The Beauty (and Sneakiness) of Ordinary

I’ve known for a long time that I’m kind of ordinary. In fact, I’ve spent a lot of time and energy wrestling through this depressing truth. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I know all the “right” responses to this…”There’s only ever been one of me in all of history”, “God made me special”, “If I were the only photo-13person on earth, Jesus would have still come for me”, “No one shares my fingerprint or DNA, literally and metaphorically”, etc, etc etc.

It’s just that my culture of famous, notable ministers, of passionate coffee-drinking, creative/hipsters changing the world, and social media allowing me to see it all, have combined to give me a deeply entrenched inferiority complex, leading to some rather profound spiritual wounding. Those with intense and successful ministries, tell me that to really be a disciple of Jesus, my life must be radical. My deeds awesome. My sacrifice epic. In fact, they use their personal examples of how God has used them, to encourage me to pursue great things for my great God. And I agree with almost everything they say, even as I come up short by comparison. Then, there are creative/hipsters out there who live these amazingly interesting lives pursuing their dreams…and who inadvertently shame me for, ironically enough, financially supporting their creativity through my consumption and encouragement of their attempts to change the world.  Then, Facebook lets me see glimpses of other’s extraordinary lives that look so much more meaningful and, honestly, more fun, than mine… that my heart, immediately and without too much of a push, goes to some dark and self-condemning places.

It isn’t hard to see how I could begin to think, “Hmmm…this says something about how God feels about me… that His plan for me is so…ordinary.”

What bothers me most is not that I will never win a Nobel prize, or build an orphanage in Asia, or lead a movement-starting ministry. It is that God has called me to be ordinary. As far as I know, I am not living a disobedient life to my Savior. And as a result of my faithfulness to Him, I live in a rather nondescript suburb of a pretty average city. I am pursuing an important, but not a particularly world-shaking profession. I go to a healthy and loving local church, but we aren’t pumping out best-selling books, hosting large conference or creating paradigm shifting worship albums. My personal ministry is very fulfilling, but no one will look at my “numbers” and do anything but yawn. Most of my days are spent getting kids off to school, cooking and cleaning, driving, bed time routines, conversation and Parks And Rec reruns with my husband in between it all.

I am ordinary. By both providential calling and gifting. Sigh.

What I’m finding though, is that ordinary can be beautiful. And learning to find Jesus and His love in the ordinary parts of life is actually a most extraordinary pursuit. Because, while ordinary is where I live, it is where Jesus lives too.

In the naps, in the snuggles, in the casseroles, in the traffic jams, in the coffee, in the time spent pairing up socks.

He is enough. I am enough. 

There is beauty in the sacrifice required to be a parent to kids day in day out, in learning to put the needs of another in front of my own and learning to enjoy it even. There is beauty in being fully present at my church every Sunday…faithfully worshipping God, serving others, offering my gifts, and receiving the gifts of others. There is beauty in a marriage that is best represented by an open front door, a well-used kitchen table, a refrigerator with kids’ report cards and artwork stuck to it, and a bed that my beloved husband and I have decided will only, and ever be, just for the two us to share. There is beauty in following Jesus as best as I know how in the middle of all of this.

Most healing…most growth…most blessings…are found in the ordinary places of our lives. And the gift wrap they come in is the ordinary people and relationships that we often overlook. “Ordinary” can be sneaky that way.

Not everyone gets to change the world. But everyone can be changed.  Jesus extends the invitation to become more like Him, (which is indeed quite extraordinary) in the midst of our ordinariness. And it is a goal that everyone has the potential to reach. I can be a success in His eyes, in my eyes, by being exactly who He has created me to be, exactly where He has placed me, doing exactly what He has asked me to do.

Micah 6:8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.


 

The greatest love stories are those that play out all around us in the middle of ordinary.  An Ed Sheeran song, of all things, gives beautiful words to this in a wonderful married person’s love song. He sings, “We found love right where we are.” Most of us do, you know.

