I don’t know what I don’t know…

Back in 2011, we were living our best life in our happy little bubble of suburbia when my husband called me to tell me that “We had an opportunity.” If you are not familiar with the nomadic life that certain professions (like heavy civil engineering) afford, an “opportunity” meant we were moving. And it was likely not to a destination where I had dreamed of living, or else this conversation would have gone more like: “Babe- guess what? We’re moving to Fiji!” That’s an important distinction, because “opportunity” meant, “This is likely going to suck, but hopefully it will pay off down the road.”

But, I think I need to go farther back and give some context.

About a year earlier, Paul came home from work and was doing a mental dump of his day. The kids were small and playing nearby while I was cooking dinner. Something was clearly weighing on him even after he had told me all the things that had happened that day. Finally, on a long exhale, he brought it up. He had to send a group of engineers to a job in Newfoundland. Most of them, and their families, had a lot of reservations. I quickly and indifferently snapped back, “Well I guess they’ll need to get over it.” That felt as awful coming out of my mouth as it does to look at on the page. As Paul moved out of the kitchen to go play with the kids, the still small voice in my head asked, “If it were you, what would you need to feel safe, informed, and valued making a move to another country, climate, culture? What would your kids need?” Obviously, lots of information. I called out to Paul, “They’re going to need a book.” He came back into the kitchen, “What do you mean?” I thought for a minutes, “They need a manual. If you’ve only ever lived in the southeastern United States and you have to move with your kids to Newfoundland, you need a guide book. How are schools set up? Where do you register for school? What vaccinations do you need? How do you register your vehicles? What documents do you need for a drivers license? How do taxes work? …” The questions were falling off my tongue faster than I could think them. Paul agreed that the manual was a good idea and he would put some people to work on it.

So when our move to Ontario came the next year, as hard as that “opportunity” was, I had a small framework on which to build. As I grieved the loss of my happy American suburban bubble and came to wrestle with my new Canadian reality, an uncomfortable reality became obvious: I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Not knowing what you don’t know is an uncomfortable status that most of us try to avoid at all costs. There’s a fear or suspicion that hovers in the back of your mind all the time that maybe you’re missing something that you didn’t know you were supposed to do or have, and that lack of knowledge will have repercussions later. Think taxes for example. We’re five years repatriated back to the USA, and that’s still a specter hanging over us. But I digress…

The crazy thing about not knowing what you don’t know is that it forces you to be vulnerable. I mean, you could choose not to be vulnerable, but that’s a quick trip to shame, anger and loneliness as you try to navigate territory that you know nothing about whilst making all kinds of mistakes. Vulnerability, while totally awkward, leads to community, humility, and empathy. Those were the things that sustained me during those four years in Canada.

Paul and I were taking a walk yesterday. I asked him if he thought we would have normal school this fall. “I don’t know,” he said. “If you had told me back in February this Chinese virus we were starting to hear about would have me wearing a face mask in the grocery store, I would have told you ‘the hell it will.’ We don’t know what we don’t know.”

I smiled, “We used to say that in Canada all the time. Unfortunately, we had the advantage that we could just go ask someone. Or check the manual. No one knows how this will all end. Or what’s going to happen next.”

“Why do we think we need to know how it ends? The tension of not knowing what you don’t know means that the end, the timing, the next new thing will just have to be managed as it comes. Not many people are comfortable with that, which is why there’s this low simmering rage on the surface of everything right now. People want formulas, end dates and simple solutions tied up neatly. That part of COVID-19 is scarier than the actual disease for most people,” he replied.

I think there’s truth in what he said. As I’m wrestling with all of this, I know I’m personally fighting the desire to wrap this disease up and move on. I don’t like masks. I don’t like cancelling events and plans. I don’t like hybrid school plans. I want it to end.

But I don’t know what I don’t know. I don’t know what it would feel like to lose a family member to this disease while the world holds a public debate about masks. I don’t know what it would look like to have my kid unknowingly infect their class or team. I don’t know how I would manage the logistics of traveling and then getting quarantined somewhere away from my family. I don’t know any of those things. I likely don’t know even more. But I’m willing to be vulnerable. I’m willing to listen when you complain about your uncertainties, frustrations, and fears. I’m willing to be empathetic to the fact that no matter where our feelings are on all of this- we are all wrestling with not knowing what we don’t know. And since there’s no manual, I guess we all deserve some grace.

