Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What do you really really really want?

Last week, when chatting with my roommates, one of them shared how she has started to recognize the things that she wants, and her tendency to avoid those things when there wasn't a guarantee of success in order to avoid being disappointed.  Looking at my own life, I saw that this is true for me as well.  I always go for the things that I'm relatively sure will work out.  But are those the things I want?  How do I even learn to see the things I truly want?  I've always tried not to want the things I want, because the more I want them the more I'll be disappointed, so I tell myself that I don't need anything and that I can be happy with whatever.

You see, this has been a question God has been asking me a lot lately.  "What do you want?"  And most of the time my answer is, "I don't know."  And when I do decide I want something, how do I know whether this is a desire of my heart according to how I have been made, or merely a product of fear or selfishness?  

Regardless, any revelation is only information unless it is transformed into action in one's life.  So I decided to start with something small.  I want a cat.  I've wanted a cat of my own ever since I moved away from home 10 years ago.  Somehow, circumstances were always against me, and I kept putting it off.  But now, newly determined to chase after this dream, I set to work.

I was actually very surprised at how easily my roommates agreed to this plan.  My landlord was not enthusiastic about the idea, but seemed as though she could be convinced.  I decided that an adult cat would be best, and scoured craigslist to find a suitable kitty.

Before I knew it, I was driving home with Kitty, complete with her food, toys, and automated self-cleaning litterbox.  All free to a good home where kitty would be loved.  The owners and I agreed on a one week trial period, since there were a few potential obstacles to Kitty being happy here.  The first being this:

Meet Chopper, my roommate's Boston Terrier.  He's a cheery little guy who is content as long as he can be around his people.  We weren't sure how Kitty would react to him, and at the beginning it was all growls and hisses from her, and whimpering and shaking from him.  However, after a while they seemed to become somewhat indifferent to each other.  First hurdle passed!

The second trial was that of allergies.  Would Kitty prove too allergen-producing for another of my roommates who has a mild cat allergy?  After a few days of watching, it seemed she was fine.  Second hurdle passed!

The third trial was that of Kitty's consideration of the property.  Would she pull up the carpet, scratch the hardwood floors, or pee outside her litterbox?  Because that would give her an immediate eviction from the landlord.  Once again, Kitty passes with flying colours.

Fourth hurdle is that of the unknown.  That which cannot be predicted.  Kitty developed an obsession with the outdoors.  She meows at both the front and back door when anyone is nearby there, and tries to sneak out at every opportunity.  Last night she succeeded and disappeared, frolicking in her freedom for a good two hours before coming back home.  This, unfortunately, is a deal-breaker.  My house is on a very busy intersection with heavy traffic at all times of day.  It wouldn't be long before Kitty's carcass would turn up on the side of the road.  So, she shall now be returned to her owners, who will continue to search for a loving home for her.

There was a day where I was getting depressed and thinking that I shouldn't have gone ahead with this idea in the first place, that it was a stupid idea that was doomed to failure, and that I could have saved myself the disappointment if I'd never gotten my hopes up in the first place.  But, I felt like God was saying that He could handle my disappointment.  That even if things go terribly awry, He still works all those things together for my good.  Typically, in this kind of situation I'd try to convince myself that I hadn't really wanted a cat that much in the first place, so it didn't matter if it didn't get to stay.  And in denying my disappointment, I'd deny God the chance to comfort and heal in this situation.  So I let myself be disappointed.  And I gave that disappointment up to my loving Father, and He in turn gave me peace enough to cover the whole situation.

There's another lesson I've taken away from this experience.  One night at the kitchen table, Zana asked me, "Why do you love cats so much?" There's all the typical answers one might give that I rattled off - they're clean, cute, independent, fuzzy, companionable - but the question stuck with me over the next few days.  In observing Kitty around my roommates, I finally put my finger on the answer.  One of the biggest reasons I love cats is because my family loves them too, and growing up that was something we shared together.  Anytime the cats did something cute or funny, we'd run to tell each other, and laugh about it together.  It brought us closer together, and joy shared is joy magnified.

