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Audio Feed report, part 2

Posted: July 5, 2017 in Uncategorized

A coworker asked today about my Audio Feed vacation – “You went to a concert, right?”  This presents the dilemma:  trying to explain what the festival is.  I didn’t even try to explain today, as we both had a lot of work to do.  When people asked about Cornerstone festival, I generally called it “a Christian Woodstock,” but that didn’t do it justice.  To my knowledge, Woodstock had no educational element, nor any worship element – just the music and, I don’t know, maybe it had merch?  I just felt like comparing it to Woodstock was pointing to the music and the openness that I was encountering.

I won’t be able to capture all of Audio Feed in a few blogs, and if I tried to keep writing until I’d painted the whole picture, I think I would just kill the magic.  Rather than trying to explain every detail, how about I just share about some of my favorite highlights?

  • Jewish stuff – this is something I don’t recall experiencing at Cornerstone, but there was Messianic Jewish programming available daily.  Thursday night, G and I went to “Rabbi Rock:  A Chanukah Experience,” which was a lot of music and some worship (this was part of the “Goth Family Christmas” occurring in the Asylum tent).  I could’ve stayed for straight-up worship after that, but it was midnight and I have my limits.  Friday morning, I attended a communion service there led by a rabbi whose main message was just because you’re still living in consequences does not mean you’re not forgiven, and included a note that orthodoxy is built to help pilgrims on the path, not to build the institution of the church.  That last bit is one I’ve been chewing on quite a bit – while I wouldn’t call myself “orthodox,” that explanation gives me a new appreciation of and interest in understanding orthodoxy.  Saturday and Sunday I stopped in for bits of other Jewish music or worship.   Having Jewish things to choose from seemed to me the perfect and logical next step for me, having married G and trying to learn the “Jewish wife” routine ever since.  I felt like it was pretty nice of God to arrange this.   The ministry team behind these events was interesting, as well (ministry to subculture folks – that’s my stuff!)
  • Great goth music – Leper played the best show I’ve seen them do yet, concluding with a worship song that took me (and others around me) to that stepping-into-another-dimension place that leaves me always longing for more.
  • Psalters was always a tribal what-the-heck-was-THAT highlight of Cornerstone festival for me; Bird and Herd came closest to that flavor for Audio Feed.  Anastasia Bird’s voice is an addictive substance for me, the poetic essays read at the top of each song were material I wanted to collect in my notebook, and she was well-backed by her “herd.”  I’m sorry I only made it to one of her two shows.
  • Fun music – if you’ve seen Destroy Nate Allen, described by Nate’s other half, Tessa as “rag doll anarchist music,” then you know the joy of that ridiculous party.  This time it included a devil pinata body-surfing the crowd before being stomped to smithereens in the pit, a song about staying out of the “booby bars” for the sake of one’s relationship, and the culmination was my favorite of all their songs, “Jesus Keep Us Safe from the Cops,” which is not about our sad current state of racial affairs but is instead just a giggling poke at what it’s like to be a touring band followed by local cops in every town.
  • More fun music – Spoken Nerd had a hilarious song called something like, “Being a Big Guy Isn’t All that Bad,” a song about big beards, and a lot of other silly stuff…but also an ironic song that plays over and over in my head with a serious point about the Christian culture wars and our general thought that we can be “good enough.”
  • Still more fun music – John Reuben came out after five years without a show, and many of us knew most of his lyrics (hey, he only knew *most* of his lyrics too, LOL).
  • Blow-your-mind music:  Scott Knies, otherwise known as Brother Red Squirrel.  This dude doesn’t PLAY music, he IS music.  He can pick up literally any instrument and caress songs and sounds out of it like no one I have ever seen.  I don’t know how his body and mind bear the brightness of carrying so much talent around in the world.  His show was my other “high holy worship” session, transported across the permeable surface between us and heaven.  I couldn’t know he was playing and then not be there.
  • So much more music.  I saw part of an extreme metal show by Colombian band Exegesis (it’s not my music, but it’s fun once a year), a couple of highly emotional bands that were fun (here and here), a lovely hour of classical/Spanish guitar, and more that I saw, and more that I wanted to see but just couldn’t be two places at the same time.
  • Great teaching on spiritual warfare by Jesus Outsider Ministries.  A class on “Spiritual Warfare through Creative Expression” by Flatfoot 56 lead singer Tobin Bawinkel, with stories about things God had done that made me weep in awe.  A class called “Christ and the Dark Night of the Soil,” that addressed the war going on between various elements of agriculture today.  “Beauty Will Save the World – Art vs. Propaganda,” which ended up being less agreeable to me than I expected, but still has me thinking.  And more seminars of varying quality.

