelves for closets—from the back of SUVS. Parents watched in amazement and pleasure—dad got out of trekking up three flights of stairs with Susy’s suitcases. The freshman watched in horror as their stuff was being carried into their dorm and then their room where a perfect stranger awaited. Who are these weird people, and why are mom and dad leaving me with them?! And the weird people are all wearing bright T-shirts and dancing to super loud music.
Other volunteers directed campus tours. Adult staff hosted parent tables to answer parental questions—and provide support. There was food and balloons and lots of traffic-directing. Tables of watermelon and water bottles sat in front of all the dorms. It was loud and energetic and fun.

While in one of the dorms (I was walking around with a photographer I hired to capture some of these fun things I speak of), I chatted with a little boy. He’s 8. His sister, he told me, "is moving far far away from home. She’s not going to be sleeping in her room anymore." I asked, "So how long will it take you to drive here and visit her?" He pondered it… "oh, about 10 or 15 minutes." I thought, C’mon mom, that is not far away.

As I was leaving campus, I saw a freshman guy standing awkwardly at the doors, as if he wasn’t quite sure where to go or what to do. "Can I help you find something?" I asked. "Uh, no. I think I’ve gotten all the things I need. I have my I.D. I have my books. I’m checked in. I got my stuff from safety and security." There were a few other things he listed off nervously. His hands were full of different nametags, I.D.s, papers. Then he looked at me seriously and asked if that was it? Was there anything else he needed or should do? And I’m thinking to myself, well, I’m the editor of the school’s magazine. I don’t really know squat about what you should or shouldn’t be doing. But instead I smiled and said confidently, "Nope. I think you’re good to go. Just have fun." He seemed comforted, and I walked away hoping beyond hope that he doesn’t need to go get the key to his room or something.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Just STOP!

Yesterday I heard three batches of seriously bad news from friends. I heard of babies dying, extended hospital stays and unexpected funerals. Not to mention tears, so many tears.

And this morning I woke up and just wanted to yell STOP. Like a conductor, trying to direct a symphony in which all the instruments are off-key and going all over the place, I want to raise my arms slowly and suddenly bring them down hard together telling the world to STOP. TO BE QUIET!
...The news ticker billboard on 94 at 11th street to stop telling us what’s going on.
...The dude next to me at the gas pump to stop watching the number of gallons he’s putting into his SUV.
...The deejays on the morning radio shows to stop laughing.
...And traffic, well, maybe if it could just slow down to a crawl.

In doing this, I feel like we could somehow validate, recognize, honor the pain. The fact that the world just keeps on going feels so heartless and rude. And actually it is. The world as a whole doesn’t really care. And what good would it do anyways, if the guy at the gas pump stops? Will it make my friends’ pain any less acute?

It just made me realize how important authentic relationships are. That we all need to be and have friends who do stop. If even for an hour, a day or a month. And no, this doesn’t take the pain away, but I know it feels good to have a hand to hold. The hand of someone who has stopped.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Shovel it

So, last night it dropped to 27 degrees in Embarrass, Minn. Embarassing indeed. Who lives there?

I turned my heater on while driving to work this morning.

They’ve taken down all the fresh fruit/vegetable stands in the area.

My dad began his morning with Swiss Miss hot chocolate.

A few misbehaved trees are already turning yellow.

Football is on. Preseason, but still.

Students are back in class.

Newscasts are reporting live from the Minnesota state fair.

There’s Halloween stuff—crap—in the stores already.

None of this is cool. Not cool at all. One of my girlfriends has apologized a couple of times during the past few weeks because she’s ecstatic about the onslaught of fall, and I’m… well, I’m not. And the thing is, normally I am. When I lived in Cali, the fall months were the toughest. I was most homesick then because really, who wants to go to the beach in late October? It’s just a time for fires in the fireplaces and blankets. It just IS. (Don’t even get me started on having to cut down a Christmas tree amongst cacti!)

Autumn has always been my favorite time of year. I want to get married in the fall. I gravitate toward fall colors—browns, oranges, deep reds, golds. I absolutely LOVE making soups and breads. I really can’t make pumpkin bread enough during the fall months. And, hot apple cider. Oh sweet hot apple cider. I love warm sweaters and hooded sweatshirts more. The smell of the leaves...

It’s a time of new beginnings, new pencils. It’s when I moved to California, and it’s when I moved back. And this year, it’s when I will be moving into my very own home. There will be a beautiful, orange pumpkin on my stoop almost immediately to celebrate fall. And if you walk by, you will be sure to smell good things coming from my wonderfully large kitchen. So please come in.

