Hope, by definition, lies in the future. It is a future-oriented phenomenon. I don’t mean hope the way I hear it commonly used–the “I wish this would happen” kind of connotation. No, I mean the kind of hope that requires straining at the muscles of faith and surrender because we reach for it all day every day. The kind of hope that requires superorganic perseverance. That hope.

Some of us often feel as if that hope eludes us. Perhaps not constantly, it just isn’t present as much as we want it to be. It’s like the flitting bioluminescence of fireflies, twinkling on a moonless night. I have met so many people for whom it seems that just doesn’t happen–sturdy souls whose light of hope shines like an eternal beacon, often lighting the way for others by inspiration. Then there are those of us whose struggle in life is maintaining hope, but maybe we aren’t supposed to. Maybe, for those of us who are prone to losing sight of hope, our job is simply to surrender to One who is the author of hope. That fluttering emotional nature is our thorn and our battle.

Unlike hope, which looks to the future, the impulsive cannot see beyond the present. The pain or joy or excitement or despair of the moment overrides good logic and reason. Impulsivity is the bedfellow of a dangerous kind of amnesia. This amnesia buries the good and bad of the past, the lessons learned and the “stones from the Jordan” in a sticky, black mud.  I wonder if that is what it was like for him in those last days or moments. I wonder if hope was obscured in that black mud. If the pain of those moments right before he made the decision was so blinding that he forgot the evening surrounded by joy and fun with his family and couldn’t see ahead to the hope of a new day with new mercy and promise. Was there was no looking forward to another day surrounded by the laughter and love of family or friends?

Perhaps the exhaustion of one more moment and the pain and torment inside his mind was overwhelming. My guess is that it was. In any case his impulse, an impulse he acted on, was to make the pain stop in the only way he could see available to him at the time. His faith, built on so many battles won in the past, and the light of hope for the future was literally pulverized by a compulsive decision to strategically place a lead projectile into his own body. Pain, overwhelming pain perhaps stoked by some dangerously selective negative memories, was what I imagine he felt in those last moments. Then it was over. For him.

By his words I think his father believes Matthew is with Jesus, and I do too. Doubtless he will be judged by humanity, and likely most harshly by those of us who are specifically admonished not to as part of our Faith. Some will call him coward and some will call him evidence of no god. In the end it doesn’t really matter how we judge him because there is only One who has that right.

He was my brother. I never met him, but he was my brother in Christ and in this great struggle, our struggle, and I am sad to hear of his passing. I trust, though, that the Author of Hope will use even this to cultivate the promise of hope in the lives of others. Redemption is, after all, a reworking of the wasted, broken, used-up and awry into something new. Hope in this tragedy is waiting expectantly to see how the Great Redeemer will use even Matthew Warren’s pain to heal others.

I look forward…

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I realized something important about myself tonight–and I do mean really important. I already knew about it, I mean I had knowledge of it but I really didn’t “get it” until tonight. I was struggling with that theoretical chasm between the human head and that place in your gut where you really understand something. The realization is something quite simple: I am doing a p!$$-poor job of self-care. Really poor. What’s is perhaps more important is the event in which I came to understand how pervasive this is in my life.

Let me paint a little portrait of my self-neglect, starting with my physical environment: There is a small wire basket hanging from my bedroom wall just inside my door, I use it as my “inbox” for mail and other items. It is typically full but right now weeks-old mail, most with the seal firmly intact, is spilling from every angle of this basket. It’s an eyesore and more. I lost sixty pounds–then I gained five back over the holidays (cheese, and chocolate and pie, oh my) and my workouts have gone from daily to 2-3 times per week, never mind the physical benefits though, I process the events of my life best during workouts. I am an auditory-kinesthetic learner and my workouts are part of what keeps me sane. Most days of the week my hair hangs in ragged waves (even more than usual), some of which spring forth erratically and uneven around my ever-present sunglass headband. When I actually do catch a glance of myself in the mirror–usually during a mid-morning restroom break, and the first time of the day I’ve stopped to examine myself– I find that I resemble and owl with some sort of neurological disorder. My only action is to straighten the sunglasses. The rest of the week my hair up in a half bun-ponytail complex that has become my go-to look for ‘presentable.’ The messy-sexy look isn’t so hot when you’re actually exhausted. In any case, I now have a semi-weekly ritual of de-matting my hair that involves pulling or cutting out curls-gone-rasta, some of which I am afraid I might need to start feeding, watering and housing. I do brush my teeth twice a day and I floss most days of the week, however even this has suffered: there is a two minute timer on my toothbrush that hasn’t been heard in weeks. Sometime soon the uni-brow will be complete. The list goes on…

What is amazing is that none of these things, even though I’ve been painfully aware of them for weeks, was enough to wake me wake up to the reality. Sigh. Some might think the event that turned my deepest soul on to the truth is a bit vain, but I suspect most people, especially women, will understand why.

