On Being a Consumer

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I worked at a bakery chain in college, which was super fun. Discounted food, no pressure job, plenty of entertainment…  One day, this woman came in, wearing rumpled work clothes and a sour expression, and she put in a highly specific order. We’re talking multiple modifications to each item she requested. As it naturally happens, part of the order got lost in translation, and the lady got super mad once she double checked the bag. She requested to talk to the manager and started going on this whole rant about how she’s tired at the end of her workday and all she wants is her soup toppings separate from her soup, etc. Of course, she was so farcical, no one took her seriously.

I remember looking at her thinking that I would never let my long workdays get to me like that. I was full-on Peeta, wanting to still be me regardless… Which brings the story to present-day.

As you may have guessed, I have since become that person. Last week, I went to one of the same stores in that bakery chain (I am totally addicted to the food there), and ordered a bag of crisps along with my meal. When I got home and opened the bag and started munching on one, to my dismay, I found that the crisp was a little soft, like it had been sitting out for a few hours. It was edible but a waste of calories at this point.

In my mind, I was all like, I worked so hard this week, and all I wanted was a bag of crisps that were actually crispy. I just wanted ONE thing. Is that too much to ask? I was more deflated than upset.

So, like a typical Consumer, I called the bakery and spoke to the manager. I was rather apologetic, but I still wanted a replacement as the end result of the conversation. Of course, I got one, and a $5 coupon for the store. (They really shouldn’t reward demanding Consumers, in my opinion. It just incentivizes us).

Then I wondered… when did I become a Consumer? It is too much to ask after a long day of work, my crisps are actually crispy? When did my desire to be a pleasant human being change into my desire to have my needs met to my satisfaction? Is it really okay if I smile and apologize, even if I’m being demanding and even if I’m not getting anyone in trouble? (It was the manager who made up the bag of crisps for me).

I feel like there’s something bigger behind it. If all I want are my crisps to be crispy, and if I feel unfulfilled when they aren’t, I need to set my priorities straight. I need to want bigger things and to be less affected by the little things.

I still went ahead and picked up my goods (even though I felt guilty for being a total sell-out). It got me to thinking, though. We change so much as time goes on, in all these subtle ways. I think it’s never a bad idea to keep an eye on yourself and to remember where you came from and who you wanted to be.

Never be afraid to fall apart because it is an opportunity to rebuild yourself the way you wish you had been all along.

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Ebola and Leaving Things Behind

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Ebola is on the tip of everyone’s tongue right now, especially in Dallas, and it’s driving me insane. I’ve got some friends who are having some pretty major anxiety over it, some who are mildly stressed, and others who just don’t seem to care. Can you guess which category I fall into?

It’s not like Ebola isn’t a terrible thing… It is, and it’s devastating parts of Africa right now. But honestly, most people I know drink out of disposable water bottles and wash their hands obsessively. I don’t even come into regular contact with anyone’s body fluid.

Even if the virus mutates or turns into a pandemic or something, I’m not that stressed. I’ll be one of the first to go, probably right after the very young and very old. (I considered myself lucky to have survived that bad flu season last year).

The real question is, will I be okay with what I left behind? I feel like I yolo pretty well, and I definitely don’t leave anything unsaid. In fact, I should probably keep more things left unsaid. I’m sure my family and close friends would really appreciate that. Dinner conversations can get pretty real.

So if Ebola comes knocking on my door, I’ll make sure to symbolically shake my fist in its face, then sit down and accept my fate. Oh well. I’m just glad I’m not an ER nurse in Dallas right now, because NPR just put an article out saying that “the initial symptoms of Ebola…are the same as other illnesses.” Lucky them.

On Not Being Consumed

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It feels good to be finally out of burnout mode, which lasted almost two years. I’m definitely not in a place where I’m ready to touch the future yet, though. That’s still something I want to leave alone. I may have vague ideas and desires, but I have no actual wish to bring them to fruition.

Once I had a student who got frustrated and said, “In Kindergarten, they tell you that you’re getting ready for elementary school. In first grade, they tell you you’re getting ready for junior high. In junior high, high school. In high school, college. In college, ready for working. Working, then YOU DIE! What is even the point?” It was hard to argue with that…

Similarly, I remember finishing my second degree, and at my graduation party, someone asked me what I was going to do next. I replied that I already had a job in my field. That person replied, “No, I mean after that”. I felt deflated. I don’t even remember who it was, but it doesn’t really matter. That was probably the moment I realized that I didn’t want to live like that again. Why does it always seem like life is about where you’ll end up? You don’t ever really end up anywhere. I had worked so hard, and it had cost me enough just to get here… I deserved a little break from my goals. (Or a long one).

