As far as the East…

April 24, 2010

“I thought if I could touch this place or feel it, the brokenness inside me might start healing. Out here it’s like I’m someone else.  I thought that maybe I could find myself…”

Shanghai was always the city on this 4 continent world-tour MBA that I’ve been looking forward to the most.  And now I’m packing up to leave.  It feels a little strange.

China holds an almost nuanced connection to my past.  Twice that I can remember, but maybe three times when I was little my grandfather travelled here.  I’m sure he went to Beijing too and maybe Hong Kong – but details aren’t too concerning when you’re a kid.  I just knew he went to China and came back with gifts.  I knew he went alone and I knew it was far away.

My grandfather was larger than life.  6 foot something – broad shoulders – and a hug that swalled you whole.  I was 3 months shy of my 13th birthday when he died; which is probably why I remember him being so big.  I was little.  Life was uncomplicated.  My world was small & controlled.  Predictable.

He was an explorer, a thinker, a hard worker.  He made money – lots of it.  He was Omaha stock – midwestern to the core.  After jumping in a shallow lake and breaking his leg, the insurance money paid for a year of college.  Becuase of that, he got a white collar job in insurance and later when on to run the company – Prudential to be exact. He never went back to school but made sure we would.  Of his six grandchildren, two hold PhDs, two have Bachelor’s and when I finish my MBA, it’ll even out the count with two holding master’s as well.

I’m the youngest of the cousins…and when I was born I think it changed him a little.  My mother always told him I was full of personality – life.  She told me he’d ask how that could be known when I was so little – but before I was even a  year old he said he saw it.  This kid is special.  This kid has “it” whatever “it” is…

true or  not, he was only man I ever remember making me feel special.  I’d follow him around the garden. We picked dollar weeds.  Life, he told me, was like dollar weeds.  You can’t just address a problem at the surface, but you have to follow it to the root – and pluck it out from there…and watch, he’d say – pulling out a line of those things that seemed to go on forever – there are always other things connected to the root.  But just keep digging and your garden will be healthy.

We talked a lot actually.  As the reality of his cancer and death began to take its toll on my mom life and parents marriage, I started to industriously take on the stress of myself.  Where would I go to school, what would I do, who would I marry?  I was young and burdened by a future decades away.  He saw it.  He saw my little personality and psyche being shaped.  He pulled me into his office once.  Cherrywood walls, a huge desk, and more books than a library – I loved that office – and he sat on his couch with me and said “I’m so sorry.”  Sorry for what? I wondered.  This guy had given me a great life.  A name.  Status.  Roots.  Identity.  He told me I was here on purpose and for one.  He lit up when I walked into a room.  He made everything feel safe.  His presence alone silenced almost all my fears.  But he was sorry.

“Options” he said…”I’ve given you too many options.  When I was young I had one option – did I want to eat or not to eat? So I got a job and I worked hard.  And I ate. Then I married your grandmother and had your mom and aunts.  And they had to eat.  So I knew my options.” He’d made peace with his choices but the evidence of the struggle was still there – who had he become?  who had he wanted to be?  what trade-offs did he make to get there?

China always represented that.  It represented him.  Life.  There’s a person you could be but a person you also must be.  You’ve been given much so live up to it.  And you have dreams and desires but they wait until you’ve done all the “right” things that by virtue of this last name you’ve been given you must do.

No wonder I’ve been slow to take on a new last name…or allow one choice to define so many others.  Rob Bell said “one yes means a thousand nos” so I’m careful with my yes.  Ironically, the weight of the tension between dreams and responsiblities has all but crushed me in the past few months leading up to this trip.

So here I am, in China with my MBA program at one of the world’s most prestigious schools – no doubt because of the sum of my choices and the options he gave me.  How could I not look for him here – feel him here – wonder what he’d say or think.  Am I still special?  Did I make you proud? Would you still love me if you knew me now?  Would the safe small world that fell into chaos and shattered overnight when you died have taken its toll on me the way it did if you had just lived longer? Did you tell me everything I needed to know?  Am I going to be OK?

I walked through this city the other day, looked and listening and wrestling with those questions.  he is here somehow; and I needed him.

I came here looking for something, answers, insight, I don’t now what exactly – and now I’m packing up to leave.  I’m not sure I can explain them now, but I have things I didn’t have when I came – I have answers I couldn’t have gotten without being here, feeling this place.  A broken part of my soul healed a little.  I shorted the distance between who I am and who I have in my heart to long to become…

So I’m grateful for China and grandfather.


accidental hiatus

April 5, 2010

the first month just happened.  It was mid-december and my heart got broken.

