Friday, May 28, 2010

I’ve been obsessing about my own mortality

I’m turning 35 this summer. Whether that seems old or young to you probably depends on how much higher or lower your own number is. What I know for sure is that, while there is potentially still a long journey ahead of me, I have also put some long years behind me. I’ve always tried to live intentionally, beginning with the end in mind, you might say. However, lately everything in my life seems to be contriving to bring me repeated consciousness of the fact that living is a terminal condition.

I attended another funeral this morning. A beloved friend from church who was blessed to enjoy a long and fruitful life has gone on to Glory. Another dear friend, not so advanced in years, had emergency surgery to remove her appendix the day after Mother’s Day; thankfully they caught it in time. My younger daughter is graduating from Kindergarten; it seems much too soon. Grandpa is back in the hospital again. A family in our community had two of their three kids die when their minivan was T-boned on a quiet side street we commonly drive down. My older daughter started needing deodorant. All are subtle and not-so-subtle reminders that time moves in only one direction and, sooner or later, that onward march is going to lead all of us to the same outcome.

I’m seeing everything different these last few weeks. Every time I get into a car, I consider the possibility of an accident. When I order French fries, I hear my arteries begging me to stop. I look in the mirror and see the smile lines and sun spots starting, and know that kid at the grocery store isn’t going to keep asking for my I.D. forever.

Some ministers will suggest that from the day we put our faith in Christ, our earthly life is just a hindrance, holding us back from the Glory that awaits us. When I was younger, that was one of my biggest fears; that life quit meaning anything, because accepting Jesus meant longing for the end. Life was just this burdened in-between of trying to spread the Gospel and secure eternity for others.

The Gospel is much fuller to me now than it used to be. While I hope for the eternal Glory my friends are now experiencing, I’m trying really hard to experience Glory each day. Life has these incredible seasons we get to pass through, each a unique gift from God who gives us life. From the beautiful naiveté of childhood, through the discovery of youth, the comfort of finding our identity and vocations, and on into the uncharted future that I hope will bring adventure, accomplishment, and grandkids. God didn’t plan just for the end, God planned for each and every day, each moment, of this Glorious life I get to live.

But even as I dream of this amazing future, I feel burdened right now by the reality that, as Mat Kearney’s song Closer to Love puts it, “we’re all just a phone call from our knees.” Anything can happen at any time to cut short the dreams I hope for, and I feel like, right now, life is just starting to get good. Really good. Good-byes are hard, but I don’t want to live in either denial or in fear of them; they’re part of life, too.  Lately, though, I've been feeling the pinch of their inevitability.

"Show me, O LORD, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth;the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man's life is but a breath. Psalm 39:4-5

Friday, May 21, 2010

I Made My Kids Wait in the Car Outside a Bar

…but I’ll get to that in a minute.

There was a news bit last night about how the paparazzi are all over celebrity babies. One photographer/stalker was saying how he can’t sell a picture of Sharon Stone anymore unless there’s a child in the frame. There’s apparently a particular park to which celebs flock to be “seen” sporting offspring. Ever since Gwyneth Paltrow named her daughter Apple and Jennifer Anniston didn’t get pregnant by Brad Pitt, kids have replaced big purses as the accessory of choice for Hollywood’s elite. Some might argue it started the day John Jr. played under his dad’s desk in the Oval Office, but I think Suri had a hand in it and certainly Octomom has jumped on the bandwagon.

So the headline of my last nine years should read: My Glamorous Motherhood. I should be on TMZ or something, as least, because I am hip. If I were a purse model, I’d be sporting a Prada. I’ve got the two most beautiful daughters you could imagine. My older daughter has thoughtful eyes of the clearest blue and thick wavy locks of spun gold. My younger daughter has that smooth olive complexion that looks like a slight tan all winter long and green eyes that sparkle like her smile. If motherhood is fashionable, my girls are to die for.

