land of plenty

I finally got the photos off my camera. Easter’s on there. The last day of school. The first day of school, and everything in between which includes two different rounds of the boys’ haircuts and our official summer family vacation.

Like many a vacation tale, it started off a little iffy before it oozed into what would be a lazy, sun-drenched, donut-filled extravaganza. The first ½ hour was a little touch-and-go, what with driving out of the garage with the back hatch still open (hello vacation cliché!), Zachary dropping a ketchupy hamburger open faced onto the floor of the car, and John and I digging furiously in the console for the bridge toll transponder that was sitting safely on the hutch at home.

I was already apprehensive. Last year’s “vacation” was almost the end of me. It was two weeks on the road, driving through various deserty landscapes of the west. The boys fought constantly… to the point where I threatened to have taxi glass installed in the car when we got to Vegas. Oh yes, Vegas – a favorite destination of years past, but now where we had to answer an endless barrage of questions about the lady butts on every billboard, and what exactly  people were drinking out of the giant test tubes and plastic guitars. And why, in the pirate show, were the dozen bikini clad lady pirates holding that one poor man pirate hostage?

Then of course there was the great Bellagio buffet incident of 09 – where on top of me allowing the boys to maintain Vegas hours and walk amongst booze swilling pirate bikini fans, I ok’d at one of the ritziest buffets in town, a plate of sushi, a large coke, and a ginormous slice of hazelnut cake for our then 8-year-old. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about how that unfolded. I will say it ended with a mad dash across the restaurant, and us slinking out under the cover of darkness with John muttering something about the absence of a paper trail, and the unfortunate lady in the white pants.

As we high-tailed it out of town the next morning we told the boys to take a good look, because there was no way we were bringing them back to Las Vegas before they turned 21.

That was last year. This year of course, our plans for a variety of reasons included Las Vegas. Haven’t you had a trip, for reasons outside of your control, ended up including Las Vegas? I thought so. But you can understand my hesitancy as I prepared for this year’s trip. Two weeks again. Vegas again.

Las Vegas usually brings out the quirks in people, no surprise. Even outside of the seven deadlies…which probably, technically aren’t quirks. Ok, maybe gluttony is a quirk. The long-running joke in my house is my wacky and adorable scarcity mentality, and in La Vegas it comes out something fierce. Now this is actually very exasperating to me, because it is in direct contradiction with my own faith where there is an endless supply of grace, and love, and blessings and forgiveness. But, I’m fairly certain I would have been one of those Israelites traipsing through the desert, yammering into Moses’ ear about manna this, and manna that and getting a good spot to set up my sleeping mat for the night, because the desert, with all these people, feels scrunched.

The thought of going to the Las Vegas hotel pool any time past 10 am gives me the shakes. I’m certain we’ll never get a beach chair, and I’ll be left to wander around with armloads of books and towels and sunscreen, my kids trailing behind already wearing their goggles; roaming in between the oiled, tanned and hung over, like an agitated ghost in a sun hat, unable to find an eternal resting place. The joy of finding a chair, even one chair to share with three other people is just almost too much to bear. Suddenly that one little chair is the promised land. And you don’t care that you’re going to get splashed or burnt or maybe no sun at all. Because it’s yours. You earned it. And you’re not leaving ‘til dark.

Or until the buffet opens at 4:00. Now if your kid isn’t throwing up at the buffet, that’s the happiest spot in Vegas. Unfortunately, it’s the other place my scarcity mentality rears its ugly head. John rolls his eyes, but appeases my desire to get to the buffet the moment they open the doors. I try to compromise and allow a 4:30 arrival. Of course, the line is a monster, filled with people who will flat out tell us we are too young to be eating at 4:30.

I stand there in line fidgeting, looking over the little ladies in front of me without even standing on my toes, trying to sneak a peek at the dining room.

John looks at me, and sighs because he can read my mind.

“They are NOT going to run out of shrimp….(brow furrow)…or crab legs.”

This is always when I spy someone practically skipping back to their table with a plate in each hand – one piled high with shrimp, the other with crab legs. My brow goes back to the furrow.

“Colleen, they will NOT run out of shrimp. This is Las Vegas, they know what they are doing.”

I nod tentatively, but really don’t relax until I’m the one skipping back to the table with my shrimp, trying not to make eye contact with the people in line who are of course, eyeing my impressive shellfish haul.

I’m curious when I’ll learn. Because I’m never right. We always find a seat, and I always eat so much that I feel gross, in a good way. In fact my unfounded concerns are so rarely realized that I do that dumb thing, where you almost hope you don’t find a chair, just so you can feel justified in your unjustifiable concerns. Another quirk.

