Sunday, June 01, 2008

Neat freak

My partner in ministry, Elsie, always pays particular attention to cleaning up the room where we hold our classes every week. She says her mother always taught her to leave a place neater than when she found it. Those are good words. They are words I can relate to, not only because I qualify as a neat freak, but for more idiosyncratic reasons as well.

I can remember as a kid, "dividing" up the chores amongst my brothers and I. But more than that, and I chuckle at the memory, I used to divide up the soft drinks. My mom would occasionally "treat" us by buying a 2 liter bottle (only it wasn't 2 liter then) of coke. I would figure out just how many ounces each of us should be allotted, and no more! After all, that was fair. That was equitable. That was ... neat.

Back to chores. I would always size up what was my "share" and then do just a little bit more. I wanted to make sure that no one could accuse me of not doing my share. In fact, I usually congratulated myself for going above and beyond the call of duty. Hooray for me!

All of these personality quirks are related to legalism, I think. Ewwwww, that's such a nasty word. It's right up there with rules freak, which I think stings in its application to me as well. I think these tendencies came from trying to negotiate my existence among 3 older brothers in a day when little girls didn't amount to much. I was trying to find a way to hold my own, so clinging to the rules and fairness and equity seemed the only means to keep from blowing away into the wind.

In the the 20+ years that I have been serious about my faith (ewww, another nasty word), I can think of a few times when I would ask the question that must not be asked: "Why is this happening?" One of those times was when I was pregnant with my eldest daughter. It was a stressful pregnancy, termed "high risk" by the medical professionals. I remember as if it were yesterday the doctor's appointment when the specialist whom I was seeing looked me right in the eye, somber and cool as a cucumber, and said, "I guess you know things look pretty grim at this point. The fetus is growing, but it's nothing to hang your hat on..."

I remember thinking, No, I do NOT know that things look pretty grim at this point. How dare you! I climbed back into my car and tried to keep my composure. "Why" was back there somewhere in my mind, but the profound thought that came in a gentle yet determined manner was "The wisdom of men is foolishness unto God." So I had to decide, do I believe that; act on that. Or do I go home and hide under the covers? I decided to believe. I steered my car toward JC Penney's and in what I perceived as an act of faith, I bought maternity clothes; clothes I would need to bring this pregnancy to term. Was this another act of a neat freak, trying to regain control of a situation that was clearly out of control? Or was it faith? I suppose I'll strike a compromise with myself and say that it was a neat freak's faith response, LOL.

If I believe according to my neatness mantra that there's a place for everything and everything in its place, then on the surface it might appear that I would come completely undone when life throws me a curve ball. For the most part, not so, although struggles can have a cumulative effect over time. Even in those moments of weakness when I dare to entertain the dreaded "why," for the most part, I try to receive everything as life. My life. The life God has for me at the moment.

Without a doubt, raising my 4 kids has proven to be the biggest challenge I have ever faced in life. But can I, for one minute, shake my fist to the heavens when I prayed so fervently for these children? As long as I can continue to neatly place the struggles into piles that qualify as "that's just life," I think I am being a good steward of the gifts God has given me. We don't get to choose how we come into this world and we don't get to choose how we leave this world. And guess what? On many fronts, we don't get to choose what we encounter in this world. The independent choices, actions, decisions, desires and mistakes of those even remotely connected to us, in combination with our own, ricochet off of us like BB pellets shot at a tin can. Is it all random? Probably not. Can I receive it in a random manner? Yes, I can, but I probably shouldn't.

Paul says he learned to be content in all situations. He didn't say disconnected, complacent, aloof, and certainly not dispassionate. No, by golly, he maintained his passion and his joy as he negotiated the challenges of each and every day.

I am moving away from a line of thinking that tells me, "in just a minute ... in just a minute ... in just a minute," as if there are some aspects of life that aren't really my life, just "occurrences" that I'd rather look beyond to see the "good stuff" around the corner. No, everything is of value if for no other reason than the simple fact that as long as I am dealing with life, I am alive. As long as I am on dirt and dirt ain't on me, then life is good.

Have I done it again? Have I made a neat and manageable pile out of the rubble of thoughts that ricochet through my brain? Well, what else would you expect of a neat freak?

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