Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Remembering Yesterday: FB Status Report August 24, 2009

You know how Facebook puts your status report from previous years in the upper right hand corner of the page sometimes?  Sometimes I ignore the references to the past, but sometimes remembering has power.  This reminder takes me back to right before I started teaching at San Diego State.

On This Day In 2009

Erin Flewellingwill finish the syllabus for RWS 100 today--no matter what. If you pray, please pray for me. Thanks.

I clicked on the post and got even more reminders.  This was written before our TA orientation.  I thought I needed to create a schedule for the entire semester.  I pored over other schedules and tried to imagine what it would be like to teach a classroom full of first semester freshmen.  I had no idea what it would be like.  It turned out I didn't actually need the schedule and so my fears were baseless.  Most of my fears are, actually.

It turned out that I love teaching.  I knew that already, of course, but actually teaching in a formal setting reminded me that there's nothing I would rather do.  Unless it's research, creating curriculum, or writing.

The post reminder means a lot to me today because I've just finished creating my syllabi for the four classes I'm teaching as a lecturer at San Diego State.  A week ago I got a call with an offer for two classes, and by Monday I had four classes.  Today, seven days after the first offer, my course reader is ready to be printed and I have four syllabi to take to the RWS office.  None of that scared me.

I get stronger every time I face a fear and walk forward into the unknown.  I'm a little overwhelmed by the need to learn 128 names (plus 25 for the ESL class), grade three sets of 128 papers, and start working on an ESL certificate.  More unknowns.  And a lot of work.

But I am not afraid.

Some years ago I told some friends that I felt like God was telling me to move.  Move forward.  I knew the general direction, but I wasn't exactly sure where I was going.  I still don't know exactly.  Maybe we never do.

Still, it's kind of good to look back and see where I was in relation to where I am now and know that I am moving even if the movement is frequently awkward or painful.  

Monday, August 22, 2011

Roller Coasters and Wave Jumping: Audacious Faith in Action

I rode my first roller coaster as soon as I reached minimum height.  I think I was eleven.  I don't really remember.  I do remember the clicking sound of the old coaster at Elitch Gardens as we traveled slowly up the wooden rails, and I remember reaching the top and realizing now we were going down.  I remember the speedy descent with my hair flying and my hands gripped tightly gripping the bar in front of me.  I remember closing my eyes tightly.  I remember simultaneous fear and thrill.  I remember getting off the ride and wanting to get back in line.

It felt like I could die, but I knew I wouldn't because I trusted the roller coaster designers.  That was an exhilarating feeling.

Over the years I've been on a ton of roller coasters.  I've been upside down and sideways more times than I could count.  I've screamed and gripped the bars in front of me and squeezed the bars in front of me over and over.  And then after a while I just didn't care any more.

The thing is, I really don't feeling like I might die.  So to assuage my fear, I reminded myself that I wouldn't REALLY die.  It only felt that way.  Without the thrill of "almost death," I lost interest in roller coasters.  Plus, I almost always ended up with a nasty headache.  And tickets to amusement parks got super expensive.  Riding roller coasters just didn't seem worth the time or money.  

In some weird sort of way, my disinterest in roller coasters tells the story of my life adult life.  I don't like risk. I don't like getting jerked around.  I don't like uncertainty.  I want to know and understand everything.  As it turns out, roller coasters aren't actually as safe as I thought they were, and neither is life.

I don't want long, slow rides up rickety rails to the top of the track.  I don't enjoy death-defying drops at breakneck speeds, gripping the overhead bar, feeling like I might fall out to certain death.  And so I stopped going on roller coasters, literally and figuratively.  Without adventurous roller coaster rides, literally and figuratively, I lose the feeling of the wind blowing through my hair, the sense that I'm not in control of my life, and the exhilaration of not dying.  I also lose the need to trust the roller coaster designers.

Over the years, I've joked that my life was boring and I liked it that way. Definitely no roller coasters in that life.   Instead, I craved certainty, stability, control.  Even if it meant that I didn't pursue dreams.  Pursuit of dreams meant possible failure or rejection.  Worse, it meant uncertainty.

A few years ago I lost my dad to a massive heart attack and boring certainty just didn't satisfy me anymore.  I chose to chase dusty dreams of teaching and writing.  I chose to go back to school, and now I'm riding a roller coaster, zipping around corners, looping around the track upside down, holding tightly to the over-the-head bar that's supposed to keep me from falling out.  I don't trust the coaster designer as much as I used to, honestly, and I don't always enjoy the ride.  I keep hoping the coaster will stop so I can look at it with a different perspective.  It doesn't seem like it will ever slow down.

This summer I hit the scariest part of the track. I had to finish my thesis.  I wasn't sure I would get that done, but I did.  I got it formatted and turned it in.  Brief celebration.  The coaster car didn't come off the track.

Off to Boston.  I'm holding my breath again as I meet with other teaching associates and publishers.  I should be thrilled, but honestly, I think they'll figure out I'm a fraud.  I'm gripping the bar.  Total white knuckled.

Back to school after Boston to tutor in a new class.  These twists and turns are familiar, but I still feel dizzy.  I see an upside down loop coming my way as I face unemployment.  I apply for jobs all around San Diego.  I hear nothing.

I'm reading Sun Stand Still by Steve Furtick right now. Long story short, Furtick advocates a living a life of audacious faith.  And that takes risk.  Sort of like riding roller coasters and not being absolutely positive that the coaster will stay on the track or the safety bars will keep you from falling out.

