Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Reminder

I've been going through this phase (for probably a year and a half) of wondering, not so much if God really speaks, but how one really knows. Or at least if I've ever really known. Then on Saturday I went to a wedding.

But first, I need to backtrack a little bit.

After London and that strong sense of "leading away," I never got a very clear sense of "leading to," so I went to grad school for a year and disliked it and quit. Then I wanted to open a coffee shop, but I had neither money nor coffee-knowledge, so I headed back to my home state to work at Starbucks. For a while (even though I was concurrently going through a heinous time of reverse-culture-shock), I really felt like Starbucks was just the place to be, because I could still hang out with people and talk to them about Jesus. But in the last two years I haven't felt I was doing that so well, and so I've been casting about, trying to find other "callings" or something, and not really succeeding. Because I've felt sort of "flounder-ish" lately, it's made me doubt that I was right to work at Starbucks in the first place, and then that I was right to leave London, and then pretty much everything else.

But on Saturday, Jerry got married to Kristin. Jerry was one of my first and best friends at Starbucks. Even in my first week there, he didn't make me feel like I had to prove myself before I could feel like a valued member of the team. He also started, pretty much immediately, talking about faith-related issues. We ended up having a lot of those conversations. He didn't really seem to "get" where I was coming from a lot of the time, but he tried really hard, and he still kept asking me about it, challenging me, not (usually) to be obnoxious, but because he really wanted to know why I did or didn't do certain things, and how consistent I was about doing or not doing them.

Eventually our conversations tapered off, but then a while back, he started asking questions again. They were a lot more specific and a lot more personal to him. Also, Kristin started working at our store. Kristin is a pastor's kid like me, and she was just beginning to walk back toward Jesus, having taken a break from Him for a while. I can't really unravel the chronology at this point, but eventually (in some order, but not necessarily this one) Jerry and Kristin started dating, Kristin's relationship with Jesus re-established, and Jerry's relationship with Jesus got started. It was really exciting for me, because in spite of having been a missionary, I haven't really seen very many of my friends decide that Jesus was really worth it to them. But it's been some time since Jerry did, and it's amazing (and dismaying) how you can take something miraculous for granted after a while.

At the wedding reception on Saturday, I sat with a former Starbucks colleague and her fiance, who Jerry is now sort of discipling. We sat with some other people, too, who were really cool and also really into the usual Conservative Evangelical Christian Subculture, so I found myself talking about My Life as a Missionary. Then I talked about Starbucks as mission. It was sounding all very spiritual until I confessed how discouraging it sometimes is never to see friends whom one has been given to love and care about, learning to love and care about Jesus. One of our table mates said, as people always say, "Well, but you were planting seeds. You were being faithful." It's just that sometimes that's not very comforting to hear. Sometimes I'm not always sure.

And then Former Starbucks Colleague burst out, as if it were most obvious and I was just being silly, "What about Jerry? Come on, Jenn. He's changed so much. He's not the same person at all!" And I realised that, though I don't know how much of that change was related to anything I did or said, God did allow me to be in Jerry's life at that time, and He did allow me to see at least the beginnings of the transformation.

I thought of that pious-sounding thing we evangelicals like to say at meetings or choir concerts: "If just one person comes to know Christ through this, it will have been worth it." I wondered if I believed that, really. I guess I do, but I think I might need reminders, especially if I end up at Starbucks for years and years (more than I already have been). But this was a good time for the first reminder to come.

And then I thought . . . Jerry's discipling Former Starbucks Colleague. And her fiance is the cousin of another former Starbucks colleague. And I'm still friends with her. And relationships grow and fade and sometimes come back, but none of our stories are over yet, and maybe there will be more than just one person who comes to know Christ . . .

Thursday, May 22, 2008

London Calling?

Here is (at least partly) how I came to be in London in the first place, and how I came to leave it again:

I grew up wanting to be a missionary. It didn't hurt--though it very well could have given another set of parents--that my parents were missionaries and church planters and pastors (sometimes at different times, sometimes all at once). I also grew up wanting to live in England. I thought the two "wants" were mutually exclusive, and then one amazing season (around my senior year of college and for some time thereafter) I discovered they weren't. I went to England on a two-year commitment, but I said early on, "I have a feeling I'll be here five years."

