Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Empty Salsa Jar

Being a single adult affords more than its fair share of awkward moments. Weddings are a fan favorite - especially during those slow dances that are all about showing the one you love how much you care. Family Christmas letters are another - there's only so many times that people want to read the latest news on your career. Even something as seemingly benign as going to church can be a cause for chagrin. There is, after all, no quicker way to clear a row of seats at church than to have a grown person sit at one end. Immediately there will be a berth of 10 feet granted by the remaining of the congregants.

Although these public displays of aloneness can be discomfiting, there are some private moments that also have their share of vexation. Like an empty salsa jar. It's not that you're out of salsa that causes the concern (although that does have its fountain of pain) its realizing that since the time you bought the salsa and the time you can see through to the bottom no one else has eaten it but you. I guess some (i.e. guys) may see this as a sense of accomplishment but it has its hints of sadness too. After all, we were made for community and if there's not even someone to share your salsa with, you kind of realize how very on your own you are. Even those of us blessed enough to have a caring family or steady friends know that while we might be able to convince someone to come over and eat some dip with us, no one is legally or spiritually obligated to share in our food, to be a part of our household. You realize that "your immediate family" is now just you.

Somehow though, along with minor flashes of despair, there is a sense of comfort in this too. As much as I might like someone to share my life with, I know that I've learned things I never would have if I could conveniently lean on another. As it is its just me and God, and it doesn't take long for me to realize that I'm not going to cut it. There's freedom without obligation and this has allowed me to experience life in a way that family responsibilities don't allow (Spontaniety is a lot easier when the only schedule to consider is your own.) Patience is an obvious (although imperfect) bi-product of the unfulfilled anticipation. Security too, knowing that although life may not turned out as I planned, God's plans will prevail.

Someday I hope to have someone else to blame the empty salsa jar on (along with the dirty dishes, messy closet and a whole host of other things.) Until then, I'm grateful for the lessons that the journey affords and the fact that no one steals the chips!


Monday, January 28, 2008

Small Victories

It was silly really. A friend and I were going to a crowded movie theater and someone snagged my parking spot (Quick sidebar - I've been accused of using the word "friend" as a cover-up for ambiguous relationships that I'd rather not define. No ambiguity here - a very genuine and amazing friend.) As I saw the other car round the corner, I said, "Don't steal my spot" - after all, I had been patiently waiting for it. But she did and that's when I . . .well, I drove on.

Now, you're probably thinking that's a lousy story and if you're looking for Lifetime Drama, you'd be right. Although I wasn't happy about getting my spot taken so blatantly, I chose to believe that the other driver was just a little confused. Even if she wasn't - what was I to do? It's not like I'm going to get into a fist fight over a place to park.

Similarly, in the midst of a time-sensitive project I was working on, my printer failed me. Now, this doesn't seem like a big deal unless you're like me, which is - you don't care about how computers work, just as long as they do. I tried the classic trick of unplugging it, turning it off and on, and pressing every button in random combinations. None of it worked. So I went to sleep. Again, not a great story, but there is a lesson.

The parking spot that was stolen was miles (slight exaggeration) from the theater. The one I ended up parking in was barely 20 steps away. The printer never did work that night, but the next day when I came home from work, it did. I don't know why, but that's o.k. I've learned not to question unexpected blessings. Additionally, I realized that if I had thrown a fit when it broke, or if I had taken the opportunity to rattle off a litany of the injustice done to me by the parking spot-thief, I'd still be in the same position I am today and position isn't all that bad. I secured a great spot and I have a working printer. My reaction didn't change the outcome, but it did help me appreciate it.

Sometimes its the small victories that teach us about grace. Sometimes we learn from our mistakes. Although I'm more apt to attempt the latter, I'm glad when the former offer some instruction too.


Leading through Service

Every so often a buzz word catches on in the business world. It might be "synergy", "positioning" or "the long tail" (I kid you not) but somehow, some way, through the magic of pop culture an innocuous word suddenly starts appearing in boardrooms across the nation. Often times the people uttering the words can't even define them, but that doesn't stop them from encouraging their adoption. Usually there's a banner company like GE that advocates its acceptance and business leaders (who are more rightly called followers in this regard) flood to training seminars to learn the habits of those who have proven effective. It's management by the masses and usually the process leads to nothing but the readiness to adopt the next guru's cure.

