Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Losing Track of Time

The Persistence of Memory, by Salvador Dali.
Some days I could use a bit more persistence.
Sometimes I send emails and post things to the Internet while I'm traveling and don't tell my computer we're in a different time zone. I don't know if that's ever caused significant confusion for anybody; often I'm just off by an hour or two.

But this summer I quite confused myself when, after looking at my computer's calendar settings to see what day of the week something was happening, I accidentally moved my computer's date settings ahead by several months.

I didn't realize the problem until I was looking for something in my "sent mail" and discovered it seemed to have been sent several weeks in the future. I changed my settings back, but when the future became the present and then the past, my correspondence was out of order and intermingled.

"Don't get ahead of yourself," advised my friend S :-) Maybe that's the only lesson to learn here.

When we visited the clock and watch museum in Pennsylvania (see previous post A Brief History of Time Keeping) I was fascinated to learn how new are our notions of time and how to measure it . America's railroad operators initiated the movement to promote a common standard. "The day with two noons" in November 1883 was an attempt to keep trains from colliding and reduce the number of passengers in one city from missing their connections in another.

Do you think I could miss a deadline and cover it up with an explanation that I'm simply operating off a lunar calendar or that my clock wound down a few weeks ago?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Travel Interlude

It can be a painful interlude, or a happy one: being in-between. Today I find myself between "away" and "home." The conference I was attending in North Carolina ended midday Thursday. I had decided to leave myself some wiggle room just in case there was a lead I wanted to follow, so I arranged my flights for a Friday morning departure. If nothing came up, I'd still have an interlude: a place to be, to be autonomous, but with options. Yes, I've learned to like staying in hotels. Cable television. Plenty of hot water. Places nearby to explore... and minimal chores, tasks, or pressures.

So I enjoyed my extra time in Charlotte. I made a few connections and had a few conversations that might not have happened if I'd been rushing for an afternoon flight. And had dinner out, caught up on some email, took a bath, watched TV. Still had to get to bed early since my wake-up call would come at 4:00, but it was nice to be relaxed. 

Little did I know I'd have another interlude as well. My trip home was bound to meander; United honored my frequent flier miles but would only be able to take me home in fits and starts. When one of my three flights was canceled I ended up with another night in a hotel. This time in Omaha, Nebraska.

Some of the other travelers were not so pleased with this gift of time. They had weddings to get to, or dogs to feed, or were just fed up with being on the road. Almost everyone in the rebooking line at the ticket counter seemed frustrated to be there. They got on their cell phones (as we were encouraged to do) and tried to work out satisfactory plans with the people who work at the call center. Then they got off and complained to one another about how stupid the call center workers were, summing it up with a complaint about having to talk to a "foreigner," someone who clearly "did not speak much English!"

I felt ashamed to be an American. How could you seriously believe that if someone has a different accent from yours, he doesn't speak the language or doesn't know what he's doing? And are you sure the ignorance or intractability is on the other side of the line, and not your own? My companions in line also expressed a belief that they were talking to people in India, perhaps not realizing that the likelihood of this was decreased by the fact that it would be 2 am there. 

At any rate, this anti-India sentiment motivated me to be extra-nice to any Indians I might happen to meet while in United's care. I made friends and had a far-ranging conversation with the Gujarati man who drove the hotel shuttle and later dropped me off downtown for some sightseeing; I also chatted with the Patel girl at the front desk.

If you ever have the chance to explore Omaha, NE, I'd encourage you take it. There's a fun, funky downtown with lots of things to do within walking distance, interesting shops and restaurants, and a well-reputed zoo and gardens not too far away. Omaha prices are better than Denver's, too. This weekend the world's second-largest indoor rodeo, too, yeehaw! I saw a good number of cowboy-hatted individuals walking in the direction of the stadium. But I skipped that, still needing to retire at a reasonable hour to catch my morning flight.

Interlude over. I'm on my way back to Denver.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Radical Abandon

So, maybe you haven't heard, but David Platt's book Radical is sweepin' the charts in Christian publishing these days. I finagled a free copy - again, with the promise that I would use it and tell others about it - and am about a third of the way in. Looks pretty solid to me. Seems like an authentic call to break free of the American dream and really follow Jesus. But it's also a fun read. Here's a bit from chapter 1.
"'The youngest megachurch pastor in history.'... the label given to me when I went to pastor a large, thriving church in the Deep South... From the first day I was immersed in strategies for making the church bigger and better. Authors I respect greatly would make statements such as 'Decide how big you want your church to be, and go for it, whether that's five, ten, or twenty thousand members.' Soon my name was near the top of the list of pastors of the fastest-growing U.S. churches. There I was... living out the American church dream.

