I said “No”

This last year was busier than usual. At first I thought it was due to the fact that I was busy dating and then got engaged. Then, on a whim, I decided to count the number of committees I was on. Thirty. I laughed right out loud. “No human being should be on 30 committees!” Before the day ended, I had dropped five of them. I deleted several more a few days later. At each stage, the day seemed more cheerful and I felt lighter. The committees went right on in my absence, without skipping a beat. I became painfully aware that unless we carefully craft our lives, they become crafted for us – by those who need us, want us, or wish for our presence around a committee table. I cannot be everywhere, nor am I that important. What IS important is that I am where I am supposed to be. Knowing where that is takes a lot of thought and prayer. A lot. It also takes careful consideration of my gifts, passions, and values. Just because I would like to do something does not mean I should do it. To make it worse, people sometimes argue when I use that tiny little, but distinctive, word, “No.” For example, one time I said, “I’m sorry I can’t be there because I fly out of the country that day.” The response was, “Really? What time is your flight?” In my naiveté I told the person and she responded with, “I think you can still make the meeting.” I am embarrassed to say that I attended it, all the while wishing I were packing. I wouldn’t do that now. Life is too short. Life is ALWAYS too short to be that busy – so pressed for time that you can’t help a friend or love a pet. Where did we get the notion that serving God meant working all the time? Staying so busy? Who do we think we are serving when we do that? Not God.Perhaps the gods – the voices in our heads that propel us forward and make us believe that we are worth more if we are more busy. The gods that tell us not to rest because in resting we will hear a Different Voice – a Voice that will shatter everything we believe to be valuable, a Voice that will speak quietly but persistently until we stop….and rest….and realize that in stopping and resting there is salvation.

Another email comes in while I write this blog. Another request for me to be on a committee. I said, “No.” And now I close the office to go home, wishing I had said “No” sooner and to so many other things.

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Tired

Last night after the presentation seven of us gathered in the next room to talk. The group began as any group does, with introductions and names. Very quickly each woman began to share from her heart. The particulars are private, but I see once again how much women pour themselves out on behalf of others and then become tired at a very deep level.

Salt

I’m on a flight to Texas and the beverage cart arrives. Scanning the sweet juice options I decide to go healthy. “Tomato juice,” I request. They have none, but the flight attendant suggests “Bloody Mary”, which is “like tomato juice” with a “more spicy flavor.” While the title sounds weird, the idea of spicy tomato juice sounds good. The zip and zing feel good on my tongue and I sip in the pride of good health. Than I take a look at the ingredients. Seventy calories. Yeah! Next I notice 1480 mg of salt. I blink and look again. Not a focal problem or blurred vision. It really is 1480 mg of salt, making up 62% of the salt for the day. I move the can away from me as if it is dangerous. It is. Curiosity gets the better of me, so I pick up the can again. Where within the ingredients does salt come, I wonder. The first three ingredients are: vinegar, high fructose corn syrup and sea salt. Next comes salt. Out of the first four ingredients, salt is two of them, and the other two are not any better. I look diligently for the tomato juice or vegetable juice ingredient. None. Apparently the color comes from paprika and molasses. The undrunk drink sits beside me as I write this blog. In the name of health I am drinking (was drinking) the most unhealthy drink on the cart. A little 7-up would have been better. Water would have been the choice of the day.

Much of what we take into our bodies and minds cause us harm at undetectable levels. A little sugar here, a little carbohydrate there, and suddenly we find ourselves in a whole population of people who are overweight and struggling with Type II Diabetes, a disease attributed to the older population when I was in nursing school. Now our children begin life with it.

