Eating the Elephant

August 15, 2012

It’s always just one more thing.

It’s not enough that I’m stressed out about school starting in 5 days and I have a full class load. That should be enough on its own considering I had to spend over $500 on textbooks alone for this semester. That should be an indicator at how difficult my last full semester is going to be. And the fact that I have to do really well this year because I need to get my GPA up above a 3.0 so I don’t have to take any entrance exams to get into grad school. I just have to meet all of the other admission requirements and do a lot of other things to get in to my school of choice.

It’s not enough that I work 32 hours a week at a job that just frustrates me to no end. It requires very little mental engagement on my part and I’ve been doing it for over 6 years. But if I couple that with school I have a pretty full week of class, homework and who knows how much homework and all the other stuff that will come up in the next 9 or so months. As if that wasn’t enough.

Not to mention that you live over 1,200 miles away.

I got a text from my mom telling me that I got a notice from the IRS that they were questioning something from my 2010 tax return. It’s a personal quirk that I do not like math and I really do not like paperwork or administrative processes at all. They both stress me out and I have very little patience. So, tax time is handled by TurboTax so that I don’t have to deal with any of that and a computer program does that for me. So, how a mistake could have been made on my part is beyond me and it’s extremely frustrating.

It’s hard to take it a day at a time when each day has the potential to add stress to my life for extended periods of time. But, as my mom would tell me, I shouldn’t try to eat the elephant all at once. I need to take a deep breath and take it one step at a time. I shouldn’t stress because it could be something small that I can fix relatively easily.

For those of you who don’t understand it, the concept of eating the elephant all at once was something that was introduced to me by my mom ages ago. My tendency has always been to stress about whole issues because I can’t resolve them right away. She told me one day that I couldn’t eat a whole elephant if I wanted to when I started stressing about the issue. I was taking on an insurmountable task to try and fix it at once. Then she told me the solution.

You have to eat the elephant a spoonful at a time.

Long Day

August 13, 2012

Some days are just, overall, better than others. I’m not talking about me, but about you.

Well, I suppose I’m talking about us and our capacity to have days that are different.

I’ve worked the same job for six years and a little over two months. I take phone calls as part of the member services department at the company I work for. Last week I think I had a lot of good days where I didn’t mind being there. I had a week of days where I was full of energy and I was able to my job with little frustration. It’s difficult to escape frustration completely, though, at my job since I get to talk to a lot of angry and upset people. People who have their minds stuck on what they feel they’re entitled to can be difficult to persuade. Sometimes, I wonder how my mouse has survived this long without breaking. Then I remember I broke my last mouse after I gave it a good slam straight down into my desk.

Sometimes I have bad days.

Today was a little less energetic than the last week or so. That’s too be expected and I’m almost thankful for it since I didn’t know what to do with that amount of energy all the time. There were times when I felt like I was going to climb the walls. Anyway, today has just felt like a really long sigh. I feel like I’ve settled and, honestly, I hope this is the average energy level I attain. I can still function really well socially without becoming a complete misanthrope by the end of the day. But I was, essentially, told to overturn a decision I made last week even though the reason seemed both illogical and irrational to me. But I’m not the one calling the shots. So, I did it with a little bit of rebellion in my heart and was slightly angry about it, actually, for a little while.

I can’t hold onto things like that or I am guaranteed to have a bad day.

Anger is a poison and I have to be really careful with it. I keep referring to getting off the drug but since it was a part of my life for 5 years I’m still rediscovering some things. Anger burns now with a pure flame and I have to extinguish it quickly otherwise what is a petty annoyance will become white knuckling the steering wheel experience real quick. I’m having to remember how to contain it. So, the incident today at work: if I would have kept thinking about it I would have been unable to function properly. Instead, I decided against a bad day, swallowed my pride, completed the task, and then moved on to other work I needed to get done.

Today had its ups and downs, I guess, is what I’m saying. And for someone who is newly trying to learn how to take things one day at a time I don’t think I’m doing too bad.

