50 thoughts on turning 50: #22 Flowing with the river of life

life is a river

For most of my life, I’ve been consumed with finding my purpose in life. I believe that I’m here for a reason – that God created me for something and that I’m not here by accident. And yet I’ve never really felt like I could put my finger on what that reason and purpose was.

Then a few years ago, I stumbled on a quote by Cardinal John Henry Newman, which reads in part:

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.”

I wrote about it in this post, 50 thoughts on turning 50: #17 Be a link in the chain. But I wanted to take that thought a bit further today, after reading an article last week written by local sportswriter Scott Pitoniak, in which he looks back on forty years spent working at his dream job. Continue reading “50 thoughts on turning 50: #22 Flowing with the river of life”

50 thoughts on turning 50: #18 Take a nap

becky
My cousin Becky and her dog. The ability to nap is clearly in our DNA.

I have a friend who insists that she can’t nap. No matter how hard she tries, she says she just can’t relax enough to curl up on the couch, close her eyes and catch a few minutes of shut eye during the day.

I think there’s something seriously wrong with her.

I love taking a nap but I’ve always felt like a lazy slug for lying around in the middle of the afternoon while the rest of the world is slaving away. Then a few years ago, my doctor told me that it’s good to take a nap during the day. Not a big, deep sleep. Just a short, 15 or 20 minute snooze to clear away the cobwebs and recharge your batteries.

As someone who loves taking a nap as much as I like drinking tea, you can be sure I’ve followed her advice as often as I can. In fact, I’m off to take a nap right now.

Today’s lesson? Napping like a dog is a lot better for your life than working like one.

This post is part of my series, “50 thoughts on turning 50″. Read more here.

50 thoughts on turning 50: #17 Be a link in the chain

tammy annemarie reunion
Tammy and AnneMarie at the reunion

Two summers ago, in 2012, my high school class held its 30 year reunion. I  had followed the planning on Facebook for the better part of a year. Although it didn’t matter.

I wasn’t going.

I don’t have fond memories of high school, the way some of my friends do. It was a stressful time. I was insecure and dorky and generally felt like I was just taking up space on earth someone else could better use. So the thought of meandering down that memory lane with what were essentially a bunch of total strangers didn’t appeal to me in any way.  (You can read my post about why I wasn’t going in this post.)

At the last minute, I went.

I can’t explain why. It was just this little feeling in the back of my brain that said, “Go.” So about 48 hours before the event, I called Anne, the girl organizing the reunion. I asked if I could still come and if she needed help.

The answer to both was “Yes!”

I suggested to Anne that maybe I could collect information from everyone, like current contact information, where they work, where they live, how many kids they have, stuff like that. She said yes, that she would use it to help give away door prizes (like who traveled the farthest to get there; the winner of that one: from Africa).

But I had an ulterior motive: I was on deadline for a column. When you’ve got writer’s block the best thing you can do is do something different. If I had contact information for people, I could get in touch with them later if I needed to. Continue reading “50 thoughts on turning 50: #17 Be a link in the chain”

Caution: influence may appear much bigger in rear view mirror

I was cleaning my office on Sunday – I’ll wait while you pick yourself up off the floor – and for reasons I can’t explain pulled out the old CD player and a box of my favorite CDs and started blasting music.

I mean, blasting music. Windows open, breeze blowing in, music pouring out.

I haven’t done that in a long, long long time, since before I crawled under my emotional rock and curled up into a ball with the dogs and dust bunnies.

But on Sunday? It was rock and roll and sing out loud and dance with whichever dog was closest to me.

I’m no musician, and I couldn’t tell you anything about the art of making music. Which, of course, is why I always felt like a fraud when I was covering music. I just know what makes me happy,  makes my blood tingle and my spirit soar. And doggone it, I love a song I can sing along with. Loudly and off-key.

What I loved about covering music was the people. I’d go to music events and pick the unknown bands to interview, especially the ones who had the time to hang out and talk, who weren’t dishing out pat, rehearsed answers about how they wanted to share Christ with their music when in reality, they just loved making music and being on stage. Which of course was often not only the more honest answer, but the one that may actually have served God the most.

So this music I was blasting away on Sunday made me think of old friends. A lot of CDs were from artists I know or I’d interviewed and remained friends with, or music that was playing while I was with friends having fun times and making memories.

But I didn’t just listen. In between listening to music and doing the cha-cha with Bandit, I actually contacted with those friends. Sent a little Facebook “I’m thinking about you today” hello.

It was awesome.

I had a discussion, for example, with an artist pal who caught me up on the band and added that he hoped big things would happen soon. I told him, “Hopefully big things will happen soon – but remember that just doing what you’re supposed to be doing might actually be the ‘big thing’. You just might not get to see how big it is until it’s in the rearview mirror.” He said that was actually encouraging.

The truth is, that was something I needed to be reminded of, too. Trying to lift the boulder I’ve been living under has been exhausting, and when I look at the work that needs to be done to clean house – literally and figuratively – I can get overwhelmed.

Which is why I am so grateful that, while at a writing conference a few years ago, someone encouraged us to create a writing mission statement to help guide us when things got overwhelming. Here’s mine:

“Connect. Inspire. Change the world.”

Nothing drastic. No plans for world peace (I can’t even manage dog peace in my own house). No specific goals to save the world or feed the hungry – although those are all tasks that happen within that little mission statement (although not nearly as much as they used to happen, which may be one of the contributing factors in my years under the rock. But that’s a discussion for another day.)

