We Are All Luke Skywalker

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…sunset-luke

…there was an aspiring young man named Luke. Luke didn’t know it, but he lived a very sheltered existence. His family kept him close, his farm kept him fed, and a silent warrior in hiding kept him safe. Amidst this bounty of provision, unfortunately, Luke managed to indulge the most dangerous feeling in human existence, he became bored.  Yet in his boredom, he discovered a valiant dream: He wanted to become a pilot and fly away to grand adventures and noble deeds. Little did Luke know that the fulfillment of his dream was about to come literally crashing into his world…

Luke Skywalker has gotten a bit of a bad rap over time. Since the release of The Force Awakens, young Luke has become the butt of several memes and an object of considerable derision. He whines about doing his chores, he’s usually the last to understand what’s going on, and even though his life’s dream is to leave home to do something great, when the opportunity is handed to him by a wise sage and friend, he makes excuses and wimps out. Doesn’t much seem like hero material, right?

Actually, I’d say it’s exactly the stuff a hero is made of.  Young Luke is sheltered, yes, but he’s not weak. He has an idealistic vision of what it means to do great things, without the experience of ever enduring more than mild resistance. He knows there is a war and that the Empire is evil, but it’s not until his family and farm are cruelly destroyed that he truly understands what war and evil are.  He decides to become a guardian of peace and justice in the galaxy before he ever encounters more than a tiny fraction of the citizens he’s swearing to protect. He’s naive, yes, but far from stupid.

sw-sibsIt doesn’t help, either, that Luke’s as-yet-unknown sister is the epitome of a hero fully realized. Much is made of the fact that, while he’s whining about going to Tosche Station for power converters,  she manages to endure watching the destruction of her home planet with only the slightest hiccup…but then Leia was raised in the heart of the conflict and has seen the war up close her whole life. She knows what’s at stake and how to fight and rebel with power and purpose; Luke only knows what he imagines from the scuttlebutt he can pick up in town. It’s a completely different set of equipping, and Luke has a great deal of catching up to do…but he does it.

The recent political events in my country and community have made me realize that we are all Luke Skywalker at some point. For myself, I have long resolved to take a stand for racial equality, but it wasn’t until I saw 13th last Monday that I began to see how deeply ingrained the problem is in the system I blithely navigate daily, how very much people of color have suffered and are suffering now beyond my borders of experience.  And that’s just one aspect of the conflict.  Human trafficking, labor abuses, political corruption, sexism…the Empire’s reach goes on and on and the more I learn, the more I realize I know nothing. I am Luke. I intend and envision far more than I understand or affect.

If you’ve ever had a plan or a dream that was bigger than you are, you’ve been Luke Skywalker.

If you’ve ever backed away from an opportunity out of fear or a sense of obligation, you’ve been Luke Skywalker.

If you’ve ever missed an opportunity because you were occupied with shopping or entertainment, you’ve been Luke Skywalker.

If you’ve ever believed you understood an issue without having an in-depth conversation with a friend who is directly affected by it, you’ve been Luke Skywalker.

And if you’ve ever suffered or been shocked by the truth of a conflict, yet still took up arms and stood in defense of others anyway, you’ve been Luke Skywalker.

The point is not to condemn ourselves for our likeness to Luke, nor to elevate others in an unrealistic comparison to our Leias. The point is to see ourselves humbly and authentically, then to get wiser and stronger as we take our place in the fight. It will NOT be what we’ve imagined or expected, and we will be challenged to quit at every turn.

But it will make a GREAT story.

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pledges, prayers, and promises

My family has an unparalleled gift of gab.

I’m sure other families feel this way too, and I imagine one or two of them might be able to keep up with us for a few stretches at a time.  But let’s just say that if conversation were an Olympic sport, the IOC would have to invent a new medal to give us…possibly just to get us to shut up.  (They would fail).

One example: when I was fourteen years old, I stayed home from school with some malady or another that I can’t quite remember right now.  What I do remember is my aunt calling to check on me.  In the course of our, I don’t know,  maybe thirty minute conversation, we explored and thoroughly excavated at least a dozen wide-ranging topics including, but not limited to, the latest family gossip, holidays, women’s health, the American education system, music, movies, the Holocaust, and the plight of the Native American.  Imagine what we could have covered if she’d actually come over!

