Re-sil-ient

It’s 2:15pm on a Monday afternoon and I’m already yawning—which is why I’m stopping at Starbucks for a little caffeine treat.  Standing at the coffee bar doctoring up my Americano, a little note pinned up on the community board catches my eye.

 Starbucks image

The writing is haphazard—a jumbled thought tossed out for the world to read (you know, like how we used to communicate before social media)

It says: Can we stay open in a world that grinds and chews—can we keep our hearts?”

I can picture the scragly unshaven college student with rolled up jeans and boots who wrote this.  (Think Lumber-Sexual)  He’s frustrated and angst ridden.  His girl has dropped him for a thirty-year old-financial planner.  His heart is crushed.  He brushes an errant lock of hair out of his weepy eyes as he stabs at the board with a push pin and leaves his note for the world to engage with.  Then he grabs his guitar and journal and trudges back out onto the mean streets of South Orange County.

I chuckle at my imaginations.

But his (or her) question haunts me. I go back and I snap a pic so I can ruminate on it further.

(Because that’s what writers do…we create drama in our minds)

I don’t know this guy’s story.  Maybe he’s in the worst pain imaginable.  Maybe he’s struggling to go on.

Maybe his heart is shattered and he wonders if he will ever love again?

And I want to wrap my arms around this hurting kid I’ve conjured up in my mind and hold on tight.

I’ll pat him on the back (just like when my own son is sad) as he cries guttural howls of pain and hiccups with snot pouring out of nose on his hipster boots.

I’ll hang with him (or her).

I’ll tell him I see your crushing sorrow.

And I will mourn with him.

Because I too remember the moments I thought I would die from pain.

Loss, betrayal, divorce, death…

But hope intervened.  Hope steered me to the shore.

So, my friend, Can we stay open in a world that grinds and chews—can we keep our hearts?”

Yes…

Yes we can. But it requires effort.

It requires an emptying of self—a (symbolic) sacrifice on the altar of entitlement where we release all the anger, bitterness and perceived control.

It requires a belief in a greater love—a hope in something bigger than the pain.

It requires eyes to see all the ways God cares and reaches out to us in the darkest night.

I think of my dear friends and loved ones who’ve walked me through trauma—certainly glimpses of Jesus with skin on.

But if I had closed myself off from them, I would have missed all the mystery and bigness of God reminding me I am never alone.  I am never forsaken.

I had to let them in.  I had to reach out for their hand in the storm.

And hold on.

An open heart embraces community.

My counselor recently commented that the healthiest people engage.  They cry easily and feel intensely—joy, sadness, and frustration.  They are present in the moment.

They are open, tender, raw and real.

They are RESILIENT.

I gasped when she said this word. Because it was a word I keep sensing in prayer.

RESILIENT.

So, my darling Starbucks friend, Can we stay open in a world that grinds and chews—can we keep our hearts?”

Yes, Yes and yes!

And I think the mere fact that you reached out on a board at Starbucks is kind of awesome.  It’s an open, bold and risky kind of move.  It shows that you aren’t giving up.

It shows resilience…

Here is the link on the card if you want to join the discussion.

(And here are a few verses to remind you of how loved you are!)

re·sil·ient

able to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens. : able to return to an original shape after being pulled, stretched, pressed, …

God says

 

 

No room for the homeless in suburbia?

 He caught my eye as I drove up O’Neil Parkway – straggly beard, matted hair, tattered clothes-it was the distinct look of the homeless and my head whipped around in a double take. He staggered down the street, eyes cast downward, muttering to himself.

For those not familiar with my So Cal neighborhood of Ladera Ranch, it is the Disney of master-planned suburbia.  It’s manicured, lush and disturbingly homogenous. Deviation, unless it’s in Christmas light selection is seriously frowned upon. The Ladera association won’t tolerate any brown spots on our lawns and when we left our garbage can outside our backyard fence for a couple of days it provoked an association letter referencing a bylaw stating that no garbage cans can be visible from the street. 

“Oh no…What are they going to do with this guy?” I groaned to baby Kolby in the backseat. She slurped on her pacifier in response.

