Sunday, October 16, 2011

busted for young life

Last week I was visiting some family and friends in Virginia (shout out). Candace took me to her Young Life leader meeting on Friday night and during that time her area staff person said this: "There are only two reasons why anyone should be a Young Life leader."

Uh oh, I thought. I'm going to be so busted.

Most of the time I feel like I am a pretty bad leader. Next to planning and leader meetings and showing up to things we plan, I give it almost no time (read: contact work). High school girls scare the crap out of me and I pretty much think the boys are butt heads. I meet a kid one week and the next week I either don't recognize her face or remember her name and I think, man I am such a jerk.  Most of the time I'm talking with a high school kid I feel like I say all the wrong things and that I can't think of enough things to say or questions to ask so the proverbial crickets start chirping. I'm not naturally enthusiastic or extroverted and I'm really only funny on accident.

So, yeah, when this fit-the-bill Young Life staff person said there were only two reasons a person should be a Young Life leader, I thought I was going to have to turn myself in and hand over my volunteer leader resignation.

"Number one," he said, "you believe in the Mission."

Oh, I do. I really do.

I definitely believe in the mission of introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith. It's about this:
Praying for young people.
Going where kids are.
Building personal relationships with them.
Earning the right to be heard.
Providing experiences that are fun, adventurous and life-changing.
Sharing our lives and the Good News of Jesus with them.
Inviting them to personally respond to this Good News.
Loving them regardless of their response.
Nurturing kids so they might grow in their love for Christ and the knowledge of God's Word and become people who can share their faith with others.
Helping young people develop the skills, assets and attitudes to reach their full God-given potential.
Encouraging kids to live connected to the Body of Christ by being an active member of a local church.
Working with a team of like-minded individuals (volunteer leaders, committee members, donors and staff).

The mission of Young Life more closely resembles the mission of Jesus than any other I have ever experienced. It's about being a friend of sinners and inviting them to join you in the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven.

"Number two," he said, "You feel called."

Oh, I do feel called.

Being called by God is a funny, almost inexplicable thing. I imagine it probably looks different for everybody, but I also imagine that it is unmistakable for everybody. Maybe some people hear an audible voice of God, but that's never happened to me or a lot of people I know. The only way I can think to describe it is compulsion. Being internally compelled, with or without reason. The utter feeling that if I were to neglect do something, it would be a betrayal. All this, with the all-important catch that whatever it is must not contradict the Word of God, seems to be the best way I can think to describe a calling. And that's how I currently feel about being a Young Life leader.

If I try to strictly reason with myself about it, there is no way I should be a leader. I don't really have the time or want on most days to do the work involved. I'm not super cool and I feel like a failure a lot. I am much more gifted to be on Property staff (which I am) or on Committee because I prefer to be behind-the-scenes support. But every time I think it might worthwhile to step down from this role, I think that's impossible. I can't. That would be a betrayal. The fact of the matter is that I feel a responsibility to do this, at least for now. I believe that God wants Young Life to be here in the valley and I feel that to not do this would be to sacrifice the gift because I have been trained, I have experience and because God historically prefers to use people who are not super cool and who seem to be failures.

And then there are the kids.

Yes, in theory I believe in supporting high school kids. But once I meet them and know them by name I am smitten. They scare me like crazy but that's only because I want to be their friend and yet feel so unworthy. I see some of the crap they go through and I want them to know it will be alright and that they are loved. I walk away from some conversations with them and feel like the biggest dork, but then the next week they come up to me with a big smile and a hug and I am shocked and awed. That feels like a God thing.

So last week I did find myself busted, but in a different way than I thought I would be. I expected to be exposed (at least to myself) for being a fraud of a Young Life leader but found myself instead confident that this is the right thing for me, at least here and now. Busted were my original notions of what a Young Life leader should be.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

