Wednesday, February 28, 2007

What I've been thinking about lately

Christmas, 2006

Kevin and Heidi and Mia (who doesn't want to leave)
at our home, Christmas 2006

I want to talk about Bob Dylan, but I'm afraid that I talk about his music too much. A customer came in a few months ago and complained loudly that Dylan's concerts suck. We went to the same one in Detroit in September but came away with totally different reactions to it. Probably had different expectations. I already knew from reviews what Dylan usually did in his performances: say nothing, play keyboard and croak out the lyrics (sometimes intelligibly). The same things that the customer was disappointed about. I just shrugged. The price you pay if you want to hear a music legend still alive in concert. And just put out a new album.

There were a few surprises. The taped introduction before Dylan and his band walked on stage was a brief summary of his life and included his conversion to follow Jesus Christ--why mention that? His band was unbelievably talented. He forgot lyrics to "Like a Rolling Stone", a song he performs at every concert. His voice was clear on his new songs from "Modern Times", but it was half way through "Tangled Up in Blue" before I knew what he was singing because the phrasing and pace was so different from his original version. And his inclusion of "Thunder on the Mountain" in his encore set. Details that my fellow concert goer totally missed because he was focused on his disappointment and comparing his experience with other concerts he's attended.

I mean, Dylan has performed live for years. He copied from more experienced singers at first but now he has made up his own mind to be himself and he still packs in the audiences wherever he goes. From what I read in his interviews, he is self-critical about his voice and skill on the guitar. He is secure enough to hire band members that exceed his expertise and from whom he credits learning a thing or two. If my fellow concert goer wanted to go to a concert that met his expectations, then there are plenty of them out there. They are all the same, because they all have to be or else they lose ticket sales. Imagine being in the presence of someone who doesn't have to worry about that. He doesn't even have to sing well or remember all of his own lyrics or be in tune or be in key--all the hallmarks of what we demand in an "American Idol" and he gets standing ovations. Heck, he can even be OLD for pete's sake and dress like he's from the civil war era unlike his buddy the rock and roll star Mick Jagger. A real rebel.

I like Dylan because he is smart, independent, influential and creative. He takes risks--he's failed at a lot of things but still kept trying. What I especially appreciate is his courage to be committed to his own creative vision despite being directly rejected, particularly when the criticism comes from disillusioned fans who are booing him on stage. That's the kind of strength that I believe I'm applauding when I go to a Dylan concert. That's something I would not have known unless I had read about it beforehand.
Homework. Doing research on what you want to do either on the job or in your personal life makes whatever you are doing so much richer. And effective. Whether it is reading movie reviews or asking questions of your boss or co-workers before implementing a project. There are so many resources these days to information, like the library or the internet. It's tough because I've been given feedback from my boss that I often wait until I have more information before I make a decision. I don't know why that is a negative trait, except that she wants me to take more risks. But whatever I do, it is usually well thought out.

The key for me is that I know that I don't know everything. And that my bias as a middle aged American married woman with no kids can limit me in seeing the "big picture". As my husband and I learned from our cross-cultural relationships, there are many points of references to consider. A lot of background and history that we don't know. That we couldn't know. And vice versa. As much as I wish that some people understood me better and know what I've gone through, in a way, I'm glad they don't. They would only comprehend if they had walked in my shoes, and that's too much to ask of anyone.

So, sometimes, I am blown away when someone remembers what I say and do when most of the time I feel completely invisible. That my existence hardly stirs a ripple in the atmosphere, barely a blip on the radar. To be noticed shocks me like a bolt of lightening. I walk into a crowded room wanting to blend into the background, not get in anyone's way. To slip in to the back row, find a safe corner, be camouflouged. Over time, I've learned to take the focus off myself by focusing on others. When I'm asking you questions, I'm actually immersing myself under the water. I'm trying to disappear.

Being a ghost can be lonely.

I'm reviewing Psalm 139--a passage I memorized while living in Atlanta. I am comforted that God does His homework on me, even though He knows everything and is everywhere. He gently shines His light on me and offers His companionship to me, His created daughter over whom He designed and loves. As I once read "When I laugh, He laughs and when I cry, He cries with me."
"...If I try self-consciously to become a person, I will never be one.
The most real people, those who are able to forget their selfish selves, who
have true compassion, are usually the most distinct individuals. But that comes
second. Personhood comes first, and our civilization tempts, if not teaches, us
to reverse the process.

As usual, we bump into paradox and contradiction.
The people I know who are the most concerned about their individuality,
who probe constantly into motives, who are always turned inwards towards their
own reactions, usually become less and less individual, less and less
spontanteous, more and more afraid of the consequences of giving themselves
away. They are perhaps more consistent than the rest of us, but also less

--Madeleine L'Engle, "A Circle of Quiet
I think that God's love saves me from trying to become a person. His presence alone keeps me from worrying about myself, either if I become invisible or if I find myself, for some amazing reason, with a spotlight shining on me.
Psalm 139 -- from The Message

God, investigate my life:
get all the facts firsthand.
I am an open book to you;
even from a distance, you know what I'm thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
I am never out of your sight.
You know everything I'm going to say
before I start the first sentence.
I look up behind me and you're there,
then up ahead and you're there, too--
your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful--
I can't take it all in!

Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
to be out of your sight?

