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The Final Wednesday


For the past three years my Wednesdays have included these three lovely ladies. Our small group typically involves food including, but not limited to chips and salsa, strawberries (for me), gluten free brownies (for Hayden) and anything else chocolate. We have conversations covering an array of topics: family, boys and dating, friendships, God, self-image, smushes, church, youth group, social justice, the world, quarter stories, prayer, scripture, listening, culture and music. Sometimes these conversations are interrupted by urgent bathroom breaks (Katie), occasional text messaging (all of them) and frequent bouts of laughter. We make room for questions, tears, sadness, celebrations, dreams, hopes, doubts, cuddling and good hugs!

I see part of my high school-self in each of these young women and there are countless times I’m left thinking, eh, I’m 27 and I still struggle with that. Being a leader doesn’t constitute having all the answers, but it does involve a certain level of commitment. And for the past three years I have been committed to these girls–it has by far been one of the best commitments I’ve ever made.

I love them. Hayden, Katie and Jenna, you reminded me that sometimes love is simply showing up and saying, “I’m here for you.” It is choosing to be together and admitting that I can’t do life on my own.

Today was the final Wednesday, our final small group. And I’m going to miss them dearly!

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When I Grow Up


When I was little this is what I wanted to be when I grew up. I kid you not. Most little kids imagine being a doctor or superhero or maybe even the person who flies the planes, but no…I wanted to be the person who directs the planes and tells them where to go.

For as long as I can remember I have loved airports and airplanes and all things that have to do with traveling. Before I was even able to read my parents would take me down to Ontario Airport where we would sit in the parking lot.

And just watch the planes.

Land and take off.

Land and take off.

What wonderfully, patient parents I had. For some reason I called planes be-bos and to this day I am not sure why. My parents helped foster my love (insert: obsession) of airplanes by reading me books from the local library about airports and airplanes. In fact they sent me on a plane by myself when I was just seven.

And remember how before the feds cracked down on airport security, it was common practice to actually go to the gate to meet someone? When my grandma would fly down from Seattle for her yearly visit the best part was waiting at the gate for her plane to arrive. With my hands glued to the metal gate I watched these airport workers with fluorescent vests and long flashlights “tell” the plane where to go. I decided that is what I wanted to do one day.

Fast-forward 20 years later
I am not in fact directing airplanes, (although I am sure this odd desire says something about my personality and my desire to be in charge, arranging and directing and telling students what to do) but I still do love airports.

I love airports because they remind me that traveling is about the process. I am convinced that if we could magically zap ourselves through some wrinkle in time to another city or country in an instant it would not hold the same appeal.

Traveling is about the process of packing and preparing. There is an anticipation and that looking forward to feeling. Traveling is contingent on lines and waiting and walking and then more lines, waiting and sitting. A process that sometimes feels inefficient and tiresome, but it reminds me that sometimes it’s not about me.

At any given time there are hundreds of passengers wandering around the airport, going a million different places, and you know what? We all want the same thing. We all want to make our flight and leave on time and get a good seat on a perfectly functioning plane that will arrive safely at our desired destination. So it’s not about really me and where I want to go per se. When I remember this I look around and notice what a fascinating place airports are- people of different cultures and countries and languages congregate in the same place for a few short hours: weary business men, adventurous backpackers and love struck honeymooners all wait for the same flight.

Contrary to how I usually do life, I actually enjoy this process.

The waiting.

And the watching.

And the sitting.

This is where surprising conversations happen with strangers and observant people watching skills come in handy. This also becomes my favorite book reading, magazine perusing and journal writing time. This process invites me to relax and let go. I cannot control the weather or make the line move any faster. I cannot hurry up the boarding process or change my seat. All I can do is enjoy the process and in that, there is a kind of freedom.

Tomorrow I get to embark on this process.
I will greet my first of three airports before the sun rises. And then arrive in Boston sometime tomorrow evening. I am looking forward to a day of travel, but even more so I am looking forward to spending 4 days with my incredible sister, Steph.