I’m reminded of that quote by Cardinal John Henry Newman, which I often share but will share again because it’s so darned inspiring for me (bold emphasis mine):

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments. Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.”

There’s nothing in there about meeting page view goals, making money, or being a literary rock star. I’m good at a few things: connecting people and encouraging people, and hopefully in the process facilitating others to fulfill their missions in life and thereby be a link in the chain that will change the world. 

So here I am, halfway through the week, feeling so flipping fantastic, so happy to have reached out to people and found them still there, to be reminded that nothing more is expected of me than to do exactly what I’m supposed to do today.

Which, if I’m reading the signs right,  means some serious puppy snuggling.

I’ll never be a leader in my generation. I’m not even a leader in my dog pack.

“I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught.”

     – Cardinal John Nenry Newman

* * * * * * *

So I’ve had this book idea rolling around in my head for a while. It’s a great idea. I even had an agent tell me he’d work with me if wrote the proposal. I never did anything with it. If you read my blog earlier this week, you know that fear of failure, fear of success, and a host of other fears keep me rooted in place more often than not.

Anyway, while doing some research for another idea I set out to contact a writer who I once worked with at another publication, and lo and behold, she has written a book that is very, very, eerily similar to my idea. Got a major endorsement from a famous name in Christian circles calling her the next leader in our generation, blah blah.

She didn’t steal my idea, I’m not saying that. It’s a very general idea, and once I can’t believe more people haven’t written about. She just wrote the stupid book I never did.

Someone once told me that God will get the job done, whether or not you obey when he gives you the assignment. Is that what happened?

Sigh. I’ll never be a leader in my generation. Shoot, I’m not even a leader in my own dog pack. Then again, maybe I’m not supposed to be a leader of my generation. I’m just supposed to do the job God gives me. If I fail, I have to believe he’ll use me again. I feel strongly, for example, that my mission right now is to be a voice for people who can’t find the words to say what they need to say or find a way to make people listen.

You know what? I don’t need fame or accolades to do that. As Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote:

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught.”

Thought for the day: Loving the unlovable

“Churches are filled to the brim with people who love the lovable. But if you want to know true love, if you want to capture the very heart of Jesus’s teaching, if you want to tap into the extraordinary – love those who do not love you back or learn to love the seemingly unlovable.”

– author Matthew Paul Turner, “Provocative Faith”

This was years ago. I had been attending a church for a very long time, and was having a discussion with some folks about inner city outreach. This church was very good at helping people from the inner city find churches in the inner city. I threw out the question, “Well, what would we do if a prostitute came to our church?” – our nice, clean upper middle class suburban church. One of the women in leadership responded, “We’d help her find a church in the city that would best suit her needs.”

I’d like to say I was surprised, but it wasn’t the first time I’d heard that from church leadership. Several years before I’d volunteered for a project called Flower City Work Camp, helping with mini Vacation Bible Schools on the streets of the inner city during spring break. I did it for several years, but that first year I bonded with a few of the kids. They asked to come to church with me, so for a few Sundays my husband, daughter and I picked them up. First two kids, then three, then more wanted to come than we could fit in our car.

I asked around the church to see if anyone else would help pick up kids, and the only taker was a couple who, unable to have kids of their own, adopted … well, I don’t know how many now … but I’m sure that if they’d had room in their own already crammed van they would have not only brought the kids to church but offered them a home. But that wasn’t going to be enough. The few kids was growing to more kids and their families.

Instead of helping to find ways to get the kids to church, the pastor gently suggested that I connect them with a church in their neighborhood.

Their drug and crime ridden, very dangerous neighborhood.

I was very, very naive about organized church, having up until that point attended very small churches or a house church. So I did what was suggested, and found the kids a church in their neighborhood. The kids, understandably, felt like I’d abandoned them. Which I had. I still cry over that.

I understand why the pastor suggested a local church; the kids needed more than just Sunday School. They needed role models and breakfast programs and a safe place to go after school, all that they could see on a daily basis. At the same time, I think our church really missed an opportunity for some intense – and probably not very comfortable – spiritual growth. It was easier to hand over the kids than actually step in and help, to drive into the dangerous streets and pick the kids up every week, to bring into our fold children and families who live and think (and bathe) differently than we do. We missed the opportunity to really – really – reach out to the inner city.

I’ve never felt good about that decision, so when the conversation came up again years later, I spoke up.

“So if a prostitute came into our church we’d send her somewhere else to have her needs met?” I remember asking. The woman said yes (and everyone else agreed with her). “Can you tell me what her needs are that are different than my needs?” Blank looks.

I left that church not long after, not because I thought there was something wrong with the church. I’d loved that church for years. I left because I felt God talking to me in a way that he wasn’t talking to everyone else – or if he was, they weren’t hearing the same thing I was.

I was hearing love the unlovable. Love the dirty, unwashed, and ill-mannered until you don’t notice that they’re different than you are. Because they’re not. We all have the same needs – the need for food and shelter and water, for companionship and safety, for an eternal answer to our spiritual questions.

A prostitute walking into a suburban church has the same needs at a corporate executive sitting in the same pew. And when you start to think of people in that way, it’s much easier to love the seemingly unlovable. “There but for the grace of God, go I.”