Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Cinematic

As I endure the second week of a viral infection (ah, the joys of having an unacclimated immune system) I have had a lot of time. To think. To reflect. To binge Netflix.

I am sure there is an equation streaming services use to choose what movies and shows to offer in a given season. Perhaps people want to laugh more in the summer and think deeply in the cold months. I assume people watch most horror flicks close to Halloween and Christmas episodes in December. I don't know what it is about this horribly awkward transition from winter into spring, but apparently it warrants biography season. And I am loving it.

I have queued up a selection of biographical films and (while I have the time) enjoy immersing myself in someone else's story. I watched the blossoming romance between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in "The Young Victoria" and thought about how difficult private matters must be for public figures. I cheered on the talented chess players in "Queen of Katwe" and remembered similar dirt roads along the outskirts of Jos. I almost turned off "The Duchess" because I was so repulsed by the Duke of Devonshire (well done, Ralph Fiennes) who was never able to love the creative and caring woman he married.



[Note 1: I commend directors in the last decade who recognize women as worthy subjects and who don't feel the need to add unnecessary drama or sexualization to make them more or less powerful. In my humble opinion, mostly true stories are always better than mostly untrue.]


So it only seems logical that I would start to examine my own journey and wonder what my cinematic life would look like.

Would it be a chronology from birth or just a highlighted season?

Would it have a thematic purpose, try to push an agenda, hope to expose something unknown?

Would it be a sweeping epic or a low-budget indie?

[Note 2: I don't think or care much about who would be cast, but there is no doubt Wes Anderson would direct it. He is the only person I could trust with highlighting the many wonderful children who would need to be involved and the use of bold colors. All the yellows, please.]


As ridiculous as this all seems, it has actually been a necessary examination at this point in my journey. Because time changes things.

Ten years ago, at age 20, my movie would have been an indie documentary about my season working at Faith Alive Hospital. It would not be finely edited so people could get a better grasp on how a young woman experiences a new culture and is welcomed into a far-away family. There would be candid interviews from wonderful people and I would say a lot of seemingly wise things that don't really make any sense now.

Five years ago, my movie would have been written about the many hilarious conversations I have had wandering with kids in the forest. It would have been short and lighthearted, a G-rated episode for the times Mom is washing dishes in the kitchen and needs the kids to sit down. The Weepies would have written the soundtrack.

Today, I'm not sure what a movie of my life would be about. It could walk my spiritual journey, but a lot of that would be difficult to communicate. It could show the before and after of heart issues, but that is an unfair gauge of who I am. It could just be a Bloopers reel of all the ridiculous things that have happened to me. (I think the Dr. Pepper bottle scene would be especially compelling.)


There is one thing I have realized in all of this that will stay the same: in all these stories, it is not the main character who is most important. It is the people around them.

"The Young Victoria" was written not just about a queen but about the man she loved.
"The Queen of Katwe" would not have happened without her coach and team.
"The Duchess" is not as interesting a story without her (horrible) husband.


One of my high school bands, Cool Hand Luke, had a similar soul-searching experience. Instead of writing a blog, they put their thoughts into song. I sang these lyrics in my car on the way to Edison and I can sing them still:

I want to live in such a way
That when I'm gone my friends will say
That if my life was turned to film
I'd be standing on a mountain shouting victory in the end
But in my heart I know it's only true
If I'm supporting actor and the Oscar goes to You


It seems funny that in all this self-searching, I find You.
You, Ben Friesen.
You, my growing family.
You, friends near and friends far.
You, children at my church.
You, Jesus.

I hope one day, if my life warrants a film, You will find yourself on the screen.
... And I really hope they cast someone who plays You well.
You deserve it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Hope

Hope.

But why Hope? I have heard all the "name it and claim it" commands. The best wishes. The thoughts and prayers. And I sometimes wonder if they have made any difference. Any change. Any Kingdom advancement.

But here I still sit, holding Hope's hand and whispering my prayers into his ear every time my heart skips a beat. Asking for peace. Asking for healing. Asking for stability.

Because I believe Hope can make progress. That Hope can bring Light that this place so desperately needs. Light for our world and Light for my darkened mind.

If I give up Hope then I will have nothing. Nothing except a bank account and a shelf of Other People's memoirs. And those will not be enough.

So I am for Hope.
Hope for an end to violence.
Hope for a healed heart.
Hope for a world's ignited love.

Hope for Light to break in and restore broken things.

Because that is what you do, Hope.
(Or should I refer to you in one of your other names? Redeemer, Prince of Peace, Good Shepherd?)
You allow us to join you and bring change.
And we so desperately need change.