But I’m just not ready yet. This girl's wearing her flip flops for at least another month. And tank tops? They're not going away either. And friends, don't think I've stopped suggesting summer activities yet. Embarrass you can take your 27 and shove it! Or maybe it should be SHOVEL it.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Who really knows

Mom and I have a weird, truncated language.

Did you…
No, because…
Yes, I know, but if you don’t do it soon, th…
I know, but I was…
But still you…
OK. Wh…
On Friday...
Did sh...

You have no idea what we’re saying, but we do. We know and understand all the details without having to say them. So much so that we cut each other off. We don’t even need to hear everything. We just know because we have this crazy, somewhat eerie connection. Sometimes she freaks me out. It’s true what they say; moms really do know. And sometimes we know how the other is feeling just by looking at each other or by slight intonations in our voices over the phone.

The Bible verse I memorized this week comes from Isaiah 65, specifically verse 24: “Before they call, I will answer; while they are yet speaking, I will hear.”

It’s such a great comfort to me that I don’t need to explain myself to God. And when I can’t find the words to pray, when I’m sick and tired of praying for or about the same thing, all I need to do is mumble a word, and He knows. Oh how he knows. He’s way ahead of me, finishing my sentences.

Dads really do know too.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Not staying in the lines

If life were a connect-the-dots coloring book page, my dots would have ruler-straight lines connecting them (because I would have used a ruler) and all the little areas and shapes would be perfectly colored in…colored, of course, all in the same direction using the same-sized brush strokes. I’m not big on messy. Never have been. I guess when I was little, I wouldn’t leave for school until I made my bed. For the record, I don’t make my bed now unless company is coming over.

But, things have felt messy these past few days. I’m going through three days of anti-racism training at work, and the coloring is out of control. I mean…you can’t see where the lines and dots are. I want to draw perfect squares around victimization, superiority, poverty, blame, guilt, but I can’t. There have been tears and bursts of anger and speechlessness throughout the discussions among the 40 or so of us participating. And it’s because there’s no straight line on how to get from there to here and then to there again. We generally say there is because that’s the easy way to deal with things.

I have a girlfriend who, actually as I type this, is meeting with a friend, who is a boy. They’re meeting to discuss what “they” are because it’s messy. A few days ago, I challenged her, wanting to know exactly what she wanted out of this conversation. And she said she honestly couldn’t say, and how could she? There’s seven years of push and pull. Of tears and anger. Of girlfriends and boyfriends. There’s nothing straight about it. And if they come out of this conversation deciding they cannot be "they," the coloring is still going off their page. And the same if they decide to give "they" a shot.

It’s funny that I keep fighting the messiness. Haven’t I figured it out yet? Nothing about life or relationships is ever a straight line. And actually the beauty of life comes right in that place where purple runs over orange, which mixes with yellow and then runs into blue which goes off the page. Who knows where those dots that are supposed to be connected (at least in my mind) are. Rarely do you see them. It’s when you sit in the tension, in the messiness—and trust God rather than trying to pull out your own ruler—that you hit the heart.

I used to love coloring a blank sheet of paper with lots of different colors. If I could use every crayon in the box, great. Then I’d take the black crayon and color over—really really hard—all the colors. In the end I’d have this heavy black sheet of paper and I’m sure mom or grandma was telling me to get in the kitchen with that before I got black crayon on the carpet. Then I’d find a penny and use it to scratch through the black to draw a picture (actually this is when they told me to get in the kitchen!). There were no dots and no lines to stay in, but that was the best part. You never knew exactly what your line was going to look like…when the colors would change. So, maybe I can do messy.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

It'll be a sweet rocking chair

I spent the majority of my afternoon in the driveway, sanding a rocking chair my mom got--when she was 18--at a discounted price from JCPenney (because of a scratch on its backside). I want it for my new place, but right now it’s got this really dark stain complete with weird gold flowers decorating the back of it. So for hours I sanded all of its spindles and grooves. I ruined my newly painted nails and got calluses on my fingers. I think I was sanding my knuckles half the time too. I got sweaty. Me and my swimsuit were completely sandy. My shoulders got sunburnt, and I turned down an opportunity to go out on a friend’s boat to do this.

So, after hours of work with my back kind of sore from bending over for too long, I stood back and looked at my project, and quite frankly, it looks like crap. All that hard work, and it still needs more. Now it’s rough around the edges and can’t even come in the house because it’s all sandy.

