Friday, September 27, 2013

FMF: A long post contemplating true things

The question runs through me, a virus that won't let go.  And I know, it's often asked with genuine curiosity, with confusion, sometimes with desire for my well-being.  But the question is old as the cracked streets of Seattle I ride home on my bicycle; and I confess, I long for new streets.

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Some days - and sometimes weeks and months of days - I don't even know how to see better than these streets themselves, it's true.  

They want to know why a person with a college degree, with a Master's degree, is not working in her field.  They want to know why, of all places, I am at Starbucks, a place few people seem to associate as a "real job," but more like a good stepping stone to other things.  Starbucks is for college students, or recent college grads who haven't landed the right job yet; for retirees who need something to occupy all their newfound free time; for the proverbial struggling artist.  What I feel, real or imagined, in all the forms of this question is this: where you're at is not ok.  

You should want more than this.
You are not ambitious enough.
You are wasting your potential.

And it's true, if you knew me more than five years ago, you have every reason to raise an eyebrow at where I am today, especially if you don't know the story beneath the surface of my life these past years.  I had ambition.  Huge dreams.  I was going somewhere, going to be someone.  I had passion some of my friends confessed they envied.  I graduated top of my class in grad school.  

And here I am, assistant manager of a Starbucks kiosk.

I write on the side and dream of writing much more, and that's one huge reason I'm still here.  But there's another, one that's almost impossible to spit out with any kind of eloquence or timeliness when someone pops the question.  

I'm not done learning that what I do in life, as my job, doesn't determine my value.  I'm here, at Starbucks, for almost five years now, making a statement to myself until the truth has made its permanent home in my heart, until I no longer allow the shame to creep in and undermine my worth.  

If I need to shout it from the rooftop, maybe one day I will: I am not what I do!

I am not Starbucks, and you are not fill-in-the-blank.  I am not "just" a barista and you are not just a receptionist or engineer, a nurse or graphic designer, a mom or dad, a garbage collector or CEO. 

I am more.  You are more.  This is true.

And no matter how much this culture with its pigeon-holing questions, its incessant need to size up and define and categorize, pushes against me, I will not back down.  Because it's also true, isn't it, that who we are becoming is the real story?  And the job, well, that's more a tool along the way.  Maybe for you it brings you more fulfillment than me, where you work and what you do, and that's ok, too.   

But please don't assume as you look at where I'm at and what I do - or where you're at, for that matter - that this is the only story.  I hope to "do" more with my life, trust me.  And at the same time, I hope to not be driven to seek this 'something more' out of fear that my life will be a waste otherwise.  There's so much more in the works here, for all of us, amen?  So much more.  Let's begin to ask new questions, to pave new streets.

My life is in construction and new streets are being paved in the pathways of my mind, in my heart, though they may not be visible yet.  And probably, the hardest truth to accept for any of us is this: our stories are ultimately not about us.  So instead of seeking out a new career path, I find myself praying more, "God, make me a better lover."  Let that be the street that I ride out to the very end. 

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Joining up with Lisa-Jo and the community at Five-Minute (hypothetically for me, I know) Friday for the thought-provoking prompt of "True."

And, true story, I didn't actually read through her post until after I read mine.  Seems I'm not the only with on this street this week...


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Love in the smallness

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These past three days, waking up and falling in love with God have looked smaller than I thought.  I don’t know why or how, I dismiss the glory in the smallness when it comes to loving God.  I know, too, that God is no man or woman, no needy being demanding my love; and still, I wonder. 

I wonder if loving God, much of the time, is not that unlike how we love each other the best - the old ‘quality’ versus ‘quantity’ time adage.  If God, perhaps, would take a dozen small moments of being seen throughout the day, truly seen and loved for who he* is, to one large block of scheduled, unmemorable time; one moment undifferentiated from the next. 

And so, falling in love with God may look like Ricardo and I lingering for over an hour at the dinner table, relishing our orange peppers stuffed with rice, beans, steak and salsa.  Him, leaning back in storytelling mode; me, leaning in with elbows propped, learning things about his family, their life in Mexico, for the first time.  Eyes fixed on his face, ears perked, expressing curiosity and delight, fully engaged. 

And falling in love with God may look like the young man with the scruffy beard that comes through the line sometimes in the morning, asking for a cup of hot water or a refill of brewed coffee.  Staring into his eyes, I see flecks of gold and my heart warms to his smile as I tell him I saw him downtown the other day, feeding saltines to a flock of pigeons, a tender care reflected on his face.  This man who lives outdoors, loving on these birds too ‘common’ to garner any attention from most of us passing by - for a moment my heart swells.

