The beginning. Again. Again.

IMG_3509

Spent some time reviewing my old posts and came across one titled “The Beginning. Again.” It was written during a time of great transition that entailed a cross-country move and then some. And it lasted for about 2 1/2 years until the organization I was working for ran out of money and downsized me. I’ve never been laid off for any reason and even though I had no control over the financial health (or lack thereof) of the organization, I took at as a personal failure. Because that’s what I do. It’s part of being a control fiend normal person with some minor control issues. You take responsibility for everyone and everything.

When I first lost my job, I thought this is great. I now have time to write. I will be a writer. And I convinced myself I would. I even convinced a good friend of mine that I would–so much so that he offered his office space for me to write in. It was set then. I would write.

Except that I didn’t account for all the feelings that would surface once I no longer had a place to report to every morning and a team to strategize with and, let’s face it, a salary that keeps the lights on and the macbook running. Feelings like was there ever a bigger loser on the face of the planet? Who will hire me at this age? And what will my family, friends, distant relatives, and Facebook friends think of me now that I am unemployed and probably unemployable. I guess they were questions more than feelings.

Whatever they were, they made it impossible to do the one thing I really wanted to do. Write. Because once my work world turned upside down the rest of my life soon followed and I found I could not get a single word on the page in that face-down state. For a few weeks I slept in and “looked for work” in the afternoons. By which I mean I stayed in my pajamas all day and browsed through pinterest images having to do with work-related things. Home office. Created a page for that. Life@work tag. Check. If I could not recreate my real life, I would at least assemble something presentable online.

But when my pinterest job search didn’t result in any prospects, I filed for unemployment. At least I would have some income. Rather than feeling relief, I realized that there was no denying it–I was a statistic. Officially unemployed. Jobless. And because I had to fill out a form every other week that asked if I had looked for actual work, I started looking. For real this time.

Which was not nearly as gratifying as pinning pretty images on a page.

And soon the emails started coming in. Oh, not the offers. Nope. The sorry but we have decided to go with another candidate emails. And of course I filled in the blanks–We have decided to go with another candidate because you are not qualified enough, not educated enough, not charming enough, not thin enough, not pretty enough. And some days you can’t even bother to put on real clothing.

And as if I didn’t have enough issues being unemployed, my spiritual life started withering. If no potential employer would care enough even to meet with me for an initial interview, what must God think of me. He must think I’m a total loser. I am the biggest disappointment in the history of God’s kingdom. Can you even think of one person in all of the Bible who was ever unemployed? The only scripture that comes to mind was the one that says if a man doesn’t work, he shouldn’t eat. Comforting.

You would pretty much think I hit rock bottom at that point. But no. I will not settle for some mediocre bottom. I had to plummet further.

At some point, shortly after my unemployment ran out, I began to panic. Not as in nervous about money. As in full-blown anxiety attacks that sent me to the hospital. The first time it happened, I had no idea what was going on. It was the middle of the night and I woke up feeling weird. Soon I felt really weird. Then I passed out and ended up lying in a back room of the ER for about 4 hours. Apparently nothing was wrong with me. Except that everything was wrong with me.

Overnight I went from unemployed loser to complete wreck. At any given moment my mind and body would conspire against me to produce a heart-pounding terror that made my thoughts go dark and my arms go numb. I could not pray during that time. I could only think I must be dying. Often the sensations would last for a couple hours. And when it got really bad, I would go back to the hospital. Oh–and did I mentioned my health insurance had run out by this time?

I spent about a year in that condition. I wish I could say that I have perspective now. That I can see how God used the whole experience for my good. Intellectually, I know that to be true–but only because He says its true. But the true truth is, it doesn’t feel true. It feels like He abandoned me. And I wish I could say that all things have been restored and I live in a bigger better house and drive a bigger better car. But I don’t. I live in a much smaller condo/apartment and I drive the same car, only now it has a lot more miles on it. Oh, and I owe like a gazillion dollars in medical bills.

The one thing I can say is that I wake up every day extremely grateful for my little place and for my still reliable car. I wake up grateful for my job and even though I don’t make a ton of money, I wake up grateful that I am able to keep the lights on. And I wake up grateful that my mind and body are not warring against me.

Maybe someday I’ll have a dramatic restoration story. But right now, I don’t and I don’t really care. I don’t care about having a bigger house or shinier car or more stuff. I care that somehow by the sheer grace of God (who I’m still a little bit mad at, but don’t say anything), I was able to begin. Again. And yet again.

