Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Seeing the old new

I want to see the familiar in a novel light. To glance around my world and absorb all those things that daily sit before me but frequently allude my attention. I want to see old things in new ways.

I feel this way singing along with Ingrid to Steve Green songs: "First John four, verse sixteen, G-o-d is l-o-v-e!" And this is the very word of God.

I feel this way watching Lord of the Rings, watching Frodo's weary resistance and Sam's unflagging encouragement. How I see the struggle and support in this world of sin.

I feel this way talking to people I haven't seen in years, joyfully discovering that experiences that got left behind are not disintegrated in memory. People value and remember.

I feel this way sitting in the blessed air conditioning of my mom's mini van, knowing the gears are clicking so much swifter these days, that this as I know it will soon adjust.

I am experiencing the joy in reflection and remembering, cultivating in these trenches I laid when these memories were first planted. I am seeing the old growing into something new, and I am understanding that vitality is wisdom, and it is good that we not forget.

A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered. You are speaking, Hmán, as if pleasure were one thing and the memory another. It is all one thing. [Out of the Silent Planet, CS Lewis]

Friday, June 21, 2013

The highs and lows of fundraising

Let me just say, I am no stranger to asking people for money. As a veteran of many short-term missions trips, I have sent out letters, I have mulched yards, I have baked good. I am familiar with the fundraising squirm, and it has sent me into tears more than once. And because of this I once speculated that my fundraising might be over for good. Hah.

So let me just say, fundraising is the WORSTEST. I mean, it's great. Officially, I love fundraising because it allows you to stay connected with people, build relational bridges, and serve God in community, which is what the Christian walk is all about. It teaches humility, trust, and dependence on God to provide. All that is true. It's so true. I believe that stuff. But sometimes fundraising is the WORSTEST.

I hate that it requires skill. I hate that there's a rhetoric, a way of speaking in some kind of missionary code that makes your fundraising sound more socially acceptable and less pathetic. I hate that you have to be a pep squad, getting people excited about your scary unknowns while they get to stay home and be awesome with each other while you're far away. I hate that sometimes "follow up" is creepy, and feels like you're hounding or nagging people, and taking the role of a telemarketer. I hate that my coach refers to fundraising as a job even though I know that's what it is, and I know that's totally okay. It makes me feel like a timeshare sales rep rather than a worker for Jesus.

Let me draw a comparison. We had some solicitors come to our door this week. They were selling magazines as job training for underprivileged youth, and the money they raised went to scholarships for higher education. A perfectly noble and legitimate enterprise. But oh, it was painful: the twenty-minute sell, the reasoning and the manipulation. I almost wanted to buy a magazine just so they would go away, and so I wouldn't have to deal with that guilty feeling in my chest.

And I don't want other people to feel like that when I'm fundraising.

I got a text from my mom's old roommate, asking when I was available so she could get together with out family. (My schedule is the most limited. Adjust to the most restricted variable. LSAT logic games strategy. Anyway.) I didn't reply right away because I wasn't sure, but later when I came to her name on my support letter address list I grabbed my phone to send her some dates. I wanted to text her before she got my letter, because I didn't want her to think that I was only getting together with her because I wanted her to support me.

That is the farthest thing from what I want! I don't want anonymous checks or donations from distances, I want a support network of senders who care about English students in Kazakhstan. I want people to give because they believe that God is in this and God will work in me. (And if they pray it so, it will be so.) I will not see God at work without these commissioners, these partners, these senders. I am needy. And so I don't want to fundraise as thought I am impersonal or removed or self-sufficient. But this is an introvert's worst nightmare. I am feeling overwhelmed by the network of people I want to love and engage and build community with, and I am overwhelmed by the kindness and support my network has shown me. It's the best and the worst thing about fundraising. Where there are people there is love and love is such a very hard thing.

And so, though a phone call with my fundraising coach left me in the depths of despair today, she left me with this morsel of encouragement.

Satan's biggest lie is that you're asking for this money for yourself. You're not. You're asking people to join in the vision God has given you for making a difference in people's lives and making Jesus famous around the world. And Satan knows that's a beautiful thing. Don't let him make you feel guilty for seeking partners in this work. 