I tentatively pulled my car over to the right thinking I would stop and talk to the man, but the vehicle on my tail honked at me for blocking the one lane road.  Flustered, I drove on home and told myself I’d stop the next time I saw him, which turned out to be exactly two days later.

I turned the corner on Antonio to grab some nosh before church at the golden arches (yes I know, I’m an egg McMuffin addict) and noticed there were three police cars on the shoulder with lights flashing. I looked around for the cause of disturbance, figuring it must be pretty big to garner soooo much attention, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. 

And then I saw him, the devious criminal in question and my mouth fell open-it was the same homeless man I recognized two days earlier, only this time surrounded by five policemen. The cops had their arms folded and were questioning the man. I stared in bewilderment.  Does it really take a posse of cops to deal with one guy?

After the recent death of Kelly Thomas in Fullerton, emotions are high, even in Ladera Ranch, and the police force are being very careful around delicate issues (like the mentally ill and homeless among our midst). 

I entered the drive-through and picked up my food, straining to see what was happening, and then quickly drove back around.  The police had cleared out and so had the man. I didn’t see him anywhere on the long stretch of road, so he must have been escorted in the back of their car to another location.

Now, Mission Viejo (which Ladera Ranch is a part of) doesn’t actually have a shelter for the homeless.  When perusing the Mission Viejo Homeless Shelters & Services for the Needy website, I noticed the nearest shelter is 13.08 miles away in San Clemente.  This alone is disturbing on so many levels because there is nowhere for the homeless man to go.  Did the cops drop him off at the city border or did they take him to the nearest shelter in another city that accepts the poor?

Ironically, according to a blog contributor from Watchdog.com, Mission Viejo doesn’t have a homeless problem.  “I’ve seen two people passing through who seem to be homeless, but I’m unaware of any homeless person living here. The homeless people I know of (a man and a woman) have mental issues, and they’ve already rejected the idea of going to shelters. The woman told me about her distrust for government and the system. She’s living on the street because that’s where she wants to live.”

In my opinion, if Mission Viejo doesn’t have a homeless problem, it’s only because the homeless are clearly not welcome here. Now, I recognize this isn’t about the police–the cops are just doing their job (and I am so grateful)–it’s a much deeper issue that goes to the very heart of humanity.

It’s as if we, in Ladera Ranch/Mission Viejo pretend the marginalized in society don’t exist, when the truth is-in this economy-we are all merely one natural disaster or bad decision away from being homeless ourselves.  It’s just that most of us have become so skilled in image management you would never know the true state of our financial affairs. 

Much of Ladera Ranch is in debt up to their eye-balls, properties are foreclosing every day and most people are desperately trying to hold onto homes whose value has plummeted by half.  The only difference between this homeless guy and many of us is a credit card and a job we are clinging on to for dear life.  And our coping mechanism may not be in a brown paper bag, but we find it in an old prescription for anti-depressant meds sitting in our medicine cabinet.

And yet despite the overwhelming economic woes, I get the impression, though no one says it out loud, that having the eyesore poor (i.e. homeless) in plain sight might lower our home values (even more) or somehow destroy the neighborhood. I can only guess the film crew for my Real Housewife neighbor would take every precaution to leave the homeless guy out of the shots in our little paradise.

Why are we so afraid of poverty and brokenness? It’s not a contagious disease. Is this really who we want to be- people living in a gilded cage with no room for the less fortunate?

I understand the appeal of a place like Ladera Ranch. It woos me with its Mr. Rogers charm, but a nagging feeling remains, at what cost have we created our idyllic little utopia?

Bad Boys, Bad Boys…

Every time I hear another story of a wayward husband  powerful man out finagling instead of legislating, I am sickened, but sadly not surprised. It seems rather par for the coarse these days.  The more surprising revelation is a leader with integrity.

Not that Arnold let me down, because I never really bought into the family man façade to begin with.  (Though I am so sad for Maria and the kids). Arnold is and was a player. The “gropinator” was clearly operating within his wheelhouse.  (Yeah, I know that was mean, but it’s my opinion) This is a guy addicted to fame, fortune and chasing the adrenaline hit. The $2000 suit doesn’t clean up his propensity to lust.  But seriously now, isn’t that part of his appeal?  