And maybe someday I’ll start writing.

Advertisements

Life’s a beach.

IMG_3340

Gorgeous day at the beach. The perfect place for walking, thinking, praying, breathing. Am starting to feel more settled, less of a stranger to my new surroundings. That’s a good thing. Work is challenging, but I am finally getting the hang of some things. Life is looking up. I am looking up. The best place for my eyes to be right now–and at all times–is on Him.

Roasted pumpkin seeds.

My contribution to Thanksgiving dinner included a quinoa dish baked in sugar pumpkins that sounded like a good idea but ended up being way more trouble than it was worth. Since it took forever to extricate the seeds from said pumpkins, I figured I shouldn’t let them go to waste. Hence…roasted pumpkin seeds.

1. Scoop out seeds and clean thoroughly.
2. Boil in lightly salted water for 10 minutes (apparently this is the secret to crunchy seeds).
3. Pat dry with a dish or paper towel (I omitted this step the first time and the seeds took forever to roast properly).

seeds1

4. Spread seeds on a baking sheet in a single layer (this can be tricky as they like to snuggle).

seeds2

5. Drizzle olive oil over the seeds and stir.
6. Sprinkle with salt.
7. Bake at 325 degrees for 20-30 minutes, stirring every 6-7 minutes. The seeds are done when lightly browned around the edges. Check them often so you don’t end up overcooking them. The kernel inside should still be green, not brown.

seeds3
8. Add salt to taste and enjoy.

seeds5

 

Fyi…pumpkin seeds are healthier than popcorn–they contain magnesium, zinc, copper, antioxidants, and Omega-3s.

 

 

Lazarus.

Lazarus

I came across a passage in the New Testament the other day that I’ve never considered before. I must have read it at some point, but I guess I never stopped to ponder what God was saying.

“When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.” [John 11:9-11]

I knew the chief priests and Pharisees wanted to be rid of Jesus in the worst way, but I didn’t realize they had planned to kill Lazarus as well. What? Lazarus just got raised from the dead. And this was no ordinary miracle. Jesus took great pains to make sure that everyone who witnessed the event would know without a doubt that Jesus had authority that could not be explained away. When Jesus heard that His good friend Lazarus was gravely ill, He did not rush to his side. Instead, Jesus sent word to Lazarus’ sisters that their brother’s sickness would not lead to death. I’m sure Mary and Martha thought this meant Lazarus would not die.

But he did.

Not only that, but Jesus left them to flounder in their grief and confusion for four days. Sure, Jesus could have been there—but He chose to wait until Lazarus was good and smelly before showing His face. There would be no mistaking that Jesus truly brought a dead man to life.

God got the glory and Mary and Martha got their brother back. The story should end there, right?

But God mentions one additional thing about Lazarus. Apparently, the episode resulted in many people believing in Jesus. And they didn’t believe in Him merely as a man, but as the Son of God. This vexed the chief priests and the Pharisees, who had no theology for people being raised from the dead on this earth.

Enter the human condition.

When we can’t find a box in our established belief system for a new experience, our tendency is to eliminate the experience rather than re-evaluating our worldview. For the record, this is why we don’t see many people with Down’s Syndrome anymore. Incurable disabilities don’t fit our paradigm of a vibrant, glossy existence, so we just eliminate the offenders and go back to being shiny happy people holding hands.

So we can’t fully blame the Pharisees for wanting to eliminate the evidence of Jesus’ authority over life and death. To keep their doctrines and power intact, both Jesus and Lazarus would have to go. We know that Jesus was crucified shortly after this incident. What God doesn’t tell us is whether the plot to put Lazarus to death was also successful. Could it be that Lazarus got a new lease on life only to be murdered a few days later?

The prevailing Western theology dictates that all stories must end with happy closure. No loose ends. No continued wrestling with complex, seemingly conflicting ideas about the nature of God and the meaning of life. But the Lord throws in this unsettling bit about the plot against Lazarus to shake us up, just as He shook up the Pharisees. We have no assurance that Lazarus lived a long and prosperous life after his encounter with Jesus. The only thing we know for sure is that death is not the final word.

Ultimately, that has to be enough.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everything who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” [John 11:25-26]

A first: banana chocolate chip gluten-free muffins.