Today I am thankful for community.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Use Twitter for good, not for burns

I got in a Twitter war with one of the students in youth group today. Sunday's usually a pretty Twitter-filled day for me, because I like to tweet things that resonate with me from the sermon or the lesson. This is usually not to distracting to anyone (although there was that super awkward time where I finished sending a tweet, only to look up and see the pastor staring at me) but because of my habit of sitting in the front, my phone-fiddling is usually pretty visible to the room. I don't try to hide that I'm on my phone. I forget that other people don't know I'm tweeting about the lesson.

So this student saw me on my phone during the lesson, tweeting about the year of jubilee and God's thoughts on wealth inequality. He called me out on it over Twitter and like a total n00b I took the bait, and we went back and forth for a bit, until he released this zinger: "Yes, you'll teach the whopping 2 people that look up to you that tweeting is more important than God's word. #CalledOut"

Aaaah, hashtag burn

It burned, it really did! What I had thought was our typical banter seemed to have evolved to a legitimate rebuke . . . even if it was over social media. But still, hashtag harsh! We were dismissed to small group and I turned to the junior high girls ready to complain, "Waaah, this punk hurt my feelings!" And they were like, "Can we please talk about the lesson instead?" And the conviction burned even more! 

Still, I found him after youth group and laid out my case. 1) I was tweeting something relevant. 2) This student was tweeting me during the lesson; hypocrisy! I was big-time on the defense, talking fast to save my face and spluttering at his audacity. And while he was laughing at me and maintaining his position, it began to dawn on me . . . I was being ridiculous.

Okay, whatever, I don't feel convicted that using my phone in Sunday school is wrong. I feel like I have freedom in the Spirit to tweet away. Fine. But sometimes I forget that not everyone in youth group is like me. Sometimes I forget that there are kids in that room who hold their faith quite loosely, who use their phones to converse with their friends and feed their distraction from the word being served. Sometimes I forget that the example I give is not based on my intentions but rather my actions. Tweeting in church is #NBD to me, but I need to take the message my actions are sending far more seriously. 

The student was totally right. 

Even now, hours later in the safety of my home, I feel squishy with shame over how poorly I received his rebuke. How defensive I was, how indignant I was. How my concern over something someone tweeted at me communicated to the junior high girls in my small group the exact opposite of graciousness and humility and self-control. Instead of letting it roll I got all worked up. Over a little tweet. Oh, que vous sotte. It's a wonder they even let me be a youth leader. But you can be sure, no one's going to catch me touching my phone in youth group ever again. Baby steps.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

This time last year

It was on that month-long trip around Europe last year where I first instituted that annoying habit of punctuating conversation with an exaggerated, "Story of my life!" And while this "witticism" presumably got way old way fast for everyone else, it came upon me when I first read these lines at the start of George Macdonald's novel Lilith: "Then first I knew what an awful thing it was to be awake in the universe: I was, and could not help it!" And how very like this I felt, a spectator to history in these places so traversed over hundreds of years. Story of my life.

And so Lilith proved to be a fantastic literary backdrop to a jaunt around Europe, the adventures of Mr. Vane as he abandons his library and enters a new, mysterious world. (With lots of cats.) A read-aloud put everyone else to sleep as we drove through foggy Luxembourg, but in the car rides and quiet times I was captivated by the hero's confusion and cowardice. I remember sitting at the top of the third floor stairs in the cute house near Roubaix, reading by the light in the sitting area, dead to the world around me and blinking back tears while I read of Lilith's plight. “'Yes,' he answered; 'and you will be dead, so long as you refuse to die.'” Chilled by the thought of the hand she could not open in surrender.

It grew a bit too tattered to give back to Michael, after nearly getting washed away at Praia Grande and living in my purse for four weeks. But it traveled with me, and gave me a piece of the trip that was not shared in common by anyone but was wholly my own. Standing at the foot of so many crosses in grand cathedrals, "Those are not the tears of repentance! Self-loathing is not sorrow. Yet it is good, for it marks a step in the way home, and in the father's arms the prodigal forgets the self he abominates.” And that blessed book gave me something to do on that very first day when a poor breakfast choice kept me confined to my room and retching for hours. (TMI?)

There were times on that trip I was bewildered beyond belief, made sick to my stomach over what I didn't understand and couldn't address. There is the amusement of fiddler crabs and squid-huntings, and there is the slow death of an innocent beetle. There is the charming and insolent graffiti, and there is the uncomfortable acceptance of clipped responses. Many happy moments are slightly colored with shades of begrudgment. And so it is not always pleasant to look through pictures and swap stories, because sometimes my memory chooses to recall the clouds and not the sun above them.

