Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Search for Significance

Call it a mid-life crisis, introspection, or reevaluation; call it what you may. I’m somewhere in there. You may be too.

In many conversations about significance, I believe there a fundamental difference between men and women (generally, not necessarily across the board). When men meet one another about the first thing we ask each other is, “What do you do?” I do it all the time. It’s just a curiosity thing – when you’re not with friends and family, how do you spend the 40-50ish hours a week making a living? Do you enjoy it? Is it unique? Are you solving world hunger? Are you living your dream? Or are you just looking for the next paycheck.

When women meet each other, on the other hand, they usually don’t go to the profession card immediately. Perhaps they’re more grounded and secure than men seeing that caring for those closest to them is the most significant way to define oneself. My sister says that having lived on the East Coast, especially in Washington, D.C., people too often judge one another by one’s profession.

So as we start over in a new city and I meet the casual jogger, the Target checker, and the busy neighbor I ponder my significance. Who am I? What am I? Do I matter? (Please don’t read this is not an “I need a hug” moment.) I know I’m significant because I’m a child of God, that He knows me, and that three gals and one little man think I’m the coolest thing since sliced bread. There’s something inside me (and probably many of you) that really want to do something in life: cure cancer, win a Superbowl, cut a record, or find homes for thousands of abandoned children. What steps should I take today? What phone calls should I make? What parks should I take my kids to? Which church should I attend?

I want to be used by God to do something significant. I don’t know what. The selfish side of me wants it broadcast on CNN and Facebook. The humble side of me only wants God’s peace and approval. Am I a pastor? I was never ordained; I have a ways to go on the Scripture memory thing. But I love many parts of it. Am I a teacher? I haven’t been in the classroom full time since ‘99. But I love kids so much. Am I a coach? Training kids to run may have been my professional highlight the past five years.

Now my 2 Spiritual Cents to solve this problem – I’ve been reading the Book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament and I hit an “aha” moment last week. In this story, God is preparing to banish the Hebrews for 70 years to Babylon because of ongoing disobedience. God tells Jeremiah that He’s going to use His servant Nebuchadnezzar (and his son and grandson) to lead Judah during those 70 years. But Neb was Babylonian! The enemy! God can use anyone he wants to do anything – now there’s some hope for our less confident sides. Then Jeremiah, about the only Israelite in Judah obeying God, is threatened with death by his own people. Both Nebuchadnezzar and Jeremiah are used by God to accomplish His purposes.

Jeremiah was significant. He was God’s messenger who put his life on the line. In spite of Nebuchadnezzar’s evil ways, he too was used by God. I guess you could say he too was significant. Where do I want to be? Jeremiah without the pain; Nebuchadnezzar without the evil. Essentially, the easy road. How much should we try to pre-write our own lives to set them up for God to use us? (“Okay, God, now that I’ve graduated and have the perfect family and job, NOW you can use me.”) So the easy road and the desire for outward praise/significance probably aren’t the way to go.

God, make me significant for your benefit, not mine.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Costco Experience

Don’t be fooled by the title. I’m not going with this where you think I’m going. This isn’t some kind of rant about 5 gallon tubs of mayo. Just bear with me.

After a morning of laundry and housecleaning, I took my two younger kids for a morning adventure: running and shopping. Okay not super exciting, but for me these days (pre-employment) it’s about as exciting as it gets. So the three of us headed for Austin’s beautiful 10 mile running trail around Town Lake or Lady Bird Lake or Colorado River (I still haven’t figured this one out). After a great, exhausting 3 mile run (about 60 pounds of kid to push around), we headed for the great American buy-everything-in-the-world store – Costco.

Despite a less than respectable appearance (basketball shorts, sweaty t-shirt, and a faint stink), I shopped for a few last-minute supplies for our Memorial Day Weekend visit from our only friends in the entire state of Texas. (I’ll not mention their names here on the off chance they’re too embarrassed to know us. I’ll just call them Jis and Chrennifer). With only a few things to buy I figured it’d be an easy trip. Plus we’d get to eat a ton of junk food at the food court for less than seven bucks!