But (and you knew it was coming, right?) they also forget to flush before school sometimes and we come home to a houseful of crap-odor that could rival a pit-toilet. They miss the garbage can with their chewed gum and I get to fish it out of the dog’s mouth. Nothing comforts an ailing kid like having Mom fall asleep rubbing her back, right? Then Mom becomes a target for that middle of the night, surprise vomit.

Are you uncomfortable with body fluids? Not a problem. You can always enjoy the irony of a toddler meltdown in the family planning aisle of Target. Or that moment when you look down from writing your check to see that your three year old has pilfered a pack of Rollos, already has six of them in her mouth, and is drooling chocolate on a brand new white t-shirt. Oh, and you don’t have 80 cents cash to buy the Rollos, so you have to write another check.

A personal favorite I briefly mentioned in a previous week’s confession: when your baby gets too big for the car seat, but is still too little to stand on her own yet. You find yourself in the filthy bathroom of a gas station or Big Lots, getting your business done with your baby on your lap, trying to strategize for the TP phase of the operation.

There’s that sexy minivan, the allure of stretch marks, the sophistication of inadvertently referring to yourself in the third person to another adult; no one forgets the thrill of a milk let-down during an important presentation, and I haven’t even touched on the elegance of stain-removal…and then one night, ballet rehearsal goes way late and you get to the Bar & Grill after the 9pm deadline for minors and have to leave your kids in the car while you go in and let Daddy know you’re finally here to meet him for dinner.  Despite missing out on a meal, you're just relieved you weren’t reported, as you swing through a drive-thru for the culinary delights of breaded whitefish and hushpuppies.

Bring in the paparazzi, because I ended the night feeling like a cover shot for Cosmo, for sure.

"Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” Luke 11:27

NOTE: If you put this verse in context, you'll see that Jesus replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it."  Of course, He's right, but I totally get it why the woman called out a blessing on His mom to start with.  She didn't know Jesus was divine, and anyone who has experienced plain old, fully-human kids knows that for every kid that turns out OK, there's a parent or two somewhere who deserves a little pat on the back from the Almighty.  So if you're one of those, may you be blessed in full measure for every glamorous moment you've dedicated to your delightful little accessories.

Friday, May 14, 2010

I'm an Idolator and I Might Get Bored

Apparently comfort can be an idol, and I am at high risk for comfort-idolatry. This can lead to the sin of boredom. I don’t know how deadly this is, but I shall remain alert.

If you’re in a hurry, feel free to skip this two-paragraph aside regarding the work-ethic of pastors.

It is a common perception that pastors work only one day a week. I’m often asked, “What do you do the rest of the week?” Defending full-time ministry isn’t the purpose of my blog today, but I will say this: a passionate minister lives, breathes, and sleeps the ministry they serve. The visible hours they spend on services, office hours, etc., are but a shadow of the time they dedicate each week, seeking God and implementing the ministry they are called to.

So, just like everyone else, something we do the rest of the week is attend meetings. One that I attend five times a year is the preview committee for Iowa Religious Media Services. It’s a resource library for churches across the state, including everything from American Baptist to Methodist, Presbyterian, and Catholic churches. They parade new and controversial resources before us, so that we can determine whether they add value to the collection and fall within an acceptable range of theology and utility for our churches. As I explained to my girls: they ask me for my opinion and then pay me for it with pizza. That probably sounds great, but for every exciting resource, there are three that could only inspire Insomniacs.

Flipping through the companion piece to a resource, I found a list of personal motivators and their risks. The list included affirmation, material possessions, and so on. Affirmation could lead to pride, material things could lead to greed, and so on. I scanned the list for what motivation I potentially value more than God. I acknowledge that everything on the list holds some sway for all of us, but the one that caught my eye was “comfort.” It meant that you were motivated by finding ease, enjoyment, relaxation, and fun. Taken too far, it could lead to boredom. The description resonated with me, because ease, enjoyment, relaxation, and fun are definitely strong motivators for me!

