Saturday, March 29, 2014

Foundation of Faith

When I was working in short-term missions in Mexico, I was able to assist in building a lot of homes. The homes that we built had a concrete slab for flooring and the walls were stick frames, covered on the outside with stucco. During those two years, I learned a lot about building those homes. I first had the conceptual, textbook lessons, then I was able to take a lot through experience. One lesson I learned was the following: You want concrete and stucco (if you're not familiar with the material, stucco is concrete-based) to cure as slowly as possible. They both firm up rather quickly, but while they seem hard on the outside, there is a curing process going on inside that lends the materials their full strength. If the curing process happens too quickly, the materials can cure more weakly or even crack in the process. I learned that if you keep the materials more damp as they cure, it slows down the process, generally making them more stronger. I remember mornings returning to the worksites after some rest to see families sprinkling their walls and floors with water. We always knew these houses would be especially strong and well-cared for.

About 18 months ago, I was in India, speaking with some HOPE International savings group members. In this particular area, we only offer savings programs. Our savings group members do not have access to loans. At that time, there was a large demand for loans. Loans are generally viewed as an opportunity to improve one's economic circumstance more quickly than with savings. With a very, very poor population, loans are also more risky. For the poorest people in the world, getting started with savings programs is the more prudent, helpful tact. I walked into a room of about 80-100 people to tell them something they didn't want to hear - HOPE would not be offering them loans. As I took my steps toward the front of the room, my lessons from Mexico came to mind. I used what I learned about concrete to frame the discussion on savings, loans and financial rehabilitation. I agreed with the group that, yes, it is possible that loan programs could help their businesses grow faster. I also explained that maybe their brand new businesses were not ready to grow that fast. They needed to grow slowly to firm up their skills and make sure they were successful in the long-term. For this group of people, savings programs were the right tool. The programs would allow them to grow at a slow, steady pace into dependable well-run businesses. I cared for the people I was speaking to, and I didn't want them to have cracks in their foundations as they pursued a more secure financial life.

I'm not going to lie, I was pretty proud and thought I was pretty freaking smart when I pulled that out last minute. That is partially why it was even more humbling when a new application for this concept struck me while talking to a pastor in San Francisco who is interested in a partnership with HOPE.

I love to tell people my story. For those of you who haven't heard it, here is an abridged version: I grew up in a Christian home and I felt I became a Christian in elementary school. However, I really didn't care that much for the faith. I "gave my life to Christ" in a fit of panic. In the following years, I called myself a Christian but didn't behave much like one. By that I don't mean that I smoked, drank, dabbled with recreational drugs, got in situations with young ladies I shouldn't have, lied and cheated. Don't get me wrong, I did those things. So did some of the men who are closest to God's heart in scripture. What I mean is that I didn't love God and I didn't love the people around me the way he calls us to. In college, my mom duped me into going on some missions trips. They changed the way I saw faith. I realized that faith wasn't abstaining from the above list. It was loving God and loving others and bearing fruit of those loves. Abstaining from the above list is a series of disciplines that better equip us to love God and others. Just under four years ago, I really gave my life to Christ when I literally gave up my life as I knew it and moved across the country to build homes for the poor as a part of His ministry. For about two years, I grew in my faith and loved life as I never had before. Although I had really practiced my faith only briefly, I felt like a person who was mature in the faith, someone who had certainly ascended to a height of faith from which I could not be knocked down.

A little under two years ago, things started getting much harder. I moved back to the east coast and had a front row seat as my mother's health declined. I had a woman I loved ask me for a ring, then reverse her decision a month after the purchase was made. My mother passed away. My father and I were in a home together, two grown men trying to grieve the same thing and having no idea how to. Then there have been the smaller things, most recently being in a new place without a home for three weeks and having some of my most valued possessions stolen within two weeks of arriving in California.

My faith has simply not held up. Massive questions about God and his love for me have surfaced. I've responded in ways that have not glorified Him and not kept the interest of others at the forefront of my mind. At 31, I've spent two years living in the truth of God's love for me and then spent two more years questioning it. I was concrete that dried too fast. I neglected small things that took discipline, unlike the homeowner who dutifully sprayed his house down with a hose or sponge. I appeared strong and set on the outside, but I was still very much a child in my faith.

As I sat across from my new friend, this realization was unloaded on me. I believe that God is the creator of the universe and that Jesus died for me. I know how transformative this knowledge can be. It's transformed me. However, I haven't been embracing a lot of other truths about God, who He is and what He wants for me. My foundation is pretty much shot. The good news is, I have the two main ingredients to begin my new foundation. Now I just have to put in a lot of hard work and take my time this time around. Fortunately, I've already got a vibrant, growing group of friend in my new home to help me go about this rebuilding process.

I would love to know if there's anyone else out there who has had to rebuild their faith from the ground up after a tragedy or series of tragedies. What did you do? How did you do it? Where did you start? 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Thank You

Wow, you guys came out in full force. I remember as a child and even as a young adult, walking around begging for people's attention. "Look at me! Give me affirmation! Tell me I'm good!" This often wore really thin on those around me, so I never dreamed it would have worked on the blog!

