Monday, July 29, 2013

the Amalfi Coast and Swiss bank accounts

As promised last week, this week we are asking Fateful Question #2.

What do you mean you didn't read last week? What's with that? Get thee henceforth to the archives and read it. Or you just won't understand.

In Happier at Home, Gretchen Rubin writes about the five questions she asks herself “when I'm reluctant to take a risk or face something uncomfortable.” Fateful Question #2 is:

What would I do if I wasn't scared?

Of what? If I wasn't scared of cliffs, I'd drive the Amalfi Coast. (Oh, and if I had a Swiss bank account. But no matter; we're dreaming, right?)

If I wasn't scared of spiders I'd buy a tarantula and call it Fluffy and feed it and read it bedtime stories. OK, probably not, because scared or not, I still prefer pets that sit on my lap and cuddle and purr rather than stare at me with six billion eyes (give or take).

If I wasn't scared of extreme political wackos I would . . . wait. That is a perfectly justifiable fear. Never mind. Step away from those people . . . slowly.

But the question matters. What would I do if I wasn't scared? It matters because if we can pinpoint what scares us about a decision and what we would do if that fear were out of the picture, we could see clearly what we really want to do. If, barring fear of cliffs, I would drive the Amalfi Coast, then I know I really want to find a way to make that happen. I definitely would (assuming that sugar daddy bank account).

If I thought spiders were simply misunderstood cute little things with too many legs, would I feel the burning need to buy a tarantula? Only if I needed to feed a Komodo Dragon. (I have no idea if they eat tarantulas. Please do not correct me in the comments. We are being theoretical here.) So, taking fear out of the equation, I know I still do not ever want a tarantula. Ever.

These, obviously, are not big decisions. The big ones matter much more. Should I change jobs? Should I volunteer overseas? Should I write a book? What should I major in? Ask yourself—what would I do if I took fear out of the picture? Major in something I love? Get my passport? Change careers? Commit my heart and my time to a person or a cause?

Answering 'yes' doesn't mean you need to do it. This is only one of the Fateful Questions. But what it will do is help you see what you really, really want. Do you really want to go overseas? Maybe this position still isn't the answer, but at least you know the direction you'll probably turn, because you've clarified what you love.

What would I do if I wasn't scared?

I know for me, right now, the answer is write those books and articles and put them out there because, even though I'm deeply afraid of letting people see my work and my “real me,” it's what I'm called to do. Even though the thought of being “just mediocre” terrifies me, I'll press on and become the best I can. And someone, somewhere, will still think I'm just mediocre. And I've got to live with that, because I have to choose risk when it matters.

What would you do if you weren't scared?

Next week—Fateful Question #3.

Monday, July 22, 2013

finding legos on the floor

“When I'm reluctant to take a risk or face something uncomfortable, I ask myself the Five Fateful Questions that I've pulled together over the years to help make difficult choices.” Gretchen Rubin, Happier at Home

Do you, like Ms. Rubin, have difficulty making choices? Me, too.

Having now read both of Gretchen Rubin's Happiness books, I can verify that she is probably often reluctant to take a risk or face something uncomfortable, so I feel not only rather a kindred spirit with her but also trusting that if her questions work for her, they will work for other people.

If you've read any of her books, you know that she diligently researches her topics. Trust me, a lot of digging and delving into history, sociology, psychology, and literature went into her work and thus, her five questions. So I thought, why not talk about them while we talk about fearing risk or discomfort? I'm up for learning from someone else's hard work. I used to think I had to do all the work myself and make sure it was right but now, hey, that's what Google is for. And other authors whose thoughts I can steal borrow with due credit. (

Her first question when facing reluctance?

What am I waiting for?

What is keeping you back? Name the thing. It may be a legitimate need, like downpayment money, or finishing a college degree, or an OK from your parole officer to leave the country.

But what if the thing you name isn't a true obstacle? What if it is blocking your way more through imagination and worry than reality? What if it's just plain old fearful procrastination disguised as . . . waiting? Sometimes, for us pious types, it's "waiting on the Lord." Except . . . it's not. It's holy putting-off-a-decision-I-don't-want-to-make. 

I'm waiting for the kids the be older.
The bank account to grow larger.
The person I'm going to marry.
The person I've been dating for eight years finally to decide we'll get married.
A house of my own.

Sigh. I have to tell you something. If you're waiting for those things to happen before you tackle whatever risk is before you, other roadblocks will pop up. Yep, as liberally as dandelions in my rose garden.

