Saturday, May 18, 2013

Thanks, Robert.

Because I felt like living large on a Friday night, I stopped at Trader Joe's on my way home. (I know, how is my life so exciting?!) Having drooled over the circular they'd sent in the mail last week, I knew exactly what I wanted. Some supplies for Mother's Day french toast, as well as potstickers, dried mango strips, and a PB&J chocolate bar. Starting the weekend right. Woo!

But as I clutched my heavy cream and brioche rolls, examining packages of organic strawberries, a voice cut into my consciousness. "Excuse me, I just wanted to tell you, those are some awesome shoes." I looked up from my strawberry-perusing, and standing beside me was a neatly dressed twenty-something smiling at me good-naturedly. "All you're missing is a leather jacket to go with them." I thanked him and told him I'd left the jacket in the car. 

He starts asking me all these questions, just making conversation, like where was I from and what did I do? I told him about chicken zoning in Scituate, and Trader Joe's New England presence, and doing play therapy part-time, and where I got my sandals, and before I knew it our quick exchange morphed into a legitimate conversation. I mentioned I was going abroad to teach English and his countenance seemed to shift a bit. "Oh, when are you leaving?" he asked. I told him July and he smiled. "Too bad, I was going to ask you out to coffee." 

At this point I became acutely aware of all the shoppers around me, and the fact that I had been monopolizing the strawberry display. Wait, what? Is this real life?! In my head there was no presence of awkwardness, I just played it off all cool, "Aw, that's flattering, thank you. Good to meet you." But did it actually go down sans-awkwardness? Who knows. We shook hands and exchanged names, and he wished me good luck on my travels, and I said . . . "You too!"

Two things struck me about this encounter. For one, I felt very young. I tried to hint perhaps I was too young, by alluding to living in my parents' home and being an undergrad, as in, "Don't you feel creepy for hitting on someone so much younger than you?" And then it occurred to me, I'm almost twenty-two. That's actually not that young. And he couldn't've been more than 27. That's actually not that old. All at once I felt ushered in to part of the twenty-something fold.

For another, is this a thing, chatting up strangers in the supermarket? Is this socially acceptable? You know nothing about me except that I'm wearing steampunk sandals and shopping at Trader Joe's, but you feel this is enough of a basis to see what comes from a conversation? As in, "You endorse the values and novelty of this business model, so we at least already have that in common." Sure, I've begun to gather that it's harder to meet new people once out of college, but it never occurred to me that the supermarket might be a place to look. 

The upside of talking to strangers? Sometimes they give you an ego boost. Free of charge. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Unmerited Favor

I'm graduating. This is a double-edged sword. I'm caught between triumph that I now have a BA and am employable by the liberty movement's standards, and also drowning in despair that I spent lots of time and money on a degree that is essentially worthless. My friends are getting real jobs, and I'm begging for other people to send me halfway across the world to do something I've never even done before. What if I'm a terrible English teacher? And even worse, what if I am so crippled by homesickness and culture shock that I can't venture out of my apartment to "do ministry" in my downtime? That's missional failure!

So why am I doing this, again? The LSAT prep books sit unopened, unfinished Perspectives homework looms, and the burden of all the stuff I've accumulated feels like it's perched on my shoulders instead of hidden away in the closet. I am overwhelmed and immobilized. For the first time in this whole process it is occurring to me that this may have been a very bad idea

This of course becomes cyclical. I hate feeling badly; more than anything I cringe at that pit in my stomach, the flutter in my lungs, the heaviness in my chest. Emotional swervyness translates into physical nausea. I create and indulge a learned helplessness from my incapacity, and all that is undone is left undone. Which creates more guilt and bad feelings. Which creates more avoidance and procrastination. The doubt sounds over and over, "You who are so ineffectual in your comfort zone, how can you be of use anywhere? How can your light be good enough for export when it is not even good enough for local consumption?" Valid, cutting questions. 

What can break the cycle? The lie is challenged in this: I am not helpless! The guilt cannot cover me! 

When I feel sick to my stomach over relationship anxiety or when I see my shortcomings as a daughter and a sister, He is there. When I miss opportunities and shrink inside of myself, He is there. When I am shrouded in doubt or when I am steeped in defeat, He is there. His grace means I am given a reward I don't deserve. My feeble efforts are returned to me as His refined results. I am a mess. And lo, I am not meant to remain that way. But because transformation is a plodding hiking trail and not a flashy teleportation, His grace covers me, and will cover me, continuously, unendingly. In my topsy-turvy, my incompetency, my confusion, He is true north. His kingdom is still coming.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Come at me, bro!

I feel smothered, by regrets and memories, by anticipation and reflection. The times they are a'changing and, as usual, I'm struggling to deal. I carry the cardboard down the hall of the Memorial Union out to the dumpster on campus and I sigh a pitiful little sigh to myself.

No, not now. Please don't make me leave these people I love. They don't know how much I love them. I didn't even know it until I realized I would be saying good-bye. 