It was hot outside – humid and headed for the low 90s. I loaded the two angels in the jumbo Costco cart and headed for the door. Now Elias has recently reached the stage where he must be able to call the shots. And we too have finally noticed that he is different from our girls. No not skin color or country of birth. He is a boy. Did you know that boys are different from girls? We’ve done the girl thing and we know what to expect. But Elias is not a girl. He makes more noise, is three times as active, throws things, must always have an object to play with, and is almost as strong as me. So immediately he begins screeching (think Pterodactyl) because I have my morning cup of coffee and a shopping list and I’m unwilling to allow him to put either in his mouth. After giving him my sunglasses to play with I make it through the front door with blessed Texas air conditioning.

There are about 15 different sampling tables today so I had to stop at them, right? At the first table, I gave Kiera a sample of bread. Because I distributed the bread "ladies first," Number 1 son began to scream. After the second disastrous sampler attempt, I gave Elias a bottle of formula and rushed to pick up my five or six items. Kiera was displeased that I didn’t stop at each sampler table and began crying (she’s given up her naps, but mostly still needs them). Elias finishes his bottle like he’d been in a drinking contest so he’s able to screech again. With every passing screech, I receive more glares. In the checkout line I notice his shirt, my sunglasses, and his face are covered in regurgitated formula. At some point he had partly rejected his bottle. Apparently he knew he had a hot dog coming and wanted to save some space.

We arrive at the food court. I’m pushing a cart, attending to two small, needy children and holding two hot dogs, a slice of pizza, two empty cups, and an ice cream bar (you’ve got to try them, they’re amazing!). I rudely avoid offering ketchup for Kiera’s hot dog and head straight for the drinks. After we’re seated (Kiera across from me, Elias on my lap), we proceed to pig out. In between bites of pizza, I tear off small bites of hot dog for Elias. Suddenly, Kiera notices that ice cream bar in front of her. Simultaneously, Elias realizes he can grab my Diet Coke, pizza, and ice cream bar instead of patiently waiting for me to allocate his hot dog. Like the world’s fastest chess player, I continuously shuffle said food items out of the reach of four quick, little hands. My hand attempts to mute the dinosaur throughout the incessant wails. His 5 sharp teeth don't like this one bit. It’s a losing battle. Once Kiera has completely ditched her hot dog (which has been strangled like an old tube of toothpaste) and Elias has commenced beating his hot dog like a drum set, I surrender. As they say here, I “up and went.” The floor was a “yard sale” – stuff everywhere. Our clothes were canvasses displaying food art. My resolve was weakened. My pride was shattered. Any attempt at being the cool dad with his cute kids in tow was lost. As I glanced at those staring at me, I knew what they were thinking. “Where is their mother?”

We headed for the exit where I’d soon see the minivan, the chariot that would soon deliver us to the cave of solace (home). I put Kiera in the cart and held Elias on my sweat, slobber, spit-up, hot dog covered arm. Once in my arms I remembered how blessed I am to care for these children. He too was thankful. Once he was held, he gave me the gift of silence…and then I smelled that faint, foul smell emanating from his diaper - another token of his appreciation.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Starting Over...Again

Well, for those who know us, it’s no shocker. We’ve moved…again. We just can’t seem to settle. Perhaps a military life would have been a better choice for us. Every two years, you up and go. We do love new adventures.

So here we are in our new home – Austin, Texas. To think that after only four weeks that we’ve fully assimilated to the Republic would be absurd. I was checked on that just today. It wasn’t quite, “You aren’t from here are ya…” but my mispronunciation of a local town, Manchaca (pronounced ManShack), was a clear indicator that – I’m not from here. Course lots of people here are transplants too. So where is home? Spiritually speaking, heaven. Relationally? Anywhere with my wife and children. Geographically? California – You know, you can take the boy out of California…Just ask our Pacific Northwest friends who watched me wear shorts for two cold years. Speaking of the PNW, I’d consider that home too. The rain was tough, but it’s a spectacular place and it’s the place where I embraced God and the people. I don’t think I developed such invaluable relationships so quickly anywhere else in my life.

Why start a blog? Well, at the moment there are few adult conversations for me these days as I assume the role of Mr. Mom. Though only three people may only ever read this (Jana and Mom included), I relish the opportunity of reflecting on this attempt to assimilate to Austin. Many people have told us it’s a West Coast city and simultaneously uniquely the capital of Texas. So how will five So Cal/SLO/No Cal/PNW/Ethiopia alums adapt to their new adopted city? We’ll find out!