But when I think of Lilith, these are the memories untinged. Sitting on the wharf full of Nutella and crepe. “Annihilation itself is no death to evil." Happy music wailing as the Eiffel Tower sparkled at midnight. "Only good where evil was, is evil dead." The moon so small but so bright against the twinkling lights of Paris. "An evil thing must live with its evil until it chooses to be good. That alone is the slaying of evil.” And choosing the good memories, to think the best, because "A man is as free as he chooses to make himself, never an atom freer." This time last year, I can hardly believe I sat right there. It seems a blessing to magnanimous to be real.

Sorry. No one really likes hearing about someone else's vacation. But read Lilith, 'kay?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

How To: Organize Correspondence

I don't get letter-writing. I mean, I get that writing letters is thoughtful and fun, but it's not my first choice for communicating over a long distance. This objection is less about the ideological implications about "old time" communication and media, and more about the pragmatics of the thing.

  1. Postage: As the USPS continues on its slow but inevitable descent, those intent on delaying the inevitable are also intent on gouging their customers 'till the very end. Fifty cents doesn't sound like much, but I could subscribe to Amazon Prime for the same cost as sending four letters a month. And that does not sound like it ought to be analogous.
  2. Time: Just as a dollar sounds like a steep price compared with gratis email, the varying transit time required for letters sounds needless compared with instant email. While there's something to be said for delayed gratification, it's a challenge to carry a real conversation and keep up with the daily small talk when days pass before your letter is received.
  3. Carbon-Copying: Letter writing also has the curious characteristic of depriving you of the words you've written. Whenever I receive a response to a letter I've sent, it always requires a degree of mental gymnastics to remember what exactly I said and what the other person is responding to. This adds an element of guesswork to making conversation. 

As much as letter-writing confounds me, however, it's always fun to get something in the mail. I've exchanged letters off-and-on with various individuals through the years, and I've accrued quite a stack that holds sentimental value. As part of my grave-dressing processes preparation to leave the country for a year, I've been cataloguing/liquidating/preparing to store my possessions for easy transportation through the rest of my life. Which brings me to the purpose of this post: how do I store all these letters I've accumulated? Pinterest has been of little to no help.

Nevertheless, I've considered a few different options.

The Digital Method

A lot of my memories are already housed in the space-efficient annals of my hard drive. This is of course simple for school assignments, pictures, and even some video, because cloud computing and the digitization of life began about the time I started using computers. I've been on that bandwagon for a while. It's a pretty simple system, just scan the letters, save as images or PDFs and organize by folders. The downside is twofold. 1) What if your hard drive dies? All your data is lost. So fun. 2) Legibility may suffer. Many of my correspondents have horrendous handwriting, and though my scanner is pretty sharp, there's always the potential for data loss when transferring between media. 

The Folder Method

This approach involves ditching the envelopes. It works best if most of your letters are 8.5x11, then you can paper clip any pages together and slide them into page protectors. Group page-protected letter sets in a folder or binder. What I don't like about this option that it not super seemly. Once you get all the letters in the binder, what do you do with the binder? It becomes an endless circle of "What am I supposed to do with this?" I have the same problem with photo albums. We have boxes and boxes of these things in a closet somewhere; they're not quite the right size to keep on a shelf and they're not quite pretty enough to leave hanging around as decorations. 

The Box Method

You take your letters and notes, and you put them in their envelopes (and if they don't have an envelope, you give them one and label it), and you put them in an archival box. You can put in little separators that sort the letters by year or by person. Or if you're feeling crazy, topic. (I.e. graduation, birthday, thank you notes.) Then you can take your box and put it with all your other boxes. Maybe make it a decorative box that you can keep on your coffee table or bookshelf so you can peruse it when you're feeling particularly nostalgic.

Any suggestions for how to tame my collection of sentimental papers? And while we're on the subject, what criteria determine what's worth saving and what is a waste of space? I'm coming to terms with the fact that I can't save everything and it's majorly bumming me out. At what point does memory preservation become too obsessive? (And does asking that question indicate that I am fast approaching that point? Possibly.)