And it really is wonderful. Not only are each of us a design by a Designer, but our existence is validated by the Designer's involvement in our design. When I was in college, someone asked me why would God pay any attention to me? Do I think that I am that special to be an object of affection of the Almighty and Holy God? I didn't know what to say, because the person asking me those questions was my dad. I know what his point was--that God is all powerful and separate from the mundane things we do and say, and that it would be arrogant to say that we deserve to be cared about by Him, much less add anything to His glory.
The asker of the question often reveals himself through the question. What my father was saying was that he could not see himself loved personally in an intimate relationship with God. Because I could intuitively understand that, my only response was deep sorrow. My father sealed the discussion by declaring I was a Jesus fanatic, hoping to use religon as a crutch. I had no arguement, in fact, I defiantly agreed.
I had done my homework, and I felt no regret about it. I base my life on it, whether I ever feel God's presence or love in my heart in my lifetime or not. I may struggle with it, but I embrace it. There are some things you just know by faith instead by any first hand experience or provable fact. By faith, I know that God loves me and longs to connect with me, the only proof I have is that it has been said in a book.
If that puts me in the fanatic catagory, so be it. I prefer the label "rebel".

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

What I appreciate

  • Hearing from a friend in California--thanks for your emails, Magdalene! Magdalene was attending art school in San Francisco when we left 10 years ago. She has developed a website featuring her work about "beauty out of pain and joy out of suffering". Check it out if you are interested:

  • Getting a phone call from Susan, who used to be in a bible study with Magdalene and me. It was nice to catch up, hoping that we'd be able to visit.

  • Emails from Susan in Boulder, CO, who studied Psalms with me before she graduated from Michigan State University.

  • After several years of hardship, seeing God answer several prayers for our friends, Bob and Donna here in Lansing.

  • Hearing from Noel and Cary--their email was brief, but conveyed the vitality of a couple in their late 70's full of love for people and for God.

  • Alicia from our church sending a note to let me know that she noticed last Sunday that I've lost weight! I was really encouraged!

  • Shrimp and Avocado salad that I made for dinner last night. Recipe follows.

  • My job at the coffee shop. I work with amazing people--even on a rough shift, with water pipes bursting and computer shutting down at the same time (a few weeks ago)--everyone worked hard and helped out. I never take that for granted.

  • My boss, Heather, who takes on the challenges of our business on just a few hours of sleep--her baby boy is having slumber troubles.

Shrimp Salad

  • Bag of 40 Frozen cooked and shelled shrimp, thawed and tails removed

  • 2 Avocados, peeled and cut in one inch cubes

  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, washed

  • half of a small red onion, sliced thinly

  • Bag of butter lettuce mix

  • half cup mayonnaise (I used the Smart Balance brand)

  • 2 tablespoons chili sauce

  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard

  • juice of one squeezed lemon

In a medium sized bowl, mix first five ingredients. In a small bowl, mix mayonnaise, chili sauce, mustard and lemon juice. Pour over shrimp and vegetables and toss to coat. Serves 4-6.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Naked in Antartica

"Do not call to mind the former things or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert." Isaiah 43:18-19

Dennis canceled our local newspaper so that our quiet times would be regular--something I've been enjoying for the last month and a half. So much that I forgot that I had a blog.

I've been using a prayer journal put out by Youth with a Mission (sometimes called YWAM) and praying through different countries a week and a global people group in crisis per day. The last month has been about child soldiers. And for my quiet times, I've been reviewing and meditating through verses that I memorized back when I was 19 and in college, and then some passages I memorized more recently (about 10 years or so).

Isaiah 43:18-19 was a passage I memorized when we moved to Atlanta about 10 years ago. It was the first time I had lived so far east, away from my family. I was without a job, and without connections. A friend (an acquaintance at the time) suggested that I use that time to pursue God, because I would never have as much time again to do so. And Isaiah 43:18-19 captured my attention. It's time for new things, will I see what God is doing? Or am I so stuck in thinking about the past that I'll miss it? I need a roadway in the wilderness, and a river in a desert. Yes, people are all around me, but when you don't know them and are lonely, you might as well be in the woods or a desolate place.

Did God do new things? Yes, He did. My mom was sick for awhile and I was too far away to be as much help as I wished to be. I never felt as powerless as when I did then. When she died, it was beyond any pain or grief I had ever experienced to that point. Honestly, I did the most human thing, I tried to build my own roadways in my wilderness and rivers in my desert. It is the most desperate and futile thing I had ever tried to do. But I understand now, what drives people to sin who might not had ever considered it before. It's the vulnerability that you feel in your pain, it's like being naked in Antartica.

Early in the year, 2000, I read Isaiah 49:13--"Shout for joy, O heavens! And rejoice, O earth! Break forth into joyful shouting, O mountains! For the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on His afflicted." I knew that God offered comfort and was a source of compassion, but I didn't want to just know about it, I wanted to experience it. I wasn't sure if I was. So, I went ahead in my prayer journal and assigned it for my birthday in June, to memorize and meditate. A few days before my birthday, Dennis told me that we were moving to Colorado. We lived in Aurora, the flatlands, where the mountains were visible to me everyday and reminded me that the mountains were joyfully shouting that God was comforting me and had compassion on my afflicted and greiving heart. I was also close to my older half sister and her family, another source of comfort for me that God provided.

When we moved from Atlanta to Colorado, Hosea 2:14 spoke to me: "Therefore, behold, I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness and speak kindly to her." I crave the words that touch my heart--I crave meaningful and honest communication borne through an intimate relationship with a person who knows me through and through. Who sees me. Who has noticed I am naked in Antartica.

I believe I have found that roadway in the Wilderness. And it leads straight to Jesus Christ.