Bubblegum Extravagance

When I was little, we had very little money. There were a lot of gifts in growing up poor – appreciation, creativity, ingenuity, simplicity. My parents made it fun – I remember the sparkle in my dad’s eye when he showed me that egg yolk could serve as glue in a pinch. The smallest treats (new socks, a little activity book, etc.) were big to us.

One day, when I was about 6 or 7, my dad came home from work and he had that look in his eye. Mischievous, excited – he had a big secret that he was bursting to share. He went out to his truck and soon returned with his arms loaded up with of packs of gum – he gleefully poured them on my mom as she sat on the floor. All kinds of gum! Bubblegum, mint gum, fruit gum! I couldn’t believe my eyes! Laughing, my brother and I jumped up and yelled excited questions, “Where did this come from?? How do you have all of this?? Why?? Can we have some??” Our outburst caused our little dog to join in the commotion, wagging her tail, barking. Smiling, Dad said nothing as he went back to the truck for another load of gum! He made three trips to the truck before he finally explained – a delivery truck had lost part of it’s load on a quiet country road. As my dad drove up, he noticed several people had pulled over to investigate and scoop up some gum, so he joined in.

We spent weeks happily chewing gum and giving packs of gum away to friends. (Actually, I was distressed at how much gum my parents gave away, but it also felt so expansive to have something that we could give away!)

This little incident keeps replaying in my mind these days. I didn’t see it then, but now when I look back, I see this as tangible evidence that God delights in extravagance. We often couldn’t afford things like bubblegum – it was a non-essential. This surprising influx of gum was a purely joyful gift. I have often mistakenly seen God as withholding, unresponsive, stingy. But when I take the time time look and remember, I see evidence of God’s extravagance all over the place. In memories, beauty in nature, friends who love me, the amazing variety in food and scents. There is so much in our human experience that is for our enjoyment – not just for utilitarian purposes. This awareness causes me to want to be extravagant in my own giving.

What about you? Where have you noticed God’s extravagance?

Seeing Differently

14859888_10154546585997976_7941687877303330517_oRecently, I’ve started running 5Ks. It is still so odd to me that I’m participating in these events – I’ve never seen myself as a runner, but it’s been really fun!

Last weekend, I ran a 5K that benefited an organization that helps victims of domestic violence. I was thrilled to support that cause.

When I showed up, I saw the usual crowd: super athletes who would finish the 5K before I even rounded the first corner, mom-runners who pushed strollers with one or two small kids, 8-year olds with tons of energy, and average non-athletes like me. At this event, though, I saw a group of about 15 young adults dressed in outrageous and rather shocking outfits. They were boisterous and (I thought) obnoxious. I gave them a wide berth and eyed them with some judgement and annoyance. They just want attention, so I won’t pay attention to them. Why were they here disrupting everything?

After the 5K, there was a small awards ceremony where the top fundraisers and fastest runners were recognized. To my surprise, the group of rowdy young adults (it turns out, they were from a local Rocky Horror Picture Show group) were recognized as the top fundraiser – and they have supported this event for years! Of all the things that these kids could be doing, they chose to run and raise money to help victims of domestic violence. That was really moving to me. The director of the event warmly hugged the young adults and expressed sincere thanks. You know how much fundraising I did? None. I paid my $30 entrance fee and felt satisfied about my “contribution”. The beauty of those kids’ hearts was exposed and I was humbled.

I saw those kids in a new way. They treated each other like family. Was domestic violence a part of one of their lives? Maybe. Maybe not. What has motivated them to participate in this event? Why am I so quick to judge instead of talking with one of the kids and being present with them, listening?  I wish I had. Maybe there will be a next time. I hope so.

Trying to Fix You

Recently, while at an event, a new friend of mine learned some distressing news about a family member’s sudden health crisis. His family lived hours away and my friend was left feeling anxious and helpless. News was not coming fast enough to calm his fears and he was stuck, not knowing what to do.

Probably like most people, my first inclination was to do everything I could to take away the pain. I stood awkwardly, fidgeting by him while he sat with his head in his hands. I wanted to DO something. I didn’t know him well enough to know how he preferred to be attended to when in pain – to talk, to come up with an action plan, to be left alone – ?  I tried to pull information out of him, to make “helpful” suggestions… nothing seemed quite right and he was obviously distressed. After a bit of bumbling around, I realized that I CAN’T take away the pain and honestly, I wanted the pain to go away so that I would feel better and we could go back to our easy conversation and laughter.

