Tuesday, July 31, 2012

tattoo story #3-redeeming the ugly Twig of my past

All work done by Michael Facchini
at Blackhole Tattoo (West) in Beaverton,OR
 Not a day goes by (when it is warm enough for my leg to be on display) that there is not a comment about this piece. Often the comment is, "I don't like tattoos, but that one is BEAUTIFUL".Comments and compliments, normally often me a little uncomfortable, but I delight in that one. This tattoo is, as Valentine calls it, my plastic surgery.  It was meant to erase some of the pain I have felt about the way I have looked since junior high, and some of the physical "scars", and help me be less embarrassed about myself. Yes, that is shallow, yes it is vain, probably a bad example to young girls everywhere, and I don't recommend everyone get tattoos to cover areas, that they are embarrassed by, but, it's my blog and my story, so reserve judgement and take a walk down memory lane with me for a moment. Let's look at an ugly duckling of sorts, and channel your inner junior high student.

I was always the tallest kid in class, and silly as it may seem, that was difficult. Teachers complimented me on my clothes, because we shopped in the same department of the store. When my friends were still in osh kosh, I was shopping at the Limited. Pretty soon my legs were too long for the junior section too, as different lengths weren't yet widely available yet.This was also when everyone was pegging their pants (rolling and folding) making them even shorter. So I came up with my own fashions, shopped in women's clothing stores, and thus, stuck out even further. My principal, at our 5th grade graduation, said, "we have to promote her, she is taller than all of us now". Ouch! I know this could have been a lot worse, I didn't have to struggle with things like being disfigured, of a minority race, or differently abled, I was just freakishly tall at a young age. At the time to me though, it was huge, my brain couldn't fully grasp the concept of it being, not so bad.

As I grew taller, I got skinnier and skinnier and skinnier. For some that would be a dream come true, but for me it was awful. Guess what girls, skinny girls feel self conscious too.  I was a lanky, lumpy thing who was taller than all the boys, and all but one of the girls.  When I finally did get breasts, some in my own youth group told me I must be "stuffing" because I was too skinny to have them.  They referred to me as "twig"." Hold my hand so you don't blow away twig, it's windy". Don't worry, I was a smart ass and dished it right back, but inside I was suffering. I felt awkward, as we all do in junior high.  I felt like I stuck out in an ugly way. Guys my own age weren't interested in this girl that towered over them, I was a joke.  I related more to the older taller people, which led to a different sort of problems. I got the attention of much older guys, and some of my much older sister's friends, but I didn't fit there either. I felt like I didn't belong anywhere, and I am sure most everyone can relate to that. It's what the junior high experience is all about, and it's painful. You just want to fit in, to belong and yet you see all these things that you think make you a misfit.

There were lasting physical effects from growing so tall, so fast. I got spider veins, stretch marks, scoliosis and more, and yes I know I could have had it so much worse.  When I sat, I had a position that made me feel less conspicuous.  I crossed my legs, then twisted them around each other again, so my feet wouldn't stick out. I still have a tendency to sit like that today, but it only made the veins worse. The blue and purple veins were all over my legs before high school, and they only worsened later on in life. This leg was especially bad, and I hated wearing shorts forever, because of the veins. I looked at my leg and instantly felt ashamed, and insecure, and just like that person in junior high, even a decade later. I didn't want to have them removed with expensive painful surgery, but I wanted them gone.

For my 31st birthday, I went to our much beloved artist, and asked for a cherry blossom branch, and two birds (one for Valentine and one for me). I wanted a transformed twig. That small request turned into this amazing piece.  The male bird is beautiful, and the female is just ordinary.  I love that. She doesn't stick out as much, she almost blends in with the branch. She would just be one of many birds in a flock, just a face in the crowd. The branches fit my leg perfectly, and the flowers are incredible. It doesn't cover my veins, but you don't even notice them when you see my leg.

