If Sabbath and Your Life Don’t Seem To Go Together: 10 (Ok, 9) Ways to Rest When You Can’t Stop*

If Sabbath and Your Life Don’t Seem To Go Together: 10 (Ok, 9) Ways to Rest When You Can’t Stop*

I’ve been in the church my entire life, but that isn’t to say I’ve gone to church the same way  my entire life.

There were the toddler years where church was about crayons and cheerios while laying down in a back pew. There were the older kid years where church was mostly about getting permission to sit next to a friend and playing tic-tac-toe and all those other pencil games (like that one with all the dots where you make boxes. What IS that game called?). Then there were the teenager years where church was about trying to figure what clothes would set off the little old lady modesty police and which wouldn’t. Those years led into the almost college years where it was about begging my Dad to be able to go to a different church–one where I hadn’t been up until 1am having an intense argument with the pastor about my curfew. Then followed the odd dark years of college where my goal was to attend church in pajamas, talk to no one, be involved in nothing, and escape quietly out the back when it was over.

Adulthood was started very differently for me, as church was about attending secretly in houses where there was no official pastor and technically we could be arrested for doing Christian church at all. (Apparently the pajama years weren’t enough out-there for me). There was a brief stint before that where church was going to an all Jamaican congregation as the only people who couldn’t dance (though admittedly, that was for only 2 months). And sometimes church was finding whatever congregation happened to be available in Turkey, or Italy, or England, or sometimes listening to a Texas congregation on my computer, or occasionally just sitting outside and trying to hear God outside of any structure at all. And now I’m in the kid years where church is about hoping the kids sleep in until at least 7, and figuring out how to feed and dress everyone and get out the door and be on time without fights breaking out or tears. (There are usually fights and tears).

That’s a long list I know. I’ve done church in a whole lotta different ways. Even in my rebellious and and weird phases I did church.

“But Andi,” you say, “church is not the same thing as Sabbath. That’s a very misleading title that you have there.

To which I reply, “I know. This post is somewhat about how I suck at Sabbath even though I’ve always gone to church.”

Because guys, I suck at Sabbath.

If you grow up in a ministry family, Sabbath can’t really happen on Sunday. Sunday tends to be the busiest and most stressful day of the entire week. Don’t get me wrong, I knew that, and it had been pointed out to me many a time that Sunday could not be Sabbath for my Dad, and probably not for the rest of us either. So Saturday should have been our Sabbath right? But most of the week was for school, and Saturday was the only day open enough to do those extra kinds of things like mowing the lawn or washing the sheets.

No one intended for it to happen, but Sabbath was sort of shady for me. Kind of there kind of not. Kind of Saturday, kind of Sunday, mixed in with homework and chores and poorly defined. Mostly we worshipped on Sunday morning and napped on Sunday afternoon, so that was probably as close as it gets.

My point being, that I came into motherhood already not sure how to do this thing. And motherhood is definitely a gig that does not include a lot of natural rest.

Kids always need to eat.
Kids always need help getting dressed.
Kids always have fights that have to be broken up before punches fly (at least in my boy house)
Kids don’t stop asking questions.
Kids don’t stop needing supervision.
Kids (especially babies) don’t put up with being dropped in a crib or bed with books for a very long time.
Kids do not really let you sleep in or take Sunday afternoon naps.
Kids. Don’t. Stop.

What would it even mean for me right now to fully rest for a day? How do I even do that when I’m fairly sure I’ve been breaking the Sabbath my entire life simply because the guidelines for doing so as a ministry kid were poor, and my own commitment to it shoddy.

Going to church can be part of resting. But I’m very bad at doing it that way–and I shoot away the rest of my day on so many things.

So here’s my Sabbath offering to all the Mom’s out there, and to anyone else who finds themselves heavy laden with things that can’t be put down on EVERY day of the week: I’m brain-storming a list of all the things I CAN and should put down on Sabbath and my plan to be intentional about such things. And because I like lists, we’re going to go ahead and number it up.

1. Anxiety and general worries.

I know this one is WAY easier said than done, but hear me out. I tend to use anxiety to propel me into action. It’s not always a BAD thing for me. I think many people use it to benefit. Some of the reason I worry is because I’m afraid I won’t do a thing unless there’s a proper amount of anxiety beneath it. (And I’m not wrong). What’s school going to be like next year? Should my youngest go to the same preschool as my middle? Can my oldest be trusted on the school bus after the incident this week? Have I done enough planning for what we’ll eat this week? Did I drop the ball on too many tasks LAST week? Is that one lady who’s name I forgot in Mom’s group upset with me, and is the rhyme I came up with in my head good enough to help me remember? Am I connecting enough with my community? Am I being TOO MUCH? Is that one comment I made on Facebook going to blow up in my face?

Nope. Put it down. Put it all down. I don’t have to force anything though today or hold anything more than what I’m doing at this exact minute. Nope nope nope.

2. Food making.

Look this one’s way more practical and not really very deep, but I’m bad at planning ahead on Sunday. A big part of original Sabbath was collecting or preparing enough food ahead of time that it wasn’t a thing you had to do. It doesn’t mean I don’t have to serve my kids, and it doesn’t mean there won’t be dishes that simply must be done after. I can plan ahead and we can do sandwiches and crock pots and soup from a can. I hereby am going to give this to the Sabbath from now on.

3. Kid discipline.

No, hear me out. Sometimes kids must be separated from things that are causing them to misbehave or siblings they are fighting with. But I can go so deep into a shame hole wondering if the consequences I’m offering will produce the desired results, or if my kids are learning anything, or if I should have that talk with them one more time to make sure they understand. But no more. On this day we extend grace, and if it is needed kids are simply separated from the problem or put in a quiet space. Today we don’t lecture. Today we don’t give overly complicated consequences or worry if they will one day end up in jail. I am trusting God with all of that.

