Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Thoughts of a 45-year old

When I was little (read: much younger), I was always in a hurry to grow up. It seemed no matter what I wanted to do, the reply was always, "you can do that...when you grow up." I could hardly wait to enter the realm of double digit age, then the teen-age years, then getting my driver's license... the magic years of 10, 13, 16, 18, (then 19 because they played around with the legal age of consumption), 21, and 35 (the minimum age to run for president) were all milestones I was anxious to reach.

My yearnings to grow up stopped at age 35. The milestones after that just aren't as appealing. Who can get excited about annual mammograms starting at age 40 or a colonoscopy at 50? Do I really want to hurry up and join AARP or get a senior's discount at IHOP? Truthfully? Not so much.

So here I am at age 45. Now what? Well, I'll start by looking back since I now have more than enough years to look back on. I have two of the most insanely awesome man-children you will ever meet. I have the absolute greatest sister (and brother-in-law) you could imagine. I have incredibly awesome parents. And friends? Oh my gosh, have I been blessed by a host of truly wonderful people in my life.

Looking back is the easy part...even the parts I still occasionally cringe over (I did indeed have my share of "learning" experiences). But looking forward? I gotta tell ya, that's a little scary. I didn't intend to be facing divorce at this age...or finishing up with a you've-got-to-be-kidding-me bankruptcy. Of course, I never pictured myself in ministry either but that's another story for another day.

One thing I can say, though, is that I have plenty of little kid left in me. As scary as it is to be "starting over" at 45, I am pretty excited by the possibilities ahead of me! And, I am much more grounded now than I have ever been...the cool thing about being cast out into the wilderness is that you learn that God does indeed walk with you, carry you, and guide you through. I wouldn't trade that for anything.

It's rather funny that I am now too "old" for some things...I can't serve as a military chaplain for instance (the cut-off age is 39 without prior service). But...I can be comfortable with who I am, knowing God is still at work making me more. I can be satisfied that whatever my needs, God will provide. I can wake up each morning knowing that regardless of who I disappoint or tick off, God loves me enough to make sure I find someplace, somewhere, somehow to live out of that incredible love offered me.

I'm 45 years old today. If I had planned my life, things would have been much different. Thank God, God has bigger, better plans for me.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Confessions of a Wal-Mart Shopper

I should clarify that. I'm not a Wal-Mart super-mega store shopper. Fortunately, we have a "Neighborhood" Wal-Mart right in my (yeah, you guessed it) neighborhood. No clothes or shoes or baby furniture but they do have a fairly decent selection of groceries and a pharmacy.

So, tonight, I needed to run in and grab a few things. And I do mean a few things. I qualified for the express check-out line. Or any of the other lines. As it turned out, just as I was ready to check out, all the previously open lanes closed. One solitary lane remained open. And the self-check things.

Usually, I am pretty easy going but, for some reason, having 6 items and being in line behind two or three people who were doing their monthly shopping and had overflowing baskets irritated me. I'm looking around as the checkers at the other --previously open but now closed -- lanes were eagerly wiping their conveyor belts and grinning like fools because they were that close to being off for the night. Did I mention this was at about 7:30 on a Sunday evening? In other words, I was not the last shopper in the store. The line behind me was starting to snake through the sodas and chips towards the milk and eggs.

Finally, the person in front of me managed to off-load her cart and the checker was working quickly trying to scan and bag all her items. At this point, I am doing deep-breathing exercises...and convincing myself that the sweet little teen-aged (they all look like teen-agers to me) checker was not to blame for the intelligence behind closing down all but one lane. I would smile. I would be nice. I would be ready to swipe my debit card and grab my stuff so the people behind me didn't start a riot.

You know what happened, right? First, the person in front of me put a portion of her groceries on one form of payment. Then she handed over the cash she had on hand. And, finally, she used her debit card for the rest. Or tried to anyway. Several times. Debit didn't work so she tried credit. And it was declined.

