the power of “wow”

I went into my basement to switch our laundry and found msyelf instead digging through my bookshelves for my old copy of Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now.  It is not an easy task to dig through my bookshelves.  I have them double-stacked.  That means, I have them full of books, and then shoved back so that I can fill them again, with rows and rows in front of rows.  I was down there so long that my husband called down looking for me, but finally, my hand found the smooth, cool cover and the rows of sticky tabs that were still there from my last reading, many years ago.

Sometimes I can’t find my Now.  Literally.

Years ago – I believe it was 2004, the year of infertility and the demise of at least one dream, that I spiraled into a very unhealthy abyss of self-absorption.  There is only one word I can think of to describe that time, and it is this:  fear.  I was afraid of everything.  Would I be able to get pregnant?  If I do get pregnant, will I lose the baby?  Will the infertility drugs give me cancer some day?  What if the infertility drugs give me cancer, but I live, but then we cannot adopt because I had cancer?

No, really… I was very emotionally un-well.

Someone recommended this book to me and I picked it up with much hesitation (this was, incidentally, years before Oprah turned Eckhart Tolle into a cultural phenom by featuring a later book on her show in her “book club”).  But as I began to read, I felt like Mr. Tolle was speaking to me directly:

The psychological condition of fear is divorced from any concrete and true immediate danger… This kind of psychological fear is always something that MIGHT happen, not of something that is happening now.  You are in the here and now, while your mind is in the future… You can always cope with the present moment, but you cannot cope with something that is only a mind projection – you cannot cope with the future.  – Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now

His words struck me – and highlighted the supreme loss my fear was causing – I was so busy worrying about what would happen, I was missing my newlywed life with my husband.  It was during that year that the first niece on my side of the family was born.  She came into the world as my husband and I were optimistically trying to conceive and as her 1st birthday neared, we were reaching the end of the infertility road.  Words cannot describe how obsessed I was with my niece.  Her every move was a miracle to me.  I held her and stared at her tiny eyelashes, her nose, her bow lips, her tiny ears.  Her wee fingers were to me the most beautiful, impossible thing in the world.

When you cannot have a baby, you learn all kinds of things about how amazing it is that ANYONE can have a baby.  It truly becomes quite miraculous when you see it actually work for someone.  And at that time, I have to say, it was working for EVERYONE… but not us.

We went through her first birthday and I sat and cried silently at the party, a weak smile plastered across my face.  This beautiful child – the product of my brother and his wife – she was OF them.  Their features were written on her face.  As I watched them celebrate her birthday I mourned in a private way that very few I know can relate to.  The months that followed truly were a valley of great mourning for me as baby shower invites went un-opened from friends and family, women bloomed full with child everywhere I turned, and I tried to smile and shrug through the constant questions from acquaintances who didn’t know better and wondered when we would start having babies.

It was Christmas 2005 – my entire family was gathered at my parent’s house and my niece – around 18 months old – woke up early.  I sent my exhausted sister-in-law back to bed and played with my baby niece as the sun came up.  The house was quiet.  She and I sat in the middle of the living room floor.  I changed her diaper, and then she stood up, gave me a hug and she started to dance.  I watched her… the abandon, the joy on her face.  It came over me that the blood of my ancestors – Irish, German, American Indian, Welsh – was coursing through her veins.  The dimples on her cheeks were my dimples.  Her smile was my brother’s smile.

And then it happened.  I felt myself become present.  All that mattered at that moment, all that mattered in the entire world was my niece and I, dancing together in a quiet house, while everyone slept.  I choked back tears as I let myself feel joy.  True, intense joy.

Later, I would tell my husband it truly felt like the happiest moment of my life (up to that point).

It is still hard for me to find my “now” – I think it is a practice and every now and then, I have to dig the book out again, and be reminded of how important it is to remember that NOW is all we have.  Now that I am a busy mom, that euphoric now is harder to obtain.  But Mr. Tolle’s point remains, and so does this, a note to myself from years ago, that fell out of the book and onto my laundry room floor last week:

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pure and genuine

Discovering the truth about ourselves is a lifetime’s work, but it’s worth the effort. – Fred Rogers

About six years ago, just as I was preparing to disembark with my husband from the dry, rutted, rocky road of infertility treatments, I recall saying to him something along the lines of “Something is wrong with me.  I have no urge to do anything for anyone.  I don’t want to volunteer anywhere, I don’t want to donate anything.  I used to feel so strongly about this and now I’ve got nothing.”