4. All the Extra chores.

Some things have to happen with kids always. I can’t put everything down. But I can put down laundry, or more than maintenance pick ups, and stressing over responding to emails. Today is for Fellowship, Worship and Joy–and oxes in the ditch in the way of kids needing undies, brushed teeth, clothing and basic feeding. Everything else can wait.

5. Difficult Discussions or worrying about them.

I hate hard discussions. I am terrible at them. I’ve been trying to have them more lately, without tears or trying to bail out of the whole thing, but it is the most impossible task I take on by far.

But today is a day for pausing and postponing. For trusting God to keep and watch over the relationships in my life and issues that can be solved tomorrow.

6. Bad TV.

Sabbath is for the renewing of the mind. So even though I think “Good Girls” is Breaking Bad for Moms and my new most favorite guilty pleasure show ever, it’s not particularly restorative. It can wait until tomorrow. Enough said.

7. Guilt.

Books could be written on Mom guilt. The constant rehashing and wondering if I’m doing it wrong, if I should plan more crafts and more fun outings and more sing-alongs, or if perhaps I should have gone back to work and hired it all out to a professional who would stay better engaged because sometimes paychecks are more motivating than personal idealism. Ok OFTEN paychecks are more motivating than personal idealism.

But today I’m good. I’m held. No guilt. No wondering. Plenty of walking them to the park and letting them play independently while I soak up the sun.

8. Litterboxes.

The poop will keep. Enough said.

9. Diapers.

The baby can change himself.

Hahahahaha, ok I’m just kidding. Diapers must be changed. Oh well.

10. Dressing up for society.

Now look, its been a really long time since I personally felt shamed into dressing up for other people. But I have started trying to at least put in the effort to not look scary and to take down SOME of the barriers of relating to people by just wearing attractive clothes and trying to do something with hair and makeup. I know some people really DO feel that shame, but either way it is effort put in for people. Can I encourage you to dress for God on Sabbaths? Wearing pajamas in college was one of the most woke things I ever did. I had to get away from worrying about other people looking at me and just showing up for God. And that’s what pajamas were for me  for awhile. I think this is a highly individualized thing and can change from week to week. Even now sometimes I dress up and sometimes I wear jeans and a T-shirt to church. I wear whatever will help me focus on God that particular Sabbath. This might be the ONLY thing on this list I already do without a struggle, and I sincerely want to offer that freedom to more people, especially women. Dress for worshipping God and being right with him–not people.

That’s my list of things I can actually do to rest on Sabbath. Anyone else have any insights into keeping an attitude and atmosphere of rest even around constant family obligations, ministry or anything else that tends to get in the way? I’d love to hear what you do.

*This is a picture of me sacking out in the church atrium while my Dad worked. Off screen I had rolled up one of those TVs all 90s churches had and was watching everything from the church library that seemed interesting. Yup, that’s my blanky.

If You need Help Softening Your Heart: Refusing to Label an Entire group (including Muslims) as Strangers

If You need Help Softening Your Heart: Refusing to Label an Entire group (including Muslims) as Strangers
Cultural conditioning is such an odd thing.

I used to be afraid of Muslims. I just was. I logically understood that blaming an entire religion and culture for the actions of a few was not right, fair, or reasonable, and that this kind of thinking would condemn us all if we were honest. That memory of watching huge buildings on fire, buildings I did not even know existed, in September at 14 years old was burned into my memory. It’s natural to want to blame a whole people. It just is. When faced with fear we have a choice between two things: realizing that anyone anywhere can do something severely evil, and believing that it’s isolated to one group who we can attack and isolate. And it FEELS much better to choose the latter even if it’s not based in reality, because it means the fear is with one people and not all of them.

But logically knowing all of that couldn’t change my heart or prevent the pull of wanting to blame one set of people anyway. It was only by living next to them, in a desperate decision based in poor mental health and loneliness, that I began to really change. And while I can tell lots of stories of meeting Muslim friends in a new country and learning surprising humanizing things about them, it was always the little things that started to undo the fear for real.

It was seeing my coworker who was always dressed very carefully concealing every inch of hair (not all my female coworkers did), in the restroom without her robes to reveal an afro, ripped jeans and suspenders under all that.

It was having constant passive commercials showing things like a mother dressed in Hijab making all the silly over-dramatic faces TV moms always do right before they feed their kid something from a box or a can.

It was watching women dressed in that mysterious garb jump on trampolines on the beach with their kids. Or ride four wheelers. Or eat at Pizza Hut.

It was seeing the men wearing those white robes and red checks carry babies and crack jokes and argue about IKEA furniture with their wives. Experiencing those same men worrying if I’m being treated well and if I feel at home as a foreign woman–even worrying that people were placing conservatism on me that as as an American woman didn’t adhere to. And then, those men wanting to make sure I didn’t have to adhere to it.

It’s living next to people that does it–that softens a heart enough to see the humanity. The similarity. The universality.

They’re not just like me, but they’re SO like me it makes me uncomfortable. Because I should have KNOWN that. Because I knew it but I didn’t KNOW.

It’s a terrible trope that Christian kids come home with after a short-term missions trip. “I went there to help people, but they helped ME. I went there to teach people but they taught ME.”