I love the Lord, but living this frazzled, clunky human life is a close second, and I intentionally resist the pressure to overachieve. More than possessions, or affirmation, or art, or whatever else I can’t remember off the list, I love being together with my beloved ones; I love lying on a hammock in the sun; I love eating delicious food; I love seeing and trying new things. Like I said above, I live and breathe the ministry I’ve been called to, but if I could live out my devotion to Christ each morning on a sandy beach with an ice cold drink, building sandcastles with my kids, reading a Bible stained by saltwater spray, then hiking new peaks in the afternoon, I’d be there! Life is so chock-full of possibilities and inspirations, I cannot imagine boredom. There is always something to do! A flower to plant, a project to sew, a book to read, a person or place to visit…I could see my desire for comfort leading to bankruptcy, co-dependence, and an intolerably messy house, but boredom? Really?

My own resistance to this prognosis deepens my concern. Not only am I motivated by comfort, but I’m not really fighting it. The temptation to keep it light and enjoy things whenever possible, to suck the marrow from each passing moment, is something I’m going to battle for a long, long time. I guess I’ll let you know when I start feeling bored…will I know I’m bored when it happens?  I'm going to have to be alert.

What do you think?  Does what motivates you also, potentially, distract you? Is there a spiritual practice that can counter it?  What do you recommend?

If you are guided by the Spirit, you won't obey your selfish desires. God's Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. Galations 5:16, 22-23

Friday, May 7, 2010

An Elliptical is Cheaper Not to Use than a Gym Membership

My neighborhood is teeming with joggers nowadays. Drive attentively, because these spandex-clad women and men are fast-moving and hard-to-spot. You'd probably be better off putting down the window and sniffing them out, because many times they are completely soaked in their own sweat.

It looks like complete misery to me: the pounding impact of the pavement; the heat of the sun; the solitude; the pointless return back to where you started. Aside from the fact that nothing is giving chase, they also aren’t headed to a destination worthy of the effort. I cringe at the thought of having to do extra laundry to wash all those spandex. I’m sure they have to wash them “cold – delicate cycle – non-chlorine bleach – line dry.” And they can’t go back out in public until they’ve spent another half hour taking that extra shower and redoing their hair (which also rules out the possibility they are jogging to a coffee shop or tavern).

It is so easy to be disdainful of the joggers. My biggest gripe with them is that they have mustered something I so thoroughly lack: discipline. I fantasize like everyone else about having ripped abs and a firm bottom. But I think I know down deep that I am just lucky to be average. After having two kids, I realized that I needed to do something different or I was not going to stay “average.” We joined the Y. While my girl was in their preschool, I even managed a dutiful habit of hitting the stair-climber 3 times a week. And I lost – not a pound. Not a pound. Then we moved and the Y wasn’t on our daily path, so after a few months without going there, we made the choice to drop the membership and purchase a second-hand elliptical machine.

Once the elliptical machine is at the foot of your bed, you can no longer claim that your workout is too far out of the way. You have to find other reasons not climb on board and work up a sweat. One of my favorites: my only successful weight loss has come from a concerted effort to eat smaller portions and avoid snacks. That and the occasional cleansing that a good potluck offers (see my post on potlucks).

We’re a pretty active family and I’m not afraid of hard work. But I seem to need the motivation of a project to work on, a destination to hike to, or a game to play. Getting on a machine to run round like a hamster or taking an hour out of my day to beat up my knees so I can say I ran a whole mile doesn’t motivate me. I wish it did. I wish I was disciplined, because I know they’re right and I’m wrong. And when those annoying jogger-people are chasing their grandkids, while I’m sitting in a recliner complaining about my back pain, I’ll wish I did something about it.

Maybe if they could hook the elliptical up to a battery pack so my effort could save us a little on electricity?

He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly. Proverbs 5:23