Thursday, November 18, 2010

In this IPhone generation, where does that leave the steady, thoughtfulness of prayer?

I had a fabulous YAV weekend retreat in San Antonio, Texas. We got to meet up with some other volunteers from San Antonio and Tucson. It was so great to chill out with such incredible people. I loved looking around seeing all these other eager young faces. We've all dedicated a year of our lives to service for various reasons but one thing we have in common is that we care. Listening to everyone talk about their passions, their frustrations, their concerns,etc. was so refreshing. It gives me such great hope for the future of this planet that there are young people out there who each have a social conscious and a willingness to doubt, to question,  to take action, to love, and to believe. I am blessed to know a good number of these people, and they will probably never know the far reaching impact they are having on my life.

I got to eat some delicious tex mex, go see a hilarious play written by a former YAV that shed humorous light on community living, and got to cheer on other runners at the San Antonio Rock N Roll marathon. We also got to go on a strenuous, but reflective hike. All in all an incredible weekend get away.

Now that I am back in New Orleans I've been feeling a little stuck. My days are starting to slip into a numbing routine, and I just feel restless, and unsure of what I am doing and what I should do next. There are several projects that I've talked about starting but I just can't seem to get my feet on the ground about any of them, and I am feeling rather unproductive.

Don't get me wrong, I love the people here. And they have all been unbelievably welcoming to me. Last night was great, because we had a Young Adult Gathering where a bunch of young adults of different faiths and backgrounds who are serving in the city got together and discussed ways we could network and connect with each other throughout our time here. It is exciting for me to have new friends to look forward to.

But somehow, I've still been feeling lost and confused, an outsider in my own life who is desperate to break the walls of my boxed in world. I struggle to make a difference while feeling I am only going backwards and not doing enough or the right thing. I feel shy and afraid. I see so much complication and pain and doubt around me, it just makes me want to shrink away.

It is in these confusing times, that I turn to prayer. Prayer has always been difficult for me because it often feels strange and forced, like I am not really getting anywhere. We are submerged in a society that thrives on instant gratification, immediate results. With technology and social media advancing and exploding left and right, it is hard to remember what it's like to slowly, steadily work for something. We are the generation of microwaveable meals and internet phones. If we want something we mash a button, and it's there for us. Meaningful conversations and intimate moments with each other are hard to come by because we are all huddled against our tiny glowing screens, obsessed and addicted to information that floods from our fingertips to our brains. How do we lift up our heads back to the world around us, back to God?

Prayer, I've discovered,  encourages a different way of living, goes against the direction our modern world is headed. Prayer is sincerely asking God not for some immediate physical thing you want, but strength to help discern what it is you really need amidst all the chaos and rubble that consume our lives. Prayer is not about producing instant downloadable results, but living a life by faith instead of by sight. Prayer is not a sign of weakness but a sign of willingness. A willingness to ask the big questions and trust that God is good. 
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." Philippians 4:6.

Every day is up and down, up and down. But that is how God intended it to be. For without this steady pattern, our lives would flatten out, with no space to grow, to thrive. I feel useless, scared, and overwhelmingly unsure of myself and others. But at the end of the day God has a mysterious, magnificent plan.  I don't have to know it, I just need to have faith in it.

"We can reach our world, if we will. The greatest lack today is not people or funds. The greatest need is prayer."
-Wesley Duewel

Monday, November 8, 2010

Life is in the traffic.

Traffic. A terrifying word that has begun to take over my day to day life in New Orleans where any slight wrong doing is cause for laying on the horn and driving like you are in the Grand Theft Auto video game is completely normal. Getting from point A to point B is not a simple task, but a challenging test of patience and will that eats up the hours of your day like pacman and sucks your gas tank like soda through a straw. New Orleans highways are clogged vessels that criss cross in confusing manners, overstuffed with people like a Moe's Burrito.

Today was particularly horrific. I took the interstate across the Westbank to Faith Church this morning, took it back to First Church around lunchtime, and then attempted to get home around 5:30. I probably spent the majority of my day stuck in traffic. When I got home I was shaking with frustration. But as I settled down into the evening hours, I started to put my life in perspective.