There was more.  SO MUCH MORE, as far as programming.  On top of that, I caught up with friends from JPUSA everywhere I went.  Sadly I did not find a lot of my old Cornerstone subculture ministries tent folks, but maybe that’ll be another year.

Maybe all of that gives you a little glimpse of what I mean when I say Audio Feed.  May you enjoy clicking the links!

When I loaded up my car and got in to leave the very last Cornerstone festival, I cried.  First it was a few little dignified tears but quickly I was sobbing.  How could it be over?  I relived years and years of the festival – shows, friends made, seminars, roundtables, people-watching.  This thing changed my life.  It changed who I became.  It changed my mindset.  It freed me from the need to assimilate.  It pointed me down a path that I’d never have imagined.  My people were here – meeting with them annually was my recharge time that got me through the rest of the year.  How could it be over?

Quickly others who felt the terrible yawning chasm left in Cornerstone’s demise decided to do something about it; the first Audio Feed festival followed the next summer.  I was still grieving and didn’t want to even talk about Audio Feed, much less attend it.  After all, there are endless Christian music festivals out there.  If I just wanted “another fest,” I already had choices.  I didn’t want just another fest.  I didn’t want to show up to find a bunch of music I could hear every day on my radio.  I didn’t want to wander through all the things that gross me out about superiority-complex ridden Christian mainstream culture.  I had no interest in more of the same bland stuff I can find every day, everywhere.  My daughter had tried out Ichthus festival while her husband was in seminary; she had called me, indignant.  “Khaki pants and polo shirts everywhere!  It’s so mainstream!”  Cornerstone, with its rich diversity of all things alternative, had wrecked her for vanilla world just as it had me.  I didn’t need an experience like hers to taint my Cornerstone memories.  No thanks.

By the next year, I was hearing that my Cornerstone people were gathering again at Audio Feed.  I was interested, though still worried it might not live up to all that I had loved about Cornerstone (my main concern by this point:  what if it was only music and no seminars?)  It didn’t matter, it turned out.  G and I started volunteering that year serving abused and neglected foster kids at Royal Family Kids Camp, which fell during Audio Feed.  Oh well.  Maybe that was saving me from disappointment.

More years, more reports – it seemed like Audio Feed might be good, after all (and no, never at any point was I interested in learning about the other fests.)  We couldn’t choose vacation over foster kids, though, so no point in meditating on that.  I limited how much I read about Audio Feed each summer, so I wouldn’t be sad that I couldn’t at least try it out.

Then last year at camp, an announcement:  camp would be moved to a different slot at the end of July.  We were in the “snack shack,” a kind of staff break room, when the announcement came out – several of us faithful Cornerstone attenders broke into cheers instantly.  We get to go to Audio Feed!  

We got back last night from our first Audio Feed experience, having left before it was over due to the misfortune of not expecting the festival would run through this morning and thus not asking for the correct number of days off work for G, who needed to show up at 6:30 this morning for his role in feeding the seniors.  This meant we missed the Flatfoot 56 show and also a second Leper show, which is a true bummer, but we will bravely press on somehow.