This reminds me of a recent visit to the cosmetic counter. I was lured there by the giveaways. Professional ladies in white coats stood ready to transform the passing woman.
“What you need is volume and lift,” the kind lady says to me.
“Where?” Generally, volume and lift do not occur in the same sentence as one recommendation.
“Right here in your eye lashes.” She leans close.
“Ummm, I’m afraid the ‘volume and lift’ will irritate my eyes. Can we try something else?”
She brings a tube of lip moisturizer. “This adds vitamins to your lips and erases the fine lines.”
“There are fine lines in my lips?! “ I hadn’t realized. I ask to see the ingredients. Being a closet chemist, one of my hobbies is making lotions in my kitchen. Knowing ingredients is my pastime. I do not want to be rude, and I really DO want to be transformed, but the ingredient, petroleum, jumps out at me from the tube and I push her hand away. Some ingredients are only slightly bad and I use them once in awhile. Petroleum is not in that category. It is on my “Never” list. “Do you have just simple lotions for the face?”
“Oh yes, follow me.” She takes me to a counter with a number of tubes and jars of various colors. Pointing to the jars on the left and then moving to the right, she states, “These are for fine lines and surface wrinkles, these are for those with deeper wrinkles, and this third group is for aged skin with deep age-related wrinkles.”
Seeing myself as someone with good skin (certainly my homemade lotions and potions make a difference), I ask, “And which one of the three do you recommend for me?
“Oh, these here on the far right for deep age-related wrinkles.”
Now I’m upset. “Where do the women go who have tons of wrinkles?! Who uses the products down there on the left – the ones for fine lines and surface wrinkles?”
The lady in the white coat is sure of herself. “I recommend that line for women in their twenties.”
“Twenties! Women in their twenties have lines and wrinkles?! Where does a woman go next when she is at the high end of the lotions-for-wrinkles line and she is not even “old” yet!” I can tolerate the injustice no longer. Leaving the freebies and giveaways behind (which really only come with a large purchase), I excuse myself and head for the door, empty-handed. I have come in and out of Nordstrom and bought nothing. It is a great feeling. My thoughts return to the present.
The flight attendant has come and removed the still undrunk “tomato juice.” I have escaped the salt hijack along with the petroleum lip balm and wrinkle reliever of yesterday, but only narrowly. It could have so easily gone the other direction and I would not have known any immediate difference.
Much of life takes place in the little decisions – reading a label, asking “why” or “why not.” We think “this one time won’t matter,” but it does because “this one time” becomes another and another. We live our lives in patterned ways. One decision makes the next one a lot easier. Eventually, we don’t have to think at all. This is the power of “this one time.”

Tears

When a woman cries, what does it mean? Once I was stopped for speeding in Georgia. I explained that I was “driving with the traffic” and that it would have been dangerous to do otherwise, but it didn’t help. A county with one of the highest incomes from traffic tickets would not budge. Because there was no reciprocity with a CA license plate, they hauled me in to the local jail. It was a strange place. “Just go to the window and pay up.” Seemed simple, except that I didn’t have any cash and that was all they would take. They refused credit cards. “Now what?” I asked. “You’ll just have to stay here until someone you know can bring cash.” I looked at the bars of one of the cells and chuckled slightly.” “I don’t know anyone who lives close.” They were not amused or moved by my plight. They simply repeated their previous statement. “You’ll have to stay here until someone you know can bring cash.” Suddenly I realized that they were as serious as the name on the building implied. I walked around the waiting room, then burst into tears. I was laughing and crying all at the same time. This was something out of the twilight zone! It was hilarious. It was not funny at all. And so the tears came. I was literally in a place that I did not know how to get out of.

Later, as I looked back on this experience, I was most interested in the tears. Why tears? Why not anger, embarrassment, regret, fear? Then I realized that the tears said it all. They said everything that I could not put into words. They explained that I was feeling several emotions all at once. They explained that I was afraid and did not know where to turn, and that yes, there was a strangely funny aspect to this weird experience.

When I was in high school and found the teacher calling on me before I was ready to respond or didn’t have an answer, I often felt my face turn red and tears well up inside. “Don’t do this now,” I would tell myself, because it won’t help! It will only make matters worse.” Of course, the issue of looking bad for the next couple of hours also did not thrill my teenage soul.

Tears. Men are confused by them; some are moved (policemen) and others are not moved at all (policemen). I once became a little teary in a Sabbath School, quietly, as the teacher talked about difficulties and I was reminded of my friend who struggled with breast cancer. Being a visitor, I wanted to wait until the others left so I would not be noticed. I was successful until one person came up to say hello, noticed my tears, then quietly excused themselves. A second person was quickly clearing the chairs for the next event (before the room was clear), noticed me struggling with tears and left me and my chair as an island in the middle of the room. I wanted to blame them all for being so unkind to a visitor, but I was as uncomfortable with the tears as they were. How could I blame them?

Tears. They come unexpected and leave at the sight of kleenex. Sometimes they come with laughter and other times obscure it. Sometimes they mean one thing, sometimes many. At other times, we have no clue what they mean and that frustrates us all.

One thing is for sure. They bear a truth. Some kind of truth, whether or not we know what that truth is. Even if they come from one who has had a stroke and some suggest that “the tears do not mean anything,” they bear witness to the injury itself.

I do not cry as much as I used to. Now I have words to explain the variety of feelings that I have and tears seem to be less necessary. But when they come, I appreciate them. They cleanse the soul as they bear witness to a truth.

“Jesus wept.” The shortest verse in the Bible says so much.

