Thursday, June 12, 2014

When Bookworm Summer Camp Gets Cancelled

The most difficult thing I’ve dealt with lately may surprise you unless you know me well. (If you do, well, you know!) A month ago I learned that my university had changed the requirements of my major in such a way that while I’m closer to a degree, I can no longer justify the two classes I’d been gearing up to take this summer. What?! I was so looking forward to the books, and lectures, and the chance to get out of town and meet new people a lot like me. Like summer camp for bookworms! It may sound strange, but I couldn’t think of a better way to spend those extra weeks of vacation I get for what my company (kindly) recognizes, at least from a benefits perspective, as almost 20 years of service (while Hubs only gets five days of paid leave a year).

As I realized I’d have to cancel my trip to the South, I felt the usual weight of summer depression descend on me as it has almost every year as far back as I can remember. Depression about the long, unchanging days, a life without structure or markers; depression about myself and my life. In years past I've found one of the few effective strategies for fighting it has been to go somewhere for a few weeks. Somehow being away from home made it easier to set aside the self-pity. Better yet was when I could pour myself into a mission team who, for a month or two or three, would have to be my friends and who would need me to be the kind of grownup who focused on looking out for them rather than giving center stage to my shame about being lonely and pathetic in the social department. Those were actually some great summers!

If, though, summer struck and my calendar was empty, some of my panic and shame had to do with being single. I envied those with families or the kind of friends who do family-like things like camping, road trips to national parks, and free concerts in the park with a picnic basket. Now and then a family or group of friends would include me or respond to my invitation to do something like that, but I wasn’t a good social organizer, and they did tend to be the kinds of things someone would just want to do with their family, if they had one.

rout “having fun.” I like to go exploring in places both familiar and unknown, and I like to play with words and ideas; I love a great three- or four-way conversation. But other kinds of fun – “summer fun” like water sports and volleyball and frisbee and goofing around, physically – are just not my cup of tea. So summer was often a reminder of what a wallflower I was, and that opened the door to a debilitating sense of being different, of being a nerd (though that’s cool now, what?) and a loser (still not cool, not ever).

Now I have a family now. They don’t share very much of my odd sense of what’s fun and what’s not, but some of it. That’s a big help. The day I had my biggest emotional melt-down over all this, Chris came home with a glossy magazine listing and describing all the local campgrounds and many of the summer events, and we talked about places we'd like to go. An actual camping trip is going to be hard to schedule, but we’ve already made a trip to the coast for a local festival, took in an old car show, and spent a few hours on the banks of a beautiful little river while our son and his friends played in the water and Chris took pictures. As neither a child nor the parent of one I still self-conscious; a bit of a misfit. I sort of fit. Not the fit I’d like to imagine I would have in an ideal world. Well, such is life.

With a family, I now have people to do things with, more companionship. But the cost has been high in terms of other relationships. With two jobs and the whole wife/mother thing, I haven't been able to make the kind of friends I’d like to go do fun things with (by whatever definition of fun).

The difficult truth to face here is that I’ve never been very good at building and maintaining those kind of friendships, much as I desire them, apart from some kind of structure that throws me together with people like me on a regular basis – like those mission teams of years past, or the close relationships I used to have just by showing up at work and at church events. And that's not really happening now; opportunities to just show up and be with people are rare for me. If I have to get on the phone and ask someone to have coffee or go for a walk with me, it’s like I just can’t do it, can’t take the social initiative. I’ve always been shy. And because I know that’s fairly ridiculous in a grown-up person, I beat myself up over this foolish, crippling social handicap, and fear that if I do have the opportunity to share my heart with someone, all the deep and ugly loneliness will come spewing out (it happens) and who wants to take that out in public?

We’ll make it through this summer, and maybe I’ll even have some fun (by my definition or in spite of it) and some of the structure will return in the fall. The sticker price of my husband's recent surgery was steep; the hospital alone wants $4,000 for it. So I'm not sure I'll be going back to school. My tuition, being optional, is probably the first thing I will choose to cut. It can wait. And maybe that is God's gift to me. I could use some of the time and energy – both this summer and in the fall – to work up the courage to pursue some friendships eh? I do have a few, now, they’re just kind of new and fragile and could wither away if I don’t nurture them.

