Friday, March 25, 2011

Jackie - Big Question Marks

Ok, here we are, back into posting about actual goals. I suppose it's about time to dig into the spiritual goal. I started writing all of these a few months ago, so I just need to spruce them up a little and post them. I'm hoping to get through these pretty quickly. Here we go...

I felt a nagging, no, that's not quite the right word, it sounds too negative. I felt a tug back before the holidays. It was really soft at first, in fact, I almost missed it; it was tender and gentle and kind. A beckoning of my soul. And, it felt familiar.

I've had this spiritual goal on my list and I spent the better part of the year not addressing it, but over the holidays I answered that tug and got to have some really fascinating conversations. Here's a refresher on the goal: I have spiritual questions. Ones that cannot go unanswered any longer. I decided the book and church answers I can quote from memory weren't enough; I needed more. I wanted to hear first-hand experiences and thoughts. 

I chose a handful of people I respect and asked them for a cup of coffee. I got all scientific-like asking them the same questions, documenting their answers and will present these findings to you. I explained to them that I know the Bible passages and rote answers, but I want to hear their hearts and what made them choose, and continue to choose Christianity.

But before we get to their answers, I want to give you the questions for perspective.

[Wait, even before I get to that, I must apologize. It's going to take a handful of posts to get through this goal. I hope posting this all at once isn't tedious for you as a reader, but if it is I won't be offended if you skip a few and "save them for later."] 

Here's where I'm coming from. I am a Christian and I believe everything that goes along with that. I believe there is more to this life than meets the eye and I want to be a part of what's bigger. I love, depend on and need God. BUT... and you knew that was coming... sometimes have a hard time seeing the relevance in Christianity. It seems out of place; it's like doesn't fit. I suppose that makes sense with the self-sufficient, relationally-disconnected lifestyle we have modeled for us in America. Thus...

Question #1: What does it mean to be a Christian?

Each person choses faith for their own reasons - as they should. But to get a little background on the perspective of each interviewee, I wanted to know how they each made their decision to identify with Christianity. Thus...

Question #2: Why should I believe there's a God? Why should I care? Why does it matter if I believe in God?

Life is significant, or at least it should be. I believe it is. But is it really? And if so, what does that mean?... for my life? For the lives of those around me? For the world? And if we know the point of life, will that make a difference or change things? Thus...

Question #3: What's the point of life? What's our individual purpose? What is the point of God having a will if he gave us freedom of choice? Is it Satan who causes bad stuff because he sucks? Or God who causes bad stuff to happen because I'm not good enough?

Then I have to wonder how prayer fits into all of this. I don't always understand why God wants to spend time with us. We're supposed to be in some sort of relationship with him, but few people would continue to be in a relationship with someone who treats them as badly as we treat God. It feels almost like God is self-deprecating in the way it feels like he lets us walk all over him. Which brings me back to my point, why does God want to spend time with us? And why would we feel we have the right to ask anything of him? Thus... 

Question #4: Prayer: how do I approach it? How does it work? Does it work? How do I evaluate its effectiveness?

Then we get to the real crux of the matter... being a real-life Christian. I hate to say this, but I am more often embarrassed to call myself a Christian than I am proud. I am often bewildered that the faith system I belong to, whose focus is loving God who desires relationship, has become a place of judgment, selfishness, unloving and not accepting. It's beyond a matter of personal reputation. I hate that I feel I have to apologize for choosing to to be a follower of Christ. Thus...

Question #5: Why should I want to be a part of Christianity when it feels like it comes with a bad reputation or bad name? What does it look like to be an culturally-relevant, non-apologetic Christian? 

I think a lot of people can agree that during the hard times, when it seems there's nothing else to rely on, it's easy to have a relationship with God. Well, maybe "easy" isn't quite the right word. But, when the going is rough, there is an inherent need to have something bigger than this world to believe in, to lean on, to be carried by. How about when things are going well and everything seems to be holding itself together? What then? Thus...

Question #6: What does a relationship with God look like in the "normal" times?

And last, because each person's relationship with God is such an individual experience, I asked this final question. [Spoiler alert: This question might have something to do with one of my goals for next year.]

Question #7: Who is God to you? 

Looking over this list in hindsight, it feels like I asked some daunting questions... I supposed I did. 