A few years ago, the cause of hysteria in the business world was "servant leadership." Books from previously unknown authors abounded. Everyone was willing to get in on the act - to help leaders learn how to act like servants in order to further their own causes. This organizational mindset even had religious undertones which carried it further upstream. The idea was that if leaders embraced the notion to give of themselves for others, that they, and the organization would be better off. In certain respects, it worked. Given the choice between leading humbly and leading with pride, the former is bound to beat the latter in the long-run every time.

However, I don't think the management textbooks completely got the idea right. See - they tried to take leaders and teach them to serve - a worthy endeavor. But I wonder how often we overlook those who are already serving and therefore providing leadership? We try to take those who are exalted and teach them humility. How much more can we learn from those who are already humbled? Whether its the tech guy who's willing to burn the midnight oil to solve the computer glitch, the cleaning crew who is the last to leave or the first to arrive, or the artist who doesn't ever get to put their name on a design because its created for another - each of these are already leading, even if their title speaks otherwise.

Maybe leading through service is a higher aim than servant leadership. It's something we're all capable of regardless of what our business cards say.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Skewed Priorities

Like many, I was shocked yesterday to hear of Heath Ledger's death. If you asked a sample of people about who the next young celebrity to die would be, I would guess that Heath's name would never come up. He didn't seem to get a lot press for anything outside of his body of work (and his relationship with co-stars), but critically he received much acclaim. All of which probably combined to make his death all the more shocking.

As startling as news of the young actor's death was, more astonishing has been the press coverage. A quick visit to and you can receive a timeline of the young man's life, hourly updates as to what friends are saying, what the medical examiner is saying, who could have seemed this coming, etc. Random eulogies from former co-stars abound. It's all mind-boggling. All the more so because young people's lives from across the globe are terminated every day - often through choices not their own - and the press barely pays attention. As mentioned previously, I have a personal interest in the violence in Kenya and now - even as things once again intensify - I have to search for news on the subject. A whole country is being torn apart and in less than three weeks time, we're too bored to pay attention.

I understand the fascination with new. In fact, since I'm in marketing, I exploit it. But somewhere along the line, news became sensationalism and what was the most sensational is what we discussed. Import is based on the extent that the subject shocked us, and not on the impact it has. We've focused on the latest in abandonment of the lasting.

Writing this, I know I'm the worst offender. I'm fascinated by lives of people whose claim to fame is the ability to pretend they're something their not. Maybe if I was a little bit more impressed by those who were genuine, my priorities would be more aligned with God's.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Not Such A Small World

I never liked to travel. In fact, although hate may be too strong of a word, I definitely disliked it greatly. I was a homebody; I liked the comfortableness of routine. That is, until I learned to travel my way - with as few plans as possible. Take me on a trip where every minute is scheduled and I'm miserable. Let me go exploring and I'm as happy as can be. My delayed awakening to the joys of travel meant that I, unlike my sister, never went on a jaunt around Europe to celebrate the conclusion of high school. Nor did I go on one of the many fabulous trips offered during my college career. To some extent, I'm making up for the deficiency now as I travel more than I thought I ever would.

Because of my original disinclination to travel and my subsequent embrace of it, I now try to convince others of its value. Namely with my students, but with others as well. One of the reasons for this is that its hard not to love a place that you've really experienced. We tend to get so wrapped up in our worlds that the news of death and destruction in other places rarely touch us. But when you've been there, when you know the names and the faces of those who are threatened, the headlines took on a whole new meaning. You live for the next story, you visit often, and you pray with every fiber of your being.

I know of which I write as I have recently returned from Kenya. For those who don't know, I left on Dec. 28 and since December 29 the country has been terrorized by riots, violence, and politckikng the places the ego of the supposed leaders over the lives of their followers. The country is literally ripping at the seams, and as I anxiously await the news of my friends' village, I am gripped by the reality that the extent of this turmoil would have effected me much less if I had not been there to experience the country's beauty. My heart is broken regularly for a country who, for me, defined welcoming, and is now defined by violence. A community that I grew to love, is now threatened for its existence and a people who have worked so hard to achieve a better life, now struggle to protect any life at all.

