Friday, January 23, 2009
Come on! Most of you know me fairly well. I write the easy one! I promise (more to myself than to anyone else), though, that the other one will get written. In fact, maybe I will start a draft so I have it as a constant reminder. But, for now . . . .
This weekend my office moves across town and into the 9th Street office space. We will no longer have two DC offices. Oh, there is a lot that could be written about the process of moving. Maybe I will draw on that at some later time. The point that is with me tonight has to do with my fish.
I have had a fish tank in my office for probably close to ten years. It was just a ten-gallon tank that sat on a shelf. When I first got it, I filled it with three tropical fish (I don't remember what kind) and an algae-eater, a plecostomus, a pleco. The pleco pretty much spent his life hiding in the tank - behind a rock, or behind the little castle. You almost never saw him. I moved the tank from our 601 Pennsylvania Ave. office to our 20th and K Street office when we moved into that space about 8 years ago.
Within a few weeks, something happened to the tank. I came in one morning and the water was so cloudy that you could not see through it. I changed the water and the filter and everything that I could. But, one at a time, the three tropicals died. But not the pleco. He lived through it and soon found himself alone in the tank.
Over the years, the fish grew and grew. He stopped hiding and hung out in the front of the tank. In case you don't know, plecos don't really do anything. They don't swim around much. They just kind of sit there. And that is what mine did. Over time he grew so big that people started mistaking him for a rock and asking if I had any fish in the tank. A former partner of mine used to come visit him from time to time. She insisted that he have a name. When I refused - "It is a fish!" I told her - she named him Spot.
So, for the last five years or so he has been known as Spot and he has lived in my office. Secretaries and colleagues have taken care of him when I have been on vacation, or traveled, each of them admitting upon my return that they were afraid that Spot would die while I was gone.
OK, having already made this short story very long, let me fast forward. The moving people were not going to move the fish tank. So, I had to do it myself. But there were lots of problems with the idea of moving it to the new office. So, late last night I went back into the office and brought it home. Spot has now been transferred to our 100 gallon tank at home, where he has been sitting, like a rock, in the same spot for close to 24 hours now. Just like he used to do in my office.
Anyway, I was thinking about the move from Spot's perspective. I don't want to go too far with the personification - again, it is a fish. But, think about it. His entire world has been that 10 gallon tank. Last night, out of nowhere, it goes all topsy-turvy. Literally. Everything shakes, the water is sloshing all around, he is being swished back and forth across the tank on the drive. Then the ultimate. A hand reaches down and using a giant net (actually he is so big that he didn't fit in the net, he kind of laid across it) plucks him out of the water so that he can't even breathe. Surely the world was coming to an end.
But, in the end, he finds himself back in a steady environment. This one huge, ten times bigger. It is scary to be in a big new place, but ultimately it is better than cramped in that little tank.
Thinking about the process has made me think about times things have been shaken up in my world. Times when things have been completely out of control. Times where the process of change has been uncomfortable. Where I have found myself somewhere different than I was before. I think about how God uses those times. The process of growing in this relationship with Christ has not always been one of being led straight forward down a flower-lined path. Unlike Spot (I told you there were limits on my personification), I know what the goal is. I can remind myself that God is with me and that God is holding my hand through whatever it is. I can tell myself that God will use the situation in some way. But, even so, sometimes it is just as scary and hard to understand as Spot's Big Move must have been for him.
I was thinking about what passage to include here and I think Psalm 23 fits what I am thinking about and reflects the praises that I lift up tonight. It is familiar to most, but I include it below as my prayer for the evening.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
For you are with me;
your rod and your staff they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
I will be in Kenya for the next week and a half. I do not expect that I will have very good internet access - if any at all - for most of the trip. I very likely will keep a journal while I am there and I probably will share at least some of that and my thoughts while being there upon my return. Until then - take care everyone. And God Bless You.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
In fact, as I shared with a friend earlier this week, for better or worse, I find myself taking a similar approach with respect to this trip that I am about to take. For those of you that do not know, on Sunday I am headed back to Kenya for eight days. I'm very excited about the trip and I am excited about what we hopefully will be doing there long-term. I have no doubt that this is what I am supposed to be doing right now. But, for some reason, I am just not ready for the trip. It is not just that I haven't packed (I haven't, but I know that will get done). It is something different. For whatever reason, I'm just not feeling it yet.
I blame it on the fact that things are very busy right now. Lots to do at work. Things going on at home. Things to gather and get ready for the trip. Need to have my office completely packed for the move by the end of the week. Too many things have me distracted . . . .
As I told my friend this week, right now I am operating under the theory that my "muse" won't let me down. I figure that once I get on the plane Sunday night, I have a lot of time doing nothing but riding in airplanes before I actually arrive in Kenya. During that time I can focus on the trip and the purpose and then I will start feeling it.