"But I found myself becoming uneasy. For one thing, my model in ministry is a guy who spent the majority of his ministry time with twelve men. A guy who, when he left this earth, had only about 120 people who were actually sticking around and doing what he told them to do. More like a minichurch, really.

"So how was I to reconcile the fact that I was now pastoring thousands of people with the fact that my greatest example in ministry was known for turning away thousands of people? Whenever the crowds got big, he'd say something such as, 'Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.' ... I can almost picture the looks on the disciples' faces, 'No, not the drink-my blood speech! We'll never get on the list of fastest-growing movements if you keep asking them to eat you!'

"Jesus apparently wasn't interested in marketing himself to the masses. His invitations to potential followers were clearly more costly than the crowds were ready to accept, and he seemed to be okay with that. He focused instead on the few who believed him when he said radical things. And through their radical obedience to him, he turned the course of history in a new direction.

"Soon I realized I was on a collision course with an American church culture where success is defined by bigger crowds, bigger budgets, and bigger buildings. I was no confronted with a startling reality: Jesus actually spurned the things that my church culture said were most important. So what was I to do?"

Source: Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, by David Platt. Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 2010. pp. 1-2.

>> You can get the book from CBD for US$9.99.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Worried about Hail Damage?

Awoke this morning to a sound now becoming familiar: roofers. Sure enough; opened the blinds and there they were, two doors down. This might not penetrate my consciousness if I were getting up early and going to an office every morning, but I'm not, and I notice.

It all started when half a dozen separate roofing companies sent their armies of lackeys around my neighborhood with what must have seemed, to many, a watertight argument. They would climb on your roof and tell you, for free, if they saw any sign of hail damage, and if they did you could have them repair your roof at (most likely) no cost to you, since apparently most insurance companies cover such repairs completely. The racket sounds a little suspicious.

Do you think there would be a market for a business like this but with a humanitarian twist? Here's what I'm thinking:
"We will inspect your roof and give you a written report of what we see. You check with your insurance company, and if they authorize the repair we will re-roof your house at no cost to you. Well, no cost except the $100 tax-deductible donation you make to Shelter Now to help put roofs over the heads of vulnerable families in flood-ravaged Pakistan. Even if you decide not to bring the roofers to your house, here's a flier about the program."
 I've been thinking again about a column G.K. Chesterton wrote about a centruy ago comparing modern civilization - with its focus on providing for the rich but not the poor - to the Titanic:
"Quite apart from the question of whether anyone was to blame, the big outstanding fact remains: that there was no sort of sane proportion between the provision for luxury and levity, and the extent of the provision for need and desperation. The scheme did far too much for prosperity and far too little for distress - just like the modern State."
Source: G.K. Chesterton, "The Great Shipwreck as Analogy," in The Illustrated London News, May 11, 1912. Access it here: http://www.gkc.org.uk/gkc/books/titanic.html

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Accepting Inertia

In counterpoint to Monday's blog post on overcoming inertia, I'd like to dedicate this moment to singing, instead, the praises of letting things stay the way they are. I hope you won't mind the contradiction. After all, wisdom is not a formula; it's insight rightly applied.

And as you've no doubt discovered for yourself, change doesn't always make things better. If you are the innovator, the early adopter, the champion of change, that's fine - but we don't all have to be that person. In a society that pushes us to constantly reinvent ourselves, to keep up, to upgrade, it's good for some of us - and maybe sometimes, all of us - to stop. To stop striving. To cease tweaking and improving. To give up questioning every darn thing.

As Richard Swenson writes, stress is "an internal physiologic adaptation to any change in our environment" (The Overload Syndrome: Learning to Live within your Limits). And while one of the measures of the body's health is its resilience, its ability to persevere and adapt to change, we live in a world in which the rate of change is ever increasing. Every year we have more options to choose from, more decisions to make, more freedom to pursue more and more change. But that means more and more stress.