The Highlight Reel

Lindsey plays club volleyball. This year one of the Dads on our team created a YouTube channel where he posts video of all the tournament matches that the girls play. He also condenses each match into a 20 minute highlight reel of all the best plays. Think SportsCenter Top Ten, but with 14 year old girl’s volleyball. It’s been fun to re-watch the games because we catch things we didn’t notice during live time. Lindsey sifts through all of it after a weekend tournament and breaks down all of her mistakes so that she can practice more productively on the things she struggled with. Sometimes, she has a match, day, or tournament when she knows she played well, and she loves to watch that highlight reel. She counts all the “kills” and “good ups” she had, and she will savor her small victories.

I’m happy for the highlight reel. We all need a moment to bask in a job well done. I think it’s natural to want to enjoy success. It’s important to remember though, that it is only a snapshot in time. The fact of the matter is, you don’t learn much, if anything, from watching the highlight reel. It produces all the temporary endorphins, but it doesn’t instruct the future. What I’ve learned from observing Lindsey watch these videos is this:

The raw unedited video is better for instruction.

The raw unedited video shows all the mistakes.

The raw unedited video shows all the stoppages when inerrant balls enter the court, when a timeout happens, an injury, a substitution, a conflict at the scoring table.

The raw unedited video shows discouraged shoulders and facial expressions.

The raw unedited video follows the ball and not one individual person.

It takes a lot longer to observe the raw unedited video.

The raw unedited video is life. The highs and lows. The mistakes and miscues, the accidents that change our trajectory, the rests along the way, the hurt, and rejection. The times when emotions got the best of us, good or bad. It is the unadulterated truth that this world is not just about us.

Who we are becoming matters more than any highlight reel. That’s not a volleyball or sports lesson, that is a universal truth. We learn from this life what we take the time to observe, practice, and correct. Enjoy the highlight reel, but don’t forsake the unedited footage of our lives, because that context is often what makes the next highlight reel possible.

I will go up to the lookout tower

Our Life Group at church has been going through the Bible chronologically. It’s been a great learning experience, there are so many stories I had forgotten from childhood or never really learned because they did not translate well to a felt board or puppet show in Sunday School. We recently covered the book of Habakkuk, three small chapters towards the back of your Old Testament.

Habakkuk doesn’t get a great deal of press, because it’s small and because the message isn’t something we cross-stitch on a pillow or post as a meme on Facebook. It’s a back and forth dialogue between a little known prophet and God that basically goes like this:

Habakkuk: God, why do you allow so much bad stuff?

God: Yeah, it is bad. It’s actually going to get even worse. And soon.

Habakkuk: Are you crazy? You are God. Do some good stuff.

God: Well, after the bad stuff happens, I’m going to do some restoration, and then something amazing will happen. You won’t live to see it on this earth, but trust me, it will be GREAT!

Habakkuk: You are a loving God. Whatever happens, I will be glad you are my God.

This synopsis is not seminary approved, but that’s my own in-a-nutshell version. For the record, I do not have these kind of conversations with God. Most notably because God does not dialogue back and forth with me but also because I’m not sure I would be so accepting of God’s good character right after He has told me things are about to go from bad to worse. I respect Habakkuk for getting there so quickly and I hope one day my default thought process is to Praise God Anyway. We’re all a work in progress, so it’s not out of the question.

But if I struggle with the content and I don’t relate to the response of Habakkuk, what pulls me in to this tiny book of the Bible? It’s the first verse of the second chapter:

“I will go up to the lookout tower. I’ll station myself on the city wall. I’ll wait to see how God will reply to me. Then I’ll try to figure out how his reply answers what I’ve complained about.”

That verse comes right after God has told him how much worse things are about to get and Habakkuk has questioned if God realizes what He is doing. I love the posture he’s taking by going up to a watchtower, high above everything, where he can see from a wider perspective. In other words, I’m not going to sit insulated in the problem, I want to see this the way God does. I want to get outside my own head, above the smallness I’m focused on and see something Bigger, Wider, Greater. I think that verse is the linchpin to getting to the song of praise at the end of Habakkuk.