I heard a guy on the radio this morning suggest, “A man is: how he treats his wife.” (If I knew who you were Mr. AM Radio man I would give you a full attribution). I thought his statement was brilliant.

Because in the end, our lives are defined far more by what we do than what we say, and lip service aside, I’m tired of all the Kool-Aid trying to clean up the acts of all the bad boys out there. (Yes, I’m talking to you Tiger)

Another study recently came out suggesting those in high management positions have a greater risk of cheating (discussed on KIIS FM this morning). Maybe it’s a confidence thing?  A big ego tied to a powerful position?  I guess you don’t get much higher than a governor, unless it’s a launch pad to the job of president?  This whopper of a secret makes even Newt Gingrich and President Clinton look tame.  Late night TV pundits were claiming it was harder to catch Arnold than Osama Bin Laden.

So, back to the male integrity dealio.  The media would make you think all guys are philandering jerks, but I disagree.  And, I’ve never been more grateful for all the guys in my life who treat their wives as a treasure.  So today, I celebrate you…the Good Guys!  (Do I sound like a beer commercial?)

Here’s to the faithful husband’s and dad’s out there that aren’t climbing the corporate ladder but manage to make all their kid’s baseball games (with the team snack).  Here’s to the men who wake up at 5:30am on Mother’s Day to stand outside Pavilions and buy their wives’ a card, some flowers and eggs for breakfast(that’s for you honey),  and here’s to the man who’s quiet actions speak MUCH louder than his charisma.

Three cheers for all the faithful husband’s and dad’s!

We love you just the way you are and you don’t need a Speedo and muscles to win our hearts.

Photo by:schumachergirl1956

Beth Moore and the Bumbling Backup Leader

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

Yesterday morning the ministry bat phone went off (ok, maybe it was my husband’s I Phone, but you get the point).  A red alert was issued for the women’s bible study that very night.  The leader was down, hospitalized with a vicious migraine, and backups were being called.

Back-ups, oh right…I guess that means me. Sometimes I forget that leading the Women’s Ministry also means being the understudy.

It was the very first night of the new ministry season, kicking off the working women’s study, and canceling the event didn’t seem to be much of an option.  So, I took off to work in a panic and picked up the leader guide at lunch, skimmed over it during the day, grabbed the workbooks, and then rushed home from work to throw my kids in the car and head over to the church for set-up.  Whew!

 I expected the study to be small, just a few women gathered to dive into the word, but as our church has grown, so have the studies.  Women quickly filled up the room.  Women who were all staring at me for guidance. I felt the weight of their expectations drain the lightness from my heart.

The air was thick with awkward giggles and pauses.  The very same women, who would eventually spill their tender and fragile hearts, now eyed each other with cool appraisal.  They were anticipating a spiritual giant and here stood a bumbling and unprepared third string quarter-back.

I tried to break the ice by playing a silly name game, which generally has a high success rate at connecting groups, but they were a wily bunch, and weren’t buying my juvenile ploys to get them to relax.  So, I rambled  a bit more, tried to sound like I wasn’t winging it, did some introductions, and then finally, gratefully, turned on the video DVD by Beth Moore

The women seemed to enjoy the video, but I was acutely aware that a certain element was missing.  The group hadn’t bonded and I had only fifteen minutes left.  A spirit of suspicion seemed to permeate the room.

“Oh, Lord, what do I do?” I prayed.

I sensed that prayer was the right direction, but the group was so big, if we all shared it could take hours.  So, I went out on a spiritual limb, asked the women to split in pairs and pray with each other.  I knew I was taking a risk in a group this big, not really knowing if some of the women had ever even prayed out loud. Mutiny was looming in the back of my brain.

And all of a sudden, as if a bomb went off, the room exploded in voices.  They were happy voices that rang out and reverberated off the ceiling.