Frenemies

Life is easier when you know who your enemies are. Hopefully you don’t have many, but if you have no enemies you are unusual to say the least. Inevitably, when you stand up for something important, someone will disagree. This doesn’t make them an enemy, but enemies are sometimes born in this manner. The real difficulty is when you think someone is a friend, but in reality, he/she is an enemy. Frenemy. Frenemies are kind to your face, but (perhaps unconsciously) tear at you from behind the scenes. They act as if they have your best interest, but seek more to promote themselves. They are sometimes very close to your heart. Why? Because you are willing to put up with the difficulties in order to keep the friendship, or you can’t bring yourself to dissolve the relationship. Or perhaps they are your neighbors, or the history is important to you. There are many reasons why we keep frenemies. Sometimes we do not have a choice. For example, they may be family members or marriage partners, or children.

When I was younger a friend of mine was hurt that I was dating a man whom she liked (you can tell the stage of life here). Deeply hurt. So much so that she would ignore me and refuse to speak unless there were others present. Nothing, short of breaking up the dating relationship would help the situation. The stress was so difficult that it strained the dating relationship anyway.

I don’t blame my friend. I’ve been hurt over things like this as well and it runs deep, but there is a cost to having frenemies. It takes energy, time, patience, and often courage. If you decide to keep the frenemy close to you, then it requires living with not knowing which side will show at any given time – the friend side or the enemy side. This not knowing can be challenging, and even confusing.

If YOU are the frenemy, it takes awareness, submission to God and the courage to face it and do something about it. It takes deep understanding as to why you would allow yourself to hurt a friend. What pain runs that deep? What resentment?

It is the frenemies that Jesus scolded most fiercely – those that appeared to be supportive, but who secretly worked against him. It is those that are neither hot nor cold that God spews out of his mouth. There is nothing respectable about being a frenemy. There is little that is helpful about having them close.

When one is “called”

Leaders are both made and born. I want to speak about being a “born” leader, which arises out of various things. One of them is one’s calling. What does it mean to be “called.”

My call to ministry is simple. From age 6-7 I knew that I wanted to teach and speak. I’m not sure how children know these things, but I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life. At nine years old I worried about moving to TN (from CA) because I feared a southern accent would hurt my “speaking career.” While I wasn’t really a Christian at the time, I loved God, but didn’t interpret this love of speaking as a call to ministry. When I was 18 years old (and by then a Christian), I was studying in England and several of us took a trip to Germany. I was standing by the statue of Martin Luther (the one of him with outstretched arm, speaking from the bible). Suddenly I had the strangest impression that someone was talking with me. I actually turned around, but nobody was there. It is as if I heard a voice saying the following: “This is the speaking I want from you.” I turned back around and faced the statue square on, dumbfounded, but knowing at the deepest core of my being that God was calling me to speak for Him. Because of my (by then) southern roots and traditional upbringing I was conflicted immediately. Why would God call me to speak? I argued right there as I stared at that statue. I resisted the call, saying to God, “I will only speak if you make it more obvious than this that it is your voice that I hear.” When I returned to the states I completed education in theology and nursing, never telling anyone of the call I felt that day. I always said that I was preparing to be a pastor’s wife. In reality, I had the horrible feeling (and it was horrible) that God would not let me go or the call that was now attached to my being. I was so afraid that it would lead me to difficult places (and it has) and to painful circumstances (and it has). I finished college, worked for two years at a lifestyle reconditioning center as a nurse, repeating the challenge to God at various intervals, but never acting on the conviction I had inside. Then I moved to Loma Linda University. One day as I was working as a nurse, my pastor called and asked me to give the sermon at church. I asked why he was asking me and he said, “I’m not sure except that I feel impressed to call.” I remember putting down the phone and crying. I had spoken to nobody of the call and I had the feeling that day that my life was changing – that God was going to make the call more obvious. I gave that sermon and soon thereafter attended a weekend retreat by Kay Kuzma, a well known Christian speaker. At the end of the weekend, she invited anyone who felt called by God to speak to come talk with her. I was the only one who went forward. Here’s the conversation verbatim:
Kay: So do you feel called by God to speak?
Carla: Yes (I was a bit shy, so was a woman of fewer words than I am now)
Kay: Are you sure?
Carla: Yes. Very sure.
Kay: Then I want to invite you to help give my next seminar.
Carla: What?!! (I can still feel the shock I felt then) Do you know me? Have you ever heard me speak?!
Kay: Are you sure you are called by God?
Carla: Yes
Kay: Then I don’t trust you. I trust Him.
She took my number and called me soon thereafter. I and another woman gave her next retreat a year later. It actually was not extremely successful. There were only about 30 people in attendance. However, someone there heard me speak, invited me to their retreat as a speaker and the rest is history. I have traveled all over the world since. The other woman who spoke with me at that retreat became a physician. I see her about once a month in the hallway. She has also followed her calling.