Big News Week

Zimbabwe’s far. My mission pastor hubby John has once again made the 30-hour trek, this time with a planeful of energetic, ready-to-change-the-world teenagers and some pretty cool ready-to-change-the-world adults.

Relieving the sting of his absence, my friend Megan and her baby have flown out from New Mexico to hang with us. The baby is darling and has my boys enraptured with his little face, little hands and little Nikes. Having another mom on hand is of course, a Godsend. She has unending energy and instinctively bends down to tie a shoe, reaches out to hold a hand, jumps in to cook dinner, gives the mom-style laser eyes when mine are tired, and has been trying to help me figure out why the airbed keeps deflating and swallowing Jacob in the night. Megan’s a pastor’s wife too, and has been a source of comfort and understanding through both of our families’ wacky and fun-filled transitions into ministry.

Last night, with the boys tucked in, we watched Strictly Ballroom, and then she sat patiently while I tried to talk her into watching Twilight with me, which she won’t. Though we don’t have Masters of Divinity degrees like our husbands who were seminary classmates (and have apparently mastered divinity), we still find ourselves casually chatting about church polity and theology while sitting on the couch in our pajamas. If you can’t watch Twilight, theology and polity are the next logical choices.

And there’s been a lot to talk about. This last week or so, churchy news has made it into mainstream media something fierce. First Anne Rice denounces Christianity by way of Facebook, which if you are going to publicly and erroneously accuse an entire group of being hate mongers, Facebook is the way to go. And then there’s the big piece in the New York Times on clergy burnout which got all of the clergy types’ collective undergarments in a bunch. OK yuk, nobody wants to talk about clergy undergarments.

Now when this stuff comes out, there are countless platforms and forums and venues where we can virtually all jump in and talk at once. My instinct is to argue & defend when I feel wronged, and then reason & explain (which I’ve done this week), but that’s exhausting. It only goes so far, and in the end, just adds to the noise. Instead, it seems like a better idea to just let people know that right now, at this very moment, there are bright, talented, dedicated teenagers who are spending the last days of their summer thousands of miles away from home, carrying bricks, building pre-schools, and passing out shoes. As John very eloquently says, these are the kids who, in a blink, are going to be doctors, policymakers and world leaders. They’re bypassing the noisemakers – stepping out in faith and taking their big hearts, bright smiles and beautiful souls into the world to do something and show some love.  And not even Anne Rice can argue with that.

’til it sticks

When I talk, it’s kind of like throwing spaghetti at a wall. I’ve been known to talk and talk until, mercifully for the person I’m talking to, something resembling a point comes out and sticks.

There’s an obvious hazard of this quirky and downright adorable communication style – something really stupid is also going to inevitably come out. And, unlike writing where you can enjoy the heady luxury of a healthy edit, once you’ve said something inane, it’s out there, man. For a, uh, prolific talker like myself, you have two options: you can suddenly see something far away that needs your immediate attention (pre-schoolers are especially handy for this) or simply start talking again until the stupid thing has been erased by 10 more somethings. Quantity here, not quality.

 Apparently, this rapid fire verbal assault doesn’t do it for everybody.

 Last week, I accompanied a couple of colleagues down to a two-day seminar where we looked at our strengths, and the benefits of working with the strengths God gave us instead of futilely toiling away trying to correct our weaknesses. (Take that, math!) One of my strengths turned out to be my ability and interestingly enough, desire, to chat up strangers, get their story and quickly find some level on which we can relate. Huh.

We all had to stand and share about our strengths and ourselves. When it was my turn, I may have been a touch animated and incorporated a half-fist-pump, but did my best to keep it simple. When we were all done, I turned to talk to the ladies behind me. I had noticed our strengths put us on opposite ends of the spectrum personality-wise. The woman with the curly hair smiled sweetly, and appeased me with polite conversation. The lady with the ponytail and the death grip on her study guide looked me straight in the eye and said, “people like me run away from people like you,” not cracking a smile and effectively ending the conversation right there.

I spent the afternoon chewing on this. Oh no – I’m scary.

What would happen if I spotted serious pony tail death grip lady (SPTDGL) on my church patio at coffee hour? There I would be, lumbering over in movie-style slow motion with her locked in my sites. With this attractive visual in mind, I pictured what might be going through my head as I tried to make conversation with her.

