Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Days of Noah

I think that's going to be the title of my first novel. The novel I haven't written yet. The novel that'd read more like a collection of essays (ala Donald Miller) than a full one-thread-going-through-it novel.

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I am sick to death of seeing and hearing people who claim to be representing Christ on the telly talking about prosperity, wealth, blah blah blah. This is one of the reasons that we -- people who legitimately try to follow the teachings of Christ and adhere to that whole philosophy of loving one another...by which I mean everyone -- get such a bad wrap because we're lumped in with people who take passages of the Bible, twist them, and claim God will give you prosperity in your life if you just follow X Formula, buy X vitamins (I mean, WHAT THE CRAP?!?), or send in $49.95 for their series on how to pray, or somesuch nonsense.

I have no doubt that some of these people may have started off purely, but the dollars have corrupted them.

NO ONE should be allowed to Spam Christ.

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I'm in a bit of a foul mood. In case you couldn't tell. I'm wavering from crying (again, like I started to this morning), getting REALLY angry, and just giving up -- throwing my arms up in the air in complete and utter despair and surrender (but not the GOOD kinda surrender).

This stems back somewhat to the discussion I had yesterday, which can be summed up in the following two sentences (mind you, these came from a colleague of mine, someone whose opinion I respect and take at face value):
  • The restructuring and revising of departmental training that I have been working a YEAR on to make certain that the staff are given the opportunity to learn valuable and useful skills and not just attend a seminar on why so-and-so's department or program is cool and/or attend a training program that is evaluated on how much they liked the topic? Scrap it. Completely and utterly scrap everything, and go back to the way it was. ...not because it was a bad restructuring, and not because they NEED this style of training (as was confirmed), but because it doesn't give face time to people who think they and ONLY they can train the staff. Because -- and I quote -- the revisions didn't make them happy.
  • I was also told that the reason I am the lowest paid person in my classified position -- despite having more than five years of full-time work experience more than the other individuals in my classified position -- is (again, quoting) that people don't consider my position important. Oh, they like me, but my position's just not important, so they pay -- for example -- a guy who has a Bachelor's degree in Geology and only two (2) years of experience of working in Student Affairs $6k more a year than I get (with a Master's degree and now 10 years of full-time experience) because his position is thought of as more important. Thought of. NOT classified as or can be backed up with a statistical analysis from our comparative institutions. Thought of.

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I need a new life. I wonder what's available on eBay...?

Monday, May 08, 2006

To my two kid sisters...

Erin. Meg.

Two of the sweetest, most loving, most beautiful in spirit and in person people I have ever been blessed to know in this lifetime...

Both of my girls got baptised this past Sunday.

And yes, I cried. I started crying the second I saw the video start. I was crying because I was so proud of them, so happy for them, and so proud to see them take a stance for their faith, and re-commit their lives to Christ.

...and then they both mentioned me.

I kid you not -- it took every ounce of self-control I could muster after that. I was fighting crying like a baby. If I would have let myself, I don't think I could have stopped crying. I don't think I've wanted to just sob -- crying unshamedly before God, my friends, and all else in just abject total praise -- since...man. I don't think I've ever felt that way.

But -- Ryan would have shot me on site if I'd lost my composure. I had to go play nice eith the 3rd-6th graders, and I didn't need to look like I'd just been broken up with.

Yeah -- and Cotton? Chelsea? You guys all hugging afterwards? That almost brought the tears back to me.

How is it that I -- who have no biological ties to any of these people -- can feel like my heart is about to explode hen I see them, and see how strong they all are? And how proud and honored I am to have them as my friends, to know them, and to be in their lives.

I love each and every one of you.

-- all four of you who'll actually read this

With one breath...with one note...you will know...

There's something about God and synchronicity that always makes me smile a little. From a conversation on Friday night (spurred on, by all things, an episode of Sex and the City), to the message I heard at church on Sunday morning, I love how God can and does find the most unique ways to let me know that He hears me.

This past Sunday, I was out walking my dogs, when -- out of the blue -- some thoughts on God, and the way we try and "capture" Him and how He is came flooding into my brain. God does that sometimes -- He'll allow a thought (or three) so sit in me until -- BOOM! -- suddenly, insight hits me square between the valves of my heart. So, once I got back inside, I grabbed a pen, trying to remember what all I was talking about and praying aloud (and, in the process, making my neighbors think Im just a little wackier than they had already surmised). Written below is what I scribbled down on a notepad, trying to re-capture all the thoughts that I'd been given:

  • We try to craft God in our own image, not the other way around (the Bible does state we were made in His image). Our Western society/culture has it the worst: we craft our prayers to what God "wants" to hear, or how we think we "should" pray -- almost to manipulate or curry favor with God. Like He wouldn't be smart enough to see through our feeble attempts, whether they're intentional or not -- whether they're crafted that way because of the upbringing we may have had in church. Like He didn't already know what we were going to say.
  • By crafting God in our own image -- by focusing our prayers on what we see/feel/want -- we conceivably limit Him. A spiritual being, sung to daily as "indescribable" -- we try to make Him into our own image (idolatry, maybe?), so we feel more comfortable with Him. So we can wrap our perception of truth, of our changing, transmutable minds and bodies onto a constant that never changes.
  • We're not trying to fit a square peg into a round hole: we're trying it fit a square peg into a cloud. ...and watch the square peg (what we ask for) drop to the ground. Watch our life -- watch our desires -- watch the way we want to run our lives -- watch it all drop and lose out against what he wants.