It was a weird time in our life, but even stranger for me, who at the age of eight or so (and probably about as precocious as is possible) I had typed up a short essay entitled “The World, a Child’s Point of View,” about all the wrong things in the world, how I couldn’t sleep at night about them, and how we should all work together to fix things.  My parents had passed it to our pastor who quoted it in a sermon.

I cringe to think of it.  The fact that I had my own typewriter at that age is telling.  (Cough)  dork  (cough, cough).

I worked with a friend to write an expose about global warming when I was in middle school.  In Junior High I helped coordinate a drive for appliances for a local “soup kitchen” that landed me and a bunch of my precocious friends on the front page of our small town paper.

It really DID keep me up at night, all of it.  During high school and college I would occasionally get very depressed and my close friends knew I was in one of my “What a world…. what a world” moods.

How then was it that at age 26 or so, I just didn’t care?  If I were to go back, I would think it was depression.  It was the depression of infertility, the unfairness of it all – it also had to do with something that is clear to me now.  My husband and I weren’t going to church.  We were living in a town neither of us had grown up in, and we didn’t have a church.  And we weren’t finding one.  We weren’t looking.

Around that time, I felt that familiar urge to seek.  I knew enough to know that something was missing.  I found a scripture that meant something to me:

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. – James 1:27

That scripture changed everything.  I typed it up and hung it in my cubicle at my old office.  I looked at it every day.  Service could be my faith.  I could get back to where I had been, when I had sat on the floor of my bedroom and typed up an essay about the wrongs in the world because I couldn’t get them out of my head.

My husband and I started church shopping.  At one church, I noticed in the program that our local Hospice program needed volunteers to sit with the dying.  Fear of death is a trigger for me, but I looked at the scripture from James 1:27 and decided that it was a challenge I needed to pursue.

Around the same time, my husband and I started volunteering at a no-kill animal shelter on a couple weekends a month.  We would take the abused, neglected, abandoned, un-wanted animals and walk them or pet them or take them to adoption fairs.

I began to feel myself come back to life, and around that time we visited a local Presbyterian church that would become our church home.  The pastor preached a sermon that brought tears to my eyes and I knew it was where we were supposed to be.  And very shortly thereafter a local Christian non-profit with a great reputation was looking for an executive director.  I threw my hat in the ring with much hesitation, but recommendations from parishioners at my new church and a surreal interview that was competely guided by the Holy Spirit ended with my being offered the job.  And then, I had to decide if I was really ready to give up my great retirement plan and benefit package with my safe job and truly step out in Faith to do something worth doing.

I had to be the precocious 8 year-old again.

I look back now and see so clearly that God was guiding my life from the time I discovered that scripture.  It was only a few months after I started my new job that we began our first adoption process.  And I was sitting there at my desk when I saw my son’s face for the first time.  That old worn piece of paper hanging only a few feet away.

I am nowhere near where I want to be spiritually, or as a person in this crazy world.  Sometimes I still feel like everything is screwed up beyond repair.  But I have been rewarded in my life for having faith.  And the rewards were not the direct answer to what I pleaded for in prayer, if that had been the case I would have gotten pregnant – and my boys would not be my boys.  God had something more perfect for me waiting.  The lesson for me has been that it is not enough to have faith – unless there is action.

So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. – James 2:17

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a broken heart we’re supposed to have?

Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.  – a prayer by Bob Pierce , founder of World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse

I started this blog to record my new journey because about five months ago when I was sure I was dying, I realized I’m a Christian who lives like everyone else.  I thought about how if I really did die, I’d probably not go to heaven.  The most important part of that realization is that I was 100% sure I wouldn’t deserve to go to heaven anyway.  It would serve me right, me and my gluttonous, wasteful, slobby self.   I started to think about how the purpose of my very existence is to humble myself and try to be MORE like Christ.  You know, WWJD?  This realization was not driven by guilt.  It was and is driven by a feeling that I feel to my core.  I am to strip everything away and love my neighbor as myself.  To give more.  To serve more.  It occurred to me that even if I wasn’t a Christian, even if I was just me, a 32 year-old mom, a life led by anything except focus on others would serve no purpose.

I found a blog several years ago.  A very young girl, Katie, who was preparing to graduate high school and go to college, and then she went to Uganda.  And then she knew the only thing she could do was leave everything and everyone behind and go serve the sick and orphaned in Uganda.  You can read her blog or visit the Amazima website.

