Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hurricane Season

My life has been a tempest in a teapot lately. Last week I whined about my e-mail issues. Yesterday I thought I would probably be crying about my phone issues when, in an apparent act of God (i.e. neither caused nor stoppable by me), my cell phone suddenly locked me out. The screen said RESTRICTED and the only button I could push said UNDO, whereupon the screen said ENTER SECRET NUMBER. I had no secret number. I called my service provider. They told me what the default number for my phone was. That wasn’t the secret number. The Tech Support person offered to do a master re-set for me “but you’ll lose everything”. “What do you mean everything,” I asked, “all my numbers?” “Yes,” she said. “And your photos and text messages too.” I almost wept. Sensing my angst, she asked if I wanted to try calling the manufacturer, to see if they could help.

So I did. At the manufacturer, a very business-like person informed me that it was the service provider who had locked me out and they were the only ones who could let me in. I should call them.

So, I called them back and told a different Tech Support Person that I would bite the bullet and she should go ahead and do a master re-set. She regretfully told me that only the manufacturer could do that.

So, back to the manufacturer I go, only to hear a recorded message lodged within the press # for _______________ menu that says to contact your service provider to reset your phone.

I gave up. Shedding a few tears of frustration, I decided that eating would likely improve my outlook on life, which it did. After eating, I boldly dialed the 800 number one more time, praying that I would get a helpful person. When I got someone from Tech Support on the line, I informed him that this was my third call to them, my fifth call in reference to this matter and that I wanted to try to resolve it completely with this call. He assured me that we would do so, asked for the details of what had happened and then said he needed to do a little research, and to please be patient; he could hear me so if I thought of anything else I should speak up. I sat quietly and waited, soothed by his calm demeanor. When he spoke again he asked me to turn the phone off and back on again. I joked about this being the first thing a person should try before they call and that I’d be really embarrassed if it worked.

And it did. This man had listened to me. He heard what I said, researched the possibilities and solved my problem. He told me not to be embarrassed – it wouldn’t have worked if I had tried it without talking to him first.

I was overjoyed to have my trusty cell phone back. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that perhaps Someone Else had helped me with this little problem too. The same Someone who had answered my bedtime request for a decent night’s sleep in the midst of this tempestuous period of my life. It’s likely that neither of those things would have worked if I hadn’t talked to God first. Anything attempted after prayer goes far more smoothly . . . probably not because God is the great vending machine in the sky, but because, in the asking, I am putting myself in the correct place in the situation.

When I recognize that I cannot stop the rain, I am in a better place to raise an umbrella or lower a sail. School is starting; say a little prayer for smooth sailing.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Dam Habits. . .

My work e-mail has now been down for about 16 hours.  I am stewing, wondering:
  • What am I missing?
  • Who might be trying to reach me?
  • Do they think I'm ignoring them?
  • Did my last e-mail go out?
  • Should I call somebody?
  • Whose fault is it?
Is this really the fabric of my life?  Is my whole life held together by e-mail?  (The answer to this is apparently yes, as I have four e-mail accounts and facebook!)  I cannot believe how anxious this is making me. 

Yesterday I read a reflection on the story of Jesus healing the "crooked" woman on the Sabbath (Luke 13).  Jan Richardson of Painted Prayerbook, asks these questions in her reflection: What are the habits, patterns, and rhythms by which we live our lives?  Are there patterns and habits that, over time, have become confining, keeping us bound and bent and feeling less than whole?  Experiencing this anxiety around the absence of my  e-mail makes me think that this habit might have become confining.  I definitely feel less than whole without it.

I thought I had evolved beyond that. . . I like to think I am a fairly free spirit, unbound by convention, regulation, and rules.  Eldest daughter and I had many discussions about rules while she was visiting.  She, having been raised with the broadest possible rules  likes to devise rules for daily living.  She thinks of them as building good habits - and I have to applaud her creative use of rules for that purpose.  It seems to me that she uses her chosen rules the way children use rules in games - to keep it fair, to foster peace, to make it more interesting.  I, on the other hand, who generally perceive rules as confining, now find myself vicitmized by habits randomly formed, rather than chosen. 

When my daughters were children, I chose their rules with great care. (e.g. "If your action could hurt someone, including you, don't do it!" or "People are ALWAYS more important than stuff.") I didn't want to have to enforce anything I didn't believe in wholeheartedly.  I also didn't want to stifle any of their creativity, or put them in a box that would force them to grow in particular ways.  I wanted them to be free to become the women God had created them to be. 

The rules I consciously choose for myself tend to work a lot like the rules I chose for my daughters:  they are there to protect me and free my creativity.  My habits, however, are not so intentional - and obviously it is time for some examination and re-evaluation.

