Monday, March 28, 2011

Emotions a-Swirl

Well, I'm on the road - that place of adventure, ambiguity, and sometimes danger. Since a lot of what I'm doing involves going places I've never been before, interacting with people I don't know well, and sometimes standing up in front of people and speaking, I'm vulnerable. Vulnerable to taking myself too seriously, for one thing. Of thinking I'm the bee's knees. Or getting stressed out about all the things I'm not doing, or not doing well.

At several points during this last week my sense of fear and impending failure seemed insurmountable. Then something funny or serendipitous would happen and I'd be on top of the world again. One time it was just driving through a neighborhood with streets named Goose Berry Lane, Boysenberry Place, Thistle Berry Drive, Raspberry Street, and Mulberry Circle, only to find one little road named "Fred." Ha!

How do you maintain joy, when things like fear and humiliation lurk nearby, ready to take you down? How do you stay serene when you are are walking down a new trail? My friends in the airline industry are trying to answer that question.

Alaska Airlines wants to help you relax. The cup says:
"Don't think of this as a flight, but a long coffee break."
Some Southwest Airlines jetways feature life-size images of
employees who couldn't be more excited to welcome you aboard.
My friend K. is dealing with something much more serious than trying to manage a crazy schedule. She's battling cancer. And as chemo and radiation come to an end, she shares some of the lessons she has learned. I need to chew on these:
1. Pain is inevitable, but misery is optional. Life will always involve pain but how I handle what is given to me is a choice. I am learning that God never wastes pain.

2. Relationships are mandatory. I truly believe that God has used people during this journey, to give me a glimpse of Himself.

3. There is ALWAYS hope! From personal experience I can say that the biggest thief of hope is a warped focus on myself - a perfect breeding ground for defeat and despair! Early on in this venture, a friend gratefully reminded me of Romans 15:13, and it has become my mantra... “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace, as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope, by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

4. Jesus is constantly ‘wooing’ me back to Himself. He wants to be in close relationship with me (such a thing of grace). He is trying to impress this thick brain of mine with the truth that HIS love defines me - not my self-absorption. I can hardly wrap my heart around the fact that He actually sings over me! (Lam. 3:17)
>> In shallow things or deep ones, what have you found to lift your heart?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Telling Secrets about Travel

Anchorage, Alaska, March 2011. Packing and unpacking, trying to set up appointments – not too few, and “waste” the opportunity, not too many, and leave myself drained and exhausted. Navigating someone else’s city and driving around in a rental car. Tracking expenses, managing the cash and checks. Trying to stay on top of what’s come up, what’s about to come up, and what I’ve pushed to the back burner while I’m traveling but must not forget completely. And now I left family #1’s house key at family #2’s house, some 70 miles away, along with the card with family #2's phone number on it. Yikes. 

Often when I travel, my strengths shine through: I’m outgoing and friendly, flexible, love meeting new people and learning about new places. I do fine with airlines and airports, suitcases and boarding passes and seatmates. And if I find myself in an unusual social situation, I smile inside, enjoy the challenge and start forming alliances. Like trying to find the alto part when singing with 20 bearded men at the pastors’ prayer breakfast F. took me to the other day. Who would have thought I’d find myself there? Had a great time, and am eager to pass on some of the stories and ideas I heard.

Often, as in this case, I came because I have something to contribute, something valuable and needed: I passed along the result of my studies and experience and helped history come alive to 50 people enrolled in two Perspectives classes. I love to love and serve the people I meet. Often, this means I have other people to take care of my needs, organize the schedule, and drive me around.

But sometimes travel lets my weaknesses shine through, too: I don’t like to drive, have trouble judging distances, and don’t remember how to get places. I’m extremely nervous about taking social initiative and making phone calls. In fact, the phone I have doesn’t even work in this city. I have trouble staying on top of administrative tasks and organizing physical things – knowing where I put that piece of paper you gave me that had something important on it, wrapping up my cords carefully rather than jamming them in the bag because you expect me to be ready to go. The rental car is a nice touch in that it gives me freedom – and makes the jobs of those I visit somewhat easier – but the responsibility of getting myself places increases my stress level considerably.

How we respond when our weaknesses are revealed is probably a lot more important than what are weaknesses are or how numerous, surprising, or inconvenient they may be. And on this count I find myself failing as well, and I feel a wave of self-loathing rise up like bile. Come on, anyone should be able to manage these simple life skills, I tell the woman in the mirror. What is your problem? Sometimes, unable to bear the pressure of such scrutiny, I look around for someone or something else to blame rather than face my deep fear that this just goes to show that I am a terrible and incompetent person who can’t be trusted (and probably can’t be loved), impossible to live with.

Only when I express such words to I see the melodrama, bring them out in the light, let the God of grace shine in through the cracks in my fingers when I’ve covered up my eyes.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.  (Romans 12:3-8)   

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Where's Marti?

Worried about me? Probably not. But if so: never fear. I'm fine.

Just having to cut back on life's frills for a while - things like reading and writing blog posts.

School, travel, work projects, correspondence and conversations with friends seem to be using up all my words lately.

However, I have plenty to write about. Hope to be back soon.