People:  CORNERSTONE IS NOT DEAD.  Audio Feed is a new iteration.  It is smaller, and it is different in some ways, but the spirit is very much there.  My people (read: those who are over the value of artistic and ideological conformity) are there.  Being there was coming home again.  Next year we will read the schedule carefully before filling out our PTO sheets at work so that we don’t have to miss even a moment of it.

My mind is full of images and phrases and my notebook is full of details from the last four days of fun, and maybe I’ll write more about it after today (let’s be realistic:  I’ll write more than most of you want to read about it!) but no set of words can capture the collage.  Of course I couldn’t do/see everything that I wanted, because so much happens simultaneously – that’s part of the sweet agony of it all:  who will I choose to see this hour?

The big theme I heard across my many experiences there was a call for all of us from church world:  stop focusing on our differences and disagreements – we can’t afford to waste time and energy on that.  Ours is a rescue mission – abandon the culture wars and get back on mission.  A rescue mission is about others; culture wars are self-focused.  

Here’s how I know it is possible for us to follow that important directive:  my own Audio Feed experience.  I’m a seminar junkie; I sit in more classes/discussions than music shows because I like it that way.  The teachers I listened to were not all perfectly lined up with my ideologies and philosophies.  People said stuff that made me nod my head affirmatively and mutter amen, but also people said stuff that made me uncomfortable.  Stuff that I didn’t like.  Stuff with which I firmly do not agree.  Some teachers were so inspirational I was ready to leap out of my chair and charge into battle beside them; some were so boring that I stepped out to get coffee to keep me awake (all the nights were late and all the mornings, early) before returning to hear the rest.  Some of it was meaty stuff I’ll be chewing on for months to come.  Speakers ranged from way more fundamentalist than I am to way more liberal than me.  Some sharing did silly little things that pushed my buttons, making it hard for me to pay attention (the funniest:  the lady who took a giant bite of an apple in the midst of making an introduction, and then spoke carefully into the mic while chewing, practically sending me into convulsions), while others were riveting.  Mostly, no politics could be smelled around there, but occasionally I caught enough to know that the person speaking likely voted in a way that makes my hair stand on end. In the end:  I got something of value from every single one of these people (and I’m not foolish enough to suppose that “I hold the correct view” everywhere that I disagreed).  I am refreshed and revived and inspired because of what they willingly brought to the table.

Being called to follow Christ does not come with a manual that brings us all into conformity, item by item, so that we are the same.  But we do have the same Holy Spirit, and if we’re listening, we can play well together and actually get good things done and not act like asses.  IT CAN BE DONE.  I experienced it over and over there, just as I do in my everyday life, interacting with coworkers, friends and family who are all over the spectrum of ideas and worldviews that never perfectly match mine.

I’m grateful for the reminder in this theme.  It’s easy to lose that thread in today’s culture here in the USA, Christian or otherwise.  If I can pick it up and spread it around generously, I’ll have done what I should – no doubt about that.

A big THANK YOU to all who make Audio Feed happen.  What you are doing is important, and I know it is more work than most of us begin to imagine.  I promise to do a better job this year of holding you up in prayer as you pull it together again.  SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!

Team Buchanan is currently on a mission to reclaim our garage.  It’s a tiny thing, old, with a saggy roof and one wall being slowly bowed by the white oak growing at its corner.  It desperately needs a new roof and a paint job; we have plans for both, hopefully before winter.  It is juuuuust barely big enough for our car and a few other items placed neatly and carefully. But it hasn’t been neat at all for some time.

We first displaced our car with a used bed we’d gotten for a friend who was amidst a move.  The friend’s situation changed, and the bed sat there on sawhorses, wrapped carefully in tarps to keep the wet out, waiting to be claimed by someone…anyone.

Then there was the small, dirty mattress we got with the house, propped up against the back of the garage.  And the big box springs we brought from our previous residence, but couldn’t fit up the attic stairs – we propped it back there too.  That was fine until the City made a sweep and wrote us warning of an impending ticket; G hastily hauled both into the garage.