Being thousands of miles away there is little that I can do for this community, but I can do this. Empowering Lives International has set up an emergency fund to help in care for those who are displaced. You can read more here on ELI's blog. Donation information is as follows:

Empowering Lives International
PO Box 67 Upland, CA 91785
Earmark it for the “Kenya Emergency Fund

Regardless of your ability to give please be praying not only for my friends and their community, but for the leaders both local and national to see God's face, be inspired by His glory and to find His peace.

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One Isn't Enough

Being content is a state that is much sought after, and few seldom achieve. In fact, when I quizzed my students recently about what defines them, I was shocked when one of them answered "I'm content." You don't often hear people say that these days, even less when they are college students. It was a pleasant surprise, and one that I will cherish because this student had already discovered something that many adults her senior still chase after.

As frequent readers of this blog know (that's you, Mom) I write about being content a lot. A psychologist might say I'm projecting, but I don't think that is true. Just like my student, I think I'm a pretty content individual. Despite a pretty disciplined nature (which I've recently felt is more of a reaction that a proclivity), I'm not ambitious. On any given day, I'm pretty happy with the way life is, and even when there are challenges, I recognize that its a season and that I'm still way beyond blessed. I've also discovered though that there are some things we should not be content with such as an reluctance to completely surrender to God. Sometimes, we should want more than we have.

In the past, when I've listened to songs asking for "a thousand tongues to sing, my great Redeemer's praise" I always thought the lyricst was calling for a thousand people to reveal God's goodness. However, God has plenty of people who will declare His goodness, He doesn't need me to call forth a thousand. Even if there weren't people who will shout His name, the rocks and the trees would. So, what do the song lyrics mean? It's a desire that I could have a thousand tongues, because the one I have just isn't enough to do the goodness of God justice. Maybe with a thousand tongues I could adequately convey how God has richly blessed my life and the miracle of His salvation. There isn't enough time in the world for a single tongue to relate God's majesty, but maybe with one thousand I could get closer to that ideal.

Most people probably think one tongue is plenty for me (I tend to agree since in day-to-day life, I get in enough trouble with just that.) But when it comes to declaring God's love, one just isn't enough.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Remaining the Same

"You don't like yourself, but you do admire yourself. . .You're afraid that if you change, you'll lose what makes you special . . "

These words of insight were spoken by character on House - a great television show that I rarely watch but I definitely appreciate. I know many people probably consider it trite to write about something spoken by a fictional character, but it occurred to me that this is the reason that many people stay committed to a personna even when they've rather behave differently. The person that they are, is the person that they are familiar with, and changing involves quite a bit of risk. Not only may you stop liking your new self, others may too.

It's funny that things that define us. We're the goofy ones, and so we stay goofy even when we're in pain. We're the quiet ones so we stay quiet even when we have words to say. Angry, friendly, beautiful, loud - they all can be masks that we put on in order to ensure that we meet the expectations of people. We're comfortable with the image we've created - and we're too afraid of the risks to create something too.

The problem with remaining the same is that you'll never experience anything new - and you'll never know if there was something you missed.


The Bubble

One of the coolest things that I have the opportunity to do is to hang out with business students from California Baptist University every Thursday night. Of course, these gatherings take the form of a marketing class, so what I consider cool, they may consider work, but regardless we tend to have a good time. Additionally, although its my job to teach them, I learn more from them then they could imagine.

In a recent class, there was a discussion regarding a rival university. The topic eventually veered off into whether people who go to a Christian university really experience life or whether once they get into the "real world" they will be ill-prepared for what they find. It mirrored a discussion I had with a student in another class. Is life at a Christian university really life in a bubble? Does the bubble pop upon graduation?

This discussion was brought to mind as I read about a Christian who started a business but then wasn't sure about the legal ramifications of incorporating his faith into his work. Essentially, both the businessman and the students are wondering the same thing. Does this "Christian-thing" really have application to real life? If so, how?

The only answer I can give is the one I gave to the student who questioned me about the value of a Christian education, and that it is this - the foundation that is being laid will shape who you are and the type of life you lead. The experiences that you have a result are can't be quantified. Its about the person that you are, not the status that you attain and in the end, that's all that matters anyway.

There is no such thing as a "Christian life" and a "work life" - there's only life. The challenge is that when the bubble bursts - whether upon graduation or a thousand other life situations that will change your perspective - do you have faith that will see you through to the end?