So what next? Who knows? Who cares? (Not me). I am loving experiencing different things, trying new foods, seeing new cities, and just generally lounging around. I think you can be content and still want things, but letting goals consume you or weigh you down takes you straight to disaster. The opposite, however, is found in 1 Timothy 6:6-8 (and a little more after that).

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

I feel like that’s plenty to work on for right now. Except I would like to add that I will be content with the food as long as it’s farm-to-table, and the clothing is super comfortable. I’m probably not supposed to put qualifiers on there, so that just tells you that this is a plenty tall enough order for me right now.

That last arduous season was almost too much. I don’t intend to waste this one and miss out on all its benefits. Like Bill Watterson says,

We’re so busy watching out for what’s just ahead of us that we don’t take time to enjoy where we are.

On Muddling through Church

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I’ve had a few conversations recently about church, and it makes me wonder what trends will change in the next 10-15 years. Most recently, I was talking to my mom about how many of my Bible-believing friends skip out on Sunday mornings (also including me, oftentimes), and that church seems to be for married people. I go to the church I grew up in and feel comfortable and happy there, but the service times and the group options are limited. I’ve never found another place where I’ve been content that also works with my schedule.

I don’t always go Sunday mornings because I work weekends frequently, and going to a 11am service after working till 7am the night before or having to work at 7pm that night is just too much. Or, when I don’t work the weekend, I like to travel or do something different over the weekend. I think there’s a whole underworld of people like me, who are putting in their time or even who live an unconventional lifestyle out of necessity, who can’t fit into the Sunday morning model.

I do like the consistency that Sunday morning church provides, but it isn’t always practical. It brings an order and a focus to my week that I can’t provide on my own, and when times have been difficult, it’s been comforting to have that source of constancy in my life.

Others I know simply opt out of Sunday mornings altogether, and go to weeknight services or even just small groups. One popular weeknight service in particular in my area has young adults from various denominations (or none) and different backgrounds coming from all around the metroplex. Even if many of my evangelical friends don’t regularly attend, they’ve probably been there once or twice. The appeal seems to be rooted in the music, the message, and the home groups that come from the service, but my impression of it wasn’t entirely positive. (However, I realize others are blessed in different ways, and this seems to be a great thing for many people. Just not me.)

I went for about a month after I moved back to my hometown and gave the service a good try. My feelings about the presentation and the format were all mixed, but once I tried out their sample small group, I was instantly turned off. I don’t like mandatory sharing in small groups, especially ones made up of peers. I’ll do it, because I obviously don’t have an issue sharing my feelings over the internet, but I think it leaves room for a lot of foolishness. You have people feeling uncomfortable and pressured into sharing, which isn’t right, and you have other people who are prone to give advice (often poor advice, at that).

The point of a small group is so that people can have community and a place to feel safe. They bring all types of people together to a place of common ground, Jesus, and create a place for people to learn and grow from each other. Small groups bring accountability and counsel to others in need, when necessary.

Sin has a way of twisting good things, though. Sometimes small groups can be the least safe place for people, especially for those who are hurting or those who are searching for truth. They can turn into places of homogeneity, where members pat each other on the back or fail to reach out to others who are different (or even shun them). Small group members can use accountability or counsel to manipulate others (i.e. “I feel like God is telling you” or “It’s important to find out God’s will for you, and I think that it means…”). I like to think that Jesus mourns, or even weeps, when He sees these kinds of spiritual abuses being committed. Okay, getting off that soap box now…

I don’t know how well the small group model will work over the long term, as these groups are only as strong as their leaders. It seems to be a good supplement for my current situation, but I don’t want this half-going Sunday mornings, half-going weeknights thing to stick. Groups have a way of going through different periods of change. Small groups are rarely permanent, with people constantly moving, in transition, going through challenges, etc. I don’t think small groups are a replacement for Sunday mornings or solid teaching, but oftentimes, they function that way. I think it’s important to consider how to make the Church more accessible and comfortable for the people who work every late weekend night at the supermarket or wait tables for the brunch-goers every Sunday morning and afternoon or the single people who just feel plain left-out or like part of the church meat market.

All that to say, church is complicated, and life in the twenties and thirties is inconsistent. I’m at the place where I can bring my baggage to the table at church, but I also don’t have a problem walking away when it’s unsafe or not working. It would be great to be at a place where I were wise enough or self-actualized enough to work out those conflicts, but after a couple years of graveyard shifts and a few more of difficult church experiences, I don’t have the energy or the patience for that. I’m going to go to places that function, whatever that may look like. It may not be consistent, but I’ll keep trying.