I took a deep breath and accepted that I could offer my compassionate support, a hand on the shoulder, a listening ear when he was ready to talk. So, I stayed near him and prayed silently. I felt myself calm way down and be more available to be present to my friend. While it felt like I was doing nothing, I know how presence and prayer have been huge gifts to me when I’m in pain.

It can be so difficult to fight against those good intentions to fix situations for people. If I’m honest with myself, I often want the pain to go away for someone else so I won’t be uncomfortable anymore. It is helpful for me to pause and remember that God might be doing something bigger here through this pain. Of course, I should not avoid or shirk opportunities to help in other ways when it’s appropriate, but in my experience, it’s often best to begin by being present and available, listening, and praying.

What do you think? Do you agree/disagree? Have you had a recent experience like mine?

Naming the Loss

I wrote this blog a few months ago and never pressed “publish”… reading it now, it’s helpful to me as I navigate more losses – adjusting to my new job, selling our home that we’ve living in for 10 years, and preparing to leave our loving church community. Naming the losses in ANY change (“good” or “bad” changes) can be helpful.

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I helped facilitate a silent retreat recently, which meant that I was a part of a team I’d never worked with before. I felt uncertain of expectations, needs, and my role. At one point, I thought, “I wouldn’t be bumbling along here if I was working with Anita and Melinda – we knew what our roles were, each others’ strengths, and needs. I miss that.” That thought made me deeply sad.

I’m realizing how important it is for me to put a name to my losses.

When my father-in-law died, I lost not only his gracious, warm, loving presence in my life, but I also lost a sense of stability. I lost a voice of wisdom in my life. It’s been helpful for me to name those pieces of loss – even though it’s been years since he died.

When I lost my job, it took me a while to see more clearly that it’s not really the job that I was missing. (Even in the awkward vacuum of the in-between, I wouldn’t want to go back. It wouldn’t be the same – everything has changed.) I lost community – my team that was very close. I lost purpose – I loved the mission of my job and felt great meaning in my activities.  I lost my identity – for 20+ years, I was my productivity and work. To lose community, purpose, and identity is huge. These are no small losses. It’s no wonder that I didn’t quickly move on to the next thing. There’s a lot of healing that God is doing in my life – especially around my purpose and identity. I’m so grateful for my new community that God is bringing around me.

Have you had times when naming the losses was helpful?

I was robbed!

While I was working happily at my part-time job at a clothing store, I was suddenly robbed!  And, the other day, at church – robbed! Then, again at home – robbed!  The sad thing is, that I allowed it to happen – I let the thief right in. Let me explain…

At the store, I was content, working with coworkers I like, doing a job that is rather easy and enjoyable. Then, I looked up to see an adult daughter with her mom walk into the store. They were both carrying shopping bags and coffee, talking intently with each other – so absorbed in their conversation that they barely responded when I said, “Hello!” That’s when the thief came and robbed me. I suddenly felt waves of sadness and discontentment. My mom lives about 1,200 miles away from me. I’d love to go shopping and have coffee with her and engage in lively conversation. If only it was different…  Poor me.

At church, I sat with people I know and love. I felt a sense of belonging. Then, as I looked across the room at a couple who are very like-minded in ministry and spiritual formation and I was robbed again! My guy and I have always been in different places spiritually. What joy it must be to be on the same page! I felt grief and disappointment. If only it was different…  Poor me.

At home, I sat in my quiet home, enjoying my morning coffee. Then, I saw my neighbor leave to catch the train – the same train we used to ride together downtown to work. Her life has continued on. She has such purpose and here I sit at home, unemployed. A big Zero. I felt despair and hopelessness. If only it was different…  Poor me.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” I opened wide the door to the comparison thief – it was easy to let it in…. so easy to assume that everyone has it better than me.

Here’s the truth: I’m so grateful for my relationship with my mom. So many people aren’t close to their mom – or their mom is no longer living. What a gift to maintain a good relationship with her – even while we’re miles apart! When we’re together, the time is precious and fun. And, my guy! Boy, do I love him! I know for a fact that he loves me, too. What a gift to be in a sweet season of marriage. Even though he doesn’t understand what Spiritual Direction is, he’s very supportive. And, my unemployment has been a gift of rest – something I’ve been asking God to provide for years. What a generous gift!

It’s so easy to let the thief in and steal my joy. But, I’m refusing to let the thief in these days. There’s nothing good that can happen when I do. Instead, I’m focusing on gratitude for what I do have. Thanks be to God, from Whom all blessings flow.

 

What about you? When have you allowed yourself to be robbed? How do you close the door to the thief?