Thursday, March 28, 2013

Book Review: Love Does by Bob Goff

I first heard of Bob Goff in the book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller, the book that inspired my title for this blog. Donald Miller writes about his friend Bob who sounds generous, inspiring, and more than just a little bit crazy. When Love Does came out, I began to see some buzz about it on social media from friends whose taste in reading material I admire, so I was curious.

The book is part memoir, part little coffee table advice book. Bob--I think he'd want me to call him Bob--writes about his life of faith, his family, his friends, his work. The premise of the book is that love isn't just a feeling, but instead is something that compels us to action. These actions include being present for people in their times of struggle, engaging whimsy in life, making a difference in whatever way we can, not taking yourself too seriously, and choosing, whenever possible, to extend friendship, even if it is impractical or seems ill-advised. And when we're loving well, we're living well, says Bob.

This is a fun book. It's really accessible and shows Christian faith to be pretty straightforward: love God and love others. It has left me thinking about how I can love a little more practically, toward those who are near and dear, and those out in the world. While Bob is the kind of guy who will just hop on a plane to Uganda at a moment's notice (read the book, you'll see), I'm more of a practical sort who likes to have everything planned out real well. And while I'm not likely to be so changed by his stories that I need to get my passport renewed or anything, I do find myself wanting to be more open to opportunities to show love spontaneously.

And I think that's the point of the book--to prompt us to begin asking ourselves what it might look like for us to begin to engage our faith a little more practically and a little more adventurously at the same time.

At the end of the book, I'm realizing that I might not be able to fight child imprisonment in Uganda like Bob, but I can go have lunch with one of my daughter's underprivileged classmates. I might not be able to travel internationally with my kids at the drop of a hat, but that doesn't mean I can't show them a bigger world. I may not be able to make my off-site office Tom Sawyer's Island at Disneyland, but I can go to the coffee shop to work, where I might meet someone to whom I can show kindness and authenticity.

So, if you're looking to be inspired in your faith and inspired to love more, go read Love Does. I think you will be glad you did.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

People of Influence

in·flu·ence [in-floo-un ns]
noun
-the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others.
-the action or process of producing effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of another or others.
-a person or thing that exerts influence.

verb (used with object)
-to exercise influence on; affect; sway.
-to move or impel (a person) to some action.

I’ve been thinking about influence lately. Who has influenced me, who I have an influence on. Reflecting about what has shaped me and the people who have helped mold me into the person I am. I’ve been asking myself what kind of influence do I want to have on others and who are the people who I believe God intends me to have influence with.

As much as we’re told in our culture that nobody can make us feel something without our permission, the truth is, we are people who are influenced. We are shaped and molded by our experiences, our interactions, our relationships, our circumstances. We aren’t captive to those things, but we are influenced.

I can look at my life and point to places and times that I have allowed myself to receive poor influence from others as a result of not knowing or believing that I deserved any better.

But I have also been graced with a several people who have been positive influences in my life, those who have helped me form my thoughts, beliefs, principles, and actions. Some of these people have played huge roles in my life, while others may have been part of my life for just a brief season or interaction.

When I think about people of influence, I think about Mr. Dallas, my high school English teacher, who told us, kids in a rural mining town, high in the Colorado mountains, stories about his time in the Peace Corps, living in Greece and Turkey where they would cliff jump into the Aegean Sea. Mr. Dallas’ stories turned my heart toward a world that was bigger than that little town and I began to dream of life away from that place. One day, he looked me in the eyes and said, “Sarah, you’re better than this,” meaning the smallness of my high school perspective…that certain boy, that nowhere town, that kegger I was going to that weekend…and something about the way he said it--you’re better than this--I chose to believe him, going against everything I’d previously believed about myself. So when he told me I should apply to this fancy, schmancy liberal arts college in Chicago, I listened. And I thanked him a few years later when I was traveling through Greece and Turkey myself as part of that college’s study abroad program, experiencing a world I’d once only dreamed of.