As part of his description of audacious faith, Furtick describes "wave jumping," a game he plays with with his three year-old son. Now, I think the ocean can be pretty scary when you're a kid.  Cold dark waves come at you with tremendous force, and you figure out pretty quick that they can knock you over.  Depending on the strength of the waves, they can actually hold you down under the water.

That's why it seems like a good idea to stand and face the waves and jump when they hit you.   I don't know, maybe it lessens the force of the wave.

Anyway, the game goes something like this:  Furtick walks out into the ocean with his three-year-old son, Elijah, as far out as his son is comfortable.  Right now, Elijah's willing to head out to chest high water.  And then when the wave approaches, Elijah lifts his arms straight up.  At that point, Furtick grabs Elijah's hands and lifts him up out of the wave, high above the spray of the water, so that Elijah feels safe.

Afterward, when Furtick puts his son back down in the water, Elijah tells his dad, "I'm the Wave Jumper, Daddy."  Elijah doesn't quite realize that it's not him doing the jumping, but his dad's strength that enables him to jump.

Elijah loves the game.  He gets to hang out with his dad and enjoy the ocean, and he experiences the thrill and risk of the wave without getting knocked down.  He totally trusts his dad.

Furtick likens this to living a life of faith.  We head out into the ocean with our heavenly Father, facing the waves, and when the waves approach, we lift up our hands, knowing that he will lift us up so that we aren't knocked down and then held under the water by the force of the wave.

How cute, I thought, as I read the story.  Elijah knows his dad will rescue him.  Elijah knows his dad will take care of him. If he wasn't absolutely positive that his dad were behind him, ready to lift him up out of the wave, he wouldn't have the courage to go out into the ocean.  He's only three.  He has audacious faith that his dad will take care of him every single time.

I don't live with that audacious faith.  When I started school, I waded into the ocean, and every time a paper was due or I had to read something beyond my understanding, I raised up my hands, and God totally lifted me above the wave.  I wrote research papers.  I learned new concepts.  I started teaching.  I felt the spray of water in my faith, the wind blowing through my hair.

I can't say this game has been all that much fun.  I mean, I'm out in the ocean, and I don't have confidence that God will lift me up out of the wave.  I'm not positive the wave won't hold me just a little too long, at which point God will lift me up and ask me what I've learned.  I hold my breath and squeeze my eyes tight until the moment the wave hits.  At that moment, I sigh with relief and say, "That wasn't so bad."

I think that's how a lot of us live.  After a lot of thought, we're willing to step into the ocean, facing the waves.  We're a little less willing when the waves are big, but we might head out to our ankles.  We're pretty sure we can jump when the waves come if the water only comes to our ankles.  Maybe we might even head out to knee-high water.  We like the coolness of the water.  We're in awe of the strength and the beauty of the ocean.

It's not too exciting.  In fact, it's kind of boring, but it's safe.

Chest-high water is another thing.  Now we know we can't actually jump the wave on our own strength.  We actually might get knocked down.  We're not sure that our heavenly father is behind us, ready to lift us up when the wave comes.  We've forgotten how much God loves us.  We've forgotten how to live with audacious faith.

Some people thrive on excitement.  I'm not sure I do.  But I'm willing to face the waves when I have to.  I just don't have a lot of fun.  I don't crave excitement.

And so I finished my thesis on time.  The wave crashed over my toes, and God held me up.  I didn't even get my face wet.

The thesis finally got reviewed, and it passed.  I couldn't see them yet, but the waves of unemployment were heading toward me.  Getting jobs is hard enough, but without a degree, it's pretty much impossible.  And just at the last minute, God lifted me up, the reviewers approved my thesis, and I graduated.  Another wave that didn't knock me down.  I didn't even appreciate the arms holding me high, and I didn't celebrate.

I turned in my CV (an academic resume) almost all over town, and I heard nothing.  And this time I thought for sure, the waves would knock me over and hold me under.  I thought for sure I hadn't done enough, and so why would God lift me out of the oncoming tsunami.  Was there a tsunami?  I don't know, but the waves seemed enormous.

On Wednesday, after we got back from a restful time in Palm Springs, I met with my ESL mentor at Grossmont.  I knew I needed to meet the English chair and turn in another CV.  I wasn't sure where the English department had offices, but I thought I remembered from a previous visit.  I didn't find the offices, but I found the name of the English chair and her office number.  I headed over and paused at a bulletin board with her picture.  Would she be there?  I walked into the office, past half a dozen empty offices.  And there she was, in the last office.

Immediately I walked out of the building, my heart beating rapidly.  I sat on a bench outside the building and prayed.
God, I don't know why I would even bother.  Classes start next week.  She has all the teachers she needs.  I'll just look stupid.  What will I say?  I don't want to do this, God.
And I could hear the words of Jamie Madden at San Diego State, "The answer is always no if you don't ask." Profound words.  What if, just moments before, someone called her and said they couldn't take a class?  It could happen.

I reached into my purse to get my phone and turn it off.  It would be really bad if the phone rang while I was standing there stuttering.  No phone.  I really didn't want to go back into the office.  But what if the answer were yes?

And in the back of my head, I thought of Steve Furtick, his son Elijah, and wave jumping.  And so I asked for God's blessings on this adventure, and I walked into the office.