You are Hope.
And I am hoping that I can be, too.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Home

The little rose bush outside our window is piling with snow this Halloween afternoon. As I sit and watch the flakes slowly accumulate on the little pink petals I am struck with a sense of familiarity, a feeling of home. Not to this rosebush. I have only known it a few weeks and not intimately; I let the groundskeeper tend it on his weekly rounds. I am also not well-acquainted with this snow, seeing as it is the first time we have experienced a flurry in Topeka. It is the quiet, grey-skies-covered peace that is recognizable. And it has been a long time since our last meeting.



My mother gifted me a book before Ben and I moved here to Topeka, Kansas titled This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live. The author, Melody Warnick, compiles scientific research, poetic essays, and personal conversations to help craft an in-depth look at "Place Attachment". She believes (as do many of her sources) that a person can choose to fall in love with the place they live and suggests active steps a person or family can take to become better connected with their city. It is an interesting and worthwhile read, especially for a recent transplant looking to connect.

I don't think I have ever had a problem connecting with a place. I have moved a number of times in my adult life--my parents still live in the green house in Fresno where all three of us kids were raised--and have always quickly adapted. Every place I have lived has brought incredible community and natural beauty that is unique from anywhere else.

Some would say it is the people who make the place but I am starting to believe a different opinion. People may be the most recognizable (and arguably most important) aspect of a location and should absolutely be taken into consideration when talking of a place. But there are certain non-human elements that I associate with a particular home and, when I happen to run into them elsewhere, I am immediately transported.

The smell of damp, spongy earth on an overcast Scotts Valley morning.

The loud crunch from fallen acorns walking Crestline trails.

The almost-too-warm sunshine that brightly reflects off of Oakhurst snowfall.

The taste of Fresno peaches, just washed in Grandma's kitchen sink.

A place gets to own its flora and fauna, its rivers and fields, its skyscrapers and Walmarts more than it gets to own its people. All those sights and sounds and smells are the truest form of place. And we get to choose what we own as our home. (Not "own" in the sense of possession but "own" in the form of confession or agreement. We own our feelings of home.)

Which is why Topeka and I now know each other. I owned that grey-skies-covered peace in every place I have lived, every place that has allowed me to do life well there. That quiet gentle spot has been a constant in varying landscapes among different people. Even when it lasts only for a few seconds I can find that place and rest in it.



Our neighbors, the Bookers, walk past the window, wrapped in coats to brush snow off their windshield. The peace dissolves as I listen to kids playing in our shared green yard and wonder where the squirrel I saw chowing down on our birdseed this morning has hidden himself. I realize I should get ready for our trick-or-treaters (do they still go door-to-door in freezing temperatures?) and make sure Helen got the package UPS dropped on her front step.

It's nice to be home.




Thursday, October 5, 2017

Reflection

Last night I had a hard time falling asleep--which is a big deal for me. I tend to sleep well and (in this season) require ten solid hours of rest to function. So when I found myself awake an hour into my husband's rhythmic snoring I was a bit surprised. I could not shut off my brain with any force of prayer or willpower.

Round and Round and Round.
Thought after Thought after Thought.

Unlike my usual train of consciousness when I am trying to solve the world's issues, I was not thinking about the present or projecting into the future. Instead I spent all of my moments in reflection. Of this week. Of this season. Of this decade. A whole lifetime of experience found it's way to my head.

It was wonderful. And tiring.

As a slow mental processor it can be difficult to share my thoughts and reflections in a cohesive and timely manner. A sleepless night can be a gift to those of us who need quiet solitude to collect our emotions, questions, and colors. It gives us the chance to marinate and become richer, deeper versions of ourselves.

I invited memories to come, without any hope or need to make amends with myself. Free of the intention of piecing them together into a story. I just sat and let my mind bring forward what it felt like sharing.


Visiting our STARS (Seniors That Are Really Special) at Palm Village with the 3rd-4th grade Sunday School class. They shared talents from playing piano to telling stories. I doubled over every time Joshua began to laugh before he got to the punchline of his joke.


Listening to Mom's voice as she explained her breast cancer diagnosis over the phone. She talked me through steps moving forward, explained how it would all work out. I sat in the Subaru and audibly cried.


Staring out the car window at the mesas and cornfields that passed by as we drove across the country.


Laughing over Coffee Meets Bagel matches with Amber. It became our daily ritual in the hum of a busy summer season to look through the other person's potential suitors and try to guess who would be the best fit. We'd find a minute in the parking lot between camp activities to cast our votes.