I sat and watched dumbfounded, realizing a profound truth.  Even though women say that Biblical learning and instruction are a priority, from their reaction it seemed like what they really wanted was connection. And it was desperate greedy need.  

More and more often, I am confronted with the idea that our community of believers is literally starving for human interaction.  People are becoming tremendously isolated, despite the advances in technology (or maybe because of them) and working women, maybe even more so, because they miss out on the community of mothers and play dates, classroom parties and volunteering. Sitting in a cubicle all day staring at a computer does little to strengthen the bonds of communal living.  And it is eating away at our very souls.

We weren’t designed for this.  God created us to be in relationships within in a community of believers and to live in fellowship.  Our relational connection was never intended to be fulfilled with an I Phone, Face Book, and Tweets. 

And so, women come to Bible Study for far more than the Scriptures. They come to find friendship, solidarity, and support in a world that is destroying the very nature of our relational design.

Lesson learned for this Bible teacher.  Next session we do group time first, and then study time!

Intentional, interactive, chatty time that is cathartic for the soul; for a generation of women that are subconsciously mourning the loss of a shared lifestyle and needing nothing more than a smile, a hug and a little empathy from some Godly gals.

Oh, and maybe a little chocolate too.

The real housewife vs the “Real Housewife”

Pink nail polish.

Image via Wikipedia

For the third time this year, I got a pedicure.  I divulge this not so you will think I have sad and neglected toes, but as a pastor’s wife, I always feel like I have to justify frivolous spending. So, there I am, sitting in my bucket seat with my feet soaking, reveling in the sheer sacredness of sitting still, when in struts a “glamazon” otherwise known as “A Real Housewife from Orange County,”  a reality show on Bravo that claims to follow real women in the OC.  Now there are many words I would use to describe this woman, but “real,” wasn’t one of them.

I tried not to stare, but I honestly couldn’t help myself.  The woman, quite simply, commanded the room.  She was striking, toned, tanned, enhanced (and I do mean enhanced), luxuriously clothed, styled, over made-up and had a slight air of arrogance. I imagine she is used to be ogled and gawked at, so it’s not surprising that she would be a tad defensive in her demeanor (and yes, that was me again trying to justify that I just called someone arrogant…bad pastor’s wife, bad!).

I confess, as I sat there in my sweaty workout clothes and ratty pony-tail with baby snot stains on my arm, I felt a tad underdressed for the occasion of nail grooming.  The “Real” beauty, on the other hand was camera ready, ensconced in a black silk jumpsuit, roped in at the waist with a big chunky belt, delicately flowing down to skim the top of her sky-high heels that she peeled off and placed in the soaking water.

Her earrings were the size of my fist and I was mesmerized, like a deer in the headlights at the surreal glamour of her very presence.  Her make-up alone, looked like it took hours to apply and it wasn’t even noon yet.  It was TV “reality” juxtaposed into my reality, strangely an oxymoron, because in all reality, people always act differently, good or bad, when the camera is rolling.

Strange emotions erupted in my belly as I sat in my chair feeling very small.  As a former model, my pride and competitive spirit kicked into high gear.  Apparently, the Holy Spirit was quenched for a few minutes as my devious sin nature took over.  The demon sitting on my shoulder whispered, “Now, if you only had those clothes, a makeup artist, a mystic tan and that purse, you could give that chick a run for her money.  You could make people stare.”

Surprise, surprise…vain people really do think like this, though I might testify on the stand that I was under the influence of nail polish remover.  But the truth is, that even after seventeen years of following Christ, with all the spiritual leaps and set-backs of a long and arduous journey, I still struggle with image management, even though I know the truth that sets me free. 

I know that what looks like success to the world-beauty, power, wealth, and status… is death to the soul.  Before I accepted Christ in my early twenties, it almost destroyed me, as I struggled with an eating disorder and a compulsive addiction to control my appearance.

Recently, I stole my husband’s copy of Why Guys Need God, by Mike Erre. And though I’ve always known that our society has done a disservice to our young women by portraying these images of perfection, I never really understood “the why”, beyond the inherent sinful nature of man. But Erre shed light on this perversion of beauty by tying our culture’s destructive behavior back to Genesis 1 and the curse on humanity.