I did not get a job.  But I also didn't sound stupid.  And the department chair was very sweet.  And so I drove home.  I felt like the wave had headed toward me, but I faced it and jumped.  As I walked out, excited that I had faced the wave, I wanted to yell, "Daddy, I'm a wave jumper!"  I refrained, but I was practically skipping as I returned to my car.

A couple hours later, I remembered I didn't know where my phone was and I went looking.  I saw a message from Jamie Madden at SDSU.  She had called right about the same time I was sitting on the bench, praying, and reaching for my phone.  Her message said she had two classes for me at State.  I could hardly contain myself, and I called her back immediately.  This time I did dance.

I felt like I'd jumped two waves in one day, like God had rescued me from the oncoming tsunami, just like he had always planned to rescue me.  Today I got another call from Jamie, and I got one more class.  I'm so excited that I'm smiling.  I'm planning courses.  I'm jumping up and down.  Metaphorically.  I chose adventure, and when the waves came, I jumped and there’s nothing so exhilarating as jumping high above the waves, the wind in my face, blowing through my hair, feeling the spray of cool water, seeing the force and not getting knocked over.

I'm grateful that I headed into the ocean past my ankles, where I could handle the waves.  I'm grateful that God lifted me up.  I'm excited about the adventure.  Three classes is a lot of work, and 96 papers is a lot to grade.  Plus I'll have my ESL internship at Grossmont. And I'm taking two ESL classes to lead to certification.    So I'll be busy.  When am I not busy.

But I'm excited.  I'm celebrating.  For some people, this may be wading out in the ocean to their ankles, but to me, this is water way past my waist.  To me, this is an adventure.  Maybe I even like adventure. 

But I don’t have to like adventures to choose them, and I don’t have to like risk to enter into it.  The reality is that I chose adventure when I left a safe job with a paycheck every week to go to school.  I chose adventure when I left my home in Colorado, married Duane, and headed to California.  I chose adventure when I started having kids. 

We choose adventures every time we wade into the ocean past our ankles, facing the unknown.  We can like them or not—they are certainly more fun when we embrace the unknown.  And I suspect I am more fun to be around when I’m not filled with anxiety about the things I’m afraid of. 

Last night I was thinking about school and graduation and jobs and how excited I was to have these gifts from God.  And then I realized that God would still be God if the reviewers hadn't passed my thesis and if I hadn't gotten jobs at SDSU.  And I wouldn't drown under the water even if these things hadn't happened.  

A lot of people do what we do and never consider it a spiritual adventure.  They get married, have kids, start careers, go to school, etc., and they’re not talking about God.  So the spiritual adventure, jumping waves, the roller coaster, whatever you want to call it, isn’t about the stuff we do. 

Part of the adventure is not knowing, trusting, heading deeper into the waves, knowing that God is with us.  Part of the adventure is the relationship that grows between the creator of the universe and me when I trust him. 

And I guess that’s the greatest adventure of all.  The one we were made for.  The adventure of knowing God, seeking him, following him wherever he leads. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Thirty years old. Died from a heart attack.

This morning Duane and I went to breakfast at Denny's.  He'll be up in Irvine at a class, and I'll be at home, working on my syllabus and course reader.  Breakfast together seemed like a good plan.  After 33 years, I never get tired of spending time with Duane.  

I came home and decided to read the paper and scan Facebook.  Facebook is a great way to stay caught up with friends and family.  Owls serenaded Denise last night and kept her from sleeping.  Lou's grandson is turning six.  Robin's taking her daughter up to Biola for her first year of college.  Nice stuff.  I wouldn't know any of this without Facebook.  

Jon gave dating advice to guys:  If a girl thinks you're important, she'll make time for you.  Fairly good advice.  Facebook's good for that kind of thing too.  

Venessa posted a prayer request for B, a friend whose husband had a heart attack last night and didn't make it.  Venessa and her husband Sven grew up with this young man, who was only 30 years old and had three-year-old daughter.  B. is 21 weeks pregnant.  

I don't know Venessa's friend, J.  I don't know B., his wife.  But I can pray.  

As I pray, I picture the young wife and I begin to imagine what she is feeling.  Alone.  With one little girl and one more baby on the way.  She won't wake up next to her husband tomorrow morning.  He won't massage her ankles.  He won't encourage her when she goes into labor.  He won't grow old with her so they can go to Denny's on a quiet Friday morning.  These thoughts make me catch my breath and grieve for the loss, even though I don't know J. or his wife.

Most of the time, I forget to thank God for life and breath and a heart that keeps beating.  

My dad had a massive heart attack and died almost immediately.  My brother called me from Colorado Springs, and I heard the words, and I knew they were true, but it didn't seem real.  I flew out to be with my mom, and we chose clothes for him to wear and took care of funeral arrangements, but it still didn't seem final.  Even after seeing him in the casket, even after the funeral and the trip to the cemetery, it didn't seem real and so in the car, on the way home to San Diego, I loudly announced, "My dad's dead."  I paused and said it again, to no one in particular, mostly because I needed to hear the words.  I continued to repeat those words over and over periodically on the trip home.  I needed the loss to sink into my soul so I could know.  My dad was gone.  

But my dad was 69 years old when he had his heart attack.  He had watched all his kids grow up, get married, have kids.  He had laughed and traveled and spent nearly fifty years with my mom.  We miss him.  My mom misses him the most.  

I don't want to imagine what it would be like to grow up without a dad.  

I want to ask, "Why?"  But "why" doesn't matter right now.  No answer would ever be good enough. 