Paul (as in the Apostle), in writing to his friends, the Philippians, says, “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear, brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.” (Philippians 3:12-13) Another translation of this verse says "press on to the goal." That's what I was thinking today after about two hours, sweat dripping into my on press on press on. Only one more spindle (shoot me now).

Now quite a few months ago, I was on a first date, and at the end of a seemingly decent night, the guy told me that he thought it seemed as though Christians think they have it all figured out, that they’re always right. If he hadn’t been so good-looking, and if it hadn’t been such a surprise attack (I mean had I known, I could have come prepared…worn shin guards or something), and if he hadn’t been so vehement, perhaps I could have responded with something other than an open mouth. You know, come to think of it, why wasn’t this on my well-played list from a few weeks ago? Don’t tell your date that she and/or her religion are close-minded on the first date. Probably best-suited for the second or third date.

Anyways, the idea that I or Christians have it figured out is actually pretty funny. I’m so far from having it figured it out! And heck, if Paul didn’t have it figured out? Pretty sure I don’t! I am not immune from forgetting to zip up my jeans after going to the bathroom and then walking around for the next hour with my fly open. Nor do I know what the heck I’m going to do with this master’s degree I’m working on. That where-do-you-see-yourself-in-five-years question is just as frustrating to me! I get jealous. I say mean things and I think even worse things. My questions about God are endless. And I wonder why I pray, why I sing praises to God and why I go to church sometimes…why do I work on my faith because, just like my rocking chair, I still kind of look like (and act like) crap. I mean now I’m tan, but…

I guess I worked on the chair this afternoon because maybe next weekend it’ll be pretty, after I find the perfect stain or paint color. And then its home will be in my new guest bedroom for all my wonderful guests. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll rock my baby in it someday. I’ll then be happy I spent a few hours on it.

And likewise with my faith…despite my best efforts, I’m just as rough around the edges as everyone else. And I always will be on this earth. But Paul admonishes us and encourages us to keep working. And don’t focus on the fact that you’re ruining your nails, that you’re tired or dirty. Focus on keeping on and focus on the finished project. And admittedly, doubt about that finished project creeps in from time to time. Will it be as good as I think? Is it worth it? But I do believe God has given us just enough things to be sure about. And I do believe one of those things is that following Him is so worth it. My point being...Christianity doesn't mean having it all figured out. Nor does it mean it doesn't take some effort. Some sweat. And Christians go through all the tough stuff non-Christians go through. But it's worth it. So worth it. So, I’m headed to church here in a little bit, callused fingers and all. And to be honest, I actually really enjoyed working on that chair today.

Friday, August 15, 2008

By golly, it's Friday

Here’s why Fridays at my office rock:
First. I can wear flip flops. Maybe I shouldn’t, but I do, and nobody’s said anything to me about taking “casual Fridays” too far. And with my flip flops, I wear capris and a hoodie (Cali peeps: today it’s my Encinitas surfboard one, thank you). No heels. No thin, dressy shirts that may be cute but keep me cold all day long. No nice kackis that have me worried about spilling coffee all day.

Second. The same person brings in donuts from Cub every Friday at 9am. If the donuts aren’t here at 9:02am, I usually hear someone questioning where the donut-bringer is. And is he coming in today? Doesn’t he realize we’re all waiting?! Nobody admits it, but funny … the workroom seems to have quite a few people milling about around the 9 o'clock hour, checking their mail even though the mail doesn’t come until later. They all want to make sure they get their favorite donut! I always cut off half of one of those twisty cinnamon things with a plastic knife, leaving everybody to wonder who the heck took half—I mean for real, just take the whole thing. And I would, it’s really good, but the whole thing would make me sick to my stomach.

Third. Fridays in the summer are pretty quiet in my building, but they’re pretty loud in my office. I turn my music up. Today it’s been Cities97 for awhile and then “She and Him.” The she being Zooey Deschanel. Weird, huh? She did sing in the shower on Elf ("baby, it's cooooold outside"), but who knew she (and him) had her own stuff out?

Fourth. It's C3F: Chocolate Chip Cookie Friday. 1:30pm each Friday someone (a different someone each week) brings in cookies, sometimes homemade, sometimes store-bought, but always with milk. And we, again, eat something sweet because, well, by golly, it's Friday!

