Wednesday, March 31, 2010

C'mon, make fun of me

I make a lot of fun of the people who work out at the gym alongside me. Running on the treadmill affords a great opportunity to listen to the guy who grunts when he lifts weights, read people’s silly T-shirts, watch the girl in the purple spandex try to show off for muscleman. And then, of course, there are the people who leave the ridiculous requests and complaints on the bulletin board above the water fountain.

But, I have to tell you: on Monday I practically begged my fellow gym-ers to make fun of me.

As per usual, I was in a hurry as I got ready at home. I pulled on my tight black cropped pants, threw on a sports bra, grabbed a t-shirt, and because it was so nice out—no snow!!—I just wore my running shoes instead of bringing an extra pair.

To the gym I go. On the treadmill I hop. My keys go on the ground next to me, water bottle in holder, and ipod in ears. I am good to go. Bring on the people watching. As I started running, I felt something between my legs. I inconspicuously bent forward a bit and pretended like I had to scratch the inside of my leg. To my horror, there was a large, soft lump on the inside of my thigh. What you ask was this lump? Oh, my black underwear from the day before which blended in with my black pants and which I failed to notice as I got ready.

Crap! What to do? Did the five people behind me on stairmasters see this? Had they spotted the lump? Had they spotted my mortified face? Were they wondering why I had one large thigh?

What was my plan? I could pause the treadmill, get off, and go to the bathroom to dig my underwear out from my pants, but then what would I do with them? Put them down on the floor next to my keys? Hook onto my water bottle? Carry? The only possibility was stuffing them into my sports bra, but when you’re not that big on top, that’d probably be noticeable too! (I have a friend who can actually throw her cell phone in her sports bra during runs, and her phone won’t move. Oh the luxury!) I was cursing the nice weather. Had it been cold or nasty out I would have worn a coat in which I could have hidden underwear!

As these options ran through my head, my lump slowly worked its way to the back of my thigh. Trying to stretch my T-shirt down, down, down over my lump also crossed my mind. Maybe people feel sorry for me, I thought. I have an ugly growth on my leg. Or maybe people didn’t notice. Maybe they were too intent on the cable show above them about some girl who didn’t know she was pregnant until she was in labor.

Anyways, I didn’t get off the treadmill. I thought that may actually draw more attention to the situation. Instead I pretended as though I didn’t have an extra pair of underwear in my pants, and I vowed to never make fun of my fellow gymers again.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Shut up, Helga!

BJ and I took a road trip this past week, driving some 1,800 miles across seven or eight states to visit our grandparents in Indiana and Arkansas.

For Christmas BJ received Garmin—a GPS who he (fluent in German) quickly programmed to “Helga,” a woman who speaks automated German. He clipped Helga to the inside of the windshield as we pulled out of the driveway. “Biegen sie links in. .3 kilometers.” (Oh good. Just in case we didn’t know how to pull out of the neighborhood.)

Additionally, I borrowed dad’s hefty atlas, which is painfully large, but so fun because you can—when things get really boring—follow town by town, often ripping on names like Effingham, Mo., and Peculiar, Mo. (Missouri has the worst town names ever. Iowa may be a close second.)

But just in case these wouldn’t suffice, BJ also printed out Google maps, including both the directions and the maps for each leg of our trip. We were more than prepared. “We couldn’t get lost even if we tried,” BJ said. “True that!” I piped in, proud of our preparedness!

Well, that was until we entered Illinois when suddenly Helga was telling us to go one way (she practically yells us!), our Google maps suggested another way, and dad’s atlas showed another way that I thought would probably make more sense. In a matter of seconds we had to make a decision. Who was going to trump whom? Which way? Which way? The exit is about to pass!

BJ: Heath, which way?!

HJ: I don’t know. Who do you want? Helga or Google?
(and Helga yelling RECHTS RECHTS RECHTS was not helping)

Our preparedness was suddenly useless. Having not made a decision at the beginning who or what would be our default, we became decision-less and paralyzed at very critical junctures!

I quickly became annoyed with Helga, too, who only yelled at us louder when we’d take the Google route. And when she led us astray twice—taking us to nonexistent coffee shops—I had had enough.

But anyways, isn’t that how it always goes? You think you got your ducks lined up. You’ve got life figured out, and you are prepared! You know exactly where you’re going. And then suddenly there’s road construction and a missed sign and your “preparedness” becomes laughable. Which way are you going to go?! You can’t really rely on your own sorely lacking knowledge.

There’s great comfort in deciding to let God trump all my silly plans and maps and directions and societal pressures. Admittedly sometimes I wonder, really? You want me to go that way? And I also still tend to panic at critical junctures, but I shouldn't. He’ll always get me to my destination. And he won’t even arrogantly flaunt his know-how in German!

Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.
Psalm 119:35

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


A white screen blinked an outline of a file folder and a question mark at me.

I had flipped my mac on an hour before class last night to finish up homework. It did that introductory sound...auuummmm...and then tried and tried and tried to do something. I could hear it working, like a train going up a hill, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can...” and then...the blinking file folder.

I wanted to talk back to it. Yes. Yes, I know. That’s my question to YOU! Where exactly is my folder of homework. You tell me. And come to think of it, please also tell me where my photos and my journal and my finances and internet “favorites” are too!