And so I pray for B., the wife of Venessa's friend and for their children.  I pray that God puts his arms around  B. and comforts her, that he provides for her, that she has friends who will be there for her when she feels alone.  This is a long-term prayer need.  Three years after losing my dad, my mom still feels very, very alone.  

But I don't know B., and chances are that even though I will pray for intermittently all day today and possibly tomorrow, after a while, I'll forget.  B. will never forget.  Her kids will never forget.  

B.'s story reminds me to treasure the moments I have with my husband, with my kids, with dear friends and family members.  I tend to get distracted by urgent things in life, like school and work.  I tend to get anxious about uncertainties in my life, and when I get caught up in my fear, I miss important moments with people I care about. 

And it reminds me to care for the people I have in my life. I just called my mom.  I don't do that enough.  

It sounds like a cliche, but life is short.  It doesn't come with any guarantees.  All we get is today, which may go well or not so well.  But we do get today.  Let's make it matter.  

Monday, August 15, 2011

Freak Show: The mysterious floating ax head! Part 2

Just a little recap from Part 1.  We're looking at 2 Kings 6, the story of the mysterious floating ax head.   Lenny (not his real name) accidentally loses a borrowed ax head into the Jordan River and totally freaks out.  Elisha hears him screaming, comes to find out why, and when he learns about the mishap, he asks where in the river the ax head fell.  Lenny points to the place, Elisha cuts a little stick and throws it into the water, and a the entire band of prophets watches, the ax head mysteriously floats to the top of the water so that Lenny can retrieve it.  End of story.

Clearly this doesn't happen everyday.

I read this story, and I wonder: Why does the author include this story in a chronicle of kings and prophets?  What does he want us to know?  What does he want us to think or do?

More than that, what does this story tell us about God?  And what does it tell us about the role of God in our lives?  Does it even matter?

I suppose there are a lot of ways to answer these questions.  Honestly, right off the bat, it tells me that God can do anything, that's he not bound by physical laws.  God can make ax heads float.  He can divide rivers.  He can make water spring out of a rock.  We see all those things in Scripture.  It also tells me that God cares about details, like borrowed axes and finishing buildings.  Jesus tells his disciples that God pays attention to sparrows and even numbers the hairs on our head.  Psalm 147 tells us that God knows exactly how many stars are in the sky--and that he has names for them.

So we don't need the story of the floating ax head to come to these conclusions and that makes me think that maybe I need to look a little more closely and see if there is some other thing I can learn from this story.

For that reason, I'm going to go back to the beginning of the story, to the part where the prophets tell Elijah, "This place is way too small.  We should find a bigger place."

This is kind of cool.  It means that God's at work, growing this band of prophets.  They used to fit in the building and now they don't.  God's got a plan.  He wants to restore Israel.  He wants to call them back into fellowship with him.  He wants to use Elisha and each of the prophets to do that.

And that's where I start seeing connections between that story and the one God is writing today, the one that includes you and me.  Just as God loved the people of Israel and desired a relationship with them, God loves us and desires a relationship with us.  The thing is, like the people of Israel, we gravitate toward doing our own thing.

What is God doing in your life?  Are you growing?  Are you changing?  Is he giving you a new vision or dream for the future?  What does that mean? Are you at place where you need to move to a bigger place?  And what does that look like?

The prophets sought godly counsel, from Elisha.  What about you?  Have you prayed about this new vision?  Have you talked to godly people and asked them for counsel?  Asked them to pray about this new endeavor?    And what kinds of challenges does this new dream present?

A dear friend set out to become a lawyer and found out practicing law wasn't quite what she imagined.  A missions trip to Fiji gave her a new dream and God opened doors for her to serve as the director of Give Clean Water.  She loves her work, but she's totally dependent on God for her finances now.

A friend of mine has a new dream for ministry.  It's one that he never had before, but now that he's thinking about it, he's super excited.  God is showing him all kinds of things he can do.  And now that he has this dream, he wants to move right away.  At the same time, the move is pretty risky.  He's got a job.  He's well accepted.  Not everyone believes he can succeed in this new dream.

Another friend was in a long-term relationship, and she knew that God was asking to pursue Him instead of the guy she had been with for about five years.  Although they were both Christians, she knew that she was putting her guy friend ahead of serving God and that God was asking her to step out in new directions.  It took her more than six months to obey, and four weeks after making that decision, she still struggles with sadness and loss.

A few years ago I stepped into a team that added creative elements to sermons and gave me opportunities to write.  I grew tons, and then God closed that door and I found myself making copies, filing paperwork, typing memos, and setting meetings.  I wondered what I had done wrong.  I felt like I was going to suffocate.  God had made my place small so that I would move to a new place, but I didn't know what to do, where to do.   I "accidentally" found the Rhetoric and Writing masters at State. All my life I've felt two calls--writing and teaching.  With this program, I would improve my writing and I would get to teach at the college level.

I knew immediately that I needed to chase after this dream, but at the same time, I was petrified.  What if I didn't get accepted?  What if I failed?  What if I couldn't get a job afterward?  What if God didn't come through for me?

That's kind of where I am now.  Graduated.  Looking for work.  Waiting for one or two or three colleges to say, "You're exactly the person we want to teach our students!"  So far--nothing.

Maybe God is showing you dreams of mission trips.  Maybe God has laid it on your heart to begin leading a Life Group or joining children's ministry.  Maybe he's given you a vision of a new ministry that doesn't exist yet.  