There was the old tire we got with the house, that we kept moving around.  Can’t put those out with the garbage, and I was pretty sure we were going to have to pay to get it out of our lives.

We hadn’t figured out how to get rid of all these things, so we parked on the street for most of winter, working the business of defrosting the car into our morning routine.  Parking outside in inclement weather is a violation of my personal laziness policy, but we somehow survived. Friends had mentioned that the City would do a pick-up, but they intimated it would cost, and as I calculated the value of a truck and two workers, I supposed that expense would be prohibitive, so for 10 months I did nothing about it.  Finally, I decided to do a little research; within 10 minutes I had learned that our city provides one free pick-up per year, and had called to set it up; they’re coming next week to get rid of the junk.  They also do free tire pick-ups; that’s already complete.

That still left us with a perfectly good bed, the mattress and box springs pristine in the canvas.  I didn’t have the heart to just throw such a useful thing out.  I advertised it repeatedly on my local Facebook buy and sell page, first for sale and then for free, without a single bite.  Complaining at a party (yeah, I’m a fun gal who complains at parties), I was advised to give Craigslist a try.  Yesterday morning, I finally got around to composing my ad there, promising myself that if the bed wasn’t gone by pick-up day, it would just have to go then.

If you ever want to give something away for free, do it on Craigslist.  I posted the ad, complete with a photo and clarification that the bed showed some wear and tear but was solid and the mattress in good condition, and within an hour had half a dozen inquiries, a firm appointment, and a waiting list of people who wanted it if those above them on the list did not.  The first asker seemed enthusiastic and earnest on her texts; we agreed that she’d come by when we got off work.

I worried that the crappy little mattress and the big box springs that had sat outside so much might freak out potential takers, so G and I took the time to haul the good bed out of the garage and shut the door.  We waited.  And waited.  Twenty minutes past appointment time, the couple rolled up in their big fancy truck, hopped out, and started inspecting the bed.  We rushed out of the house, smiling and greeting them enthusiastically.  They did not respond.  The hostile body language of the wife was unsettling.

Still, we made nice while they inspected the bed, unsmiling, unspeaking, unintroduced, pushing up some kind of unspoken barrier that seemed to forbid us to speak.  The woman finally indicated they wouldn’t be taking it, grousing that, “Even for free, there is too much wrong with it.”  With nary a smile nor a single pleasant word, they got back in their fancy truck and drove away while we stood there with our jaws hitting the ground.  The impulse to make a rude comment as they left was powerful even for non-confrontational little old me, but I stifled it.

Still, their rudeness left a residue even after they were gone.  We were offended.  We told each other the story and asked each other the questions and shook our heads over and over.  My stomach was a nasty pit.  I imagined creative things I could’ve said.  I noted aloud to G that it wasn’t so much that they didn’t take the bed – they didn’t owe us that.  It was that they couldn’t do basic civility.  That they treated us like we were trying to hustle them with our free bed.   I stayed mad clear to bedtime, despite coaching myself continually not to take offense about people whose problem was clearly their own and had nothing to do with me.

In the end, though we fantasized about crappy ways we could have acted in response to their crappiness, we agreed that we were glad we hadn’t.  What if the couple shows up at our church some day?  What if they bring a parent to tour our (senior housing) workplace at some point?  We represent both of those organizations, like it or not.  We were glad that God’s grace had enabled us to not return yuck for yuck.  We won’t need to be embarrassed or ashamed if we encounter these uncivil people in another setting.  That’s a good gift.

All this to say:  people, manners matter.  It’s easy to forget that in the heat of a moment.  It’s easy to be so much about what we want or are trying to get that we forget the niceties of introductions, smiles, and saying thank you.  When I am on a mission to get a task done, I all too easily forget to stop and make people feel noticed along the way.  THAT MATTERS.