Taking a moment to look over the sea of faces at our wedding. Jubilee was standing on her chair waving.


Sitting on the windy Capitola shore with Kevin.
Sitting on the windy Capitola shore without Kevin.


Singing Christmas songs led by our kids dressed as shepherds, angels, and barn animals. Nia hit every note perfectly. Nate surprised us all with a solo. Kendall, Mya, and Kinnedy delivered their lines with gusto and grace. I had both hands pressed over my heart as our congregation was led in "Hark the Herald Angels Sing".


Waking up in a sleeping bag our first morning in Topeka. I had no idea where I was... 



And sometimes I still have no idea where I am.

In the midst of transition and questions and fatigue I need these Spirit-gifted moments of reflection to better know myself. To better know others. To better know God. It is not a time to try to come to any sort of conclusion on those--to be able to give adjectives or make definitive cases for the people in our lives or the things we have experienced. No. Instead I think it is simply a time to be and to feel.

To know who is there with you.

There will come a time when I can reflect on these days, look back on now. The now of coffee with church ladies, snuggling with my husband, low blood pressure readings. The now where I am trying to figure out how to best spend my time without work responsibilities. The now of resting. The now of reflecting.

I'll enjoy that sleepless night.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Decisions, Decisions

I have a difficult time making decisions.

Not when it is an emergency situation, thankfully. I am a pro when it comes to quickly moving a group of children away from swarming bees or calling an ambulance for someone who has passed out or telling Ben that he is less than ten feet away from another vehicle.

My decision-making skills become less apparent when I am faced with, well, just about any other opportunity to choose. 

For the past twenty-nine years I have driven my father to the brink of insanity when he asks me to pick a restaurant for lunch. I think about the hundreds of options in the area (and narrow it down to the dozen that have good gluten-free low-sodium meals) then I sit with my choices for four or five minutes. Scratching my head, speaking menus out loud. In the end I always come to the same conclusion:

Anything sounds good.

This season presents me with some of the most difficult decisions I have had to make. Not because there are so many options or because it all sounds good. No. Not my usual pick and choose scenarios.

These are difficult because I know the best selection for each one. 

And I don't like where the best may lead.

---

I was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure last autumn and have made some significant changes to adjust to life with low energy, sore muscles, and fluid build-up. As I navigate this cardiac journey with my doctors and specialists, I choose options they present to me:

I choose to do research and talk to others in order to better understand my body. 
I choose to take daily medication to help with swelling and blood pressure. 
I choose to record my vitals and check-in with my medical team. 

But there is one choice that is incredibly difficult: The choice of employment.

The very first command I was given when I was diagnosed with heart issues in 2014 was to quit my job as a backpacking guide. My cardiologist said I would die on the trail if I continued. I had to call my boss from the doctor's office parking lot to tearfully inform him that my employment had ended. 

After we had figured out enough about my health to start feeling like myself again I was ready to get back to work. Which is what I have enjoyed the past few years as a substitute teacher, a Sunday School director, and a Children's Pastor. It is life-giving and healing and wonderful. 

But my doctors continue to pose the question of holding a job. They ask if it is necessary for me to work. Give me information about disability. Check in to see what physical and mental stresses come with my job description. 

Every time I opt to keep going.

For years I have chosen to devote my time and energy to students, to parents, to ministry. I teach, budget, discipline, train. I love well. I feel this is my God-given calling to work in ministry, to spend my employed hours working with people. This is my best choice.

This was my best choice.

---


Proverbs 16:9 says, "We can make our plans but the Lord determines our steps."

The plans I make and prayers I craft include a healthy heart, increased energy, the ability to do my pastoral job well. I fight and fight to try and make those things happen; to execute my plan. A few days ago, as I lay in bed trying to force my fatigued body to rise, I heard it:

You are fighting for the wrong things. 

I have been fighting and pushing my plan--as good as it is--without any consideration of other options. Without remembering that God will consider my plans and can offer a better selection. 

The children and families I walk with do an incredible job working alongside and supporting a fatigued fighter. I appreciate every step of growth and joy and heartache that comes with this role. I love these people with my whole oversized heart. And I now see that they will be blessed by someone whose plan lines up with the one I have made. They will be blessed by someone whose steps are leading right to them.

And so a choice has been made.
A painful, tear-filled, good choice.

I choose to leave my role as the Associate Pastor of North Fresno Church. 
I choose to allow my body and mind to rest and recover.
I choose to follow God into whatever big and beautiful and unexpected plans are best for me.

