Tag Archives: ambition

Full Mind, Full Heart…

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There are a lot of things in my head right now. The song is “I Can Her the Bells” from “Hairspray Jr.” which we saw at the middle school four blocks from our house on Friday. Several alum from our elementary school plays were there and in good form. The steps under my feet and in my head are for “Make ‘em Laugh” which we will choreograph this week.

I’m rereading Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, a fantastic novel that throws together everything that interests me into a lovely disastrous science fiction salad, languages, medicine, with some alien life forms thrown in. I am emotionally tired from our community group’s project on Saturday to feed breakfast to seventy five people through City Hope, our church’s community center in the tenderloin district of San Francisco.

I met a young lady named Ari. When I had talked her inside off the wet street she left moments later with tears in her eyes. She had been looking at my kids. Out of prison for five days, her seven-year-old son is with his father in Alabama, her two-year-old daughter is in Petaluma with friends. We talked about being mothers, she talked about the weight of the family she was raised in, the weight of caring for children on her own, the weight of her addiction that led her straight back here to the streets of San Francisco.

She came in again, she ate, she met my children, I connected her to our pastor there. We found out where she could get clothes. She went to use the bathroom. I sat with her bag.

When she came back she said, “I’m glad you watched my bag. It would’ve been too hard not to — if I had had it with me.”

“You have drugs in there right now?” I asked.

“No,” she said after the slightest pause.

And this is how far I’ve come, I’m still naive enough to be surprised that a drug addict has drugs on their person. But, as it turns out, I’m not naive enough that I didn’t recognize that she was lying to me in the second instance. So, that’s something.

The emotional response in my body brought to mind another instance of similar discordant realization. We were in Manila on a mission trip. We were touring lots of areas and different ministries. One night we went down to the slums to meet some of the thousands of orphans left on their own to form families. We had a group of about twenty boys, six to ten year-olds. We told them Bible stories, learned their names, fed them. We had been there for hours when I began noticing that they were leaving one by one and coming back after a while. They would come back a little happier, red eyes, a little less attentive, distant.

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked one.

“He’s high,” the boy answered succinctly.

As it turns out these beautiful brown boys were taking turns leaving to huff glue out of discarded glass jars.

One of our set up guys at church has been clean for two years. He posted on Facebook. “Two years off the needle by the grace of God.”

Another time in college a young man, long blonde hair in a ponytail, a smattering of tattoos, was a friend of a friend of someone in En Christo, our ministry to the poor and homeless in Spokane, Washington. He showed up for a month of Saturdays, handing out bagged lunches to the residents of the hotels we had established relationships with. He gave a powerful testimony of God’s saving grace to release him from his addiction to heroine. He was witness, it could be done. He didn’t show up one Saturday. We heard the next week, through a friend of a friend, he had died of an overdose. I don’t remember his name. I remember thinking he was cool.

I am thinking of the second grader, a little brother, who told me he has begun reading the Bible when he’s bored at home, mostly the story of David and Goliath.

I am thinking of my volunteer who has rekindled her years of ASL and is practicing the story for this next week so she can communicate with two deaf boys who have been coming to our program.

I am thinking of two third grade girls who haven’t had a friend in their all-boy children’s worship class. Two Sundays ago they finally found each other and told their mothers about their new friend.

I am thinking about the two first grade boys who are a little intimidated about transitioning out of their comfortable Kindergarten class where their little brothers are. One is autistic and finally yesterday didn’t look like a caged animal when I gave him another tour of the “big kid” room.

I am thinking about all the slogans I have read off the posters of all my friends who went to many women’s marches all across the country. I didn’t think about going. I served breakfast with my community group to seventy-five inhabitants of the tenderloin and met Ari and was tired and went home and thanked the Lord for whatever combination of grace, provision, chance, will, or wisdom that has allowed me to have a house and the right to mother my children.