In life, there are so many things that get my laser focus. They become the Big Deal that consumes my efforts and thoughts. Sometimes this focus is necessary in order to complete a task or a season of life. I’m just not sure it is the best modus operandi for a whole life. Right now I am coaching my kids about personal responsibility and how to handle conflict and confrontation. We have had many failures and setbacks in this process. When I dwell on the setbacks, transfixed in the small world of only the problem, I can become depressed, worried, or angry which leads me to act in ways that are not particularly healthy. My spiritual life can consist of (mostly) whining to God that the current situation sucks and He needs to show up and FIX IT.

Or.

I can go up to the lookout tower. I can stop looking at the thing that I feel certain is about to destroy us, take a wide angled view of this life, and wait to see how God might be using this. I’ll try and figure out what He’s saying about the Big Picture. I’ll practice the praise of Habakkuk, and I’ll wrestle with the idea that even if there is hardship and struggle, He is still a good God. He will give me strength to get through it. He will help me walk along the highest places, where the perspective is wide and the view is beautiful.

January Reflections

Since my word of the year is Mindfulness, I want to build some self- reflection into my life and a month-in-review seemed the best way to do that. It’s also good accountability for consistent journaling when I know I have to blog it all at the end of every 30 days. This end of month blog may look different each month, but I imagine it will be a potpourri of the things I’m enjoying, learning, questioning, reading and laughing about.

Things I’m learning

1. We took a trip to New Orleans with my parents after Christmas. We wanted to show my Dad the World War II museum, enjoy the city’s charm, and eat amazing food. We checked all the boxes. On our way home, we were waiting in the airport and chatting about places we’ve been and the kids were naming all the places they want to travel. My Mom was listening and she said, “I don’t have a bucket list. I never really have.” I quickly blurted out, “Oh, I do.” I didn’t list any places though. I looked at my Mother’s face and the tone of her voice and just paused. Her comment was not passive aggressive, wistful, prideful, or hopeful. It wasn’t tied to any emotion. It was just her truth. It’s not right, wrong, well informed or ill informed. It just is. Values, dreams or methods are not assigned a moral value based on how well they align with others. My dreams, goals, lessons, and values are my own. They may not be for everyone, but they don’t have to be universal for them to right for me. No one is behind and no one is ahead because we are all on our own path- being equipped for our unique journey.

2. My husband was looking over my shoulder the other day as I was was scrolling through my emails. “What are all the purple flags for?” he asked.

“It’s my new system,” I replied, “Email triage. Not everything requires immediate action. Like at the ER, chest pain gets you taken back immediately, because it could be life threatening? Most ER visits are not life threatening. Most emails do not require immediate action. That’s how my inbox operates now. I have it noted so I come back to address it, but it’s not a 911.”

I think about how in the Scriptures, there is emphasis on THIS day. Give us THIS day our daily bread. THIS is the day that the Lord has made. I think we were made to live in THIS day. To put aside the demands of things that will live to be solved another day (or that might even resolve themselves) is to be fully present in THIS day. This is the day God made and suggested we enjoy.

Things that made me laugh

* Paul and I were telling Lindsey the plans for our 25th anniversary this summer and she said, “Why are you doing all that? Your marriage isn’t that great.”

* Stephen went on a service and educational trip to Austria with school. One of their experiences was worship in a multicultural church in Vienna. When he came home he told us he found his worship niche with Pentecostal African immigrants residing in Vienna, Austria.

Should be easy to replicate that experience.

* I grew up in a place where winter lasted 10 months. It was cold a lot. What I remember most about birthdays from my childhood was that kids born in July and August had it the best. Birthday parties could be outside and featured lawn games, picnics, and swimming. My January birthday parties were held inside my parents’ basement, playing pin the tail on the donkey and hoping the guest list wasn’t decimated by a blizzard or a flu epidemic. I live in Georgia now and it was 72° on my birthday. All day I thought about how I could have had a pool party.