Really, you’d think we’d stop needing to be taught the hard way that often the very people who we look down upon as people who need saving and changing are the very people who could most save and change us. The fault is never in the needing exposure. We all need exposure to each other to truly understand and stop trying to separate ourselves from each other. It’s the innate belief that we are somehow better or MORE than other cultures and people’s. It isn’t unique to Americans, but it is 100 percent damning and damaging wherever it lives.

Fear and lack of understanding can only be healed by living next to each other. Studies have been done. There is literally no other way to undo fear of people who are culturally separate from us. But arrogance and superiority–that is something that God can heal even without exposure. And it isn’t that he couldn’t heal the former without it if he wanted to–it’s just that I believe living WITH each other IS the manner by which God heals such things. But it requires stepping out in faith. Faith that we aren’t superior. Faith that we must continue to cross divides and do what makes us uncomfortable to pursue God’s ideals.

It would be easy to assert that somehow because I chose to go and confront my fears that I am somehow superior to everyone who hasn’t or doesn’t. But it would be a bold-faced lie. I needed to believe that they were the same as me, because I had spend much of my childhood feeling like an outsider in a town full of insiders where most people only came from THERE. And I went to confront my fears because I was in the middle of a death spiral of depression where doing something exotic, even if it felt terrifying and life-threatening was at least something new. It was impressive and edgy. It felt like it had meaning I could wave under the noses of everyone who I perceived as having rejected me. But things did not happen the way I planned, and I grew as a person in spite of my terrible reasoning for doing something so outside of my comfort zone–because God can and does use everything including our own arrogance and stupidity. Here are several of the things I learned in spite of myself:

I learned that doing something exotic does not do anything to persuade people who see you as an outsider to see you as anything else. Quite the opposite. In fact, in many ways where I only perceived people saw me as outside, weird, or different, I managed to get them to actually thinking me that way (where people thought about me at all). If you’re going to travel somewhere to live with people you do not understand, it will always change you. Not them, not the people you left behind, but you.

All religious people should experience someone trying to convert them with all the zeal and passion of a person who loves you but also doesn’t want you to go to hell. It’s humbling to hear words you thought were exclusive to the wisdom of your own religion coming out of someone else’s mouth, but worried about YOUR soul. It’s embarrassing to discover tracts from a religion you were taught was foreign and evil, and realize that they could represent your own religion, with just a few words changed here and there. And it is humbling to realize someone wants you in heaven THAT BADLY. To watch them pace through all the same award steps, asking you to read their Book, come to their gathering, talk to them about their faith. Even when you don’t convert, and never would, it changes you forever.

You cannot help but be grateful to a people when they show you hospitality, even though you are a stranger in THEIR country. Time and again, when you are not FROM a place, you realize just how vulnerable you are. People could ignore your pleas for help when you don’t know what to do. They could refuse to translate what you did not understand. Refuse to give grace when you do the thing everyone there knows you shouldn’t. They could leave you out and justify it totally. You begin to see this again and again. And again and again you find that people help anyway. People DELIGHT in helping. Even the ones who would seem to be most motivated to be against you. The image of God is unmistakable in every place, no matter what you believe or what they believe.

When you are faced with the choice of doing something illegal as an immigrant that would help your circumstances greatly…you probably do it. I worked illegally in Saudi Arabia for 3 years. People paid me under the table. I was so desperate for something to DO, for the feeling of productivity and contribution. In my case, I was lucky enough to not really have to worry about my ability to live and support myself because my husband did have permission to work. AND I STILL DID NOT CARE. Work gives people dignity. But in any case, the point is not that everyone would do what I did, but that you simply can’t know what you will do in a situation until you are there. I worked illegally for 3 years and I wasn’t even worried about my life, children, or ability to feed myself. If you don’t know me, let me assure you that I am not a person who casually breaks rules. I was the kid who reported it if a teacher gave me a higher grade than I deserved. I always return wallets and phones. I own up to things even when NO ONE CARES.

I began to realize just how scared people were of ME. The news and general information out there about my own religion, country, and culture is not great. Some of it’s wrong–but not all of it. Perspective is such an amazing and unreal thing. I could be mad at the media for misinformation–but how could I be mad at my neighbor who trusted their own media and literally knew nothing else? And how could I be anything but IN AWE when that neighbor chose to show kindness and openness anyway?

My next-door neighbor originally assumed I hated them. He was always polite, always kind. Then I found out that someone had reported his beloved German Shepherd and he’d had to remove it from his home. He assumed it was us out of some vendetta. Luckily, we go the chance to talk when I offered to let him and his wife park in our driveway (they had two cars, we had none). When he found out I wasn’t a dog-hater and didn’t even know he had a dog, he threw the switch to total hospitality so fast it made my head spin. They came over to share food and show us vacation pictures, when our son was born he and his wife went out of their way to get us gifts “American style,” because Saudis just give money. (AND HOLY MAN DID THEY GIVE US GIFTS. THERE IS NOTHING MORE HUMBLING THAN BEING GIFTED SOMETHING BY A SAUDI OR FED BY A SAUDI. LET ME ASSURE YOU AMERICANS DO NOT KNOW HOW TO GIVE GIFTS OR HOSPITALITY LIKE THAT.)

Also, and this lesson doesn’t matter so much, but nothing prepares you for eating at a restaurant that claims to be your own country’s food. Just someone’s else’s interpretation of what pancakes and eggs are supposed to be like is rather revealing about how radical perception and understanding can be when they are shifted just a few degrees. The only people who should make American breakfast are Americans and that is one prejudice I will stick to until I die.

