Monday, April 29, 2013

on window installation and dripping wet hair

I knew as soon as my husband told me he'd called the window installation guys that I would be sorry for that call.

Me: “You told them to call me? They're going to call me tomorrow. They're going to ask what's wrong with the windows. I'm not going to be able to explain it, and we'll both hate that entire conversation.”

Him: “No, they won't, because I left detailed information on the answering machine as to what's wrong.”

Me: Can't speak. Laughing too hard. Because I know exactly how things rae going to go down the next day.

There isn't any profound wisdom in today's blog post. Just an observation. But I hope it's one that can help anyone who deals with the public, whether in sales, writing, the medical field, church work, or waiting tables. Can I make a plea that will make you an instantly popular person? Really, if you just do this, you will have clients, patients, customers--whomever you work with--begging to work with you again. It is that rare.

Listen to, read, or research what the person has already told you before you see her.

You know how it goes in a doctor's office, don't you? They hand you a six-page form to fill out. You explain on the form what you're there for. You may have already explained this over the phone. Then, they stick you in a cold room, and at some point a nurse comes in and asks you the same questions. The ones you just answered on the form. Then, far in the future in that freezing room, the doctor enters. And asks you the Exact. Same. Questions. And it drives you nuts.

That's what happened this morning, as predicted. The window guy called. He asked what was happening. He asked several question I knew were on that message. But he hadn't bothered to listen to the message. Since I am a woman of few words who usually operates on a need-to-know basis, I hate repeating myself. I was not the friendliest customer in the world on that phone call. The fact that he had gotten me post-shower and I was trying to talk, hold on to a towel, and keep dripping hair away from the phone did not help a lot.

On the flip side, those doctors who enter the room, shake your hand, and ask about the last sickness that brought you there and how it's going? Who ask how your kids are and remember how many you have? I had an eye doctor—an eye doctor!--who always remembered my medical history whenever I came in. She'd ask how the kidney transplant was going. She knew my medications. Of course she looked at the chart before I came in. Of course they don't memorize that stuff. But she looked. And it inspired a lot of confidence that she wasn't going to do anything not in my best interests.

My business keeps returning to doctors, repairpersons, and others who prove they want it enough to prepare ahead of time.

So there's the revolutionary advice for today. Take the time to do your homework. Listen to messages. Read charts. Go to files and find out why that person has been there before or what she usually looks for. Spend some time before that appointment thinking about any history you have together and remember it. People like to believe you have taken that little bit of trouble for them. They will reward it.

Monday, April 22, 2013

are you beautiful?

A lot of us, women specifically, have watched and been moved by the Dove Real Beauty Sketches video this week. (see below) It has reminded us one more time that we are our own worst critics. We focus on our flaws and magnify them in ways that onlookers, if they knew what was going on in our heads, would shake theirs and wonder what we saw that they don't.

Except, the same self-criticism is going on inside their heads. Few of us, male and female alike, are immune to this constant background mental noise that we're not measuring up to whatever the standard is. That is a topic far too large-scale for one blog. In fact, there's a book or two in there I'm going to work on.

I hate the standards society imposes on us, and I hate the self-loathing we impose on ourselves. But that is not the subject of this post. Not specifically.

The subject ladies, and gentlemen, too, is that chasing beauty is chasing the wrong goal. Those who do it long enough figure this out or get really depressed trying. Feeling beautiful is not where we get our deepest joy and worth, despite what we are told by every grocery store magazine rack in existence.

Despite what we are told, too, by well-meaning Christian authors who convince us that at the center of our being women need men to tell us we're beautiful. You know what? I love my man. He's pretty great, and on the whole, I think I'll keep him. But my psychological well-being will never depend on whether or not he reinforces my desire to be beautiful. And I do desire that--I'm not at all immune to its power.

I do not like the brown spots time has put on my face or the grey hairs on my temples, and I definitely despise the belly that has stretched to cover three children and two diseased kidneys the size of footballs and will never, ever go back to the way God made it. I have no problem with women looking their best, and I have no plans to adopt the "If you're really godly you won't care what you look like" attitude that really means "I don't feel like trying." I have my moments of looking in the mirror and saying, "Ick."

But those moments do not define who I am. Why? Because what I know is that  am the image of God. What I know is that means I have an amazing capacity for creating beautiful things on a daily basis. As the image of God, it isn't so much my job to be beautiful as to make beautiful. It isn't my purpose to perfect the surface but to offer meaning to the depths.

This weekend I watched a woman I know who is not what society calls conventionally beautiful. At one point in the day, she was devastated by the "rejection" of a man who, I guess, no longer considered her beautiful or worth his investment. Later, she spent hours elbow-deep in water, bleach, and dirt helping a friend whose filled-to-overflowing basement had been submerged in floodwater.

And I thought, that woman is beautiful. Why? Because that woman was making beautiful. She was giving her time, her energy, her self, to someone else by choice. She was choosing to look at another's hardship and do something about it. She was being meaningful, which has so much more value than a number on a scale or a hair color. hope she went to bed last night feeling beautiful.