(And yes, I am still holding out for my dream: maybe one day I’ll get to sport the florescent vest and over-sized flashlights so I can “tell” the planes where to go)

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Drops Like Stars


On Thursday night I and about half of southern California went to LA to hear Rob Bell speak. I was like a little kid waiting in line to meet Santa Clause. Now I know Rob Bell is not in fact Santa Claus, but that same childish excitement and giddy feeling was present as we waited to enter the Wiltern Theater. I’ve read RB’s books and listened to his podcast for years because they offered a different voice, a new perspective and sometimes a radical understanding of the gospel. In some of my darkest and most painful seasons his writing and words offered Hope, when everything else seemed silent.

And in case you were wondering, he is just as good live. Articulate. Creative and Down Right Funny. He somehow connects Will Farrell and Jesus in the same sentence- pure brilliance. He’s the kinda guy you’d want to have over to your house to hang out with your friends. And yet he seamlessly connects faith and pop culture and art and politics and the bible into a canvas that leaves room for mystery and honesty.

Obviously, I don’t really like him.

The best part about Thursday was that Rob Bell acknowledged right off the bat that bad stuff happens- pain, heartache, loss, suffering, and grief- and yet, we don’t know why. Our lives do not unravel the way we expected. Some things never, ever make sense! But instead of trying to give simplistic answers that many Christians to do, he invited us to see pain, heartache and loss as a complete disruption to our lives-which it is. But “The Art of Disruption” as he says, also plants seeds of creativity. When we suffer we are challenged to re(create), (re)imagine and re(define) parts of our life that will never, ever be the same.

I think about some of the times I have cried out in anger or heartache and how I often feel like the sadness and loneliness are the roots of my pain, but RB said often the root of our pain is actually mourning the loss of the expectation.

Aren’t these some of the thoughts that often go through our heads?
This is not how I thought life would be. I expected him to be here forever. I never thought we would lose our house. I expected to be married by now. I never imagined my mom getting cancer. I never thought we wouldn’t be able to have kids.
I never planned on this. And the list could do on.

RB said something that stuck with me– Pain has a way of making us honest.

He didn’t justify the pain, gloss over it or simplify it. No, he just said, it has a way of making us honest. And I think he is right. Pain forces us to look deep inside and cry out with questions. Pain forces us to admit I can’t do this alone. And the God that I believe in meets us right there in our pain. He meets us in the empty places. Some of the most beautiful, honest and genuine people that I know have experienced deep pain and loss, but somehow they’ve taken the art of disruption and let it shape and change who they are.

RB obviously describes it better, but this is the best I could do at quick synopsis. If you’re inclined to fly to the UK or Australia you still have a chance to see him! Click here for tour dates. For the rest of you, you can settle for buying the book.

Next post, bar soap and “The Art of Elimination.”

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Breathe


Sometimes weekends come and go and I feel like there is either way too much to do or not enough going on- it’s feels like this ridiculous game of tug-o-war where there is never a happy medium. But, this weekend was an exception.

I needed a break. Something new. Some space to go and be away and see people I miss. So, I threw my bag in my trunk and Ingrid Michalson’s new CD in my stereo and headed down the 101. Now if you know me, you know that I hate, absolutely hate, traffic. It’s like my arch enemy. You think growing up in southern California I would just “get used to.” But no. Sitting in traffic is like sinking in quicksand…just when you think you’re moving faster and getting out. You brake. stop. brake again and sink further into the murk and mess of LA traffic. I think most people just succumb to it and put on music or sit there and make the best of it, but not me. No, I try to beat it. Or at least do everything in power to avoid it and get out quick.

However, when I am so unfortunate to be stuck in traffic I call my dad. My dad is like my personal google map. You see my cell phone is ancient, probably comparable to the infamous Saved by the Bell cell phone that Zack carried around in the halls of Bayside High. Ok, not that big, but close. I do not yet have a modern, fancy touch screen machine that signals when to turn left and announces what to eat for dinner…but I do have my dad. No matter where I am, on any freeway, anywhere in the greater LA or Orange County area, my dad can tell me in an instant where to go. He must have a grid of all the freeways spinning around in his head. Usually the conversation goes something like this:
M: ugh, dad there is traffic again!
D: ok, hun. where are you?
M: sitting on the 405.
D: well you could get off at the 10 or the 22. Or take the 101 to the 605 and then get on the 710.

