Kneading

I spent an hour or so this afternoon crushing graham crackers. If you’ve never done it, crushing graham crackers is harder than it looks. I will blame the shortness of this post on my tired hands that don’t want to type, rather than on the fact that I’m plumb tuckered out.

graham crackersThere was no rolling pin and only flimsy plastic bags that broke when cracker corners went through them, so the work of crushing had to be done by hand—my hands, working the crackers in the bag, punching, gripping and spindling, kneading.

I thought of my mom’s hands, kneading the bread dough on the kitchen counter at least one afternoon a week when I was growing up. I’d get home from school, get a snack, and as I sat on one side of the counter eating it, she stood at the other, kneading the bread dough, pushing, balling, working it with the heel of her palm.

There was a rhythm, a force, a regular tempo she followed, keeping the conversation going all along, listening as I talked about my day.

When I was in college, my sisters and I helped Mom out at a Mother-Daughter retreat where she was speaking. We did a Q&A for the final session and someone asked for wisdom on spending quality time with her daughter.

My mom said, “Well I always tried to be doing work in the kitchen when you got home from school so you could debrief your day. I arranged my days so the afternoon was in the kitchen.”

My sisters and I blinked at one another. “That was on purpose?” we asked.

Mom often said that kneading bread is all the therapy she needs—she got out her aggression and worked through the tension and stress of the day. And as I worked to knead the graham crackers, I let myself get lost in the rhythm, the crushing, the turning of my knuckles. And thoughts I’d been swirling around settled themselves into pleasant places and rolled on to the tempo of the work.

Figuring It Out Later: Hutchmoot 2013

“I’ll probably figure out what this weekend meant to me in a few days,” I said to Rachel and Christine as we drove home from Hutchmoot on Monday. After I attended for the first time last year, I discovered that I couldn’t put into words what it had meant until I’d read the offerings of a few other attendees. When the experience congealed enough to examine, I was able to see how it had begun to heal wounds and weariness deep within my soul and how God was pointing me forward to what would come next.

***

When I lived in Alaska, I struggled greatly with the lack of sub-created beauty. There was plenty of beauty to behold—don’t get me wrong. The mountains, the rivers, the wildlife: it was all gorgeous. But on those bent branches, no one had built straight baselines. Architecture in the far North is utilitarian at best. The visual art is almost exclusively representations of the scenery.

I found that I wanted to be surrounded by artists—visual artists, musicians, performance artists, writers—who would seek to create new beauty as image bearers of their beautiful Creator. It was one reason I chose to leave Alaska and pursue my craft.

IMG_0971In leaving Alaska, though, I lost my primary missions connection. I’d been serving as a missionary there, involved in a global agency, and seeing lives changed through the power of the gospel.

***

A few months after the 2012 Hutchmoot conference, I sat down with my boss at the University and sketched out my thinking regarding my vocation and my job. One of the things Hutchmoot had made clear to me was that the two were not the same. In the course of that conversation, Todd took a step back and asked me—as a friend, not an employer—what it was I wanted to do in life, what I really love.

I stumbled through an answer. One of the reasons life thus far has been somewhat random in terms of experiences is that I really love a whole variety of things. I love writing. I love college students. I love missions. I love art. I love teaching.

I think I said all those things, but what Todd picked up on was that my voice broke when I said “missions.” He said, “You’re still passionate about that. Remember that.”

***

At some point during Hutchmoot in 2012, my sister observed to me that she hadn’t seen a lot of international flavor at the conference. It wasn’t a criticism, just an observation. “Not a lot of international flavor” is odd for our family. We grew up in missions, our parents based out of the U.S. Office of SEND International. The family lived overseas twice, in the Philippines and Hong Kong. We traveled the world. Even just growing up in Metro Detroit, global was part of our blood. In high school, I had classes in which I was the minority—my favorite school events were the ones run by the Indian American Association, the Asian American Association, the Pacific Islander American Association…

***

In June I left my job. I leapt, not sure where my feet would land.

I’m still not sure. Currents of wind are carrying me along for now, but I don’t know if they will hold me up forever, or even for long. I’m loving flying right now. It’s been wonderful. And I’ve gotten to do and be involved in things in the past four months that I couldn’t have imagined doing a year ago.

***

The intersection of arts and the global engagement has been a theme of my past year. I’ve begun working with Curator, a publication of the International Arts Movement, and gotten to know more about the organization as a whole. My roommate, a missionary, is discovering what her place in the arts is and could be. I’ve begun working with a missions organization that publishes books. I’ve built friendships with artists who are engaging with art on an international level.

Most of all, I’ve become convinced that in our global society, the message of the gospel, the Kingdom message, must be communicated through creative means. Whether we are crossing cultures, or if we are Westerners communicating to our own culture, art is a way to communicate the Message to a culture that is not able to, or does not want to, understand us.

***

I returned to Hutchmoot this year with two friends, the spilling over of my experience a year ago. As the Lord would have it, both of them have global missions experience.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that this would be the year I would meet other ’Mooters engaged with global missions. Perhaps Randy Goodgame singing about aliens living among Israel on the first night was prophetic. Perhaps it’s because of what God’s been doing this year that my ears were more open to others who were thinking about the intersection of the arts and global missions. Perhaps it’s because I brought two friends with me.