So in answer to our constant self-criticism, I offer an alternative. Stop thinking so much about ourselves. Stop searching for elusive beauty we all never believe we have enough of, no matter who we are or what we look like. Start searching for meaningfulness. Don't look in the mirror this morning and wonder how you can get rid of that wrinkle or cover that grey hair. Look in the mirror and wonder how you can be meaningful today. How that face can bring joy to someone who sorrows. How that body can be strong for someone who is weak. How that image of God in your mirror can be compassionate, creative, or challenging to someone stuck somewhere they can't find their way out of.

Make beautiful. I think you'll find you feel beautiful.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

wasted breath

I tried to write this blog post yesterday, but I decided after the first twenty minutes you didn't deserve to read the drivel that was appearing on the screen. It just wasn't happening yesterday. Then, other things happened yesterday, and maybe, there was a reason I never finished.

Every once in a while, someone says something that startles you with its outside-of-the-box clarity and dead on accuracy. A statement that makes you go all Homer Simpson "D'oh" and realize, "That should have been my brain's default mode." But somehow, it never is. I had that moment yesterday morning reading the Psalms. 

In Psalm 39, the writer watches "the ungodly" and all they do and say. He promises himself, and presumedly God, that he will not jump in with a harsh word or a stupid comeback, no matter how bad it gets. Tough to do. When surrounded by idiot behavior, most of us are seriously prompted to at least a raised eyebrow and more likely a holier-than-thou judgment call. 

Rarely do we hold our tongues. More often, we relate better to the next words of the psalm.

"The more I thought about it, the hotter I got, igniting a fire of words." Finally. Here it comes. The retribution. The put down. The "Wow am I glad I'm better than that" passive aggressive throwdown, or even the "God's gonna get you" point play. He's going to let those sinners have it.

And then comes the next line. “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me my days are numbered. At best, each of us is but a breath.” What??? No, "Lord, remind them of how awful they are." No, "Lord, remind them they're going to get theirs." No, Lord, thank you I'm not nearly that bad."

No. Instead, he haunts us with the question, "Lord, how am I doing?" 

Watching other people mess up did not give him leeway to blast them but caused him to look inward and say, "Hey, God, am I doing the best job I could be doing with what I have?"

Yesterday, we were surrounded by actions far more serious than stupid--our surroundings were just plain evil. We are reminded now, on a seemingly regular basis, that "ungodliness" is not the old-fashioned term we've come to regard it as. If the actions of those who take life pointlessly cannot be described as against all that is God's nature, nothing can. Ungodliness is alive and devastatingly robust, despite, and certainly because of, our disbelief in it.

Yet the challenge I received prior to yesterday's events remains true. Perhaps the best response of those who wish for better should be to examine our own lives. “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be." What am I doing with that time? Specifically, am I creating a life story that will be remembered far longer, and better, than the ones laid down by those who choose evil? 

Marathon bombers, school shooters--their names cover our headlines. But for how long? What will we remember about them? How long will we care? In the face of that, what do I want to leave from my brief days here circling the sun? What can I do today to move one step toward making that quick breath here a deep one, that sliver of space gorgeous? 

Three months after 9/11, I watched what became my favorite movie ever, and I heard one of my favorite book/movie quotes ever. The words were surreally appropriate then, as now.

Frodo: "I wish none of this had happened." 
Gandalf: "So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."

That's all we have to decide, and it's all that we can decide. Every day we don't decide is a part of that breath, wasted. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Dancing Queen

I need to dance more. Anyone who really knows me knows that I do dance. I dance in musical theater. I dance at the annual medical ball which, believe me, has little else to recommend it in terms of entertainment. And here's a tidbit of trivia for you-I belonged to the ballroom dance club in college.

I won the the father-daughter dance contest my senior year in high school. Well, my dad and I won it. That's not something you can do alone. I went to the disco every Sunday afternoon in high school. Yes, go ahead and laugh. But to this day I can do a mean swing dance. I'm just way more likely to turn an ankle than when I was seventeen.

But this week, I was startled by a kind of dance I don't do enough of. Joyful dancing. 

"You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.
    You have taken away my clothes of mourning
and clothed me with joy,
that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.
    O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!" (Psalm 30.11-12)

Have you ever prayed to be rid of a fear and then, when you got what you asked for, continued to be fearful? Or manufactured another fear to take its place. When I was a kid, I was afraid of the dark. Okay, I'm still a little afraid of the dark, but now I have better coping skills.

You remember the drill when it was bedtime? Check in the closet for monsters. Or scary animals. Or serial killers in clown masks with pitchforks. I had a very vivid imagination. Sigh in relief when no monsters show their face. Even after you got up the nerve to check under that suspicious three-foot pile of dirty laundry your mom was always bugging you to bring down.

But then . . .  Got to check behind the curtains to be safe. And behind the door. And in the bathroom. Don't forget behind the shower curtain. When it's finally safe to get in bed, you suddenly realize you'd better not dangle toes or fingers over the edge of your bed because heaven knows what is lurking under it that could grab your hand and pull you under. This was, I have to admit, a very real possibility the way I kept my room as a kid.