And at about 3pm, the countdown begins with one of my coworkers via email. 1.5 hours. 1.25 hours. 58 minutes. 31 minutes. It doesn’t matter that usually neither one of us has a hot date or exciting plans for the evening, it’s Friday. And that’s cause enough for celebration. For the record though, tonight I actually do have some fun plans. Happy weekend.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Package time

I receive a very special package each month from a very special friend in California. When I moved back to Minnesota, we decided that we would send packages to each other on a monthly basis as a way of staying connected. There are no restrictions on the contents of these packages. Common items include new music, fabric swatches, recipes, some type of soup or dip or bread mix. But then there’s always surprise stuff, a T-shirt (from her), a stuffed animal (hand-sewn by me), a clutch (sewn by her), spicy pecans (baked by me), an apron (sewn by her). And accompanying the month’s items is a handwritten letter labeling and explaining each item…where we found it, how we made it, did we come up with the idea ourselves?, how much it cost, when we got it, etc. All very important.

I think what makes this package tradition so great is the time put into it, time spent thinking about what to put in it, time spent at the sewing machine making items, time writing out the letter. I mean, sometimes writing out the thought process behind some of the random items in the package can take some serious time.

And in a society where everything is so dang fast, this old-school, old-fashioned, time-consuming way of saying “I love you” warms the soul. It feels good knowing someone spent time on me. And we text and email and call regularly—all good stuff—and usually done a few times a day, but there’s something different about the time involved with USPS and stamps and pens.

Yesterday at work, I had a red envelope propped sideways in my little mailbox in the workroom. Ha! I smiled! Someone wrote me a letter! And sure enough, someone had taken the time to write out a congrats on my new home. They picked out a card and wrote in it, rather than sending an email. They took a little extra time.

My friend and I haven’t missed a month yet, although my July package to her just got sent a few days ago (Sorry, my dear.) We’re really busy so we may not always be on time, but we do always make time. I know this package will come, and it will brighten my day.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Put your shoes on, Lucy

“Put your shoes on Lucy, donchya know you’re in the city!?”
When I was little, I rarely left my grandparents' house without hearing this. It’s one of those weird family sayings. (And I guess my family had something with the name “Lucy” because my aunt came up with a sentence to help me say my Ls. "Lucky Lucy Loves Lily on a Lilypad in London.) But to be honest, I don’t know where the Lucy-shoe thing came from. If I’ve been told, I’ve forgotten.

I still say it now sometimes as I’m walking out the door with someone. It makes me think about how much I’m in a hurry. Like, you’re in such a hurry that you actually forget to put your shoes on. And you don't live in the country where there's nice soft, clean, green grass! You’re in the city where there are shards of glass, garbage, nasty chewed gum, cigarette butts, etc. on the ground. I mean you’ve got to be in quite a hurry to forget your shoes when you’re in the city.

This is how I’ve felt with God these past few weeks. My mind is racing. I don’t know who I’m racing, but I’m definitely winning. There is just so much going on. I’m in such a hurry that I’ve totally forgot Him.

* I was just traveling for work last week. I booked a flight for a short vacation in September and am hoping to get a weekend of camping in before school starts.
* I’m writing/editing about five features for work, doing some freelance writing on the side.
* I am in the process of signing a bajillion papers for my very first mortgage. I am going to OWN my own place.
* There’s been some boy stuff, including a forthcoming blind date.
* And if I let myself look ahead a month (which is never good) … well, I’m going to be starting school again, moving into my new place, and be on deadline at work at the same time. BEAUTIFUL!

I’ve been waking up at 5:30am thinking about everything from potential headlines for pieces to how I’m going to arrange my furniture in my new place. Needless to say I haven’t been able to focus on anything, let alone God. I stop to pray, I get like two sentences in and realize I’m already off to something else.

So, this morning I asked Phil Wickham (Musician. Check him out.) to help me with this. Instead of praying, I pulled up his song “I Will Wait For You There” in my iTunes. I plopped down on my floor and listened. I didn’t brush my teeth while I did this. I wasn’t putting on mascara or figuring out what to bring for lunch. I just sat and listened. I waited.