(pretty sure we're related to this guy)

(pretty sure we’re related to this guy)

It comes as no surprise then, that over last Sunday’s dinner, my girls, my mom and I got into a spirited and occasionally heated discussion about the Pledge of Allegiance and its appropriate usage in our schools today.  Sensing the impending skirmish, each of us immediately donned our gear of choice and slid comfortably into our positions on the field:

dissent_is_patriotic_tshirtMy twelve-year-old is a fierce independent thinker and hater of all things rote or compulsory.  She immediately dug in as the voice of the anti-pledge contingency, helpfully drawing a deep furrow in the sand to delineate sides for the rest of us.

 

love_it_or_leave_it_teeMy mom, a devoted Baby Boomer, has committed her life to conservativism and the study of all things World War II.  Her pro-pledge stance was inherently rooted; all she had to do was square her shoulders and hunker down, ready to defend.

 

referee_womens_cap_sleeve_tshirtMy position as the mediator / peacemaker was firmly established long ago, so I am always on the alert for the signs of conflict. Before the starting bell had even properly sounded, I was already rolling out the rules of engagement and foul boundaries.

 

invisible woman shirtMy anti-confrontational fifteen-year-old, despondent at having accidentally introduced such an incendiary topic, tried her best to duck the whole thing.  Desperate for escape, she immersed herself in whatever horrible 90s-era Wesley Snipes movie was playing soundlessly over our heads, only looking away to take a sip of her drink (and not always then).

 

indexAnd then there was my ten-year-old, who managed to remain completely non-partisan…mostly due to the fact that she had about seven more pressing subjects on her mind (the puzzle on her children’s menu, subversive political undertones in the latest Tinkerbell movie, snails) and could not have cared less about this one.  She focused her efforts instead on tapping my arm about a hundred times per minute, trying to shift everyone’s attention to her.

I am pleased to report no injuries or casualties resulting from the match, unless you count my naivete about just how innocuous the Pledge of Allegiance really is (truth: not at all).  Apparently, today’s middle schoolers are actually thinking about the words in the pledge as they say them.  Imagine that!  I can honestly say I never did, nor did any of my cohorts…at least, not that they admitted.  It’s just the pledge, right?   You recite it, get a piece of candy for eventually memorizing it, and then move on to whatever academic and/or social hurdles the day holds in store.

Not my young people.  They have come to the conscious realization that they are being asked, on a daily basis, to make a public. permanent promise of fidelity to the USA and everything it stands for.  They don’t object to our country, mind you; mostly they are very happy here and thankful for everything they have.  What they object to is being forced to swear fealty in this manner when they really have no choice even if they did disagree.

It’s not an unfair point.

It is remarkable, come to think of it, that a nation so beset by hot debates over parenting styles and rights, freedom of speech, and even infant baptism should be so lackadaisical about this secular compulsory vow (regardless whether “under God” is included).  They aren’t just memorizing it like the Preamble to the Constitution or a monologue from Shakespeare; they’re actively swearing it as part of their daily education goals.

Pledge-of-allegiance-girl

It’s interesting.

We landed in a fairly comfortable place on the subject, thankfully.  I told them that when I think of being faithful to my country, I don’t think of the government; I think of people.  I am not allegiant to my leaders or legislators; it’s actually their job to be faithful to us.  I am, however, allegiant to my neighbors, my family, and most of all to the Body of Christ – regardless of political borders.  Unity, liberty, justice…yeah, I can pledge to pursue those things without reservation.

The greatest thing about the USA is that it is a safe place for conversation.  Debates, dialogue, and dissension are all welcome here.  They’re part of who we are.  I hope that, with the help of this rising generation, we can continue expanding our definition of neighbors to include the global community.  Isn’t that what the world peace that we are supposed to be seeking will ultimately look like anyway?

That’s also the greatest thing about this crazy clan of mine.  I am so happy my girls feel safe to be themselves here…and to know that when they make a promise, they think about it and really mean what they say.

The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off. ― Gloria Steinem

The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.
― Gloria Steinem

 

much and more: a tale of four apple seeds

4 apple seedsFour little apple seeds.  That’s how it all started.

Four tiny little apple seeds have dominated – nay, wrecked my household over the past two weeks.

Because of four little apple seeds, I have lost approximately fifty hours that I had earmarked for other purposes.  Instead of getting my hair cut, reorganizing my bedroom, and a host of other noble activities, I have been forced to heed the urgent, silent cry of 50 lbs. of produce on my counter: Clean us!  Cook us!  Preserve us before we rot and grow flies!

