Wednesday, August 8, 2012

In Search of an Adult to Grow Into

In my last post I described a delightful visit from two Japanese relatives who judged our lives to be joyful and productive. Intersecting with us for three days prompted them to ask me, "What is your power?" I gave a pretty short answer but if I had more time and they had indicated a desire to go deeper, I would have explained that the Jesus-kind-of joy is usually juxtaposed with pain. That grief, tears and disappointments deepen the well for joy to fill. That an abundant life does not mean an easy life but it's a life that makes even the poorest on earth feel rich.

Their question helped to remind me of the life Jesus has called me into, which I especially needed at this time.

During the recent transition from one church to another, my husband and I worked hard to leave well. We met with the elders to plan an exit strategy since we were very involved at several levels. The discussion went well but the execution of the plan hit a snag and in the process, I was deeply hurt in two very painful conversations.

It was a disappointing ending to six years of loving and serving in this church. A period of depression and withdrawal followed but it was very brief. I came out stronger and more confident of who I am as a woman and follower of Christ. The pain was felt, grieved and then released. In the aftermath I have felt more alive and clear of what life means for me. It is filled with people I love and who love me and is superintended by Christ who loves and delights in me. 

Often I will reflect on my past journey taking note of patterns and significant felt changes. I am amazed that after each point of pain and disappointment, there has been a greater awareness of and sensitivity to people, a growing clarity of my values and purpose in life, and a deeper experience of God's love and acceptance. I feel more alive today than last year and the years before that.

Put another way I feel like I've taken another step from adolescence toward adulthood.

I admit I am still waiting to grow up and be an adult. Not adult as in physical development, educational achievements, job security, family responsibilities or age of majority. Adult as in emotional and spiritual maturity. The reality? I will always be adolescent in some way.

As much as I want to get past adolescence, progress is not something I can totally control. The next painful event exposes another childish way, whether mine or someone else's, and it's not easy to put it behind me as the Apostle Paul exhorts in 1 Corinthians 13:11. Those "childish ways" insist on playing peek-a-boo.

Despite the continuing threat of emotional and spiritual growing pains, becoming an adult means being more comfortable in my own skin, accepting others where they are and embracing life along with its gut-wrenching, take-the-air-out-of-you moments. I have taken comfort in knowing that Frederich Buechner confessed at the age of 80 that he had not yet become an adult.
I am not a past participle but a present participle, even a dangling participle. I am not a having-grown-up one but a growing-up one, a groping-up one, not even sure much of the time just where my growing and groping are taking me or where they are supposed to be taking me. I am a verbal adjective in search of a noun to latch onto, a grower in search of a self to grow into.
An "adult adolescent" he calls himself. The adolescent ignores the pain or is trapped by it. The adult will grow through the pain without burying it or succumbing to it. Pain puts you in touch with your emotions which makes you more human. It is not how much you know or how well you reason your way through life. It is pain that grows you up.

Buechner describes what I have found to be true:
We are never more alive to life than when it hurts - never more aware both of our own powerlessness to save ourselves and of at least the possibility of a power beyond ourselves to save us and heal us if we can only open ourselves to it. We are never more aware of our need for each other, never more in reach of each other, if we can only bring ourselves to reach out and let ourselves be reached...We are never more in touch with life than when life is painful, never more in touch with hope than we are then, if only the hope of another human presence to be with us and for us.
What is my power? It's not "what" but "who."

Christ saves and heals me, binds me to a community, takes the yoke of my adult burdens, teaches me how to carry them with gentleness and humility, gives me permission to be emotional and fragile.

Christ takes me from infancy through adolescence into maturity, into the fullness of Himself so that I am less and less tossed back and forth by men.

That is when I am most human and most like Him.

That is when I feel most alive and most adult.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Life That Needs No Translation

I've been on a two-month hiatus from my blog, taking the time to realign my heart and readjust to this new place I am entering. I have transitioned out of one church to another where I am no longer fighting a patriarchal system. This means I'm trying to get back on track on why I want to write and what I want to write. It is going to take some time. In the meantime...

I admit I was a bit nervous and a little stressed about the two strangers who were coming to stay with us for three days. Strangers but also family from the other side of the world whom I had not seen for many years. I had met my Japanese cousin only briefly 15 years ago on a trip to Osaka with my mother. His daughter had visited our home 27 years ago. There had been no communication since then because my deaf-mute mother could not call long distance nor write a letter, having never learned how to read or write. I did not know Japanese either. My cousin and his daughter were now 72 and 46 years old. Our lives had changed drastically on both sides of the world.

The time spent hosting them in our home turned out to be surprisingly fun despite the challenge of translation between English, Japanese and sign language. They responded to every new experience with "Ahh!" and "Ohh!" in harmonious squeals of delight. Rejecting offers to take them to Japanese restaurants, they preferred the real American thing, preferably Portland-style. So we introduced them to McMenamins one evening and Multnomah Falls Lodge the other. They especially loved craft beers. We capped off their final night with a late evening firepit and roasted s'mores. Everything was captured on their digital camera.

In between expressions of gratitude for caring for my mother, they made frequent references to one particular observation. My cousin lamented that the Japanese worked too hard and did not know how to enjoy life like the Americans did. I assured them that Americans had the same problem. But according to their observations of our home and never-ending fun projects, our children and grandchildren, and our hospitality, they insisted that Jon and I knew how to live life with exuberance and joy.

Now granted, we have had more time to enjoy life since Jon retired from teaching three years ago. Even that amazed them because Jon was able to retire at the young age of 55. My cousin had no thoughts of retiring even in his 70s. Believe me, we keep pinching ourselves that we are in this particular season of life.

On the day they departed, we spent a few hours enjoying our last three-language conversation on our deck under a billowing, yellow canopy that shaded us, along with the forest of 150-ft Douglas fir trees, from the hot sun. Then during a lull in the craziness of broken English and gesturing hands, my cousin turned to his daughter and asked her to translate a question to me. He saw our productive, happy, love-filled lives and wanted to know what our "power" was.

Our power? You mean motivation? Her head nodded. I thought for a minute and gave two answers. In short, my father and my Father. I had a father who taught me I could do anything and I am a Christian who loves Jesus. They accepted my answer happily and offered their own Buddhist faith as a point of mutual contact and respect. I accepted in return.

Since that exchange I have reflected on their question some more.  What does not need translation is a life that is enjoyed and filled with people who are loved. Maybe that's why Jesus insists we treat each other with his kind of love and live his kind of abundant life. Such a gospel-life "speaks" so loudly that it prompts the question, "What is your power?"

My Japanese relatives only saw a very small slice of our life. When I have guests I'm like any other person - I behave my best and put a lot of effort into my hospitality. But my hope is that what they saw was the real thing, the Jesus-kind-of-life that comes from loving Christ with every fiber of my body and every intention of my heart. I don't have the gift of evangelism but perhaps my gift of hospitality is close enough.

I don't live that life well all the time but there are moments like those spent with my relatives from the other side of the world that tell me I am progressing with my translation skills.