Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hearing Loss

A few years ago, one of the mobile phone companies had a television campaign depicting people reading their phone bills and fainting or falling through the floor because of excessive charges.

Well, I could have done one of those commercials the other week when I saw my bill was nearly triple the usual.

As I reviewed the detail, I saw the conundrum immediately: My internet card had a data allotment of 5,242,880 kilobytes. My usage was 17,970,609, translating into a charge of $500!

After picking myself up off the floor, I called my service provider.

She oozed empathetically about the shock and horror I must be feeling. “I only downloaded an audio book,” I tell her. “And my son downloaded a few songs. I had no idea we had drawn so much data and the ramifications of doing so!”

“Let me see if there’s anything I can do,” she said, and then left me to brood in silence.

A few minutes later, she returns. “Because you’re such a valued customer, I can give you a credit for $125, but that’s all I can do. I’m sorry.”

I was grateful for the token, but that really wasn’t the reason for my call. Primarily I had wanted to complain about the limitations of the card and express frustration around the lack of information about how the card worked.

Still grief-stricken, I thought about all the things I could do with $500, or even $375. I had been deliberately working on being a good money manager and trusting God to provide. But I had just spent $500 on a book and some music! What kind of stewardship was that?

I knew the “Why, God” question was irrelevant because the trials of life happen to us all. They are opportunities to learn, to grow, and to trust him. But in my heart, I also know I look for God to guide me and even to protect me from my own ignorance and stupidity.

As I’m thinking these things, hunched over, head in hands, I whisper more in rhetorical lament than actual prayer, “Why didn’t you warn me?”

I’m completely taken aback when in my spirit I hear, “But, I did…”

My mind flashes back to two months earlier. That month’s phone bill had a $65 charge for data overage. I had speed dialed my service provider then, too. This is when I first learned that my card had a data cap.

That time I had downloaded a number of construction blueprints. I assumed the blueprints were kilobyte-heavy because of the graphics, so it never registered that I had to budget kilobytes usage for what seemed to me to be routine downloading.

This memory reminded me that I couldn’t say that I didn’t know there was a potential problem. In retrospect, it felt as though God had tried to use it to as a teachable (and much less expensive) moment for me to educate myself and use wisdom.

Instead, I had chosen to remain ignorant.

This has led me think about other times God may have tried to guide me. I’m discomforted to consider how often I don’t listen and chose ignorance, negligence or procrastination instead of taking heed. And these are just the times I know about from hindsight. This says nothing of the times God’s grace circumvents my deafness in ways I’m not even cognizant of.

What’s more, I’m aware there are times when God has tried to lead me to serve others and I have not listened. Such as when he drops the name of someone in my head to call, send a note or spend time with. These thoughts lay on the surface of my mind’s soil, but never take root for fruit. I’m saddened to think of the number of times I might have been used for a blessing, but chose to ignore the prompting.

I suspect that if I could view a Divine communication data screen, and see just how often God tries to guide me for my good or for the good of others, I’d be shocked, dismayed, and then disappointed with the me I don’t often want to see.

As a woman under construction, I want to be a better listener. May God forgive me for dropping the ball so many times, and may I learn to focus my hearing so I can recognize him saying, “This is the way, walk in it.”

And then, just do it!

Isaiah 30:21

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Flight Fright

If my steering wheel was alive, I’m sure it would be gasping for air from my grip right now. The truth is, I’m gasping myself.

[10 Minutes Earlier]

I was driving to a church staff meeting, where as the Adult Christian Formation Director I attend whenever I can. It had been a stressful week and I was weighing whether to still go. So I called my dad, the pastor, to discuss what I would miss if I opted out.

“Well,” he began slowly, “It would be kind of hard if you weren’t here since you are leading the prayer service this Sunday…”

“What?” I sputtered. “I didn’t know I was leading it!” [*Gasp, gasp*] “I mean, I only thought you wanted me to write it… I never thought of leading…”

Whatever he said next I missed completely. I was having too difficult a time breathing (literally and spiritually).

A few deep breaths later, I tuned back in.

“We can work it out,” he said. “If you’re able to come, we can discuss it when you get here. If not…”

“I’m coming,” I mumbled.

Normally, that would have been it: A case of misunderstanding that would be resolved within the hour. But that wasn’t it.

Now I am gripping the steering wheel and wheezing a prayer. Lord, what does this mean? Didn't I just recently commit to soaring and taking more risks…

Thoughts of putting my money where my mouth is, the rubber meeting the road, practicing what you preach and a whole list of other cliché’s come to mind. Now don’t get me wrong. I have actually been stretching to greater heights and God has been there every time, but leading the congregation in a prayer service? Now that’s mega-scary!

Driving down the freeway I try to pray, but it’s hard – my knuckles are white now, and I feel like I’m beginning to hyperventilate (literally and …). It’s time to activate my S.O.S. breathing support system. I call my mother.

Talking to her helps me articulate the crux of the matter. What I'm feeling isn’t about a misunderstanding. It's about fear. It's about discerning whether God wants to use this experience to grow me. And if I don’t do it, am I being disobedient?

My mom has encouraging words about God taking me higher and this being an opportunity for me to see him work, but she also feels that if I’m not ready, God will send other opportunities. “This is a tough one," she says. "Only you can make the decision.”

Usually after talking with my mother I have a sense of where God is leading me, but not this time. I’m breathing better for sure, but I’m still quivering. I feel like I’m standing on the precipice of a cliff. In my mind I know I have everything I need to take flight, but I lack the confidence to go for it. And this pains me. Does it mean I don’t trust God enough?

During the staff meeting I’m able to forget my cliff decision as we go through normal business. My dad hasn’t mentioned me leading the service, so I conclude he has worked it out. And then, just as the meeting is winding down he says, “Tammy has something she needs to discuss about Sunday.” [*MAJOR GASP*]

Feeling like a five-year-old in a room of grown ups, I take a deep breath and begin. I quickly explain the situation, how the liturgy for the service is already written, and that I need someone to lead it.

My briefing takes all of five minutes, but it’s excruciating – I feel so naked.

And the whole time, I’m praying. God, am I giving away something that I should be doing myself? Am I disappointing you? Am I failing to avail myself to what you want to do in my life? I’m just so scared…

God is quiet.

After a brief discussion, one of the pastors says, “I’ll do it.” Then others chime in and by the time the meeting is over, it’s decided that various pastors will lead the sections.

As the meeting moves on to another topic without any fanfare around my ordeal, I look around the room. I rush of relief washes over me, and then the most incredible sense of love. I feel God’s tender and warm embrace through my brothers and sisters, whether they know it or not.

And I hear God say: It’s okay, Tammy, I love you. We’ll take that flight when you’re ready.

Psalms 103:13-14