And I choose to do it well. 


Saturday, January 7, 2017

Grey and cloudy


It's Saturday again.
I think I lost most of Monday and Thursday.
Well, not lost. Sleep does not count for loss. Neither does laundry.
I guess I just made it back to this day without realizing time was moving forward quicker than I was.



My counselor recently asked me to set an alarm to help me re-center every day, give me a chance to live in the present and check in on my heart and mind. So when the music starts up from my purse or the table or when I am making a call, I stop what I am doing and take a few minutes to walk through my routine:
- Check my heart rate
- Take some deep breaths
- Do something with my hands (write, sculpt, color)
- Give a word to how I am feeling in that moment

These past few days I have had the same feeling. It feels like this:


As I grieve Kevin.
And worry about my health.
And cancel plans to be with people I love.
And try to find the energy to get out of bed and do what I am expected to do I feel like this.

Grey and cloudy.



On our weekly night hikes at Thousand Pines and Calvin Crest, we engaged our human ability of night vision. We would walk into the forest without any source of light (except the occasional bright moon) and our eyes would adjust so we could see. The cones in our eyes, the way we detect color, would lose their ability to respond to light while the rods would work overtime, helping us make out shapes and shadows. We could discern what was around us--in a sense we could see--but it was a world of grey.

As we approached camp and its lights (or, in some instances, when a kid fell down and we had to pull out a cell phone or flashlight to make sure they were ok) the ability to detect color came back. The world went back to normal.



Right now, in a time of sadness and frustration and fear, my world has gone to grey.

However, as I prepare for a life of night vision, a season of sitting alone on an isolated cloudy beach, there are glimpses of light.
From a husband who wakes up next to me and reminds me I am not in this alone.
From a family who shows up and tells me it is ok to have days where it is a struggle to function.
From a staff who gives me grace and surrounds me with prayer.
From friends who send flowers and texts to bring (literal) color to my day.

So I know that this season of grey will end.
Because Kevin would hate a world without color.
And Jesus would, too.



"There's a darkness upon me that's flooded in light
And I'm frightened by those who don't see it."
- The Avett Brothers

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Seasons

Everyone goes through different stages in life, takes on a dominant personality that influences your words and actions, your thoughts and feelings. I have been reflecting on some of my own distinct eras over the past fifteen years...

The 'Satan is a Punk' high school years. I was really into my Christian title and equally into all things music. I wore slangy Berean t-shirts and spent every Friday night at a show. My spirituality was just being defined as my own but I was heavily influenced by large-group gatherings that included 'winning' people for Jesus and 'taking back' culture. I was also heavily influenced by Emery and Anberlin. Thank God.



The Rosie the Riveter era. The years where I believed I could do anything! This was the season of finishing school, starting a career, traveling the world, trying new things, and befriending anyone who came across my path. I had discovered my God-given abilities and was using them to their fullest potential. Still, I struggled to define what I was most gifted in and most passionate about as I put my whole heart into everyone and everything I encountered.



The Outdoor Educator seasons. Times where walking, talking, and observing were a way of life. My work became my play as I spent hours on the trail with kids and coworkers alike. My soul dug a little deeper and I discovered the need to journal, sketch, and sing in the forest. I asked a lot of questions and was asked a lot of questions, many I still I have not found answers to. Jesus felt so close. Whenever I think of this time I smell dirt--rich, dark, loamy soil. My head still has not forgiven my heart for ending this stage of life so abruptly.



Over the past three years, it seems every season, every week, multiple times a day I am experiencing a different title: Broken Woman, Healing Heart, Grateful Daughter, Shepherd, Loved and Loving Wife. All of these times have been surrounded by a wonderful community of family and friends, some who have supported me through different stages. God has remained consistent though has been experienced differently in every era. I love that.

So what era would I say I am in now?

I have told Ben multiple times that I think he married a cat. Whenever he sits down I want to snuggle, I get cranky when I haven't been fed, and I sleep long hours. I am constantly cold and crave the sunshine. 

But I hope I am more than just that. 

I am in a season of loving and protecting the Least Of These in my community, including a host of amazing children. 
I am learning what my body needs and finding the difficult balance between work and rest.
I am prioritizing time with my family, my friends, and my incredible husband. 
I am growing in my knowledge and understanding of the world and finding the glimmers of Light to hold onto.
I am simultaneously weaker and more powerful now than I was before.

So I think this is my time to be a cat.
This is my Lioness era. 



Roar.