The people who gracious shared their thoughts with me did an amazing job putting their faith into perspective. I'm excited to share their answers with you... stay tuned.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Jackie - Unravelled

I did something that wasn't very nice. I didn't mean to do it... it just kind of happened. I try to be considerate of others, but sometimes when this brain of mine is trying to synthesize too many things all at once, everything ends up mashed together into one big heap of non-functioning jambalaya. So I wanted to start this blog with an apology for writing a disconcerting blog and then falling off the planet because that wasn't very nice of me.

Here's the deal... sometimes when you pull a little thread, the whole thing comes unravelled. That's kinda what happened. This year of Shake the Dust for me was about figuring out me, defining me. It feels a little narcissistic, so I haven't actually said it in this many words before now, but it was "the year of me." It was a year of picking apart what was shaping my life and putting everything back with intentionality. I looked at the people in my life, the stuff in my life, my finances, my creativity, my spirituality, my future goals and the little things in between -- taking things apart and putting them back together again. The hope was to come out on the other side feeling like a more holistic version of myself. And for the most part, that's what was happening.

Then we got to February. And there was this little thread. So I pulled it. But it just got a little bigger. So I pulled a little more. And that's about when things started falling apart. It's like I ripped out the entire seam. The whole story is much, much too long and complicated for a blog post at this point. But I can tell you I'm confident that when I get to the other side of this, I think I will be a more complete version of myself than I ever have been. 

But for now I'm in the middle -- between the seams -- and my heart is raw.

Here's the great part about being in the middle, with the seams in disarray: you have the unique capacity to know the love of those around you. A friend recently introduced me to the this quote: "Grief makes us more permeable, where we can get out of ourselves and others can get in. It changes the very shape of our soul." -Richard Rohr

And I have definitely been shaped.  

I could write a string of blogs on the ways I have been touched and shaped by those around me, but I'll get to the point. Sarah had the insight to see that while the point of this blog was to see what we could do in a year and be honest about what we did and didn't accomplish, sometimes it's more important to have grace with ourselves and finish well. I'm in Portland for the weekend and plan to visit some of my favorite coffee establishments and put into words how I've been shaking the dust. 

For the real this time... stay tuned.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Keep Calm and Craft On

"Absolutely, anyone can craft. Stick a fistful of pencils into a potato and you've got a pencil holder. Who can't do that?"

Amy Sedaris said that and I think she's nailed it.  Crafting is one of the few pass times in our world that still allows for imperfections- glorifies them even.  There is nothing like running your fingers along a slightly crooked stitch and imagining your grandmother sitting at her sewing machine, natural light pouring in around her, distracted by something outside the window, ending in a slight imperfection that will fuel imaginations for generations.  I love the stories that live in every handmade quilt, window treatment, pillow, or wall hanging.  These are the things we pass on to one another because they mean something, not because they are perfect.

The act of crafting is also wonderful for the creative brain.  The repetitive nature of working with your hands can clear a cluttered mind and inspire you in entirely new ways.  Nothing can compare to molding and transforming different textures, colors and smells into something new and even more beautiful.

This year I've been trying to embrace this tactile side of creation.  I've loved the process, the frustration, and the reward.  To hold something in your hands that you created is empowering and cathartic- especially when you get to give that new creation away to someone you love.

Earlier in the year I started small and made pillows out of some t-shirts for The Joplin Kids in Denver.  I wish I had pictures of them to share.  They were bulgy, a little crooked, and super soft and squishy.  To see these little people I love so much snuggle the pillows during nap time and say "they smell like Sarah" was the most rewarding feeling in the world.  

Most recently I made some gifts for my sure-to-be-beautiful niece, who is due in May.  My wonderful friend Katrina walked me through the process of bobbins, measuring, stitches, and seam rippers with a lot of patience and little cursing (on my part).  But in a couple of days the end product sat in my suitcase bound for Denver, wrapped up in coral fabric, waiting to be placed in my sister's hands.  I fussed over the imperfections when she opened it, of course, but she really really loved it all.  Bibs, wash clothes, and a hooded towel.  I really wanted that soft baby skin to be warm and snug after baths, so I splurged a little on extra soft terry cloth and ridiculously cute fabric.  It seems this little girl has me wrapped around her finger, even from the womb. 