I’ll leave you with a quote (Madeleine L’Engle, The Irrational Season). While I might wish the practicality and accessibility of church to change, I don’t want the content of church to be compromised.

We rebel against the impossible. I sense a wish in some professional religion-mongers to make God possible, to make him comprehensible to the naked intellect, domesticate him so that he’s easy to believe in. Every century, the Church makes a fresh attempt to make Christianity acceptable. But an acceptable Christianity is not Christian; a comprehensible God is no more than an idol.

Disclaimer: I am super sleep-deprived and have been sleeping on and off for the past two days plus worked all Saturday night/Sunday morning. While proofreading this, it all sounded like it flowed and made sense, but it most likely is just late-night rambling. Good luck. I’m going back to sleep, and this thing will post in the morning whether it makes sense or not.

On Trying Yoga

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One evening, I was out with friends. The Wobble came on, and my thighs burned as I danced. It was at that moment I realized that I was healthy enough to start getting in shape. My fatigue (at this point) was a consequence of years of inactivity. So later that evening, when my friend asked if I would try a yoga class with her, I was all ears.

Before when I was sick, I spent a lot of time either saying no or saying yes and then backing out later. I’m sure everyone else felt like I was missing out on so many things, but I never felt that way. When you don’t feel well, it’s hard to think about much more than how you will accomplish your short term goals (take a shower, run errands, prepare food, do work/homework, etc) and hope to attempt a long term goal (finish school or a large work project). There’s so little time to worry about the extraneous things, like how to enjoy the present, who to connect with, what new things to try.

Naturally, after going so long without even thinking of trying anything new (or thinking it possible), I found myself saying yes to so many things. Yes to mussels, to a music concert, to a late night with a friend, to an evening outside, and… to yoga!

Too many months of lying in bed or on the sofa trying to conserve my energy for the things I had to do had caught up with me. Activity was highly strenuous for me, not because I didn’t feel well, but because I wasn’t used to it. A short walk carrying my groceries from the car to the apartment would wear me out, and I did very little when I went to the gym. However, when a friend invited me to go to a new yoga studio with her, I said yes.

My concept of yoga was pretty limited, thinking it consisted of a lot of fancy twists and some spiritual mumbo jumbo, but I was pleasantly surprised when I took my first class. The instructor was patient and down-to-earth, frequently repeating phrases like

“Stay on your mat. Don’t think about what everyone else is doing.”

“Both sides of your body will work differently. One may be able to do more than the other today.”

“Inhale peace. Exhale tension.”

“There should never be pain in your practice. There is a difference between a challenge and a stretch and pain.”

…And you get the idea. I was never the kind of person who slows down, even when limitations were put on me physically. Whatever I was able to do, mentally, physically, I pushed myself further. (Sometimes it wasn’t much, but I always found my limits and tried to work past them). I know that it caused my poor health to become even poorer, and that it made many of my relationships fall by the wayside. I frequently overscheduled myself, and always compared my body to other people’s bodies, both in appearance and capability. Yoga helped me find the moment.

To be successful in your practice, you have to shut out the worries and stresses of the day, whether the current one or the previous ones. Your breathing won’t match with each pose, and you will not successfully gain the benefit from each pose. Learning the breathing takes disciplined practice over time, and you certainly don’t get better overnight. I still can’t always do it well.

Another piece of yoga that is still hard for me to master, (but I’ve seen marked improvement in), is not being competitive, even with myself. I want to be the best at it; I would love to be able to sustain a headstand for a minute or lift myself off the floor in a complicated twist. The instructor in class would frequently say, “There is no end goal in yoga”. Instead, I worked on giving each pose my full strength, modifying it, as was frequently necessary, and breathing through it.

Learning how to stay on my mat also helped me significantly with body image. Even when I looked my best in high school, I never felt it. Now, seventy pounds heavier, pale from staying inside, weak from lack of exercise, I was starting to feel the best internally that I had ever felt. I will probably never quite recognize myself again, but would I want to? I might never be the size for a magazine cover, but I know that I will not look at others on their mats with quite the same envy as before. What I have gained from this long battle is a deep appreciation for the time and energy that I have.

At the end of every practice, the teacher would say, “Thank your body for its practice today”, but I never did that. My body had betrayed me repeatedly, promising me strength and vitality, then taking it away. Even if I woke up in the morning and didn’t feel pain or fatigue, it would catch up to me by lunch or mid afternoon. I knew that this healing, whether temporary or permanent, was a gift from God, one that wasn’t meant to be squandered. At the end of every practice, I instead said a prayer, thanking God for the strength He had given me today, and asking for strength again tomorrow.