All work done by Michael Facchini
at Blackhole Tattoo (West) in Beaverton,OR
It is undeniably gorgeous, and it makes me feel the same way.  I don't see the ugly spider veins, or the horrible feelings of rejection, embarrassment and pain. The tattoo helped me see my beauty.  I know I am beautiful without it, but it took this to open my eyes to the rest of me.  I am not the tallest girl around anymore, far from it. I am grateful now for the height I have. When I do feel insecure about the way I look, I just have to look down at my leg. I still hate sticking out, which I know is ironic, because my tattoos make it easy to pick me out of a line up.  But now I get to choose the way I stick out, and I am proud of the things that make my appearance different. Living in Portland, I get to hide them a lot too. I can stick out for just a few weeks of sunshine, then go back to lots of layers of clothing and hide them all away.  There are still days, more than Val would like, when I bemoan my appearance, but thankfully, those days are fewer, and not nearly as crippling to me as they used to be. I can appreciate those parts of me now, and see the beauty and strength within. My fashion sense, my tattoos, these are all good things that came from those ugly duckling years, things I can be proud of, regardless of what other's think.

You might not agree with my appearance choices, but let's be honest you have things you do to make yourself comfortable and battle your ugly twig demons too. Tattoos may not be liked by everyone, but they can be very powerful, transformative and healing. Rather than detracting from natural beauty, they can help some of us appreciate the beauty that has always been there and the beauty within. We all feel ugly at times then and now. Media certainly doesn't help us feel better about ourselves, so we turn to other things. Makeup, hair stuff, clothing, even razors, help us change or enhance our appearance all the time, just like tattoos. They help us camouflage what we don't like and show off what we do. We create the look we want others to see, and hopefully it  helps give us confidence.  They help us express ourselves in ways we are comfortable with. What makes us feel comfortable though might not be stylish in the eyes of others. When we see someone whose appearance is offensive, weird, or unusual to us, we need to remember there is an insecure junior high kid in there, just trying to feel comfortable in their own skin.

All work done by Michael Facchini
at Blackhole Tattoo (West) in Beaverton,OR

Friday, July 27, 2012

the trip that hit the reset button- Ahhh- laska

Life is a weird unbalanceable thing.  There is good and there is bad, and there will never be balance between them.  At one point something great will happen and then just around the corner is something, well, suck! As a Christian I suppose I should have the attitude that everything happens for a reason, but nope, F that.  Somethings are horrible, and there is no good that comes from them, and trying to see them as things that build our character, strength and faith, does little more than make me angry at God and myself for not "growing" through those suck things. While those things may be true, it's hard to consider something like struggling through the death of loved ones, or illness, as "pure joy".
There is often no rhyme or reason to whether you get the good or the bad.  Your own choices can affect it, and will, but there are a lot of things that happen outside of your choices too. So the challenge comes in living with the good or the bad.  Being able to go through it, whatever it is, and still survive or perhaps thrive.

For two years our family has been bouncing between surviving and thriving.  Just as we would get through one obstacle, another would come before us.  Often with only a day or two of calm in between.  Now contrary to what some people think, we DON'T LIKE DRAMA.  We are quite willing to share our stories with others, because Val and I believe in being honest and living in community, but we don't derive pleasure from struggling. We enjoyed life very fully with  the limited family drama we had up until the last couple of years.  But here we were trying to process one bad news episode after another. There was good along the way, and there were GREAT friends that encouraged us in big and small ways.  Some days we thrived mostly thanks to them, but for the most part we were just surviving.  We weren't enjoying life, like we could, or should.

Alaska changed all of that, it hit the reset button for us.  I went in being totally burnt out by conflicts and a lot of overtime at work, which was frying the rest of the family too.  We questioned my calling and what the future held for my job. Then there were the string of other issues we had all endured together.  Tired as we were though, Alaska let us get out of our space, get out of our heads, and enjoy life.  We could revel in the beauty of creation.  We could have fun spending time with the wonderful people we were traveling with.  I could enjoy having my kids and my youth group "kids" together.  My two families were together for two weeks, and it was awesome! It reminded us to make time to do that more often.  There is never balance between work and family, but we need to tip the scales more toward family fun (especially for my flash and blood family) more often. We all enjoyed being in the presence of God and each other, and we thrived in that!