Maybe, too, it’s the energy to head from work on the bus to visit several ladies I love in a nursing home.  I have not seen them in over a month because I have been too tired, running on empty most days.  But this day, I feel alive.  I sit with each of them and look into their eyes and I picture God in the room, sitting beside their beds and listening deeper than words.  I am beaming with joy and I leave even more full than when I arrived, and there is no explanation for this, except one.

And falling in love also looks like my commute home last night.  I forgo the bus ride and walk up the hill from the nursing home instead, making my way to the bike path at the start of the bridge, where I break into a run.  The sun warms my skin, even as the air remains cool, and I run the length of the bridge, across the waters I swam several weeks ago.  I can feel my achilles tendon, a little stiff, and I push aside all nervous thoughts but this: Look at me, God.  I am running.  Though my legs are somewhat stiff and tired, I strain to keep up with them. They are like two wild stallions set loose, and I am barely breathing hard.   I’m sure I’m grinning like a girl in love as the cyclists and cars go whizzing past, and in my heart I’m gushing, Thank you thank you thank you.  It’s only a mile and a half, but it may as well be a marathon. 

How many marathons would I trade, I wonder, for this mile and a half of running on my still-healing legs with such raw gratitude?  Maybe this, then, is what waking up and falling in love with God is really like - these short distances completed with great joy and great grace, with keen awareness of the touch of divine love upon a life; the savoring of each person, each gift; each step taken, even on feeble legs, in trust.
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*I know I just said that God is neither a man or a woman, so I’m not trying to contradict myself.  I choose “he” for the sake of ease of language, and because I am personally comfortable using “he” to refer to God without believing this limits God to a specific gender, though I understand someone could just as easily use “she.” 


Monday, September 23, 2013

Waking up and falling in love

“To fall in love with God is the greatest romance;
to seek him, the greatest adventure;
to find him, the greatest achievement.”
~ Saint Augustine

I was going to write something else.  Something less overtly “Christian,” something about the journey of becoming an artist; a brief looking back in order to let go and embrace the becoming.*  Frustration, disappointment and sadness have flanked me from all sides these days, in nearly every aspect of my life, and the fog of depression has often kept me from writing.  I was going to write something more of that story, of writing through the fog, and I'm sure there will be days ahead where this is the story I write.

But there’s another story I want to tell, one I’m compelled to return to that I’ve written of before.  A story that swallows up every other smaller story I could tell and somehow makes them whole.  

A love story. 

You see, my eyes fell across these words today of Saint Augustine and it seems my heart wants to take me in another direction.  I want to write of this weary heart awakening, of coming home, of  yet again falling in love with God - not as I have in the past or what I hope for in the future, but this moment - today.  The day to day romance of the soul, the adventure of seeking, the achievement of finding. 

I’m not going to say that this will be an official “series” or how often I’ll write this story, but as the season once again shifts from summer to fall, I find myself hungering for a spiritual shift of seasons, and this is the only way I know how.  I don’t know about you, but I could use a lot more romance in my life.  Not just the date night variety romance - the sweet notes, meaningful looks and tender touches - but the romance that fills my soul with the joy of being alive, fully known and loved unconditionally.  The romance of a fuller opening to the heart of God imprinted on every piece of fabric that is my life.  

So in my living, I’m going to be looking for this romance, to enter in; and in my writing, to capture this journey in words and images and everyday moments. 

It’s time to fall in love again with the one who first captured my heart, so many years ago.

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*This is not to imply anything negative about writing overtly "Christian," in any way.  For the last several years, I've simply been hungering for a voice that is not relegated to a Christian lingo or label; for if I call myself a Christian, I hope it will show through in the way that I write and live this story I am telling.  

Joining Heather and the EO gang for a rare (for me these days) Just Write.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Five-minute friday: She

I visit her in the dinner hour, to say goodbye.  She swings wide her door and I run across the threshold, an eager guest in the home of a dear friend.  I can feel in the air and in the water how the summer pulls away, to make room for autumn, this bittersweet dance.  I swim and savor her cool kiss on my cheeks once more this year.  Once more. 

In these waters, I feel alive.

A gull circles over the water, near the stone steps, and a little girl watches from below holding her mama's hand.  She bubbles curiosity and innocence and joy and for a moment, I imagine I am her and my heart tugs back in memory.  

I sit on a wooden bench, steps away from the lake, book in hand, and breathe summer's long, last breath.  The sun has nearly slipped behind the trees and my damp skin tingles at the touch of evening air, but I am not yet cold.