I’ve blogged about a lot of things over the past few years, but I’ve never done or wanted to do a food post. It’s not that I don’t like cooking and baking. I do. I like watching DC Cupcakes and browsing Pinterest for high-res photos of DYI cuisine. But getting up and actually preparing meal? Not so much. Left to my own devices (and someone else’s bank account), I’d eat out every night except on those occasions when I wanted to entertain guests. In which case I’d order in. But the budget doesn’t have any margin for such extravagances these days. So I am going to make myself learn how to fix food. From scratch.thinkthinwc

My preferred diet consists of thinkThin white chocolate bars and coconut popsicles from Whole Foods, supplemented by almond chai lattes from this place. I only say this so you’ll note what a huge accomplishment it is for me to assemble real ingredients and take the time to prepare something that doesn’t entail peeling off a wrapper.

My biggest challenge is breakfast because there’s so much I can’t eat these days and I am not at all motivated to cook first thing in the morning, especially since I’ve had to eliminate coffee. I know…I’m practically a martyr. Anyway, I looked high and low for gluten-free muffin recipes and found this one in the NY Times, which means it’s legitimate. I made some modifications because I can get just a teensy bit obsessive at times. When the author of the recipe spent an entire paragraph on the benefits of a food scale, I knew I had to watch myself. The fact that I did not immediately run out to Williams Sonoma and purchase a scale accurate to within 1/1000th of a milligram tells me I am making progress conquering my inner perfectionista (or it tells me I’m broke, but let’s go with making progress). So, no scale. The author also recommends a meticulously calculated blend of gluten free flours and I just don’t have time for that. (Given that I’m currently unemployed, I actually would have time for that, but for the aforementioned reason…no.) I also wanted to be able to get all the ingredients from a single, reasonably-priced store and found some semblance of everything I needed at Trader Joe’s. So far, so good.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup flaxseed flour (The original recipe calls for buckwheat flour, but I won’t eat anything with the word “wheat” in it, no matter how many people tell me it’s g-free. Plus, TJ’s didn’t carry it.)
  • 3/4 cup almond flour (TJ’s has almond meal, which may be a bit more crunchy, but it works.)
  • 1 cup gluten-free flour mix (I used Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten Free Baking Flour.)
  • 6 tablespoons dark cocoa powder (It’s supposed to be cacao, but I just used TJ’s unsweetened cocoa powder. Get thee behind me, Martha Stewart.)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder (TJ’s carries the kind with no aluminum so you don’t end up with Alzheimer’s, which I find really considerate of them.)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup raw brown sugar or packed light brown sugar (TJ’s sells turbinado sugar that is fair trade. Because…you know.)
  • 2 eggs (While I splurged on the fair trade sugar, I couldn’t justify the price of free range eggs. And while we’re on the subject, I didn’t vote for enhanced cages for chickens in 2008 either. Sorry.)
  • 1/3 cup canola or grape seed oil (Grape seed oil? How many grape seeds do you need for a quart of oil? And do they at least make wine out of the grapes? I went with Canola oil. And then, because I just can’t help myself, I looked up “Canola oil” and found out it comes from rape seeds. What?)
  • 1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt or buttermilk (I used yogurt, but will try buttermilk next time just because I’m capricious like that.)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 medium mashed bananas
  • 2/3 cup chocolate chips (I didn’t think this would be enough. I mean, can you ever have too much chocolate? But the amount was just right.}

Directions (with my changes in red–and I eliminated some things to keep it simple):

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil or butter Line muffin tins with animal print baking cups. Sift Put the dry ingredients into a large bowl. FYI…sugar is not a “dry ingredient.” But you probably knew that.

Muffin tray

Dry mix

2. In another large bowl or in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whip attachment (i.e., a whisk attached to my hand) beat together the oil and sugar until creamy (hence the above note–I included the sugar with the dry ingredients (gasp) but it worked out just fine. See, I’ve already made all the mistakes for you, so you can just relax. Close your ears Martha Stewart, but I suspect if you just dumped all the ingredients in one bowl and mixed them together, the world would not come to an end–and you would still have edible muffins.) Beat in the eggs until incorporated (is this even a culinary term?), then beat in the yogurt or buttermilk, the vanilla and the mashed bananas. Add the dry ingredients and mix at low speed or whisk gently until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Bananas

Mixed

3. Using a spoon or ice cream scoop, fill muffin cups to the top. Place in the oven and bake 30 minutes, until a muffin springs back lightly when touched. Personally, I like the “toothpick test“. Makes 16-ish muffins.