You and I get a choice every day, over and over, to leave a residue of peace and encouragement or a residue of offense.  This little episode was a great reminder to me that I have to be intentional about it all the time – I’m just as able to be uncivil as our visitors were.  We often think changing the world has to be a huge, epic, expensive, difficult thing.  But I submit that we change the world every day all day, as we choose to interact with people in affirming, life-giving ways.  I’ve been reminded.  Consider yourself reminded as well.

And if you’re wondering:  the second person on the list did come, and did take the bed, and remembered more about graciousness.  The world has not gone completely to hell in a hand basket, no matter how many people try to say that it has.

Today, may you and I be spreaders of joy.

here comes Audiofeed!

Posted: May 29, 2017 in Uncategorized

G and I are doing the preliminary work to prepare for our first time attending Audiofeed Festival later this summer.  While the festival has been going for several years, we’ve been busy with Royal Family Kids Camp at festival time the past three summers, and as much as we wanted to do the festival, choosing between serving those foster kids or indulging ourselves was kind of a no-brainer.

The year before we started serving at that camp, G had suggested Audiofeed, but I was having no part of it.  Like G, I had been attending and/or serving at Cornerstone Music Festival for many years before it was discontinued.  I was still in deep mourning (this is not artistic exaggeration) about Cornerstone ending; when G suggested the trip to Audiofeed, I had the perfect analogy to explain my refusal.  “Let’s say you died tomorrow.  And then my friends came to me in a few months and said, ‘We’ve got a really great guy we want you to meet.  We think the two of you would be a great couple.’  My answer would be I DON’T WANT TO MEET THE GUY.  It doesn’t matter how nice he is.  My G just died.  Give me time to grieve properly.”

True fact:  just now while I was looking up the link above that shares about the end of Cornerstone Festival, I spontaneously started to weep as the page opened, surprising myself.  Cornerstone changed my life in about a thousand ways.  It opened my perspective.  It shaped my faith.  It brought me friends just as misfit and odd and Jesus-crazy as me.  It eventually led me to live at JPUSA, one of the greatest experiences of my life, and some real forever friendships with the folks there, which in the long run delivered me my very own husband, made just for me, the amazing G.  I am STILL crushed that it is over.

But I’ve had enough time to grieve now, and it happens that we moved the week that Royal Family Kids camp happens, so we are available for Audiofeed.  We (and some of our friends) did a major happy dance last year upon learning that this scheduling conflict was finally untangling itself.  I CAN’T WAIT!

Along the way, though, I’ve gotten rid of all of my camping stuff.  Before moving to JPUSA, I had given away most of what I had.  The little 2-man tent I used when moving back to the Quad Cities made me crazy, so when we picked up a couple of travelers and their dogs one time on the way home from a Kentucky trip and drove them across several states, we made sure to send them off the next day with our little tent in hand.  They were headed to the next best spot to hop a train – I figured a way to get out of the rain would be good for them, and they wouldn’t mind so much how scrunched the thing was.

So I had written down in my planner:  buy a tent for Audiofeed.  Just needed a budget for that.  While waiting to work that out, I went a couple of weeks ago to yard sales with my family; I bought a 3-room tent for $10 in someone’s back yard.

It’s a gamble, buying a used tent in a bag.  Will all of the pieces be there?  Will the zippers work?  Will there be instructions, and if not, will I be able to figure out how to set it up?  Did it get put away wet – will it be moldy?  So many questions. But $10 is a pretty good gamble, so I brought it home.

Tonight we tried to do a test run, setting it up.  If bad news was coming, I wanted it sooner rather than later.  It only had 1 stake left, but fortunately we had enough on hand for that problem.  It isn’t moldy, and the zippers seem to work.  We couldn’t quite set it up, though, as 3 sections of the two longest fiberglass poles are shattered.

Thank God for the internet.  I’ve been Googling and YouTubing and shopping Amazon and everything I need to fix this problem is now in the mail – it’ll be here Wednesday.  I’m about to become an expert in tent pole repair (one more item for my grab-bag of things about which I like to call myself a badass for knowing.)  Within the week, if the weather cooperates, we will do a test run to make sure we can set the thing up.