I pack my backpack with wet towel one more time, tucking bright pink swim cap in its fold.  I walk with my bicycle up the grassy hill, turn back and pause.  

Goodbye, friend.  Thank you.

It will be nine months, at least, until I swim with her again.  But I will say hello from a distance and visit her shores and sit to hear her songs, the songs that remind me of life.

For through her, I hear my Savior call.

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Linking with Lisa-Jo for another Five-minute Friday.  The prompt this week is "She,"  and though mine is an unconventional 'she', it's a she that is dear to me, nonetheless.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Five-Minute Friday: Mercy

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She calls to me as I walk past on my way to work, her voice a warbling crack in a dam of tears.  I stop, turn, drink in this woman with espresso skin, bent over a walker with a broken wheel, inching toward me.  Her story spews, all the reasons I should help her, how she's just a regular woman and she doesn't do drugs, but here she is, sleeping out on the streets.  

"Look, I have nice clothes, nice shoes, a laptop," she says, lifting up a black briefcase.  The tears are spilling now.  "I have heart problems.  A pacemaker."  She tugs at her shirt collar, points to a tiny heart inked on the left side of her chest, a tiny bulge beneath her skin.  "I can't breathe very well.  I'm trying to get into a shelter, but they're all full.  Can you help me?"

I stare into those stormy eyes and my heart drops.  I am but a pebble in the ocean of her need.  "I believe you," I say.  "I really wish I could help you, but I have no money."  We hold each other's gaze in this moment, and I think she believes me, too.  She nods her head, tears still streaming down, "I know.  At least you care."

She leans forward now, that slow fall of a soul weighted down, free falling into pain, her nose a dripping faucet.  Her shoulders shake, her cries silent.  I know this shake well, these tears beyond sound.  I lean forward, wrap my arms around her, fresh tears falling.  "I do care.  That's why I stopped.  I wish I could do more, and I know it probably doesn't feel this way at all, but I stopped because I know you matter to God.  He sees you, and he cares.  You are not forgotten."

Her head lifts and briefly searches my gaze, "I used to think he did."  Her head dips back down and hangs there.  The tears continue and I dig through my backpack for napkins. 
I stand there for a few minutes, helpless, unable to console.  Lord, have mercy.

"I don't know what else to say," I confess.  "But can I pray for you?"  She nods, and I pray, right there on the sidewalk in front of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  And I don't know if it encourages her in any way, but I do it partly for me, because I need to walk away knowing she's in someone's hands much more capable than I.   

I leave her with a yogurt and banana, my heart falling around my feet as I walk away.  I turn back for a quick glance, and she's moved onto the next person.

Mercy, Lord. 

I see her, two more times in the next week, and I argue with myself, whether or not to stop again, pressed for time.  What more do I have to give?  I walk past her dejected frame, and I pray for her and I pray for me, for this conflicted heart that doesn't always know what love or mercy looks like.  For the tender mercies of Christ to hold and carry us both home.

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Joining Lisa-Jo and at Five-Minute Friday. Today's prompt is "Mercy."  


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Just Write: Prelude to autumn

The air swells, only slightly, with the last remains of mild Northwest humidity, and streams across my face as I bike home beneath partly cloudy skies.  I can feel the back of my shirt clinging wet, my backpack pressed tightly against cotton and skin.  And I glide downhill.  Traces of sun filter through Colman Park trees, hidden, it seems, between Thirty-First Street above and Lake Washington Boulevard below.  We lean into the corners, my Univega and I, and tires crackle through a dusting of leaves on the winding road.

A prelude to autumn.

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Up the street from us, a family of sunflowers double over, resting wilted heads along the black link fence.  Several weeks ago, they stood firm and upright, full petals encircling their faces like a lion's golden mane, tipped toward the sun.  Their season has come and gone, and this fills me with a familiar, wordless ache.   I stop and study them, and they are as a mirror to my soul.

I dine alone on my yoga mat against the wall, cradling my bowl, and stare out at the smoldering sky as it turns another page of time.  The living room is dark, but for the glow of porchlights from the balcony kitty corner our apartment and the sun’s final word on the day.  My eyes are mesmerized by sky, a tangerine flame bursting in a sea of smoke.  A five-minute display of light and rapid fade to gray. 

All is dark, awash in stillness.  Near the window, the outline of handlebars and bicycle frame stare back at me inside the apartment. 

And summer nights slip away with the sun.

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It's been awhile, but I'm joining up with Just Write today over at Heather's place.