So, what can you choose not to change, not to reevaluate? What "roads not taken" will just have to remain that way? Would it be a relief to let yourself off the hook? To recognize it would be fine - maybe better - to decide you're just going to stay in that house, keep your job, drive that old car, stick with your insurance provider or phone company, lay down that big self-improvement plan, and even stay in your mediocre church?

The "motivational time machine" that is so handy for overcoming inertia can be helpful in such cases as well. Is the change, decision, or endeavor I'm considering - or feeling pressured to consider - going to matter five years from now?

I think of the real estate agent who used to come around pestering me to buy a house. I can't afford to buy a house. I don't know if I will ever have one. "Renting is just like throwing your money down a rathole!" she told me, one time, in frustration. (This was in the days when real estate was a much more reliable investment.) Finally, I told her what my rent payments are. I may have also mentioned some of the things I do with my money instead of using it to make mortgage payments. I don't know if this conversation did anything for her, but I left feeling better. That's right, I realized: I have it good. Someday things may be different, but I don't need to accept the world's pressure to be ambitious and acquisitive. I can just accept things the way they are.

When I was in college and got stressed out I'd go sit down by the river for a while and watch it flow past, unperturbed by whatever it was that was troubling me. Or I'd walk through the old cemetery on campus. Both the giant trees and the graves they shaded did wonders for my sense of perspective.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Overcoming Inertia

I call it "the motivational time machine," and it's my trick for overcoming inertia.

I first discovered its power with short-term teams. Inevitably two or more team members would have a conflict, perhaps based on a misunderstanding. One or both of them would decide that though the other person's behavior was obviously deplorable and hugely distracting, the nice Christian thing to do would be to pretend there wasn't a problem. After all, she probably can't change the fact that she is a horrible person, and why be the one to make trouble over it? Soon it would be all over and you could go back to your real friends.

In the context of a small group living and working together very closely for a couple of months, however, that's all it would take to poison team life for everyone. So, whenever I caught the whiff of such problems, I'd ask the probing questions, get a couple different perspectives on what was going on, pray a bunch, and offer up the best suggestions I could think up for untangling the conflict. Whether or not those conflicts got untangled was often the key to whether the last couple weeks were the best part of the trip, or the worst. Butting in was not my favorite role to play but I'd remind myself it was better to do it and risk making things worse than to hear the team members confess at debrief, "I just wish we'd all been closer."

There's the trick right there: Climb into the motivational time machine. Imagine how much you'll regret the problem if it isn't fixed. Anticipate the negative consequences of your inaction. Look at how much joy or peace or effectiveness it's costing you, every day. Picture the good things that might result from facing the problem and doing something about it. If you're willing to pay attention to the problem now, won't you be glad, later?

It applies to simpler and more concrete things as well: Shouldn't you do something about that funny way the car, washing machine, or computer is behaving? What about the thing you've been meaning to buy, or the thing you've been meaning to throw away? The closet that needs cleaning, the pile on your desk? Put away the "should" and think: Will I be glad I did? Will it feel great to have it taken care of? Will it get worse if I ignore it? Consider the relative cost of those plane tickets if you buy them now, vs. waiting until the last minute. Or what about making the phone call Monday, versus pushing it off every day until, finally, on Friday afternoon, you realize how much time and energy you've used up all week long coming up with strategies to delay that one phone call. Will you wish you'd taken care of that earlier?

Sometimes the easiest way to find the motivation to do the right thing now is to travel to tomorrow and see how the world will be different because of how we act today.

See also: Accepting Inertia (9/14/10)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Gender and Priorities

I recently read a statement from leaders of a rather conservative mission agency written to explain their values and priorities. Under the headline, "We value and support the role of women," they wrote,
"We believe that a mother’s responsibility is to God first, to family next, and then to outside ministry." 
I think that's great.

But it bothered me that they didn't say the same about the responsibility of a father. Am I being idealistic to expect that putting one's family above one's work might be a calling to dads as well as to moms?

Friday, September 10, 2010

New Book from Max Lucado Designed to Mobilize

The email from Thomas Nelson's Book Sneeze review program piqued my interest. You know, if [X] sneezes, [Y] catches a cold - if I give this book a positive review, you want to buy it. That's the idea behind Book Sneeze. It might mean more were I less voracious. (Hey, free book! Can I have it?) They give away copies with the proviso that each recipient not only posts a review on their own site, but also on a commercial bookstore site - and in this case they asked us to all publish on the same day. That explains why you'll see more than 100 reviews on Amazon; likely more by the time you read my review. It's quite a campaign. I wish more publishers who put out mission books made a similar investment in getting the word out. We'd see them in the hands of more people if we did.