Reflections of a Church Planting Intern: Week 8

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the next weekly installment of this story I’m trying to tell about the ongoing journey as the intern of a church. So far, life has continue to bleed into this story which is not all that surprising and I will tell you why. What I’ve known from the beginning is that ministry is not a typical 9-5 job where you get to go home and crack open a cold one after you’ve finished your time in the office. But it also means that a lot of what you do while working in that ministry will bleed into other areas of your life without you knowing it. God has worked like that a lot with me lately.

For instance, I have been working with a group of people to keep up a blog that maintains creativity and holds each other accountable to keep writing if at all possible. We got to discussing on the blog the issues of relationships both romantic and personal and I found myself reflecting on that and writing an extensive post on the importance of authenticity in relationships. I also unearthed a deep conviction that healing can really only happen in community. Since these posts are more of a summary of what I’ve been doing and learning I think it’s not the greatest place to unload all of that because it’s pretty lengthy. However, it did stem from a pretty long discussion Ben and I had last week so it was pretty cool to be able to share those ideas somewhat with people outside a meeting. It also helped me as I was able to glean some perspective from the people I’ve been writing with.

Community serves well, once again.

So, this week was consumed with a lot of stress about the Gretna Days parade. I thought we were going to scrap the idea of the signs since we lost so many last week but Ben thought it’d be good to do it any way since we had spots where the signs didn’t get yanked up. So, we put down 7 more signs and we lost all but one. We had to get the float built which didn’t get done until the night before and I wasn’t there. The finished product looked great, though. When Saturday morning came around we definitely didn’t have enough people to do what we had planned so we went with simple and just had people hand out bottles of water and it worked great. It was scorching hot but I didn’t really notice on the walk through the parade.

It was the walk back.

By the time we finished the parade it was almost noon and my brother and I had to walk the entire parade route back plus another half mile at least to get back to my car. The heat was so oppressive it felt like I was in a pressure cooker or something. There are just some stresses to the body I’d like to avoid. Walking a 2-3 mile parade route hefting bags of bottled water and then walking back in a noontime heat is one of them. At least I felt like the parade was a success despite all the hiccups in the plan along the way.

I missed a lot of work this week so I’m pysching myself up for a full week. This coming week I will be working on the worship team. I’m pretty excited about that even though it’s been a good minute since I picked up my guitar.

I didn’t note anything I listened to this week. I saw Maylene & the Sons of Disaster live and it was amazing. That’s what’s been in my head a lot.

Oh, and not to leave you out of the loop but if you’re interested in reading some of the stuff we’ve been bouncing around with the last couple of weeks you can check out The Discursive Collective and see what kind of work we’ve been doing. Outsiders are not allowed to comment, FYI.

The Journey: The People

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My morning broke wide open at 6:30 AM to the alarm clock blasting an assault on the ears. “Caution, Dangerous Curves Ahead” by Maylene & the Sons of Disaster became the rooster crowing and I rolled lethargically to a sitting position at the foot of my bed. I don’t know about the routines of other people but this is usually how my morning starts when I have to get up early. I wake up to my alarm and then I sit at the foot of my bed hating my life for about 10 minutes while simultaneously trying to muster the will to get off my bed and into the day’s activities. This morning was particularly important because I was to get in a van by 8 AM to leave for a week long missions trip in Rapid City, SD. In my head I was telling myself to stand up and start getting myself put together for the week that was to come. I didn’t even have to put forth that much effort, I told myself. I was already packed and everything was sitting there waiting for me to load it into the car and leave. But at 6:30 AM my brain hasn’t acquired enough strength and momentum to instantly override my body’s many protests.

I took a deep breath, let out a deep sigh and finally stood up.

My things all packed, assembled and loaded, I took off for the college campus where the team would be meeting and loading into a van. Load time was 7:30 AM and, thankfully, I wasn’t the only one who was on time. Slowly, the students started congregating near the van and loading their luggage in. I had managed to get all my things into one bag/suitcase and my trusty grey messenger bag. I was in awe in the amount of stuff other people brought with them and not just the girls who were on the trip. I guess not everyone likes to travel light like me. More of the team began to show up as we got closer to 8 AM, their things being loaded as they appeared. The sponsors started to get nervous when the clock started reaching for 8 AM and two people hadn’t shown up yet. One of them we were able to get in touch with. He had gotten the times confused and didn’t think we were leaving until 8 PM. We got him straightened out and he came down with his luggage and got in the van. The last one pulled into the parking lot minutes later.