ADVENTURE!  I love it.  Now, if God wants to drop some camp cooking equipment in my lap, I’ll cheer aloud about that one and tell that story too.  He KNOWS I like to brag on how He delights to supply my needs.  I just know He’s tickled with and for me as our plans come together.

Going to Audiofeed?  TELL ME!  Let’s look each other up!

Pushing as far as I can back into my childhood, all of my clearest memories are of being socially awkward/uncomfortable, low-energy, unathletic, and generally an outsider.  I can’t recall anything from before school or from Kindergarten, but in first grade, our school got what was to me a truly marvelous system in place.  It stripped away learning as a group and turned us loose with what were called TLUs (I think something like “teaching/learning units”).  For each subject, we received a little packet (1-3 pages, I think) that spelled out projects we were to complete, and questions we were to answer along the way, and a little self-administered test at the end.  One assignment might involve listening to an audio cassette; another might direct specific reading or drawing a map or doing a small experiment of some kind.  Materials were provided, and we could work at our own speed.  I loved this wildly and worked at my own speed way ahead of my peers, only being stymied when I reached the occasional item that required me to work (insert horror music here) in a small group.  Working through my TLUs was a pleasure and a joy.  PE class, recess, and the after-lunch competitive games (teams in lines, racing to the end of the gym and back in various configurations), which were all the favorites of my peers, were things I dreaded, loathed, and wanted to escape at any cost.  One of my best skills was losing or forgetting my gym shoes.  I was an underweight kid, anemic, always tired and never up to the fantastic feats of athleticism that seemed natural to my classmates.

By second grade, I had learned to hide inside of reading.  I would sneak my latest book out to recess and hide by a tree, reading and hoping nobody was going to force me to join in play that wasn’t play for me.

In third grade, my reading-for-escape strategy started getting me reported by my teachers, who complained to my parents that I wouldn’t get my nose out of the book and go play like the other kids.  Some days I made myself join the other kids – we jumped rope a lot, and there was the joy of sliding down the fire escape.  But I still tried to hide away as often as I thought could be reasonably managed.  The other kids seemed comfortable with each other and unfrightened by their interactions, but I was consistently afraid and at a loss for what to say or do, when I tried to be part of their crowd.  On the positive side, I think all the other kids in my class at some point or other got spanked with the board with a carved out handle and a name (Caesar) for either failing to complete work, or some behavior violation, while I never once suffered that indignity (at an assigned time, all the accused had to stand at the front of the room, bend over, and submit to a number of whacks preassigned and announced by the teacher as appropriate for their crime.) So it seemed like my strategy was working.

All my years of public school went on like this, with me focused on the joy of my schoolwork and my books and generally in terror of social interactions, ever the awkward outsider, until I got big enough to be swooped up by a predatory older boyfriend and things got much worse, but that’s a different story for another day.

I’m pondering all of this more recently as I’m beginning to realize:  I think my childhood of social ineptitude, as painful and lonely as it was, is actually proving out to have been a gift to me in some ways.  While I got better at faking my way through and surviving among the masses over time, I’m still (in my own eyes, at least) very much the awkward outsider, different from others around me, less skilled at the give-and-take with people who are not my family or closer friends and coworkers, bad at navigating a crowd.  Here’s the gift from that:  I don’t have big expectations that I will be popular or even noticed, so I don’t get disappointed on that front.  I believe others won’t perceive me as “cool” at all, so on the occasions that they do, it brings me joy, and the rest of the time I’m not bothered.  I generally assume that people say what they mean and mean what they say when dealing with me, so if they are trying to hide daggers  to wound me in our conversations, I am oblivious (I think people with better social skills catch all that subtext, from what I’ve observed, but it seems to make them LESS happy, not more.)