This one caught my eye for a reason. It was made to mobilize Christians to seek God and make themselves available to serve in the world.

Outlive Your Life is part of a multi-faceted campaign and line of products designed to stir ordinary Christians to believe that how they live their lives makes a difference - that, like the man in the fable that serves as a preface, they can "live on" through their good deeds and what they invest in changing the world for those who come after.

In his usual and engaging way, Max Lucado weaves his tapestry by blending the statistics and opportunities with personal anecdotes and retelling stories from the scriptures - in this case, the early chapters of the book of Acts. If that ragtag band of apostles could turn the world upside down and send our ripples still strongly felt today, maybe we can too.

Max doesn't want to oversimplify the challenges, but claims we have all the resources we need. He invites everyday people to share good news, fight global poverty, stand up against discrimination and injustice, offer hospitality and compassion, work together, refuse to show off, cross barriers and persevere through obstacles. Each of the 16 short chapters starts with a well-chosen quotation from the scriptures and closes with a prayer of response. The book concludes with questions for discussion and ideas for action; probably all you would need to lead a small group through the book if you wanted to - not that it's hard to digest. There's also, as I mentioned, a whole line of related stuff you can get if you think it will help.

The author is also donating the royalties from all this to World Vision and like-minded faith-based compassion ministries.

You might not want to pay full price for a hardback I read in 90 minutes. I could certainly recommend some meatier, weightier tomes if you want them. If you're very intellectual, it might hurt your street cred to be seen reading the populist Max Lucado. But he writes for everyone, writes very well, and he cites his sources. The world - my world - is full of media designed with that same desire to mobilize but not executed with the commitment to balance, accuracy, and beauty that comes from working with a professional publishing house.

I'd like to see mobilizers pick this one up. It's a book you can give to anyone to help them understand the world better and know that their lives can make a difference.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

A Source of Meaningless Affirmation

I had a coworker who must have heard that women like it if men notice their clothes. At seemingly random intervals he would ask, "Is that a new outfit?" Rarely could I answer his affirmation in the affirmative, alas. Not much of a fashionista, I guess. But he's a good man and I believe he meant well. I tried to accept his words in the spirit in which they were offered!

I've thought of those days when periodically scanning the spam filter of the Wordpress site we use for Missions Catalyst. Nearly all the comments that make it into that folder are designed to please. While some of the originating addresses suggest sites I would not want to put before my eyes, the comments themselves are seldom offensive and sometimes amusing.

Here's one piece of flattery to brighten your day:
Thanks for this unique fantastic piece of content; this is the kind of consideration that maintains me though out the day. I have forever already been looking close to for a web-site following I over heard about them from a close friend and was delighted when I was able to uncover it just after researching for a while. Being a passionate blogger, I’m happy to find out other folks taking effort and giving to your community. I just desired to review to display my appreciation in your submit as it is particularly encouraging, and lots of internet writers will not get the credit score they should have. I am positive I’ll be again and can send out some of my buddies.
Strangely, the source of this comment is an organization that maintains a website about treatments for Lyme disease. Apparently they're eager to get the word out. Or perhaps they have been infected with a virus that sends out such words on their behalf.

Others say things like:
Great info! I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.
Great site. A lot of useful information here. I’m sending it to some friends!
Do you suppose they have a random compliment generator - or do they say these things to all the blogs?

Monday, September 06, 2010

Shared Suffering

The other day I heard a moving story on NPR. Maybe you caught it too. In it, one man spoke about his participation in a group called "The Compassionate Friends" which is composed of parents who have lost their children to death.

Yes, one of those groups "to which none of its members want to belong." But since they have not been able to avoid this excruciating situation, they find comfort and meaning in one another's company. A fellowship of shared suffering.

Most struggle with a strong sense of personal guilt. How had they failed to protect their children? Why couldn't they die in their place?

As with any catastrophic loss, the pain doesn't ever go away.
"Mitch Carmody of Minnesota, whose 9-year-old son, Kelly, died of cancer in 1987... said he felt burdened by the pressure to get over the death of his son for 10 years, until one day he looked at a photo of Kelly and fell to his knees and wept. 'Our child dies a second time,' Mitch said, 'when no one speaks their name.'"