This would be a recurring theme for the rest of the trip.

A test for those of us, myself included, who like to be punctual.

Not a whole lot occurred on the trip there. We took I-29 North which took me past all the towns where my former youth group kids live when I was a sponsor in Whiting and Sloan, IA. It was far too early for reminiscing. I had picked the most comfortable spot in the van which was the way back with all the luggage. There was enough room for about 1.5 people so I got a little room to stretch out and I didn’t have to worry about bumping into someone else. So, I did what I always did on long trips: I put in my headphones and cranked up some music that fit my mood.

On the road I can live in my own little world if I so choose. My music is loud enough to drown out jabber and whatever else and it creates a whole other atmosphere in which my mind is free to explore ideas, worlds and memories that were currently pressing themselves into the crevices of my brain. It’s really helpful when I’m feeling my introversion because I can temporarily shut out everyone on the trip. That’s not to say that I wanted to ignore the team but we’ll get to them. The drive there was boring the whole way north and most of the way West on I-90. I saw some strange billboards heading west and I got some good pictures of random stuff I saw outside my window. I hadn’t been this way for quite some time but do you want to know what my biggest question was?

How does Wall Drug market to someone with oppositional defiance disorder?

Answer: They can’t.

They’ve got billboards everywhere telling people to go to Wall Drug which I was told by quite a few native South Dakotans is not all it hypes itself up to be.

Good thing we didn’t stop there then.

The drive in was beautiful but I won’t try and describe it. You can look at the pictures that I took and draw your own inclusions. What matters is that 8 hours later we made it. The house we pulled up to was in a new development but this was nothing like the ones we have here where the houses are all based off one or two different floor plans. No, this development was full of some very nice houses with all sorts of insane accoutrements like basketball hoops, batting cages and just insane architecture.

But as with so many other things this is not about buildings and houses. Well, maybe a little about houses.

I think the house we stopped at was far superior. I say that because when I walked from the van to the front door I saw the street light ignited cityscape of Rapid City. By day it’s alright but by night it’s breath taking. I wish I could walk out my front door to that kind of view. We got inside and got to meet one of the two host families that would be putting our team up for the week. The owners of the house, Mary and Larry, were just the first set of people who would prove to be such a huge blessing to us. Their house was big and open with a lot of artwork. They were fond of Terry Redlin which always reminds me of my mom. She’s always been a big fan of his work and, while I would never buy his artwork for myself, I always feel like I’m being warmed by a campfire when I see his paintings. They were very into family and, through the duration of the trip, we’d get to know Mary & Larry’s kids and grandkids.

Mary decided they would house the girls. The guys were taken to the other host family’s house.

All we were told about them was that he was a state senator and that they had a hot tub at their house. We rolled up to their house long after the sun had gone down so we didn’t get to see much of the house from the outside. We did get a view of the inside and it was amazing. The best part was, of course, was that we each got our own bed. That was just nuts to me that they had beds for 6 people outside of their own bedroom. But I soon realized that it was so they would have room for their now grown children and grandchildren when they came over and stayed there. The whole place gave me the feeling of being at home even though I’d never been there before which, I’m certain, can only be created by people who have spent their lives devoted to a loving and giving family environment. There was a lifetime of love in that house which was flooring to think about. And that was just their house.

I don’t know if I’m strange or if I was just raised differently. But I think there’s a lot of wisdom and knowledge to be taken from people who have lived a life devoted to serving and glorifying God. And so, on the first night we were there, we were able to sit and listen to Bruce and Sandee talk about their lives and what they do and stories about their kids I was all ears. They asked us all what we were studying and they gave their full attention which is something I feel like doesn’t happen often with such a generational distance like that. But they were gracious enough to get to know us while we were in their home and to share everything of theirs with us.

I must pause here and issue a verbal medal of bravery to Cari. She’s probably one of the nicest and sweetest people I’ve ever met. She got the pleasure of getting to chaperone the guys on this trip and keeping the rest of them in line while I tried to do my best to stay calm and patient. She put up with a lot and with much grace.