I mean, I saw it coming.  I practically set it up under a hammer…

A year before the writing was on the wall.  Actually, I wrote it.  I said it couldn’t work. I told him. We knew.

But I couldn’t bear the thought of being alone. I was so afraid of the silence in my  own head that I kept the noise very loud…I went from him to another and when the other didn’t work out, I came right back.  There were, for sure, a few mixed in for sport and pleasure and boredom, but that’s like an in-bound pass in basketball – all just part of the game.

The pattern has repeated itself like that a thousand times since that fateful first day when a boy’s lips first touched mine.  I was 12.  He bought me a ice cream after – and invited me back to his house.  When i said no he ignored me.

I figure out pretty quick how this worked.  If I wanted attention and an accessory; I knew how to get it.

rotate in some old ones, add in a few new.

guy after guy after guy after guy.

whatever it takes to not be solo

committed? who cares.

kind? doesn’t matter.

considerate? whatever.

I have what you want and you have what I need.  This, as Rob Bell says, is really about that.

So on that fateful December night, as I sat on a concrete slab of a brand new house being built, my heart was broken.  But not because of the guy, I’d gotten over him a year before.  My way wasn’t working out. And that is an earth-shattering rock bottom when you find it.

Isaiah 30 presents, at these moments, a proverbial fork.  It explains it clearly and for the first time, I was willing to do it.

The first month was easy.  I don’t know why.  I think I was just so tired that it was nice. It felt a bit like sitting on the bench for a breather.

The second month was a bit of a surprise. By this point it was mid-january and I like to fast from something at the beginning of the year.  This year it felt like I needed to just stop making it happen.  Pursuing boys, finding them, rotating them in and out of my life for only as long as it feels good and is fun.

stop using them.

It felt like it needed to be intentional.  Just back off.  Take a sabbatical.  And do it on purpose.

Which took me past Valentine’s day…two months, not even a kiss.

In my 18 year very storied kissing career, I can’t remember ever having gone longer than 3 1/2 weeks without at least kissing a guy.

And that hiatus was because I had mono.

So two months has become almost 4.  Even I am amazed.  Driving in the car on a date with an old friend on Saturday, he was asking pretty pointed questions.  This is definitely not the Sarah he’s known…and I don’t blame him for being so dumbfounded and inquisitive.  I was one of the legends.

How are you ok with this? Are you still functioning?

Because I let the stuff catch up to me.

I let it sink in.

I let it hurt.

and it hurrrrrrrrrrt…

but after that almost incalculable quake settled; I started relating to guys differently.

I started seeing them in a different way.  They were no longer little sources of booty I could exploit to serve a need – they were friends, sons, protectors, warriors, comedians, academics.  They brought good things out in me and sometimes bad.  They were interesting to observe purely, without plotting how I could manipulate.  I watch how well they love and how kind they are to their mothers and sisters and friends.  It is a view I’ve never known in a world I’ve never seen.

The desire to be married and a great wife didn’t and hasn’t gone away – it just looks a lot different.  I don’t wonder how I can make it happen.  Because it will.  Men are smart – they know.  Mine will know when it’s time and when it’s time he’ll know what to say and do what he needs to do.

I don’t think it satisfied my friend’s questions.  He continued.

How long are you on this accidental hiatus?  I don’t know.  Six months sounds good I think – which puts me in June.

Really? He said curiously with a hint of shock.  And finally uttered the question I think everyone has been wondering…


Because, I said, I really like who I am becoming.


April 4, 2010

Easter has always been my favorite day of the year.

What’s not to love?  The combination of cute new dresses, candy, flowers, a great meal, and the coming of summer is perfect for any little girl! Especially me.  I was smitten from the beginning…

And while I’ve continued to celebrate it through college and my twenties sometimes only out of ritual, the day itself has always had a special pull with my heart.

They call me a “futurist” – which is to say I spend a lot of time thinking forward.  So of course, Easter, with heaps of hope is my kind of day.

Hope.  It’s always where I’ve left off on Easter. Thinking, believing that because God came, died, and rose to new life was a great source of hope.

But there’s a difference between believing and becoming.  John’s gospel says it perfectly…”to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…”

I have believed for along time…that people can die and be raised to new life.  That people who submit to God’s wisdom and ways, who live in relationship with Him and allow that love to take root are changed.  Not just exhibit new behavioral patterns, I mean, they are changed.  They are alive in a new way.

They get resurrected.

I have always believed that, but between last easter and this one, I started exercising my right to become. I stopped hoping in the resurrection and started living the reality of it.