Because of four little apple seeds, my house is a mess.  My precious living space, which I prefer to keep tidy and full of peace (or at least vacuumed), is gasping for breath beneath a layer of earth and leaves.  Sweep as I may, it is all for naught; the moment I approach the next apple, another dusting begins to fall.  This endless cycle has led me to neglect my regular weekly chores as well, and the cost is piling up.

Because of four little apple seeds, I am exhausted.  Working through my days off and cooking into the night have trimmed much needed hours off of my commitment to rest and relaxation.  My hair is frizzy, I’m always hot, and my clothes are riddled with patches of cinnamon-scented goo.  I am not a pretty picture.

And we’re still not done.  There’s another whole load of apples at my aunt’s house, whimpering and waiting for me to come pick them up!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd yet…I wouldn’t change a thing.

Thanks to those four little apple seeds, my family has spent the majority of our last two weeks in real face time together.  We have filled our humble kitchen with slicing, stirring, boiling, laughing, arguing, singing, and more, with nothing but music to accompany us.  We have made memories that we already enjoy to recount – and we’re still not done.

Thanks to four little apple seeds, our hands have generated more than 40 pints of locally grown, chemical-free, homemade apple butter.  It is – and I say this with all due humility – the best apple butter I have ever tasted.  Of course, we have more than we could ever possibly hope to eat ourselves, so we will be able to take the excess and sell it.  At $4.00 per half pint, the project will more than have paid for our investment – and we’re still not done.

Thanks to four little apple seeds, we have been given a chance to participate in the harvest.  We have shared, in a very small way, the sweat and vigor of those who live off of only what their own hands can produce and preserve.  We have a physical reminder of the multiplied blessings that come when we plant good seeds in the world and in the lives of others.  We have received and given back thousands of times more than what was originally sown.

And we’re still not done.

Anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the number of apples in a seed."  -Robert H. Schuller

Anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the number of apples in a seed. -Robert H. Schuller

jammed

"you know, the best thing about a paper jam is that it forces you to open up the machine and look for what went wrong."

“you know, the best thing about a paper jam is that it forces you to open up the machine and look for what went wrong.”

Wherever there is a process, there will eventually be a jam.  Such is the nature of life in this fallen world, and I have mostly come to accept it so as to preserve what few full-color strands of hair I have left.

Some jams I am prepared for, because they kind of make sense and are part of my routine – like traffic jams.  Most of the time, I know what happened (human error) and whom to blame (all those other pesky humans out there).  Certainly, I do plenty of fussing and fuming while weeding my way through the mess, and it may put me in a bad mood for a bit, but I make it through and am able to move on until the next one.

In my job, however, I deal with a much more diabolical form of jam: the paper jam.  In this, I know I am wrestling with pure, insensate evil and there is no one to blame.  Even the machine seems mystified.  Sometimes it can direct me to the general region that is being affected by the jam, but beyond that, all it can do is blink its lights impotently at me and wait for me to set things right.

I can’t begin to tally the number of hours in my life I have lost to paper jams.  They come at the worst possible times – usually in a rush of work, and preferably with some one at my desk in need of the finished product (read: a fully charged audience).  There I’ll be, flinging and slamming each of the printer’s thousands of important drawers and doors, violently poking around its innards, smearing my face with unset ink and singeing my fingertips on the unresponsive rollers…all the while with an innocent, increasingly uncomfortable bystander to whom I must make encouraging small talk such as “Happens all the time!” or  “Almost got it, now!” or  “Would you like to go out for many drinks after work today?…Ow!” (jerks and reveals smoking, cartoon-flattened index finger).

No matter how expensive, fancy, or durable the machine, all copiers and printers can get jammed, and usually by the smallest obstacles.  They are made to handle big jobs and adverse conditions, yet a shred of paper the size of a pencil eraser can shut them down.  Until the offending object is fished out and removed, that sophisticated apparatus – however integral to corporate function – is little better than a doorstop.

It occurred to me while resolving a series of paper jams at work this very day that having depression is a remarkably similar process.  Most of the time, through whatever coping mechanisms I have in place, the machine runs at peak performance, functioning and generating projects as needed.  But unexpected and seemingly innocuous things can work their way into the cogs and before I know it, production has shut down and my lights are all blinking like the deck of the starship Enterprise.