At the end of my first term, I really finally settled in, and, having received "indefinite leave to remain" from the British government, I decided to remain indefinitely. I was queuing up for dual citizenship. I was thinking about transferring my church membership to the church I attended and worked in, in London. Then I went back to the US for another furlough.

While I was there, I had a number of conversations with people who didn't even know each other, and who, though all Christians, have very different approaches to God. (Well, I mean, they all approach through Jesus, but their respective "styles" are different.) These conversations shook me up a little and started to make me wonder if I was supposed to leave London instead of staying there. Three days before I was to return, I was overcome with a sense of utter dread at returning to my life there, that I never really could explain. I decided to go back, take six months, and see if I could figure out what God was really telling me to do.

I guess it depends on your level of cynicism as to how you interpret things, and which things you decide are open to interpretation. It's probably also partly dependent, if you're looking for God's leading, on what kind of church you affiliate with. I've affiliated with a pretty broad range, so when I got back to London, I was bombarded with intimations in my Scripture readings, words of counsel from my friends, dreams of my own and dreams of my friends and colleagues, strong senses of direction. Eventually I decided that, though things were tremendously better for me than they had been immediately before I had left London, I was being called to move away. It was okay that I was leaving when things were good again; I always think that it's better to leave on an up-note than in shame or high dudgeon. On the other hand, it was hard to leave, too--all those friendships that had been forged, all those prayers that had been prayed, all that learning and growing. Not to mention the urban environment and the cosmopolitan nature of the place. I knew I'd never find another place like it. I haven't.

But the sense to leave seemed unequivocal. I even believed I had been directed as to a specific date of departure, which was appropriate, because the date of my arrival had also been significant. And so it was that in May 2002, I moved back to the USA. I had lived in London for five and a half years.

To be continued . . .


I have a niece! I am an auntie!

Hannah Louise was born to my brother and sister-in-law last night. Isn't she cute? Congratulations guys!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Number 7

The day I moved to London, Lisa took me to have tea with Megan, so that I could stay awake and get over jetlag more quickly. Megan lived at number 7, Cotswold Gardens, a house with a Winnie-the-Pooh-yellow door. (You could maybe also call it goldenrod, but Laura Lee, a much later addition to the team, cited Winnie the Pooh.)

I'm not the biggest fan of "goldenrod," except on goldenrod, but I absolutely loved this door. It was such a happy shock of insane brightness in such a usually grim and grey city. I also loved the house on the other side of that door. I thought to myself, "I love this house. I'm going to live in it one day." The house was owned by the churches I worked for, and it was often changing hands, though I didn't know that when I first "met" it.

About two years later, I really did move in. That first night, as I lay down to sleep, I thought to myself with a sense of confirmation, "Yes. This is your house."

It was my house for three years, and when I left, they painted it and Laura Lee picked the colour. She wanted to paint the door something sensible, but I made kind of a stink about and spoke up for the yellow door. So they did repaint it, but it was still that crazy yellow.

Last year Jayne told me in an email that the church was trying to offload some of their extraneous properties, and that was one of them, and they were putting it on the market. I wanted to buy it. It was my house, after all. But they don't pay you enough at Starbucks to put a downpayment on a home in London. I never heard anything else about it, until I got to Jayne's house for dinner on my first day in London last week.

"Number 7 finally sold last week," she said.

I shouldn't have been surprised. And it's good for the church and everything. But was I ever disappointed. I stayed the week in the house next door, with some friends, and so I got to see my house every day. But the house had been painted off-white, and the door had been painted blue, and the last three days I was there, the new owners spent gutting the place. The front garden was full of the bricks that didn't fit in the skip (dumpster) hired and sitting in the middle of the street.

I think I might have been sadder, except with the door now blue instead of yellow, it wasn't my house anymore. It does kind of feel like the end of an era, though.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

London Revisited

After Ireland, I spent this last week in London and saw a whole bunch of people I love and missed a whole lot of other ones because of time constraints, and saw the first copies of my book. I just got back and now I have a headache, but it was worth it.

London still holds a strong and significant place in my life, even though I haven't lived there in six years and I actually got lost trying to walk from Oxford Circus to Covent Garden yesterday. (This was demoralising. And I didn't have an A-Z to help me out.) London is the place, I tend to say, where I became an adult. Not necessarily a mature one (maturity might be an attribute my possession of which is still debatable. But it's okay. I've got the convoluted grammar down). I've changed in some ways since then, and there are plenty more ways I dare say I should change. But I still feel like that was the beginning of it.

