Saturday, October 27, 2012

I hope

Carly's Fiorina's statement (at the Leadership Summit) "There is a gift in everything.... We just need to see it" touched something in me.

I'd just met with my pastor's wife, Edith, for coffee the week before, and she'd commented (as she often does) about how much more positive I am than I used to be. (Sometimes I wish she didn't have such a good memory.) While I know I made a conscious choice in my 30th year to become the "New Ange" - confident, hopeful, assertive - looking back on the years Edith was referring to, I still don't see the "gift."

I told her, "What I did poorly in those 'negative' years, no one else could have done well. And if I were back in that situation right now: without any family income or sense of career direction; without a diagnosis, medication, or respite; with no social workers, psychologists, teachers, or support groups; without our health or connections, I would not be sounding as positive as I am right now!"

So is it about attitude, or is it circumstance? I empathize with those who don't have work because it's really hard to get out of that hole. Unemployment saps your confidence, and lack of funds means all those mental health-restoring things like dinner dates, therapy sessions, babysitters, maid service, a sense of security, and chocolate cheesecake are out of reach.

And I empathize for those without supports because no one is meant to do it alone. Where does attitude come in? I credit my positivity experiment with giving me the guts to find the support I needed.
To hope that it existed. To believe that I deserved it. 

The Summit reminded me of my God lists. I haven't written one in a long time.  (Click here to see my "God list" when we were unemployed.)

A God list is a wish list for God. Edith got me started on them by telling me to write one about the house I wanted someday, back when we were students with a baby and no income living in a little third-story walk-up. A God list is like praying, but instead of asking for the same things over and over, I write them down and put the list away for 6 months or a year. If I do start obsessing over something I want, I remind myself I've left it with God.

Here's the God list I started writing at the Summit:

For my house: a kitchen reno started in one year (This is by far my biggest ask, feels impossible right now)
For my writing: attending the Banff Wired Writing School or Sage Hill Poetry Colloquium in the next year, more opportunities to workshop and perform my work 
For G: growing empathy, more interest in the Bible, and better table manners
For K: the ability to express how he's feeling and what he needs in words
For T: a new website for his photography business Anthony Mark Photography, more clients, another wedding
For marriage: finding an overnight respite worker

In the past, I've been surprised when I pulled my list out a year later to discover how many of the things I have. I think it's a combination of me trusting God, God desiring to give me good things, and me being intentional about doing whatever I can to reach my goals, keeping my eyes wide open for opportunities.

It may sound presumptuous to ask God for something like a kitchen, but I'm going with 1 Peter 5:7 "Casting all your cares on him for he cares for you." It doesn't say "passive-aggressively hint at your cares," or "give him a peek at your cares," it says "cast": toss, throw, dump, chuck, drop the load of them. 

I hope I don't ever have to go back to being without an income and all the support services we've come to rely on. If I do, it would be nice to see the gift. I know I'd still have my (longer) God lists. And I hope I'd still have the resolve that got me where I am now.  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

If I had a time machine

Leaders are dissatisfied with the way things are.

I heard this from several speakers over the past couple days at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit, (an annual, international video-cast conference put together by a Chicago church on how to effectively lead in churches, charities, and businesses).

Well, what I felt dissatisfied with was the Summit. Because it was too good. Too good to keep from the people who haven't heard it. I'm dissatisfied with church leaders preaching to other church leaders about how life-giving it is to be part of the church.

Speakers, including Condoleezza Rice, Me to We Co-CEO Marc Kielburger, bestselling author John Ortberg, and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, shared inspirational insights on organizational health, personal integrity, innovation, discipline, energy management, succession planning, and communication. And many of them talked about how Jesus and the church make a difference in the world and in their lives. But most of the audience was pastors who already know that.

Not people like the local poet, whose line kept going through my head: "If I had a time machine"...(I'm paraphrasing here), I'd go back to Jesus and tell him the atrocities his followers will commit in his name: the crusades, country music; and then I'd go back a few more years and give Mary some "immaculate contraception."

Kudos on the humour and wordplay, but ouch on the pain behind it. I can only imagine how the poet has been hurt by the church. Perhaps, like people I know, he's been bullied, smeared, rejected. Or, like me, he's sought support from a church and received condescending advice, trite answers, and judgments instead. Perhaps without any personal contact, he's been offended by Christians in the headlines. I ached for him, but I also felt like he'd just badmouthed my best friend.

My church of the past 14 years, Crossroads MB, has been the family that prayed when I thought I'd lost my baby, didn't judge me when my kids screamed and ran during the service, listened to my painful stories of diagnoses, encouraged me to follow my dream of writing, and gave me opportunities to teach and sing (even though I wasn't always that good).

At the conference, John Ortberg talked about the contributions Jesus' followers have made: most of our hospitals, universities, orphanages, soup kitchens, and relief missions were started by Christians because they took seriously Jesus' teaching that everyone (including women) should learn, that sick and disabled people were to be fed and cared for (not drowned as in Roman "civilization"), and that all races should work together equally despite differences. Many cultures have alphabets and literacy today only because of the dedicated work of Bible translators. Take away the church, and we wouldn't have the Red Cross, World Vision, Compassion, YMCA, Habitat for Humanity, MCC, MEDA, Mennonite Disaster Service, Canadian FoodGrains Bank, or the Salvation Army.   

And then there's the more personal side to the church's care. Former H-P CEO Carly Fiorina said when a room full of thousands of people prayed for her after she spoke at the 2007 Summit, she felt "elevated" and as she went on to endure aggressive cancer, treatments, and her daughter's death, the "sweet peace" from that moment never left her.

The church has its class bullies, but we don't shut down the educational system because of the bad teachers and the big kids in the back of history's bus; why write off the church?

So, if I had a time machine (and a lot more clout), I'd go back to the Summit, and at least for half the day, kick out half the pastors and invite in the poets (and their nonliterary, cynical cousins), the women hanging out in the front of the Elmwood apartments across the street, the cartoonists with the stinging satires of the church, and the people who pass them around on Facebook, and asked them what they thought of the speakers' stories.

Instead of asking church leaders how we can become better, I'd ask the poets how the church had hurt them. And how we could elevate them with prayer.

On second thought, I'd move the Summit from the cramped church to a convention centre so the pastors and everyone else could fit, so the people who will never enter a church building would come because when people say, "The church is the hope of the world," they don't mean the building or the organization.

As I was complaining about all this to my pastor at a session break, a man came up to us, and asked my pastor why he was at the conference. He knew Marv from Toastmasters, but he had no idea he was a pastor. (Marv's so involved in community groups outside church and so approachable, this didn't surprise me, and it made me extra proud.) I asked the gentleman why he was here, and he answered, "If my wife hadn't brought me to this conference last year, I wouldn't have come back to the church." It was uncanny the way I was forced to eat my words as soon as they came out of my mouth. Not everyone there had heard it all before. But it confirmed my conviction that if more disgruntled-with-church people came, it could change their minds.  

But if I had a time machine, I wouldn't go back and undo the moments people were hurt, however much that would pain me. Because the church needs to learn from those mistakes. And (like Carly Fiorina says), in everything (even pain) there is a gift. Often it's a story.

If I had a time machine, I'd go back and watch everybody's stories unfold. And, however dissatisfied I am with what life throws them, I wouldn't give up before their happy ending.