But I met people whose world was bigger than the contiguous United States. I heard phrases like, “I lived in Europe for a while,” and “Have you been to Romania?” and “I may not be staying where I am right now, God’s moving me on,” and “You’re an MK? Me, too!” and “Next year, there should be a session on Art and Missions.”

I walked away with some definition to the global corners on a few of the dreams I’ve been dreaming. And in the time since the conference, I’ve learned of some ministries that fascinate me, because they are doing just what I have been wrestling with in terms of global engagement in the arts.

***

I still don’t know exactly where I’m going. But if I could distill what God taught me last year through Hutchmoot 2012 into one sentence it would be this: “I’m a writer.”

As He continues to work in my heart in the coming weeks, as I continue to process the things He taught me during Hutchmoot 2013, I’m wondering if a single sentence will come to the fore again. If it does, I suspect it may be this: “I’m a missionary.”

Leaping

In less than two months, I will not be employed full time. It’s a slightly terrifying idea, but a step I’ve seen the Lord clearing the way for over and over as I’ve walked forward.

I talked with a friend about it a few months ago. I said something like, “I’m going to take a leap and leave this job to pursue other things.” He asked what I would be doing. I said I wasn’t quite sure, some things had fallen into place but much hadn’t. He said, “Well, I guess it wouldn’t be leaping if you knew where you were going.”
Photo courtesy of: http://francescakotomski.com/

That’s the thing about leaping. Knowing exactly where and how you’ll land is not guaranteed.

When I took my current job, I gave a handshake commitment to stay in it three years. That was a big deal for me. Since college, I hadn’t been in one place or one job for more than two years. When year 2.5 rolled around, I was getting pretty itchy. I’d been there a long time. I began to do a little bit of looking around to find out what other jobs were out there that I might be qualified for. And then, right about the three-year mark, my boss died and the University decided to change its name. Personally or professionally, it was not a good time to make changes.
So I stayed through year four. And it’s been a good job. I love the team I work on and I believe in the place I work for. What more could you ask for?
The intersection of gladness and hunger.
Frederick Buechner wrote in Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC that, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
I haven’t found that place yet. And the conclusion I’ve come to in the past months is that I’m not going to when I’m working in a full-time job that keeps me insanely busy, creatively depleted, and emotionally over-invested. It’s a good job, but it is not the right one for me in the long run.
So I’m leaping. I’m stepping out and exploring my options. I’m picking up freelance editing and writing work, I’m teaching adjunct, and if need be, I’ll find something part-time to fill in the gaps (one does, after all, have those pesky things called bills).
But for the first time in a long time I’ve ceased striving. When the panic of the unknown rises, I place it into God’s hands and know He will carry it. He’ll make the connections that need to be made – I’ve been watching Him do so already.
As I leap, will you do something for me? Will you pray with me and for me that God would show me the place where my deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet? I’m closer to that place than I used to be, but I know I haven’t yet quite found it.
Oh, and if you know somebody looking for an editor or proofreader, would you point them my way? Thanks.☺

Rest

I’ve redefined rest today. I came to this conclusion just a few moments ago. Rest isn’t not doing anything, it’s doing something different.

Today, I’m not grading papers. I’m not writing Annual Report text or editing PBU Today. Today has been a day of rest.

What did I do on my day of rest? Well, I still had to teach, but one class took an exam and in the other I got to talk about the climax of one of my favorite dramas in the world…oh, and worldviews. But then, I went to chapel and sat once again under the Bible teaching of Dr. Master, and remembered why I loved his classes so much. And then, I left PBU.

I went to the Social Security Administration and sat in their waiting room for half an hour before I got called to a counter to submit my application for a new card. Then I went to Target and the bank before driving back to my apt. to gather together the million and three documents needed to transfer my licence to PA. I took off for the Driver’s License Center and there waited for only about 10 minutes in the waiting room before they called me to a counter, then sat me down again, then called me to another, took my photo, and sent me off with a temporary PA license.

On my way home I stopped by the library and switched out the CDs of The Witch of Blackbird Pond for the audio Fever 1793, jumping forward in history about a hundred years in the process. Then, before 3 PM I sat down upon my bed and spread out bills to pay and numbers to crunch and organized my finances for the next few months. Following that, I got a few quotes on car insurance and made a decision, paid for six months what I used to pay for two, and then checked email.

Email led me here, to the blogs of family and friends, reading, thinking, processing, resting.

Looking at the list above I don’t think I should feel rested, but I do. In the back of my mind, I know that there are still 40 papers, 19 exams, and 16 blogs to grade. In the back of my mind, I’m concerned that I don’t have the third student profile written for the Annual Report, and that I still haven’t gotten text from two authors for PBU Today. In the back of my mind those things remain, but for today, they’re staying in the back of my mind.

And that’s rest. After weeks on end of constant focus, always processing, always thinking, always figuring how I’m going to get this and that done, I took a break from it–and rested.