This may be the key. Check out this encouraging article I read today: How to Regain Hope in 5 Minutes

Friday, May 02, 2014

Three Delusions

"It's been said, sometimes seriously, and yet sometimes tongue in cheek, that the average person suffers from three delusions.

First, that he has a good sense of humor.
Second, that he's a good driver.
And third, that he's a good listener.

"Now I've always thought that it was pretty important to have a good sense of humor in life. I think that makes life go a little bit better. And in our civilization and in our culture, it's very very important that we're good driver.
"But of those three, the only one that's absolutely crucial to spiritual growth is that we be good listeners."

Scott Wenig, speaking at South Fellowship, April 6, 2014
Love this anecdote and intend to steal it for use in my own teaching!

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Pretty things, painful memories, and how I was surprised by wholeness

Shortly before Chris and I got married I went back to Denver to help my old housemate pack up and prepare to move out of the place we'd shared for fifteen years or so. She had been there longer than I had and faced some serious and painful downsizing. Her grandmother's china was on the got-to-go list. She offered it to me.

I was touched by the offer of these treasures and the chance to carry on some of her family history. I didn't take the boxes with me, though, since I was flying. Instead I left them for the moving truck.

We said goodbye, and I returned to Oregon to continue the task of setting up my own new household, itself complicated by the realization that Chris and I had rather different preferences for well, almost everything, it seemed. We both had sacrifices to make. The wedding registry process was rough. Neither one of us wanted to fight about things like dishes and towels or wedding music and decorations, for that matter when there were so many more important things to work out. But we were mystified by each other's preferences in each of those areas and more. I ended up taking back quite a few of the wedding presents one of us said we wanted but the other didn't like. We defaulted to what was functional and plain.

I'm not really a girly girl but was sad to have so few pretty things, and to realize that many of the pretty things I already have would probably have to stay in boxes until, maybe someday, we get a bigger place, or don't have any kids at home.

Some months after the wedding, my roommate's sister had to make a trip to Eugene and brought me the three boxes of china. She also gave me some disturbing news about my old roommate, now living with their mother in Washington. It had been a tough transition for her. As I soon discovered, the china hadn't fared well, either. I opened the first box and unwrapped a few things. How did so many of them get broken? I must have thrown some things away, then, but I pushed the boxes back and decided to deal with them later.

Later finally came just last week. Chris and Daniel were both away for the night. I steeled myself for what I thought would be a depressing task, another scene of pain, disappointment, brokenness.

But it was not. I didn't find a single broken piece of broken china, just one after another that was beautiful and whole!

What had happened? I briefly imagined that Someone had worked a frivolous miracle on my behalf, but I suppose it's more likely that I had thrown away the only broken pieces the first time I opened the boxes, not realizing the rest were just fine.

I was further surprised to realize, as I surveyed our kitchen, that I would not have to re-pack the boxes and return them to the garage. Our spacious kitchen has room. So I began using the most serviceable looking pieces, like the cups that aren't paper-thin and edged with gold! Who knows, maybe I'll have some reason to get out the really fancy ones now and again, too. (Like a visit from my old roommate, who I'm glad to say is doing much better. She mostly just needed the time to grieve and adapt.)

Looking back on those days, two years ago, when Chris and I were struggling to furnish the house, I realize how far we've come in appreciating each other's values, preferences, and perspectives. Sometimes we are even able to find things both of us like! Moreover, love continues to cover: we like to please each other, and that goes a long way to producing kindness, respect, and forbearance. There are lots of things I now do or think about his way, and things he does or thinks about my way. Marriage is certainly harder than living with a roommate. The stakes are higher. But, with time and patience, we're learning how to walk together.

The morning after I unpacked the china, I made breakfast for us both and served it on our "new" plates. I knew better than to offer him tea or coffee in these lovely little cups; he's not a hot-drink kind of guy and wouldn't have much use for cups that only hold a few ounces. But I'll enjoy them. And I suspect he will enjoy seeing me enjoy them, too. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Professional Patient

A few years ago I wrote a post about Chesterton's playful book, The Club of Queer Trades. Each member of this elite society earns his position by inventing a completely new way of making a living. As I said then, this marks the book as somewhat dated. Today, new trades are being invented all the time.

Still I was charmed to recently come across one that was new to me. Danielle came across it almost by chance but found she had a knack for it and now gets as much business as she can handle.