All my life I think God was trying to be clear about His intention to build my life, to become a person on the other side of the resurrection; but I had my own agenda. I spent too long being angry because I felt entitled.  I thought God was withholding his best from me because things just weren’t working out the way I wanted.

Turns out that His best is the cross, it’s dying to somethings that are killing me; then being raised.

Dying and being raised to new life.  God does it every day.

And He’s done it with me.

Happy Easter.

Last night something occurred to me about Holy Thursday.  Essentially, it marks the “last supper” and while I wasn’t there and am not Jewish, I’ve always had a bit of a difficult time relating to it.

Luke’s account has this line, “And [Jesus] took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.'”

That’s usually where I get stuck in mass or church.  It just seems like an odd moment – and while I believe in its truth and the power of the communion ritual, I guess I’ve never really connected to it on all that personal of a level.  But last night it finally occurred to me:

before it was a sacrament, it was just supper.

it was a passover meal, so yeah, it was a special day – but it was basically the equivalent of our 4th of July barbeque.  One part ritual (hmmm, burgers) and another part celebration.  It was just friends coming together like friends do.

So when Jesus says do this in remembrance of me, maybe he’s talking about the people as much as he’s talking about the bread.

Friends in a room has an electric feel to it.  There’s life, laughter, connections being made or deepened.  Even if there’s gossip and petty stuff – it’s still us, relating to each other.  In any room, at an meal, there are people having a very human experience.  And of course, that’s exactly where the God of scriptures would want to be.

So as followers of Jesus who are propelled into that room two-thousand years later on days like Holy Thursday, maybe Jesus is saying here I am, take me!  Go and take a million experiences with His Spirit – with the divine; the instances where things are so so true and good you can’t help but know it was totally from God – and break them – try to understand their truth and power.  And eat.  Feed off of the way they make you a better version of yourself, more alive, more free.

And remember.

As often as you get together, eat together, hang out together, be together – remember me.  Remember how the way I loved you changed you and then you’ll be in a place where you can give it all away.  You can set the stage for Easter, for someone else to find that same kind of life.  And that stuff happens at a party – because before it was “holy” it was just a Thursday.  It was just a party.

little by little

April 1, 2010

A few months ago I found myself on the banks of the Jordan River.

I’d gone too long believing the best lie the devil tells – that God is withholding His best from me.  I lived under the assumption that my needs & desires didn’t matter enough for God to meet them and even if they did, I didn’t have the thing it took to become the person God was telling me I could become.

After all, I looked at my life and I knew the disconnect.  I saw the space between the reality of my life and one God put in my heart to long to live.

there are two sides to the Jordan and one the one is desert – on the other the promised land.  And I was on the wrong side.

It was time to cross.

The Jordan isn’t a big river.  It isn’t the Red Sea.  You can cross it yourself and I think that is the point – at least that was the point for me – God wasn’t going to part the sea, I had to make the choice.  I  had to get my feet wet in a declaration that it was finally time to move from the desert to the promised land.

Life wasn’t working out; the old saying “keep doing what you’ve always done and you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten” had proved true.  And I wanted something new.  I wanted to change the stakes of the game.

And I knew that meant obedience.

So I started actually doing what I knew was true.  I took a hiatus from dating.  I signed up for FPU.  I started doing an hour of cardio every day.  I threw out junk food and junk TV and junk friendship.  As Don Miller would say, I started writing a better story – one where I make it across, I end up in the promised land – in a place where there’s peace that passes understanding and where I live free and alive on the other side of a resurrection.  I started believing that maybe God would keep His word if I just humbled myself and stopped trying to make it all happen my way in my time.

and one thing hit me like a ton of bricks….

In describing that crossing, both Exodus 23:30 and Deuteronomy 7:22 describe how God will defeat the enemies little by little.

Little by little.

the space between the reality of my life and the one God put in my heart to long to live is bridged – little by little.

So I go to the gym one second after another 3,600 times in a row every day.  I save pennies.  I have one more salad than I do soda.  I go another day – sometimes another hour without exchanging skin for attention from some boy.

Little by little.

hours have become pounds and muscles.  Pennies have become dollars.  Meals have become energy. Days have becomes months.

Little by little.

I’m not sure I do have what it takes to fight the big battles.  But I know I can fight the little ones.  The one right now, in this moment.  Not all the time but most of the time.

And I’m learning. I’m changing.  I’m being changed.  I’m moving into a promised land.  I’m falling more in love with God and His grace and sovereignty.  I’m becoming a version of myself I long to become.

little by little.