five minute rule

Today I was at Wal Mart, which is often a pretty terrible time because of the crowds and rudeness and florescent lights, and I had a really good experience.  I was in one of the slow checkout lanes behind this pretty, skinny, mom of five with a baby in her arms. It was probably way faster than the express checkout because I tend to think the crowds forget about the lanes in the middle. Of course, I didn't qualify for the express checkout anyway because I technically had a crap ton of stuff.  So I had unloaded almost all of my items onto the conveyor belt and the nice checkout girl, Amanda, had already scanned a few things when I told her that I would be making two purchases and one of them was tax exempt. She stopped and informed me that not only would she have to start over, but that I would need to go to customer service to get some sort of special card before she could start again.  Amanda was so nice and I was mortified.  I was panicked at the thought of the next person coming up behind me at any moment and rolling their eyes at the hold up I was causing.  Then Amanda turned off her light-- that one that lets you know half-way across the store that the lane is open-- gave me step by step instructions for what I was supposed to do, said she would wait for me and smiled the whole time.
I got everything taken care of and hauled my heavy cart out to the parking lot when a man came running out after me and asked if I had forgotten my paint. At first I didn't know what he was talking about because it had been so long since I loaded the conveyor belt, but then I remembered my gallon of paint that didn't quite fit as the mom-of-five was finishing up her purchase. Ooooh, I'll have to go back. I unloaded the mound of stuff into my trunk, hurried back into the store and Amanda was still there, waiting with my gallon of paint even though she was supposed to take a break.  She checked me out and I didn't have to wait a second.
Having worked in the service industry a lot I understand how important it is to receive praise for a job well done.  So just a few minutes after I left the store, while on my way home, I grabbed my receipt, where one can always find the number to the store, and dialed. A lady answered and I said I would like to leave a comment about an employee. She got a manager on the phone and I said:
"I just left the store a few minutes ago and I want to let you know that I had a really positive experience.  Amanda checked me out--line 11, I'm pretty sure-- and she was so patient and friendly, even though I had a ton of stuff and I had to go run to customer service in the middle of checkout.  She even had someone run after me when I had left something on her line.  I just want her to get credit for doing a good job."
The manager responded with so much gratitude that someone would actually call to say something positive. She explained that they get so many negative calls and that it is just as important to hear good things, too.
I felt so good about this whole thing and it got me thinking.  It was such a small thing to do. So small that I might easily have gotten home and gotten busy and neglected to do it and no one would have been the wiser... but then I would have missed a big opportunity to make a positive difference in someone's day.  It was also such a small thing to do that it took less than five minutes.  Three minutes and twenty-nine seconds, to be exact.
I tend to believe that if something is on my mind and it takes less than five minutes, I should just do it.  This is my five minute rule.  I cannot tell you how much more productive my life is with this rule than without.  And I'm not claiming to be a proactive powerhouse, here. Really, I just try to do the best I can and go to sleep at night feeling the least amount of guilt as possible at the thought of the things I should have done.  Usually it's just small things or small starts to big projects, but I tend to think it's the small things in life that mean the most. And that's what the five minute rule is all about: making a big difference, three minutes and twenty-nine seconds at a time.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

on purpose

I came to believe a few weeks ago that if something affects us deeply, then it must be on purpose.  This hit me when something apparently tragic happened to my husband's Remote Control airplane, which honestly didn't bother me at all except that it bothered him.  Then the next day he felt like God had revealed something immense to him. Through a toy plane.  

Thus my theory was born, and all that is to say that I have a kitty who has been MIA for three weeks and I am heartbroken at this point.  There are millions of people in this world who hate cats and would wish the most horrible fate on all of them.  But I love my animals like they are family.  I almost feel like I am more myself because they are in my life.  I feel like they are little, precious gifts given to me by God himself to care for and love, even though they give me nothing but trouble and joy.  So, yeah, this thing that is going on, which haunts me every time I walk into my house and know Max is not home, is important to me.  I cannot help but wonder at what is going on and what I am supposed to do with it.  On a grand, heart-level scale.  What is the purpose?  I don't even know how to pray or what to believe because God is throwing me for a loop. On one hand it's just a cat-- a pet-- and on the other hand it is my little boy.  Sometimes he uses these things that hardly seem epic to most people, to really pierce one person and I think it is because he knows us so well. At least I am convinced it is no accident. Max might very well show up one of these days or hours and waltz in like, "hey, what's for dinner," and all of this will fade, or he might from now on be little more than one of those gloriously wasteful things. But for now God has me in choke hold of emotion and theology because he has taken hostage of a piece of my heart.  He definitely has my attention.  Maybe that's the point?  I don't question who God is or that He is good, but I wonder at why he is messing with this.  What am I supposed to know that I couldn't know any other way?  What's coming that I needed this to prepare me?  What am I supposed to do with this?  I'd rather have the ending spoiled so I could go on feeling normal.  But that cannot be the point.  Normal is not an option today. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Are You Ready For Some Footballs?