I think about my dad’s friend Joy, who was smart and sassy, and one of the strongest women I ever met as a kid. Joy talked about everyone having a “love tank” and, in our interactions, we could choose to either make a deposit into someone’s love tank or a withdrawal. The way that Joy talked about this, I felt inspired to be the kind of person who was more prone to making deposits.

When I think about influence, I think about Michael. I met Michael right after I started going back to church in my early 20’s. I’d been burned by the church and, I felt, by God. I had a deep ache in my soul that had landed me back in church, but I was wary. I joined a small group, and Michael was one of the leaders. He was a really cool guy, smart, and fun…but he also was crazy about Jesus, and back in those times, I really did not think all that could co-exist. But the more I hung out with Michael, the more I saw that he was really sincere. He asked me great questions about who I was, he listened to my story about where I had been, and he shared about who he had been before his encounter with God. Michael proved to me that not all Christians were judgmental, goody two shoes fakers. Michael gave me the hope I needed to take the next step back to following Jesus.

I think about my friend Rachel, who I met for the first time in the Phoenix airport as I was about to begin my Holy Yoga Instructor training. The first thing I remember about her was her enormous smile, her bright, shining eyes and the way she wrapped her arms around me in a hug as we met. She was one of the teacher trainers and during her first class, my body became so exhausted, I shamefully collapsed into child’s pose and had what felt like an epic emotional collapse. You know, the kind of cry that involves a lot of snot and choking while you try to breathe so that no one will notice how you are crying. I was trying to figure out how I could slink out of the room of 60 other students and hitchhike the three hours back through the desert to the Phoenix airport, when all of the sudden, I felt hands gently massaging my back, while the voice of the teacher hovered above me. It was Rachel, who found it in her to keep teaching the rest of the class who was still moving while she comforted me and made sure I knew I had no need to go anywhere. As far as she was concerned, I belonged right where I was. Rachel has influenced me to share the idea that Holy Yoga is for anyone who wants it, regardless of their physical strength or flexibility. It’s a place where you’re going to be loved and accepted just as you are.

I think about my sister Hannah, who with a diagnosis of Down Syndrome, lives a life of courage, passion, and adventure. Hannah likes almost everybody, including (and especially) herself. Hannah has no need for pretense. She loves a thrill and because of her influence, I once went on the Tower of Terror at an amusement park with her, and for that experience, I may never forgive her. :)  Hannah teaches me about living honestly and with grace.

When I think about influence, I think about my writing teacher Maureen, who hosts these great classes and workshops on creative writing (find out more here). But Maureen often reminds us that, in her classes, it’s a lot like the hokey pokey—you put your whole self in and shake it all about. Maureen teaches us the mechanics of good writing, but also asks us to explore our deepest selves to get to material. And as she does this prompting, she holds a space for the stories that emerge, and we are somehow healed for having taken part. Maureen has shown me what it means to hear people’s stories and to offer acceptance and camaraderie in this thing of being alive and human together.

And I think about my husband. J has helped me rewrite the book on what it means to love, to do relationship and family, to practice honesty and forgiveness. He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t hold grudges, who looks for the best in people, who attributes positive intent to other’s behavior. He doesn’t look for faults; he doesn’t even know how to be suspicious. All of this is awesome to have in a person that you share a living space, a bank account, and the responsibility of three little people with, by the way. J is teaching me how to truly trust and love.

I could sit all day and tell you about Professor Eskilson, who insisted we call her Arlene, and my wise and noble friend Julie, and about the kids with special needs I used to work with, and so many others, and maybe someday I will write all those stories, too.

But what I really want to do right here and now is to get you thinking about your own stories, and who it is that has influenced you to become the person you are. Who has shaped you for the better? What have they taught you? How are you different because of their influence?