If you haven’t seen The Lego Movie yet, what are you waiting for? It is a celebration of how ordinary is often a sneaky cover for extraordinary. And, I totally could have given this speech.

 

It’s What He Wants For Me, Not What He Wants From Me

Every once in a while I awaken to the realization that Jesus wants more for me.  Not more from me.  This difference is huge.

He wants more for me than me just being a good Bible student or teacher.  More for me than just attendance at my quiet times or church activities.  More for me than just hands raised high in an emotionally stirring worship event.  More for me than just sin-impulse control or conformity to a noble standard of behavior.

Not that there is anything wrong with the above activities.  In fact, those are wonderful things in and of themselves…and they open the door to the things I’m about to describe. It is just that…every once in a while, usually in a beautiful moment of experience and joy…usually in a moment of connectedness with my body, emotions or the people around me…I realize that He also wants me to be a human being.

Not just a task-performing robot – which unfortunately is the functional definition of a disciple that many of us have internalized.  He wants me to be a real person.  With a body and emotions and preferences.  Not a cardboard cutout who looks good on the front but is 1/2 inch thick.  Not someone who is afraid of the things He’s created…or of deeply enjoying those things He’s created.  He wants to meet me in my humanity in a way that is so deeply spiritual, soul-satisfying and transcendently beautiful, that the stuff of this earth becomes divine.

I think He loves it when I dial back my compulsive drive to achieve, conquer, accumulate and compare that I know isn’t healthy…that I so easily translate into my relationship with Him…and I just relax.  I think He loves it when I am just a human being.  A wife.  A mom.  A lover of buffalo chicken, orange, the sound of leaves rustling and a good back scratching.   I think He cheers me on when I enjoy a really good cup of coffee across the table from a friend and we talk, with no agenda other than connecting.   I suspect He smiles when I put my Bible down and snuggle on the couch with one of my babies,  after eating a lot of popcorn, and laughing at Phineas and Ferb.  I think He’s a fan of my man and I holding hands, of our family eating slow, and us going to the pool on a warm summer day to play.   I bet, as much as I enjoy a walk through a beautiful place in nature or a European city, He enjoys watching me enjoying it more.  Because in these simple and very human things, in my senses, relationships and experiences…I discover these beautiful previously unknown facets of Him and His character, that are not available to me through just Bible study, just organized worship and just a nose-t0-the-grindstone discipline.

It makes me sad to realize I have spent much of my life hiding from Him behind His stuff and blessings and disciplines…thinking that denying how I was made was pleasing to Him.

My humanity is not something I must run from in order to obey Him, but something I can run into in order to find Him.

God wants me to love life here on earth.  Because He wants Himself for me. Nothing less.

“I’m Not Unaffected By This” (Being Human pt. 9)

Recently I was in a conversation with an acquaintance and something happened that caught me off guard. A little background… This person isn’t a long time friend. Our relationship is a relatively new one, so when I talk with him, I am more of an unknown quantity than with y’all who have known me for years, either in person or via blog. And it was a situation where the content of the conversation wasn’t really up to me. It was one of those sort-of-forced-sharing times, where a topic that is deeper than normal small talk comes up.

This particular day, it was safe and it was appropriate, so I decided to go there, to bare something of my soul and share a somewhat complicated story of how God had recently worked in my life. But this time, contrary to my normal modus operandi, I didn’t have all my storytelling ducks in a row. I missed parts and messed up the sequence of events. I talked in sort of a quiet monotone, which is very different from my large group speaking voice. I even looked at some rough notes I had scribbled down and read part of it verbatim. I wasn’t trying to wow him with my story. I wasn’t trying to teach anything. I wasn’t test driving an idea to use in a later teaching time or blog post. I was just taking the opportunity before me to release a little pressure on my soul and communicate from the heart with someone sitting right in front of me, someone who had really asked how I was doing.