Seriously, somehow my dad just knows all of this- like where the 91 meets the 241 and where the 57 ends and the 5 begins and when it’s better to take the 210 or the 126. I mean who needs an iphone, when you have all that within a phone call to dad.

Thanks to the google-like-efficient advice of my father, I avoided the 405 and cruised down Highway 1 en route to Seal Beach to see my good friend. She and I have never been roommates, actually we’ve never even lived in the same city, but we connected (rather randomly) 5 years at a conference. We bonded because we both didn’t fit. She was searching for something new. And I was aching for something that was lost. And somehow instead of finding what we were looking for, we found each other.

Five years later, we’re still friends. And it was one of those weekends where it was just so good to be together. We just laughed. Laughed a lot. We barbecued with her friends. Told silly stories. Walked down Main Street with no real purpose or destination, just the wonderful aimless wandering that takes you right where you should be. We played fishbowl. And ate watermelon. And did yoga in the family room. Went to church. And sat on the beach and talked about life and teaching and dating and God and insecurities and love and loneliness and the importance of good friends.

Sometimes I feel like I breathe a litter easier when I’m somewhere new. It’s refreshing. I inhale deeply. It’s not that air is any better in Seal Beach than it is in Santa Barbara, but it is different. And sometimes when life feels stagnant and dull, new air is needed.

Dee-anna, thank you for a refreshing weekend. It was a breath of fresh air. Love you.

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Shades of White

I’ve been back from Guatemala for 2 weeks and I always feel a bit disoriented upon returning home- which I realize sounds a bit ironic, but it’s true. Santa Barbara welcomes me with open arms and ocean breezes, but sill some part of the coming home process, even with all its comforts and conveniences, feels hard. But maybe that is not such a bad thing. Maybe there is something to learn in those seasons or days when it feels like nothing really fits or seems to makes sense.

In an effort to accustom myself back to life here and not spend too much time sipping coffee and dreaming and journaling about life in Guatemala I decided I need a fun and easy home project to complete before school started (side note: I am learning that fun and easy do not belong in the same sentence as “home project”)

My vision was to re-plant all of our potted plants, trim the hedges and basically make our side patio and front yard a bit livelier. Now, I am no gardener- I dream of being one of those people who grows my own tomatoes and bell peppers and carrots, but in the mean time my specialties include, well…herbs and succulents. Both which are quite resilient and forgiving of neglectful owners who forget to water them on a regular basis.

Within two afternoons and one trip to Ace Hardware our patio had a new herb garden, some blooming flowers and a few succulents to add to the ambiance. The project was complete and much to my surprise it wasn’t all that difficult.

Then came the painting project. My roommate and I decided that our old futon with chipping black paint would look better if the frame was re-painted with fresh coat of white. So I went back to Ace Hardware (again)…this time with the intention of staying clear of the garden section and instead focused on buying a can of paint.

I should clarify that I actually really like hardware stores. But the problem is I walk in and immediately get distracted. I see things I think I should have in our house- things adults have in their homes, like WD-40 and carpet stain remover and really cool flashlights-those kinds of things that somehow signify adulthood in my mind. I walked by the wood and shelving unit and saw the door handles and power-drills and I got all kinds of ideas about how to change and re-do and add stuff to our little house. Mind you all of these ideas are just that, ideas, because in reality I don’t think I am that well skilled at do-it-yourself home projects.

I finally made it to the Paint Department where I expected to pick up a can of white paint, some brushes and be on my merry way. Imagine how shocked and overwhelmed I was when I found out that in fact there are 32 shades of white! I stood there dumbfounded as I flipped through the samples of white. There was <span style=”font-style:italic;”>bone white, dusty white and quiet white. Not to be confused with new canvas, pita bread or heavenly sand. My favorite: gentle bluff! Really, I mean what color is a gentle bluff? For the sake of making a decision, I finally settled on distant white.

And then the helpful man with the long, gray ponytail behind the counter asked me:

“What sheen do you want?

Huh? I just stood there and stared at him. What the heck is sheen? Obvious to him now, I had never purchased paint before. He patiently explained the differences between high-gloss, semi-gloss, satin, egg-shell, etc. I reluctantly settled on satin (not really having a preference). I purchased my sandpaper and brushes and 40 minutes later made my way back home.

