Tuesday, May 16, 2017

May Your Praise Be Louder

I work with volunteers. More to the point, I work with people.
If you work with people, too, you know that about 95% of the feedback you get is the negative stuff. And that's on a good day. It can be disheartening.
Last year I worked with a dad and daughter who wanted to set up a spring break trip. The daughter was a high school senior, and she wanted to go into orphan care after graduation. I was able to connect them with a ministry doing wonderful things with orphans with special needs in Central America. It was a pretty low-key event for me, though the dad (first time abroad for himself and his daughter) asked lots of good questions and was pretty nervous as departure time approached.
Last week I got this email from the dad out of the blue.
Last year on this day, you took time to call, answer my never ending list of questions, and took time to pray for my daughter and I as we prepared to take a trip to ____________.
There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about that week. Things I learned, things I saw, and how incredibly clueless I was about things outside the states.
Early this past Tuesday morning, I drove my daughter to Chicago for another flight to ____________. This time she is going as an intern for the next six months. She will work and help the kids there at _________________.
Thanks so much,
This sort of thing makes my work feel significant. It breaks into the monotony of monitoring account balances and holding for hours with various embassies with a joyful announcement:
"These trips can change lives!! It's not just visa requirements and luggage allotments! God can use these trips to Change. Lives. Eternally!"
It helps drown out the frustration of bureaucracy and politics. It helps to balance out the other 95%.
This email was a great reminder to me to be louder with my praise than with my criticism.
The praise matters.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

How to Change a Headlight Bulb in a 2011 Honda CR-V

A comedy in 20 Steps

Step 1:  While driving to work at 4:30am, to pick up your computer so you can work from home since you're sick, notice that your lights seem dim.  When you arrive at the building, note that, indeed, your driver's side dim headlight is burnt out.  Take a moment to appreciate that at least when you got rear-ended this summer and it totaled your beloved (PAID IN FULL!!!) 2005 CR-V, at least it rid you of the problem of burning out headlights about once a month.

Step 2:  Later in the day, but still in your pj's and fuzzy socks, on your way home from a Meijer run for cold meds, swing into Advanced Auto Parts and pick up a bulb.  Appreciate the fact that bulbs for the 2011 CR-V cost $5 more than bulbs for the 2005.  Smile and nod when the helpful AAP guy warns you not to touch the bulb with bare hands, lest you reduce the bulb's life.  [psht.  rookie mistake.  i've known that for years]

Step 3: Before changing the bulb, pull up a Youtube video to make sure it's the same process as bulb-changing in a 2005.  BTW, it's exactly the same, so you can skip this step if you want.

Step 4: Gather supplies and consider that changing the bulb in the dark wasn't the wisest choice.

Step 5: Head out to the car with your gear and realize that you don't know where the latch to pop the hood is.  Sheepishly realize that after owning the car for over five months, you should probably know this.  Feel around uselessly for awhile.  Give up, and dig out your owner's manual.  Find the completely incomprehensible diagram describing the location of the latch.  Feel around uselessly some more.

Step 6: Take a break to go to the bathroom and blow your faucet (ahem), I mean, nose.  Return and eventually find the latch.  Apparently we're hiding it from the general populace, eh Honda?

Step 7: Open hood and peer hopelessly at the teensy, tiny space in which you must maneuver to make this happen.  Silently curse Honda's engineers in your mind.

Step 8: Remove the plug from the back of the bulb.  Note with trepidation that it's really tight.  Be sure to squash the back of your hand when it finally comes loose.

Step 9: Loosen and pull off the rubber boot.  Be excited that this part was easy!

Step 10: Push the little hook out of the way to release the bulb.  Bulb will fall free and drop about 2 feet into the bowels of the engine compartment.

Step 11: Stand and look at the dead bulb, lying so far down.  Just, you know, look for awhile.

Step 12:  Try unsuccessfully to reach the bulb.  Enjoy the delightful reality that you can't both see the bulb and reach for the bulb at the same time, as the act of reaching blocks the light, making it impossible to see.

Step 13: Head into the house for some pliers.  Return to the car and carefully try to reach the bulb with the pliers.

[Editer's note: you know what's coming, don't you?]

Step 14:Drop pliers into the bowels of the engine compartment.

Step 15: Close your eyes and sigh.  Retrieve errant pliers by touch, and feel happy at how easy that was.

Step 16: Eyeball the bulb, give up on the light, and push your arm into the engine compartment as far as you can.  Consider how odd if would look if your arm got stuck and you ended up dying in this position.  Realize that next time you should either have your cell phone within reach (you know, so it can fall into the engine compartment, too) or bring a pocket knife, so you can cut your own arm off in a pinch, like that mountain climbing guy.

Step 17:  Shudder and re-focus.  Very, very carefully, whilst pushing your arm in as far as humanly possible, retrieve the bulb.

Step 18: Perform a private happy dance.

Step 19: Finish changing the bulb with minimal drama.

Step 20: Take a moment to be thankful.  For a car.  For money to buy a bulb.  For access to Youtube videos.  And that your headlight works now.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

There is no decision that you can't come back from.