Since one of my "creative" rules is to find a water connection for each of these musings, I'll share this mental metaphor with you.  Habits are like dams on a river.  They can generate power and regulate flow but they can also cause flooding upstream if they are too high or too inflexible when the rains come. 

I'd like to hear your thoughts on habits and rules. . . so please, jump in and leave a comment!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Of dogs and children and kingdoms. . .

It’s the dog days of summer and “Rex-the-Wonder-Dog” has come for his annual visit. Rex’s summer care was originally my younger daughter’s job and when she left for college I let him keep coming because he’s such a marvelous animal. Last night, he and I watched a fantastic special on PBS called Through a Dog’s Eyes. The program is about service dogs and is both fascinating and inspiring.

The creator of the film, Jennifer Arnold, clearly loves dogs, and she loves people enough to breed, train and match dogs with children and adults who need service animals. The skills the dogs can learn, and the intuition they exhibit with their owners, is phenomenal.  The publicity for the show claims it will make you see your own dog in a whole new way, and, while Rex is only my dog for a couple of weeks, after watching it, I have to acknowledge some of his more “spiritual” qualities.

First I must commend his UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. Every day when I return from work I am greeted with joy. When I take the garbage out and return in 5 minutes, I get the same greeting. I feel like the most important person in the world when I walk through the door. I have done nothing to deserve this joyous welcome but he gives it unsparingly, with his whole being.

Another admirable Rex quality is a FORGIVING HEART. Yesterday I sent him away with a loud and annoyed voice as I was getting ready for work. It was clear as he departed that I had really hurt his feelings. Yet, when I emerged, clean and dressed, he greeted me as if I’d never spoken harshly to him at all.

Rex is also totally AUTHENTIC. He asks for exactly what he wants: scratching on the kitchen wall means “my bowl is empty”, scratching on the door means “I need to relieve myself” and head-butting means “Hey, I need a little attention here!” When he has been on the couch he acts guilty – truly a dog without guile.

You may be wondering what all this has to do with children or faith.  Well, children also love us unconditionally, forgive us when we fail them and are totally authentic. Studies have shown that children from even the worst possible homes still love their parents. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he said “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10) I think the kingdom of God is far simpler than we "mature Christians" want it to be. If children get it, then what makes it difficult must be something within us, and not part of the kingdom itself. Is it possible that we complicate things just to make ourselves more important in the equation?

Maybe what we really need to do to be the children Jesus describes is to stop looking at ourselves, and our needs, and focus on the good and gracious giver of all. When I consider everything that God has done for me,  I am overcome with wonder. And I think that’s what goes on in Rex’s mind when he looks at me: “She feeds me.  She opens that door – I love her!”  Likewise, children look at adults and are always aware of everything we can do that they can’t – “She can drive a car! She can swim! She knows when I’m getting into something I shouldn’t!” – and they love us, enough to want to be us.

Although I only get Rex for two weeks a year, and my own children are grown, I get to spend time with children nearly every day.  With their unconditional love they give me a little window into the kingdom, and I am truly blessed!  And - in case the jury is still out for you - I think that all dogs DO go to heaven!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hold fast to the steadfast

I feel like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz today: “My goodness! People come and go so quickly here!” In just the past few days I’ve experienced:

• a visit with my daughter and her husband,
• the arrival of a bevy of day camp counselors,
• the death of a friend’s father,
• the departure of some college students usually in my orbit,
• people returning from vacation
• people leaving for vacation,
• the arrival of a new co-worker,
• the end of one camp and the start of another,
• a visiting dog
• the unexpected gift of an orchid lei from across the ocean.

I wonder what effect all this coming and going has on all of us. It is exciting, to be sure. Is it healthy? I’m not certain – but it must be at least as healthy as never going anywhere! It certainly helps us be aware, and appreciate, that only God is steadfast.

People come, people go; I come and go, but God is ever steadfast. My time zone, or state, or continent is of no consequence to God. Like air, like water, God is simply there. Never sleeping, never traveling, never absent nor away, God waits, steadfastly, for me to notice.

If we look for God, like sailors navigating by the stars, wherever we may find ourselves, we can orient ourselves by looking for God. In this crazy tornado of a week I have spotted God in so many places:

• in the sun rising over the lake
• in the passionate heart of a young person
• in the unconditional love of a child (and a dog)
• in kindnesses shown between people
• in the forgiveness of my sins
• in the synergy of a group of people at work
• in the stubborn grasp of a flower growing through a crack in a rock
• in the music of the blues mass
• in the words on the page of a good book

Like the star that our planet revolves around, God is always there. Though I may spin on my own axis and experience periods of light and dark – God is steadfast, God is light, and God is my home where ever I may be. And, to quote Dorothy Gale a second time, “There’s no place like home”.

After tornados or travels or travails, come home. The steadfast One waits.