You can’t eat meal after meal next to people you thought of as strange without discovering that they are shockingly familiar. They discuss weekend plans and complain about over-involved mothers. They go outside for smoke breaks and discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones. They make the same jokes your own Dad makes, just with different politics or religions inserted. They gossip and talk about the weather. It’s hard not to be stupefied as thing after thing you thought came from only your own family, background, culture and country spill out of the mouths of people who dress nothing like you and speak with an accent.

Culture is clothing. It is exterior and shallower than we ever tend think. Humanity is deep, and it is not different from place to place. Living among any people, no matter how different they may seem is revealing: when you go looking for the exotic, often what you find is the totally familiar.

We marginalize the minority, not because we have special rights or conditions, but because that is what humans do everywhere always. Because fear is natural and what we all do.

But I believe we are better. I know we are. I know we can rise above what’s natural and easy.

So listen to music that’s not yours. Watch shows that represent someone different than you. Read books with a perspective that bothers you. Let’s get out of the echo chambers. I’m not asking for change in what you think or believe, only in what you are exposed to. If we passively expose ourself to our neighbors, you’d be surprised how much easier it just becomes to BE neighbors.

And I will never be angry with or scared of someone who asks for such things, who wants the marginalization to stop. Because I want it to stop too. And it’s never as scary as people think it will be. And changing your perspective doesn’t mean losing your beliefs. Often, when we understand other people and beliefs–we understand ourselves better, and what we believe is strengthened.

Fear is a greater enemy than any other set of people ever could be. Don’t let it have you.

If You’ve Been Missing Something: A Morning Car Ride With an Old Friend

If You’ve Been Missing Something: A Morning Car Ride With an Old Friend
Every once in awhile you land in a period of time where for whatever reason, God lands a little extra in your lap in the form of someone else’s need. The kind of need that overwhelms you and all at once makes you hope this means that maybe God thinks you’re competent enough to help out in an important way. (And then you remember, no he doesn’t, no one is, that’s not the point, we’re all hopelessly broken, put down your pride you silly human and just do the thing.)
So I found myself getting up earlier than I usually do, driving across town and sunrise, and giving a much needed car ride.

I kept telling myself, that my grandfather used to get up before the sun to milk cows every morning. A heated car ride at 7 was not in any way something to complain about. A couple of chatty grade schoolers asking me everything from my birthday to my favorite animals were also much better company than cows.

“Mama’s sick, she’ll be better, what’s your favorite month?”

The voice in my head was calling me wimpy for not liking to get up at 6:20 this morning, already oversleeping my alarm by 20 minutes. The voice in my head wondered when the world went to hell in a hand basket and why I insist on being apart of the hell basket. The voice in my head worried that I’d said the lamest things imaginable to my little companions.

The voice in my head.

“Oh hello there,” I thought, finding my way home alone after a cheerful drop off.

“Where on earth have you been? And would you mind whining less?”

I have not had a critical voice as a companion for a very very long time. I think maybe I dropped her off a cliff in a nightmare sometime ago, running ahead of the hoards of scary things chasing me, knowing I did not have space for such dead weight.

I remember it, the dream where I killed her. Or maybe just abandoned her. I looked into her eyes. My eyes. I split a little piece of myself off and threw her into a pit, or maybe a stadium. I can never remember which.

“I have to go now,” she said.

I couldn’t speak as I tearfully threw her in and turned to run as quickly as I could, already longing for her, picturing her body somewhere below the road.

I don’t know why I’ve always thought that. That I intentionally buried or dropped or maybe murdered some piece of myself way back in the early days of my adolescence. That dream. The one after which I never felt quite whole. Never a kid again but not really ever grown up.

There’s one picture of me in particular that reminds me of that murder, or abandonment. It’s a drawing, actually. The assignment was to draw a self portrait. I did it late at night after procrastinating. I didn’t want to do it. Finally I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, balancing my sketch book on the sink edge. I didn’t think about it. I didn’t want to. What came out felt so vulnerable that I glued cartoons around it to soften the way it made me feel. It’s the way my face looks when I drop all pretense. When I’m concentrating instead of trying to make it look like something else. It made me feel like it was obvious something was missing in my natural state. Years later after rescuing it from water damage and lugging it halfway around the world, that look still gets me. I love it and I’m afraid of it.

Every time I see those eyes in my mind I shiver a little. The me I killed. Or maybe just lost. Who is she?

But today I heard the familiar voice. The one that was mad when I had to share my things no matter how new or how nice and I had to bite my tongue if someone broke them. The voice that felt murderous when someone brushed barbie’s hair and then popped her head straight off. The one from the day they killed my favorite trees, and the day they killed the one I decided to love after them.

She’s always known how she felt, and never shied away from critical tid-bits, either at myself or others.

I know people who spend their entire lives running from their critical voice. But I think I’ve been looking for mine, like a child on a milk carton. “Have you seen this girl? If found, she will probably tell you to tuck in your shirt and get a haircut and maybe not to chew so loudly.”

Someone to care about dishes that haven’t been done, or exactly the right way to fold socks. Someone who buys the clothes I actually want in the right size and knows when someone else has been rude. Knows when I’ve been rude. The voice that forced me to give the Sunday school money back that I stole from Ashley Conklin. (I think that was her name.) But also the one who knew that when that kid in fifth grade punched me, he should have been the one to get in trouble, that I didn’t have a big mouth–it was in fact exactly the right size.

And this morning I realized she had found a seat in the car next to me and was staring me down. Chastising me for being wimpier than a dairy farmer. But comfortingly patting my arm as I drove home smiling from my journey. I’d done what I said. I showed up, the ride was given. Such a small thing. Such a good thing.