I’ve thought for years that this is a girl who is really operating as the hands and feet of Jesus.  And she is still a young girl – very early twenties – but she is the adoptive mom of 13 Ugandan daughters.  And her ministry in Uganda feeds 1,600 hungry children each week.  Hands and feet of Christ, people.

The struggle to reconcile this life of comfort that I have with Katie’s story has really been a sticking point for me.

If Christ is going to separate the wheat from the the chaff, and Katie is the wheat, I feel like I must be the chaff.  I mean, my wheat is nowhere near Katie’s wheat, right?  It’s not enough, you’re not doing enough.  That voice comes from somewhere.  It’s the Get Off the Couch voice.  It’s the Today 16,000 children died from Malnutriton voice.

Today I was on Ann Voskamp’s blog and lo and behold, she was blogging about Katie.  Apparently Katie is writing a memoir.  And apparently I’m not the only one so humbled by her service.  Humbled, almost, to the point of unworthiness.

Go read Ann’s post about what Mother’s can do.  You won’t regret it.  Like Ann, our family sponsors a little boy through Compassion.  We have since early 2009.  He is 7 years old and lives in Rwanda.  I would recommend Child Sponsorship to you so highly.  The value of knowing our impact on him and his family, coupled with the value of our children growing up with a greater understanding that not everyone in the world lives like we do is utterly priceless.  So please pray for Abayisenga with us.  And his family.  In a recent letter his mother told me they used the Christmas money we sent to buy a chicken for the family.  A chicken.

Do you ever get to thinking that the world needs more chickens for Abayisenga and less video games with carjacking and rape?  That the world needs more real grace, forgiveness and bravery, and less “real housewives”?  That we need to love MORE and less Jersey Shore?  (I’m on a roll now… what rhymes with K@rdashian?  Just KIDDING).

I am no Katie.  That is certain.  But God gave me a tender heart, and for that, I am grateful, even when it aches.

***

Several years ago, two other adoptive moms and I started a little group we called Mothers in Action for Vietnam.  We identify humanitarian aide projects in Vietnam and try to rally support for them.  Well, we are “back in action.”  We have created an Etsy store to raise funds for two humanitarian aide projects that benefit children in Vietnam.  We have learned of an orphanage in rural Vietnam that is being operated out of two rooms in an abandoned prison.  The children and caregivers are at times getting by on a cup of rice a day.  We have partnered with an organization called Chances for Children to insure that all funds generated will make it to those in need at the orphanage. HOW YOU CAN HELP:  We’ve set up a Mothers in Action for Vietnam Etsy Site – and for each item purchased, 100% of the funds will go to the charity of your choice.  All artwork has been donated (including several of my prints!  🙂

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What Book Has Challenged You?

Have you ever read a book that challenged you in such a way that you felt like you were never the same after?  Yes?  Please post about it in the comments!!  (I am re-printing and editing the rest of this post from my old blog because Ortberg’s book remains one of my all-time favorites.  Also – I love his work so much I have e-mailed him twice.  Okay, so maybe he never responded.  I still think he’s totally boss.  🙂

My Major Malfunction

July 28, 2008

I know what you’re thinking.  How could the person in that photo be anything BUT incredibly well-adjusted?  As my sis-in-law Jamee would say, “YEAH… except for NOT.”  In my life I’ve done a LOT of soul searching and I am always, always trying to put my finger on that one big barrier to total peace or complete faith.

To that end, I am FINALLY making my way through an entire Bible Study.  Actually, does it qualify as a Bible Study if it’s just a book that references scripture and has some questions in each chapter?  I’m halfway through and and I’ve had something of a breakthrough.  Before I get to that, though, here is the book:

And here is ME when the ladies I go to church with first recommended this book.  “Boat?  What boat?  I’m not in any boat, I don’t need to get out of any boat, this is not relevant to me at all!”  Yeah, except for NOT (it’s addictive, Jamee).

This book by John Ortberg is based on Matthew 14:25-32 – the story of the Disciples watching Jesus walk on water and Peter trying to walk on water, becoming afraid, sinking, and Christ rescuing him… “Ye of little faith…”

So far, I am really enjoying this book.  Especially because Ortberg takes the stance that it is unfair for Peter to be thought of as cowardly for lacking faith, when he was the only person on the entire boat with the cajones to actually step out and try to walk on water (editor’s note: Ortberg does not use the term cajones).  Ortberg encourages the reader to figure out what their boat is and then to step out in faith in order to strengthen their relationship with God.

Want to know what your boat is?  Your fear will tell you.  Just ask  yourself this:  What is it that most produces fear in me – especially when I think of leaving it behind and stepping out in faith?