I want to suggest an alternative to this slightly deranged frenzy. If the closet is clear, how about we do a dance of joy in the middle of the room and yell, "Praise God--my closet is all OK!" Or something a bit more creative, if you like. But we don't, do we? We find more things to be afraid of, more worries to imagine, more concerns for the future that, while certainly possible, blind us to the moment that deserves a dance

I've had a lot desperate prayers answered over the last few years. Many things that could have gone tragically wrong did not. I'm not saying this in a hypothetical fashion; God really has pulled people I love deeply off the road to a devastating end, and I have wept for others who failed to get off the road. I recognize the terror I have stared down. I know I have a lot to dance about. 

But instead, I too often find myself focusing on what is yet not right. I look under the bed for the relationship that is still damaged. I peer into the closet at the habits that still need reform. I sweep back the shower curtain searching for what still is imperfect. And I totally miss the fact that what is now is so much better than what was. I should be thanking. And I should be dancing.

Psalm 34 says, "I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears." If you've been free from even the smallest thing, take time today to dance. Stop worrying about new things that may come. Stop focusing on what is not, and where you would like it to be. Look gratefully at what is. And dance.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Freak Out Monday

Yesterday was Easter. Today is Easter. Every day is Easter, from my point of view (and the point of view of some pretty reliable historic sources). True story. Because if what the Christian church says happened on Easter really happened, then every day after that is a repeat celebration. An encore. One more chance to stare up into the heavens in what should be daily freaked-out surprise and say, "I can't believe you did that for me!" If Jesus truly--physically, spiritually, historically, existentially, and any other 'ly'--was dead and then wasn't anymore forever,  then today is still Easter. And that needs to mean something. Quite honestly, if such a thing happened, and you don't think it merits more than one day's notice in 365, you're not taking this whole life and death thing we're all in very seriously. 

Sometimes on this blog I mention my faith, and sometimes I don't. I won't force it on you. I may occasionally offend you by the way it works out in my life. That happens when someone believes something with all her heart, devotes her life to it, and is passionate about it. If you never want to be offended, only interact with people who don't care about anything. You'll be crazy bored, but you won't be offended. 

The fact is, at one point in my life, I did look at that cross in freaked-out surprise and say, "I can't believe you did that for me." It happened for me when I was watching the movie Jesus Christ Superstar. Not a conventional conversion, I admit, but a fact. It took a few years of being around better people than I to realize exactly what that belief meant. I'm still working on it.

I'm writing about fear this year. Easter is the ultimate release from fear. Without Easter, I'd have nothing to say about fighting fears. I might try, and I might unleash all kinds of pop psychology to make you feel better temporarily, but really, without Easter, I got nothing.

On Easter, it seems appropriate to point out that fear comes from somewhere. It was never innate to human nature. Humans started this gripping emotion called fear by running away from God in the Garden of Eden. Why? Because they knew they had messed up, they knew He knew it, and they didn't know what He was going to do about it. 

It's the same basic principle that caused me to hide in my closet when I was eight and I skipped out on dishwashing duty to go out and play even though I knew that my name was clearly on that chore chart and my mom would find me. No one who knows in her soul that she has deliberately opted to go against the established order of rightness feels good about that choice for long. We may go through all kinds of emotional gymnastics to pretend and believe we do, but eventually that delusional behavior bites us from behind. How long we choose to run from it depends on how stubborn we are. 

We don't like accountability for our actions. We've outgrown the notion that any behavior could actually be wrong. And we certainly have lost all enchantment with the word 'sin.' It's quaint but irrelevant. Except no matter how far or fast we try to run away, we have soul-deep-knowledge that won't be suppressed that there is wrong; that in fact, there is wrong in us, and it scares us. We hide, because our parent might notice our name on that chart at any minute and realize we aren't doing our job.

Personally, I've come to realize that hiding in the closet comes with a few problems:

  • One, the anxiety about what my (loving) parent might do imprisons my soul. I could just go and find out and get it over with. But why do that when I can spend hours imagining it in ever-increasing degrees of worry? 
  • Two, It locks my relationship into the realm of fear, when it could be transformed into the heathy thing it was meant to be--a parent and child teaching and growing.
  • Three, hiding becomes my default whenever I don't want to face something, robbing me of experiences outside the closet.
  • Four, it's really hot and stuffy in an upstairs closet in a century-old house with no air conditioning. I think this may have been the beginning of my claustrophobia issues.

It's Easter. Still. Are you running? Running was never part of the nature God intended for you. He proved it by walking straight into the consequences of our behavior, facing the terrors there, and blasting them to bits with one shove of a stone away from a tomb and a sunrise beyond our craziest dreams. Today, instead of turning around and going about your day like it's a normal Monday, look up. Stare into the sky. Say in freaked-out surprise, "I can't believe you did that for me." Yell it if you want to. Then, say to yourself,  "And I can't believe I haven't responded."