Do you know what’s worse than having a critical voice? Having one with no power. Having one that doesn’t matter. Having one that got thrown over a cliff sometime ago out of a need to survive. I’ve been making due with resentment and stubbornness masquerading as critique for some time. But those voices could never do her job. It was always about some personal vendetta, or digging in my heels so someone doesn’t make me give what I don’t want to, or what I can’t, or what I don’t have enough of yet again. It turns out absolutely nothing else could do her job.

I’ve missed her so.

So I found myself driving home, noticing what I think is shabby, or out of shape, or missing, or just a little skewed.

What a relief what a relief what a relief.

For when you can notice what is wrong, maybe you finally have a chance to fix it, or even prevent it.

And if she’s back, maybe nothing is chasing me anymore. Maybe anxiety can give way to anger. The good kind. The primary anger that rights what’s wrong with a level head and confidence I often lack.

I drove home from my morning run to sit with my family around a kitchen table eating cereal and drinking coffee. The good kind pressed in a French press. Dare I say, the right kind?

I do this, sometimes. I invent a reason why something that’s been wrong could be right all of a sudden. I epiphanize myself right out of reality. Maybe I’m just telling myself I can grow a critical voice, a voice that cares and understands what is right and wrong, needed, expected, and handles it well. Maybe the fact that I envisioned my critical voice as a child I tossed over a cliff into the shadows a long time ago is crazy. Maybe it’s way too telling. But maybe–maybe if I lost her in a dream, maybe I can find her in one too.

“That’s too much sugar,” she says. “Do you really need that much sugar?”

I smile to myself. Maybe I don’t.

Guns and Roses: If you Love to Argue, and There Aren’t Really Any Roses*

Guns and Roses: If you Love to Argue, and There Aren’t Really Any Roses*
I have always gotten into a bit of trouble with my fellow human beings because of my love for arguing. Things that have been said to me over the years:
1. Why are you so angry?
2. Why are you so opinionated?
3. No one cares.
4. Shut-Up.
5. You were created in a test-tube. (That one was my brother. To be fair I think Isaac would have said that no matter what).
I tend to see disagreements as a puzzle. What will happen if I say this? Or this? Can I win? What does it mean to win? Can I argue the other side just as well as this one?

And can I be honest? I don’t always love that side of myself either. I get obsessive, and then I forget I’m with other people with feelings who get more hurt over this stuff than me, and then I end up regretting the whole thing and thinking it didn’t really matter that much anyway.

I’m also, I have to admit here, a tad dishonest. I’ve always argued based on who is watching. I’m not kidding. When I was a teenager and thoroughly entrenched in being a pk, I only argued things that would not get me in trouble with my father’s congregation. The side I could take on things like gay marriage, guns, immigration, etc. was entirely made by considering what I could get away with without getting in too much trouble in the big picture. And I didn’t even really care what I argued. I just wanted to play the game. I wanted to bandy about words like a master-swordsman and WIN.

I remember one particular classroom debate where the side we were to take were assigned to us. I was assigned the position opposite of what I always argued. The whole class actually went “Oooooo,” together, thinking I was in trouble. My debate partner looked almost depressed and glanced at me sideways when the topic was assigned. Internally I smiled and cracked my fingers like a super villain.

“Excellent,” I thought. “No one can get mad at me if I HAD to debate the other side.”

We won so handily it wasn’t even funny. I remember my partner, who had been pro-this issue for a long time looking at me with glee as I shelled out arguments she had made to ME, as well as some she’d never heard of before. I LOVED dancing through the side of thoughts I’d never been able to publicly display. It was marvelous!

And here is where I suddenly feel sheepish even telling this story. The truth is that I only cared about arguing. Not really the subject at hand. And at a deeper level, I cared only about making sure I didn’t have to carry any responsibility for the actual subject away from the conversation. I didn’t even know what I truly believed on most subjects. Only what was possible to believe and what I was SUPPOSED to believe.

So the question here is, obviously, why am I telling this story? Who cares what I did in high-school? (The answer to the second question is no one. No one cares. It’s just that telling stories about people from more recent history gets me into trouble and as I already discussed, I can be a dishonest coward about these things).

Because there is a lot of arguing going on these days. And there are so very many people just trying to win the game. I can tell. I know what it looks like to pull a fast one in a debate to make a dishonest argument while hoping no one is alert enough or clever enough to notice. (In the past I would have pretended never to do these things. But of COURSE I have.  If the object is to win and you are obsessed, and you know you can get away with it, cheating happens.) And I have had to confront the very troubling heart issue, in myself, that I got so used to doing this that I didn’t even notice anymore and I could lie even to MYSELF that I was being honest. That’s how much I NEEDED to WIN. Which eventually turned into NEEDING TO BE RIGHT. This is even worse when one side of the debate makes me feel more secure, safe, or like I belong to the tribe that it’s from.

But there is a different way to do this. A way that isn’t really even arguing or debating, though it has something in common with those things. We can discuss things in order to discern the truth. Whatever that may be. Even if it is inconvenient, or threatening. Even if it is what is best for a larger population, but maybe not for us personally. And it looks like:

1. Admitting when you don’t know something or haven’t done enough research to be sure.

2. Admitting when you hold your opinion out of bias and culture, even when knowing that doesn’t mean you are instantly going to change your mind. Or that you ever will.
3. Making sure you understand not only the opposing side, but WHY someone would hold those views. Is it culture? Is it experience? Is it bias? Is there something I don’t even have context to understand?
4. Recognizing when you personally might hold a different opinion or take different actions if your life had been different.
5. Replacing judgement with compassion.
6. Arguing for purpose, but not for pride, anger, fun, or just putting a moral stake in the ground (i.e., I don’t want to discuss this, I just want you to know what I think.)I would be lying if I said I didn’t still think arguing was kind of fun. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still sometimes do it passive aggressively. But with big important lives-at-stake issues, I’ve learned to be a tad more careful, and to at least value tact even if I don’t always achieve it (which often means saying that I am sorry and admitting when I was wrong or went to far). And it has meant lots and lots of soul searching. I have to ask myself questions like:

1. Why am I discussing this?
2. What am I hoping to achieve?
3.  Is this good or just noise?
4. Do I care about the people I am discussing this with?
5. Am I being honest about my actual expertise here?