My inner monologue would go something like this: “I’m relating to you right now. I’m making you more comfortable by talking and asking you questions about yourself in a totally healthy, hospitable, not-weird way. Ok, what I just said might be oversharing, but by being upfront about my faults, maybe you won’t think we’re all goody two shoes. Are you looking at my feet? I know my shoes don’t exactly match and this ‘luminous’ self-tanner is making me glitter like a disco ball. Note to self, ‘luminous’ = glitter.”

See? I’m nice, authentic, and most definitely not scary. With this silent conclusion, I triumphantly looked over my shoulder at the lady, who wouldn’t meet my gaze.

Hmmph. It’s you wily stoic ones that make me nervous. Yes, wily. I’m onto you – you’ve learned to masterfully use your silence to make yourself seem wiser and more thoughtful than the other folks in the room. A skill that is enhanced into a superpower by the presence of a talker.  You are able to simultaneously lull others into submission and bubble up their self doubt with the simple and artful act of not saying anything at exactly the right moment. That leaves the talker to do what they do best, fill the silence. If for some bizarro reason, I ever end up in your interrogation room, all you’d have to do is sit across from me, silently smirking. You’d get everything you needed to know, and then some.

Uggh, that isn’t right either. Ok, well, parts of it are.

With a new resolve, I made SPTDGL my new personal project. I was going to literally talk her into liking me. (Um, seeing that in print makes me realize I may have other issues I need to explore – but that’s for another day.)

 The next day she showed up in a Mickey Mouse watch and jacket.

 A-ha!

I can talk about two general subjects intelligently and with aplomb. The first is pop culture – scripted television, celebrity gossip, movies. Secondly, and more importantly, Disneyland. I stood determinedly in front of her, arms folded, and said simply “I see your Mickey Mouse jacket and watch.” She started to squirm and squinch up her face, eyes darting around desperately looking for an escape route, until I belted out “I LOVE DISNEYLAND!” and threw in a subdued fist pump for emphasis. Her shoulders relaxed, and then it happened. Her frown relaxed…all the way into a sorta, kinda half-smile that was ambiguously pointed in my direction!

And on that day, in that conference room, whether she liked it or not, she shared an authentic moment with her admittedly worst chatty luminous nightmare.

WTF: Why the Fulcrum?

Truly, it’s a miracle to be here. And I don’t mean that in any philosophical way. Getting this blog thing set up just about did me in. By the time I will actually get this posted, if in fact, I do, I will have ignored my children, stomped around the house growling, delayed cooking dinner and questioned whatever small dose of techie acumen I thought I had, as well as any qualifications that would allow me to even think about having a blog in the first place.

Thanks for coming.

Well, let’s start with the ridiculous title: The Fulcrum Chronicles. Again, I’d like to underscore the extent to which I do not enjoy being overly philosophical about anything. It’s obnoxious. However, I do think about faith, and God, and church…..a lot. I kind of have to. I’m a pastor’s wife, and a ministry director at our church (oddly, not my childhood goal).

 I’m not an engineer type, but I keep coming back to the idea of the teeter totter & the fulcrum. Life moves you in both directions, but the thing that keeps you in motion is that one ever – important point – the fulcrum. I like to think that’s where God is….encouraging you to kick off really hard with your feet when you hit the ground, and then celebrate with a whoop when you reach the sky. I also like to think that God would kindly re-direct the big mean kid on the other end of the teeter totter who keeps you trapped on your end with your feet dangling. In my imagination, it’s a scratchy pencil-drawn kid, and a pencil drawn teeter totter, and I have freckles and a bow in my hair, but that’s beside the point. You can picture how faith and God keep you balanced/centered/grounded – or not – in your own way. A beautiful bird? A sturdy boulder? A mighty oak? I don’t know what that would signify – it’s your visualization technique.

 The Chronicles part. Well, my kids (there are two) and husband (one of those) are really funny. My career choice, and our life choice – or calling, as they say in the biz -lends itself to wacky misadventures, an eclectic collection of friends, poignant moments, and instances where you’re ready to altogether give up on humans. So I’ll probably write about that stuff…to the extent where I won’t actually be outing anyone specific as being a jerk.

So that’s it for now. Fingers crossed, and a little prayer that this works, that it posts without incident and that I won’t have to break out my own personal brand of swearing that makes my kids laugh. “Jimminy Christmas!!” happens to be their favorite. (The thing is, I am REALLY mad & frustrated when I say that stuff – so the tone &  fury with which it comes out is actually super-, I think, -offensive, but nobody else does, which is almost, well, offensive.