She works as a pretend patient for medical students in training, especially nurses. It's quite the thing, now, a way to train tomorrow's medical professionals in a realistic but sheltered environment, practicing things they might not have the chance to practice or experience with real patients... at least not without doing harm.

One day she's vague and quiet; another she may keep trying to get up and escape. She's part model, part actress, and does her best to display the prescribed symptoms that the students might demonstrate they know the appropriate responses and treatments. Sometimes she's paid to spend the whole day in bed in her pajamas - but "on stage" in a simulated hospital room. The week we met she was preparing to be a kidney patient who was a conservative Muslim and spoke only Arabic.

Would you want to work as a simulated patient?

I didn't ask how much this job asks her to lay herself bare or accept embarrassing intrusions.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Contextualizing the Messenger

"Are your efforts to contextualize the gospel all about you?" asks Eric McKiddie in a recent article for The Gospel Coalition. Like many who hear about the concept, those words brought to mind the goateed, hipster urban church planter or the foreign missionary in native dress. Contextualization was, well, kind of cool. And here he was moving from a somewhat stuffy church in the heartland to a more casual, trendy church plant in the Bible belt. Score! Preaching without a tie!

But as much as Eric enjoyed adapting to his new context, he came to realize he had yet to learn some of the lessons from 1 Corinthians 9.
Though I had read this passage countless times, I noticed something I never saw before: sacrifice was the hallmark of Paul's contextualization. Verse by verse, the Spirit began to show me that my enjoyment of my next context—even if not in egregiously sinful ways—betrayed more of a concern for my preferences and pride, not the lost.
Are You Serving Others or Yourself?

"I have become all things to all people" (1 Cor. 9:22) is a theme verse for contextualizing the gospel. Paul determined to meet people where they are. If we are not willing to bring the gospel to unbelievers in the midst of their mess—just like Jesus met us—then it will be hard for unbelievers to see that Jesus can save them out of the mess they are in.

But when you scan your eyes up a couple verses, you see the way Paul becomes all things to all people: "I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them" (1 Cor. 9:19, emphasis added). Contextualization starts with service. Becoming all things begins with serving all people.

Over and over Paul shows how he set aside his preferences to see others believe the gospel.

Are You Contextualizing to All or to Some?

In every sport I've played I've been coached to stay on the balls of my feet. Back on your heels, you are unprepared to react. But if you stay on the balls of your feet, you are ready to move toward the action. For Paul, contextualization was about doing gospel ministry "on the balls of his feet." He was ready to serve anyone at any time in any way.

This is different from how I often hear people discussing contextualization. People often talk about aiming at one context: the poor, the city, the university students, and so on. But Paul was ready to contextualize the gospel to anyone at hand:

To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. (1 Cor. 9:19-22)

Wherever you live—whether city, suburb, or rural—are you willing to contextualize the gospel to all, even people you don't like so much? Or are you merely willing to become some things to some people, that by some means you might save some?

If you have an overly defined segment of the population that you are trying to reach, it is possible you are merely trying to reach people whose company you prefer.
Jesus Served Us

In Philippians 2:7, Paul describes the incarnation as Jesus "taking the form of a servant." At the outset, Jesus looked to the needs of others. Moreover, Jesus was a servant through his death, "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:42). These bookends show that Jesus' entire ministry—from birth to death—was marked by giving up his rights as the eternally begotten Son to serve sinful people like us.

How do we respond to the way Jesus served us? By giving up our rights and serving others, whomever they may be, to bring them the gospel. It will require sacrifice, to be sure. But that sacrifice does not come without a reward, as Paul says, "I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings" (1 Cor. 9:23).

Read complete article.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Taking your cultural "strengths" overseas

In the last two weeks I've visited seven Perspectives classes to teach lessons on mission history. Before my spring "tour" is done I will attend a mission conference in Portland, participate in a week of meetings around a forum for church leaders in Orlando, spend a few days in Southern California, and then, March 31 and April 10, teach two more Perspectives lessons. Those are a culture lesson. In pulling up my notes about crossing cultures I remember how much fun this material is to teach. It's more personal. And much less "sage on the stage." I'll step more fully into the mode of "guide on the side," raising questions and inviting the class to discuss their own experiences and concerns and come to their own conclusions.