My pastor, who has shared before about believing as a child that he would have a superpower by adulthood, was talking yesterday in the message about how people get disappointed as time goes by – I thought I was going to be more fit by now, I thought I was going to be richer, more handsome, prettier, more important, etc.  I listened and probed my memories – no such experience.  Can’t relate.  I have never imagined that one day I’m going to rise up and amaze the world – I have always felt like a very little person who is always going to be a very little person.  The single exception to that is that when I was working with at-risk kids, while the healthy part of me was just a little person trying to love those kids with all my might, the less healthy part of me definitely developed a “messiah complex.”  I was going to single-handedly save them from the dreary fates that seemed to await.  Even in this, though, I was clear that people weren’t mostly going to think well of me for it (if you pour yourself into kids on the brink, while some will think well of you, more will not understand you, and others will go to great lengths to persistently inform you of how stupid you are for wasting your time and energy.)

While I am blessed (and continually amazed) to have somehow been named a hero by some people I’ve loved along the way and labeled very kindly by some others, all of that comes to me not as what I expected.  It’s a happy surprise, which causes me to hold it tenderly.  My failure to expect popularity, fame, physical prowess, wealth, etc. has paid me very well:  I am an undisappointed person, content with where I am, not resenting my peers in cases where they seem to be doing better.

I think this is maybe one of the reasons Facebook doesn’t make me crazy like it does so many.  When I get there, it doesn’t occur to me to compare myself to others as they present themselves, which seems to be what people with better in-person social skills do.  If I see someone getting something good, I think it is nice for them, and I’m not bothered that it’s different from the good things I get.  If I see someone acting badly, I am clear that it’s not about me, so it doesn’t make me mad.  I scroll quickly on by the stuff that I don’t like and I “hide” the things that offend me (that is NOT the same as “the things with which I disagree”) without comment, assuming it is for someone else and not me.  That leaves me lots of space to connect with people, and – even better for me, really – to read things that interest me.  I’m still Karen who wildly loves to learn and to read.  That’s not different than grade school Karen.  It occurs to me that others are taking Facebook as “the playground,” and God knows I never did understand how to navigate a playground – those are terrifying places.  It is not the playground for me.  I just wander in and take what I like and then get on with my day, leaving the rest with the presumption that someone else apparently likes that part.

I wouldn’t have supposed that years of painful social ineptitude could, in the long run, wind up being a gift.  But looking at it right now, I think maybe it was.  I don’t know how to draw any worth from the opinion of others, since I don’t expect them to notice me at all.  I just get to be happily surprised (if still kind of skeptical) at praise, and at peace with the rest, cozying into learning and words and now God, who doesn’t seem to mind my awkwardness.  I don’t waste time comparing myself to others – what would be the point of that, for an awkward outsider?

That seems like a good thing to me.

Somewhere around 2003 I took an extensive, detailed spiritual gifts survey, interested to measure what my strengths might be and point myself in an appropriate direction.  At that time, my big gift (this one never changes, no matter how many times I take that kind of survey) was teaching (perhaps that’s why some of my earliest school memories are of watching the teacher and thinking they don’t understand you because you’re saying it this way instead of that way).  My next highest gift (that one changes over the years) was prophecy.

The material that came with the survey for follow-up made an interesting and strongly worded point about the combination of those two gifts.  If you have teaching and prophecy gifts together, it said, people will suppose you are gifted for leadership.  This is not the case, and you should push back when people try to corral you into leadership positions.

In the year or so before I took that survey, I had been elevated in my church to the position of head deaconess, though I was the youngest deaconess of all.  It wasn’t a position I had sought, and I hadn’t felt qualified to lead, but one thing my parents taught me well is that when something needs done, you step up and do it – you don’t wait for the mythical “someone else” to materialize.  People asked, so I took the role, giving it the best I knew how to do at the time.  Shortly thereafter, some hard things happened in that church and I left in a blaze of inglorious self-righteousness, only to figure out years later that the mess at the church wasn’t the only problem – there was also ME.