Matthew 6:33 -- Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. (THE MESSAGE)


So, after I write all this stuff down, I crack open this book that Ive been reading: Surprise Me: A 30-Day Faith Experiment by Terry Esau. And -- lo and behind -- what was today's little journal entry about?

Surprise Me could have that same problem [of people thinking God wants to make "us" flourish]. And it probably will. Some of us will look only for the sparkly toy surprises from the vending machine, the "good" surprises like the little gold rings and the rubber action figures. When a big dollop of "here's-what-I-see-in-you" come rumbling down the chute, well go, "God, how come you're not there answering my prayers? How come you're not sending any surprises my way?" All the while God is going, "Duh. I just sent a mirror down -- did you look in it?"

So that worries me a bit. Another thing that has me a bit concerned is that some of us will attribute everything that happens as an act of God. You know what I'm talking about, right? Some of us will wake up in the morning and pray, "Surprise me, God." And then we'll go get a primo parking spot at the mall and the cell phone kiosk will have a special on the very camera phone we were thinking about buying... ... And then we'll get together with some friends and in a religious voice that isnt our normal speaking voice well say, "Praise God -- He is soooo good to me," and we'll list the trivial train of blessings. One of our friends who is trying to figure out this whole God/Jesus/faith thing will hear this litany of toy surprises and wonder why God just let her brother die of cancer. After all, she'd been praying for him as best she knew how for the past two years. Was God too busy helping someone get a good parking space? Is that how God works?

Surprise Me, the experiment, could do a lot of damage if we bastardize it; if we make it about us and what we want. ...

Youre probably thinking right now, "Okay, Esau, well then how are we supposed to know if anything that ever happens to us is actually from God? Whats from Him and what isn't?"

You might not like this answer, but the truth is I don't know. ...

How could I know? How can we ever know, without a sliver of doubt, that whatever happened to us was a God thing? Unless He slaps a Post-It Note on it, that says, "This one's from me, you dimwit -- I did it." But, the flip side to that is, just as we can't prove something is from God, we also can't say that it isn't. We cant rule out His involvement.

So what do I say to the woman whose brother just died of cancer when she has been praying for him for two years? I dont know. I wish I could explain that, but I can't. Thats a pretty awful surprise. Do I shoot out some clich├ęd line about how all things work together for good? Probably not. Do I put my arm around her and say, "I'm really sorry about your brother he was a good guy"? Yeah.

That's a good start.

Other than that, I don't know.

So as you can tell, I've been hit between the eyes about this. See -- this was all part of a struggle I've been having when I pray. I feel like...I don't know. I've settled into a comfortable routine. A pattern. And how often have I been asking for God to work in or through a circumstance, and not through me. To take me out of a situation, disregarding the spiritual aspects.


How many times have I prayed, not seeking first the Kingdom, but seeking what my perception of the Kingdom should be.

There are some really crummy situations in my life right now. Potentially life altering, potentially life breaking. (And no, Ashley and I have not broken up. Shush). Other things -- parts of my past which won't die, which I re-live over and over and over again. For FOREVER, I've been praying that God take me out of these situations, take me out of the pain, of the hurt.

Not that God wants to see me suffer, but never not once, have I prayed to see what He's trying to show me in the situation. I've been too focused on the negative here-and-now to see what the future could hold. To see where I could be led. To see something better.

Methinks I need to start revisiting that verse above, and stop thinking of myself as a latter-day Job.

The story of the proposal...


[Posted by popular demand...]

Saturday afternoon, April 1, 2006.

Ashley and I had gone to the gym that morning, and I think I needed the workout more to get my nerves to settle down and take out some of the anxiety than anything else. Muscle toning be d*mn*d -- I needed to run to focus, and relax a little bit.

So, following the burning of an insane amount of calories, we went to our respective homes to shower, dress, and get ready for a retirement party that night. Jim Day, the Executive Director of Housing here at UGA was retiring after 16 years at UGA (and 35 years in the field of residence life), and he was having a HUGE blow-out at his house that night.

I showed up at Ashley's apartment around 3:00, and we had four hours to spend before the party. I told her that since it was such a beautiful day, why don't we take a walk around campus to just bask in the sun, the light breeze, and the fact that it wasn't crazily humid and we could move around outside without passing out from a heat stroke.