I thanked the Lord for a rug to vacuum, dishes to do, so many bananas that they had gotten old, and the baking space, that no SRO hotel room has, to make banana bread. There was so much joy in making banana bread for my people, so much flour, so much sugar. I thanked the Lord for the bathroom I had to clean even though I swore on Tuesday that anybody but me was going to be scouring it this weekend. I was grateful for the fridge full, the laundry basket full, the arms full of my children.

I realized that I was being domestic even while I was admiring signs, even while City Hall was lit up pink. I laughed at myself.

My favorite quote, the last sentences of Middlemarch by George Eliot. The great heroin Dorothea, who is described as having the energy and righteous ambition of another Joan of Arc, spreading out her energies into domesticity like the delta of the river Cyrus. “But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

I think about how distasteful it is sometimes to my ambition to rest in the small things, how difficult to be satisfied in diffusion.

I think of the one hundred sixty-nine kids in the school play that I get to know and encourage. I think of the eighty-five to one-hundred fifteen kids that we have in children’s worship on Sundays that we get to know and welcome. I think of the three who I kissed awake this morning with many kisses, the little one’s cheek smelling like his sweet mouth from falling asleep sucking his thumb.

This morning I don’t feel so far away from every other woman in the world. This morning I see more parallels than differences between me and Ari who is somewhere just outside this coffee shop window, maybe still trying to find her cell phone so she can see that last picture she took of her little girl. I feel my energies splitting and irrigating many tiny fields, for each of which I am very grateful.

Train of Thought…

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I can’t be who everybody wants me to be. I’m skilled not brilliant. I’m passionate not a force. I have energy for now. I am creative but slowly. I’m disorganized. I can’t multitask. I’m not big BIG picture. I’m not fine detailed. I’m Barbara. I draw pretty pictures not daring ones. I love showing people the love of Christ. I want to live every moment. I hate not having enough energy. I hate letting moments slip by. I hate thinking about the hours of television that could’ve been a novel. I hate leaving art projects undone. Why can’t all the projects be finished instantly? I’m disgusted by the idea of leaving something undone when I die. But I find it improbable and most likely inauthentic to who I am to ever finish everything at the same time. I want to meet Jesus now. And I’m frenzied for living another day. I love my bed. I love to climb in. I hate to get out of it. I love being in my mind. I love being creative, letting my mind work. I love it when my thoughts keep me up till four solving problems, unable to rest when beautiful visions are being built. Yet I scroll down my phone clicking back and forth between email, facebook, twitter, and wordpress, just to make my mind be still so I can sleep. I don’t know who I am. I don’t know what God wants me to offer. I find out in the second. This is it. This is what you have to give. I’m tired. I’m crying. I wish others could see life as I do sometimes. It’s a gift this, the view, the creation, never bored in my mind. What would I do without characters talking, images parading. Just images, just stories, nothing grand, nothing that will affect the tides of politics or social justice. They’re not even true. They’re fiction as true as I can make them. I love stories. Some crazy story this, me, here, now.

Seasick…

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Well, you can say a little prayer for me this week.

I’m doing well. I mean, I knew this was going to be difficult, new job, joining anew the workforce, making my crazy dreams for children’s ministry at City Church of San Francisco a reality. And it’s not so insanely difficult. Indeed, I am at times overwhelmed to the point of paralysis. But then I just turn around and get drunk on the overconfidence of my amazingly heady ego and get stuff done. It’s dizzying being Barbara. (And imagine how my husband feels?!)

I feel like an apostle sent out on the boat. I am supposed to go to the other side. But the other side is not the destination. It never is. The other side is merely the end measure of the destination, the destination, and the point of all of this, being jumbled up somewhere in the length of this crazy ride over the time it takes to get there.

I am on a boat going to the other side. And I can’t tell which Bible story I’m in. I don’t feel like I’m in a storm, so maybe I’m in the one where the apostles are just not making much headway. Whatever, the wind’s against them or something. And Jesus has in mind to beat them to the other side just by walking across the water. Maybe he thinks they have it under control?