If you've ever experienced a declined card, you know how humiliating this feels. I certainly do. It's an awful feeling. The checker kept her smile in place and called over a supervisor so they could save the purchase to be paid once the customer had a chance to get someone to bring her some cash or another card. Except there was a glitch in that plan. Since part of the purchase had been paid using the first form of payment, the rest could not be saved (suspended is the word I think they used). We were all stuck in line at the only available register run by a live person.

Now, I've heard lots of negative things about Wal-Mart. Their business practices are shrewd and they have likely been the cause of any number of small business failures. It's possible that they deal with manufacturers who have less than stellar business practices in terms of child labor and human rights.

Funny thing, though. God shows up in Wal-Mart, too. The story has a feel-good ending...the lady received help from a fellow customer. One of the employees - the supervisor - shared with me that she had seen that sort of generosity over and over in her store.

As I walked to my car with my handful of groceries, I got to thinking about what had happened and how clearly we can - if we're open to seeing - see God at work right in front of our eyes, right in our midst. It's so easy to overlook, though. So easy to just be irritated by the delays or the bad planning or poor budgeting or whatever judgment jumps to mind as we focus on our needs and our time and our lives.

Who'd a thunk it? God in Wal-Mart...amazing.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

High-School Reunion via Facebook

It's been like a high school reunion on facebook this week...and it's so interesting the way that works. One person finds someone, then their friends - who are also mutual friends of said high school buddy - "friends" them and then their friends...and so on and so on. It's an amazing and strange way for us to connect, re-connect, and socialize.

I'm pretty sure I've become a facebook junkie. It started out innocently enough. First, I wanted to connect with church members and keep up with things going on in their lives (at least those things we publish for the world to see). Then, it expanded to ministry peers and then family (sorry, family but it took awhile to get you all on here!) and then out from there.

But now, all these friends from back in the day show up and it's just...fascinating. No need to ask what someone does for a living -- we can get that on your info page. No need to wonder what someone looks like -- chances are there a handful of pictures for us to browse. Even if your profile picture is really a grandchild or beloved pet or favorite sports team logo.

Except, well...we really don't know each other any more. For my particular group of high school buddies, we're getting awfully close to that 30-year reunion mark. Surely something has happened in your life since then, something beyond what you can capture in a photo or express in your profile, right? I'm going to guess that there were even times when life just wasn't all that great, that things happened and left you scarred and broken...if only for a while. I'm fairly certain you've moved beyond living for Friday and Saturday night dances with the Drifters...

I wonder what you see when you go through my profile and my pictures, when you look over my posts and scan through my likes and links and friends. How do you fill in that almost 30-year gap? (I should say this is a rhetorical question...I'm not really sure I want the answers!).

Looking back, I am amazed at all the people that have moved in and out of my life. It's a bit sad to think of those who we lose touch with, for whatever reason...where are they and, more importantly, are they ok? We don't get the answers to that last question through renewed acquaintances on, the temptation is to write in our own fairy-tale story for our long-lost-suddenly-found friends.

As much as I appreciate and enjoy re-connecting with my high school buddies, I would much rather go beyond the surface depictions. So, new-found friends, how are you really? Is there anything I can do for you? Because, I gotta tell you, these past 30 years have taught me quite a bit about how much we truly need folks to care and walk with us through the ups and the downs. I'd like to have you around for mine...and I'd like to be there for yours.

I'm so glad we're "friends" what?

Thursday, September 16, 2010


While I run the risk of sounding like some sort of movie critic or aficionado, let me start by saying I usually am not a big movie person. Seeing one new movie at the theater is one thing...but two or more in the same year is just an anomaly...for me anyway. Yet, I had the opportunity to attend a screening of Disney's latest movie, Secretariat.

Now, I was not quite 8 years old when Secretariat achieved the pinnacle of horse racing, the Triple Crown (and no, I'm not giving anything away...this is actually history from back in the early 70s). Watching the movie, though, I realized there was quite a bit to the story that I never realized. For example, I did not know that a housewife was the force behind the winning horse...nor did I know what that cost her.