The next big shock is that LLU School of Religion invited me to be a contract teacher. Then there was the surprise call from the dean inviting me to join the faculty. I had only a bachelor’s degree in theology/religion and everyone else on the faculty had their doctoral degrees. While I had two masters degrees, they were not in religion. But again, I felt God pulling me out from behind the veil of hiding from my call. While I was speaking all over the world, I was not officially identified with theology or with teaching (which is what I always understood as the other half of the call). Very reluctantly (and I do mean reluctantly) I agreed to join the faculty half time (to test the water). There again, the rest is history. I agreed to do a PhD and immerse myself in my call. The dean hired me with the understanding that someday I would be Director of the Center for Spiritual Life and Wholeness. Here I am, finally doing what I perceived at 6-7 years old – speaking and teaching.

There are many things I have not understood in my life, but one thing has been amazingly clear. God called me from a very tender age and I was aware of that in ways that I have never doubted, even when I have doubted all else. Even when others have doubted; I have not – not my call. One time a leader at the university said, “Carla, why are you doing PhD work in theology/religious studies?! You know you will never make a major contribution in that field! (They were encouraging me to do an advanced degree in nursing or family studies). I remember smiling to myself and saying, “Logically, you are correct, but given the pull on my life up to this point, I suspect you will be wrong.”

One would think that I would be at peace now – having arrived at a place where I felt called all along. I wish that were the case, but the pull continues. God continues to urge me forward, and while I cannot tell yet what God is saying, I remain reluctant, but faithful. There is nothing more that I want, but that has never been the issue. I would have been satisfied long ago, and with many other things, many lesser things. The issue (as I have come to understand it) is that God leads us in strange ways and to strange places, and to strange ends. While I am somewhat of a nonconformist in some areas, there is one where I have learned to submit…..to the call of God, wherever it leads, and however difficult. I say this with emotion because there is absolutely nothing more difficult in the whole world, but in the end, I will remain faithful to this, no matter what it takes. Even in the times when I have questioned God’s existence (and I have), the call reminds me that there is a being that takes quite seriously its part in leading me (and all of us).

Some people suggest that God does not call women to speak. This belief has cost me greatly. Some have refused to come to churches where I was scheduled to speak saying, “It is not biblical for a woman to preach.” I remember times when I wished they were correct.

Some people have suggested that “God’s call” is really only a psychological need to fulfill one’s own perceived talents. Interesting concept, but it is not my experience. I do not doubt that God’s call often reflects one’s talent, but there is a real “touchable” being on the other end of my call, and I respect it more than anything else. I will question, become frustrated and even kick against some things, but the being who called me from a very young age I will respect. In the end, that being will win out.

This is the story of my call.

Getting ready for the Texas Women’s Retreat

In just a couple of weeks I will be in Texas speaking at a retreat on the topic of leadership. Getting the materials ready is tricky. The most difficult aspect is in considering the various learning styles that women have. Some are visual, others auditory, while still others are more tactile. I am almost entirely a visual and tactile learner, which is interesting given the fact that I am a speaker. Perhaps this is why I enjoy painting pictures with words. In developing the materials, however, it seems important not just to follow my style of learning, but to think of the other styles. Because of this, I have decided to develop a workbook that a woman can complete for herself. How does one address the auditory and tactile learner in a workbook? That is the challenge….

Here’s the real fun of it. My best thinking is done…..in the jacuzzi. Every morning I wake up early (and I do mean EARLY) and take my breakfast, books, and computer to the jacuzzi. I’m sure someone will respond on the dangers of this, but I look forward to it more than almost anything else. Mothers with small children complain that they could NEVER take the time to do this, but I encourage them to reconsider. Think of the close cousin to the jacuzzi….the bathtub. “Try not to bother mommy while she’s in the bathroom” is a line that often works. The most important thing is to find a quiet place, every day, to think and to pray, as uninterrupted as possible. In my busiest moments of life, I wake up early for this rewarding quiet time. Today my quiet time is almost ended and it is 5:35am. There are not many interruptions at this time of morning (unless of course I fall asleep in the jacuzzi!).

So, here I am…..in my jacuzzi….writing about the Texas Women’s Retreat…and praying for each woman who will be there. In this retreat I am speaking with women leaders – women who probably exhaust themselves on behalf of others. We have something in common. I suspect I will grow as much as they do.