Maybe your vision, like mine, is completely unrelated to the church you attend?  That doesn't mean it's not connected to God's vision for your life?  Maybe God is showing you that you that you're in an unhealthy relationship and you need to end it? Or maybe it's the opposite.  He's asking you to commit to someone through marriage, and that scares you,  Maybe you've been laid off from your job and God hasn't shown you what's next.  Maybe you're getting a job transfer and you have to move.

Moving to a new place always involves risk.  That was true for the Elisha's prophets, and that's true for you.  They start building the structure, cutting down trees, and suddenly the ax falls into the river.  My friend with the new ministry dream?  He's been told he needs to wait for a year, and that news is totally devastating.  My friend who broke up with her boyfriend? She struggles with sadness and loneliness.  And I've already told you  about myself.   I don't have any jobs so I have to do something.  What's next? Writing?  Submitting articles?  More education?

A few years ago, Newbreak opened a new campus in Santee, and about 160 people committed to the new place.  The church asked my husband, Duane, to serve as campus pastor, and we were super excited to move out to Santee.  The church grew quickly at first, and then people left for one reason or another.  They quit coming to church altogether, or they moved to another campus.  As each service got smaller and smaller, it really did feel like the ax head had fallen into the river and we were stuck, unable to step into the promise God had given to the church.  Were we mistaken?  Were we doing something wrong?

In each of these cases, we set out to the new place God shows us.  We're cutting down trees, well on our way of moving into new buildings with room to grow, and then the ax head falls into the river and, like Lenny and the prophets, we're stuck.

What do we do now?  Do we go back to the old place?  The place that's too small?  That's not always an option.  Even when it is, we have to ask ourselves:   Are we ready to chase after the dream God gave us, even though that dream seems like it has sunk to the bottom of the river?  Are we ready to chase after that dream even when we don't quite know the outcome?

In our story, Lenny panics when the ax head falls into the river, but his friend and mentor, Elisha comes running.  Elisha asks, "Where did the ax head fall?"  Lenny points to the spot, Elisha cuts a stick and throws it into the river, and the ax head mysteriously floats to the top so that Lenny can pull it out and the team of prophets can finish the building.

Just as God raised the ax head from the bottom of the river, I believe God wants to resurrect and restore dreams he gave us, dreams that have been lost or forgotten.  I believe God wants to do the miraculous so that we know it's God at work and not us.

When I struggle with my dreams, I'm like Lenny.  I panic.  I get anxious.  First I call out to God and ask him to do the impossible.  And then when I'm about to give up and walk away, I do like Lenny and call out to friends who are willing to cut a stick, throw it in the water and ask God to do the impossible.

God wants to build a relationship with all of us.  He wants us to see his power and his strength.  He wants to show us that he is God.  He is able to defy the laws of nature and make ax heads float.  In fact, he wants to show us his power so that we rely on him and not on ourselves.

Whatever it is that has sunk to the bottom of the river in your life, he can raise it up.  He can make it new.

So what has God asked you to do?  What changes is he asking you to step into?  What challenges have you encountered?  Has your borrowed ax head sunk to the bottom of the river?  Do you need God to raise it up? Who are the people in your life that can join you in prayer, asking  God to do the impossible?

Right after I heard this sermon, my friend Nancy told me she's great at cutting sticks and throwing them into the water.  When my faith faltered, I knew I could count on Nancy to pray for me.  We really do need each other.  Who is counting on you to throw a stick in the river and pray for a miracle?

Honestly, I've got more questions than answers, and I'm not sure that's a great way to close out a blog post.  It does seem like the more we walk with God, the more challenges we experience, the more likely it is that we will need him to do the impossible.  I'm okay with that.  Mostly.

Incidentally, the little church in Santee is growing again.  We know it's God and not us.  We're still depending on Him.  And all those other stories I relayed?  All of us are still watching God bring the ax head to the surface. 

You might be reading this and saying, "No, I'm good right where I am and God hasn't asked me to do anything crazy or new in a long time.  I don't need any miracles."  I don't know your situation, and maybe everything really is good, but if I knew you well, I might ask you if you are growing right now.  Only you can answer that question.  

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Freak Show: The mysterious floating ax head! The only one of its kind. Part 1

Ax heads don't float.  It's against the laws of physics.

Okay.  I don't actually know any laws of physics, but I know ax heads don't float.  They sink to the bottom of whatever body of water they're in, whether it's a lake or an ocean or a sink.

But when God gets involved in things, natural laws don't seem to make that much difference.  And that brings us to the story of Elisha and his band or prophets.

Israel isn't doing so well after David dies.  I mean, Solomon starts out serving the Lord, but after a while, he gets distracted by all his wives and other female companions.  I don't know why, but he really wants to keep them all happy and so he lets them set up idols and altars to those idols and sometimes he even goes to the altars with them.  After Solomon dies, the kingdom of Israel splits up, and about every other king is worse than the one before him.

When kings start worshiping other gods, so do the people.  Along with worshiping other gods, they begin all kinds of totally evil practices, like sacrificing babies to idols.  It's not good.

Now, God's people have a cyclical history that goes something like this:  God calls them and blesses them.  They get distracted because everything's going so good and they begin thinking they earned those blessings because they're so fabulous.  At this point, they start doing things their own way.  They put money and riches first and start taking advantage of those who are less fortunate.  They start sleeping around.  They worship other gods and do things that totally go against God's laws.  At this point, God lifts his blessing, and surrounding kingdoms start attacking.  Without God's blessings, they start losing.  Eventually they call to God out for help and then God rescues them.  They serve God, he blesses them, and they get distracted because everything's going so good.  And so on.