And then, after we’ve looked at how we’ve been influenced, we can begin to look at the kind of influence we want to be for others. For me, I want to encourage dreams, like Mr. Dallas. I want to fill people up, like Joy. I want to be authentic in my faith, like Michael. I want to accept people as they are, like Rachel. I want to seek adventure and love myself, like Hannah. I want to hold people’s stories with respect and tenderness, like Maureen. I want to love without reservation, like J.

And I want to hear about you…the people who have influenced you and the kind of influence that you want to be on the people around you. Because I’m coming to believe that if we take this idea of influence seriously, we’re going to make the world a better place and we’re going to be telling good stories with our lives. You have the opportunity to be the somebody who made a big difference for someone else. So, please, join me in this pursuit of influence. I can’t wait to hear your stories.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Kickball Confessions

 
I stood on the painted yellow line and stared at the wooden gym floor. From the corner of my eye, I could see my gym teacher's striped tube socks pulled over his muscular calves, his tightly-laced Nikes pacing up and down the line of elementary school kids. Mr. Foley was a young guy, but an old-school gym teacher. He thought louder was better and usually led gym class kind of like boot camp--sprints, bench steps, rope climbs, pull ups and chin ups. But on Fridays, he gave us a special treat--kickball.

On kickball days, we lined up along the back wall of the gym. Two kids (usually the very athletic ones) we chosen to be team captains. The captains then took turns choosing kids for their teams, one at a time.

I was one of the "smart" kids--much more likely to be found on the playground sitting with a book rather than playing tetherball or climbing the monkey bars. I was also the youngest kid in my class and not at all inclined toward athletics. Small, clumsy, bookish, uncoordinated--that was me.

So I stood on the line and waited. I kept my gaze on my own feet as I heard other kids' names being called. Soon, there would only be one other set of feet on that yellow line--a set of feet that usually belonged to the other smart girl, Noell.

It was in those moments that I first encountered shame. I felt its hot wash cover me as the captains would take long pauses making their decision--which was worse for their team: me or Noell? Judging by the hesitation, it wasn't an easy choice.

In that space while the captains debated, I went to work praying. "Dear God, please let them pick me. I will try so hard to not get out or miss the ball when trying to kick or not tag the kid with the ball when he's right in front of me--oh, please, God, please! Don't let me be the last one left--the one who isn't even picked at all, but just the one left over."

Sadly, it didn't even occur to me that Noell may have been saying a very similar prayer. Or maybe she was a nicer kid than me and didn't wish that "being last" status on me. At any rate, as I waited and prayed, I knew the feelings of judgment and condemnation.

Many times, the choice would be made finally, and Noell would advance to her team and I, taking the prize place of last, would shuffle toward my team where I would hear sighs and snorts and things like, "Oh, great! Now we're gonna lose for sure!"

Let me be real for a moment. I sucked at kickball. I wouldn't want me on my team, either. I wasn't coordinated or strong or aware of spatial relations--all skills necessary to be awesome at kickball. So I get it. Really. But something set in me from my kickball experiences and that was the theme of try harder.

In the midst of my shame, as I took my place somewhere in the far outfield, I became determined to do it right this time. "Think about it, Sarah. Be focused. Know what you're supposed to and do it," went my inner monologue. "Try harder, try harder, try harder!"

Because, you see, if I could just try harder, I could do better and if I could do better, I could get picked faster, and if I could get picked faster, I could avoid being the last set of feet on the yellow line of the gym floor. Everything would change! Kids would like having me on their team! I'd be a kid who was good at gym, not just a kid who was good at reading and spelling! My shame would be sent packing!

Sadly, all my trying and effort never made me any better at kickball. I'm still not very coordinated or strong. But that shame I learned so many years ago? That's still with me, too. So is its partner-in-crime, try harder.

A little over a year ago, God showed me that I still live like I'm in the middle of a kickball game in gym class. In many situations, I still feel like I'm standing on the sideline, hoping and praying that I won't be the last one picked. In scenarios where I have been picked, I've made it my mission to be capable and productive to prove my worthiness to the team--whether the team is a job or a ministry or a social group...just please pick me and I'll show you my worth by being competent. If my competency comes into question, I'll resort to my trusty tool of trying harder.

