November 28, 2009

I was in a theater last night watching “The Blindside” when I got a call that the mom of a dearly close family passed away. 

She was a legend.  Legend mom, wife, friend, neighbor…one of those people you can’t (and don’t want) to imagine the world without.  The kids are 17 and 15.  They are great kids – which is entirely to her credit.  A few weeks ago I was over late, just hanging out w/ them watching a football game and her husband was sitting with her on the couch, holding her hand.  In the two years that she’s been battling cancer, I had seen a side of him I didn’t know he, or really any man could have.  He was tender, more in love than ever, sacrificial…you couldn’t see them together without knowing he would gladly do this for the next 30 years.  According to him, the protocal was always “whatever it takes.”

I don’t think I ever imagined this would happen because she was larger than life: her love was, her strength was.

I first got to know her well in Colorado.  Florida was just their summer house then, and as soon as she heard i was flying to Colorado to see a knee surgeon – i wasn’t just the vacation home’s neighbor’s friend w/ a messed up knee.  I was one of their tribe too.  She had enough love that she couldn’t help but give it away.  She made a home so large there was plenty to go around…

I stayed with them the night before my first visit and the night before the surgery that would ultimately fix a knee that I didn’t know could be.  As I shared my fears – not just about the knee but about everything it represented; the bottom had fallen out for me so many times – and what if, what if there came a time I couldn’t recover, couldn’t heal, what if it never worked out?, if I never fell in love…As we talked over many occasions, she would tell the story of how she fell in love, how she raised a family, how she’d battled back cancer once before with a newborn and she’d say softly with a quiet confidence I’ve rarely seen – that it all works out.  You keep going.  You take each day as it comes, do well with what is in your hand, and have faith in God, that He knows, sees and holds all things…and things, they will happen as they need to. 

It’s not fair.  Those kids need a mother.  That man needs his wife.  The world needs more Adrienne Smiths and today we have one less.

why? i don’t know.

I think I get what the Apostle Paul was saying now when he said, “we have this treasure in jars of clay…”  Her body just couldn’t keep up with the magnificence of her spirit. 

all i know is that what I saw in her and heard from her in experiences and conversations and just plain observation was eternal; it was a treasure.  Intangible and unexplainable – but something about her, and it feels all the things she left behind, have eternal value. 

and I believe, because of her, that some things, some things are eternal…


decide already

October 26, 2009

IMG00350There is a strip mall near my house.  Well, it’s Florida, so there are a lot of them.  But this one in particular is apparently getting repainted.  I know that, because for the last few months there have been color swatches randomly and kind of awkwardly drawn on it.  A couple of the colors seem to be the front-runners since they have larger blocks in other areas – but in all, it is just looks like a hodgepodge of taupe and indecision.

I’ve watched the evolution of the decision and frankly was pretty interested at first to see what they’d do.  Now I’ve lost patience.  I drove by this morning thinking “why don’t these people just make a damn decision already!!  It’s six colors – just pick one and deal with it!”  I shouldn’t have judged this poor strip mall – because not long after it starting judging me.

I am a thinker.  I think and analyze and rethink and re-analyze.  It’s a beautiful cycle and, I might add, an important one.  But there comes a point in when you have enough information, counsel, and instinct to move forward.  At that place, you HAVE to move.

In surfing, there’s a place where the power of the wave picks up the board, you’re committed, and you’re no longer in control.  You can’t bail out b/c that’s how boards get broken and heads get concussed – so you have to commit and ride.  There are two emotions there (especially b/c I suck at surfing) one is an extraordinary sense of release and the other is sheer terror.

Fear can paralyze.

The fear comes from any number of unpredictable events.  The wave can break wrong, your balance can shift just slightly and throw you off.  If the wave is big enough, when you fall off it can hold you under until you don’t think you can hold your breathe any more.  Committing to a wave like that requires you to be all in, focused, and no longer moving under the power of your own arms but working with the wave to get where you are going.  I wonder if I have what it takes.

On the other side, committing is an indescribable feeling – to no longer have a plan b or c…for the next little while you’re going where this this thing is taking you.  You are moving in a way that you can’t on your own – and it feels like freedom.

The worst scenario is if we do nothing.  Limbo is one of the most painful places in life – and miserable, and dangerous. But what that strip mall showed me is how much I am doing it and how ridiculous it looks.  I have a ton of decisions that need to be made right now.  I am terrified of getting meeting the right guy and getting married b/c my life will no longer be my own.  I want to move west and feel the power and rhythm of a new city – and be challenged by a new job and industry.  But i’ve stood still.  And i’ve done it for too long.  It’s time to just decide and move forward.  It is still really terrifying – but it’s more painful to be stuck in limbo – and the hope of freedom is seductive.