At this point in our story, God's people are in the "doing things their own way" part of the cycle.  God wants to get their attention, and he raises up prophets.  You may have heard of Elijah.  He's one of the most well known prophets, and he spoke out against Ahab and Jezebel.  To this day, the name Jezebel has a pretty bad connotation.

Elijah starts raising up a band of prophets, men who are faithful to God's word, who aren't afraid to speak out against evil kings and ungodly practices.  Elisha was part of that band of prophets and before Elijah takes off in the fantastic flaming chariot (another freak show curiosity), he sets up Elisha as leader.

At any rate, Elisha's band of prophets grows so much that the place where they meet gets crowded.  So the prophets tell Elisha, "I think we need a bigger place.  Let's go down to the Jordan River and stake out some land.  If we all work together, we can build a new place, and it'll be awesome."

Elisha thinks it's a good idea, and he tells the guys to go ahead and start work without him.  The thing is, they really are hoping Elijah will come with them.  Elisha thinks about it and agrees.  Together they set out for the Jordan River.  The prophets are all hard at work, cutting down trees and laying out plans for the new building.   Lenny (not his real name) starts cutting down trees and is making awesome time when suddenly the ax head breaks off the ax and falls into the Jordan River.  Lenny totally freaks out.  Not only does the loss of the ax slow down the project, but it's not actually Lenny's ax.  He borrowed that ax head from a neighbor, and he really doesn't have the money to get a new one.  The whole evil king thing without God's blessing has really messed with the economy.  Plus, being a prophet isn't actually a lucrative endeavor.

And so Lenny starts wailing.  Okay, the Bible doesn't actually say he was wailing, but it does say he cries out. Clearly this lost ax head is a problem.  The Bible doesn't tell us what the river's like, if the ax head fell into rapids or still water.  It also doesn't tell us how deep the water is.  But we do know that Lenny's not jumping into the river to rescue the ax head.

Anyway, Elisha hears him screaming, comes to find out what's wrong, and calmly asks, "So where did it fall?" Lenny points to the place, Elisha cuts a little stick and throws it at the water, and lo and behold, the ax head floats to the top of the water and Lenny grabs it.  And that's the end of the story.

Clearly this doesn't happen everyday.

I read this story, and I wonder: Why does the author include this story? What does he want us to know?  To think?  To do?  What does it tell us about God?  What does it tell us about the role of God in our lives?

Does it even matter?

I think it does, but this blog post is already super long.  Tomorrow--hopefully--I'll start exploring those questions.

This story--and the sermon from Pastor Darrel--spoke to me pretty specifically, and I want to remember what God showed me.  It helps me if I wrote these ideas down.  Otherwise I usually forget what God has shown me.  I think most of us tend to have amnesia.*

*  Someday I want to write a book about that.  Unless I forget.

Friday, August 12, 2011


On Tuesday, I learned about a City College professor who heads up the developmental classes taught at SDSU.  We don't actually offer developmental classes here, but SDSU freshmen can take needed classes through a community college on this campus without without actually having to travel to a community college.

Yesterday I started "stalking" her.  I suppose it's not really stalking because I haven't sought out her home address and I don't walk up and down her street or call her on the phone and hang up.  All I did is knock on her office door at SDSU five times yesterday just in case she was working.

Today I got back from lunch and saw her in the office, meeting with someone else, and now I'm sitting at a desk down the hall from her office and checking email, Facebook, and waiting until that someone else goes away.

Sigh.  This is so very unlike me.


As I typed those words, I heard a voice and remembered I needed to find the English department head at Grossmont so that I could take over a CV to that campus.  And so I quickly packed up my computer and followed the voice down the hall.  He didn't have an answer, but we chatted.  I picked up a few things in my office and then began waiting for the first professor I was stalking.

Eventually she said goodbye, but she started a new conversation with a few people in her office as they moved chairs out into the hallway in order to roll up a carpet.  I approached the door and rolled a few chairs out as I stood there.  Eventually I got to say hi and identify myself as the person who had sent her an email.  I told her I just wanted to put a face with the email, and she thanked me and shook my hand.  She told me she didn't have anything open right now, but she had put my email in a file for the future.  It didn't feel too awkward.

And so I learn to do these things.
I still don't have a job, but at least I feel like I'm doing something.

I'm knocking on doors, but opening those doors is God's job.  

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Freak Show: Crazy Things You Have to See to Believe

When I was a kid, we had some well-worn lime-green books that belonged to my dad when he was a kid.  The books contained all kinds of fun activities--mazes, word searches, and instructions how to make cartoon characters out of question marks.  

Best of all, they contained totally crazy, mysterious stories.  I learned about the lost colony of Roanoke and the mysterious word "Croatoan" carved into the tree.  I learned about pirates and pirate treasures.  And I learned about P.T. Barnum, the Feejee Mermaid, General Tom Thumb, and the Siamese twins, Chang and Eng.

Barnum traveled around Europe and the United States promoting hoaxes and "human curiosities."  The Feejee Mermaid, of course, was not a real mermaid.  As far as we know there are none, but that didn't stop people like Barnum from showing them at their curiosity shows.  This one was the head and torso of a baby monkey sewn to a fish and covered with paper-mache.  Apparently it was borrowed from a museum.  It can't have looked that good, but maybe the people who paid to see it just wanted to believe in mermaids.  

