Friday, December 30, 2011

I wish I was in New York City.

Who doesn’t, right?  It’s a popular bucket list item to spend New Year’s Eve in Times Square.  Heaven knows, my bucket list is probably as long as anybody’s.  If my sister is going to Africa to climb Mount Kilimanjaro next summer (which she is), the least I should get to do is freeze my backside under the twinkling billboards, in the City that Never Sleeps.

Ironically, I have never had any desire to pass through the threshold of a new year beneath the dropping ball.  I would actually have been willing to fly home on New Year’s Eve to save on airfare.  If you’ll indulge my bragging, I have already ice skated at Rockefeller center and even witnessed the flight of the giant balloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.  I’ve been to the top of the Empire State Building, and backstage at Late Night with David Letterman; I just missed the cut to sing a little ditty for “Stump the Band.”  I’ve stood at Ground Zero and pondered the empty sky, and rode the Staten Island Ferry to get a glimpse of Lady Liberty on Ellis Isle.  I cannot complain that I in any way need or deserve a more fantastic New York City experience than I’ve already had.

The reason my husband and I both woke up from NYC dreams this morning, is this: our beloved Cyclones, that Blue Collar team that keeps making all the inspirational montage segments on ESPN, will be playing in the Pinstripe Bowl today.  Who wouldn’t want to be in Yankee stadium this afternoon, when that vibrant leader, Paul Rhoads, leads his irrepressible team of over-achievers onto the field, in hopes of pulling off yet another fantastic upset?  It may be a near home-field advantage for Rutgers, but my hopes, if not my money, are on Iowa State.  It may be one of those tens of bowls that no one has heard of.  It may be a battle between teams that don’t amount to much in the national picture.  The BCS is in no way implicated.  But when the Iowa State Cyclones take the field, they bring all the excitement college football can generate.  Watch for first quarter on-side kicks.  Don’t be surprised if they run a gadget play on a long fourth down in their own territory and make the first down.  Even if you had no other reason to cheer for the Clones, surely you are wondering whether Paul Rhoads can actually muster a more inspiring locker room speech than, “I am so proud…to be your coach” or “I don’t care whether your black or white, or rich or poor, or where you came from…I do care that we are ONE team.”  What about the way he jumpsaround on the sidelines when they botch a call?

There are at least a dozen reasons why we couldn’t make a bowl trip this year, but this morning I woke up regretful of all of them.  If I had it my way, I’d be at the end of a 24 hour RV drive through sleet-crusted freeways, dragging my kids through the subways, and saddled with an enormous load of blankets, mittens, and baby paraphernalia, to freeze my backside and lose my voice cheering for our team.  We’re going to have a blast cheering them on from Central Iowa today – I’ll probably lose my voice anyway – But I wish I was doing it in New York City.

Help us defeat our enemies! No one else can rescue us. You will give us victory and crush our enemies. Psalm 60:11-12

Friday, December 23, 2011

I choose us.

My oldest daughter gave me the compliment of a lifetime.  “You know, Mom; you’re really great at being a mom.”  The baby was off her schedule, up too late, and still needed her dinner when we got home from the church Christmas program.  She was fussing and cranky, too worked up to focus on the spoonful of puréed chicken and noodles I was offering her.  My biggest girl was having her own late dinner across the table, observing the whole operation as I combined soothing tones of encouragement and gentle offerings of her favorite snacks to finally get the baby to settle down and realize that eating food could actually be the solution to her hunger.  To a ten-year-old’s perception, I accomplished the impossible; no one could ever get a baby that mad to stop crying and eat, and who ever would want to talk sweetly to a baby that’s screaming at the top of her lungs?  Well, don’t worry, it hasn’t gone completely to my head, but unsolicited feedback on my job performance is exceptionally rare and, in this particular case, well timed.

Many times I’ve heard from both working and stay-at-home moms that I have an ideal situation.  I get the best of both, being able to take my kids to work with me.  I’m not cooped up in the house all day with only children for company, but I’m not tied to a cubicle, staring longingly at my baby’s picture.  Oftentimes, that has been true.  But there are also many times when I’ve had the worst of both; where my professional to-do list had to compete with a teething infant or a curious toddler.  Unlike my stay at home friends, I couldn’t drop everything to attend to my child.  Unlike my working friends, I couldn’t drop her off at daycare and focus on my work.  As long as I’ve been working and mothering, there have always been days when my baby had to cry it out, when my kids had to play solitaire in the youth room, or when I had to pay someone else take them to the park on a summer day.  There have also been meetings that had to be carried on with a giddy toddler squealing during the video, youth group campouts that included school-aged tagalongs, and potlucks to which we just didn’t make it.  And I haven’t yet mentioned the cooking or laundry.