I really wracked my brain as I delved into the first hundred pages of this book over the weekend.  What is my boat?  What is the thing that holds me back?  And then, the lightbulb went off.  FEAR.  FEAR is my boat.  Isn’t that interesting?  The thing that I most fear leaving behind is – FEAR.

I guess I should explain.  To call me a “worrier” is an understatement of the highest order.  You know when people say, “I have to have something to worry about?”  Much to my (and my husband’s) chagrin, the phrase “She came, she saw, she worried” could be engraved on my tombstone some day.  I bring my husband into this because he, as any other adult who has lived with me (including my immediate family and past roommates and college friends Larissa, Sara, Katie, Lynn, Stacy and so many others) knows, I worry that if I have nothing to worry about – nothing to FEAR – THAT’s when something bad is going to happen.  I just know it.

And so I have lived much of my life that way – an unhealthy fear that I stifle way down deep inside except for those few friends and family who I trust enough to see my dirtiest, darkest secret.  Fear is my crack, worry is my ecstasy, obsessing is my Mountain Dew.  Actually, Mountain Dew is my Mountain Dew, but something really caffeinated and addictive, that’s what obsessing is to me.

I have tried before, but finally feel ready to find a way to STOP IT for a multitude of reasons.  I think it holds me back in my faith.  Plus, I’d like something way cooler on my tombstone, something like – She Came, She Saw, She Danced.  OR no tombstone at all, really, please use the money instead to build a well in Africa.  OH, but how I digress.

Ortberg quotes Eileen Guder’s great thoughts on fear:

You can live on bland food so as to avoid an ulcer, drink no tea, coffee or other stimulants in the name of health, go to bed early, stay away from night life, avoid all controversial subjects so as never to give offense, mind your own business, avoid involvement in other people’s problems, spend money only on necessities and save all you can.

You can still break you neck in the bath tub, and it will serve you right.

There are countless reasons for me to get out of my fear boat, but chief among them is, as Ortberg writes: “The water is where Jesus is.”  Getting out of my boat will bring me closer to Him.  This book reminds us that our lives need to stand for something and I have so many things I really would like to do – I’d like to really be good at what I do in the non-profit sector, working with families in need, I’d like to write a book, I’d like to serve better, I’d like to be a great wife and mother and eventually grow our family.  Ultimately, though, I think I finally need to slay this FEAR dragon once and for all.  Ortberg writes:

All human beings, including you and me, give their lives to something.  Between this day and your last day, you will give your life to something.  The only question is, what will you give your life to?  Will it be worthy?  […] Let me get more personal.  You had better respond at once. […] Fear makes people bury the treasure God has given them. […] Look at most sin – yours and mine – and underneath it you will find fear.  […] Therefore, our lives are not about self-preservation and fulfillment, but are to be acts of stewardship.  To fail to be good stewards of what God has given us is a form of robbing Him.

I hope you don’t mind these little interruptions to share with you what I’m learning.  For some reason I feel it is important for me to share this here.  For the longest time I have been afraid (there’s that darn fear again) to do that, but I’ve found in my life, it is the people who have been willing to open up to me that have made the biggest impact on my faith.  Final thoughts from Ortberg:

The single command in Scripture that occurs more often than any other – God’s most frequently repeated instruction – is formulated in two words:  Fear not.   Do not be afraid.  Be strong and courageous.  You can trust me.  Fear not.

A NOTE:  I still struggle with my “fear boat.”  I “fear” (ha!) that I always will.  But I try to work on it every day.  It’s a journey, just like everything else.  DONT’ FORGET TO POST YOUR BOOKS THAT INSPIRE OR CHALLENGE YOU BELOW.  You can see my list of books that challenge me here.

 

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A Fair ( Trade ) Analysis

Fair trade can be confusing.  Watch this video.

Via my friend Melissa:

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Sunday Screamin’

It is easy to smile at people outside your own home.  It is so easy to take care of the people that you don’t know well.  It is difficult to be thoughtful and kind and to smile and be loving to your own in the house day after day, especially when we are tired and in a bad temper or bad mood.  We all have these moments and that is the time that Christ comes to us in a distressing disguise.  – Mother Teresa

Ah, Sundays.  I spend much of my week in anticipation of a spirit-filled Sunday of peace and love and puppies and rainbows.  By Sunday morning, I am battling the devil on my shoulder.  The kids are cranky.  The house is a mess.  You’re TIRED.  Just stay home, take five.