This very evening I was relaxing as best as I could in a hot bath. Low, warm light gently filled the bathroom and the hot water, infused with Dead Sea mineral salts, penetrated my tired muscles and wrapped my joints in relief. Boughs of lavender-scented mist wafted around me and saturated my soul with a comforting sense of peace and slowness. I have become thinner and so I took the time to feel the luxury of extra room in the tub. Bending my knees to my chest to stretch my back, I then slowly set my feet on the tile wall just above the tub. I think I saw it before I believed it–the same way someone might see a pink giraffe on their lawn from the window and pass by, returning to the window seconds later when the mind had caught up with itself. I stared at my legs, then stared harder. A kind of horror began to creep over me as my weary mind strained at trying to remember. “Um…when.” “When was the last time? When, Jessica?!?” My brow furrowed. “Christmas? Christmas! No. Yes.” Christmas–December 25th–my morning shower before getting dressed and fed and to the airport to come back to SoCAl was the last time I could remember shaving my legs. I remember intending on shaving them, but then remembered that I traded shaving time for extra sleep or a hot breakfast. Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know for sure.

I felt my jaw slack and my eyes narrow as I glanced up and down my legs. But were they really my legs?!? What lay before me was most reminiscent of a prettied-up ape. A female lowland gorilla with Christmas-red toenails, polish chipped from daily life in the jungle. Yes, that was it, some evil scientist had snuck in at night and conducted a sinister experiment. Somewhere in the world in a tall female gorilla with amazing legs and a beautiful pedicure…and I have her legs!

No. They were really my legs. I looked wistfully at the hairy poles that were my legs, at my sand-paper feet with a month-old pedicure at their very tips, and I wished they were pretty. ‘Oh well, you know about it now, so shave them.’ I wondered to myself as I dragged the razor against my legs–felling the hairs more than shaving them–‘how did I let it go this long?’ The knowledge of my lack of self care grew then: I am always on that edge, never really having much margin into good, sufficient self-care, and I suffer for it. The second my life gets even a little chaotic my body and my well-being suffer. This, friends, is NOT abundant life. I am not saying that a weekly pedicure is what God wants for me, but I know that taking care of myself in a way that makes me feel confident and promotes my health is.

As I ran my hands along my newly-smoothed legs I felt sane and feminine. I love the way my legs feel when they are newly shaved, and I didn’t have memory of that for over a week. I smiled and felt a little proud of myself. Then it really hit me: “I am more than this and I want more for my life than this.” That’s what that little voice inside of me said. Let’s see how long it takes for that to make the journey across the mind-gut chasm. Hopefully the last lesson paved a good trail…

There are times in my life when I feel very brave and big. Today is not one of those days, though I have in actually made some very adult decisions and acted in very adult ways recently. It’s hard being an adult sometimes…okay right now I feel like it’s hard most of the time.

The last few months have been a kind of roller coaster. I have provision for my basic financial and living needs, a job I love and wonderful, amazing people in my life. I am blessed beyond belief! But the road is uphill and narrow. I have made hard decisions and choices not to do things that I wanted to do because I knew they were poor choices and would hurt myself and others. My life is SO not where I wanted it to be by the time I was 32. I struggle with worrying about the future–how things will “pan out” for me financially once my schools loans are out of deferment and what am I going to do about benefits and rebuilding my savings and…oh the list goes on.

Then there are my core pathologies:

I hate making mistakes, I am afraid of failure and I want everyone to be happy with me and like me. But here’s the thing: The reality of life is that everyone makes mistakes, one of the best indicators of success is how well a person handles failure and no one can “make” everyone happy (we simply don’t have that kind of power–no one can really control what others think and do, at least not without the other person’s permission). So, now what?