Although I honestly believe that this will happen, it is still disconcerting to me to wonder why God hasn't given me that feeling yet. It is equally disconcerting that I can't even identify what it is that I feel like I should be feeling. Isn't it enough that God has impressed upon my heart that I should do this? Isn't it enough that God has surrounded me with a loving family that understands and supports these crazy trips? Isn't it enough that God has arranged everything so that this is possible?
Sometimes I wonder if God is harder for me to find when I am really, really looking. When I am expecting something. Tonight - attempting to remedy a mistake that I wrote about here before (8/8/08) - a friend and I took left over pizza from an event at work and attempted to deliver it to the local homeless population. First we went to a place right next door to the office where five or six people usually sleep. Nobody was there. Then we walked a couple of blocks to a park where another six or seven people usually sleep. Nobody was there either. Ultimately we found one person (back in the first place we looked) and we gave him the two and a half pizzas and asked that he share it with others. I expected, and wanted, this to be a great, uplifting experience for me and for her. Instead, it was kind of a dud.
Maybe the problem is with my expectations and trying to measure things by them. When I think about it, I understand that God isn't about being there just to make me feel good when I want to feel good. God isn't about what I think should happen, or how I think I should feel. It isn't that God isn't with me, I know that He is, it is that God isn't working on my terms and according to my deadlines. When it counts, He will never let me down. That doesn't mean, though, that He will always do what I think He is going to do, or what I want Him to do, or when I want Him to do it.
I think, perhaps, I need to take the advice of the Psalmist - "Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him" Psalm 37:7 (NIV)
Saturday, January 17, 2009
A few weeks ago I posted about the end of my former law firm as a result of a merger. I shared what made it special to me and some thoughts about the path forward. Well, all of that was emphasized to me again this week.
On Wednesday one of our long time employees (I think it is something like seventeen years) and his wife hosted lunch for everyone in the office. Chicken, ribs, cornbread, sides, salad, chocolate cake, fresh-baked pie, cheese cake . . . . There were decorations and there was music playing. It was awesome.
Teddy works in what we call Office Services. He delivers mail, takes care of office supplies, moves stuff around, gets packages and the mail out, etc. I don't know what we pay him, but it is not as if he is a partner. Yet, he and his wife, in celebration, hosted the lunch I described above for a group of at least 50 people. In these economic times, with everything that is going on, they wanted to share some of their blessings with all of us.
I was impressed (and full!), but I also was very humbled. Teddy spoke for a few moments while everyone was eating and said that this was something that they wanted to do out of love. I was reminded of a lot, and learned a lot, by sharing in that remarkable meal.
While it doesn't exactly fit the point of this post, but it is related. I leave this morning with the following:
"Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart. Then you will find favor with both God and people, and you will earn a good reputation." Proverbs 3:3-4 (NLT)
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
I also thought about the people that I had not seen over the weekend, but that I try to spend as much time with as possible. Other friends, family and co-workers.
I realized that all of these people have been important in helping me grow in my faith. Supporting me. Challenging me. Teaching me. Dragging me along. Showing me. Pushing me. Listening to me. Sharing with me. Answering me. Questioning me.
About that time I found myself sitting still in traffic near the Lincoln Memorial and looking at one of the trees there. Given the time of year, it was bare of leaves, so I could really see the tree. I noticed, probably for the first time, the branches of this tree. There were a lot of them. Some reached majestically towards the sky. Others bent towards the ground. Many had been trimmed by the park service to give the tree a particular shape. Some had grown different directions over time and took the long road to where they currently end. While they were all different, they all were part of that tree and would not have been the same on their own, or as part of something different.
Even as I write I recognize that this seems forced, but I can't help how my mind works sometimes.
While I was looking at the tree and thinking about the people that I had been spending time with, I thought about how important those people all are in shaping and guiding the branches in my life. They help me to trim what needs to be trimmed. They help to re-direct what is headed the wrong way. They help me to grow.
I don't know when this happened. I'm not sure that I would have said the same thing five years ago - even though many of the people that I spend time with now are the same people that I spent time with then (though, in fairness, not the youth - they were something like 13). I wonder if our relationships have changed in some way, or whether it is just that I have only been able to recognize this for the past few years. At some level I think it is just more recently that I have reached a place where I want to discuss issues of faith with my friends and family. I've become more willing to take the risk of putting myself out there and taking a chance. I think that I always feared that religion would be a divider and would get in the way of relationships. What I have found is the opposite. Sure, people go to war over religion and there is no doubt that it can be used to divide. But, the process of sharing, questioning and exploring has helped me enormously.
A good friend and I used to do a lot of recruiting together. At some point, making fun of some stories we had heard from students about horrible interviews, we jokingly came up with the question "If you were a bird, what kind of bird would you be?" (Don't worry, we never asked it) Well, I'm changing that question. If I were a tree, I don't know exactly what kind of tree I would be, but I would be one that is still growing and is being actively shaped and tended to by a lot of people (even if they don't know it).
I apologize that this is rambling today. I leave with this thought from Proverbs: "He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm." Proverbs 13:20 Thankfully, I have people around me that are helping me to grow wise.
