Saturday, June 20, 2015

10,000

Summer nights like tonight are the kind that inspire love songs and adventure stories. I love being from the South. Fireflies and tomato sandwiches, sweet tea and biscuits. Sign me up. Even as this week has been a stark reminder of how our terrible past still haunts us, I've been brought to a season of personal prayer and repentance. Prior to Jesus, my disdain for people was both universal and indiscriminate. I mostly thought everyone was an idiot, or maybe that was just a side effect of being a teenager. Either way, I am continually humbled by the intersection of grace and providence in my life that has taught me love and repentance.

My reading of 1 Samuel this month is well timed with the season. Song writing, sling toting shepherds defeating giants and psychologically unstable kings trying to hold on to power. These are stories for the back porch on a steamy summer night like tonight. The battle between selfishness and holiness in Saul, the first king of Israel, has always been one of the most terrifying stories of the Bible for me. Because he loses. He's anointed with the Spirit of the Lord, for crying out loud, and he still manages to descend into unimaginable selfishness and disobedience. That's way more terrifying than a fiery furnace, because it is way more possible for me. Saul chooses to listen to the voices of fear and insecurity, descending into insanity and unspeakable evil. Utterly terrifying.

I paired my reading of 1 Samuel with an unlikely book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. Despite the title it's not a religious book at all, rather it's a conglomeration of sociological and psychological studies artfully woven together in a series of compelling narratives. The premise of the book is that our fascination with underdog stories is often based on a poor reading of the text. From David and Goliath to the civil rights movement, Gladwell reframes the discussion to show that what we assume are unassailable strengths turn out to be great weakness, and often what appears as weakness may actually be strength.

Consider one of my favorite, though often overlooked parts of 1 Samuel 17. David finally makes it around to Saul, offering to fight Goliath. When Saul points out how small David is, David responds with quite the list of achievements, having killed both lions an bears while being a lowly shepherd. I find the plural here amusing. Either there was an abundance of lions and bears near David with a hankering for sheep, or God sent those animals specifically to prepare David for what lay ahead. In another of his books, Outliers, Gladwell explains the 10,000 hour rule. Study after study shows that perceived greatness in fields from composing to professional hockey to computer programming starts somewhere around the 10,000 hour mark. After 10,000 hours of practicing something, you start to get really good at it. In other words, there are no prodigies. David had clearly reached the 10,000 hour mark somewhere in the wilderness and now could sling stones at speeds several times that of a modern major league pitcher. Rightly understood, David had the clear advantage, not Goliath.

And that scares me too. David's battle with Goliath wasn't won on the battlefield that day. It wasn't a single act of faith. David's battle was won when he stood alone in the fields with only the sheep around, forcing himself to practice over and over and over. David's battle was won in the lonely 10,000 hours of faithful obedience when no one was looking. His triumph over self will was won by the daily disciplines for which he still receives no credit. Why isn't this the story we tell each other? Why do we persist in the illusion that divine providence was only in the throwing of the single stone and not in the 10,000 hours of practice? Why do we credit faith only in the large moments when those are merely the byproducts of 10,000 previous smaller acts of faith?

I spent most of the first 18 years of my life (way more than 10,000 hours, FYI) practicing hate by default because I was not actively loving. The damage those years did to people around me is probably more devastating than I can imagine. Did I contribute to the pain and suffering of others in such a way as to make them more hateful? Most likely.

Even in the 18 years I've known Christ, there are many days I feel more like Saul than David. Each tiny act of faithfulness threatened by fear, laziness, and selfishness. I can blame technology, other people, physical ailments... but truthfully it is a lack of faith that what I do right now, when no one is looking, is more important that what I do in front of others. I have been spiritually and emotionally destroyed by that truth recently because I do not always make good choices, and those bad choices have consequences. 10,000 hours of practicing selfishness can be as devastating in my life as it was in Saul's. It can be just as devastating in my son's life, in the lives of my friends and students, and in the lives of strangers I meet every day. That is scary.

