Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Volunteer corn

When a friend returned from Iowa a few weeks ago, she talked corn. She learned that popcorn is actually a very special kind of corn. Your everyday kernel cannot a popcorn make. She also saw volunteer corn, she told us—random stalks of corn that grow where they’re not supposed to, say perhaps, amidst a field of soybeans. So, there they stand, lonely, high above everything else, as if to say, Here I am! Pick me! Try me! Aren’t I cool all by myself?

Well, this past weekend, driving through Southern Minnesota, I perked up when I looked out the side window and saw volunteer corn. Lots of volunteers, in fact. I felt a sense of pride for these volunteers. They’re the underdogs, so way to go you kernel you! For not following suit, for taking the road less traveled, for sprouting above the others! For being independent. And now I’m really glad I felt this way because when I Googled "volunteer corn" (I wanted to see if this was the actual term...it is), I discovered that everyone is out to get the volunteer. Words like "manage" and "control" and "oust" and "infestation" and "weed" are used right alongside volunteer corn. Farmers do not want any volunteer corn, so those green stalks can just go ahead and quit raising their hands (in fact, I’d advise wilting below the other crops so as not to be killed or maimed!).

It’s funny though, isn’t it, that if that particular volunteer corn stalk were in another field, or even in the same field at a different time, it would not be called volunteer corn? It’d be an important crop, something yielding money and worth. Farmers would want to harvest it, take care of it, water it, fertilize it. It would be a precious commodity.

I just finished the book Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore, a true (and unlikely) story of a wealthy, white, art dealer befriending a homeless black man. It revealed and challenged some of the mean, and even subconscious, judgments we make against those people not like us. The volunteer corns of our fields, if you will. Unfortunately, my pride for volunteer corn in agriculture doesn’t look like my pride for people in everyday life. I tend not to have time for people who are different or time to find out about their differences, and perhaps come to admire them. We’d rather "manage" or "control" them. Which reminds me of another book, Under the Overpass by Mike Yankoski, who I had the privilege of interviewing in person at my former job. He took time off from college and traveled the United States with a friend as homeless people. Literally. They had no money and lived on the streets. It was an experiment of sorts to see how others treated homeless people. What Mike and his friend discovered was sad and heartbreaking. I read the book three or four years ago, and I still vividly remember one short story. They were camped out on the steps of a church one night. A sign in the front yard of the church advertised a big pancake breakfast in the morning. Well, when the sun came up, one of the church leaders walked out the door and kicked Mike and his friend off the steps, shooing them away without so much as a drop of syrup. I’m guessing, however, they would have gotten as many pancakes as they wanted had the church known they were really college kids from a prominent, wealthy, evangelical school.

Anyways, people, like volunteer corn, are called different things in different places and different times. But they’re always the same to God, and they should be to us too. They should always be precious and worthy of care and compassion.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pew ha ha

“I don’t think I’ve ever laughed in church before. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever even smiled in church.”

I heard a girl say this to her friend yesterday as I walked into church and they walked out of church. I was appalled. How does that happen? That shouldn’t happen! No doubt—there are definitely things to be serious about. I think we could all use some stern teaching every now and then. But there are also so many things for which to be joyful and thankful. So many things to smile about! So much good news! (And what family hasn’t made the pew shake from trying desperately to contain obscene laughter because someone farted or made an inappropriate noise?! )

The more I thought about it, I decided that I probably wouldn’t go to church—or a church—if it never included smiling or laughing. So yesterday, I smiled as I walked out of church because I was thankful that I had laughed during church.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

To know and be known

Yesterday my family took a “staycation” at my prompting and in the absence of a true vacation this summer. It worked. Leaving in the morning, we were able to stay fairly close to home, but still check out some new scenery, try some new things, and drive some new roads. We returned home about 9pm, concluding our staycation.

I challenged my fellow staycationers to come prepared to share one prayer request. Then, I wanted each of us to commit to praying for or about that one thing for the others. I didn’t put an end date on the praying…perhaps until God moves in some way in that situation? But anyways, as we finished up dinner outside on a nice patio, sat back in our chairs with full bellies, I asked that we go around the table and share our prayer request. Fairly certain “here she goes again” ran through some heads.

Here’s what happened though: as we went around the table sharing or talking about our requests, we discovered, that we already knew each other’s challenges or desires. And we were already, in some way, praying daily about it for that person. Before I could share mine, dad said he’s already praying for it daily. He nailed it. He knew. He knows. And when my brother shared his, I realized I’d been praying for it for quite awhile. Same with my mom’s. We all knew. We all know.