However, I would be remiss if I failed to mention Leslie who did a great job of laying out everything for the trip. I don’t know much about her personally since she deals primarily with the girls on campus too but I do know she’s very schedule and detail oriented. She kept us all on track no matter the conditions without being dictatorial or overly neurotic.

Our team was a bunch of college students. The team was interesting to say the least. The team was completely even as far as men and women goes. There were 5 guys and 5 girls which, for you math-challenged folk like me, makes a team of 10 with two female sponsors. The age range went from college freshman to a dude in his 30’s who had a wife and kids of his own. The girls were all roommates back at the college which means we were subject to every loud and obnoxious inside joke and favorite movie quote they were able to dish out. I can’t fault people for being friends and I can’t say anything bad about the women who were on the trip in the end. They did their share and sometimes more. I got to know them as more than just a face I passed in the hallways and in the cafeteria which was pretty cool.

The men did what men do and that’s make jokes at each others’ expense in good fun and have conversations about sports or video games. It was interesting to watch from the outside because I don’t do a lot of any of that. I tried my best to lead by example when we were working and try to keep things from getting out of hand when it came to the poking fun. I sound like a kill joy and maybe I am but that’s what I felt like I needed to do. It’s not like we didn’t all have fun but I tried to make sure we were representatives of our school and of Christ because that’s what was most important to me on that trip since we did mostly manual labor. Our actions said a lot about us. I was happy to work with those guys and get to know them despite our differences. The men stuck together well and worked hard like I had hoped we would, in the end.

Our first task was a basement but I don’t want to talk about the basement right now. We were brought to a house the Monday of that week but I don’t really want to talk about the house either. First, we met Jared who is a Chaplain in the Army National Guard and owner of the construction company we were partnering with to work on this house. He was a youth minister before working in construction which was more than apparent. He was really extroverted, loved to crack jokes and had an infinite amount of patience (as did his crew) with those of us who had little to no experience in working with drywall. He unfolded what I thought to be an extraordinary vision for his company. By and large their purpose was to make money off construction jobs but he told us he wanted to be like Paul in regards to his trade. That the Apostle Paul was a tentmaker while he was doing his work for the kingdom. Jared wanted to give back in some way and so he would devote some time and money to giving back to people who need it.

Jared introduced us to the wife and mother of the family we were helping.

Her name was Jess.

Jess’ personality just radiated off her. She was wrangling 3 young children while her husband was serving his country overseas. While she was always smiling and constantly expressing her gratitude to us in one way or another you could tell she was tired. Understandably so. She had the face of a saint who had been running the race and it was wearing her out but that didn’t matter so much. In fact, she dove in to help us when she had a chance despite what Jared told her. She’d carry the sheetrock with us and whatever else when she could. But what really stood out to all of us was something we were not expecting and, actually, it would be better to bring it all together to show you what I saw from the trip.

Words cannot begin to express the amount of gratitude I felt that week. Included in the cost of the trip was food money because we were expecting to have to buy food and cook for ourselves. You can imagine my surprise when we got up in the morning and there was breakfast food already laid out for us that we didn’t buy for ourselves. The girls had the same experience at the house they were staying at. Then when we got to Jess’ she said she’d have lunch ready for us around noon. Then to get back to Mary & Larry’s, our rendezvous point for the trip, and they’d have dinner all cooked and ready for us. Then when we, the guys and Cari, got back to our lodging there would be Soda in the fridge and a hot tub out back for us to chill in for a while. This became the rhythm of the trip.

It was a rhythm of grace.

My experience with grace is that it is often contagious or even addicting. I can only speak from my own personal experience, but from the grace our sponsors showed us as we tried to be punctual, to the grace that was poured out in our hard work, to being served awesome food day after day there was almost

this cycle

this repetition

this unexpected cadence of God’s grace

as it flowed and moved in the lives of everyone involved.

So, when the day came where we were done working we were able to use some of the money we had saved to get gifts for everyone who had provided us meals or places to stay and of course, the most popular response was, “You didn’t have to do that!”

No we didn’t.