We worked hard, but it was FUN work.  We built a mini golf course for a camp in a town a ferry ride away, taking Skagwegian youth with us. We had 50 kids at Vacation Bible School each day in Skagway, and ended up with about 20 youth at youth group over the course of the week. Three years ago we had two students show up.  We were exhausted from all the programing we were running, but energized by the people we were serving. It was great to be with our Skagway kids, and to watch them grow. It was so much fun to work so hard.

We were blessed by a community of people in Skagway, AK, that wanted to pour back into us.  They were grateful for our time and what we brought to their town, and they showered us with love.  They did this through meals (even trying to cook tofu for the first time), expensive excursions normally reserved for high paying tourists, and lots of encouragement.  As we walked through town in our team sweatshirts, people thanked us and told us that they valued what we were doing, and how much fun their kids were having. It was humbling, and encouraging, and we felt so underserving, but it was awesome. We rode on sleds pulled by teams of dogs, then got to cuddle puppies.  Others zip lined high above the beautiful landscape. We all kayaked on a rare, and beautiful warm sunny day, on a lake high in the mountains. It was awesome to have love and encouragement, for the good things come pouring in.

We came away with joy and peace.  We all had smiles on our faces and amazing memories to last a lifetime. I was glad that my family could share these memories with me this time.  We thrived together! Valentine and I also, came away with a renewed sense that my job was what God had called me too, created and gifted me for. Good did not come from each bad thing we endured with friends and family, but good came.

The challenge now is too thrive like this all the time.  How do we step out of survival mode when we are at home? How do we remember to enjoy the presence of God and each other?  How do we give that gift to others? Maybe I need an Alaska flag tattoo now to remind me to be present and thrive, not just survive with God and with others...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

the sermon I gave on July 1

Be it and Bring it 
A month ago the youth groups went to Portland Rescue Mission, as we do every month to help them serve lunch. We don’t do much really; we just show up and serve the food they have prepared to the people from the homeless community that shows up to eat.  We are just a small part of the big, amazing operation that they have going on there.  It’s easy work for us - it really isn’t a big deal.  Portland Rescue is the big deal.  They work tirelessly to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth.  Their mission is to share the love of Christ with everyone in the homeless community and they do that in a lot of great ways, from their rehabilitation and housing programs to their meals, to providing beds, showers and clothing.  They strive to do it well and to make sure everyone leaves there with a sense of dignity and worth.  They have even added karaoke nights and movie nights to their services, to give the people a sense of normal life.  They are being the body of Christ in a variety of ways to the homeless community, and when you are there, you can sense a little bit of heaven on earth.  I got to experience one of those moments last month.  PRM wants us to be relational with the people of the homeless community, especially at lunchtime. They specifically set up the lunch line with choices for each part of the meal, so you have to ask them want they want, instead of just giving them something.   It’s hard though, when we are only there once a month, to get to know people.  Every once in a while we do.  We get to know some of the people with big personalities, or interesting quirks, the people that are hard to miss.  One of those people is T-Bone.  T-Bone has been coming through the line for the five and a half years we have been working there.  He is known for being a bit of a troublemaker and he always has a lot to say.  He likes to hold up the food line telling stories, or lecturing the kids about staying in school. He is a character for sure, and he and I have hit it off over the years. Six months ago, T-Bone went missing.  He had said he was going back east to visit family, but you hear those stories a lot there, and often they are just stories.  We had asked the PRM crews about him, but they didn’t know either.  To be honest, knowing T-Bones troublemaking background, I thought the worst, prison or death.  I missed him when we went down to serve.  Last month though, T-Bone came walking through the door, and I have to tell you, maybe I shouldn’t be excited to see someone in need of food and coming through that line, but I was.  I couldn’t hold back my enthusiasm. I shouted out to him, “T-Bone, you’re back! It’s so good to see you!” He looked at me for a bit, and at first there was pain in his eyes, and I thought I had offended him by calling him T-bone, or something was going on with him, and I thought things were going to go down hill fast here. His expression changed though, the pain was replaced by joy, and he was beaming. His eyes got all watery and he came over and said, “girl you just made my day”. He then started telling everyone around him that I remembered him.  He remembered me too.  I am a bit inconspicuous with my tattoos and my daughter and the hooligans that are always with me.  We are told we aren’t supposed to have physical contact with guests, but when he came around the counter to hug me, I couldn’t stop it.  It was a moment of heaven on earth. He spent the rest of the time holding up the lunch line and lecturing Tabitha on staying in school and her goals.  He kept thanking the kitchen staff and me and telling us how great it was to be known. T-Bone felt joy and respect and love that day; he touched heaven in that line and so did I.  Really, it’s all due to Portland Rescue Mission.  They are being the kingdom of heaven as they follow Jesus and they are bringing it to earth.  They work in such a depressing atmosphere, helping people that are so broken, lost and forgotten, and yet they bring the  love of Jesus into that and make something beautiful.
I had a part in that for like two minutes, and then I went home that day and was grumpy about my messy house and the million things I had to do.  I brought it for like 5 seconds that day, and then I dropped it.