I have to make hard decisions: A decision to keep going after I make a mistake and not feel like it’s the end of the world and that I am completely incompetent. Decisions that may not please others or that they might choose to take offense over, but that are the right decisions for me and the situations. Oh, and then there is the ever-looming decision to get over the failures of my past and even some more recent ones. I’ve often said I need hiking boots to get to the top of my failures and broken dreams. That might be true, I don’t really know, but what I do know is that I have the wisdom of those experience beneath me–the mountain holding me up–and the view is fantastic from up here.

So, “vorwarts?”

The amazing thing is that, though I feel very small and weak, I have an enormous amount of drive to move forward and that is in large part due to God’s encouragement and the cheerleaders urging me on. I have a slough of people involved in my life who want to see me succeed and are standing with me. I can actually feel their love and support–they are part of that drive and the the next handhold I reach for.

There is one other thing that moves me along and is helping me not shatter into a million little pieces. It’s best summarized in this prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time. Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace. Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that You will make all thing right if I surrender to your will. So that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with you forever in the next. Amen” Even now a friend is encouraging me in this, and it’s just what I need–perfect for today and this moment. So, yes, I am small, but that is okay when you’re the daughter of a very big king. Onward…

I’ve struggled with something for the last month or two. Actually, it is something I’ve struggled with every Christmas Season for the past few years: Inevitably, sometime during Christmas I will hear or read some complaint about how Xmas is not the same as CHRISTmas and that Xmas is an attempt at secularizing Christmas.

I really don’t care about this argument one way or the other…really. What does bother me is that THIS is what we argue about. THIS is what we are up in arms over and are willing to protest about. Folks, 7.6 million children under the age of five died in 2010 and most of those were preventable. Today at least one woman has died in childbirth and has left several other children with no one, NO ONE, to care for them. Somewhere in America there are children being used for their labor, including sexual labor. …and THIS is one of the most talked about issues at Christmas?

I’m sorry if it’s a bit of a downer to some of you during the holiday, but in my opinion, if we REALLY want to put Christ back into CHRISTmas, maybe we should focus on some radical things.

I have so much more to say, but I just don’t think they are wise to say yet, so i’ll hold off on that for a while. For now, one thing I’ve been trying to get more involved with at Christmas is Advent Conspiracy (http://www.adventconspiracy.org/). Something else i suggest is World Vision’s Gift Catalog.

Maybe, more on this later.

Start Here!: It’s All About Feeling Valued

  • At their core, these lessons are about making sure your people feel valued.
  • More specifically, it is ensuring they are valued how and for the things they want to be valued for, which is mostly who they are.
  • There are lots of ways to do this, but you MUST start with getting to know your people–who they are, what there strengths are and what their values are. This takes less time than you think and CAN be part of efficient management.
  • For example, an employee may not be bothered by not getting enough hours or even benefits because of “budget crunching”, but may feel immensely devalued by not having their work needs met–including a space of their own. Think of it as a justice issue: An employee might muse “We are all affected by budget crunches and I am okay with not getting a raise this quarter, but I have not have adequate work space or a space of my own while others in the line have their needs met before I do.” This is why knowing your employees is key to good leadership. Again, GOOD LEADERS KNOW THEIR PEOPLE.

Platinum’s the Old Gold!: Treat People How They Want to be Treated

  • Most of us have heard of the golden rule,”Do unto others as you would have them do  unto you,” but human resources and personnel types also like to talk about the “Platinum Rule”. The Platinum Rule is, roughly, treat others as they want to be treated or do unto others as they would have you do unto them. I am of the opinion that we can’t improve on God’s wisdom, so I see the platinum rule as a form of the Golden Rule–an interpretation. There are a lot of things that I like that others may not, but in general I think most people are like me in that they want to be treated how they want to be treated, rather than how you want to treat  or think they should be treated. (Huh?)We do unto others as we would have them do  unto us when we treat them how they want to be treated, or…
  • Treat others the way they want to be treated, just like you would want them to treat you the way you want to be treated–whew!

Lead Like a King: Model Servant Leadership

Tell the Truth: Learn to Tell People Difficult News (AKA, NEVER Lie to Your People, and You’d Be Surprised by What Constitutes a Lie!)