After I finished, this acquaintance had a stunned look on his face. Initially, I was very concerned that he was about to reject me or my story. His response landed powerfully on my heart. He said, “Deanna, I’m not unaffected by this.”

As I thought about his meaning, I realized that he had just told me something very important. He was letting me know that my story and my life had power. Its effects were rippling across the table to where he was. It wasn’t that I was trying to do this. It wasn’t that my methods were the most effective. It was that God had inhabited my story and energized it. And when I took a chance to share it, He used it in the life of another.

As a result, I’ve spent some time thinking about the role God plays in our stories. Sometimes we throw our words around as if they aren’t really powerful, as if they were ours to own and control. Yet sometimes God claims what is His – our stories and our words, our personalities and the style in which we talk, and He gives it more power than it has on its own. He applies it to another’s heart. He uses us to affect them.

This is the part of communication that is outside of our control. We can prepare for it. We can pray for it. But we can’t command it to happen. Sometimes God makes our stories more than just OUR stories. Sometimes He reclaims them as HIS stories.

Being human means we have stories. We hear stories. And they affect us. Or not, if we choose to close our hearts down and be unaffected.

Being human means we can choose to enter into this messy part of our humanity with others – by sharing our stories and by opening ourselves up to being affected by their stories. Or not. I am thinking these days about how to allow myself to be affected. And how to be available should God choose to use me to affect others.

How Do You Not Get Emotional? (Being Human pt. 8)

Recently, I was on a tour of the CNN headquarters – a perk of hosting out-of-town guests. I got to spend time in the control room before a segment went live and briefly talk with a director of the news and some of her colleagues. She wasn’t a maker of the news, just an observer, gatekeeper and communicator of it. She has worked at CNN her entire career, doing almost every job behind the camera at one time or another. What a fascinating person! Question-asker that I am, I started with, “What was the biggest breaking story you were ever present for and got to cover?’ That was an interesting discussion, especially as one of her co-workers was present the morning of 9/11.

In light of that, the next question presented itself quite naturally. I asked, “How do you not get emotional doing what you do?”

Immediately, she and at least three different people in the control room answered emphatically, “Oh, we do!” Then, the director went on to point out something in the room I had missed. Boxes of tissue. Everywhere. She said they don’t get to look away from all the horrible things of this world. The child murders, natural disasters, injustice, tragedies… Yet they still have a job to do. Observing, gatekeeping and communicating stories. Often with tears rolling down their faces.

I’m getting a little emotional myself while writing this because…over the years I’ve ended up talking with a lot of young women. And some not-so-young. About stuff. Life. Their stories. Their pain. I wish I knew exactly how it happens. It isn’t that I want to stop this. Obviously it is a part of who I am – meeting people right where they are and walking with them a bit till they get where they are going. Wherever that is. But sometimes my life sort of feels like I’m in a great big control room, and all these screens are displaying what is going on in the world. And like the employees of CNN, I can’t look away.  I have to stay engaged, involved in the stories being played out not just before me, but in the lives of people I know and care about. And, like the employees of CNN, I am coming to the conclusion that not getting emotional isn’t an option. I just have to keep tissue nearby and handy.

Because I’m not unaffected by what I see.

I sometimes meet Vulcans out there – those people who try to disengage from their feelings. They have all sorts of reasons why their life-strategy is best: controlling their emotions lest they control them, leaning into rational analysis, embracing logic and rejecting the inner world of the heart, both in themselves and others. There most certainly is a place for some of this – and I’m speaking as a recovering Vulcan myself.

Yet…

Our humanity, where God chooses to meet us, is intricately connected to our emotions. Yes, it is messy. Yes, it is at times uncontrollable. Yes, it can make us vulnerable to pain, to the whims of others…to our human-ness. But to deny our inner world is to deny a basic part of our humanity… which denies Jesus a powerful place to meet us. 

Like the CNN employees, I am coming to realize that not getting emotional is not an option. Not a healthy one anyway.