Your encouragement has my head swirling with ideas, and I think I know what I'm going to write on, but this has been a crazy busy week. So busy, in fact, I haven't had time to write. Unfortunately, my weekly post is due now. However, I'm currently prepping for a 7:30 flight down to SoCal and a very full day tomorrow.

The good news is that my inability to write is the result of some really great things going on. I'm making friends, having adventures and finding my groove at work.

Tell you what, my goal is to have something up on Friday. Check back then. And thanks again for the encouragement.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Curse of Good Enough

I was a ridiculously talented kid. I made every travel soccer team. I made every travel baseball team. I made all but one travel basketball team. In travel sports I was always a contributor. In regular club leagues I was typically the leading scorer/best goalkeeper. When I played seeker, I snatched up that snitch like a dang boss. I was in one of those janky elementary school systems with a grading scale with E for Excellent, G for Good, S for Satisfactory, and NI for Needs Improvement. I have this great anecdote about when my parents came back from a student teacher conference and had me in tears because I had all Excellents and, without showing me the report card, they briefly convinced that E was just above F, rather than standing for Excellent, and I had straight E's. Actually, that's it. That's the whole story. I hope you got a good laugh. I was scarred for roughly two months.

After what I refer to as "The Golden Age of Clint," the other kids started catching up. By middle school, I wasn't quite as successful in sports or academics. High school came and I was rocking barely a 3.0 GPA while taking those notoriously grade boosting AP classes (This means I was closer to a C student than a B student. I really just did that math and came to that realization. I'm disappointed in you, High School Clint). By senior year, I got cut from the basketball team, representing utter failure in my favorite sport. The only sport I lettered in was lacrosse, and that was only because we were an underachieving club team that took anyone who would suit up. Picture the bad news bears slightly older with substance abuse and anger issues and prolific use of profanity.

I remember being bemused, but rather arrogantly proud as I sat across the table from an acceptance official at a university. The university official was calmly explaining to me that it didn't make sense for them to take a chance on accepting me. My SAT score was proportionately so much higher than my GPA that it was clear I just didn't try or care. I learned a light lesson from that experience. I put far more work in in college and graduated with one of those cum laude-type designations.

I learned enough of a lesson to improve my college performance, but I didn't learn the bigger lesson about life. I always believed that I just developed earlier than most and everyone caught up with and then passed me. I think there may be some truth to that. I was a great test taker and was a little taller than most of the others for a time. However, I don't think this is the whole story. I think I got comfortable with my slight advantage. I didn't strive for more. I think the others that I was a little ahead of definitely caught me, but most of them didn't pass me. A lot of people passed me because they learned how to work hard earlier than I did.

I was having a conversation with a new friend a week ago who had the same experience. We both believe we're talented enough to do most things proficiently. However, we both have strong doubts that we can truly excel at much of anything. We both have patterns of picking things up and being a star briefly, then falling to the middle, and often the back, of the pack. We hit some hard challenges and assume we're just not gifted in whatever field we're competing.

Early life typically only requires brief commitment, so those of us with a quick early learning curve shine. It's the marathons of life where we start to fall short. We're sprinters. We burn ourselves out, we become despondent as the others pass after our brief lead. We get beaten and embarrassed by those with endurance and discipline. The most discouraging part of this is that the marathons of life are all that matter. We're asked to go the distance. Unless we're Usain Bolt. Keep doing what your doing, brah.

A little under a year ago, I did some track training with my buddy Dan, who did some running in college. I remember him saying to me, "You're plenty strong, you just don't have the discipline to pace yourself."

You're plenty strong, you just don't have the discipline to pace yourself.

Although it's now mid-March, I've finally settled on my theme for this year: Discipline. Discipline is more valuable than any talent. It's something you work for rather than something you're given. It's also something you can apply to any of your preexisting talents. This is going to be one of the few things that's ever come slowly to me in the early goings. Discipline is a struggle for me from the moment I encounter it. My expectation is that it will help me discover a lot more about myself. I think it may help me discover where I'm truly gifted in life so that I can stop believing I'm mediocre at everything now that I've become an adult.

It's hard to go these lessons alone. In deciding to discipline myself this year, I've already contacted one of my best friends to help hold me accountable in some of my pursuits. He's going to help me stay accountable on when I go to bed and wake up, so that I don't exhaust myself and Netflix binge. He's going to help me stay on task in a couple of areas of life as well.

This is where you come in. This blog started as an opportunity to share about my missions work in Mexico. Then it became a little self obsessed. Then it became a place for me to share some of the harder things about life, in the hopes that my writing touches and wakes other people up. I like to throw some jokes and entertainment in there, too. As anyone who knows me can attest, I love to make myself and other people laugh. What this blog has never been is disciplined. I write when I want. Sometimes I literally have a dozen ideas backed up in my head. Sometimes I go through a desert of bloggie thoughts. Either way, I write when I feel like it.