Eat What Your Sheep Eat: Build a Good Sense of Solidarity

The delusions from lack of sleep this week have set in: I cannot sleep and a recurring creative seed is now bouncing around my head again and won’t go away. I need to do a better job of paying attention–giving attention–to these things in my regular day. They force their way into my sleepy time just like this latest one has (actually it has been brewing for a few years, so maybe its time has come). So, now I’m back online. I need an astrophysicist, an illustrator (someone patient), and someone skilled in taking ideas (stories, specifically) and turning them into…I dunno what…two or more dimensional “reality” (and by reality I mean some place other than the confines of my head). Later, I’ll need a composer and possibly a theological editor. I’ll do the writing…

It is days like today–when the grey canvass of a cloudy day makes even the ugliest desert house a castle and bolts of cerulean blue sky pierce the cloud cover–that uncover the strings  of longing in my soul. Each string is plucked gently by the memories of time spent along the California coastline. Monterey, Carmel and the charming Pacific Grove. In particular I remember the Spring week I spent in Pacific Grove by myself, recuperating from…from things my soul alone will retain.

Traveling alone is not an unusual occurrence for me, though it disturbs some in my acquaintance who think it unwise or unusual for a woman to travel without a companion or more. My tales of traveling the rugged terrain of developing countries would do little to ease their fears so it is not something I speak of at great length unless asked. In any case, I have spoken little of my trip to PG and I think that is in part because I have spent a year processing it, reliving it in my mind.

Today in particular I remember the slight malodor of the marina, cold salt air and the crunch of deconstructed granite under my shoes. Canvassing wet granite monoliths much in the same way tiny crabs navigate their rocky burrows, I rounded a boulder and was surprised by the half-flutter of a young gull. He was equally surprised but once it was determined that I was no enemy he settled back into his stony nesting spot.

He was a ridiculous thing. Frankly, I think all gulls are ridiculous but he was especially so because the awkward trimmings of youth had not left him. We remained for a moment mirroring each others musings of the other while the rain clouds started to surround us. We both lowered our heads slightly in response to the first drops, then I went on my way. Someplace in that moment in time I managed to take a snapshot of him. I don’t shoot as much as I have in the past, but I am grateful that I’ve retained the habit of keeping the camera at the ready when I am shooting. The image of that goofy bird makes me smile and quenches, at least in some small way, the hunger for the coast that a day like today brings.

That longing, though sometimes almost painful, is good for the soul. It reminds me of the dreams of a small craftsman bungalow near PG and a little plot of land to grow things on and a place to create. Someday I hope to see this dream become reality, but for now the thoughts of it provide something to hope and work for.

Today, looking out on on rain and beauty, I thank God for imagination and the ability to dream.

I certainly do not always agree with Reverend Jim Wallis’ perspectives, but I do agree with this statement

“…if I want the support of the religious right, I had better stay unborn as long as possible because once I am born, I am off the radar screen. No health care. No childcare. No nothing,”

I am and will be eternally grateful for the church community I am part of now–and I’d say on the whole we are fairly “conservative”–but I have come from communities in which  Abortion seemed to be the only issue anyone really cared about. Why is this the central issue of Western Christians, why is this the “sin” for which America will be judged, when countless millions struggle to STAY alive.

In my opinion, what our nation WILL be judged for is our preferential ignorance about suffering in the world, poor stewardship, and our mistreatment of orphans, widows, the poor and the foreigner. Doubtless, the unborn are part  of this but the amount of effort the Church in America puts into this issue is unwarranted in comparison to the sum of what we are called to do and be. Further, the attention (the time wasted on arguing and learning how to argue with “pro-choicers” and “abortionists”) does little to solve the root problem of why women have abortions. Like Wallis, I’d love for Democrats to acknowledge the tragedy of abortion and for the Republicans to “…actually help reduce the abortion rate.” Until the Church can get over the politics of the issue and start to work for real results–the kinds of things that transform lives–we will remain a One Trick Pony.

Wallis, Rev. Jim.  2007. Interview on CBS on 10/18/07 : Evangelicals: the new swing voters.

2008. Where Jim Wallis stands. Christianity Today: Vol 52, No. 5.

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For my first post: Useless information.

I have a cat. It’s not actually my property(I bet the reference to a cat as “property” upsets some people) but it comes in my house. I don’t feed it, it does get water on hot days and I do have a little brush and toys for it. We entertain each other. If it gets sick or needs anything catly it presumably gets taken care of by its family. When it wants love, scratching and toy mouse time it comes to me. It’s all the best of cat ownership with no responsibility–how awesome is that.

Additionally, I have taken the liberty of stripping the cat of its sex. No, I did not have it neutered (it was altered before I started living here) but I have deemed it a male cat and named it Padraic. It is actually a female cat with a girlish name, a fact I learned well after we had become acquainted, but I will continue to refer to him as a male cat with a cool name. So, there….