The current debate is particularly interesting, because I really do not think I could qualify as an expert in any way, and I feel pretty neutral on the entire subject. But it DOES matter, and I DO care. So instead of arguing for or against anything, I’ve mostly been paying attention to the discussion at hand. I’ve had to ask myself how much I know, and what I might actually think. I’ve been open to where people are being honest or dishonest because I don’t need one side or the other to win. And it’s a total crap-fest.

I’ve been a little mad at myself lately for always tying up these posts into a neat little bow like there is always an easy moral to every story. There isn’t. (and I often leave out the messy or inconvenient to make it come out that way). I don’t know what the moral of the story is here. I don’t think I do this discussion thing perfectly, or even well all the time.

But I hope that by encouraging people to think about HOW they talk, and not just what they are talking about, maybe we could get just a little bit of clarity. And since we can’t control other people, maybe we could achieve honesty and truth seeking within ourselves.

I don’t know. At least we can try.

*Yes, my title is mostly nonsense.

If You Are Really Into Nostalgia: Searching Our Souls for an Old Rightness

If You Are Really Into Nostalgia: Searching Our Souls for an Old Rightness

“I love old things. They make me sad.”
“What’s good about sad?”
“It’s happy, for deep people.”
-Sally Sparrow, Dr. Who-

…the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

I stared at the old black box with wooden paneling on the top. I pressed the buttons, knowing exactly how they would feel before I did. The numbers along the radio tuner were so familiar I closed my eyes and saw them in my mind while I ran my fingers over where they were. I could still hear the way it would sound, early in the morning before school. I still could feel the anxiety about a new day of school coming, or the occasional excitement when I was anticipating something good. I knew the clicking sound the snooze button would make, on a morning I was avoiding getting up, without even having to touch it again.

My Mom gave me my old alarm clock when I was 5 years old (though it wasn’t old then, and wood paneling was still something people insisted on putting onto appliances). She thought that I should start building up the habit of getting up early for school independently. Funny enough, my Mom could rarely hold herself back from waking me five minutes before it went off anyway. I remember how that felt too. Knowing how deeply my Mom cared while simultaneously feeling her anxiety about time and my own yearning for autonomy.

It’s funny the way one mundane object can make you feel.

I don’t actually like to feel sad. But I’ve always had this feeling well up in me that I half love half hate that inspires me more than any other that is just so very close to sad. I’ve always struggled to describe it. It’s not the main feeling you get when your dog dies, or your favorite TV show gets canceled–though those kinds of things can cause it too.

It’s a longing for a time when things were more right. More perfect. More like they are supposed to be.

I used to sit alone with my own thoughts trying to figure out exactly where this feeling was coming from and how to fix it. The feeling, if it’s something you can feel, is more like nostalgia. The way people feel when they think about the way we used to tune our TV’s with knobs, or the exact weight of the needle on a record player as you set it gently down on the vinyl. It’s the way a rotary phone or the touch tone dials feel when you dial a number that you used to call all the time. The memories you get when you make the cookies from your grandmother’s recipe and you smell that smell.

I constantly sort through feelings like this. I sat for almost an hour staring at that stupid alarm clock, knowing I wasn’t even going to plug it in again. Not all my memories around that clock are happy, exactly, but it came from a time when I wasn’t an adult. I wasn’t solely responsible for caring for myself. My worries were smaller. I did not have to take care of so many relationships, or be in charge of running the finances of a home and keeping three children alive, and hopefully, healthy and well-adjusted. It feels like it had to be better in some ways. Ok, not better. But less complicated.

Nostalgia is the sad feeling you get when you remember something happy that doesn’t exist anymore.

Did you know that all the cells in your body completely replace themselves about every 7 years? I’ve always remembered this, because it makes me think of the various versions of myself I have been. That girl, the one that used to slam the snooze button in high school to avoid getting ready for another tense day of academics I loved and social situations that made me feel queazy–that girl is gone. Every single cell that existed in her body died and was replaced years ago. All that is left are the memories which are made of neurons which copied other dying neurons.  She’s a memory of a memory. I don’t even have any way of knowing how accurate what I remember about her is.

Right now I think our world is really into nostalgia. We long for times that existed before we were born. We think of ourselves as owning the past and the peoples we came from when really, all we know are stories told about stories told about stories. We actually take personal pride in the exact version of things that make us feel our own nostalgia. Maybe it’s memories of hard working people during the Great Depression. Maybe it’s members of the Greatest Generation that we Loved. Maybe it’s days when kids used to run free more. Maybe it’s the swelling in the chest at old protests or liberation movements. Maybe it’s a memory of a road that used to be in the country, but has been civilized now. Maybe it’s a neighborhood that used to be rough, but has sadly become upscale.

We take our identities from these things. What we long for is part of who we are.

But so much of it has fallen through the cracks by now. What remains was sifted out by the victorious and powerful, and if we’re occasionally lucky, true historians, artists, and dreamers trying to capture the truth.