Friday, January 9, 2009
When I have heard the advertisement over the last couple of days, though, it has struck a different chord with me. To be honest, I can't even recall what it is advertising. It is presented as one neighbor saying to another something like "Wow, neighbor, look at that shiny new truck." And the other, the Jones, responding "You should see the shiny new boat that goes with it." Then it talks about keeping up with the Joneses.
In thinking about it more, I don't like the material aspect of the phrase. The point seems to be about the accumulation of prizes, of stuff. It is like the bumper sticker saying "He who dies with the most toys wins." I've said here before, and I will undoubtedly say again, I admit that I like my stuff and that I become too focused on that. But, over the past few years, I think I've gotten better about it. I no longer see that stuff as the goal. My life is not driven by the pursuit of things. While I enjoy things, they are not the source of Joy.
It is easy to say this given the situation that I am in, but this morning as I think about all of this, I am drawn to the words of Paul (who, given everything he had been through was in a much better place to say this):"I am not telling you this because I need anything. I have learned to be satisfied with the things I have and with everything that happens. I know how to live when I am poor, and I know how to live when I have plenty. I have learned the secret of being happy at any time in everything that happens, when I have enough to eat and when I go hungry, when I have more than I need and when I do not have enough. I can do all things through Christ because he gives me strength." Philippians 4:11-13 (emphasis added)
That's what I want. I want to be in that place and to live a life that shows it to others. I want people to look at me and my family and want to keep up with the Joneses because of the way we love each other and others. I want people to want to keep up with the Joneses because of our eternal joy that comes from an understanding that life is not about all the stuff. I want people to want to keep up with the Joneses because of the strength we have in Jesus.
If we can get it to that, I will go back to liking the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses." Until then, I'm going to try to keep up with the people that I think are good models of those things and I kindly suggest that you do the same.
Have a great weekend everyone!
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
I turned the car off. Waited a few seconds. And tried again - hoping that the light would not come back on and I could just forget about it.
Of course, it didn't work. I nonetheless convinced myself that the car was running better, but there was still that annoying light - Service Engine Soon. If it could have yelled at me, it would have been screaming. Now, it was about 5:15 in the morning, so my options at this point were pretty limited. I pulled out the owners manual, looked up Warning Lights in the index, and read everything that I could about the Service Engine Soon light. Ah - a ray of hope, apparently this light will sometimes come on if the gas cap is not completely closed. Although there is no reason that the gas cap would not be completely closed, I turn off the car and hop out to tighten the gas cap. Convinced my problem is going to be solved (after all, I have both tightened the gas cap and turned the car off again), I get back in and turn the key.
Service Engine Soon
Well, the manual doesn't say that driving the car will cause problems and it is not like I can take it anywhere at 5:15 in the morning, so I just head to work. The whole way I attempt to ignore the light, to pretend it isn't there. I try not to look down at the instrument panel for fear that I will see it. But, of course I couldn't ignore it. I could swear that the entire car was filled with the orange glow from that light. It was like a pimple on the tip of my nose on the day before prom - I couldn't help but look at it. Worse, I imagined that everyone else could see it. I was embarrassed that the parking garage attendant would see it when I paid to park.
Long story short (I know, too late for that), I made it safely to work and got the car to the dealer in the afternoon. I wouldn't even be writing about it except that during my workout yesterday morning I put the IPOD on shuffle and one of the first songs that I heard was "Open Up Your Eyes" by Jeremy Camp. The very first part of the song is:
"Open up your eyes
And see these warning signs
Breaking through your heart and all the reason of your mind"
From there the song builds to the chorus:
"And the time has come to realize
And see the plan you've been designed for
So face the fear of all unknown
And see the heart inside
So open up your eyes
So open up your eyes"
That got me to thinking about the morning all over again. My first reaction to the warning sign on my car was: That can't be real - maybe it won't happen again. When it did, my next reaction was: OK, maybe I can just ignore it and it will go away. When that didn't work, I started worrying about whether other people could tell that I was just ignoring it.
How often do we do just that in our lives? How often when we sense God talking to us do we try to push it away and say this can't be happening? How often do we test to see if it will happen again? Then, when it does, how often do we attempt to ignore it because it is inconvenient? Or it is uncomfortable? Or it requires us to do something that we are not sure about?
As someone who is growing in his faith and the author of this decidedly Christian blog, I wish I could say that doesn't happen to me. I wish I could say that at the very first sign of God being active in my life, or directing me, or talking to me, I listen and follow. But, I know I don't. I know that I often go through the process described above. I know that sometimes it takes the fear of other people recognizing that I am not listening to motivate me. I often wonder if I were Simon (Peter), Andrew, James or John, would I leave my nets "at once," or "immediately" leave my boat, to answer Jesus' call and "follow him."
I'd like to think so. But, the truth is - I don't know. I guess there is nothing out of the ordinary about that and that all it means is that there is still a lot of room to grow. Until then, I will just keep working on paying more attention to warning signs.