So I have spent this week repenting and grieving the sins of my people, each and every large act of hate is mirrored in the unseen acts of selfishness in my own heart. Such tiny acts of unfaithfulness accumulated over generations and distances has allowed evil to ravage this world I love unchallenged like the giant Goliath. So I am praying for one more hour of faithfulness for today, and another for tomorrow, and the day after that, and so on because I still have a long way to go on my 10,000 hours. But maybe, just maybe, after a few more thousand hours, I will be ready to sling my stone at the darkness.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

winds

I stepped out of the shower in Kansas City this morning to a slew of messages. Thinking of you, praying for you, remembering. I'm always amazed that I can feel this day coming for weeks and yet be surprised by its arrival. I can't believe it's been four years.

I knew it would be a hard semester, but I had no idea it would be so good, so deeply and beautifully restoring. Not that everything has been sunshine and laughter by any means. Between single parenting and teaching, someone is always unhappy with me, and I've had plenty of failures in both areas to keep me humble for quite a while.

I haven't written in many months. At first that was because life was too big for me, and I found myself in May wondering how I got there. Lately though I haven't written because I can't wrap my mind around joy. If I were home with access to my books, I'd pull out good old Brene and see what she had to say about this in her book The Gifts of Imperfection. She has a great chapter about the difficulty of embracing joy out of our fear of being caught off guard when grief comes around again.

And that's been my problem with God. It's not that I haven't made time for reading and praying, it's that I can't seem to draw near his throne because I'm afraid he'll decide it's time for another round. I've found myself unconsciously preparing for the next blow, trying to anticipate it's arrival. In all my years, I have found grief more bearable than joy. Grief is familiar and comfortable, and I see why so many people choose to stay there and let it define them.

In March I met a dear friend in Nicaragua for some rest and recuperation. One morning we hiked part way up a rock on the edge of the bay where we were staying. On a promontory overlooking the bay, we paused and left the shelter of the trees to check out the view.  I don't particularly enjoy heights, but that day it was the wind that caught me unprepared. While the trees were calm and shady, the wind at the edge was so fierce that standing up was terrifying. The way it gusted, changing directions and force without warning left you off balance. That's what joy feels like to me, unpredictable and even violent, shifting directions.

But as I sit in the Kansas City airport with beautiful blue skies above me ready to go home to my favorite boy, I remember today's new mercies. This season is about finding the strength to stand in these shifting winds and learning to trust the one who holds them in his hands.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

estrella

I have been few places where the stars shine so brightly as the Aqua Nicaragua resort. I hope to find more places, like perhaps the African savannah or Alaska, with even more grand views of the night sky, but thus far my traveling has been somewhat limited. We sat on the beach last night after dark looking at the familiar constellations of Orion, the Big Dipper, and the Pleiades bathed in a host of new stars henceforth unseen. The backdrop of the Milky Way spread across the sky - a sight I've never seen this clearly before - and I was reminded again of how many distractions have distorted my vision of Christ recently. 

I've been humbled recently by the warning in Hebrews 2 not to neglect so great a salvation. The turbulence of the last six months, despite being wonderfully full of great conversations with students, time with friends, and adventures, has been distracting me from my creator and savior. But as always, he brings me to repentance through his extraordinary tenderness. It took a treehouse on the Nicaraguan coast to realize how so many great things can turn my focus away from the very one who cast all those stars into the sky. But it was the tenderness of a dear friend, the beauty of creation, and a few crazy adventures to remind of me of his great kindness towards those he loves. 

So I'm back, and though I may need to find a howler monkey ringtone to wake me up each morning, I am thankful for the reminder to clear away the distractions more often to see the beauty that is out there. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

te amo


I'm sitting in the dark typing this blog post and watching the howler monkeys outside my treehouse as night falls in Nicaragua. I arrived at midnight last night having had only four hours of sleep in the last thirty six hours. My driver, Ricardo, spoke about 24 words in English and I spoke about 12 in Spanish, but he had a sign with my name on it, so I thought what the heck, and hopped in the hotel "shuttle."

We had a two hour car ride at night through the Nicaraguan countryside with REO speed wagon and assorted other early nineties love songs playing in the car, so of course I decided it was the perfect time to learn Spanish. And what better way to learn than by jumping in and asking his name. Well, in hindsight it occurred to me that the word for name sounds a lot like the word for love. And I'm pretty sure by the look on his face that instead of asking his name, he thought I told him I loved him. Of course I was so tired and he was the only way to my hotel, so it may have been a little true.