Working and mothering has always been a tricky balance, but I felt called to both, so I found ways to make it work.  There were seasons where I felt like everything was just right, and seasons where I could have quit my job at any moment.  Combining my twelve years on staff with the years of volunteering I did before I was staff, this year’s high school graduates and I have been together since they were in preschool.  I feel confident that God has used me in the lives of young people to shape their childhood for the better.  They have experienced the love of Christ through my church’s ministries in ways that God put me there to facilitate.  I do not question that, up to now, I was called to be both a minister and a mom.

But everything is different now.  Not just for me.  I see it with my husband and my in-laws, too.  When you put our littlest girl next to our oldest, it’s like a flash forward.  In a blink, they go from itty-bitty, to all grown up.  We really felt like we were trying to savor the days with each of our kids, but it is undeniable that our sense of urgency is amplified this time around.  We’ve experienced the speed of life first hand, and we just don’t want to let even the smallest moment get away from us.  There’s no “we’ll do that tomorrow,” or “maybe next time.”  I feel like Nicolas Cage’s character, Jack Campbell, in The Family Man.   I’m seeing how all those compromises add up.  I’ve come to the conclusion that even if you have the best job in the world, which I do, and Jack thought he did, God can still call you away.

Maybe I’m a wonderful youth and children’s pastor, but it’s my first and highest calling to be a wonderful mom.  I hope I’ve done both, but I’ve made compromises that I don’t want to make any more: compromises that God has laid it on my heart to back away from.  Perhaps it may demand I make a whole new set of compromises, as leaving my job means giving up a calling that has become part of my identity.  I fear that it may be a surrender to sexism in that it suggests that I can’t be the best mom and the best minister concurrently.  It will be sad, and it will be hard; it will turn my life upside down.  But we’ve made arrangements with the church for me to resign this spring.  When my kids get out of school this summer, for the first time, we will wake up each morning to see together what the day brings.  When my baby weans this spring, for the first time, it won’t mean that she crosses a threshold, whereby I must spend the majority of my income paying someone else to nurture her during the day.

I’m nervous about the financial impact; I’m anxious about my professional future; but I know I’m leaving ministry to pursue a proud profession that I’m gifted for.  And despite my uncertainties about what the future holds, “I choose us.”  Not over God, but over professional ministry, during this season of my life.

Good people live right, and God blesses the children who follow their example.  Proverbs 20:7

Friday, December 16, 2011

I’m a closet introvert.

Hell for me is a phone with a headset, hooked up to an automatic dialer.  It’s torture, having to muster a pleasant tone of voice, and confront the unknown demands of a conversation.  I did a miserable customer service job for a year and a half out of college and I still cringe when I hear a phone ring.  I program my loved ones’ phone numbers with special rings so that when they call, I can actually respond with joy, instead of trepidation, when I answer the phone.  Sometimes I don’t even answer their calls.

No one had to wonder whether I was an introvert, as a kid.  My silence should have made it clear, but it also ensured that no one wondered whether I was an introvert.  They were more likely to wonder whether I was a snob, or a nerd, or possibly a deaf person – or not to notice me at all.  I was shocked, when my siblings alerted me (in less than diplomatic terms) to the fact that my silence was communicating a disregard for everyone around me that I did not feel.  In fact, I have a very passionate concern for people.  It is part of what makes interacting so exhausting.  I feel such a drive to make every interaction one of care, help, and nourishment that I feel like I should have a script and a rehearsal before I open my mouth.  The pressure eventually wears me out.

Those who have known me as an adult may or may not realize this about me, though.  They may be in my inner circle, where I shamelessly, and probably overbearingly, turn my full personality loose and trust they will graciously interpret my missteps in the context of who they know me to be.  Or they may be the recipient of a gift they didn’t know was a gift.  They are one of the many people, with whom I interact with openness and possibly even verbal excess, despite the extreme anxiety and fear I’m hiding.  They’ve managed to overlook it that I keep my arms down to hide my pit stains during meetings.  They’ve correctly understood that they matter, but they’ve never tuned in to the moment of hesitation before I looked them in the eyes and smiled, or the extended time I spent in the restroom during a break.

It is hard work to make small talk, to decide how much to disclose, to know when to ask questions and when to let the awkward silence bring an interaction to a close.  I could stumble into a landmine of impropriety or offense at any point.  But it is apparent to me that, even when I don’t do it as perfectly as I hope, interacting is more valuable, and a better representation of myself to the people around me, than keeping silent.  So, I interact.  Against my strongest inclinations, I approach strangers after worship.  Despite my shoulder devil’s insistence that no one will get them, I crack jokes and tell stories.