In this passage in Luke, 

Luke 17:20-21

New International Version (NIV)
20 Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, 21 nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”[a]

Jesus is saying that heaven isn’t just a future concept, that the power and glory of God here with us isn’t some far off thing or crazy revolution.  It is here and now in our midst. There is argument about whether the Greek word, entos, here means within you or in your midst. Either way, he is saying heaven isn't just a future thing, it's here.  I don’t know about you, but I am missing it.  So often I am living my life, just thinking things aren’t that great, and man heaven would be so nice right about now.  We have had a rough last year and more than once I have prayed over and over again, “Jesus just come back now please. I don’t want to live on this planet of suffering and strife anymore, I don’t want any of us to have to, so please come back now”. I was missing the kingdom that Jesus started here with his presence and that he left here with us through his resurrection.  Maybe you have been missing it too.

Well it’s time for that to change.  We have to BE it and BRING it.  That is what we were created for.  We were created to live with God in his presence in paradise.  Do you realize that?  The beginning of our story, that beautiful poem in the beginning in Genesis, you know the one that starts with in the beginning?  In the beginning when God formed us in his image, using this beautiful imagery, this poetry of forming us from the dirt, we were living in paradise with him.  And God, in his amazing love and mercy, gave us the freedom of choice in the beginning, we could walk with him in paradise and obey his word, or we could have it our own way.  We chose our own way, and that grieved God but it didn’t stop him from pursuing us with his love and his grace.  We see all through the Hebrew Scriptures, that God tried to rescue his people back to himself.  He saved them from themselves, he gave them choices, let them screw up and then worked really hard to help them change, and give them freedom.  He raised up prophets and leaders, all of whom had problems and struggles of their own to call the people back to himself.  Then he sent Jesus.  He put himself into man quite literally and came here to rescue us.  To bring us back to communion with him. When Jesus came people wanted a revolution, they wanted to be free from oppressive governments and religious structures.  Jesus brought them one, but it wasn’t what they were expecting.  He brought them a revolution of love, rooted in sacrifice, his sacrifice.  A revolution rooted in living our lives not for ourselves, but for community, for others, so that all of us can experience the love of God, and we can see his work, his heaven here on earth.   Jesus started the work, and I do believe he is coming back to finish it, but it is our choice now to allow him to work through us to continue it.

Whew that was a lot, did you follow me there?  Jesus brought that kingdom, that paradise back and he is entrusting us to be it and bring it.  To live in the kingdom of heaven and to share it to others until one day we all get to share in it together when he comes back.  But how do we do that?  How do we do that all the time?  I mean we are a mess right, I know I am.  I can have a great moment and then instantly be grumbling about my life and forgetting to work for the good in others lives.

Well take heart, because in the beatitudes Jesus tells us blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  We can’t do it on our own; we can’t be it and bring it alone. When we recognize that, and we look to Jesus, we open the door for him to work through us.

Jesus talked a lot about the kingdom of heaven, and his followers would get frustrated, because he told parables about it and said these crazy things, like it’s in your midst, when they wanted an armed revolution.  One of the parables he told was that of the sower and the seed.  If you have had any background in Sunday School you probably remember it.  I just read the arch storybook version I have had since I was a kid to Elijah last week.  If you are new to all this, though, don’t worry, I have a Lego stop animation version, found on YouTube, for you all to watch right here www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LvvHXaKZPE.