As I crawled in bed last night, I almost felt like crying. I felt too loved, too known, too cared for. And not just by my family, who knows and is praying for the desires of my heart, but also by God, who already knows too (Psalm 44:21; Acts 15:8; Luke 16:15). And there is some serious comfort in being known in this world, where being misunderstood and anonymous is much more status quo.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bodies ticket

On Saturday night, I stared at a for-real pituitary gland before moving on to a smoker’s lung and on to a five-week-old fetus. After having our picture taken in front of a bright green backdrop so that we could (but didn’t) later purchase a cheesy image of us with computerized skeletons placed over our bodies, two friends and I did the Bodies exhibit at the Mall of America.

When I walked out of the dim exhibit hall back into the fluorescent mall, I had the desire to state my favorite part, or the most surprising thing, or the most disgusting thing, but truth be told, I couldn’t narrow down any of those particular groups to just one thing. I was shocked at how small some things were. Like the pituitary gland—the master gland. We’re talking a lima bean or even smaller! How big other parts were—our lungs, for instance (the lungs of the small child right behind us were also huge).

My friend was able to point out, on a real body, all the bones she has broken over the years. I was able to see what my friend’s baby probably looks like at 15 weeks. I also saw what breast cancer does to a breast, and looked away, thinking of a dear friend. Later in the night, my friends and I rattled off the strange facts that we learned to our other friends. Oh, and did you know that babies have more bones than adults? And eyes are always the same size? And we might be a little dorky for doing this on a Saturday night?

At the end, I couldn’t quite grasp how everything I had just seen in the finger-smudged glass cases somehow neatly, compactly, perfectly fits into our beings, our selves. And I was also stuck somewhere between fear and assuredness. Seeing MY body through A body laid out so systematically rendered me vulnerable. I felt like my pass to the exhibit was also a confirmation ticket that something will eventually go wrong within the walls of my skin; I will die. Simultaneously though, I was blown away by how wonderfully composed we are. How our systems work together—bones, nerves, muscles. Our digestive system? Our eyes? Unbelievable! And peace washed over me realizing that a God who does that craziness is over ALL the craziness of life. The confirmation ticket then became one for His love and His grace.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Right to be left

In elementary school, my mom drove me all over the place looking for special scissors. I was starting to learn how to write my letters, and I was doing it left-handed. Thus, they assumed I needed left-handed scissors. I guess we finally found some. I brought them in to school, and then brought them right back home telling mom and dad that they did not work! My dad, a pure lefty, tried them out. They most certainly did too work! Well, turns out I cut right-handed. And we soon discovered that my dominant foot in soccer is the right. And in basketball, I shoot with my right hand. And although I eat with my left hand, I slalom water-ski right-footed. I crochet right-handed, and I throw a baseball with my right hand.

But I am left-handed. And so today I celebrate my right to be left-handed, along with 7-10% of the world’s population. August 13 is International Left-handers Day! Apparently I can designate my personal space as “LEFTY ZONE” according to the day’s official web site (www.lefthandersday.com). And if you enter my LEFTY ZONE, you must do everything left-handed.

Us lefties (I’m among Prince William, Marilyn Monroe, Leonardo da Vinci, Jimi Hendrix, Nicole Kidman, and Bill Clinton, just to name a few) tend to excel more in fencing; we can see better underwater; when doodling or drawing, our figures tend to face right instead of left; and we’re generally more good-looking.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Can you hear my sigh now?

I’m not big on waiting, and who is, really? Especially when we’re waiting on more than traffic or the security line at the airport. When the waiting involves medical test results, or job interviews and acceptances.

Quite often recently, I’ve found myself asking the question: Well, when do you find out the results? When will you hear? I want certain family and friends to know NOW. I want to know now. In fact, as I type this, I am eagerly anticipating a phone call from someone and an email from someone else, both of whom will hear good news or bad news about something this week. I’ve been praying for good. When will they KNOW?

I love Psalm 5, especially in the NIV.
1 Give ear to my words, O LORD,
consider my sighing.

2 Listen to my cry for help,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray.

3 In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait in expectation.

I have this ongoing joke with one of my coworkers. She’ll ask me to edit something. I do, and I send her the edited version. It never fails...she emails me back a compliment. "You are awesome, HJ." "You do wonderful work, HJ." "You are fantastic, HJ." I’ve told her she better stop or I’m going to get a big head! I am, after all, just doing my job!

But seems like this is sort of like David here. Verse 1 and 2, he’s asking of God, imploring of God, to please hear him. Listen to Him! But just like my coworker already knows I’ll do what she needs me to do when she asks, David knows God will do just as he asks. In verse three, he simply states that God does, in fact, hear him. And later in the Psalm he calls God merciful and righteous. Basically, you are awesome, you do wonderful work, you are fantastic.