We spend our lives trying to "do what is expected of us." We bounce from point A to point B to point C and so forth. If we are privileged and lucky enough to chase it, the American Dream is ours : we go to school, we get a job, we get married, we raise a family, we retire.  Sometime the points are rearranged, sometimes they are skipped, and sometimes the unexpected happens, and we don't reach them at all. We become spokes in society's wheel that churn in circles to survive. We get so caught up in reaching each stage on time that we become overly frustrated when something diverts us from our path and causes our progress to slow. Today, after spending multiple hours stuck on the road, I realized that perhaps Life is in the traffic. It is in those in-between moments where you find yourself happiest and angriest, where the little things can make the biggest difference. Whatever the emotion, it is here you are most yourself, most alive.  In the car, I listened to all my favorite songs in a row, belting them out so loud I am sure the entire state of Louisiana was covering their ears in extreme pain. I started to mull over everything I had experienced, seen, and lived in New Orleans so for the first time since I have been here, and tears strained my eyelids while I felt a powerful sensation deep in my chest.  I discovered that these long, "miserable" car rides to work were the places where my mind got the most exercise, where I got a chance to be with just myself, God,my fears, and my dreams.

Tomorrow, I will attempt to wake up early, get dressed, grab a to go breakfast, head out the door, get in my car and start the long drive to work. I will most likely be met with a horrific stand still on I-10 that will last all the way across the Westbank bridge and it will probably take me close to an hour go only a few miles. I will be surrounded by other frustrated cranky people who are worried about being late for work and other engagements. I am not saying I won't get frustrated ever again while spending half my days on the crowded, congested highways of New Orleans. However, I hope to progressively learn to use this time to  appreciate the "in betweens" of life where love seeps in and things get messy, unpredictable, awful, and wonderful. The roadways that lead us to each success and failure keep us connected to the roots of living. Our lives are a gift from God. Once we try to reduce them to mere rungs on ladder, we lose that gift.

Life is in the traffic.

And that is why my novel in progress (tentatively titled Newton's Laws for Living) involves an epic road trip. Maybe I'll post an excerpt if people are lucky ;)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

An Unexpected and Wonderful Inspiration.

Today, I received some particularly inspiring words of wisdom from a woman named Maria who attends one of the churches where I volunteer here in New Orleans. Maria is someone who has God’s love shining through every crack and crevice. Despite all the struggles she has experienced (and there have been many), her faith in God remains the driving force in her life. Whenever I see her and ask how she is doing, each time, without fail, she simply smiles and says, “God is good. God is good.”
Maria sat down across from me while I was in the church office, and I assumed we were going to go through the normal, polite “get to know you” small talk. However, she began by saying that she admired me for being so willing to listen for God’s voice. She said that since Katrina, she hadn’t seen many young women like me devote their lives to service and God’s call. These words meant so much to me. Lately, I have been feeling frustratingly small in a big, big world. The little mundane tasks I do every day have made me restless and worry whether I am actually making a difference or doing anything right at all. But Maria’s words comforted me and made me remember why I came to New Orleans in the first place—to do God’s work, to share God’s love. And as long as this love remains the core of each task I perform, then that is all that matters.

She also looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Don’t let anyone else get in the way of you. Put God first but don't forget about yourself. Dream. Travel. I know you are taking some time to find yourself and that is confusing, but you will find who you are. If you remember anything, remember to choose a profession that you love, that makes you happy. Life is more than just about making a dollar. So many people out there think that life isn’t worth living, and that is a sad thing because God is good.”

That advice is priceless. And to think that she said it to me so frankly and unexpectedly, not knowing the profound impact this she has on me. It was a breath of fresh air, a reassurance that God works in mysterious ways, and I am here for a reason. I told her about my passion for writing, and I have always been scared of following it for fear it will produce no money or that I will never be good enough. However, I am starting to see the  truth of this fear is only as true as I let it be. Being here in New Orleans and talking to such a beautiful person like Maria is making me realize how you have to stay connected to that place burrowed deep inside your heart that makes you truly happy. No matter what external forces are raging their wars against you. That's where God is. That's where the love is kept. That's where you are.

I've got about 6,000 words of my novel down. Not bad for 3 days. Trying to shut down the pestering internal editor and to just write freely, letting those words come no matter how insane they look on the page. As crazy as this whole novel in a month thing is I am loving it already. The characters are having strange impulses; thus creating subplots I didn't know imaginable. Awesome! Thank you NaNoWriMo, for opening up a door inside I have been unable to unhinge for most of my life. It's about to get tough in the next couple weeks as I crank out words left and right, but I am hanging in there!

My parents are coming to visit this weekend. So excited to see them! I need a taste from home. Overall, things are well. Laughing a TON, which is great. Getting busy yes. Starting a youth group from scratch for both of my churches is going to be hard, along with stepping outside of my comfort zone and juggling various other tasks, but Maria's presence and her words continually echo in my mind, tiny lanterns lighting my path. "God is good. God is good..."

"Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude. "
-Denis Waitley