Most people I know are trying to match the world up to some idea of rightness. Some long gone memory that things can be right, though now they are wrong. Our desire for redemption is just so strong. We may have different ideas of what that redemption looks like, different goals and ideals. But it’s there. We’re not seeking to add more random outcomes to a randomly generated universe. We look to restore and correct in a reality where everything is drifting toward entropy. Why do we do that? How many millions of decisions are made in subconsciously trying to recapture something that has long ago left us?

But the thing is, I think rightness is something to be made, not something to recapture. It’s going to be new. Not old. Maybe we are inspired by the past, but I think we are called to build a new story together. With all the siren voices calling out in anger right now over politics, theology, fundamentalism, or whatever, what if they unified to create something new, instead of trying to recapture something old?

Maybe it’s more remarkable that the cells in my body were newly generated to keep me alive than that they once all died. Maybe what we can make together in the future matters more than what we once were. Maybe knowing how universal some of what we long for is can unite us in what we will one day be glad that we did.

I set up my old clock in the basement, for now. It tells time to the spiders and mice, and me occasionally when I’m sifting through piles of old junk. Smelling. Smiling. Remembering. It’s worth something, the sad joy of memory, for sure. But I think it’s a small part of building up what is to come.

And one day, I will be nostalgic for now. For baby clothes and bruised knees. For piggy back rides and little boy giggles. For late night feedings and falling into bed exhausted.

And the truly odd thing is, thinking of that makes me feel that same longing for what I DO have right now. And for what is coming. And it makes me think that longing for the same things, all of us together, is not such a crazy dream.

If Your Voice is Small

If Your Voice is Small

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

I’ve seen you, fellow quiet sojourner. I know people ask you why you don’t talk too. I admire you, because you are probably better at just saying nothing rather than letting awkward dribble escape now and then, just to prove you exist, like I do. I wish I only talked when I really wanted to. That I didn’t feel pressed into small-talk, which it turns out isn’t often remembered at all anyway. I feel kinship with you, even while I want to give you space and not insist on doing the same thing to you which most people do: expecting friendship, or entertainment, or patronizing conversation where I’m only insisting we talk because I somehow think it’s my job to get you to do it. I see you. I tend to think you are better than me, because you are more comfortable with your backstage place, less worried about how much you exist in the worlds of others, less inclined to fill in the spaces with conversation you don’t really want to have.

Do you, like me, sometimes keep your mouth closed because you know the only thing that would come out would be disappointment or disdain? Or maybe sometimes because you aren’t interested in the conversation going on, and you just honestly don’t know how to pretend to be excited? Or maybe you accidentally dropped off into your own fantasy about a magical land where cups of coffee are always bottomless and naps are long and thunderstorms always come at 3 o’clock sharp after plenty of sunshine so that rain is always whimsical and dreamy (and never just cold and dark) and animals really do understand what you are saying and people never ever think that being quiet means that you are less capable, or less smart, or less important?

And I’m guessing that you, like me, are always just a little startled when the label “quiet” is applied at all. Because it’s not quiet in your head. Because when you are one-on-one with someone you really care about you can go on for hours. And if you measure only the talking that people do that they really care about, and really deeply mean, the amount is really about the same. And I bet you, like me, have a hard time regretting not being into fluff conversations. And hopefully you, unlike me, don’t have a lot of regrettable fluffy conversations on your conscience, because you, unlike me, are a more dignified version of “quiet.”

Maybe you, like me, trust words more when you’ve had time to think about them and when you can set them down on paper. Or screen. Not a place where they just float out in the air to be forgotten, or misconstrued later, but in a place of permanence where they can be counted, measured, and heard again and again. Because words can be such slippery dangerous things when you don’t pin them down properly. (It’s so much easier to be held responsible for something I can prove I said, rather than for something I don’t quite remember saying or that I’m sure I said in another way).

And do you, like me, struggle not to roll your eyes when yet ANOTHER charismatic go-getter with a loud voice and a tendency toward pandering and a total lack of appreciation for thoughtful types has been elected as your boss, or pastor, or mayor, or president of the adorable cats appreciation club? (Just kidding, obviously cat lovers would never do such a thing.) Do you sigh with relief on the rare occasion when someone who values substance and reflection and honesty, and occasionally quiet, actually manages to be the leader of something? Do you then roll your eyes again as all the charismatic go-getters scramble to be that person’s friend now that he has some influence?

I think God made sure Moses was in the bible just for us. People talk about his speech impediment, but they act like he must have been yet another charismatic go-getter who just happened to have a stutter and would be just as loud and charismatic and go-getting as the popular leaders they are used to. They forget about his reluctance to lead at all, or his quiet response over and over again to merely go and pray when the Israelites were ready to kill him. Or the fact that when more charismaticky go-getters thought they deserved leadership just as much as he did that they were struck-down with leprosy or sucked straight into a hole in the ground.  (Look it up. It’s not smart to spurn God’s quieter ones). God has raised us, defended us, loved us, valued us, and occasionally smote the loud ones on our behalf. And a quiet man got to deliver the law, organize God’s nation, and see the Messiah when he first showed his true form.

 

Know that when I see you, I do not think of you as quiet at all. You speak volumes beloved friends. Not all words are spoken. Not all meaning needs words at all. And sometimes, silence can be the loudest response of all.

 

*Note: I do not actually advocate for the smiting of loud people…mostly.

 

If You Hate Small Talk

If You Hate Small Talk

I am the ultimate queen and reigning champion of absolutely despising small talk. That’s right, if hating small talk were an Olympic event, I would take gold, silver, and bronze and I would solemnly cross my hand over my heart as they played the national anthem for my complete and utter domination at hating it.