Today someone posted this on FB:

"Be decisive.
Right or wrong, make a decision.
The road of life is paved with flat squirrels who couldn't make a decision."

I chuckled.  And that made me think of this event in my life:

In 2011 I moved to the US from Ecuador, leaving a job and a community that I loved to come back to NO job.  Eventually I found a job six hours from home that turned out to be an employment nightmare that went on for two long years.

But at the time of the event, I didn't know about the forthcoming 2 years.

[evidence of God's grace]

I had just moved to the new town, and was living in a cheap motel for a week while I looked for an apartment (and while I did my first week of work at the new job).  During day one of that job, I was informed that, though I had been led to believe I would be working full time, they could only offer me 20 paid hours a week.  But don't worry- that can change every month!  Hopefully next month it'll be full time!  [it wasn't full time for three months, but again- it's probably best I didn't know that then.]

Somewhere in the midst of that horrific, honestly hardest week of my life...

In a totally new place where I knew no one
Living in a motel
Trying to negotiate the system of a new teaching job
Far from my family
Doubting my decision to leave Quito
Doubting my decision to take this job
Doubting everything

...my exceedingly wise friend Brooke spoke this simple truth into my chaos:

There is no decision that you can't come back from.

I think she said more words after that, but they are all lost to me.  My soul was thirstily lapping up that hope she had offered, before it evaporated and was lost.

There is no decision that you can't come back from.

The GRACE in those words overwhelms my heart, even today.

See, I'm not naturally a gracious person.  I have this theory that we all naturally lean either toward grace or justice, most of us to a fault without the leading of the Holy Spirit.  My natural bent is most definitely justice.  If you've ever met me, you already knew that.

Justice isn't all bad, of course, but being a person who naturally errs on the side of justice causes me to sit in awe, absolute, slack-jawed awe, at the appearance of hard-core grace.

And that is what I did that night.

I sat in awe.  And I wept.

Well, I was probably already weeping.  (did I mention "hardest week of my life"?  that wasn't an exaggeration)  But now I was weeping not out of despair, but out of hope.  Well, maybe half-and-half, in that moment.  But definitely moving toward hope.

These well-known but forgotten in the moment truths became visible again to my soul:

It will be ok.
Even in the dark, God is still in control.
Even when I make a wrong choice, He will redeem it if I let Him.  
Stop trying to white-knuckle it right.

There is no decision that you can't come back from.

And now I'm saying that to YOU.

There is no decision that YOU can't come back from, either.

If you want to join me in the corner, and weep with me over the grace, I have an extra tissue for you.  Come on over.  We will sit in awe of the Grace and weep together.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Always Grace

Last night this caught my eye:
"When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, 'Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?'" (Matthew 11:2)
This is JOHN. As in, The Baptist. The kid who grew up hearing his parents talk about his miraculous birth, his in utero first meeting with his cousin, Jesus, and his heavenly assignment to prepare the way for that cousin, the long-awaited Messiah   Heard those stories ad nauseam. He knew Who Jesus was.
He knew who he was, too. This Calling was his whole life. He had never tasted wine (the standard drink of the day) because of it. He lived in the desert. He battled the hypocritical religious elite and baptized and discipled the spiritually open. This preparing the way for the Christ was John's purpose. It was his whole existence. There was never a time in his life when he wasn't aware of that.
How could John possibly doubt Jesus? According to the prophecy given to his father before his birth, he was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth (a rare thing before the HS was sent at Pentecost). John himself baptized Jesus and would have been one of those who witnessed the Father's testimony that Jesus was his Son. You know, just in case the family tales and the testimony of the Holy Spirit weren't quite convincing enough. Earlier in his ministry, John testified to his followers that Jesus was the Christ. John knew.
And yet.
"Are you Him?"
In general, the Jews were looking for an earthly king, not a heavenly one. Maybe John, sitting is his prison cell, was thinking that now's a great time for Jesus to flex his political muscle, and get his cousin out of prison before he's executed? That seems like a fair expectation. After all, we consider family loyalty a virtue.
It's funny what fear does to us. And the combination of fear, time to think, and unmet expectation? That's deadly stuff, right there. That's the perfect formula for doubt. For bitterness. Despair. It can cause us to question things we've known since we were kids. Things we've believed without hesitation our whole lives.
Suddenly, in the darkness of fear, things look different. Unfamiliar. Unsafe.
Jesus himself said of John (AFTER he got the message of John's questions), "Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist..." (Matthew 11:11)  
Do I think John lost his faith and recanted? Nope. I think in a moment of despair, he asked an honest question of his Savior.
"Lord? That's you, right? I know it is, but the light is playing tricks on my eyes. I just need some reassurance. I need to hear you say it."
And reassurance is exactly what Jesus sent back. Here's the message:
"Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me." (Matthew 11:4-6)
No shaming. No reprimand. No incredulity. Just grace.
And that, kids, is why this whole thing is encouraging to me. There is always grace. Even if you should know better. Even if your family tree is rife with those whose faith puts yours to shame.  
For the strongest and the weakest among us (because when you come right down to it, we are one and the same) there is always grace.
Grace to reassure us of things we used to know. But forgot in the dark.
Always grace.