But they’re struggling after all. And so he goes to them, just right across the water and in the face of the damn wind he goes. And there’s me, Peter, the rock, saying, “Command me! Pick me! Let me do this job!” And Jesus says, “Ok, c’mon.” And there I am, Peter, sinking like a, well, a rock. I’m sinking like a rock at my own request.

“Save me!” “Command me!” “Save me!” “Command me!” “Save me!”

That’s me this week. It’s dizzying. And yet, it’s surprisingly secure. I am commanded. I am saved. I am being commanded and being saved.

I commanded. I saved. I am commanding. I am saving. I am. I am.

Carefulness…

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Well, I put myself out there. I applied for a job that I was super passionate about but for which I was a little short on experience.

So many interviews and meetings later and I’m, well, short on experience.

My friend told me last week about the lady who started Spanx. If the junk email in my box is any indicator, she’s doing pretty well. My friend told me that every night at dinner this lady’s father used to ask her how she had failed, what she had learned from it, and what she was going to do next time. In this way failure and risk were normalized for her.

I tried it a couple of nights ago. It didn’t work because no one had failed at anything all day long except me losing my temper briefly before dinner. But today I had a doozy.

“Well, kids, Mommy failed at something today.”

“What did you fail at, Momma?”

“I applied for a job that I really wanted. But I didn’t have enough experience. They’re probably right, but it would’ve been fun. I’m glad I tried.”

I don’t know if they were paying attention, but I hope something sunk in.

The other week my husband and I attended a family class on anxiety after church. The therapist running the class told a story about taking his friend’s daughter to the playground. While this little girl played and climbed he heard her repeating to herself, “Be careful, be careful.” When it was brought to the father’s attention he had to estimate that he said “Be careful” to his daughter up to fifty times a day. He wasn’t even aware.

So, I’ve made note and stopped saying “Be careful” so much. And I’m talking about failure at the dinner table. And I took a chance, failed, and talked about it in front of my kids.

Because if there’s one thing I don’t want, I absolutely do not want my kids going through life being careful.

On the Horse…

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I am happy to follow-up and tell you that the elementary school rehearsal yesterday went very well.

I am back, as they say, on the horse. After careful review of what is going to be rehearsed on Monday I have asked for another go at blocking and choreographing the scenes. The director kindly assented.

All of this may not seem like much, but it is indicative of much growth.

Let me tell you a story.

When I was in second grade I inadvertently won the privilege of standing in front of the entire school and reciting a poem. I hadn’t known it was a contest.

So, after the kindergartener and the first grader went, I got up on stage in front of all the K-8 graders in my school and recited my poem. I then sat down to watch the rest.

I will never forget what happened then. A fifth grader got up to recite her poem. She trembled and stuttered and burst into tears and ran off the stage. The girl may or may not have vomited. It certainly looked like she was going to.

I was mortified for her. How embarrassing! I didn’t even know that sort of reaction was possible. It was horrifying.

A couple more lucky speakers recited and then, a few moments later, everyone applauded as the teacher announced that the girl from fifth grade was going to try again.

The teacher said, “How brave of her!”

I clapped for the girl, but I didn’t buy it. The girl had run off the stage. “Brave” was something they said to trick her back up there. And I remember thinking, with my advanced second grade wisdom, that if that sort of thing ever happened to me there is no way you’d get me back up on that stage.

My heart found nothing brave or admirable in that moment.

Now, I am significantly older and, as with most things, when you practice not being perfect every day you just get better at it.

My inability to fail prevented me from doing a lot of things. It’s taken a long period of indoctrination to reverse it. In fact, I now find a special pride in my ability to fail miserably, experience rejection, and try again, even if it’s an elementary school production, even if it’s a novel.

So, here we go, keeping on, practice, practice.