When that happens, the smart thing to do is to stop, locate the source of the blockage, and carefully address it in order to get things moving again as quickly and healthily as possible.  I almost never do the smart thing.

Instead, I  keep trying to force paper through the gummed-up works, all to no avail, and ruining whatever hope there was for those projects.  Where my body is clearly crying out for adjustment, reflection, and a little TLC, all my mind can see is inefficiency and a need for more power.  I ignore the warning signs, fight back tears, and try to muscle through.

Keeping up appearances plays a big part in this approach (a.k.a. denial), especially living in the South.  I could probably ask people for more time or even, you know, for help…but I don’t.  This is a culture of severe politeness and I do not want to force others to get messy with me.  Instead, I put on a chipper face, shoulder-down, and ask them how their day is going.

This isn’t wrong, necessarily; there is honor in serving and being considerate, and none in co-dependency or expecting others to fix me.  I wish I could find the balance, though, between being myself and being what I think others can handle / want to see.

Until I find that balance, if I disappear every once in a while, you’ll know why and where to find me: I’m probably at home, nursing my roller burns and fashioning those ink smears on my cheeks into war paint.

cross/fit

“No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, and show up. Never give up.” -found at local gyms everywhere

I’ve been a church-going girl all of my life, literally since I was born.  Being a Christian has been one of the primary ways I identify myself, and a big part of that is attending church.  My weakest moments only meant that I would attend more – every time the doors were open, if I could.

Entering my mid-thirties, however, I began to entertain for the first time the idea that maybe I’d just rather stay home.  Millions of twenty-somethings are doing it; that would make me a trend-setter, right?  I was tired, disappointed, busy, and just burnt out.  And, I hate to admit this, but the age-old excuse was right: It actually is full of hypocrites.

Yet something compelled me to stick with it and it wasn’t until Sunday School yesterday that I found the words for why: Going to church is just like going to the gym.

The people I have met at the gym are ALL hypocrites.  For one thing, their motives are not pure.  They do not want to be there, or if they do, it’s to feed their egos or some other self-serving need.  Maybe they’ve come to socialize, to network, to connect with that cute gym bunny who always comes in at 7 a.m.  Maybe they are compulsive exercisers who fear going a day without it.  Maybe they can’t do it on their own and need the motivating presence and activity of others.

Not only that, but however they look inside the gym, they do not leave those doors and live a perfect life of health in the rest of the world.  There is no one who never ever makes a bad health choice, be it eating something off-diet or neglecting their rest or balancing their time management perfectly.  Some of us come closer than others, but no one can claim a life of perfect health and choices one hundred percent of the time.

Yet no one would ever condone these observations as a valid reason not to go to the gym.

This holds true for most of the reasons I use and/or hear to rationalize dropping out:
-I don’t fit in / don’t agree / don’t like some of the people there.
-They only want me for my money.
-I don’t have time.
-That’s my only day to sleep in.
-I don’t like the way it’s organized.
-It’s boring.
-I had a bad experience.
-I don’t need to.  I can make it on my own.

Some of these may be valid reasons for eschewing one particular site or group, but not for giving up entirely.  It’s a discipline.  It’s supposed to be hard.

The hard parts are what make me better.

sweet

“I’ve been fighting to be who I am all my life. What’s the point of being who I am, if I can’t have the person who was worth all the fighting for?”
Stephanie Lennox

The first week of Lent is finished, and I am happy to report that it was largely a success.  My girls and I accomplished all of our goals and stayed faithful to the promises we made.  We supported each other in our different struggles and came away from it closer than ever.  That’s the good news.

The bad news is, Saturday sucked – like, a lot – and it was all my fault.  I was awful.  I was moody, depressed, and overwhelmed with every little thing my girls did or didn’t do.  I went to bed that night exhausted and on the verge of a significant identity crisis.  I was so distracted that I forgot to set my alarm and overslept for church the next morning.

Want to know what fueled this horrible, no good, very bad day?

I gave up sugar.

To be precise, I gave up white carbs (as per the 4-Hour Body prescription) because I know what a stumbling block empty foods are for me.  I use them to distract, divert, and procrastinate, and I always feel terrible later.  Since I am focusing on Hebrews 12:1 this Lent, casting off complex burdens with food seemed the obvious choice.

The initial results were devilishly easy on the physical side.  I have given up soda, junk food, and even this range of carbs before, each invariably resulting in at least one day of detox: migraines, fatigue, nausea, the whole bit.  This time, nothing.  My body felt fine – even good – the whole week.