I've recently been reading the work of Brené Brown, a social researcher who studies shame, vulnerability, worthiness and wholeheartedness. She draws a distinction between belonging and fitting in. She says, belonging is "showing up and letting yourself be seen and known as you really are" where as fitting in is trying to make yourself into something you're not in order to find acceptance. She calls this "hustling for worthiness."

Brené Brown is making me think a lot about kickball.

What contributes to belonging is for us to have a deep understanding of our own worthiness. We understand that we are imperfect, but even in that, we are enough.

When I look at these ideas in terms of my faith, I see how hustling for worthiness and trying to fit in are a lot like trying to earn my acceptance from God--it's never going to work. It's when I can choose to embrace GRACE that I can see myself as worthy. I'm not worthy from a space of trying harder; I'm worthy because I'm chosen by God. I'm enough because He says I'm enough. I'm being perfected--becoming complete--through the love of Jesus.

Because here's the truth about God--He isn't hosting a cosmic-sized kickball game where we are picked for our skills and abilities to get it right for His team. Rather, God's throwing an awesome sit-down dinner party, one where there's a seat at the table for everyone. We're invited to the table because He loves us--just as we are--no fitting in or hustling required.

It's taking me some time to unlearn the lessons of gym class kickball. A lot of times, I allow my inadequacies and shame to define me. I allow myself to settle for fitting in.

But other times, I can hear a heavenly dinner bell and I'm reminded. There's a seat just for me at a table--a table of love and grace and acceptance. It is the place where I find my worthiness and it's the place where I truly belong. When I find myself standing on life's yellow line, I hear God reminding me that it's not about the order in which I get picked, it's about the truth that I am already CHOSEN.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Rainbows



I woke to gray drizzle, a monotonous spray of water from the sky, not even so precise as to truly form raindrops that might pat or splash on a window or a sidewalk, but just a constant haze of colorlessness and water filling the air. This wetness continued until late afternoon, when I saw streams of light peeking over the trees. The light was bright and noticeable, and I found myself remarking to my kids that if the clouds parted just a bit more and the sun came out, there was a good chance we might see a rainbow.
As I said it, I was struck by the fact that it had been a long time since I’d looked at a storm cloud and anticipated a rainbow. I caught myself by surprise at the realization that a colorful arc is the inevitable outcome when water in the air is caught by rays of light.
As a child, didn’t you always look for a rainbow at the end of a storm? Weren’t you aware of the existence of rainbows always, their presence a sure thing? The little girl I was took every opportunity to find the shimmery bows and I always reminded myself that they meant that God always keeps His promises.
I realized that, lately, I haven’t been looking for rainbows. Not in the sky after a rainstorm, and not in my life with God. I’ve been living in a gray, muggy haze with Him, a place where I know He is there, but I’ve lost confidence that we’re moving toward a moment where this sogginess will encounter light and be transformed into beauty. I haven’t been looking at life’s thunderheads with anticipatory joy, knowing there’s beauty to come once this storm has passed. I’ve lost touch with the notion that with the rainbow comes the assurance of God’s promises. The little girl I was, the one who searched the skies expectantly, has gone missing.
God got my attention today. While we didn’t actually see a rainbow before the sun set, I’m choosing to believe that doesn’t mean there wasn’t one. I know that God wants me to be on the lookout for the ways He keeps His promises—both in the sky, and in my life. I had the opportunity today to be reminded of this and of His love for me.
Will you join me in looking for rainbows—the ones that race across the heavens as the rain is passing and the ones that mark your heart as you see God’s promises come to fulfillment in your life? When we see that He takes the elements of our storms and submits it to His light, we are assured that He is making things new and beautiful. That’s a promise we can cling to.
 
When the rainbow appears in the cloud, I’ll see it and remember the eternal covenant between God and everything living, every last living creature on Earth.—Genesis 9:16 MSG