It just got more awesome from there. After sorting out that awkwardness, we proceeded to mime words to each other and I think I learned how to say tree, stars, beautiful, and large - and it only took two hours.

After just a few hours of sleep in a tree house with the windows open, we awoke to sunrise and the dulcet sound of howler monkeys outside. Then sunshine, hiking, rest, making cacao from the beans, and fellowship with a dear friend. Slowly, very slowly, I feel my sanity returning.

But, mom, I promise not to bring Ricardo home.



Friday, March 13, 2015

Buds

Sometimes I wonder how anyone above the Mason-Dixon line survives winter without becoming a serial killer. Seriously. Winter is always hard. I think I just forget how hard, and it catches me by surprise. Every. Single. Year. If it weren't for nearly twelve hours of plane flight delays, I'd be sitting on the beach in Nicaragua with one of my closest friends drinking in sunshine and rest and fellowship. Instead I'm sitting in the Houston airport beneath the same gray dreary skies that haunt Nashville and sifting through endless pages of AP curriculum material and pedagogical research on grit and self control while receiving text after text documenting yet another delay.

This winter, like this travel day, seems to stretch on forever.

But this winter is also a beautiful season. The extended cold is actually good for my favorite trees. Both the cherry tree and the lilac in my yard need a cold winter to set the blooms, and the colder the winter, the more majestic the blooms should be and the more bountiful the fruit. Although still early, I've started checking them regularly for buds, desperate for my favorite signs of spring.

After pouring myself into the lives of so many students and parents this year, I looked around about December and realized that all the safe people in my life - close friends I could trust to love me even when I fall apart - had vanished. It's not that they weren't safe or we weren't friends anymore, but I had let single parenting, crazy long work weeks, and geographic distance become excuses for not intentionally investing in some of the relationships I needed most. I know that isolation from community makes me vulnerable to a host of sins, so I took an even scarier step and signed up to meet with a counselor.

Since then I've been doing some of the ugly work of winter. Some dying, some pruning, some intentional sowing. It's hard work, but good work, to dig in the soil of my soul and intentionally root out destructive thoughts and patterns. Maybe that's why this winter has felt so long, but I am continually thankful for his promise that all things will be made new. So I keep looking for those buds.

Friday, February 20, 2015

snow day revelations

Things I've learned from our epic ice/snow break.

  1. The topography of my neighborhood, with its perfect combination of hills and shade is excellent for sledding. We may still be iced in come May.
  2. Neighbors with children your son's age are the best.
  3. Be careful where you start sledding because instead of going the anticipated 20 yards, you may run into an elderly, confused beagle way at the other end of the street.
  4. Having an impossibly long to do list is a really good thing when you're snowed in for four days. 
  5. All these years I've been thinking I don't get to folding the laundry because I have other things to do when actually it turns out that I will do just about anything to procrastinate folding laundry.
  6. I don't get bored. I'm too nerdy. My laundry may never get folded.
  7. Quinn is not nearly nerdy enough. We're going to have to work on that.
  8. I may play like an 8 year old, but I hurt like an old lady.
  9. Number 8 leads me to point out that sledding for three straight days when you're recovering from a pinched nerve and separated shoulder and you're allergic to ibuprofen will cause pain so bad you think you're dying. 
  10. The postal service motto apparently no longer applies...
Here's to more snow!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

swallowed up

I know very little, about photography. Okay, really I actually know nothing about photography. I have observed however that the position of the sun is essential to taking a good picture outside. Last weekend we had one absolutely lovely day. As Quinn and I soaked up the last bit of it outside on the greenway, I played with my camera phone a little and snapped a couple quick shots to remind me of the contrast. The first one:


A picture taken mere seconds later simply changing my perspective:


As we walked into the setting sun, it cast shadows over the road before us but painted the road behind us in the perfect hues of sunset. The metaphor felt so obvious it is almost embarrassing to recount.

I read this the following morning:
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 2 Corinthian 5: 1-4
As I long and groan and wait, I stare into the dark shadows of the promises we have in Christ. I can make out dim shapes, but I fail to see the color. When I look back though, the brilliant hues of past grace remind me to press on with great endurance. Because one day all this mortality, this frail imitation of life, will be swallowed up by an eternal life so incomprehensible, so radiant, that looking at it form this side casts everything else into shadow.