Then there was Saturday.

I have to say it scared me a little bit and here’s why: What if I’m not the nice girl I have always thought I am?

My whole life, the words that people have used to describe me have always been along the lines of friendly, optimistic, helpful, sweet…  What if it turns out that I’ve just been hopped up on sugar for thirty years?  What if my soft, gooey center is vinegar instead of jam?

Turning to research for answers, I noted with dismay that identity crises go hand-in-hand with addiction.  Some addicts become addicted because of an identity crisis; others experience the identity crisis as a phase of recovery from the addiction.  The luckiest of all turn to addiction for relief from the identity crisis, then face a new identity crisis later during rehabilitation – a cyclical loop of uncertainty.

It will take some time for me to dig up my root causes, and I won’t bore you with my soul-searching here.  Suffice it to say that a new project as I press on through Lent is going to be reviewing who God says I am, meditating on my identity in Him rather than in human eyes.  I thought I already knew this.  Clearly, I have overestimated my depth of understanding.

Coincidentally enough (if you believe in such things), I just happened to see Flight this weekend in my race to be fully informed before the Oscars, and this struggle is brilliantly portrayed therein by Denzel Washington.  The question of “Who am I?” is a recurring theme in his life and the life of others who struggle around him through the story.  It’s not a pretty picture, to be sure, but I am encouraged knowing that I’m not the only person to wrestle with such seemingly elementary issues.

Today, I am thanking God for movies, long baths, my family’s gracious patience, and especially Sundays!

the stuff of dreams and lent

Last night, I had an epic trilogy of nightmares.

In Part I, I was first pursued, then held hostage by a serial killer.  This dude was scary; he was Hannibal Lecter and Lex Luthor and Nurse Ratched all wrapped in one.  I kept trying to get away from him, but he always caught up.  I couldn’t let anyone around me know what was happening or else he’d kill them all, too.  He wanted me and only me, and I felt like a mouse being played with by a cat.

Eventually, I was able to distance myself and my family from him somehow, because Part II found us at church.  The service and Sunday School were over and we were about to go outside when a brewing storm system suddenly gave birth to about a dozen tornadoes.  Most of them were far away, but I saw one coming right for us, so I ushered us down into the basement.  It passed over us without harming us or the structure around us, but I could hear people’s screams outside as they were sucked in.

This transitioned into Part III as we drove home and settled in.  My girls went to bed and I was talking with my mother, when out of one of our bedrooms came the person with whom I have the most difficult relationship in my life.  She came out and stared right at me, but she wanted to talk to my mother, not me.  I stepped aside and let her pass, and then walked away, praying fervently my mom wouldn’t allow herself to get hurt in the conversation.

Then I woke up.  I believe my profound thought upon rousing was, “What in the [bad word] was that?!”

Now I’m no Joseph, but I enjoy dream analysis and interpretation very much.  There is a lot of material in these dreams to pore over, and it doesn’t take a genius to speculate that there is some kind of stress / turmoil going on in my head.

Do I think it a coincidence that my last thoughts before going to bed that night circled around Lent?  Absolutely not.

I have observed Lent since I was sixteen years old and it is always a complex labor of love.  Deciding what to do / not do for forty days seems straightforward, but I easily devolve into a sort of tug-of-war between what God is calling me to do and what I think will benefit (or, let’s be honest, what will look best on) myself.  I must constantly check myself and pray over it, or I can degrade the spiritual work by turning it into a glorified New Year’s resolution.

And that’s the “easy” part.

After that comes the real work of living it out.  Giving without letting my right hand know what the left is doing, keeping up appearances so as not to garner the praise or sympathy of others, and doing it all without complaining or arguing…well.  I can barely master those disciplines on Christmas Day!  Throw in a little warfare against my human nature and will and it’s amazing how fast and furiously the rationalizations start to fly.

The truth is, I know this all affirms that the work is good.  If my flesh lashes out, it’s because it needs the discipline.  When my mind tries to talk me out of it, it only shows that it needs this retraining.  Every swing of my emotions will only reorient them to the One I really need to connect with for peace.

Serial killers?  Come ahead!  I’m killing myself anyway so I can live with Christ.

Tornadoes?  Blow away!  I serve the One who will both use and calm the storm.

Enemies?  Do your worst!  I will walk in love and forgiveness, and God will make everything right in the end.