Saturday, July 9, 2011

Who I Am

I need a test to take.  A research paper to write would be even better.
I can take tests.  I can write papers.  I can write papers REALLY well.  I’ll come up with a topic, spend hours in the library gathering resources, and spend weeks reading resources to collect notes.  Then, I’ll synthesize and analyze my notes to create a thesis.  It will be something new, original, that hasn’t been written before.  I’ll create a new argument and support it with perfectly cited sources—many of them, from credible, recent, and varied sources.  Then, I’ll get an A.  I’ll relish my A and bask in the satisfaction of accomplishment.
I miss being in school.  This is how my school years or semesters went:  Sign-up for hard classes and too many of them.  Go to the first round of classes, see the syllabi, and freak out at what I must accomplish in the coming months.  Tackle the workload with determination.  Periodically break down emotionally.  Push through.  Sacrifice.  Complete the term.  Get a 4.0.  Get additional awards.  Relax for a few months or weeks at least.  Put those courses behind me, and start something new.
I’m finding that life is much harder when there aren’t syllabi and FINAL exams.  There’s nothing FINAL anymore, except life itself.  There’s no more completing, finishing, and accomplishing.  It’s mark two items of the list to do at work, and add four more.  And then there’s home…with two small kids…“never-ending” seems too weak to describe the reality.
The real issue is that I’m good at getting things done.  I’m not so good at being good.  I don’t mean following the rules; I’m great at that.  I mean being good in my core.  I’m an anxious, uptight, impatient person.  I try to practice self-control, not to hide these character flaws, but truly to work on them.  Twice recently people have expressed shock when I commented how uptight I am.   I guess the self-control is working some, which hopefully means I’m doing less damage to others than I have in times past.
But that’s not entirely true either.  Right now my husband is out with my two kids so that I can unwind.  This makes a nice Facebook status.  The truth is that they’re gone, because I’m so tightly wound I’m hurtful to my family.  I want to get things done—dishes, cleaning, picking up toys, laundry.  I’m not so good at BEING a mom.  I’m okay at DOING mom.
Since I became a mom, “Not being able to use any of the skills that had proved so practical in the past was a real source of anxiety.  I was suddenly faced with my naked self, open for affirmations and rejections, hugs and punches, smiles and tears, all dependent simply on how I was perceived at the moment.” (Nouwen , In the Name of Jesus, 28)  I’m not pleased at all with how I’m perceived at this moment, neither with my self-perception nor my family’s perception.  This is hard work.  This is not writing a paper.  This will require pushing through and sacrificing, and there will be no “A” and no award and no time when I can stop working on who I am.    

Sunday, July 3, 2011

To Be On Mission...And To Be Home

Right now, my church has about 40 people serving on international mission trips.  Some are in Macedonia in Central Europe doing ministry to a marginalized people group, the Roma.  Others are in Belize doing construction of a youth center with our partner church.  I’ve been to both places; I think I’m only one of two people at our church to do so.  In both places, God broke my heart for his people and broadened my perspective of who “his people” are.
I’ve been home from a stateside mission trip for a week.  It was a standard home repair mission trip for teens. 
I struggle. 
I closely follow the Macedonia team on Facebook and their blog.  In part this is because it’s a student ministry trip, and I oversee that.  In part this is because my twin sister is on the trip.  But it’s also because I just love international mission trips…now.
 I didn’t love my first international mission trip.  Egypt.  Summer.  Long sleeves, long skirts, glasses instead of contacts because of the sand, heat that melts film in cameras (yes, that was before digital cameras were prevalent).  Mostly it was the fears of getting lost and of being a young, American female in a male-dominant society.
Let’s add it up.  Short-term stateside mission trips:  Panama City x 2, Chattanooga, Bland, Williamsburg, Manassas, Pittsburgh, Knoxville, Neptune, and Chesapeake.  Short-term international mission trips:  Egypt, Belize, Macedonia.  Ten stateside and three international.
The stateside trips are not the spiritual highs for me that they once were.  Age and the responsibilities of leadership have influenced that.  Two weeks ago I really worked to participate in the trip and look for God. 
There was a girl from my church who was on her first mission trip.  She’s pretty new to church in general; she’s been around since September.  One day of the trip when physical labor jobs were in short supply, I asked her to go on a prayer walk with me and some other girls.  That was a first for all of them.  I listened and watched as she silently walked with us, and then as she said, “I really think we should pray for that house.  Could you do that?” and then as she said, “Okay, I want to try praying for this one.  I’ve never prayed out loud before though.”
This may seem little, but this is where I saw God.  I remember my first mission trip and how much I learned about prayer on that trip.  It was on the job training, and it changed me.
That night in worship, this same girl decided to raise her hands for the first time during a song.  I saw God here, too.  I remember a March night in Panama City Beach, FL standing on the front row of a worship service beside my roommate Heather Buehrig as Chad Cates led worship.  And I raised my hands.  And I felt so free. 
Raising hands isn’t for everybody, and it isn’t for me all the time.  It’s one of those things I do when I feel prompted by the Spirit.  Watching junior high girls raise their hands in worship for the first time moved me.  Maybe they did it because others did.  Or maybe they felt safe away from home, in a new environment, to respond to that little prompting they sometimes feel, too.
Most of my spiritual markers—high points of worship, serving God, and feeling used by Him—and low points of persecution, fear, and the demands of leadership—have happened on mission trips.
There’s just something about them.  Tonight I pray that my 40 friends from PCC are having spiritual marker moments.  I slightly envy them, but I also relish being home with two kids who don’t feel well.  If I’d gone, I wouldn’t have cuddled all day with a feverish little boy with a stomach ache, and that is a priceless mom moment.  I’m glad I didn’t miss it.  I’m content to be home.  I’m still going to stalk that Macedonia team through social media.