Monday, March 14, 2011

When Are You at Your Best?

When do you feel most alive?
I had teaching sessions five days this week - three Perspectives classes (all in Colorado) and a Friday/Saturday Crossing Cultures workshop (in California). So, with all the prep and travel, plus the ezine and trying to keep up with email, my work-week expanded to 70 hours. Spent another six hours on school work. Today I try to rest and regroup. A sabbath?

"When are you at your best?" I asked my friend Chris.

Then I started to ponder how I'd answer that question, myself. Do you know how you'd answer it?

It's when I throw myself into something - like my work - that I feel most alive, most myself. I think work is the thing because it's the most convenient target, and because I love so much of what I do.

Just as being a bookaholic was a happy addiction for succeeding in school, and one that came with some nice side effects (e.g., I can spell)... throwing myself into my work tends to be good for my career. Except when I bite off more than I can chew. Then it's like that day when I was 14 and fell asleep in English class after staying up all night to finish reading Gone with the Wind. No, it wasn't for English class.

Now, what if what I really threw myself into was not my work, but something else? A hobby? An experience? A family? A relationship? Certainly at times I've done so. And I know what it is to lose myself and feel completely alive in prayer and worship.

I continue to be amazed by how wonderful both work and recreation/rest can be, and how often both fall short. See previous posts, Work and Rest in Heaven and "I Was Born to..."

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

To Partner or to Pioneer?

As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm in the middle of a teaching-tour focused on telling the stories of people who have been among the first to cross significant frontiers in the kind of work I'm part of. We're talking about men and women who blazed the trails that others have followed. Pioneers.

Since I really value partnering over pioneering, I confessed this to the students. Told them I don't think I have it in me to work toward something that doesn't even exist yet. That I lack the entrepreneurial spirit/gift. And that I nevertheless struggle with feelings of both jealousy and judgmentalism toward those who strike out on their own, who have less experience and insight than I do and yet dub themselves founder, president, or director - titles that bring them prestige and platforms. "Glory seekers," I sometimes think, "can't work with others," or "don't realize how many people are already doing this thing. Bet they didn't even think to ask or look."

While sometimes such accusations are well founded, often they are not. And I'm pretty sure my motivation to pull down others from what seem to be self-built pedestals has its roots in something rather twisted in myself.

So, let's try not squelch the people who have what it takes to blaze new trails. Try to redirect them, possibly. Temper them, sometimes. Equip them, certainly. And, I hope, come alongside them and help them to succeed, introduce them to others (one of my favorite things to do), and encourage them when they hit obstacles and snags.

Most of the pioneers I talk about in my teaching session were reluctant leaders: they had tried to join something that already existed and all the doors closed. As their vision and values crystallized they realized a new entity would be required in order to go forward. Sometimes, what they accomplished was so impressive that the early failure or rejection just seems inescapably providential; it freed and/or forced them to step out and lead the way into something new and wonderful.

Do you aspire to lead a team or organization? Say you have a compelling vision. What filters do you use in making the decision to strike out "on your own" to pursue it? I asked my Perspectives audiences for their input. Here's some of what they said.
  1. The thing I have a passion for, is it something that's really needed?
  2. Is anybody else doing something like this already?
  3. Have they seen this opportunity?
  4. Have we tried to work together?
  5. Have I tried to join an existing organization and not found a fit?
  6. Does it seem as if this vision is from God?
  7. Do others encourage me to follow this vision?
  8. Is it worth a long-term investment?
  9. Can I make a long-term investment?
  10. Am I willing and able to take risks, blaze trails, and go in the dark?
  11. Will others work with me, even follow me?
>> What do you think? What would you add?

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Why Look Back?

Dear friends,

A busy season for teaching and travel; the commencement (finally) of graduate school studies; and lots of my thoughts and energy directed toward a new love-interest, my friend Chris out in Oregon, with whom I talk or type every day ... I don't seem to have more words left. So, the blog has languished a bit.

This is my third week in a row of teaching at Perspectives on the World Christian Movement classes. I'll walk about 150 people through a two-hour session on modern missions history at churches in three Colorado cities in the next few days. This lesson focuses on pioneers, the entrepreneurs and ground-breakers who went where few had gone before and built the trails for others to follow.

My hope is that the class will inspire the students to pursue their own dreams in ministry and pick up a few historical mentors to learn from as they go. Ultimately, I value partnership - linking arms with others and learning from them - over pioneering. But we still need people who are able and willing to go where other people don't go, to try what other people don't try. And my hope is that the two will be connected: that everyone who starts something new will learn from those who have gone before and prioritize making connections with like-minded people. Without those two things, who can make a lasting contribution? In any area of life?
“Christian missionary work is the most difficult thing in the world. It is surprising that it should ever have been attempted. It is surprising that it should have been attended by such a measure of success. And it is not at all surprising that an immense number of mistakes should have been made.” Stephen Neill 
I like to start my history lessons with some kind of theological foundation, an explanation of why it's worth our while to look back as well as ahead. This one is easy; it's built on remembering what God has done.
REMEMBER the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. Is. 46:9

REMEMBER the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you. Deut. 32:7

REMEMBER your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Heb. 13:7