I will wait for You there
Down on my knees where I met You
Give You all of my cares
Find a grace to hold onto now
I’m calling for You

It helped. It definitely helped. And I told God beforehand that it was my prayer today, just so He knew and wasn't confused. And what I know is that if I chill out for a minute to hang with God, He helps me put my shoes on. And He also helps me fall back to sleep when I wake up at 5:30am on a WEEKEND!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Don't say it

Tit for tat.
I really don’t like this phrase. Who came up with it? And where did it come from anyways? And people always use such a flippant tone with it. Almost like “sucks to be you!” “Tit for tat!” It’s just not nice. (and "tit" at any time is just bad)

Well, I guess it originated in the 1550s (yup, I spent 10 minutes of my lunch checking into this). And etymologically it came from “tip for tap.” Instantly, I thought, oh, ok, that’s kind of cool. I got this image of a friendly gentleman sliding some pennies across a wood counter toward the bartender in thanks for his tap—his favorite ale. Just a nice exchange. You give me beer, I give you little tip.

But actually that’s the wrong “tip” and “tap.” The original “tip” was tip as in a “light blow.” And “tap” as in another light blow. You hit me, I hit you—not so nice. The ole eye-for-an-eye adage. It’s actually referring to a form of retaliation. And an unequal one at that. Seriously, if someone tips you over, first of all, you’re on the ground and not in a position to “tap” them (maybe on the leg or something). And I hardly think tapping is retaliation for tipping someone over.

We use “tit for tat” now usually in the form of an adjective. Like “He really got her back. It was truly tit for tat.” But I guess there was a popular song in the early sixteenth century, where “tit” and “tat” were used as verbs.
Come tit me, come tat me,/Come throw a kiss at me.

Come hit me, come hit me? And then blow me a kiss?

But still I wonder who made the change from tip to tit and tap to tat. Who had the right? He or she must have been a leader though because thousands of people followed suit. My little word study didn’t make me like this adjective anymore. Don't say it.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Don’t cry over spilled pizza

“MOM! The pizza fell on the floor!”

Sitting in the Cleveland airport, I watched a mom and her two children, a girl about four and a boy about 6, rush past. The mom was dragging a rolling duffel, carrying her daughter’s stuffed animal, her own purse and a bottle of water. She was also somehow holding her daughter’s hand trying to simultaneously speed her little girl up, but not pull her arm out of its socket. And the boy, on his own, had a backpack on and was pulling his own brightly colored mini-suitcase, following his mom and sister as closely as he could. He was very carefully and deliberately holding a little individual pizza box from Pizza Hut too. They were rushing, trying to get to their flight. And I just knew this little boy had it all planned out. He probably couldn’t wait to get situated in his window seat, pull out his DVD player and his favorite movie and then bite into a cheesy piece of pizza while on his way to vacation. Life doesn’t get much better than that!

And then suddenly … Pizza. Floor. Together. Plans gone.
“MOM! The pizza fell on the floor!”

I have a tendency, as do some of my friends I think, to get so far ahead of myself. A job interview and we’ve got our new commute mapped out. A grad school application and we’ve got our own little adult version of “Felicity” running through our head. A first date and we have a mini-vacation planned with this boy…if only he knew. And then, “MOM! The pizza fell on the floor!” You’re not offered the job. Your application is not accepted. And the boy never calls you back. The pizza has so fallen on the floor.

The little boy in the airport though didn’t just blurt out “Pizza on the floor!!” He called for his mom. He wanted, needed help and guidance. What the heck am I supposed to do now? My plans are splattered across this disgusting airport floor! The mom slowed (even though it looked like their plane was boarding at the next gate over). She turned and hugged the boy, took the pizza container and threw it away in the nearby trash and said, "hold on, we’ll find something better when we get on the plane." Now I don’t want to rain on this boy’s parade, but I mean, c’mon, what exactly are you going to find better on the plane?! Nevertheless…

It made me think about how God has thrown away my pizza box repeatedly, hugged me and told me patiently, hold on, we’ll find something better. And so often, I can’t even begin to imagine what could be better. But I cry out to Him, listen to Him and then pout with my arms crossed for awhile because my plans are gone. Time and time again though, throughout my life, He has managed to surprise me. He really did find something better!

And who knows maybe that little boy’s mom has a Mary Poppins-like bag carrying grilled cheese, French fries, chocolate milk and ice cream.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

What's worse ... ?

Watching conference attendees who’ve had a few too many dance to Shaggy on a dinner cruise boat called "The Spirit of Ethan Allen III." (don’t forget the third)

Watching conference attendees who’ve had far too many grind to Shakira on the same dinner cruise (yes, there was a disco ball.)


Watching conference attendees who should be cut off dance to the Spice Girls, telling others what they really really want.

