Friday, August 27, 2010

Give an art, take an art

Recently I went with a friend of mine to an “art swap” down in Uptown.

How it works:
Bring $2 and a piece of art—one you did maybe, or perhaps one you were given and don’t want! You show up and they take a photo of you holding your artwork as well as a sign that says “I Brought.” Then you turn in your art and $2 to begin browsing what’s at the swap: someone’s sketchy (and I don’t mean sketched) home video, a three-year-old’s crayon masterpiece, a painting of a woman who looks like she’s dying in serious pain, a hollow mannequin leg filled with sticks, a doll, etc. When you’ve selected the piece of art that you want but someone else didn’t want, they take another picture of you. This time with the art you selected and a sign that says “I Got.” Then they post the photos in an online gallery and you go check periodically to see who snagged the art you brought. And you can also see who made the art you selected, which is, I think, both fun and disturbing.

I won’t tell you what I brought. I mean, what if it’s artwork you gave me?! But I will tell you that I got a pair of homemade earrings out of the deal.

As we walked out the door of the small store front on Lyndale, the woman who took our $2 and photos said, “thanks for swappin’ by!”

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Remembering a neighbor

The late afternoon Friday phone call from a “310” area code took me off guard, as did the news that came from the other end of the call. It was a manager at the apartment complex I used to live at in San Diego. He tracked me down, found my number in the apartment records (thankfully, I have yet to change it even after three years), and wanted to let me know that my old neighbor Grif died.

My heart started beating faster, and I could feel the tears well up.

Many of you have heard me talk about Grif or read my blog posts about him. Old man. Diabetes. Married and divorced three times. No children. No living family. I checked on him nearly every day, and he did likewise with me; our front doors were about 10 feet apart. I usually wouldn’t go to bed until I heard his TV turn off (usually set on MASH very very loudly!). That meant he was OK and on his way to sleep.

Since I’ve moved, he and I continued our correspondence. I last sent him a little note along with our wedding announcement. I have visited him on trips back to Cali, and he has sent me packages, most recently a set of coins. I found it odd that I hadn’t heard from him after the wedding announcement and fully intended to send him some pictures and a letter telling him all about it. Additionally, I’m headed back to San Diego next month and was hoping to swing in and give him a hug.

These plans were stopped with the phone call. The guy on the other end told me that Grif had been getting increasingly sick. He urged Grif to go to the hospital. When he finally did, they discovered a large tumor in his stomach. He went home for a bit, but quickly landed back in the hospital. He died July 5—a Monday, four days before our wedding. This guy visited Grif a number of times and told me that Grif talked about me and all of my letters were lined up on his kitchen table. This guy said he knew I was important to Grif and wanted to let me know.

So disconcerting is the quiet and speed with which Grif left this world. I was told that his ashes were being sent to some fort, along with an American flag; he had been in the military. I heard the news—that he was sick, in the hospital, and now dead—seven weeks late!

What about a funeral? What about people crying outside his hospital room? What about a long line of cars driving to his grave? What about giving money to a memorial in his name? It seemed odd—eery—that life had continued on for me as normal for seven weeks without knowing that someone dear to me was gone.

Recently, as BJ and I were organizing, I came across the set of coins (in a nice case, engraved with my name!) Grif sent me last. They were not cheap, and I was touched that he would have spent this amount of money on me! It was a gift that will last; the coins will be worth a lot more at some point in the future. Chances are good I'll never cash them in.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Seeing myself

It’s amazing to me how BJ has acted like a mirror in places of my life where before...there were no mirrors.

On a humorous note, he has pointed things out about my habits that I was unaware of. I did not realize that I brush my teeth like a teapot. The elbow of the arm with the toothbrush goes up very, very high, and my other hand immediately goes on my hip. I promptly start brushing my teeth! And apparently should be humming “I’m a little teapot...” BJ comes behind me, laughing as he brushes his teeth “normally.”