I have decided to abandon the quest for a kitty at this juncture.  Not because of logistics, but because my roommates are just not really into cats.  They tolerated Kitty just fine, but in the words of Pastor Steve, "Toleration is a passive form of rejection."  It was a little bit painful to me to see Kitty being rejected by my roommates whom I love.  My happiness is having Kitty here was only the small happiness of my own self, lacking the magnification of having others to share it with.  Kitty has helped me to see that the true origin of my desire for a cat lies in the desire for greater connection with those I share my home with.  

I'm glad I had Kitty for this week.  I'm glad I took the risk to go for what I wanted, despite the fact that it didn't work out.  I learned a lot that I never would have known otherwise.  And I think this is just a small object lesson for me, that I can now apply to other areas of my life.  I don't want to just take the cautious route of guaranteed success anymore.  Perhaps there's no way to find out exactly what I really want until I just go for something that I think I want, and chase it until the things I truly want become clear. 

So how about you?  What do you really really really want?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Living in a world of words

Much of my life lately has been spent writing.  Now, normally I would enjoy such a task.  Writing, after all, is the medium in which I best express myself.  However, my style of writing is... well, it's this.  What you've been reading on my blog, for however long you have followed.  It's not just a string of bland statements, but it's a conversation between us.  This is my element, where I am most comfortable.  I love to communicate things in a way that makes sense to me, and hopefully to you as well.

The writing that I find myself doing now is Academic Writing.  Not just any kind of Academic Writing, but the sciencey stuff.  That means cold impersonal sentences stuffed full of incomprehensible jargon.  There's no life in it.  It's painful to me, to have to put my words into such a form that I disdain.  Alas, the culture of academia gives me no recourse, and I must struggle on, editing and re-editing, to find the exact precise form that will make my paper as publishable as possible.

If only I could be a science journalist.  Now THAT would be much more fun.  Perhaps after I'm done with this manuscript and it gets published somewhere, I'll write you all a fun and interesting summary in real-people language.

In the meantime, I've been getting out to enjoy the weather as well.  Recently my brother came to visit from Ottawa, and there was much fun to be had as you can see from the above picture of playing in the cherry blossoms.  What this picture doesn't show is the crazy hailstorm that happened 10 minutes prior which completely soaked us all from the knees down. Never a dull moment in Vancouver!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Los Angeles Excitement

Know what I love? I love meeting people who challenge me to see the world in a different way.  I had the privilege of that experience on my recent trip to LA.  The trip was for a conference, but I went a day early to visit my cousin who is interning at the LA Catholic Worker.  They're a group devoted to social justice and serving the poor in downtown LA. They live in a big community house and practice living in community with each other as well as serving the poor.  Community is something I've been thinking a lot about lately (more to come on that later in another blog post) so I was really interested to see how their community is structured.  But in my time there I learned a whole lot more.

Let me take you on a chronological tour of my day there.  On Wednesday morning, we woke up at 6:30am and went downstairs to have breakfast with the rest of the residents of the house.  This includes not only the staff and interns, but those who are staying there for a variety of other reasons.  I talked over breakfast with a woman who had moved there when one of her loved ones was in the last stages of terminal cancer (if I remember correctly).  The house also serves as a hospice for those who are dying.  She shared with me about the pain of watching him pass on, but told me that his ashes are buried in the garden and she walks out there to talk to him regularly.  She herself is an ex-convict and hasn't been able to hold down a steady job recently with so much turmoil in her life, but I could tell that at the Catholic Worker house she was loved and supported.  I could see that she still has an amazing future ahead of her, and that the LACW is helping her to get there.  

After breakfast we all piled into a couple of vans to drive over to Skid Row and pass out breakfast to the homeless there.  There was tension in the air as we pulled up because earlier that week the police had basically told them that if they came back, they'd take all their stuff.  However, there's nothing that can keep them from fulfilling their mandate of feeding breakfast to the guys on Skid Row twice a week as they have always done.  They came armed with a letter from their lawyer stating that nothing they are doing is illegal, nor does it violate food safety standards.  The police didn't show up however, so we didn't have to implement any of the emergency plans they'd come up with, and everyone had a very peaceful breakfast.