I’m not sure, but it’s what I tried to figure out last night during the closing event of my work conference.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Sand dollar significance

Something about solitude and bodies of water renders me speechless and often tearful.

It’s the feeling of insignificance. I am alone, without another person to provide descriptors. If mom’s beside me, I am daughter. If friends are beside me, I am HJ. But if I’m by myself, who am I? Next to an ocean or a lake or a river, one thing I am becomes incredibly clear: I am small, very small. The horizon seems to go on forever and ever, and where do I fit on that line? Do I even fit on that line? Because there’s millions of other people vying for their spot on that line too! And the waves just keep ebbing and flowing, and they’ve been ebbing and flowing since way before I popped out at North Memorial Hospital. And they’ll keep ebbing and flowing long after I’m gone, I’m sure. And that river isn’t just flowing past me. It’s flowing past bajillions of other people and places. And I become overwhelmed about my purpose on earth, if I even have a stinkin’ purpose! And I’ve been praying praying praying to God, but really, how the heck can He possibly listen to all of us down here?! When there are things, like oceans, things so much bigger than me. I know people say you always feel closer to God in nature, and I do sometimes, but other times I feel far away from Him. Completely off His map when I’m next to the ocean!

One day right after moving to California, I was running alone along the Pacific as the sun was setting. I was crying. Crying because so many things I had thought were for sure turned out to be temporary. And so many things I desired seemed so impossible. I felt small and my prayers felt weak. I felt like one of the miniscule pieces of sand—again one of a bajillion—I was running on. Until I looked down and saw a sand dollar. I stopped. I wiped my eyes with the shoulder strap of my sports bra. I bent over and picked up the sand dollar, slightly smaller than the palm of my hand. I walked closer to the water so that when the wave came in I could rinse the sand off of it. I held it up in the setting sunlight; It was perfect. Absolutely perfect. Symmetrical. Five leaf-shaped points (making the star look a little like weed, but… ) and little indents in all the right places. I knew without a doubt that a God who created such a perfect crazy little thing (what is a sand dollar anyways?), could certainly have a plan for my life. That if He cared enough to make a sand dollar look so beautiful, I may be small but I am far from insignificant to Him. And He most certainly can hear me.

That’s why I’d like to get a tattoo of a sand dollar. So that I don’t forget this, because I forget it on a daily basis. But I remembered yesterday as I ran along Lake Champlain alone that God knows all the drops that make up the body of water known as HJ.

Matthew 10: 29-31 talks about this. Not with water, but birds. It says,
" … not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows."

Speechless and tearful!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Holy blogging!

Now, I’ve recently taken up this blogging thing. And admittedly I think quite often during the day about how such-and-such comment or particular event would make such a good blog post. And sometimes I feel like I got so much to say I could post three times a day (but I don’t!). Other times, I ain’t got nothin’ so could be three days until I post. But, today I saw something I hope I never do.

I sat in a seminar behind a blogger. He had his Mac opened and online to his blogspot blog. I saw the title of his blog and thought, hmm…I should go check it out. Wonder what he has to say. Well, now I know, and I don’t want to check it out.

As the session began, he titled a new post “Afternoon session…” And then he copied the paragraph from our conference booklet about this particular afternoon session. At the end he said “Stay tuned.”

Five minutes into the session blogger man begins yet another new post. This post was one sentence long and was the point up on our Powerpoint slide. The one that really wasn’t all that important, so I didn’t even bother writing it down. He ended this particular post with “More coming.”

And at this point I’m not even focusing on the seminar. I’m trying to wipe the smile off my face. I mean is he getting comments to these posts? Are people really sitting at their computer staying tuned for more coming? Do they really want to know what’s going on in higher education in terms of strategic communications planning? But I’ll tell you, I was staying tuned because I wanted to know what he was going to say next. And then I thought, well, maybe his bosses want to make sure he’s attending the sessions and not off gallivanting around Burlington, Vermont? Or maybe HE’s the boss and he’s told all his employees that for the next four days, they are to sit communally in the conference room in the office and essentially—indirectly—attend the seminars with him. I mean maybe they have budget problems and can't afford travel for everyone.

And yup. Sure enough. Another post 10 minutes later. The next major point made in the Powerpoint presentation. Man, I thought, this brings new meaning to up-to-date. And for my friends who try to post new stuff to their blog each day...try updating by the minute?!

So, favor: if I ever do anything remotely close to this here, on this blog, let this girl know!