Yesterday, I battled back and was determined to follow through with getting my children to church.  My sweet husband let me sleep in until 9 am and then I got up and he went back to bed.  He was exhausted so I set out to get my kids ready, and take them to church with me so that my husband could get some quiet rest.

I gathered them up, and some art tools for my 7 year-old so he could keep himself occupied during the service.  I was exhausted, sweaty and grumpy by the time I got to church.  I lugged my boys (and our “stuff”) in and carried/dragged them down two flights of stairs to the nursery.  I planned to leave the baby there, but the seven year-old decided he wanted to stay as well.  “Please,” I asked him softly, “don’t you want to sit with mommy?”

No, he did not, and he went back into the nursery and shut the door behind him.

During the service, which was packed full with baptisms and confirmations, I focused on enjoying myself.  Actually listening to the sermon.  I cried big, warm tears during the confirmation.  I did the same thing almost ten years ago when I watched my husband’s baptism.  There is something so selfless about it, re-focusing one’s life on Him.

One of the hymns spoke so loudly to me that it gave me chills.  The hymn “Spirit” by James Manley, with lyrics that read:

Spirit, spirit of restlessness, call me from placidness, wind, wind on the sea…

That is the Spirit moving in me these days – one of restlessness.  Stirring me toward something – some kind of “change” that is hopefully not associated with menopause.

After the service, I loaded my boys and got them home.  By the time I was serving them lunch, that sweet notion of Christ-centered community was overcome with a furious frustration.  I had served their food and turned only to hear my little one throw his to our dogs.  Simultaneously, I dropped some food on our kitchen floor.  I started to call our dogs, hoping that they would clean up the mess in the kitchen (I don’t mop, dude- I’ve got dogs!), but they would not come.  Our baby happily threw them the rest of his food from the highchair.  And then, the seven year-old threw up.  Seriously?  Seriously.

My well-rested husband came out to see me, yelling – YELLING – at our dogs to “GET OUT OF THERE”  and he looked at me with eyes that clearly spoke “Lady, you need to bring it down a notch.”

I had gone to church.  Why did he look happier than me?  Why did he look well-rested with a cheerful smile and loving spirit?  How could I in good conscience go to church and “pass the peace” with strangers and then come home and let loose in the ugliest way?

As my blood pressure went down, and my pulse returned to normal, I apologized.  To my husband and my boys… not the dogs, though, which, in hindsight, was probably quite an oversight on my part.

I adjusted my attitude, in that moment.  I determined to have the sweet, God-centered Sunday I had planned.

And, it was the weirdest thing – I did.

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the misfit

I was a “punk” once.  Well, I was a wannabe punk, which, in my opinion, is significantly worse.

I was 21, and a lost college graduate.  I’d moved 7 hours from home to start a graduate program in Northern Illinois in a college town where I knew not a single person.  Insecurities ruled the day.  I was inexplicably fond of wearing NY Yankees baseball caps, Limp Bizkit t-shirts (you read that right.  yes, they “spoke to me”), and my hair in pig tails or braids.  It goes without saying that I had not been on a date in years.  YEARS.  I did ridiculous stuff, like watch TRL everyday, seeing the same Britney Spears or Backstreet Boys or J.Lo videos over and over and replicating their dance moves in a way that only a chubby smalltown girl with coke bottle glasses can.

I was a geeky lil wannabe punk girl stepping out, not on faith, but on fear.

My time in graduate school was transformative.  I’d never been away from my family or the circle of friends who had known me my entire life.  I’d never lived somewhere where no one knew who I was or who my mom or dad were.  As I began to make some of the most amazing friends of my life – people who were able to see past the Limp Bizkit t-shirts – my confidence slowly began to creep up.  These people liked me for ME.  With time, I began to strip away the t-shirts and the hats and the faux attitude.

Several of those people remain amongst my closest friends on the planet.  They watched me bloom.  They watched me HATCH.

****

Some days I want to be a punk again.

I could wear black eye make up and listen to inappropriate rap music with lyrics that make my now sensitive non-punk self blush.  I could dig out the old Limp Bizkit shirts.

But the truth is, I want to be a different kind of punk these days.  Intolerance, ignorance, hate… poverty and death – all pushed out of the news to make way for the latest sex scandals and political gaffes.  Another 16,000 children died today from malnutrition or other preventable causes – did you see it on the news?  I did not.  I want to rage against SOME kinda machine.  We all do, don’t we?

I’m quaking to hatch again.  I’m listening for that still, quiet voice.

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