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Unintended Consequences

We’ve all been in the situation. We’ve just said something and no sooner have the words left our mouth than we wish we had a time machine that we could jump in and revert to five minutes earlier. Now, having the wisdom of our mistake, we would never have uttered the words that caused offense. The folly of our error would remain un-experienced and our reputation would remain intact.

If this situation wasn’t bad enough, we now enter the wonderful electronic age where the transgression of writing without thinking takes faux paux to a whole level. With e-mail, a click of the button can be the difference between saving face and losing it. And electronic communication doesn’t give you the benefit of seeing the other person’s response so you can not immediately assuage their condemnation. You have to wait until a surprise of your own finds its way into your inbox to discover that your brilliant humor caused offense and not laughter. And immediately the backpedaling begins.

As someone who tends to have a sharp wit, I find myself in this situation more often than I care to admit. I’ve recently come to the conclusion that a large part of the reason for my sarcastic tendencies is that I’m a woman in a man’s world. Even though I work in a pretty feminine industry (jewelry), most of the people that I deal with outside of the office are men. Additionally as Tom Hanks said about baseball, “there’s no crying in business.” You’re supposed to be tough and as any guy will tell you sarcasm is one of the ways you earn your credentials. People of the male persuasion use sarcasm as a bizarre indication of bonding. I entered their world and adapted. Now, I find my sarcastic tendencies hard to turn off. Even when I try to edit myself, I find my natural response is a sarcastic one. Unfortunately repeatedly finding myself in hot water hasn’t done much to encourage censorship.

Which leads me to my point (if I still have any readers are this stage, they are thinking – it’s about time.) Sometimes there is nothing you can do about unintended consequences. You make a mistake, realize that things weren’t as clear as they first appeared, and you move on. Of course, along the way it’s important to reconcile with those who’ve hurt but as of yet, there is no time machine you can drop into to make the error altogether disappear. When I find myself in these situations, it’s a painful reminder of God’s grace. Somewhere along the way “Perhaps I’m not as wonderful as I originally thought” usually occurs to me and then I’m immediately grateful that God’s grace isn’t dependent on how great I am – and that it covers all consequences even those that are unintended.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Pictures from the Hike

When asked about Kenya, I relate one of two stories - either of our late-night food delivery or the hike. Until now, I didn't have pictures of our excursion. Without further adieu, photo documentation of one of my favorite experiences:

This is me facing my fear and crossing the bridge.


Just a Taste

Recently, my church had a hymn sing (or "worship night" depending on who you ask.) The purpose was to gather together and sing some standard-bearer songs of the faith. Several people seemed surprise that someone my age would be there. As one lady commented "I don't think my children would know any of these songs."

As with so many things in life, though, I tend to be a little odd. I love hymns. I figure there's a reason that they've been around for hundreds of years. The idea of standing in a huge cathedral and singing along to a pipe organ that is belting out "It Is Well With My Soul" makes me smile. Hymns stir your heart towards God. They proclaim His timeless majesty and echo His unspeakable magnitude. Hymns are larger than life, and remind us that God is too.

Recently I was reminded of the gems that many hymns contain as I listened to "Blessed Assurance." For those who may not know it, the chorus says:

"Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine
Oh what a foretaste of glory divine"

It was the second line that startled me. Having sung the hymn many times before, I am not sure I had stopped to think about what it meant. Today, we give just a taste of glory. All the good things that God has blessed us with, doesn't compare to the portion we receive in knowing that Jesus is ours. This knowledge provides us a glimpse into what heaven will be like; the opportunity for perfect communion with the One who knows us better than ourselves. Its just a taste, but what a indescribable morsel it is.

Thanks to God for whetting our appetite with the gift of His Son. What a privilege to look forward to an eternity of being satisfied with Him.


Sunday, January 6, 2008

With the Eyes of a Child

One of the best things about kids is their absolute abandonment. Most of the times, kids are so unaware of themselves that they are willing to do things that as "civilized" adults we would never do. I remember one time when I was younger we were at a baseball game and I asked some man sitting next to me if I could borrow his binoculars. My parents were aghast but up until they expressed their astonishment I didn't see anything wrong with the request. Similarly, while I was in Kenya my favorite people to talk to were the children. I didn't feel any judgment or an awareness of my huge cultural ignorance. They were friends with me from the moment we shook hands.