His own disciples didn’t get what this meant, so let’s break it down shall we? He is talking about the sower, that’s him, not us.  Sowing seeds, the works of God, his Word. Word means Jesus, it means life, it means God’s teachings to us, and the way he calls us to live.  He calls us to live differently if we are following him.  Read the sermon on the mount if you want more detail on that. Our lives are to be about the two greatest commandments, loving God and loving others.  Right? So he is sowing this, he is planting this all around us, scattering it everywhere.  We have to respond to it, but we have a choice.  We are the soils in this story.  We can choose what kind of soil we can be.  Did you get that?  You have a choice.  God knows we screw this up, but he still gives us a choice.  What a merciful, graceful God we have.  We have a choice in how we respond.  Will we be a hard path, where the seed can’t get in and birds eat it before it ever has a chance to take root? Will we not let the kingdom of God rule in our lives, not let Him have any authority.  Or will we listen, be like the rocky soil, let the seed in, but not give it a rich foundation.  Then we can let the kingdom in a little bit, but eventually when things get tough, it starts to wither.  Or we can be like the soil that is good and lets the seed grow, but we also lets weeds grow too, we feed into things that aren’t good for us, and we let them take root in our lives and eventually that chokes out the kingdom work.  Those weeds are different for all of us, what you can handle and do and doesn’t take over your life, maybe I can’t, but there is probably something else in yours that squashes your ability to see God and others.  We have another option though.  We can be good nourished soil, full of life and nutrients, and we can let the word grow in us, and produce a crop. We can take care of the weeds before they choke out what God is trying to do.  We aren’t the sower, it’s not us that all this comes from, and we aren’t the seed, we are the soil. 

We need to be it and bring it.  We need to get our soil right. I confess, my soil has become rocky and dry lately.  I have not been tending to it, and I have been burning out. Maybe you have too.  So how do we be it and bring it, how do we choose good soil instead?

Irenaeus of Lyon, and I know you all have been following his blog, keeping up with his writings etc.  He was an old scholarly type saint and he wrote: “For the glory of God is the human person fully alive; and life consists of beholding God”. I like that.  We are fully alive; we are fully bringing it when we are beholding God.  We were created remember in God’s image and made to be in his presence.  We are fully alive when we remember that, when we remember we are loved, and valued and worthy because of the one who gave us beauty and worthy.  No matter who we are we have a part in God’s kingdom, but when we lose sight of him we lose sight of that.  So we have to behold him.  We have to live under his authority.   Then our soil can be enriched. 

How do we behold God, how do we sit in his presence?  There are so many things that need to get done on a daily basis.  I don’t know about you, but carving out time to be with God just gets harder and harder.  This week was crazy in our house.  The week before was VBS and that was a non-stop week of going and doing, and then we had to clean that up and get ready to go to Alaska on Tuesday.  But I knew I had to attempt to be it and bring it today, and I knew I couldn’t do that if I didn’t spend more time in God’s presence, reading his word and in prayer.  So I tried to fit it in, getting up a little earlier, and staying up, and sitting down instead of running around my house cleaning and getting all the laundry folded.  I have to tell you, yesterday, two guests arrived at my house to a mess.  Luckily they are trying to follow Jesus too, so I can hold them to a standard of grace and forgiveness and mercy.  It isn’t easy to make time for these things, and we cannot do it all.  Jesus promises though, seek first the kingdom of heaven and all these things will be added unto you. He says that in a very long chapter about worry.  Don’t worry about what you will eat and what you will wear, seek me first, he says.  He makes us a promise there.