Foot-cake-balls, that is.  

It was at a birthday party two years ago celebrating my friend Liz and me that I first tasted the delicious wonder that is the cake ball (thanks, Susan!).  It tastes like cake but it is also ridiculously moist and (better yet) covered in chocolate.  

I have to work at the restaurant this year during the Super Bowl, but my husband gets to go to a party so when I was at the grocery store the other day thinking about what treat to pick up for him to take, I found myself in front of the baking chocolate and it hit me: foot-cake-balls!  It might be the greatest Super Bowl treat since Doritos.  Or the cutest, at least.  

There's still time if you want to try the recipe for your own party:

First, bake a cake according to the box directions (and try to keep an eye on your dog to avoid  a mishap like the one witnessed by the bottom left portion of this cake).
Next, I cut the cake into squares because I thought it would make it easier to put in the mixing bowl (which you will do while the cake is still a bit warm).
Since I knew I was going to use milk chocolate for the shell, I narrowed my cake choices down to chocolate fudge and yellow cake, ultimately going with chocolate chocolate because, well, mmmmm.
I left the edge of the cake because it gets a little crusty in the oven and crusties in cake balls are not delicious kinds of surprises (and I had to have something to taste-test).
Mix the cake with one container of frosting.  In hindsight I would have used less than a whole container but more than half, to preserve more of the cake flavor while still making optimal moisture.
I used chocolate fudge to go with my theme of chocolate and chocolate.  I used the hand-me-down mixer I got for Christmas from my brother and sister-in-law and it worked like a dream!  Grown up hand-me-downs are so much better than when I was a kid and all I got was old snow suits, bikes with banana seats and training bras.  
Cake + frosting + Kitchen Aid =  this delicious play-dough type mixture, which you can form into balls of all shapes and sizes, as seen below:
Once the balls are formed, put them in the freezer for a couple hours or over night
When you're ready, melt your baking chocolate or almond bark, or whatever you like to use, according to the package directions.  I melted mine in a mixing bowl over a saucepan with shallow boiling water because it keeps its melted state as long as you need.  
Use a toothpick to dip your frozen cake balls into the melted chocolate (this is why it is important for them to be frozen, otherwise they will fall right off the toothpick and be very difficult to manipulate).
I found it helpful just to leave the cake ball on the toothpick until the chocolate hardened and go back to refill the hole it left later.  
For the laces you'll want white icing.
You can buy little decorating icing packs at the store but I'm too cheap for that so I just made some with stuff I had at home: 1 egg white, 1 1/3 c. powdered sugar and less than a teaspoon of vanilla extract (admittedly, I didn't measure it).  Just mix the ingredients in a bowl with a whisk and pour it into a small zip-lock bag and cut off a little piece of the corner for decorating.  

If the icing is too thin, just keep adding powdered sugar until you think it will be easy to control (I learned that nifty trick during the gingerbread making competition at my husband's parent's house at Christmas time, where they refer to icing only as "glue," or "paint.")

And now we have foot-cake-balls!

Crunchy chocolate shell with moist chocolate fudge on the inside.  So delicious! (Absolutely not nutritious but, hey, it's a party).

Friday, February 4, 2011

Garment Shops and Restaurants

I have been reading this book* lately about what it is exactly that makes successful people, successful.  The other day I was reading the stories of some successful clothing manufacturers from the early 20th century.  The author explained at a certain point the critical nature of being in that business in New York City in that particular generation as opposed to having the kind of job where you just woke up and went to work for someone else every day for thirty years without ever "learning market research and manufacturing and how to navigate the popular culture and how to negotiate with the Yankees who ran the world."  Jobs as day laborers and domestics and construction workers, or working in the fields of the big fruit and vegetable growers.  Because at that time people were purchasing clothes at an alarming rate, mostly for the first time since they had previously been accustomed to making their own at home or paying high prices for tailor-made clothes, and the fashion industry was making its first big boom in the United States thanks to the industrial revolution and Jewish immigrants from Western Europe who could do the work well and cheap.