I'm also reminded how easy it is to believe that working in a cross-cultural situation is hard because of problems with the other people's culture. But that's not a very helpful conclusion. It's no use going around expecting other people to change on our behalf. Far more effective to acknowledge and examine our expectations and look for ways to adjust them along with our thinking and behavior. Those are the only thing over which we have at least some control.

I like the way Kenyan pastor Oscar Muriu describes these tensions:
Americans have two great things going for them culturally. One is that Americans are problem-solvers. Every time I come to the U.S., I like to spend a couple hours in a Wal-Mart. I find solutions to problems that I never thought of!

The rest of the world, even Europe, isn't so intent on solving inconveniences. We tend to live with our problems… Americans don't easily live with a problem—they want to solve the problem and move on…

The second great thing for Americans is that your educational system teaches people to think and to express themselves. So a child who talks and asserts himself in conversation is actually awarded higher marks than the one who sits quietly.

Those two things that are such great gifts in the home context become a curse when you go into missions. Americans come to Africa, and they want to solve Africa. But you can't solve Africa. It's much too complex for that. And that really frustrates Americans.

And the assertiveness you are taught in school becomes a curse on the field. I often say to American missionaries, "When the American speaks, the conversation is over." The American is usually the most powerful voice at the table. And when the most powerful voice gives its opinion, the conversation is over.

I tell Americans: "We're going into this meeting. Don't say anything! Sit there and hold your tongue." When you sit around a table, the people speaking always glance at the person they believe is the most powerful figure at the table. They will do that with you when you're the only American. And at some point, they will ask you: "What do you think?"

Don't say anything. If you say anything, reflect back with something like "I have heard such wisdom at this table. I am very impressed." And leave it at that. Affirm them for the contribution they have made. Don't give your own opinion.

Americans find that almost impossible. They do not know how to hold their tongue. They sit there squirming, because they're conditioned to express their opinions. It's a strength at home, but it becomes a curse on the field.

(Source: Problem-Solving, Opinionated Americans from Leadership Journal, The African Planter: Nairobi Chapel pastor on mission trips, and working well across cultures. An interview with Oscar Muriu (quoted in Leading Across Cultures: Effective Ministry and Mission in the Global Church pgs 110-111)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sandwiches

This morning I made Daniel a couple of peanut butter sandwiches. Haven't done that in a while.  But it got me thinking about the social dynamics around this simple act.

When Chris and I were dating, I was a little horrified that he made his kids' lunches. Usually breakfast too. And though his mother, who they lived with, often made dinner, Chris showed himself more than adequate to take care of that as well. On one hand, part of me secretly hoped that after we were married he would serve me (and the kids) in those same ways, and sometimes he has. But I knew it was more likely that those kind of responsibilities would shift to my shoulders. As that happened I've received it with mixed feelings. I enjoy many of the tasks of housekeeping, but I'm a professional with a full-time job, too, and it's hard to do both. 

In my family where I grew up, making your own lunch was like making your own bed - a sign that you were a responsible person - or deciding what to wear - not something you'd want to delegate to another. It was your lunch, not your mom's lunch, and you should make it.

Turns out, in the family I married into, making your kid's lunch was a way to say "I'm here for you. And I love you."

It's hard to let go of one story and accept another, or accept both of them as valid. I'm regularly surprised and disappointed how much my self-righteousness asserts itself to defend my preferences, my ways, my ideas about how things are done or what they mean.

But I love Daniel, and not just because I love Chris. And I've recognized one way of showing it is to feed him.

Family dynamics have shifted, and Daniel usually makes his own sandwiches now. But I've learned to make them the way he likes them, as I did today. A thin layer of peanut butter on both pieces of bread, carefully spread to the edges. Generous layer of jelly or honey on top of that. Some assembly required, but no slicing. (That surprised me: I remembered that my dad always sliced sandwiches on the diagonal, my mom on the horizontal. Yet here was another option!)

In her book, Loving Someone Else's Child, author Angela Hunt says that stepfamilies, despite their problems, can give kids some unexpected benefits. A larger/blended family includes "more people with diverse personalities and styles and backgrounds and so there are more sources of social and cognitive stimulation for kids. In the long run, kids in stepfamilies could be developing more effective ways of dealing with a greater variety of people..."

"Children with 'step-in' parents usually have multiple role models. They will observe different parenting techniques and will have more models from which to choose when they are parents someday... they learn that it pays to be flexible."

In the long run, set-in-their-ways stepmoms may experience the same benefits, too!