Tom Thumb, born Charles Sherwood Stratton, was a dwarf, advertised as the "smallest human to ever walk the earth."  In reality, he started traveling with Barnum when he was only four years old.  I can't imagine what his parents were thinking.  On the other hand, conjoined twins Chang and Eng chose to earn a living traveling around the world and letting people stare at them.  When they earned enough money, they left the circus, bought a southern plantation, and married sisters.  

It's kind of sad, really.  I mean, people back then didn't look at Stratton as a real human, but as a freak.  And Chang and Eng?  Born in Siam, they are the original Siamese twins.  It's pretty remarkable that finally got to live a "normal" life.  

Freak shows are out of the mainstream today.  In fact, they're illegal in several states.  They're just not politically correct, and if parents sent their four-year-old off with an old man to be paraded across a stage because of a genetic anomaly, those parents and the promoter would probably be investigated for child abuse.  However, I'm not sure we've progressed all that far.  You've heard of midget wrestling and dwarf tossing.  I find these things terribly inappropriate, but at least the wrestlers and people getting tossed have agreed to it.  That's more than you can say for Stratton.  

We don't pay to gawk at conjoined twins anymore either.  On the other hand, I admit I've watched several documentaries about their lives.  I'm just curious.  

We tend to gravitate to the unusual, sometimes to laugh, sometimes to scare ourselves, sometimes to learn.  

And when we hear about crazy things you have to see to believe, like Feejee mermaids, we're skeptical.  But we want to believe and so we gasp in awe and suspend our disbelief.  When I was little, I wanted to believe in mermaid princesses and underground kingdoms.  I even purchased those sea monkeys advertised at the back of comic books.  I didn't think it was true, but I hoped that it might be.  I also wanted to believe that Mary Poppins could sweep in on an umbrella and float when she laughed.  And I wanted to believe in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy.  

I still want to read about pirate treasures and missing colonies and General Tom Thumb.  Those things actually have elements of truth, combined with mysteries and human stories that fascinate people.  Archaeologists and historians still study that lost colony at Roanake, incidentally, and I watched a documentary on that last summer.   They think they have an answer, but of course no one will ever know for sure what happened.  

I also want to believe that God can do crazy, totally freaky things like make cancer disappear or give sight to blind people.  I do believe God can do those things, actually.   I just tend to be a little skeptical because, well, I tend to be skeptical about a lot of things.  So I study miracles and ask questions.   I examine biblical precedent.  I talk to people and think about God's power and the possibilities.  And I pray.  But sometimes I feel like I treat God's miracles sort of like people used to treat "Freak Shows."  You hear about crazy, unusual things, and you just have to see them to believe them.  

The thing is, God doesn't do miracles just for the sake of doing miracles.  He's always got a reason.  And when we read about them in Scripture, there's a reason why the authors included those stories.  He wants us to study them and ask questions about them.  He wants us to think about what he's done and what he can do.  

It's worth going back and studying these some of these freaky stories.  Like the one about the floating axehead or the talking donkey.  (Now that would have made a pretty awesome exhibit for Barnum.)  

Over the next several weeks, I'll be looking at some of those freaky stories and asking what we can learn from those stories.  The more I learn about what God has done, how he's intervened in crazy unbelievable ways, the more courage I have to ask God to intervene in my own life or the lives of my friends.  

By the way, this idea totally original to me.  I have shamelessly borrowed the idea and the basic outlines from Newbreak Church's sermon series.   However, I think that if you're reading these blogs and listening to the sermons you'll hear some different things. Whenever I listen to the sermons, I come up with new ideas that go along with the messages and then take off in a new direction.  I think some of my ideas are worth writing about, and I hope you do too.

Thanks, Newbreak!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I am not alone.

A few weeks ago, I met a friend from school at The Brigantine in La Mesa for Taco Tuesday.  We started the Rhetoric and Writing Studies program a semester apart and started our careers as writing teachers a semester apart.  For the last year, we've been working together as members of the Lower Division Writing Committee, mentoring new TAs.

We wanted to celebrate the completion of our Masters degrees and talk about what comes next.

And so we sat on the outdoor patio of The Brigantine on a warm summer evening, ate fish tacos, and talked about possibilities and CVs and jobs and the future.  She's a lot more proactive in the job search than I am.  She's already had an interview at a community college and has been in contact with National University.  She shared questions asked at a recent interview.  I shared what I knew about National University and what I had learned about accelerated classes through my son, a student at National, and through working summer session at SDSU.  We talked about classroom experiences and discussed sharing lesson plans and curriculum if we both get jobs at National, which looks like a possibility.

Overall, it was a great evening.  It's nice to know I'm not alone in my job search, disappointments, challenges.  It's nice to share job search strategies and research about teaching and experiences in the classroom.  I've sent her jobs found on Craigslist, and I know she'll share jobs with me.

I drove away encouraged and hopeful.

This is more than networking.  This is the power of community and shared experiences.

This is why we need people in our lives, people who have similar goals and aspirations.  This is true with jobs and this true with matters of faith.

We were never meant to live independent of other people.
We need each other.

We need each other to challenge us, encourage us, remind us of the most true things about ourselves, of the most true things about life.  


I started this blog as a reflection of my life's journey.  I knew God was leading me into new territories, and I wanted to remember why.  In my experience, most of us have a tendency to forget why we start new things when they get tough.  After a while, I got tired of reflecting and started writing about other things.