There is this thing called the Shemah, it’s 3 parts of the Hebrew scriptures and Jewish people have said it for centuries. Part of it is from Deuteronomy 6:4-9,  4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. It comes as God is reminding them to seek him first, and he says to share it with their children during the day, to put it on their house, to wear it around their heads.  Little reminders all around them each day.  A short thing said over and over. Even then God understood us, even then it seems they were having problems letting things get in the way of them seeing God in their lives, and remembering his authority, remembering the work he was doing around them.  They didn’t have smart phones that were always buzzing with reminders of other things, or internet, but this is a problem and always has been for us all.  So God gave them a way, to memorize his word and to always have it with them.  They literally put and still do, mezuzah’s boxes on their doorposts with scripture, so when they came and went they saw it.  They wore things on them, that had scriptural symbolism, or scripture itself, and they memorized it.  They prayed as they were saying these things.

What can you do, or tie around your wrist to put God’s word in front of you?  Maybe you use post it notes on a mirror, embroidered pillows with verses, bible memory tools on your smart phone.  Maybe you have carved out a quiet time in your day, everyday when you can spend time with God by praying in a journal or reading through the Bible. Maybe you can use your commute time, or the time you spend running, or walking.  I know I have trouble with quiet, and a lot of times I draw near to God with music, and the words, often words that have come from Psalms, like the songs we sing here, draw me into God’s presence, and remind me of his authority.  We have to find ways to nurture our soil, to keep ourselves close to God. How can you be it, be the follower of Jesus the person living in the presence of God you were supposed to be?

And how can you bring it, how can you bring the kingdom of heaven to earth.  Being in fellowship with one another helps us bring it.  The church is a place where we are supposed to encourage one another to be it and bring it.  God brings us together so we can have an even bigger crop together.  Sharing our resources, our talent and our time.  But we aren’t just supposed to bring it to each other; we are supposed to bring it to Portland.  How can we bring the kingdom of heaven here, all around us?

Many of you brought it at VBS a week ago (Vacation Bible School at MPC was July 18-22, nearly 100 kids attended from outside our church community).  You gave your time and your talent, to be here with the kids.  Most of those kids aren’t a part of our church, but you loved them and made them feel welcome.  They had a great time here and they experienced the love of Christ through you.  One kid came and was kind of grumpy at the beginning of the week, he was making trouble. On Wednesday we brought the waterslides out, and he came up to me, and said, “Are we going to the pool, you guys have a pool here right?” I said no, there is no pool here, just water slides”.  He was upset and kept saying. “Waterslides, that’s stupid, we should just go to the pool”. Then he got out to the waterslides and I could see he was excited.  He went down one, and got out and said, “for God’s sake, you should at least heat the water, it’s cold”.  It was awesome! I could see that he was starting to enjoy himself, but he still just couldn’t let go.  Then a couple minutes later I saw him zooming down the waterslide, and he got off and he said, “this is so AWESOME!” and I had to yell for him to quit running, he was so excited.  He came with a hardened heart, but it softened over the week.  He got to experience a piece of heaven on earth.  I heard from other parents that their kids experienced the same thing.  For one week our church brought heaven to earth, with the seeds God planted.  We were some pretty great soil.  But how do we keep it up?

How do we be people that aren’t complaining about how rough life is, but are celebrating the goodness of God?  There will always be suffering; we live in a broken world.  God mourns with us in that suffering, but he also wants to bring healing and heaven and we have a part in that.  We can choose to see the good, and bring the good that he began.

Shane Claiborne, a guy who has gone so far as to live in an intentional community in the worst part of Philadelphia to better be able to be it and bring it, tells a story go when he was living in Calcutta India with the poorest of the poor.  They would hang out with the street kids and give them birthday parties.  They would celebrate these kids that were living on the streets that the rest of the world had forgotten.  They would have a party for them, and at one party, they got the birthday boy an ice cream cone.  This boy, who had nothing, took this ice cream cone and licked it, and then he passed it around to everyone, a lick for you, a lick for you.  Shane Claiborne like me has a fear of other people’s saliva, but he said even he couldn’t resist taking a lick of this cone.  Instead of focusing on how bad his situation was, this boy saw something amazing and he had to share it, he just had to share it with everyone. 

We have the kingdom of heaven. We have heaven right here, right now; we just have to share it.  We have to be it and bring it. I hope that you can be thrilled and excited with the possibility and the reality of heaven here on earth, so that you can be a follower of Jesus and bring his kingdom here now.