Powerful stuff. Read or listen to the story on NPR: Now We Are Alone - Living on without Our Sons.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

"I Was Born to...."

I'm part of a fairly large and boisterous small group that meets several times a month, and one of our traditions is to have a "dinner table chat prompt." Not that we'd likely fall into an awkward silence without one. But it helps us get to know each other a bit more deliberately. More importantly, it makes sure we hear from everyone.

S. offered this last week's chat prompt. These days he is enthralled with a book called Born to Run,  recommended to him by another member of our group. S. asked us how each of us would complete this sentence: "I was born to _______________."

Rather than focus on the things we have in common, the big picture stuff like "I was born to give God glory," we looked more at our areas of individual passion and unique contribution.

L. went first. "That's easy for me. I was born to teach!" "I can confirm that," said her husband, and so did another member whose daughter has L. as a teacher this year. When she's in the classroom is when L. feels most alive. We all know this about L. Go for it, L!

"I was born to learn," said B., who reads as much as I do and has an insatiable curiosity for exploring new things of all kinds.

"I was born to make things with my hands," said his wife. We were all sitting in her dining room, with a good view of quilts, cross-stitch projects, and other signs of her craftiness, not to mention much of the dinner we were enjoying.

"I was born to appreciate a good story," said another man. "Mine is like that too," said the woman across the table. "I was born to listen to and draw out people's stories. I'm always meeting new people and finding out their stories, and I love it. My husband and kids roll their eyes."

"I was born to 'father,'" said S. "I feel I'm at my best in that role."

We know each other well, so as each one shared the rest of us could nod and smile. We could say yes, I see that in you. Yet asking people to put these traits in their own words helped us understand one another better and affirm each other.

Wondering what I'd say when it was my turn, I realized that in some way I could relate to each item that had been shared. (Well, except that I'd never say I was born to be a dad!) How would I personalize these things, and what was at the core, for me? I'm a teacher, a learner, a story-lover, and listener. But would I just say "ditto" to one of these answers, or is it something else? Is "writing" what I'm born to do? I don't think so...

I think what I really feel "born" to do is to make connections. With any situation or body of information, I look for and try to express the patterns.  I love interviewing, brainstorming, strategy meetings. Any time I read or hear about something I think about how it relates to something else I've seen, heard about, or experienced. This gives me a somewhat cluttered mind, but it means I always have something to contribute. I'm always bringing up stories, ideas, or experiences and offering them to other people. I love to help people find what they need or meet the person they ought to talk to. I believe people are more alike than different; I enjoy finding common ground and helping others do the same. I like figuring out how things work and what makes people tick.

What a sad and less vibrant world this would be if we did not feel willing or welcome to use these talents and passions of ours, to do the things we love and care about the most, the things we have a hunch are the things we were "born" to do.

I just finished a novel in which the heroine's husband tells her, "Russell, this questioning of your abilities must stop. If you have something to contribute, speak up."  (Laurie King, The Language of Bees, p. 353).

My twin sister Megan - who would probably say she was born to make art - wrote about this dynamic on her blog recently, too.

Does this give you any ideas? Readers, how would you fill in the blank? "I was born to _________________."

Are you finding a way to use your talents, doing what you were born to do? If not, what's getting in the way? Do you find yourself doubting whether your contribution is of any use, or trying to please others by becoming someone other than who you were created to be?

Many things can interfere. Sometimes we don't know what we want or care about. Other times we don't have the freedom or other resources to pursue it. We can't always get what we'd want. Maybe we really need to lay it all down and do the things that go against the grain as a sacrifice and service to others. Yet, most of our core strengths can probably find some expression regardless of our situations. We can harness them in responding to the circumstances and opportunities we face.
"Somewhere in you is the you whom you were made to be. We need you to be you. We don’t need a second anybody. We need the first you."  (Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis)

Friday, September 03, 2010

Research Methods - Dusting off Unused Skills

The Russian Museum of Ethnography
has a fun collection of hats! 

One year in the mid-90s my big project was working on a book about the world's unreached people groups. There wasn't much on the Internet in those days; we used what we could find, but also went to the library and did a heck of a lot of networking.

Similarly, when we were getting ready to do an ethnographic research project we'd put great efforts into learning as much as we could about the cultures and ways of life of our host peoples. We'd round up all the books, videos, and articles we could find, and glean the best stuff to pass on to the research team members as part of their "pre-reading." Then, we'd go out and see how much of it was still true and how it had shaped who the people were today.