So going back is kind of bittersweet. The first time I went back after moving to the States, I felt like everything was all wrong, and London was my home, and why was I not permitted to live there anymore? The next time I went back, I felt like I was in a place I had never been before--but where I knew exactly what to expect. This time I feel like I could move back. Or not. (Most likely, according to the Home Office at this point, not.) It's both hard and easy to imagine moving back and slotting into the same neighbourhood and churches that I worked in and with before. And it's equally hard and easy to imagine moving back and living and working somewhere else.

And meanwhile, I still haven't found a new job.

I have a lot of posts built up in my head since probably January. They're going somewhere, I think (kind of like me), but I'm not quite sure where (also kind of like me). Bear with me while I keep trying to figure it out.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Edge of a Precipice

You would think I would be all "Ireland this," and "Ireland that," and I dare say I'll get to that point . . . sometime back on the other side of the Atlantic. But for now, we're going to talk about other stuff.

Someday, when I'm ancient and long-ago menopaused, so that no one about whom I could possibly be alluding even remembers me, let alone thinks I'm talking about him, I'm going to write a book about the role of sexuality in evangelism. Of course, it might not make much of a book. I can tell you the conclusion right here: it doesn't help anything. At least until recently, any overt or covert heterosexual attraction between me and any guy I've ever tried to talk to about Jesus has not led either to dating or to conversion. I do wonder sometimes, though, if God allows that dynamic so that people who might never get prayed for otherwise, get someone praying for them for a while. (When I'm feeling less positive about this, I think cynically that God's purpose for my life is "bait.") At the very least, it paves the way for unexpected conversations.

Like, one time I was returning to London after a visit to the States, and there was this striking man on my flight. We caught each other's eye, and then, during a stop in Frankfurt (yes . . . I had to fly through Frankfurt to get to London), ended up conversing a little bit. He was Turkish, and a doctor. (Well, he might not have been a doctor, I suppose, but he said he was.) My relationship with Jesus is usually the first thing I tell attractive men about me. In this case, I think that information might have come right after telling him I had learnt to make kisir and borek a few weeks before. Turkish Doctor, trying to be tolerant, no doubt, did not try to argue with me about my Jesus-fanaticism, but he did hint something along the lines of people being like trees--how they grow and change and don't look the same when they're finished as they did when they've started.

I had just recently gone through the tolerance-challenging, grace-building upheaval of my life, and so I could agree with this, except that I would have said that that had only drawn me closer to Jesus instead of making me branch out farther. And after Turkish Doctor and I had got on our respective and divergent planes, it occurred to me that what I really could have said was that he was right about the tree, except that the thing is, it's still always a tree.

I was thinking about this a couple of weeks ago on a walk when I passed this tree. I pass it every time I walk in that direction, but I had never looked up at it before. This time I did, and it struck me just how astounding it was. It's enormous and beautiful and serene. I thought about how a tree's root system is supposed to be as extensive underground as its branch system is above-ground. I know something about this tree's root system already (see fifth photo down in this link). It has kind of "eaten" the rocks in the stone wall above which it grows, and I could imagine the rest of its roots extending back into the yard behind it. It is kind of awe-inspiring. Who knows what it's gripping, under the grass, under the rocks, under the road. It would need that, because like I said, it's a massive tree, and it's growing right on the edge of a mini-precipice. I don't know how big or how old it was when they dug out the land to make the road this tree is on, but it's still growing straight and strong and rooted.

I couldn't help wondering, though, what would happen if there were a really big storm. I suspect it has already weathered really big storms, and like the house on the rock, this tree is rooted in the rock and it's still standing. But the last few weeks I feel like I've been standing on the brink of a precipice, too. Maybe a bigger one than the one than the hop between yard and street. I feel like, thanks to God, I'm pretty well-rooted. But it's still scary on the edge like this. I have to trust in the Rock to hold me and not let the big winds blow me over.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Out of Commission

Well. Not really. Just on vacation. With limited internet access. But I'll be back.

Meanwhile, Ireland is drizzly and beautiful, and I'm loving it.