So, we walked from the front door of her building to my car, were I picked up a pair of hiking boots, tied their shoelaces together, and tossed them over my shoulder. Of course, Ash was a little confused about why I had brought the boots in the first place (although, this is me we're talking about here, and she should be accustomed to the odd and random by this point), and asked me if she needed to go back in and change shoes, because if I had hiking boots...I told her -- and I quote -- "I'm a teacher. I work in student development. I'm involved in a youth group. I have an object lesson planned. Gimme some leeway here." So, we struck off on our stroll. I knew where we were walking to, but she had no clue.

Flashback to September of 2004 -- we had met only a few months earlier, and one night she asked me to come to her apartment. Once I got there, she met me at the door and told me to turn around, that we were going somewhere. We walked from her apartment to the on-campus coffee shop (Jittery Joe's) over by O-House, grabbed a couple of cups of java, and walked to North Campus (Herty Field) to where this big fountain is located. There, we sat out under the stars on a bench by the fountain for a few hours...talking about life, our dreams, our fears, our lives, sitting really close because it was a bit chilly, and just...basking in each other.

We walked back to this fountain on Saturday. "Our" fountain -- despite the plethora of undergrads playing Frisbee around it when we got there. We sat down on a bench by the fountain and started picking up our conversation from the walk and from the night before -- stuff about life, the future and such (however, we did not sit on the bench we'd sat on that first night; the wind was blowing the spray of the fountain directly onto that bench, and I was already nervous and sweating enough -- I did NOT need any more water).

Let me just point this out -- at this time, she had no idea where all this was leading. She just thought it was a nice day, a nice walk, and a nice talk. We were just being all "couple-y." So, I ask her, "I'll bet you're curious why I have these boots..."

[Now, keep in mind that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that right about this point in the conversation...I started rambling. I was scattered in my thoughts. The majority of what I said was probably pretty darn jumbled and non-sequitur. But -- as she's confirmed -- below is the heart of the speech I made.]

I told her that I didn't know if she remembered or not, but she'd bought these boots for me. We'd gone to REI one weekend during their "Second-Hand Sale," and she found these really cool boots that were normally, like, almost $200 or something that someone had bought, worn, didn't like, and brought them back because they squeaked or something. But, after I'd passed them by on the sale table myself, she found them, saw that they were in good condition, and "made me" try them on to see if they fit.

I told her that that one gesture was sort of indicative of us, of our relationship -- that here I was, someone that people had passed by a lot in life, because they saw the scuffs, the scratches and the "used" or "defective" labels that others had put on me. But she looked past all that and saw something of great value. She saw someone that had a lot of potential, a lot of miles left on the tread, and so what if someone else had placed their label on me; she wasn't going to go by what someone else said -- she wanted to see if I fit and see if I could handle this journey.

I told her that -- as she knows I normally do -- I saw...see...life through metaphors. Through allegories. And that since the first day she had bought me these boots that I was going to use them for something special. That they'd be used for something cool, because they meant a great, great deal to me.

And that, you know, I'd never paid her back for those shoes, and since I'd had them for almost a year now, maybe it was time that I did so.

At this point, I removed the little wooden box that I'd placed up in the toe area of one of the boots. Ashley, bless her naive heart, asked me what the box was for.

I told her, "Hold on; I have to do this the right way." I brushed some of the gravel away from the front of the bench and got down on my knee.

Ashley: "Wait. What are you doing?"

I then opened the box and took the ring out.

Ashley: (starts crying; eyes huge) "No. You're not serious. You can't be serious."

Me: "Let's do this. Let's make the dream a reality. We've talked about our future together, joked about or future...but I want to stop talking. Let's go on the journey together.

"Ashley, will you marry me?"

...pause...

Me: "I don't care if you say 'yes' or 'no,' but could you please just respond before I pass out or throw up?"

And she starts laughing. And then she says yes.

******

Now, keep in mind that this was April Fool's Day. Yes, I know that many people would find that cruel and unusual, but -- this is ME we're talking about. If you know me, you have to admit that there is a certain amount of Sonny-ness to our getting engaged on April Fool's Day. Ya gotta admit -- I don't think it'll be a date I can forget all that easily.

But, the date has a little bit of symbolism and meaning to it as well. It was my maternal grandmother's birthday, and since she died years ago and can't be at the wedding, I wanted her included in some small way.

Also, Ashley's grandmother is dying, and she probably won't live long enough to attend the wedding. I wanted her to know that Ashley was getting married, and that her granddaughter was going to be cared for and loved.

******

I didn't do the old school "call her father to ask permission" shtick -- I called her mom instead. Ashley's parents divorced when she was younger, and her mom raised her as a single parent. They have this insanely strong bond, and there was no way that I was going to do this without her blessing.

Her mom and I have a good relationship, and she told me that it meant a great deal to her that I'd ask her blessing before I asked Ashley to marry me.

******

So. I'm engaged. Yeah. Whod'a'thunk it?