 Erre describes this consumptive and objective mentality towards women as an assault on the very heart of femininity. As cursed men run from human weakness and overcompensate by trying to control things (women included), it has distorted the relationships between men and women.  If a woman is objectified, and her worth and honor stripped, then a man has control over her and subsequently, a world of detached men and women hungry for connection is born.  Generations of women, starved for attention by the distant men in their lives have created a culture of constant striving to somehow obtain the elusive power to heal the gap of loneliness, not recognizing that the striving only leads to an endless cycle of more detachment.

 Erre suggests that because “real” women can never measure up to images of the world, they either give up or continually compete for the illusive ideal,  starving and distorting their bodies (through surgery or other “treatments”) to create an image subject to the whims of  fashion and man’s desire.  

As a young woman, I fell into the striving category.  Now, I guess you could call me a recovering “striver.”

And so as I sat in the salon, and stewed in thoughts of negativity, the Spirit inside me burst forth, and I turned a proverbial spiritual corner.  Closing my eyes, I took a long breath and prayed for Jesus to comfort me.  I clung to His truth that illuminates the insidious evil of seduction and the temptation to compare and envy, forcing myself to remember that my appearance does not define my worth and that I am beautiful in the light of Christ’s sacrifice, never subject to the world’s obsession with youth and flawless perfection.   

I relaxed into my seat and smiled at the girl tending to my toes. Fortunately, she had no idea of the spiritual battle I had just waged in my head, and then I turned and smiled at the not so “real” woman next to me.  Empathy and understanding crashed over my heart like thundering waves as I realized that my battle was her battle, and that the great deceiver was whispering in her ear too.

Violence and pigtails…

IMG_1189 Thug Lovin or Jhug Lovin, stencil and...

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I have only been punched twice in my life.  My initiation to aggression was at a Cult concert at the tender age of eighteen. 

Exiting the amphitheatre, a random drunk decided I was in his way, and launched a bomb to my right eye.  Knocked off my high heels, I laid writhing on the ground and cried like the girl I am, as my friends defended my honor and a large brawl ensued. 

I felt violated and angry that someone could be so abusive to a complete stranger, but the mosh pit and chaotic climate didn’t exactly exude peacemaking.  Though my pride was injured, I was able to process and come to terms with the assault. 

The second time I took a hit was far more traumatic than my college experience, but just as unexpected.  Almost twenty years later, serving at a local outreach center in a poor and downtrodden neighborhood, a little girl opened my eyes to the hidden realm of domestic abuse as I was thrust abruptly into an altercation.

We were painting the learning center that day, a large group of high school kids from our church youth group dedicating a three-day weekend to go serve in the community.  My husband, the pastor, was inside motivating the kids to paint the walls and a little less of each other.  Newly pregnant, I was relegated to the courtyard to avoid the fumes.  My job was to paint all the doors which had been removed from their hinges.  It seemed like an endless stack piled against the tree planter. 

As I painted,  a  few little girls played nearby  me and I bantered with them and tried out my limited Spanish.  I pointed to my little bump, “bebe,” and they giggled and rubbed my belly.  The girls were about six years old; one had dark pig tails and missing teeth (the distinct marks of a first grader), the other wore blue and for a small child had an air of sadness and maturity.  The girl in blue spoke English while my little pigtailed companion jabbered away happily in Spanish and had her friend translate for me.

Out of the blue, little pig tails approached me, head down and leaned in for what I thought was a hug.  I opened my arms wide and got the shock of my life.  With all her might, she reeled back and punched me in the stomach.

Stunned and staggering backward, I could only whisper, “no, no, no,” as the little girl, with terror in her eyes, started crying. Her friend started scolding her in Spanish, and she only cried more.  I asked what she was saying through my own tears, and the girl in blue translated, “She wants to know if she killed the baby.”

“What?” I asked.

“She wants to know if she is in trouble, because she tried to kill your baby,” whispered the little girl in blue, mortified at what her friend had done and scared I was going to haul them both off to the authorities.