Doing that kind of work - and being a natural hunter-gatherer - made me the go-to person in our office for info about unreached peoples. I knew where to find stuff on the web, I had lots of stuff in my big file cabinet, and I had a pretty functional network of regional experts, networks, and strategy coordinators who were willing to help people who wanted to find out more. Some were students working on papers, maybe for a Perspectives class. Others were part of churches that had "adopted" a group about which they knew relatively little, or were planning a visit to learn and pray on-site.

These days nobody asks me. That's mostly because more and more people have learned the basic strategies they need to get this kind of information on their own. Even with our research teams I haven't had to do much digging on my own. In some cases I meant to but ran out of time. In others, someone else was handing me what I needed to know. I was discouraged from being "geeky" about it by putting much effort into digging up more; overachievers make everyone feel bad, you know. After all, the important stuff was what we would learn on the ground when we got there.

Now, expecting to do another ethnography project, I have the time and leisure to do more "pre-search" for myself. I pulled up a bunch of stuff from the Internet, know which box of my old files might hold the relevant treasures, and think I've persuaded the guy who asked me to help with the project to introduce me to some folks in-country. It's going to be fun!

Note: Yes, the next project will be in Russia, though I'd rather not share the specifics in a public post like this. Want to see more funky headgear from RME? start with this one and click through on the images to the right.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

When Being a Mobilizer Means Saying Goodbye

Last weekend I traveled to another part of the state to say goodbye to some friends with whom my life has been intertwined for several years. A month from now both families are heading overseas. One will work at an orphanage in a rough and remote part of Africa. The other will pastor in the expat community of a large, cosmopolitan Asian city. Their situations couldn’t be more different. This was their last chance to be together before two of the grown children take off a few days from now to begin a language program in what will be their parents’ new home.

It was a privilege for S. and I to be with them. As I said, our lives are intertwined, and our presence made a good excuse for a party. We had dinner together and caught each other up on our news and struggles and hopes, then prayed for one another as we get ready to head our different directions. It was, what? the sixth or seventh such gathering I’ve had with various overlapping groups of international friends just this summer, not counting the one-on-ones.

Sometimes this aspect of my way of life seems so cool.
I have a network of wonderful friends and colleagues all over the world! And while I may not see some of them for years at a time, many of them come through my town every time they are in the U.S. It may be easier to get together with people who just come through town occasionally. I've spent more "quality time" with J., who lives in SE Asia, than B., an equally dear friend who lives in downtown Denver. Though B. and I got together recently as well. It was great to get to know her children. I don't think I'd met the five year old!

On the other hand, with all these international friends, it can seem like just one goodbye after another. To see more and more people I care about scattered in more and more different directions can feel so fragmenting. At times my relational network seems painfully large. What is it about me that keeps giving away pieces of my heart to the people around me? Would it be any easier if I had a permanent companion or two instead of this relay-race of relationships? Or is such loss part-and-parcel of being a mission mobilizer? I don't think my tendency to keep reaching out is something I want to change about myself, but sometimes I count the cost.

Do I want to be the one going off and having adventures? Who would I go with? Going in one direction would mean not going another. Whose "tribe" would I choose to join? Staying where I am may actually be much better for being part of their lives than throwing my lot in with some group of them without the confidence that God had opened that particular door and nudged me through it. Quite possibly that day will come.

Meanwhile, I feel much more connected than some of my friends overseas who are barely keeping their heads above water. They’ve given up a lot, relationally, much more than I have. Many are living far from "home" and in places of social and emotional isolation. “One thing I know for sure,” wrote D. to the church sending them out, “is that if we didn’t sense God’s hand in all of this, we couldn’t bear to leave you just as summer turns to fall here in incredible western Colorado.”

Even with this odd pattern of making new friends all the time and sending them out, I’ve realized I’m not as lonely as I was. I think the sabbatical helped. Not only did I learn to be more comfortable being by myself, I also learned to appreciate some of my local relationships more and saw them grow stronger. What happened in 2007, when so many of the people I cared about left all at once, devastated me. Now, looking back, I realize I don’t feel so alone anymore.

That sure helps when it’s time to say goodbye. 

> See also a couple of related 2009 posts, Traveler and Reunion