Being a garment worker in that time and place was not more glamorous than construction or day labor jobs by any means, "but as a garment worker you were closer to the center of the industry.  If you are working in a field in California, you have no clue what's happening to the produce when it gets on the truck.  If you are working in a garment shop, your wages are low, and your conditions are terrible, and your hours are long, but you can see exactly what successful people are doing, and you can see how you can set up your own job."

Hang on tight if you have no idea where I am heading with all this.

Last time I posted I said I was going to tell our story and I think this is as good enough place to start as any: our seemingly menial jobs that could turn out to be the steppingstone to something huge.

I have a college degree from a decent four year University and even some graduate school work under my belt, but since I graduated with the expensive piece of paper that qualified me as a professional, the only thing I have really done professionally is wait tables.  My dad thought I was flushing my degree down the toilet, of course, and I was embarrassed about that for a long time.  I was constantly trying to find that something I could tell people I was moving on to so they wouldn't think this was all there was to me.  I really cared how people perceived me.  Then I stopped caring so much and my dad gave up hope that I would ever do anything with my degree and I ended up meeting some really great people along the way.  Really, I just discovered that this job gave me the things that the author of my book thinks are the keys to finding one's work fulfilling: complexity, autonomy and a correlation between hard work and reward.  I interact with hundreds of people in a given week and learn and refine relational skills, hospitality and even cooking.  The better I am at my job the more money I make and the schedule of a server is one of the most flexible there is outside of working for yourself.  Restaurants are not just places where people go to nourish themselves, they are where people celebrate significant life events and conduct matters of business, and I get to be a part of that.  Perhaps one of the most interesting and fateful parts of my job is who I meet.  The last place I worked I had the privilege of winning the favor of a couple of business men who became regulars, then friends, then a critical part of helping my husband and me get this church house.  When I started working at this restaurant in our small town, within the first week I was serving lunch to almost every member of the Chamber of Commerce.  "There is a lot of power in this room," the restaurant owner said.  My point is that I feel like I am at the center of the garment industry in the early 20th century.

Then there is my husband.  He went to a reputable two year technical college and worked for an auto dealership for a while before opening his own small automotive repair shop.  Auto mechanics are not exactly white collared, but they fix the cars of the people wearing suits and they have to know a fair amount about business and they have to deal with a lot of automotive oil.  I'll talk more later about how it all came to be, but the oil business is full of potential and we never would have cracked the industry if not for my guy who fixed cars for a living.

I don't even know how all of this will play into our future-- the people we meet even haphazardly, and the skills and knowledge we acquire-- but I believe it's not hurting.

*the book is "Outliers," by Malcolm Gladwell

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Stay Tuned

I think that because this is my own life, I forget how interesting it is sometimes.  Or unique.  And not just in the way that everybody's life is unique because nobody's life is the same as any one else's.  I mean unique in the way that we live in an old church, for example, which is something that very few people do.  Sometimes I will explain to a new acquaintance, rather matter-of-factly, who I am and what my husband and I do for a living and how we met and where we live-- because those are the kinds of things you talk about with new people you meet at a party-- and I will get in return these looks of, seriously?  that is incredible.  And I have to remind myself that the combination of things and circumstances that make us us, in the here and now, are very unique.  And all that makes me think that I really should tell my story.

Don't get me wrong.  I don't think my life is superior to my neighbor's or that my story is much more interesting-- in fact, like I said to start, my story seems almost uninteresting to me because it is just my life--  I'd much rather be regaled with the stories of other people (maybe that's why I so love eavesdropping on complete strangers at coffee shops?) because the details are often so exotic to me or their characters seem so much more brave than I am, or something.  I think the point is that the real life stories of real people are the most interesting because they seem to be even stranger than fiction.  Not to mention inspiring because, God, if it could happen for them, it could happen for me.  And when it comes to my story, I know that I could have never come up with this script in a million years.   Even though it seems so very "of course," sometimes, it is also full of "ah ha" moments and I am constantly sitting on the proverbial edge of my seat wondering what will happen next or how it will end because, truly, you can't make this stuff up.

So, stay tuned.