I suddenly felt naked and deprived and, quite honestly, helpless. There was simply nothing I could do, except restart a few times, only to have the same thing happen; take a few deeeep breaths; and turn to my work computer to redo the homework I needed for class. All the while, I tried to hold my panic at bay. My lifeline to the world! I wanted to stroke her and tell her to breath’ll be OK! What am I going to do? Panic Panic Panic.

Well, I’ll tell you what I did. I immediately made a reservation at the closest Genius Bar: Apple’s help desk in the mall’s Apple retail store. A genius bar is a genius idea, really. I mean, geniuses are people with extraordinarily high intelligence ratings; they have a natural capacity for certain abilities. And they are all at a bar ready to help ME and my computer!

So, I promptly plopped my not-so-genius bottom down at the bar today at 12:20 over my lunch hour. I handed over my baby to bartender David in a bright blue shirt. Help her...fix something, I pleaded with David. Make the folder go away, please! I can’t take it anymore. I don’t know what to do!

A song from Sunday school went through my head: “Cast your burdens...unto Jesus...for he caaaaaaares for you.” It’s from 1 Peter 5:6. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

I casted some serious concerns over to Genius David, and we were about to see how much he cared for me.

David told me he’d be right back. He was going to go in back and see if he could resuscitate my baby. I waited at the bar, and with that song in my head, I started thinking about other things in my life right now in which I feel somewhat helpless and deprived. Things that I just want to cast across the bar. I’m getting frustrated with them because I keep restarting and rebooting and it’s not working. I’m getting question marks! Blinking question marks. And panic can set in if I don’t make a reservation with God to hand over my burdens.

What a relief when I realize that I can throw my biggest problems and concerns at him and say HELP...and know that he has my best interests at heart. God is a genius willing to take our work problems, our fears, our worries about the futures, our financial woes on himself!

David didn’t have the greatest news today. My baby will be breathing again very soon, but not without losing a lot of precious info. It’s not the exact response I wanted, but I am incredibly grateful for the genius bar and felt so much better the second I handed my burden over to them.

It’s genius.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Three dates a day

Yesterday I chatted with a 91-year-old gentleman.

His wife is in a nearby nursing home. I found out that every day—like clockwork—he drives to the nursing home at 11am to take his bride out to lunch. Then he goes to work (yes, he still works). At 4:30pm he heads back to the nursing home to have dinner with her. He goes home and finally returns to the nursing home at 8pm to be with her as she goes to bed. She knows exactly when he will arrive and leave, and he will not disappoint.

It is a gift to be able to do this—he told me—to drive to the nursing home three times a day. It’s a treat because he feels like he gets to go on three dates every single day. He said he is lucky and blessed.

I was speechless.

Such perspective. Instead of being sad that his wife is in a nursing home, instead of begrudging the fact that he "has to" drive to the nursing home three times daily...he is happy.

And such love. Such loyalty. It takes my breath away.

So does the love of a certain someone, whom I would be lucky to visit three times a day many years from now.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Who's in front of me?

A few nights ago, I interviewed a woman who has been working in a makeshift tent hospital in Haiti since the January earthquake. She has performed leg amputations. Delivered babies. Put protruding bones back into bodies. And gotten no more than five hours of sleep per night for two solid months.

I sat on my comfy couch in my warm living room and listened to her share stories. About how the patients at her hospital sleep outside because they’re traumatized. They had been buried in debris, and with recent aftershocks are terrified to sleep under a roof. About how one 10-year-old named Rosemond was pulled out from under his house three days after the quake only to discover that his mom and dad and three siblings had already died. He now vacillates between laughing and playing soccer with kids in the neighborhood--like a normal little boy--and sitting somberly in the corner, alone--like no boy should have to. His 8-year-old buddy at the hospital was amazingly reunited with his parents a few days ago. Rosemond sat in the shadows, quietly watching his friend joyously hug his momma.

I silently dabbed the tears forming in my eyes. As she told me about her average day, I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty. What am I doing for the good of humanity? What difference, really, am I making sitting in my office working on a computer? While she’s fixing a skull fracture, I’m running on a treadmill at the gym!?

An overwhelming sense of responsibility and guilt bubbled up inside of me. And it's happened before. It happened after I returned from planting gardens in South Africa for 10 days. It happened when I built homes in poverty-stricken Mexico for a weekend. I felt so bad for having so much and doing so little. I started feeling guilty about the simplest luxuries. Why do I get toothpaste when so many others can’t even get water? Why do I get to go to five different shoe stores to pick out the “perfect” boots, when so many others don’t have anything on their feet? I should be somewhere doing something helping lots of people.

And yet, logically, I know it can’t work. We can’t all drop what we’re doing and go help people in Haiti forever. In fact, we’d probably make things worse there!

At the end of the conversation, I asked my interviewee why she’s doing what she’s doing--why she intends to spend another month far from home, tending to others’ physical needs. After a few moments of silence, she said that being there right now is extremely overwhelming. There are too many people with too many needs, but she reminds herself each day that Jesus was not about quantity. He was about quality. He was about helping the one person in front of him at any given time.

I sat up a little straighter. That’s right. We are the hands and feet of Christ. And we can’t all be in the same place at the same time doing the same thing. Sometimes I think I should put those blinders on...the kind that horses wear? Or one of those silly white megaphone-looking things that dogs where. I can sometimes get so overwhelmed by the enormous size and quantity of humanity's problems that I am blind to the ways I can truly make a difference. Instead, I feel guilty for the ways I can't make a difference.

So, the question is: who’s in front of me? Right now. Right here. How can I help him or her--even if it means only getting five hours of sleep?