Tomorrow the break will continue. I’ll grade a bit on the airplane early in the morning, but the majority of the day will be spent in a cozy kitchen with apples simmering in stock pots on the stove. I’ll crank the handle of the sauce-making thingy; I’ll stir the apples with a wooden spoon. But I won’t worry about the PBU Today; I won’t concern myself with the papers and blogs. They can wait for Monday.

“With all due respect, Madame President…”

I discovered this week that one of my coworkers dislikes me so much that she’s now quitting because of me. Evidently, I’m impossible to work with. I didn’t know. I make light of it, and will continue to do so, because in so many respects she’s being ridiculous, but at the same time, it breaks my heart. I’ve known she didn’t like working with me, and I’ve walked on eggshells with her for months, but nothing has helped. Me being me is just too overwhelming, I guess.

I actually thought we were doing better than we had in the past. She was gone for a couple months on medical leave, and since she returned, I didn’t feel the tension quite so palpably. Granted, I’m not a rocket scientist when it comes to reading people, but I thought we were doing okay. I was careful to be interested in her personally, and tried to talk to her as much as anyone one else we work with. I took care not to let my annoyance with some of her actions reveal itself, I just bottled it away and let it go (how’s that for mixing metaphors?).

But then, Monday morning, another coworker informed me that she had called our District Manager about me. Wow, skipping the manager this time. I mean, when she was bothered by me before she never did talk to me, but at least she took it to the shift supervisor and store manager levels in order. So, my kind coworker just let me know that this was going on, so that I wouldn’t be blindsided by whatever repercussions were going to take place.

I was a little stunned. I like our DM. He’s really with-it, and I trusted that he’d have a level enough head on his shoulders not to take one person’s side of the story without investigating further, but I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I was totally prepared for him to come and ask me for my POV on the situation. I actually thought through all the other people I’ve worked with at the store and had conflict or differences with, and thought about how we’d handled those and come through them as friends on the other side. I had a list of references for him to talk to. And I totally wanted to use Jack Bauer’s line from this season of 24, when the President asks him how she can know where his loyalties lie and he just growls, “With all due respect, Madame President, ask around.”

So, I waited. I didn’t initiate any further discussion of the topic. I was pretty sure everyone else in the store knew what was going on, but I didn’t ask. Then, on Thursday morning, I worked with my manager. Now, my manager and I aren’t best buddies at all, but there’s a certain level of respect there. Somewhere, then, in the course of the morning, she informs me that this disgruntled co-worker would be leaving us after next week. To which, I raised my eyebrows.

Then, piece-by-piece, the rest of the story came out. Pretty much, she’d called the DM, and complained about me, and he asked for some specific examples of what I’d done that was so offensive. When she gave him the examples, his response was something along the lines of, “Well, um, that is her job.” He also had heard complaints from other people about her, which weighed in to his words to her. Whatever the whole conversation consisted of, the DM’s pretty sure that what he said to her made her seriously consider quitting. Then next week’s schedule was posted and we’re scheduled to open together every single morning…and she quit. Now, supposedly she’ll fill out her two weeks, so I get the joy of opening with her every morning this next week, and not letting her know all that I know, but who knows what will really take place? I’ll keep you updated.

I still was holding my own counsel about everything at work, not wanting to say anything that would confirm my meanness, ’cause there’s plenty of things I could say, but shouldn’t, when yesterday, working with a different girl (someone who’d originally thought I didn’t like her, approached me about it, discovered we’d just miscommunicated, and has since been a delightful coworker and friend), I got to hear about how this has gone down in the store scuttlebutt. Evidently (and this is exactly why I want to write a sitcom about this kind of job–the drama!), she’d worked with another person the night before, who was telling her everything that the quitting coworker dislikes about me, and my delightful coworker completely turned on this person and laid into them about how ridiculous the quitter is being and how I’m one of the best employees in the store and that the quitter could learn a thing or two from me, etc. She then went on to say that I was a better person than the quitter in so many ways and that when I leave a shift and the quitter is still working I’m barely out the door when she starts in harping on all the things I do that she dislikes, whereas when quitter leaves and I’m left she never hears one word about my frustrations.

I thanked her for the vehement defense, shared that I really don’t want to be hated, and wish I could have done something to prevent it or fix it, but don’t know how, or even exactly what I’ve done that’s so horrible, and then smiled very broadly on the inside, glad that I’d kept my own counsel. I know I’m not perfect, and I’m sure I’m at fault to some extent, but it is nice to know that other people don’t think so.

In other news, I got Slumdog Millionaire on DVD this week, and had my friend Courtney over last night to watch it…and loved it just as much this time around, and then today, when I put it in to listen to the commentary and watch the special features, discovered that they are missing from my disc. I got online to see what the issue was, and evidently FOX messed up and didn’t get the special features on the discs (oops!), so there was a help-line to call, and once I proved that I did actually purchase the disc by reading random things of the disc and the box (“what does it say in the white box under the Special Features listing on the back of the DVD case?”), they told me they’d send me a replacement in the mail. Which is all fine and good, except now I’m bummed ’cause I have to wait longer to see the special features!