For everyone reading this, thinking to themselves, "I'm not crafty," I have news for you- You Are.  If I can create things like this- and let go of the inner critic that tells me everything that come out of me must be perfect- anyone can do it.  I'll let Amy Sedaris leave you with one last bit of encouragement: "If you craft, and you should, craft with abandon and don’t judge your work. It’s the process that’s important, not the final product. Remember, for every person who deems your project crap, there is another person who hasn’t seen it. The only person you have to please is yourself, and what do you know about art?"

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What's a Mulligan, and Here's What I Thought of Emma

Some of you may have noticed that March 1st has come and gone and Jackie and I have not posted our end-of-year wrap up posts.  Congratulations to Genevieve who seems to be the only one of us that has her business together.  I can't wait to read the second half of all her accomplishments!  As for Jackie and I, we're in need of a bit of an extension.  Just a couple of weeks, we promise.  We discussed it and decided there are times when it's best to set goals and a timeline and, at the end, take a step back and evaluate what you achieved and what you didn't.  But there are other times when you just need to feel good about what you've accomplished, even if it means taking a bit more time than you anticipated.  So, we're asking for a Mulligan.  Maybe?  I'm not very good at golf.

That being said, I'll jump right into my post about Emma, which I finished a few weeks ago.

It's common knowledge that, for a story to be worth reading- to be a story at all- there has to be change, character transformation.  And I believe the stories we write and read are derived from the universal way our lives are lead.  "If story is just condensed versions of life, then life itself may be designed to change us so that we evolve from one kind of person to another."  Donald Miller said that and, fair warning, there's going to be just as much talk about him in this post as there is of Jane Austen.

What we can take away from that quote by Donald is that we change because life is happening to us, which I won't argue with.  But what if we look at Emma.  Emma certainly goes through a character transformation, but the change came from the choices she made and the acceptance and consequences she had to choose to learn from.  Emma was a bad friend to people.  She let her entitlement and boredom cloud her judgement into treating other as less than herself and pawns she found pleasure in moving about and watching collide.  Only the approbation of a trusted and respected friend opened her eyes to her indecency and, at times, cruelty.

So, in this respect, life didn't happen to Emma.  She didn't have to throw her hands in the air, accept a situation she had no control over, and embrace the transformation that was sure to follow.  Emma actively created a bad situation for herself.  She treated Mr.s Bates cruelly.  She convinced Harriet to turn down a proposal from the man she loves based on his lower station.  She flirted openly with a man who turned out to be engaged to really amazing woman.  A woman Emma had known since childhood, made a snap judgement about, and dismissed as boring and unworthy.  All of her pain was self inflicted.

For me, it's so much easier to accept the things I have no control over- to look at them objectively, learn from them, and move on.  But it's the self inflicted pain that's the hardest to get past.  How do you stop focusing on the "how could I let this happen" to get to the deeper meaning, the stuff that leads to character transformation?

I wish I was better this.  I wish I could fill the rest of this space with "this is what happened in my past, this is what I learned, and here's something insightful you can quote to your friends."  But the truth is I'm quite bad at it.  My version of embracing the past is letting enough time go by so I start to forget whatever it was until something or someone comes along to drudge it all up again.

The best I can come up with is that maybe it's a combination of the two- the choices I make, both good and bad, are life happening to me. And the most dangerous thing I can do is tuck them safely away to that dark corner in my mind, the one with the cobwebs and thick layer of untouched dust.  Even though I did have control over those situations I can still throw my hands in the air- not just to accept what life has thrown at me, but to let those choices go, to admit that they happened, to understand why they had to, and to embrace the transformation that will ensue.  Every bit of my past is part of my story, which is still being written and moving toward something much more grand and consequential than any one mistake or bad choice I've made.  And that kind of makes the whole mess a little exciting.

Now, because he is much wiser than I, I'll end on one last insight from Donald Miller: "I want to keep myself fertile for changes, so things keep getting born into me, so things keep dying when it's time for things to die.  I want to keep walking away from the person I was a moment ago, because a mind was made to figure things out, not to read the same page recurrently."

So go out, embrace your transformation, and live a page-turning life.