I still have no idea if I have what it takes to walk away from what i need to walk away from and walk into what is extraordinary.  But I have to trust that in the midst of the inevitable number of unpredictable events, I will find a way to adjust and learn and grow to figure it out.

so, thank you strip mall – let’s both decide and move on.


October 5, 2009

Part of b-school, involves electing people into leadership positions.  After peer nominations last week, I discovered I got nods for both class representative and judicial board.  It’s funny how things strike up a memory.

I spent most of school just wanting to be popular.  The right friends, looks, boyfriend, parties, etc – I dissected what it would take to get “there” and was pretty surprised at how easily I did.

Until Lenny.

My thesis advisor, Lenny, was everyone’s favorite professor.  I was his favorite student.  I argued with almost everything he said.  I despised his arrogance but enjoyed his wit.  He challenged me right back.  I’ll never forget the day, sitting in his office discussing politics, society, and media, when he curtly said, “You’re a Christian? I thought you were smarter than that.”  For 3 hours he interrogated every tenant of my faith.  I left exhausted, but with an untouchable confidence about how I know what I know is true.

It was in that same office on January 26, 2001 that I nervously sat as he delivered a soliloquy as to why one comment had flirted with a serious honor code violation.  After a month of deliberation, he decided the circumstances were an error in judgment, and, according to the honor code, he would use the opportunity educate me.

Oh, he educated me that day.

I was at the height of my popularity.  School was easy; life was fun; people were disposable.  His anger didn’t make any sense.  I told him it was a misunderstanding, a joke.  He wasn’t laughing.  He stared until we locked eyes – he needed to know I heard this.  “I’m dropping your thesis.”  WHAT? I was pissed but quickly went into damage control mode – spouting my best sales pitch(es) to change his mind.

He wasn’t budging.  I was shocked, and genuinely upset, and still talking.

After a good half-hour, he stopped me.  “I’m not upset about a passing comment, I’m disappointed in you.”  Wow, thanks for clearing that up.

He went on, “it is remarkable that at no point did you ever consider how your actions would impact another person, let alone me.  The position it put me in didn’t even cross your mind.”  Now I was just lost.

I think the blank stare on my face pissed him of more.

He went on, “Let me say it as clearly as I know how: the world is not your stage, and you are not the center player.”

Really? That’s actually exactly the way I thought the world worked.  What do you mean I don’t control the moving parts of my life? Are you suggesting I can’t manipulate people into loving me and doing what I want?  No, I thought, you don’t understand how this works – if I can only be pretty, smart, and charming enough – people will have to love me and do what I want.

It’s terrifying to think how genuinely I believed that.  That lie has taken a lot of people out.

He saw something I couldn’t.  He saw the effects of a life absent any boundaries or guidance.  He saw a girl who wondered whether anyone could actually love her if they really knew who she was.  He saw through the thin veneer of notoriety to the need – the kind that is only satisfied by a Savior.

And he had a choice; he could ruin me for sport or ruin me to build something better.  We often get that choice in other people’s lives.  He went on to tell me about how love isn’t love if it’s manipulated.  He said that, if I needed a person in the wrong sense, I’d lose them. And if I couldn’t be selfless, I would never be fully alive.  He was right.  I didn’t understand the implications of those statements – of the gift he was handing me; but, I trusted him enough to let doubt be introduced.  And the trajectory of my life literally changed that day.

I don’t know why an email reminded me of that day with Lenny.  Maybe just the thought of an honor code proceeding took me back – but I’m glad it did.  How many moments do we get to realize we are different?  It didn’t happen that day, it has happened over 9 years and is still happening.  The how and the why are beautiful stories – about God, not about me.  But in all, I’m made of something now that I wasn’t then and for a moment today, I felt the difference between two versions of myself.  And this one feels pretty damn good.

how many hugs?

September 27, 2009

Bob is brilliant, intimidatingly so.  Janet is magnetic; her essence spills a disarming peace.  They love God.  They adore each other.  They look at and fall into the other like no two people I’ve ever seen.

Janet is Bob’s 3rd wife.  He left 2 marriages and 5 children in the wake of a version of himself that I never knew.  Bob is Janet’s 2nd husband.  She is dutiful, responsible, and sharp – the hard-working type you’d expect out of an eldest child raised on a farm.  For Bob, where caustic wit once was, there is now overwhelming compassion.  For Janet, obligation has been replaced by a freedom to love and give herself away.

To me, they represent trophies of grace, and were I only able to stand at a distance and watch, I could glean wisdom for a lifetime.