Well now that the kids are older, they're so busy . . .
Now that I have more money, I have more bills . . .
Now that I'm married, I have to live where his job is . . .
Now that that deadbeat guy is out of my life because eight years is quite enough time to sit around waiting for something about as likely as a rain forest in the Sahara . . . OK, if that's you, you can take a pass on this one. You've been through enough for now.

You get the idea. Waiting for circumstances to change before you get started on something usually means new circumstances, new challenges, old procrastination. Because the problem is, that obstacle wasn't really stopping you. Your own desire to avoid the risk did that. After that, finding reasons not to do something becomes as easy as finding Legos on the floor with your bare feet.

What am I waiting for?

What is it? Is it real? Is it your imagination? Your fear? Your intimidation? Name it. Know it. Maybe you have good reason to avoid something—then these questions are made to help determine that. But maybe not.

Next week—Fateful Question #2.

Monday, July 1, 2013

mere mortal. hand grenades, and decisions I don't like

This is a rerun, with some editing, of a blog I ran a while back. In a week filled with controversies over Hobby Lobby and World Vision, and the imminent end of the world because of them, I felt it good to revisit. I hope you agree.

Human beings look separate because you see them walking about separately. But then we are so made that we can see only the present moment. If we could see the past, then of course it would look different. For there was a time when every man was part of his mother, and (earlier still) part of his father as well, and when they were part of his grandparents. If you could see humanity spread out in time, as God sees it, it would look like one single growing thing--rather like a very complicated tree. Every individual would appear connected with every other.” C.S. Lewis

"I am not in a culture war. I am in love with people within a culture. We fear the loss of what we know. So we react in anger. This is not a healthy way to live or change anything."

I wrote those lines above a few months ago in my “random blog ideas” file. As you might guess, I have several random ideas. Per minute. When I go back to that file, I have one of three reactions:

1) Wow! What an amazing idea! That is perhaps the most genius idea ever conceived by woman!

2) Wow! That is perhaps the stupidest idea ever conceived by woman.

3)I have no idea what that means. A blind orangutan on meth could have made more sense.

It seems the “culture wars” concept is appropriate to discuss this week. Again. And I am so done with that phrase.

I used to be comfortable with the culture war concept. I'd generally call myself a conservative Christian, though some of my views definitely don't fall traditionally or neatly within that arena. Under that label, caring about right and wrong, and the general drift of American culture far from values of any sort, comes naturally. I care. I thought, years ago, that meant taking up arms and joining the “war.” But I don't think that anymore.

It's that word “war.” See, by nature, in war, you have an enemy. You don't like him. You want to hurt him. You fear, reasonably, that he wants to do the same to you. You want him to lose. If that isn't your aim in a war, you should be playing intramural shuffleboard instead. War is violent.

That concept, when applied to someone standing on the street next to me or an acquaintance on Facebook, isn't one I can sleep well at night with. Because culture is people. And people are God's image. And people are . . . me.

Why would I ever want to start lobbing grenades at myself? That's just . . . not normal.

I can't draw lines anymore. I can't, as Lewis explains above, separate myself from that "other" with whom I may not agree. We are part of the same creation, beautifully made and dangerously flawed. Both of us.

I can't look at another person and say, “I wish you'd lose your hopes and dreams and deepest desires, because they're different than mine." I can't treat another person as an enemy. I find it paranoid to assume a person who doesn't agree with me wants to do me harm, although I'm not na├»ve enough to believe this is never the case. 

I can't have to win. Coming from a former championship debater, this is a huge concession. And here's an even bigger one--Rarely can I even declare with certainty that I'm absolutely right. Not anymore. At least, I can't do that and think God smiles on it and is going to give me a purple heart or something. 

God never smiles on us when we toss grenades at other people he created. 

Of this, I am certain I'm right. 

As long as sin exists in this world, it's going to hell, handbasket or not. And the kicker is, sin exists in me, so I'm part of the downhill slide. Its pretty stinkin' foolish of me to point out someone else sliding down the hill and yell, “This is all your fault!” Its a lot more sensible to reach out to that guy and try pulling us both out.

This doesn't mean giving up what you believe is right and wrong. It means making the decision that it isn't people who are right or wrong. It's ideas. 

People are beautiful, broken, amazing, amusing, complex, extraordinary, eternal creatures. There is an enemy—but they are not it. No matter what he looks like, no matter what he believes, no matter how he dresses or votes, a human is what C.S. Lewis describes in another brilliant quote.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

And that is why I will never again be in a cultural war.