Now, this project is not yet done. I am learning that sanding and painting and re-painting take a long time- not exactly fun or easy. But I have been thinking a lot about all those shades of white paint. It’s interesting to me that I just assumed white paint is white paint. I don’t really ever notice different shades or pay attention for that matter. And I wonder how often how I approach my day or my life in the same way? I wonder how often I make assumptions, and look at people and buildings and bus stops and cars and only see what’s right in front of me, instead of seeing what’s underneath the surface or the story behind someone or something.

It’s funny, I was in Guatemala for less than 2 weeks, but something about being away helps me see more clearly and live more holistically. It helps me see the shades of life that may go unnoticed sometimes. Those subtle differences and nuances that you can only appreciate when you stop and slow down and really, really look.

I sometimes wonder what it is like to see things and people through God’s eyes. In all his creativity he must see every detail on a tiny ladybug and appreciate the wrinkles on a weathered face from years of working in the sun. And I bet that He sees more than 32 shades of white, too.

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The 4th of July

I have always loved the 4th of July. It feels like the epitome of summer with the smell of BBQ and long hours spent in the sun, lounge chairs and watermelon, hooded sweatshirts and fireworks. Aww, I think in fact it may be my favorite holiday, maybe because it’s not quite as commercialized as other holidays. Ok, well…at least its not as commercialized for quite as long as other holidays. It’s one of the only holidays that doesn’t seem to center on fancy dinners at long tables, where relatives gather and comment how especially good the dead, upside down bird tastes this year.

Even when I was a little kid I remember sitting excitedly on the curb at our neighborhood block parties watching my dad light fireworks and being mesmerized by the explosion of light and color and pure mystery. (yes, this was before having your own fire works show was deemed illegal) There was just something special, almost magical about the 4th of July. And even though some of that childlike wonder and glee wears off with age, I still think there is something about the 4th that just makes me happy.

And this year was no different. I had a wonderful 4th of July. Beach time with friends. BBQs. Good food. Fireworks. But this year I was also struck by the tension of celebrating and appreciating our country, while also acknowledging some of the failures and embarrassments of the very nation I love. We seem to be plagued with, what Barbara Kingsolver describes as prideful wastefulness. She begs the question, “What other name can there be for our noisy, celebratory appetite for unnecessary things and our vast carelessness regarding their manufacture and disposal?” And it’s not just that we live in a consumer culture (that I too, buy into) it’s that sometimes we don’t seem to connect the dots: the food that I eat, and the store who hires the workers, and the rain runoff that drains into the ocean and the oil used to fuel my car and the refugees in Afghanistan…they are all connected. As a nation we cannot continue to use resources at the rate we do and simply pretend that we’re entitled to an unlimited amount. At some point I think we need to learn to live within our means.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not live by some ideal super-conscious lifestyle checklist that monitors where I buy my food and how the workers are treated and if they land is preserved and replenished. I wish I lived a more sustainable lifestyle, rooted in simplicity and contentment, rather than selfishness and entitlement. The truth is I am attached to convenience like the rest of us. I drive my car when my bike or two legs would work just as well. I’ll buy a new shirt because it’s a “good deal” regardless of where it was made. Sometimes I waste food and let the run water too long. And all too often I choose to ignore the injustices and inequalities that are apparent both in my local community and in the world at large. I recently read that the United Nations estimates that $13 billion in foreign aide would provide health and nutrition to EVERYONE in the world. And you know what? Americans and Europeans collectively spend $17 billion a year on pet food.

Sometimes I am humbled and slightly frightened that my generation has more access to information than ever before, and not just information, but with one click of a mouse or a nifty iphone app we can Google search any word or phrase or language. We can see pictures and videos and live satellite images from parts of the world that only National Geographic photographers used to be able to go. We have access to news broadcasts and articles and blogs from just about every nation. And yet I wonder, do we live any differently? Is having access to this much information helpful or does it only leave us numb to the real human stories and people behind the facts that we can so easily search? Does it change the way I live or at least challenge the way I make decisions?