Absolute abandonment is usually accompanied by wonder because it means that you are able to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. When you are free from contrived restraints, the opportunities for joy are boundless. I think this is why Christ commands us to become like little children; children take pleasure in what they've been given and find a myriad of ways to enjoy simple things. My niece can play with a piece of tissue paper indefinitely. As is often the case, at Christmas she was more enthralled with the packaging then the actual gifts. She found amazement in recycled tree bark during a season in which many adults are trying to ensure their status through their acquisition of possessions. Children discover that through enjoying what they have, further acquisition is unnecessary and they are amazed at their good fortune.

May we view all of God's gifts similarly.


Nothing Due

"God will meet you where you're at"
"Don't worry, it will happen. God has a person for you"
"This too shall pass"
"God accepts you just how you are"

Sometimes the most inaccurate things are said with the best of intentions.

In a culture that thinks that the ultimate purpose of life is to avoid suffering, the Church has parlayed the wisdom of the world into spiritual adages that sound good, but are wobbly in their theological accuracy. We often act like God is there to make sure that we are doing o.k. and that His sole reason for existence is to ensure our continued happiness. The truth is that God doesn't owe us anything so all the good that we are given is an act of His grace. To think that we are entitled to anything else is ridiculous.

In an article called "Don't Waste Your Life", John Piper states, "Our life is not our own. It belongs to God." Whatever He chooses to place in that life is solely at His discretion. Our job is to use whatever He has given us, good and bad, for His glory. That will barely make a dent into what He's due.


Thursday, January 3, 2008

Kenya Pictures

Manufactured Experiences

I'm not the biggest fan of Disneyland. I realize that this is anathema to many people, one of them who happens to be my sister, but alas, its true. Disneyland is highly over-rated. Maybe its great for children, but for adults I don't understand the allure.

For a while, I didn't know why I was apathetic to the Magic Kingdom, but I've recently realized the cause. When you are at Disneyland (or any Disney theme park), everything is a poor substitute for something real. Instead of climbing the Matterhorn, you ride around a caricature of it in a cart. Instead of visiting various cultures, you glide in a boat listening to an annoyingly persistent song. Every experience at Disneyland is a manufactured one - designed to create a reduced representation of something great. It's called the place "where dreams come true", but its not. Its where contrived versions of dreams are produced and where people settle for less than greatness in exchange for convenience. And the really weird thing is that when you are there, you really are in another world. You can spend an entire day in one of Disney's parks and never venture into the community in which it resides. You were there, without ever making an appearance. This may or may not have been Walt's original intention, but it is what's come to be.

I fear that being content with manufactured experiences isn't exclusive to Disney, We all settle for less - sometimes its cause of fear, other times its because of expense, sometimes its just laziness. God has given us a banquet and we opt for fast food. Instead, may we always experience the bountifulness of His blessings.


Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Safely Home

I arrived back safely from my trip to Kenya. It was a remarkable experience and I am so grateful for the opportunity.

The same day that I left Kenya, there was a departure of a different kind. Hannah, Juli's patient with the facial tumor, went home to be with the Lord. Juli was scheduled to visit her to drop off more medicine and when she arrived, she was given the news that Hannah had passed away. Hannah's daughter, Nancy, clung to her and asked, "Juli, my mom has left me; what will I do without my mom?" Its the question that every daughter asks when her mother leaves this Earth. Death is one of the common human experiences that causes one to realize that regardless of culture, language, economic status or background, there are some things that everyone shares. Nancy, however, can rest secure in the fact that her mom who looked eagerly to her future home, will one day greet her again. She too arrived safely home.

Thank you all for your prayers and for remotely joining me on my journey. I will post a link to pictures soon.

Postscript - I wrote previously that Kenya was preparing for elections. The elections took place the day I left and the results have been announced. The incumbent won and due to allegations of voting irregularities there have been several days of violence and riots. Please pray for the safety of my new friends and that peace would reign in the country. Among my many lessons, was a renewed gratitude for how blessed we are in America for a stable government order.

Update - this story gives a recap of the Kenyan turmoil. Eldoret, the town mentioned throughout the article, is the closest town to my friends.

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Better Things Ahead: January 2008

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Better Things Ahead