I'm comparing my transition out of undergrad to my transition out of high school in an effort to give myself some perspective. It's ironic, because I struggled so long and hard to preserve my time in high school, taking a homeschooler's prerogative and staying five years instead of four. It's been quite the opposite in college, a pragmatic's struggle to speed through her degree in three years instead of four, so I guess it all balances out. This hair-splitting of time reminds me that milestones are arbitrary, they sit where you set them, and so I am not afraid to move forward. The race is not against others, instead the competition is within my own heart.

College gave me some unexpected but rich experiences. Some practical, some useless, all ridiculous. Such as . . .

Learning how to use a freight elevator.
Attending my first Bonnet Shores house party. 
Losing a sorority scavenger hunt.
Hosting my own radio show.
Slack-lining on the quad.
Filming a television editorial.
Discussing general education reform with the Arts & Sciences dean.
Presenting my research project to the honors department director.
Selecting the honorary degree recipients.
Sitting on a committee with the provost.

I can graduate college and assert, I have work experience! I have a BA! Even in this sickly economy, I can potentially support myself! I'm graduated, come at me bro.

Also, look me up in four years and see if I ever made it in and out of law school. I'm interested to see how that one works out.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

There are no small callings in His Kingdom

I caught sight of this article by Anthony Bradley on WORLD Magazine in my newsfeed. Entitled "The New Legalism" the article discusses the evangelical church's emphasis on being radical, missional believers marginalizes the kind of life Paul calls believers into in 1 Thessalonians 4:11. It caught my attention because I am one of those millennials whose "greatest fear in this life is being an ordinary person with a non-glamorous job, living in the suburbs, and having nothing spectacular to boast about." I want to be radical. I want to be missional. But I fall so short of this every single day.

So when I saw this byline, I wondered if there was hope for me. Thinking maybe I'd misunderstood the gospel, that following Jesus really was as simple as being nice to my family and being diligent at my job, that maybe I could continue in an under-achieving existence, so I read the article eagerly . . . and was disappointed.

And okay, maybe I'm a sucker for an inspirational lyric, or maybe Ryan had it right when he sang, "You were meant for amazing things." Please note, there is nothing wrong with being ordinary. I would know, guys. I'm told on a nearly regular basis how incompetent I am. I competed in forensics for seven years and I still experience speaking anxiety. I'm afraid of people. My spiritual gift is helps. I am not the kind of person who dazzles with their brilliance, graciousness, and passion. I am a do-my-own-thing-over-here-in-the-corner kind of person. I have a depreciating major from an average university and I'm a little too neurotic and I'm just very regular. And I'm pretty okay with that. 

But I believe in radical living.

I don't disagree with Bradley's insinuation that we have idolized the glamor of individual achievement. There is nothing admirable about boasting in what we've accomplished ourselves, nor should we be motivated by the fame that comes from doing something visibly awesome. Additionally, there is no cookie-cutter way to live a sold-out life. There is no one path to "radical" living. I can get behind this frustration that perhaps we're undervaluing modalities and glorifying the sodalities when it's important for the Church to have both. It's not okay that we rank the Bible translators as more "cool" than the office Bible study leaders. Being a good citizen is no less valuable than being a social justice advocate. And maybe in our hurriedness to get "back to Jerusalem" we've glossed over this distinction.

But I feel as though the problem he describes is not the result of an overemphasis on being missional but instead a bi-product of self-focused living. Are we not called to follow Jesus by moving as He leads, not where we would go? (Be that end-point New Jersey or New Dehli.) And are we not instructed to daily take up our cross and leave our families, businesses, and funerals behind? (Be that a cross-cultural transition continentally or socially.) The issue here is not that we are too concerned with being radical: there are people all over the world doing cool things for Jesus, and I want to see more of that, not less of it. I love reading about former debate acquaintances doing social justice work in Africa. I smile at the Pinterest posts from a missionary in Ukraine who's started a Bible study with a bunch of spinsters. I have a friend who goes to Kennedy Plaza several times a week looking for a homeless woman she met there one night, and I think that's totally nuts, but I love it

These people have gone all out. They have abandoned the comfortable and predictable to follow Jesus where He is leading them, to the harvest. And there is nothing inherently evil about getting a nice nine-to-five job and marrying a nice guy and having 2.5 kids in a nice neighborhood, because the suburbs need to be reached, too! (Just remember that most of the world is not in the suburbs.) Wherever you find yourself and whatever your work, there is radical, missional living to be had. Are we so self-focused to believe that Jesus would only have us work for Him within the convenience of our daily routines? 

Have I bought into this "new" legalism? It's true, the thought of a white picket fence makes me shudder. I know my propensity to be cowed by routine and I am well-familiar with the dangerous lull of my comfort zone. And so I want spend my life running from the clutches of apathy into the arms of godly ambition, praying big and being an instrument of God's restorative love. (Because I know that I am daily tempted to do just the opposite.) It's hard to live radically within the comfortable confines of the familiar. At least, it is for me.

Being radical doesn't have to mean starting an NGO and petitioning the United Nations to build a well in a remote part of the Sudan. Radical living is a condition of being all out for making our Jesus greater in this world. And you can do that by vocational mission and loving your literal neighbors. But I am certain we are not called to a quiet and unobtrusive existence, because I have read that the rocks will cry out His praise if we don't. 

(For those of you struggling, as I am, to live radically from within the suburbs, read this book with me!)