I love that this translation of the Psalm uses the word "sighing". How often do we sigh?! In fact, I just texted a certain someone with simply: "???" knowing full well, if this person had heard anything he would have already called me. But still. Just wanted to check. And of course I got the response: "Nope."

Sigh. More waiting.

I love that David is sure that the Lord hears; he doesn’t say, "I think you hear my voice." He says "you hear."

And, I love that he waits in expectation. Not suspense, not frustration, not doubt. He anticipates a response. He believes there will be a response—maybe what he requested, maybe not, but a response nonetheless.

Another sigh.

I would like to know, however, David, when exactly this response comes. If you send your request out in the morning...I mean...it’s 3pm. The evening is fast approaching.


God does do good work though.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

U.S.P.S. R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

It’s recently come to my attention that not everyone is like me.

The mail person drops off mail on Monday. When I get home from work on Monday, I get this mail. And because it was sent to my attention, someone wants me to open it. I oblige and open it. That is, after all, what mail is. And I open it that day because guess what? The mail person is going to come on Tuesday with mail that someone wants me to open on Tuesday! Same for Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

Well, supposedly some people don’t do this. Some people actually leave their mail in their mailboxes until it’s so full that their mail person has to leave them a note saying... “Um...here’s how mail works: I leave it in this here box and you pick it up from this here box! Or else you don’t get anymore mail.” Others will let it go three or four days because after all, they say, it’s usually junk mail. Still others go through the effort of getting the mail each day, but then they let it stack up on their counter, or a special (or not-so-special) “mail basket” of sorts, for days, even weeks, at a time.

I was shocked! I didn’t know that some people treated the U.S.P.S. system so cavalierly! And what if they’re missing something important in not opening every piece?! Like a call to jury duty?! A letter from a friend? A rebate check? A traffic ticket?! (In Cali, they take your picture, unbeknownst to you, and then send you a nice photo of yourself along with the ticket). Or how about a notice that a third-level sex offender has moved on to your block? Perhaps a save-the-date? A birth announcement? Coupons?!

I mean sure, sometimes it’s addressed to the current resident in addition to you and it’s crap, but not always!

And those people who let it sit out on their counter not to be touched for days, how can you stand it? There it sits right in front of you just begging to be opened and either enjoyed or thrown in the recycling.

I guess I take my cues from my dad. He is mail master. He usually eats lunch at home, so before pulling into the driveway, he will do a quick pass at the mailbox—still in the car—to get the mail if it should happen to be there that soon. If not, he will do the same thing on his way back to work after lunch—checking it from the car before pulling away. This meant, when I lived at home, that if I checked the mail at 5pm like a normal person, there wouldn’t be any mail in the mailbox OR the house. Rather, it was still be in dad’s car and he wasn’t home from work yet! I relished the days when for whatever reason I got the mail before he did! HA! Beat ya!

So do you get your mail every day and open it every day? Do you get your mail every day but only open it once a week? Do you never get your mail and thus, never open the letter I sent you? Do you leave a big, fat mess in your mailbox for your mailperson? I ask you: How much do you really respect the U.S.P.S. system?

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Down, but not away

Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.
This is what Jesus says in Matthew 11:6.

The people in my life who have shined with God’s peace and grace most brightly are those who have not fallen away even when the path was slippery or treacherous—when God appeared not to act. When, despite falling desperately on their knees with arms outstretched and sobs wracking their bodies and endless prayers uttered—the cancer did not go away, a family member died, babies were taken away. They fell down, but they didn’t fall away.

I recently told a friend, one who is not so sure about God, that I was praying for his family. I am, but I cringed because what if God does not do that very thing that I’m praying for in the situation of this particular family. What will my friend think? He will think: Some God that is! And truth be told, so will I, because I tend to fall away when God doesn’t do the things I know He can do. The great things He has done in my life as well as the lives of others close to me sometimes actually work against Him because I look at those things and think…you did that, so why aren’t you doing this?!

I simply cannot fathom what He’s doing! Interestingly, the word “fathom” means “to penetrate to the truth of.” And there it is! The hook by which I hang my faith! I believe there IS truth. We may not be able to penetrate it or understand it, but it is there. We will always be wondering and searching, but there is eventually an X that marks the spot. It’s not a joke without a punch line or a maze with no way out, even though it feels like it sometimes.

I feel like Jesus knows. He’s like, look, I know I’m confusing, and I know I won’t always make sense, but don’t fall away because of that! His ways are unfathomable—but somewhere in that unfathomableness is His love, a truth that can be believed.

I will still ask why, but I don’t want to fall away when the answer isn’t apparent. I may fall down, but not away.