Often, my worst fears are realized and I play back a conversation in my head with embarrassment or regret.  Many times, as well, I feel so drained afterward that I need a few hours or days of cloister to build up my energy and courage to return to the public.  I read a great article about introverts that a couple of my fellow Women in Ministry posted this week.  It was very affirming to realize that I’m not alone in my social struggles, and also that it’s not a character flaw I need to cure.  It just is who I am.

So I’m coming out: My name is Emily, and I’m an introvert.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.  Colossians 4:6

Friday, December 9, 2011

We’re going to disappoint our kids this Christmas.

I’ve been hearing about it for over a year.  iPods, iPods, iPods.  They vowed to save up for them.  They wanted them for their birthdays.  They wanted us to search Craigslist for cheap ones with cracked screens.  Their devotion to getting iPod touches has been almost single-minded, even usurping the role of cell phone at the top of their longings and desires.  When we got my husband an iPad, and everyone found out firsthand how flawlessly Apple technology operates, and how truly addictive Angrybirds is, it amplified their desires to a new level of intensity.

In planning our Christmas giving, we got sucked in.  We debated the merits of iPods vs. ghetto-pads; we considered Nooks and Kindles.  We weighed the potential reading minutes against the potential gaming minutes.  We considered getting them one to share, but I wasn’t interested in officiating time of possession.  We were at the cusp of making a major outlay for technology, granting our kids’ biggest wish.

Then they started bickering.  First it was over socks.  Despite the fact that each girl has a drawer that is overflowing with socks, I was charmed by the goofy Christmas socks at Dollar Tree and bought them each two pair that they could mix and match.  The next morning, they were going at each other hatefully over the stupid socks, because they couldn’t come to an agreement on who got which of the FOUR PAIRS.  Later, they raised the same ruckus over who got to wear the pink mittens, despite the bin full of available options.  Shortly into the afternoon, they were fighting over space in the minivan.  We were FOUR people, riding in a vehicle designed to seat SEVEN.

My kids already have DS’s.  They already have a portable DVD player for road trips.  They already have a room all their own.  They already have a closet full of clothes.  They have a huge collection of Barbies, of Our Generation dolls, of Galactic Heroes, of dress up gowns, etc, etc.  But over the last few weeks, every adult who cares about them, myself included, has opened at least one conversation with, “what are you going to ask for this Christmas?”  It has led my children to believe that their self-centered, materialistic desires actually matter to the overall functioning of the social order and that, somehow, Jesus came to earth, purely to occasion their own wish-fulfillment.

I am back at square one.  I want my kids to have a fun, memorable Christmas.  Like everyone else, I don’t want their gift opening to be a disappointment.  I wonder what kind of role model I’ve been for them, that they would display such repulsive behavior.  Let’s face it, I’m disappointed, too.  I want to make them happy, but I also want to be a good mom, and I’m afraid that this Christmas, I’m not going to be able to do both.  Character and gratitude last longer than electronics anyway, right?  Wish me luck.

As bad as you are, you still know how to give good gifts to your children. But your heavenly Father is even more ready to give the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks. Luke 11:13

Friday, December 2, 2011

Holiday sweets make me giddy.

I couldn’t help it.  The gal at Sonic was passing me the most beautiful incarnation of Pumpkin Pie Milkshake ever.  The cup was shiny metallic, like an old soda shop, the whip cream was fluffy and crusted with crumbs of graham cracker and brown sugar.  Before I could stifle it, a high pitched giggle of delight escaped, and I felt embarrassed by the cold on my teeth as I gave the girl a billboard grin and a childishly joyful “Thank you!”  I felt like a complete weird-o, as her even stare and cautious body language signaled her distrust.

Who needs mom’s apple pie?  There’s I-HOP’s Eggnog Pancakes, McDonald’s Holiday Pies, and pumpkin, in all its various forms.  I don’t need to be invited to a slew of holiday parties, I bring the party to the drive thru, every time I get a chance to consume these delightful concoctions!  How, tell me, how can you beat getting 2 custard pies, with sugar sprinkles baked in to the crust, for a mere $1?  I can pass on the dessert for the whole rest of the year, because these enchanting specimens are only on the menu for four short weeks!
So whether you are serving me up a Gingerbread hot chocolate or a caramel apple parfait, don’t look at me like I’m putting you on.  I’m for real.  And for the 700 calories, that shake better be worth getting excited about, don’t you think?

It is a joyful holiday that they celebrate by feasting and sending gifts of food to each other. Esther 9:19b