Following that we walked over to the government buildings for the LACW weekly vigil for peace.  There was a giant bag of protest signs to choose from, including such slogans as "Stop the war in Afganistan!" and "Who would Jesus bomb?"  I chose a sign that I felt I could agree with completely and wholeheartedly (see below) and my cousin likewise had her favourite Spanish sign.
Perhaps I've just been in the charismatic church for too long, but I was expecting a prayer vigil to involve like, praying out loud, maybe making declarations of God's peace or something.  So I confess to feeling a bit judgemental when I found out that it involved silent contemplation and very slow walking around the block where the government buildings are.  But as we were walking, I was praying about it, and I felt like God wanted to teach me about faithfulness, by seeing the faithfulness of these people.  Maybe it didn't look exactly like what I imagined a prayer vigil to be, but they have a level of commitment that's far and beyond anything I've ever done in my life. 

After circling the block of government buildings, we stopped out front, and one man read out a name of all the soldiers who had been killed in the past week.  Then he offered up a prayer for them and their families and a prayer for a peaceful future.  I thought that was a really cool way to honour the soldiers and not to minimize their sacrifice.  

After lunch back at the house, we went to the weekly community Bible study, which actually turned into a strategy meeting about what to do when the police arrived next.  There was talk of chaining themselves to oatmeal pots, how to best accomplish such a task, and whether a practice run would be helpful.  Despite all the differing opinions in the room, when the question was posed who was prepared to be arrested to continue serving breakfast to the homeless, nearly every hand went up. (An update from their website indicates that there has been one arrest so far.  The full story will likely come out soon in the next issue of their newspaper publication, the Catholic Agitator.)  Discussions were concluded with glasses of wine for everyone.  

Reflecting on my day with the LACW, I was thinking about how much Christians like to talk about helping others, but how little we actually put that into practice.  Sure we do sporadic events, but let's face it, we haven't been very good at building long-term relationships with people that need it and walking with them through the hardships of their lives.  Making someone a sandwich is easy, but building a relationship and investing time into them is much more difficult.  Preaching someone a sermon is easy, but standing with them in the midst of divorce, grief, addictions or whatever else can be hard and painful.  I might not completely agree with the theology of everyone at the LACW, but regardless of that they are not people of talk, they are people of action.  They are people of love.  Not only that, but they are incredibly faithful and trustworthy.  They're not content to sit back and be comfortable while others in the world are suffering.  They are prepared to sacrifice their comfort and even their freedom on behalf of those they are serving, to the point of being arrested and imprisoned.  I want that for my life.  I want that kind of faithfulness.  I want that kind of commitment to the kingdom of God, where serving those this world considers the least has the greatest reward.  Jesus said that whatever we do for even the least of people, we do it for Him personally.  What an honour!

I'm not sure yet how this will tangibly affect my life, but thinking back on this experience unsettles me.  It unsettles me in a good way (not in a guilt-inducing way - I live in a condemnation-free zone as per Romans 8:1), because it challenges me to change how I think and how I act.  I wonder, what will I pursue at all costs, no matter what opposition comes against me?  What will I cry out to God for day and night until He answers me?  Who are the people that I can serve, who are waiting for me to stop being self-absorbed and step up into being a woman of action?  What do I want to accomplish with my life?  Some people have an unmistakable calling of God on their lives to a specific thing which God makes clear to them at an early age.  Then there are others of us who find God asking us the question, "What do you want to do? What do you love? I will bless you in the things you choose." I find, I still don't yet know what I want to do when I grow up.  I'm still trying to figure out the things that I want, that are most important to me.  But when I do decide, I want the commitment and passion I saw in those at the LACW.  So that people will look back on my life after I'm gone and be inspired by my faithfulness and perseverance.  I want to leave that kind of a legacy for my (potential) children and grandchildren.  

Alright, that's enough for tonight.  I'll write you again soon, blogland.  Until then, be safe, be joyful, and spread a smile to someone else.