Viola!

Banana Chocolate Chip G-Free Muffins

[image source: moi]

Orphan spirit.

sad child

God has been taking me to the end of myself and is starting to peel back some layers that I have ever so diligently been trying to keep intact.

Truth be told, I liked my layers. They protected me from the elements and they’re kind of cozy if you don’t mind snuggling in dysfunction, which apparently I didn’t.

But seasons change and now those layers that used to feel so comfy are choking me. There are days when I want to throw them all off at once, but God is patiently removing one layer at a time and clothing me in His truth. Today’s layer has to do with an orphan spirit. If you’ve been there, you know the feeling. You don’t belong anywhere, to anyone. You feel left out. Forgotten. Abandoned. It’s more than loneliness because it can actually be worse when you’re surrounded by people. They all seem to fit in with each other, but you…well, you don’t. You’re not one of them.

The orphan spirit can drive you to do all kinds of self-destructive things in a desperate attempt to find your tribe. Enough said.

My grandfather actually was an orphan and even though he married and had five children, he lived his life to the very end as a sad, fatherless child. God reminded me of this because the peeling process is painful (alliteration unintended). He wanted me to know that the hurt is a necessary alternative to a life of fruitless wandering.

As I was talking to Him about this orphan stuff and where it might have come from, I saw a picture of what the orphan spirit looked like. Just to be clear, I’m not saying I see spirits or demons. I’m just describing what popped into my mind as I was praying—a fat but sickly and shapeless overgrown baby. A big fat blob of a being that was attached to my side and feeding off me. As quickly as the image appeared, I wanted it gone. It was disgusting.

It hit me that this is a perversion of pregnancy, where you nurture the life within you for a time in order to ensure a healthy, whole, and separate human being. In contrast, you don’t give birth to this orphan spirit thing. It just continues to suck the life out of you, growing ever fatter, while you are diminished. You never deliver it. You get delivered from it.

What I saw was so grotesque that I immediately ran to Ephesians one and read aloud God’s declaration: He has chosen me from before the foundations of the world. I have been set apart and God sees me as His precious, unblemished child. Through Jesus I have been adopted as a daughter and, as such, share in His inheritance. I have a Father. A Brother. And a Tribe.

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God. | Romans 8:15-16

[image source]

All iteration.

A disappointing discovery followed by a challenging confrontation. Learning that talk of transparency may mask monumental misinformation. Trying to unpack, process and ponder difficult decisions while dealing with deadlines. And making no progress that might move me beyond the three month mark.

On the bright side, this:

20130314-224911.jpg

Three months.

calendarWoke up with a headache. It is possible that I may have indulged in a glass of wine too many {which would be any more than one} last night. In spite of the free hug yesterday, I ended up throwing myself a spectacular pity party. Popcorn, movies, vino, Kleenex…the works. Hey, it’s my pity party, so I’ll cry if I want to.

This morning I listened to a pep talk by Joel Osteen on replacing fear with faith. He talked about a railyard worker who accidentally locked himself in a refrigerated box car–and panicked. He knew the temperature would be below freezing and he didn’t believe he could survive the night. The next morning, his lifeless body was found curled up in a corner with a note he had scrawled on a piece of cardboard reading “So cold.” The thing is, the refrigeration wasn’t working in that box car and the temperature never got below 60 degrees. Freaky, right?

So I’m keeping this in mind, trying not to become consumed by the reruns of yesterday’s meeting with my boss playing in my head. Because what I thought I heard him say was that there’s no place for me. And for a girl who’s always wrestled with her sense of place in the world, that hit the bulls eye.

When I first met Jesus {I know that sounds weird…I’m just not sure how else to describe it. I had known of Him, I just didn’t actually know Him until I “met” Him. Talked to Him. Invited Him to clean me up and rearrange my stuff.} Anyway, when I first met Jesus, I felt for the first time that I had come home. I had a place in Him. And it was enough and too much all at the same time.

Over time, I found place in the company of others. My fellow law school students, colleagues, friends. Some of these relationships were healthy. Some not so much. They became more real—and more important—than my place in Jesus. I don’t even like to admit that, but it’s true. I had lost my first love—my first place.