I also did not realize that I never quite shut any of my drawers—bedroom drawers, bathroom drawers, kitchen drawers. For some odd reason, they’re always slightly open...just an inch. I can’t explain why. When I tried, I suggested that it’s because I don’t want to make a lot of noise. Now, BJ quietly comes behind me and shuts them all. I didn’t realize that I could easily burn others with the temperature of my water. I apparently have no nerves because I can wash dishes and shower and wash my face in 200-degree water. BJ comes behind me and yelps. Alone, I never saw...never knew these things. I didn’t know how weird I was.

When we went through pre-marital classes, I discovered, as BJ and I compared each other, that I internally process. I knew that I was an introvert, more quiet than loud, and generally prefer to be alone than in crowds, etc., but I hadn’t realized that much, if not all, of my thinking and processing and decision-making takes place in my head. Or maybe what I hadn’t thought about before is that others do all of these things out loud for the world to hear! After 15 minutes in front of pastor, BJ talk talk talking about our love and future and me silently nodding, pastor said he was going to go out on limb...he was going to guess that I internally process and BJ externally processes. Um, yes. BJ will walk you through his decisions. You will know the hills he went over, the wrong turns he took, the options he considered and the transportation he chose to get to his decision before he actually tells you his decision. And then he might very well change his mind. I, however, will take that same journey alone in my head, and then just tell you only what I think you need to know at the ultimate decision, which will most likely be final. What we also learned is that BJ sometimes gets nervous in my silence, wondering what I’m thinking, where I’m at, what’s going on in my scary head. I sometimes want to tell him to cut to the chase: what is he wanting, what is his point?!

All this to say, with BJ around, I’ve looked in mirrors that I hadn’t been able to see before. And these mirrors are only possible when he holds them up. Alone I can’t see much. I will tell you that sometimes the mirror reveals things about myself that I don’t want to see. My selfishness suddenly seems big and ugly, when before I didn’t really notice. My little habits and routines look silly and funny and unnecessary!

Anyways, I started thinking about this concept in terms of God too. The things we don’t or can’t see about ourselves when we don’t have God next to us, holding up a mirror. Without God, I tend not to see that I’m a sinner. I’m self-centered, I turn inward. The things of this world are all I can see, and they become most important.

I lose perspective, slipping into the mindset that the world revolves around me and my family and my friends. I’m currently reading a book called Crazy Love by Francis Chan, a pastor of a large, growing church in Southern California. The title refers to God’s crazy love for us. Chan likens our time on earth to playing an extra in a movie for two-fifths of a second. In the grand scheme of things, we are nothing! We are like the back of a head the shows up in a movie for .35 seconds! Chan says bluntly that we need to get over ourselves! There's much more to living than the car we drive, the money we make, the house we own, and the job we have.

When we sit close to God, we are put into our place, like it or not. Perspectives become much more realistic. We are not the world, and the world does not revolve around us or our two-fifths-of-a-second part.

Now, having BJ in my life, has not just made me see my downfalls or idiosyncrasies or ridiculous habits. I have also seen good things that I’ve never seen before in myself. I recognize a capacity to love and accept and forgive unlike I have before. I didn’t really know I could spend 24/7 with someone and still want more of them. I didn’t know that a person could draw out my laughter and goodness in this way. I didn’t know that I could do so many nice things for a person, and it still wouldn’t seem like enough. I still want to do more nice things for him.

It’s the same with God. Sure, next to him, we’re put into our humble place. But next to Him, we also see a much more complete, much better, version of us. A version of us that we’re unable to see when He’s not around. We see how beautiful and precious we are to him. We see that we can be loving and servant-like, despite our selfishness. And although sinful, we are clean. When we see ourselves next to God we become a “glorious inheritance.”

Chan says, “The very fact that a holy, eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, merciful, fair, and just God loves you and me is nothing short of astonishing...He doesn’t need me or you. Yet He wants us, chooses us, even considers us His inheritance (Eph. 1:18). The greatest knowledge we can ever have is knowing God treasures us...The Holy Creator sees you as His ‘glorious inheritance.’”