But I’m also disgustingly good at it. Not by choice mind you. The skill was drilled into me as a matter of self-preservation. But that doesn’t mean I always play by the rules of appropriate small talk. Sometimes out of boredom, or maybe just a wild need to experiment, I tend to…try and spice things up a little.

In Middle School, whilst extremely bored one day in the girls’ locker room, and not a little bit on edge about the aerobics we were about to be forced to take part in (Richard Simmons is still a man of my nightmares thanks to Middle School girls’ gym), I found myself listening to a conversation about the upcoming frog dissection in Biology.

“Oh my word, it’s so gross! Do you think we have to actually cut them ourselves?”

“I hope not! I think I’m going to throw up!”

Just for fun, I decided I’d cut in. “Oh, we have to do more than cut the frogs. I hear Mr. Bray has tiny barbecues set up for us to cook the meat when we’re finished and we have to try some. Well I guess probably only if we want an A.”

A wail immediately went up from the girls around me. “You’re joking right? They’d never make us eat the frogs! Right?!” Girls were actually crying.

Without skipping a beat I said, “Why would I lie about something like that? Besides, I’ve heard frog meat is pretty good!”

I need to cut in right here to tell you that I never once thought of myself as a pathological liar. I always assumed that it was obvious when I was being super ridiculous that I didn’t intend anyone to believe me. The problem is that I didn’t always pick up on social cues–and when I did, sometimes I was already too caught up in my story to stop myself. And it was just so much more interesting than regular chit-chat!

The thing is, child Andi was forced into completely controlled and very stressful small talk on a regular basis. I am of course speaking of the fact that I am one of those curious souls who grew up with a minister for a father. And let me tell you—people are very weird about their pastors a LOT of the time. And the family that tags along with them usually get sucked in one way or another. People would tell me about their strange medical problems, goiters and colostomy bags included. Sometimes I was regaled on that latest new fad that was obviously sending everyone to hell and have witnessed brochures on the evils of playing cards, geometric coloring books, movie theaters, the Internet, and obviously those portents of evil: bar codes. But most of the time it was about subjects so mundane and expected that I could barely keep my eyes focused and remember to add the occasional smile and “ya” to the whole thing. And through all of it I gained the ability to grin and nod and make a good listening comment on absolutely any subject. I saved my wild stories (lies) for classmates and friends out of what was probably an overly wound up imagination and a whole lot of stored stress.

In my adulthood, it has been very hard to not duck out of absolutely every occasion in which small talk is required, since Dad’s job is no longer on the line. I have a tendency to go right for the meaty stuff like “What was your most painful childhood moment?” Or perhaps, “Who is the first person you ever knew really well that died?” I’m kidding of course (was that obvious?), but I often find myself almost incapable of listening to whatever appropriate topic of chit-chat we’re on and wondering what dark or ostentatious tid-bits might be lurking behind every perfectly normal looking pair of eyes. Now those things would be worth listening to.

But I’m learning that small-talk is actually absolutely necessary. It can be abused, sure, but it has a very real and very needed function. Hating small talk is like hating to boil water before you make tea. Sure, it’s not the most interesting part of the whole event (I am definitely guilty of slipping into existential quandary while insisting on watching the kettle boil), but it’s very important. Without boiled water all you have is a soggy tea bag in some cold water. It’s not very appetizing. You could drink it anyway and pretend it’s tea, or you could give the tea bag a chew or two but it really doesn’t work at all. (Translate that metaphor as you will into actual conversation tactics.)

I am coming to believe that everyone, and I do mean everyone in some part of their souls is longing desperately to connect with others at a deeper level. But we simply cannot dive into the very heart of real conversation without making sure the temperature is right if you understand my meaning. We have to take the time to make people feel validated, and safe, and like they are talking to a kindred soul before they can really dive in deeper. But without that—we have no idea what kind of person or context we are spilling out the deeper parts of our souls onto.

And just to take the metaphor a bit too far (because what fun would it be if we didn’t), there are definitely people who go on boiling water without ever making any tea. Conversation tea is vulnerable and risky business, and boiling water for no reason can get to be such a habit. We need tea! And by that I mean eventual deeper conversation! It’s the part that gets me down the most—that some people just really aren’t interested in “tea” at all. And constantly being the one who tries to introduce the tea to a very reluctant audience who are happy with their shallow con… I mean boiled water… can start to be very dreary business.

I still struggle to be sold on the whole business. At times I think that small-talk is a symptom of living in a broken world. If we could only all be totally and absolutely trustworthy to the people around us—and know that everyone around us cared for us at the deepest level—maybe we wouldn’t need it anymore. Or maybe it would only be for fun (and not to make Pastor’s daughters queazy with stress while they consider what exactly IS the correct response to someone who has just told you that they have bleeding ulcers on a regular basis?). But on better days, I think of it more like little affectionate touches in conversation form.

I’m here. I notice you. I’m available.

What I think the business of small talk requires, more than anything, is the ability to be fully present and to take joy in it for what it is. Like a ray of sunshine, or a wisp of wind across your face, or birdsong. I think of God listening to us being absurd humans and smiling, just like a mom who smiles while listening to her children talk nonsense or invent silly games together. If God can take joy in us, even in our sillier and shallower moments, surely I can find the patience to be with someone and appreciate who they are, even if I never find a way to the deeper stuff. I think I can do that. I know I can.

On a side note, if you find yourself occasionally being a bit absurd just for the fun of it and find that people are believing you when you really did NOT expect them to and you know the secret to getting out of it—please please tell me how to get away without being awkward or making other people feel bad. Because I have yet to totally solve THAT problem.