And because I like to look for the reason in all things, I have to wonder whether I’m in this floor dropping out from under my feet circumstance now so I can reestablish my place in Jesus. Or…more accurately…so He can reestablish His place in me.

Truly, I cannot do what I’ve been asked to do without Him. But with Him—in Him—all things are possible. So Jesus, I want to see the impossible become possible in You these next three months.

Deliverables.

deliverablecheckSo I had what was supposed to be a routine weekly meeting with my boss this morning. To be honest, I always dread these meetings. I work for a non-profit organization that is having alleged financial challenges–and I’m constantly afraid I’ll be sacked.

I say “alleged” challenges because we are a bunch of crazies who actually believe God can come through and keep us afloat simply because He loves the overlooked population we serve. And guess what? He does. He brings in funds from the most unlikely sources at the very time we need them most and not a second sooner. The whole thing is alternately exhilarating and terrifying.

Today’s meeting was the latter. Our faith-infused CEO has taken a sabbatical of sorts, leaving us in the hands of a highly capable, but infinitely more pragmatic, leader who is trying to get the organization to make sense on paper, which could be a mistake. God’s activities don’t always pencil out, even when His outcomes are explosive.

So this morning I tried to justify my existence to my now boss who seems skeptical about my value to the organization. He repeatedly mentioned something about deliverables and I rolled the word over my tongue wondering whether the work I had done could be measured in tangible outcomes. Regardless, the bottom line is that I have three months to deliver. Three months to bring revenue into the organization. Or I’m done.

For the record, I wasn’t hired on as a fundraiser. There are some things I am good at, but money is not one of them. If my livelihood weren’t on the line, I’d find the whole thing hilariously ironic.

My cell flashes numbers from states across the nation, which could indicate how well-connected I am, but I know better. Delaware is student loans, Ohio is that department store bill I can’t afford right now and Washington DC is calling to collect back taxes. I let it ring because I can’t bring myself to acknowledge that my budget can’t squeeze into the salary I have now, never mind the lack of salary I could be facing in three months. I resolutely determine that I’ll get a handle on all of this, yes I will. Tomorrow.

My sister called earlier and asked if was appropriate to wish me happy anniversary for a marriage that has since been dissolved. The question stung because I knew she didn’t have time to hear me explain about this morning’s meeting and how I got my three-month notice on the very day ten years ago that I found out my marriage was effectively over. I had disappointed my husband in the same way I was now disappointing my boss. I had no defined deliverables. Not then; not now. I was simply not what I am supposed to be.

Three months. I have three months to do something I have no idea how to do or I will be terminated. Of course my boss was careful to say that it is not me who will have been worthless–just what I do. “It’s not you, it’s your position.” Try as I may, I am not grasping the distinction.

When I signed up for this work, I said I was all in. All. As in everything. For better or for worse. I am what I do. And vice versa.

I’ve been listening to what is frankly a stupid audio recording by someone who is undoubtedly wildly successful pontificating on the critical importance of knowing your “definite major life purpose.” And instead of applying his sage advice to my own less than stellar life, I am thinking of the dad in A Christmas Story eagerly unpacking his major award–the culmination of his life’s work. A leg lamp.

I’ve never won a leg lamp, or anything else for that matter, but I know my life’s purpose is to in some way restore the idea that we all possess basic human dignity. That’s what I’ve been working on this past year–that’s what I’m invested in–and to learn that I haven’t contributed anything of concrete value to our organization is gut wrenching.

Not to be overly idealistic, but I actually believe we are fighting against the notion that human worth can be calculated in dollars. And now I have to deliver a certain number of those dollars to validate my own significance. It seems perverse in some way. And entirely rational.

I understand the need for solvency, sustainability and capital. After all, I was the one who gave the Israelites in the Wilderness: Moving from Manna to Manure speech. At some point, God expects you to till the ground, plant some seeds and cultivate your crops. It’s part of getting to the Promised Land. You can’t stay in transition forever.

So rather than continue to whine about my plight, I need to suck it up and get to work. I don’t know whether I can deliver, but I’m going to give it my best.

On a cheery note, I met a guy today who saved me from my pathetic pity-partying by telling me that I am both rich and beautiful. Okay, he owns a cosmetics store, but still. He actually got in my face and challenged me not to dwell on the negative, but to pick myself up–smile–and move forward into a great destiny. And then he gave me a bunch of free products. And a hug. Now that is a deliverable I can reproduce :).