For some reason, they allow me access.  I have no idea why, which is a little unsettling.  I’m a master at manipulating people into loving me – but it’s never worked with them.  In the oddest of ways, at the oddest of times, they will generously open their life to me – and 10 times out of 10, I did nothing to earn it or make it happen.  It feels weird to be loved just because

I think that is grace.  And grace is disconcerting, as it should be.

They live in Wyoming.  Today they were in Florida.

I hugged Janet.  She doesn’t hug actually, she embraces.  Her tiny arms and slight frame somehow take you in.  She holds on longer than she has to.  I think she prays over people when they are in her fold.

It’s been a hard season for me.  She knows it.  I know it.  While I’d normally rely on her for advice and comfort, this time she’s rightly allowed me to weather the storm alone, with God.  Like all good mothers; she knows that this is where a lot of growing up happens – and it has.  It’s undoubtedly been rough. But in her embrace, I feel the nurture, the safety, and the warmth of a heart cheering me on, ready to bandage the wounds – so I can head back into a decisive battle.

I hugged Bob.  He laughs.  He always laughs at me.  I’m not really sure why he always laughs at me, but I guess I’m funny.  He says what he always says, “Saaaaaarah” then stands quietly, hands on hips, staring at me.  He made his name and fortune in litigation – he knows the ropes.  He knows by doing this I will tell him exponentially more about what’s on my mind than were he to ask a straight question.  And I do.  And he laughs.

With Bob, when your almost not paying attention (usually in between the laughing) he will say the most incredible things that come straight from a father’s heart.  You know by his words that he has been listening, watching, taking note, and making sense of what the real issue is.  Like many before, his words today were the boundaries I needed.  I am as capable and intelligent as I have always been; and I will find a way through this.  I don’t think he knows how many lies have been silenced because of conversations like this with him.

I would have loved to sit over blueberry pancakes on their patio and listen and talk. I would have loved to tell the full stories of how God is growing me up and showing up in ways I never knew possible.  But on this day, the busyness of our schedules and commitments gave us only a few moments – so in half-sentences and hugs – we celebrated the God in whose story we live and trust.

As I was leaving, I said good-bye and stole another hug from Janet, then from Bob, then from Janet again, and another from Bob.  Clamped safely around Bob’s ribcage, he chuckled and said, “How many hugs are we going to have?”  “As many as I need” I quipped with a grin.

Then I let go.  I told them I love them.  I got in my car and drove away.

Their hugs give me what every great embrace, what every great relationship should – an arrow pointing the way to Christ.  After weeks of trying to pray, trying to talk to God and with God about what the hurt and fear and magnificence of this season was doing to my heart – I got in my car and prayed.  Suddenly, I knew what to ask and thank God for.

Somehow the way I am held and loved by them makes the heart of my heavenly Father so much clearer and my need for Him, and Him alone, so plain.

so how many hugs?

As many as I need  – to see, feel, know, and seek the only one that matters.

piecign it togehter

September 23, 2009

During an impossibly normal series of conversations, I happened on to the fact that I’m dyslexic. I’m 30, a college graduate (from a top 30 school), a successful executive, and I just found out I’m dyslexic. Far from life changing, this news is a bit of a relief.

Before starting grad school this fall, I put forward an honest confession to a set of borrowed parents about how stupid I really felt most of the time in school. I had deep, deep fears that I might not be able to cut it at such a prestigious new university (Duke!).

Dyslexia, at that point, had not even entered my mind as a possibility.

Stereotyped by most as a number or letter reversal disorder (which is part of it), dyslexia is really a sequencing problem – and since most of our letters and numbers are sequenced, reading and math present huge challenges. History is sequenced. Accounting is sequenced. Time is sequenced. So the confusion that stems from this beast is pervasive in a person’s life.

The most common set of symptoms or manifestations is called the 37 signs of dyslexia (Google away).

I strongly exhibit 26 of them.

I’ve had a couple days to digest this new bit of information, because really that is all it is. Dyslexia is considered by many to be a gift. Dyslexic kids, confused and unable to ascertain information, who have even the smallest measure of gumption, develop extraordinary compensatory measures to cope. These range from relational skills, high verbal ability, negotiation prowess, imagination, strategic thinking, story telling, and more.

I am no exception.

What really strikes me, as I piece together the nature of the disorder and my life experiences, is how staggering the effect of it is.

There are SO many events and circumstances I can easily point to, knowing my action(s) or reaction(s), can be traced back to the dyslexia. Those events and circumstances ultimately shaped some really good, powerful things in me.

And that means there are things that can massively shape our personality, our history, and our capacity – yet we may not even know they exist.

So what else do I not know? And do I even need to know it? This thing, having a name is such a relief, but it changes nothing in terms of my capacity.

Why does having a name make something such a relief?

Do we fight insecurity with fact?

Can we silence demons with a definition?

What is so freeing about knowing that I am inherently broken?