That leaves me. I have a love/hate relationship with personal application because of its bent towards subjectivity. Because I think it will close this out nicely. I wrote in an earlier post that I am addicted to grace. The more I see it, feel it, taste it or otherwise experience it the more I want it. For me, the amount of grace I saw on this trip was what allowed me to have the patience I did with the people I was with. That is not to say that they were all intentionally difficult or constantly making me angry because it wasn’t like that. A lot of it was me and my slightly tilted way of looking at things and my introversion. Grace and a lot of good people got me through this trip even if those people don’t see it or may never realize it. I just hope they saw the grace that I did.

Grace is a free place to stay.

Grace is having the patience to teach those totally unskilled.

Grace is cooking food for 12 extra people every night.

Grace is almost a week of working with all your strength and asking for nothing.

Grace is a gift that someone didn’t have to get you

but they did. Not for notoriety or for praise.

It is because of grace that we glorify God in all those seemingly nonsensical ways. The world asks the question “Why?” every time and the most rational of people will tell you they don’t deserve it. How confusing it must be to the world to answer them by saying,

“I do this because no one deserves grace

and I want to show you what that looks like.”

In Search of a Better Story

I work in a call center. It’s an interesting place to work in though I only recommend it for the thick-skinned. It is a demoralizing, dehumanizing and identity stripping environment if you do not guard your heart from all the negativity around you. To give you some idea of what I have hear sometimes I’ll just give you a list of the few epithets that don’t involve swear words because at least these people were creative in treating me like a trained animal. But I would be remiss if I didn’t give you the context of the business I work in because some of these don’t make sense unless you know what I’m talking to these people about.

The company I work for handles pharmacy benefits for a lot of insurance companies and contracts out mail order pharmacy services to an even greater number of companies. So, we deal with two things that are very dear to people 1) money and 2) pharmaceuticals. With that context in mind, here is a list of names that readily come to mind when I think of names I’ve been called that don’t involve swear words.

1. Killer
2. Contract Killer (my personal favorite)
3. Thief
4. Liar
5. Worthless
6. Puppet
7. Mindless
8. Heartless

OK, so not as long a list as I had originally thought but then I remembered that I was omitting the ones with cursing. The list gets many times longer as you can imagine. It’s difficult not to take this kind of stuff to heart when you’ve been doing my job or jobs like it for almost 7 years like I have. The trick is to remember is that, most of the time, they’re not really mad at you but at the system or at policies. Sometimes, though, they’re mad at you because you are the voice telling them things that don’t fit their line of thinking. But I think if I were to reflect on the terrible and nasty things that have been said to me over the years I think there is one statement that sticks out more than anything else. I’ll give you no context because it doesn’t matter.

Once, I was told I was going to hell because I’m white.

I’m not joking. Remove your palms from your faces.

We’re not done.

The upside to working in an environment like that is the people you tend to work with. At the entry level you don’t tend to get a lot of super… I don’t want to use the word normal because that’s such a subjective term… I guess I will say that it is a very colorful environment with a lot of different cultural, social and economic expressions. I’m presently laughing at myself for such a presentation but there it is. So, there’s a lot of diversity which I really like. Though, if I’m honest, I still stick out like a sore thumb even in that setting.

But it’s not just appearances that set me apart there. There are a lot of stories of different walks of life just from the people around me. Just recently I’ve really started to get to know the people who sit in my general vicinity and I have marveled to myself at the stories that I’ve been told. There was the woman who told me how she swore up and down she’d never have children. Then she was telling me how she had a kid and it changed her life. But she also told me how she was thinking about getting a divorce and my heart broke for her. I was saddened even more when she left the company.

Recently, I’ve been talking to this guy who sits near me. He has recently become a father and likes to talk about martial arts and being in the army. But we got to talking about relationships and his views on women are far different from mine. He doesn’t mind entertaining a different woman every week and doesn’t really have any love for the mother of his child. In fact, he was telling me about how happy he was that he was moving and she wasn’t coming with. Some things I just don’t understand. But he asked me for relationship advice the other day. My shift was up before we got to finish the conversation and he got a phone call as I was about to leave.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about a conversation I had with a woman at work because she and I had talked enough that she felt comfortable coming to me for advice. I did as I always do in these situations and I listened. I told her what I thought (which is not pertinent to our conversation here) and then something happened that has not happened to me in a long time. What started out as a fairly surface level chat somehow turned into this very deep and probing conversation. I don’t ever know how it happens but people end up telling me about themselves at levels they’re not normally comfortable sharing with people they don’t know that well, typically. It’s times like these I wonder how deep my analytical skills go.