Monday, August 04, 2008

We're not lanyards

At work conferences you are reduced to your lanyard. So I am Heather Johnson, Editor, place of employment, St. Paul, MN. In the elevator in the morning, I don’t even look at faces; my eyes go immediately to the lanyard. Oh, New Orleans. Oh, executive editor. Yes. I remember him. He was in yesterday’s seminar. He wore those awful shoes.

But then usually by the time you finish your first provided meal, you have met people and they become a little more than their lanyard. And then maybe after you’ve played croquet with them at the National Croquet Center on the conference evening outing, you know them better yet.

You may discover that Suzy Smith from Pennsylvania is actually stressed about whether or not she should move to Canada with her boyfriend of one year. And you find out that Chicagoan Bob Smith’s wife has breast cancer, so he wasn’t sure if he’d even make it to the conference. And you listen to one of your conference speakers’ talk about her three little girls at home. And the woman staying in the room next to you just lost her mom in a car accident. And I’m reminded that these lanyards are people! They are wounded. They are stressed. They love their family. They have favorite foods and music that makes them smile. They are like me. And I am suddenly saddened because I realize that so often it’s not just at conferences where I reduce people to their lanyards.

I reduce them to the cars they drive (and as far as that goes, I have NO room to talk). And I reduce them to what they look like, where they live, their jobs. (again, NO room to talk.) Their music, their church, you name it…

I just wish my reduction process could be flipped. That instead of seeing people’s “lanyards” first, I saw their heart. Their pain, their fears, their questions about God and life. And in return, they didn’t reduce me to a “blonde” or a “Christian” or a “writer.” Because pretty sure Christian or non-Christian, SUV-driver or bike rider, redhead or blonde…we all fear something. And we all desire acceptance. We want to be happy but are often wracked with various obstacles. We all wonder what the heck God and faith is all about. We all need water and paychecks and sleep.

And maybe if we tried out this reverse-reduction process a little, we’d all feel a little more of that acceptance we crave. It’s only when I challenge myself though, when I venture into the slightly-awkward, slightly-uncomfortable that cool connections happen. I think tomorrow I’ll look my fellow elevator riders in the eye, say good morning, eat breakfast with them and ask how they’re doing. How they’re really doing. And then maybe they’ll ask me too.

One of my dearest friends, and former coworker, had this saying posted above her desk, and it was a great reminder that no one is a lanyard…
"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle"
--Philo of Alexandria

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Leavin' on a jetplane, but...

Should you wear flip flops or tennies? Flip flops make the security line so much easier…flip ‘em into the bin and then flop ‘em back on at the end. In doing this though, you render your bare feet vulnerable to that 20-foot strip where thousands of other bare feet (read: foot germs!) have been. Eww. I try not to think about this, but I’m blogging about it…so you know I’m thinking about it. You can go the tennis shoe route, with socks to protect your soles, but then having to untie your shoes, as your purse and/or carryon slips off your shoulder, and you’re trying to hold your boarding pass and your driver’s license and your e-ticket you printed out the night before and your luggage claim ticket as people wait behind you, and your sunglasses are falling off your head…nightmare!

Do you stop and get the Caribou coffee before boarding the plane? It’s 1000 times better than the stuff they’ll serve you on board, but then if you’re carrying a medium dark roast—no cream—how the heck are you supposed to get your carryon bag into the overhead compartment or beneath the seat without spilling all over yourself? And it’s not like your seats have little cupholders.

Do you opt for the window seat so you can rest your head against the window or do you select the aisle? That way you can get up and go to the bathroom (especially if you got that Caribou) without feeling bad for interrupting your neighbors. I’ve nearly had accidents on some flights because I feel so awful bothering the woman next to me trying to sleep and the man next to her trying to work on his laptop…um, excuse me, excuse me…I really did use the restroom before boarding, but I have to go again. Sorry!

And lastly, do you open your mouth (or make eye contact) to greet your neighbor and risk never getting to open that brand new book you picked out the day before at Barnes and Noble, specifically for this trip?

Today I wore flip flops. So I now have dirty feet. And I decided to drink the muddy water that Continental calls coffee. But the stewardess did make a pot just for me. I got the aisle seat, which is good because I had to get up and use the bathroom. And I did chat with my neighbor—an Air Force guy from Anchorage who is voting for Obama, says “launch” instead of “take off” (as in, “well, looks like we’re about to launch”) and said he thought he had long eyelashes until he saw mine. And guess what? I still got to open Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Be home

In California, far from home, Grif was my neighbor. He’s in his 80s, thrice married and thrice divorced. No children. All alone. Diabetic. I’m not quite sure how it evolved, but before long, we had a system. It was never talked about, it just sort of happened.