The day after 4th of July I walked along the beach by the Santa Barbara harbor. Every Sunday a group of volunteers place crosses in the sand for each solider who has been tragically killed in Iraq. This makeshift memorial is known as Arlington West and it’s easy to simply walk or drive by and not even notice it, but this Sunday I stopped. My life is comfortable and convenient and I do not often think of the 4,323 America men and women who have lost their lives. Nor do I pause to remember the countless numbers of Iraqi men, women and children who have also died and the thousands more who are still alive, yet mourning the loss of a loved one. Loss is loss. I remember walking through the streets of Sarajevo during college and hearing an aide worker who lived through the Balkan Conflict quote “War is the lesser of two evils. No one wins in war.” A few months ago I saw a documentary called the Road to Fallujah as part of the Santa Barbara Film Festival. It was equally challenging and eye-opening to get a first hand glimpse of the horrors of war in Iraq. It is all too easy to sit behind the comfort of my home computer and ignore the reality of what is happening in our world.

I don’t completely understand the ins and outs of foreign affairs and I am the first to admit that the situation in Iraq and now Afghanistan and Iran is terribly complicated, but I don’t want to celebrate a nation that seems to be more concerned about it’s corporate profit and mini oil fields than limiting fossil fuel emissions and creating fair and equitable treatment for workers. I want to celebrate a nation that is generous with our resources and our aide; a country that comes to see the connectedness between people and the land with which we live on.

In her book, Small Wonders, Kingsolver states, “Real generosity involves not only making a gift, but also giving up something.” If living generously is a goal I have for my country, I realize it probably starts with me and with you. It starts small. It starts with every day, average people choosing to live differently, choosing to live differently and in the process giving up something.

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The Line Leader


At beginning of every school year my elementary school teachers would assign class jobs. There were the usual jobs inducing paper passer outer, calendar duty, feeding the class fish, etc, but my favorite job by far was when it was my turn to be the class line leader.

I don’t know why I liked being the class line leader so much? Maybe it was the appeal of leading the class and being the first one to the cafeteria or the first one to recess or maybe it was just my way of being a selfish seven year old who wanted to be in front. Sometimes I think I haven’t changed too much. I am embarrassed to admit that sometimes I still like being the “line leader.” On my defense, it’s not like I am consciously thinking, “ooh, I want to be in front”- but it just happens. Sometimes I end up walking two feet in front of the group, until a good friend points out how annoying it is to everyone else. And every so often when I find myself to be the first car at a stoplight I get this childish glee because I realize that I am the “car line leader” and that means I’ll be the first one down the street. I know it sounds odd, maybe even worrisome, but heck, I’m just being honest. I am sure I can blame part of this on the combination of being the first born in my family and being someone who likes to “be in charge”, but there is also some truth to be told about growing up in a culture that trains and values leaders. I look back on my junior high and high school days and vividly remember teachers, mentors and speakers who instructed us to be leaders at school and in our community. There was this implicit message that good, responsible, successful citizens grow up to be leaders. Even in youth group we were encouraged to be student leaders, and once I got to college there were entire classes on leadership and how to make a difference in our world.

Leaderships is a buzzword now days. You can find books, curriculum, conferences, etc., all promising how to make you a better leader. It seems that we empower and teach our youth that they can and should be leaders. (This is certainly the message I heard growing up). We encourage students to plan and organize and bring about change and to essentially, become LEADERS. Which on one hand is not inherently a bad thing, but what happens when we live in a culture that emphasizes leading and not following?

These past few months I have been wrestling with what it looks like to follow. You don’t hear a lot of talk about following. For one, the idea of following doesn’t sound as glamorous and courageous as the word leadership. The notion of “following” doesn’t sell books and curriculum and get people excited and passionate. There are plenty of community awards for having great leadership skills, but when is the last time you heard of someone getting a “dedicated follower” award? Umm, never.

I find it ironic that the Jesus I read about in the New Testament says, “Follow me” almost twenty times. He does not say, “Become great leaders” or “Lead on”… No, instead he says, follow me. What would this world look like if men and women really, truly followed Jesus? How would my life look different if I sincerely started to follow Him?

Following implies listening, waiting, and sacrificing. It requires a letting go and giving-up. This past year I have spent a large chunk of time leading-leading meetings, planning events, organizing projects, and teaching students, but very little time following. This summer I want to learn how to be a better follower.

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