Since then, leadership has hunted me down and found me time after time, even when I’ve tried to hide from it, even when I’ve tried to dodge it.  It’s not something I want – I think of myself as a worker bee and generally tend to feel like the least qualified person in the room for the leadership role.  I like to HELP the leaders.  I want to SUPPORT them.  I totally get into PRAYING for them.  I am big on LOYALTY to the leaders that I know.  When I am leading, on the other hand, I mostly feel kind of naked and awkward.

But the simple fact is, someone’s gotta do the stuff, and most people practice Nancy Reagan’s mantra when asked to take on a leadership role:  “Just Say No!”  Too busy, not qualified, don’t like people, yadda yadda yadda.  And then mixed into that mess there are the types who are dying to be in charge, to get to boss others around, to stand tall and proud at the helm and bask in glory, and for sure THEY want to be leaders, but of course they for sure should not, since they are more despots-in-waiting than true leaders.

So in the mix of all that, I lead.  Not because I want to or am self-aggrandizing enough to think that I have some sort of special awesomeness.  More often than not, I am a hot mess.  And all these years since that first survey, I have heard that warning ringing over and over in my head.  I am not gifted for leadership.  But the stuff needs done, and so I offer my willingness and my best efforts – my job is to honor Christ by doing that much.  Results are God’s business.

Somewhere out there is a pool of potential leaders, folks with the gift who are sitting on it.  I don’t know where you are or who you are, but I’m saying:  if you’d press into your willingness, you could show us all how it’s done.  If that is making you squirm, I’m praying for you.  Praying for deep discomfort to plague you until you step into the role God created you to take on.  We need you.  I’ll do every leadership task I’m asked to take on for as long as it takes – someone has to do the stuff – but you’re the ones who could take us to a whole other level.  Where are you hiding?  Come on out now.  It’s worth the effort.

I promise.

Recently I was challenged to think through/write down what I would say if I could sit down with myself at a certain age, at a point in my journey that was a tipping point or a crossroads of sort.  As I ponder that, I easily think of other ages, other crossroads, other changes in my journey that I can look back to and know:  if I had chosen differently at that point, I would be someone very different today.

Here is the beauty for me of being in my middle age and having pursued spiritual healing, emotional growth, and a clearer understanding of what the heck is going on in me:  when I consider that, I am not shot through with shame, regret, bitterness, or a strong yearning to go back and renegotiate that passage.

A younger me had all those feelings and thoughts and yearnings – a great yowling inside that I should’ve done better, could’ve done more, ought to have tried harder, been more focused, etc.

Today when I look back at those old iterations of me, what I mostly feel is compassion.  I understand that that old Karen was afraid in some many most things and lacked imagination in others.  I know the lying voices, both inside and outside of her that she believed were telling truth.  I know how lonely she was, and how little value she placed on herself.

So when I look back, mostly I know that she really was doing the best she could with what she knew and had.  Some of it was pretty pathetic, but she meant better than that.

So now when I imagine going back to talk to one or more of those old versions of me, I don’t imagine chastising her (though once I did).  I see myself speaking gently and kindly.  Encouraging her.  Searching for ways to open her perspective beyond the tiny, narrow window through which she looked at life.

I remembered the other day that a bunch years ago when I was writing a blog, I spoke about looking back more than a decade and not even liking the old me – finding her detestable, someone I’d never choose to befriend.  A friend from those early years wrote to me, entreating me to go more gently with myself.  She liked that old Karen, she said.  I remember thinking well, you didn’t really know my little black heart at the time, or you wouldn’t have liked me either.  Today, I figure she must’ve just gotten to this place before I did.

Are you there yet, or are you still feeling slightly (or extremely) ill or peeved or embarrassed, looking back at earlier versions of you?  Are you stuck on a merry-go-round of regret – “shoulda, coulda, woulda?”  If you’re stuck there, I’m praying for you today.  And encouraging you:  press into healing and growth.  Over here on the other side, the view is WAY cooler.