After the screening, which I enjoyed with my sister and brother-in-law, we got into something of a debate. Mainly, my brother-in-law was somewhat disgruntled by the "wimpiness" of the male characters -- namely the husband and the brother. Again, I don't want to give anything away, but I will say that the story really goes beyond the less than stellar behavior of these particular gentleman. It really doesn't even matter that it was a woman -- a woman of the late 60s, early 70s no less -- that made the movie so intriguing. It was her spirit...her sense of character and purpose that I believe any person can aspire to, male or female, that spoke most clearly to me.

I recently read a blog that pointed out the difference between doing things right and doing the right things. In this movie, the lead character did the right things...even when they didn't exactly fit the expectations of her time. I can identify with those who worry and stress over doing things right. Lord know, I have wanted to do things right in my own life. But there comes a time, at least in my experience, when we have to choose between doing things right (ie. meeting the expectations) and doing the right things.

Over time, we can look back and point to places where we either did things right or did the right things. Usually, again in my own experience, the times when I did the right things were also those times when others were likely to let me know that I was not doing things right. It is not an easy or comfortable place to be.

Yes, I identify with the loneliness of the main character in movie...and I admire the hell out of her. There is a significant price to pay for doing the right things. And this really shouldn't surprise us at all. Didn't Jesus tell us that we would have to carry our own cross? Weren't we warned that we would have to lose our lives in order to save it? It occurs to me that we (myself primarily included) have a rather twisted view of what our lives are supposed to be like...and yet, deep down, we know that life is not about having things come easy or simply, not about having everything work out to our satisfaction, not about ensuring that we have earned respect and admiration from our so-called peers. Life, in all its messiness and brokenness, is about trusting and loving. Trusting in our God who does a much better job guiding us through life than we can ever imagine to do on our own, and loving God, ourselves, and one another enough to let go of our illusion of control.

The race is what's before us...not where we've already been. And the winner knows that losing at what is expected means winning for the sake of others.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Do NOT pull the Fire Alarm...unless there really is a fire

I recently read a book in which one of the characters would occasionally find herself feeling so out of sorts with who she was that she would be tempted to do something drastic. And often she did crazy pulling the fire alarm (no, do NOT do this) or dying her hair a strange color or shaving her head completely. As the story progressed, she often described her "itchiness" or "restlessness" as a temptation to pull the fire alarm (again).

Sometimes, I feel like pulling the fire alarm, too. My sense of self-control (ok, my fear of jail-time and other significant consequences) has kept me from doing this. So far. But I still sometimes get that itchy, restless feeling. It passes. Mostly.

It's an odd sensation, this sense of being untethered, of being not quite rooted. At my age, I should have my act together and be all grounded. Whatever. I'm least not all the time. Granted, I've had some rather unusual jerk-the-rug-right-out-from-under-you experiences in the recent past so that could explain a lot of it.

It's funny because, in the cartoons anyway, these kind of pull-the-rug things typically cause you to end up flat on your back with stars floating around your head. That isn't exactly how it worked, though. No, I was pretty much on my knees. Sometimes, life has a way of sending us to our knees or fully into a prostrate position...laid out, lost, and as open as we can ever be to surrendering our very being to God.

If you haven't been there, I don't know whether to congratulate you or sympathize. It's incredibly hard for us be-all-we-can-be, do-it-yourself members of this great country to share our control much less give it all up willingly. And when its gone...well, sometimes it feels like a good time to pull the fire alarm. Unless...

Unless we can remember that God has something in store, something planned, some purpose for us that has nothing to do with what our society (neighbors, co-workers, friends, family -- they're all included), nothing to do with those expectations and everything to do with following a divine sense of rightness. The thing is, we get resistance. And in the tension between the divine sense of rightness and the powerful resistance lies that restless, itchy feeling.

I promise I won't pull the fire alarm. At least, not right now...