Lately, I am back to writing about myself.  At least when I have time to write.  It feels rather narcissistic to go on and on about my self discovery, but writing seems to be the way I process events and emotions.  I rationalize posting this on a blog by telling myself that my experiences may be useful to someone else.  I may be delusional.  I'll think about that possibility another time.

I've never been a very proactive person.  I dream big dreams, but I rarely create plans to achieve them.  I meandered through high school and accidentally discovered a boyfriend while volunteering at a family camp.  I married him after high school.  I worked, took nine years to finish a bachelor's degree, and had kids.  I raised them the best I knew how.  All of these things just sort of happened.

I don't really stretch myself.  I don't take risks.  I don't venture into the unknown.  I like knowing I how something will turn out.

I've had a lot of jobs over the years--and mostly did them well--but I didn't chase after any them.  They found me.

  • I worked at Jack in the Box because my friends worked there and I was pretty sure the manager would give me a job.  
  • I got a job as a bank teller because Duane worked at the bank.  Again, I was pretty sure I could get a job.  
  • I taught French at Clairemont Christian School because the principal heard I spoke French and offered me a job.  
  • I taught preschool French because a French professor got me the job. 
  • I taught preschool gymnastics because the teacher at my kids gym went on maternity leave. 
  • I became a medical transcriptionist when a friend suggested I type some sermon tapes.  I worked hard to learn terms and software, but I never set out to become a transcriptionist.  
  • I started working at the church because Pastor Mike offered me a job.  
I can't remember all the jobs I've held, I know that I didn't really try to get any of them.  I think returning to school for my Masters is one of the first independent, really grown-up things I have done.  In retrospect, my GRE scores and writing samples probably ensured admission, but thinking about how to write an admissions essay caused many hours of lost sleep.  

Every paper, every essay, every assignment completely freaked me out.  I didn't know what was expected.  I had to meet new people, even make new friends.  I had to speak up and allow my professors to get to know me and see how I think.  

Applying to work as a Teaching Associate was terrifying.  I had to ask for recommendation letters and had to write something providing reasons why I would make a great teacher.  As I think back on that time, I realize that I shouldn't have been scared.  I had earned a great reputation in my classes and those professors were the ones making the decision on who to hire.  

Even if applying for school and becoming a TA really weren't all that hard, these two things stretched me and forced me to move beyond the safe and predictable world I've tried to occupy.  I don't like the stretching, to be honest, but I do appreciate the strength and flexibility I've acquired because of it.  I love the new confidence in my abilities.  I'm grateful that I've learned to depend on God's wisdom as I venture into new territory.  

Two years later, I'm done.  And I'm more scared than ever.  I apply for jobs, but don't hear from employers. I try to meet them in their offices, but I can't find them.  I scour Craigslist.  I watch my email, hoping for a note from a prospective employer.  

As if I could magically produce a job by my diligence.  I know it doesn't work that way, but still I persist.  

Yesterday I drove to Southwestern College because I had a tip on possible jobs.  I didn't see the department head I went to see, but a lovely admin called her.  Even finding the admin was sort of a miracle.  I ran into someone who poked his head into the building where I looked for the department head.  I sent off my CV (an academic version of a resumé), and an unofficial copy of my transcript.  The problem here is that my transcript doesn't say "graduate" because I'm waiting for the thesis department to check my formatting, but I don't know when they'll get around to that.  And so I went to our administrative head to ask about a work-around, she sent me to the Graduate Affairs office.  They told me they're happy to write a "letter of completion" as soon as the thesis department checks the formatting.  At least I had an answer.  I returned to our admin's office to thank her, and she walked me into the department head's office and he wrote a note to Southwestern explaining that no matter what my transcripts say, I really am done.  

Whew.  I ended up in tears.  I'm just tired.  

If you followed my description, you can see that God organized events and I got answers I needed, even if I still haven't heard from Southwestern.  Instead of rejoicing in God's direction, I cried. 

God is stretching me again, and I'm worn out.  
I must do everything I can do, but ultimately the results are in his hands.  And I continue to check my email hourly.  Just in case.  

And I realized this morning that I'm not the first person to struggle with looming unemployment.  I don't like it. I still don't like uncertainty.  I don't like not being able to do the things I love more than anything else.  And I'm not the only one who feels like this.  

Sometimes circumstances stretch us even when we're not venturing out into the unknown.  Just like my jobs found me, circumstances find us in the form of illness, marital conflict, rebellious kids, the housing downturn, and the latest stock market crash.  

We choose our responses.  We can stretch and grow and allow God to strengthen us, or we can shut down and give up.  Even now, I could give up my dreams.  I could stop looking for teaching jobs.  I could start looking for some sort of administrative position.  Duane suggested I would be a great Wal-Mart greeter.  

I will not surrender to the circumstances.  I will not let them defeat me.  I would rather find strength in God's power and his promises.  I would rather stretch and grow, allowing God to shape me.

I am grateful for the empathy in my heart growing as I stretch.  I am learning to ask for prayers.  I am letting people see my fear and my frustration.  I don't like it, but I am thanking God for the opportunity to stretch.   

I am also thanking God for answers to prayer.  Answers I don't have yet.  
And I am waiting.  

In full disclosure, I admit I am still staring at my email.  I checked eleven emails and a text while I wrote this blog post.  Two of them were from dear friends who told me they were praying.