Here's the thing: I think that writing might actually be one of the things for which I actually possess a true talent. One that I won't just dominate early on, like the Monstars in the first half against the Looney Toons. For once, I'd like to be Jordan stretching out for that game-winning dunk (Spoiler alert! Also, so many good things here. Bill Murray, for one. Why didn't Jordan ever do this when Karl Malone was mugging him in those series against the Utah Jazz? I digress). So, I've got a request for you. If you read this, dig it and think I should keep writing, drop me one comment. If one person drops one comment per post, that will motivate me and hold me accountable to make sure I get something up next week. The only requirement is that it can't be the same person over and over again. I know there are one or two of you out there (That's all, mind you.) So that's it. One comment from one unique reader per week, help me stay motivated to keep doing something I love. If we can keep this going for a bit and I can find room in my schedule, maybe we can up the stakes. More comments! More posts!

Even as I type this, part of me hopes you won't do me this favor so I can escape this very pedestrian level of discipline and commitment. The thing is, I know if you've made it through this novel of a post, you can probably handle typing a few words about what you think of it.

Please do it. Please help me. Save me from becoming a lifelong monstar.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Defiant Peace

A couple of months ago, I was doing my final sweep of my dad's house, making sure that I hadn't forgotten anything. A big move makes you forget the conveniences of email, Fedex and UPS (I don't think I need to speak on why I'm leaving USPS out of this list). In those moments, we feel a deep stress and need to identify and claim everything we need to take with us. My frenetic quest to claim all things Clint took me to the basket on the top of the refrigerator. In my family's home, the basket has two layers. On top are the prescriptions. For many years now, my little brother has consumed a potpourri of pills regulating his seizures and his behavior. If we had this basket at our old home, surely this is where my mother's sometimes potent cocktails of drugs designed to fight her leukemia would have resided. The second layer in this basket is comprised of various oddities and items we no longer think about or need. It was here that I found something that made me slow down and reduced the insignificance of being sure that I had gathered all of my things.

I very nearly dismissed it. The girly handwriting bordered on portraying the writer as juvenile at first glance, but as it came into better focus, it communicated more of an innocence. As I looked for another moment, it's contents engulfed me. It was a list of recommended natural supplements to aid in dealing with cancer and chemotherapy. The contrast between the handwriting and the contents was disquieting. It felt incredibly unjust that a young woman who possessed this handwriting also possessed such a deep knowledge of an insidious, destructive disease.

Allie Frymoyer was an intern with HOPE two summers ago. I remember the day standing in HOPE's kitchen, a common meeting place, discussing my mother's sickness. Right now, I can't recall the exact circumstances, I think I have willfully forced bits and pieces of my mother's physical degradation out of my heart and mind. We talked about how my mother was going through treatment. Allie asked pointed questions about my mother's process and condition. She spoke with the kind of care that only a deeply compassionate person who had experienced the same level of suffering could communicate. I remember her smiling sweetly during some of the difficult conversation. Her facial expressions showed the same sort of defiance toward the subject matter that her handwriting did in the note I found on my desk the next day, accompanied by her favorite vitamin fortified juice which helped her through her chemo. I was taken by her thoughtfulness and also by the fact that an unpaid college intern would find room in her budget to give a $6 bottle of juice away.

Another day, Allie and I were talking over lunch. The subject was engagement. I had recently bought a ring and was preparing to propose, she had just gotten engaged. I wanted as brief an engagement as possible, I was ready to be married. Conversely, Allie was looking toward a year long engagement. I really don't know much about the intricacies of Allie's life at the time, but I do know that she was still sick. She would miss days at HOPE from time to time and I think was even admitted to the hospital at one point during the summer. The idea that she would want to take her time and have a normal if not extended engagement was odd to me. Although her sickness loomed, she was in no rush to claim what was hers in this earthly life. Again, she had a peace about her that completely betrayed her circumstance.

Allie was at peace with her sickness. It was through her acceptance of it's physical existence that she was able to reject much of it's emotional and psychological impact. Allie remained fresh when she could have been jaded. She lived in and made the most of the moments she was given rather than rushing to or hoping for better ones. She cared for my mother, whom she never met. Allie's presence and actions communicated a deep, abiding peace.

I woke up this morning, rolled over and grabbed my phone to do the typical email/text check. Mixed in with a number of other messages, was a brief email informing HOPE staff of Allie's passing. Since my mother passed last year, I don't cry much. My theory is that my emotions just got overloaded and kind of stopped responding. When I read this message, I immediately felt the old but familiar sensation of warm tears running down my face. When I weep for people like my mother and Allie passing, I don't cry for them. I cry because it feels a travesty that this world should be denied the presence of people like Allie Frymoyer and Sandy Barnes.

Allie, thank you for pulling these tears out of me. Thank you for a smile and a handwritten note that stood in stark but quiet and humble defiance of the worst this world has to offer. Thank you for showing what Hope in God truly looks like. It's my prayer that in the wake of losing you, your defiant peace will resonate in our hearts and bring us to a similar place.