My first reaction was to protect the baby in my womb.  I ran for my husband to get help.  In big hiccupping sobs, I explained what happened.  Dumbfounded, he just stood there in disbelief.  Then he moved into action, found the director and the two of them tended to me.  Slowly I moved from hysterical, nauseous, and light-headed to worn-out and emotionally drained.  Ironically, I had an ultrasound scheduled the next day and after a call to the Dr., who reassured us that the baby was probably fine, my husband forced me to lie down on a sofa and I passed out.

While I was sleeping, the director hunted down the little girl and dropped in on her parents who lived in an apartment nearby.  When confronted with the situation, the mother apologized profusely and pleaded for forgiveness, but the father, a migrant farm worker from central Mexico, smirked and refused to comment.  His defiant arrogance and lack of remorse suggested he was the model for her aggressive behavior.

The director realized all too quickly what was going on in their home and begged that he not hit the little girl or hurt her as punishment.  She left their home frustrated and sad.  How do you confront a child perpetrator who is also a victim in a vicious circle of domestic violence?

In all likelihood, the little girl had probably witnessed the abuse of a pregnant woman (possibly her own father hurting either her mother or sister).  Statistically, domestic abuse rises in pregnancy… add in poverty, language barriers and rigid sex role stereotyping, and the ratios rise even higher. 48% of Latinas in one study reported that their partner’s violence against them had increased since they immigrated to the United States.[1]  According to the Centers for Disease Control, every year in the United States more than 300,000 pregnant women experience some kind of violence involving an intimate partner, and about one-quarter of women in this country report having been sexually or physically assaulted by a spouse, partner, or boyfriend at some point in their life. Domestic violence is a leading cause of injury to American women between the ages of 15 and 44 and is estimated to be responsible for 20 to 25 percent of hospital emergency room visits by women.

The director of the learning center shared with me that domestic abuse and violence are common occurrences in the neighborhood. And sadly, it may only be the tip of the iceberg as to the real magnitude of the problem because of the very hidden nature of this type of abuse-one that women and children cover out of shame and desperation. 

One year later, I decided to go back to the learning center.  I took my three-month old healthy baby girl with me, snuggled in close in a baby sling.  I wanted and needed to redeem this place that offers so much hope and assistance to a hurting community.  Alas, my expectations were too high.  As, I walked through learning center and saw the brightly colored walls that our high school kids had painted, I was initially encouraged.  I paused and noticed the doors I had painted and cherished the scene of children happily studying and playing.

I sat down with a tutor and a small group of children and we worked on lessons.  But one little boy seemed to be having problems.  Distracted and belligerent, the boy refused to listen or obey the rules.  Frustrated the tutor called for backup and eventually his mother was called.  In walked a defeated woman.  She tried to get her son to leave with her quietly but he began to get physical and started to kick and hit her.  He was so out of control, it took two men to get him out of the room.   Trying to protect the baby, I backed into the corner with the other kids.  Fear and tension entered the room.

Once again, violence had broken into our midst.  The children were able to settle down quickly, but I remained apprehensive.  Their familiarity with physical aggression was unsettling to me.  I felt like a foreigner in a dangerous land, unprepared and unarmed.  Their toughness only magnified my insecurities. Growing up in a sheltered environment, I doubted whether I had anything to offer to these children that live in the face of constant danger.

Another little girl, seeing my discomfort grabbed my hand and asked me to play a game with her.  As she beat me at Go Fish, for the tenth time and cackled like a hen at her own cunning, she turned and looked in my eyes.  “Don’t worry about that mean boy. I like you.  Will you come back and read to me again? We can be friends.”

“Ok, I said. “Friends.”

The child’s wisdom is this…there are no simple answers for what seems like an insurmountable crisis in our society.  So, you do the best you can and hold on to God with double fisted faith. You survive.  And in the presence of evil, you find a friend and beat them at Go Fish


[1] Mary Dutton et al., Characteristics of Help-Seeking Behaviors, Resources, and Services Needs of Battered Immigrant Latinas: Legal and Policy Implications, 7 Geo. J. on Poverty L. and Poly 245 (2000).

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