I knew he was diabetic and had major back problems. And he couldn’t hear very well. So, I rarely went to bed until I heard his TV shut off (in Cali, windows are always open and as his TV was always up to max volume, I was often listening to MASH in the background of my evening, over the movie I was trying to watch). If I heard his TV shut off, I knew he was alive. That he was off to bed, and I needn’t worry that he had fallen or anything.

I often baked, so in the morning on my way to work, I’d leave him a little note with some cookies or half a loaf of fresh bread in a gift bag in front of his door. He’d leave the bag neatly folded up between my front door and my plant, ready to go for next time, with a little note saying “Thanks, Grif.”

I knew he was making sure I got home OK too, simply because he told me. I’d get home super late one night and the next morning he’d ask if everything was OK, saying he didn’t see my car out front before he went to bed.

Now, this sounds all sweet and nice, but I have to be honest, I sometimes dreaded going home because he’d be there. He was always there. I made it a point to knock on his door and say hello every other day if not every day just to make sure he was OK. But sometimes this was a process. He’d want me to come in and tell me all about his coins that just came in the mail. Or the time he was on a ship off the coast of Hawaii. Or how my cooking ranks right up there with his first wife’s who was a trapeze artist in the circus and would cook for all the circus members. But work in California was pretty intense, so I’d often come home tired and crabby, and the last thing I wanted to do was sit down in Grif’s apartment, which always had some weird odor…medicine cabinet mixed with fried hamburger or something…and listen to a long story. And I know you’re thinking he sounds like a cute, old man, but he always had a stash of Playboys sitting on the table. Mmhmm. Nice. Sometimes I’d actually make up excuses: “oh, I gotta run. I’m meeting some friends.” Or if he came over and knocked on my door, I’d see him through the peep hole, turn my music down and not answer.

But, sometimes I’d bring him dinner. I’d make myself a nice pasta, and it being only me, I’d have leftovers, so I’d carry them over. In return, he’d give me all this free stuff that came in the mail with his coins that he ordered…tote bags, pins, stationery. And he’d tell me I’d be out of luck if he ever got himself a girlfriend.

For Christmas I bought him a shirt (it was on the clearance rack at Marshall’s). He opened it, saying it was the only gift he’d be getting. This didn’t stop him from telling me it was too small and I’d need to exchange it. Which I did. And then he wore it all the time.

Then I moved. We still write letters back and forth. And he actually just sent me a package. He went through the San Diego newspaper and clipped stories and cartoons he thought I might be interested in (they hardly interested me, but the fact that he went through the trouble of cutting them out for me is almost too nice to bear). There were some chocolates, some more free stationery. And then his letter told me that he had actually fallen down the concrete steps up to our doors recently. A neighbor found him a few hours later; they called the ambulance and rushed him to the hospital where he stayed for nearly a week. My heart broke. I actually felt like I was partially to blame! I should have been there! And I know he was in that hospital room all alone the whole time. And guaranteed no one brought him cookies.

But this got me thinking of home. Its dependability and how much we take it for granted. At my parents house, there’s a rule when my brother or I sleep at home. The living room light is left on, and we are to shut the light off when we get home. That way mom and dad know we made it home OK. (but I always wonder what good this does if they don’t wake up in the night. We could be dead in a ditch until morning! Thanks a lot!) A few weekends ago mom and dad were gone, and both my brother and I were sleeping at home. I didn’t get in until 2 a.m. My brother was waiting up for me.

But so many people, like my bud Grif, don’t have that “home.” They don't have a built-in family who are obligated to be “home.” They don't have moms and dads with rules or brothers who wait up. They don't have someone texting to make sure you got to your car and/or home alright. And I believe we are called as people, and as Christians, to be “home” to others. And this is so not easy…especially when their apartment smells, and they look at Playboys and they talk endlessly about old coins.

I just recently interviewed a pastor about the family ministry at his church. He said that everybody always comes in wanting community and authentic friendship. He tells them simply, “Go home.” That God has given you the most precious community right in your home, and you often forget about it. And I agree, but I wonder if maybe instead of “Go home,” it should be “Be home.” Because so many don't have a home to go to.

Be home to others. Wait up. Leave the light on. Drop the cookies off.
Grif was my “home” in California, and I hope he thinks the same of me.