If you really try, can you exegete people?

One of the benefits of being God in the flesh was that Jesus could see into the minds and the hearts of other people. This ability was displayed powerfully at a well in Sychar which was inhabited by Samaritans. This is an interesting social dynamic because the Samaritans weren’t like much by Jews because they didn’t have enough Jewishness. Jesus chills at a well in this area while his disciples are off doing disciple business of some sort. He is met by a woman who is drawing water at noon by herself.

Does something seem a little off?

It’s noon in 1st century Palestine and this woman chooses to go out to the well and draw water from it. I’d imagine it was pretty warm. Jesus seemed to think so he asked for a drink. This blows up the woman’s paradigm and a conversation regarding water and spiritual things ensues. But what really strikes me about this story is that Jesus tells her to get her husband. That seems simple enough in a patriarchal society and pretty rational considering the context. The woman says she has no husband which is true and Jesus affirms the fact that she has no husband now but reveals the fact that he knows that she’s gone through 5 husbands and is currently shacking up with a dude who isn’t her husband. She didn’t lie to Jesus.

Jesus still knew the truth. And he told her a better story. But

He saw

right

through

her.

There was a rich guy who wanted what Jesus was talking about, eternal life. I wonder if he was like any of the rich kids I knew back in the day who would follow whatever was big at the time. Or maybe he thought he had everything until he found out he didn’t have eternal life and just had to have it. In any case, he asked what it would take to obtain this eternal life Jesus was talking about. Jesus tells him five things which happen to be five of the 10 words or commandments which are near the very heart of Jewish law. This “ruler” as he’s referred to in the text says that’s kept all of those since he was young. One wonders what everyone around him was thinking when he said that. The judgemental part of me calls shenanigans when I read that.

But Jesus does a much better job of getting to the heart of this man.

His response is so fantastic:

“One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22 ESV)

Jesus wants to connect him to a story better than anything he possesses.

And the rich man just

walks

away.

The woman I work with who I had that really deep conversation with told me some things she said she doesn’t normally tell other people. I don’t know what I did or said to evoke that information from her but I saw her heart and told her what I saw. She devoted a lot of her time to making other people happy. Things that are as simple as buying drinks and paying the check for other people and even going as far as doing shoe drives. She has made it clear she can’t buy into God at least in the way she understands him. It’s understandable, I guess, having grown up on the very buckle of the Bible Belt and growing up hearing Jesus is the answer when things got rough and no other helpful words, I can understand how God could seem like a very distant and cold idea. And some of the details she shared with me that I won’t air here just broke my heart but it helped me see her. Deep down, she can’t not be in control. She would literally dig her fingers into her hands, nearly drawing blood when I told her what I saw.

She has to make everyone around her happy so that they don’t have to hear her heartbreaking story.

I want her to hear a better story.

Just like the dude I work with who treats women like drive in restaurants and doesn’t seem to understand that sex is more about love and less about getting what he feels is his.

And the woman who doesn’t work with me anymore who is going through a divorce and will have to deal with custody battles. I gave her the information to my church and I desperately hope she shows up some day out of the blue because I want her to know that there are real people out there just like her who are searching for a better story and they fail at times too.

Just like the man who had a view of YHWH so unbelievably skewed and seemed to have been battered so hard by a system that told him that God was the reason the white man was better than the black man.

And me. I want to tell a better story and be better part of the story that brought me here. I want to be able to see the things in people that Jesus sees and to help them turn that into a story that has anguish, pain and suffering but a story that shows that there is an end to it all. I want them to know that while the story may never end in the grand scheme of things, that we will go on to see eternity, but in the short view the things that they are doing, have had done to them and are thinking about doing will ultimately stop somehow and that Jesus has written a better story for them.

They don’t have to live like this.

They don’t have to hide behind a smile. They don’t have to seek themselves to be happy. They don’t have to be scared of what people think. They don’t have to constantly be picking up the pieces.

They don’t have to live like this.

You don’t have to live like this. You, like them, have the chance to write a better story.

Just

ask

how