A Quote That Made Me Think

“Nearly all the wisdom which we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern.”

– John Calvin

Institutes of the Christian Religion

It actually blew my mind that John Calvin wrote this because in my mind I always pictured him as a curmudgeonly old man (I might be projecting from the church people I’ve known who love to quote him) and yet, this quote seems so full of grace. I never stopped to ponder that self-awareness could help me understand God better and seeking God would help me understand self better. Mind blown. Well done, John Calvin.

Books I read in January

I set a goal this year to read 26.2 books, a marathon of reading so to speak. The problem is, I’m not sure exactly how many books I normally read in the course of a year. This could be a low bar or an unrealistic expectation. We’ll see where the year takes us, but at least there will be a measurement in 2020, and what gets measured can be improved upon. I read a wide variety of books. I’m all over the board so to speak with genres and my selections are not for everyone. I want to use this space not to review the books, but more to reflect on what I learned from reading them.

The Pressure’s Off : Breaking Free from Rules and Performance by: Larry Crabb

This book was outside my normal genres but I heard someone mention it on a podcast and I was compelled to give it a shot. I learned so much from this book. The basic principle he writes about and that we all fall victim to is the Law of Linearity. This law states “there is an A that leads to the B you want. Figure out what A is, do it, and you’ll have the life you most desire. The pressure’s on.” (p. 12) Can I tell you how subtly this creeps into your life? It affects me on so many levels but this book focuses primarily on the spiritual. I so often try to define God with this Karen-made system where if I do X, God will do Y for me. Or the reverse, if I don’t do X, God won’t punish me with Y. This is garbage theology because Christ came to set me free from unrealistic laws. I think the Law of Linearity is an unhealthy mindset even if you are not a person of faith because personal growth and setbacks are not linear. Life happens. One step forward and two steps back is a popular saying because it is a common enough reality. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Every single day.

I recognized that living under Law of Linearity meant I was wholly focused on my performance. God existed only to bless my good and punish my bad. That’s not a relationship with God, it’s a relationship with performance. Viewing God as Santa Claus or the Angry School Principal puts him in a small box where I deceive myself into thinking I can manipulate the outcome. It’s such a small way to live.

God will bless me. God will discipline me. These are both true. But I choose him not because blessings or discipline are a prize to be won or avoided. He alone is the prize.

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by: Kelly Harms

I’ve decided this year I need to read more light hearted fiction, so I’m going to try for one per month. I am so often drawn towards tomes of history or the Great American World War II novel. 2020 me is being intentional and fun. (Sarcasm font)

This was an entertaining fast read about a single mom of two and the summer break she got alone in New York after her estranged husband resurfaced to make up for a long absence in the kids’ lives. The heroine has a teen daughter with a sarcastic attitude (totally relatable to my own child) and every chapter begins with a journal entry by the daughter. It also has a poignant moment between the two that sets up this quote on page 294:

” So the change you’ll see when we all get home is that I show you how creating an enjoyable life- not just a vacation but a life- is another part of being a mother, like serving vegetables once a week or lecturing your kids about slouching.”

I loved that! We get so hung up on teaching and nagging and demonstrating all the things to our kids we forget that modeling a life well lived and enjoyed is just as much a legacy as knowing how to separate light and dark laundry.

Warsaw 1944 by: Alexandra Richie

Remember when I said I was drawn to historical tomes? Well, here you go. I became fascinated with Poland two years ago when I read the novel Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly (highly recommend). It just weighed on me that this country was stuck between two tyrannical bullies. Their liberation came from their next oppressor and the rest of the world kept quiet because peace was more important than the freedom of these people. It’s such a human story and it was the Polish identity for most of the twentieth century. When we were in New Orleans at the World War II museum bookstore, I picked up this book and could not put it down. (I did pay for it, because while many things are permissible in New Orleans, shoplifting is not one of them)

The book is about the Warsaw uprising in summer 1944. The resistance in Poland tried to drive out the Nazis in the hope that the Soviets and (preferably) the Western Allies would lend support. Support never came and 170,000 Warsawians were killed and 520,000 were processed as refugees and sent to concentration camps, PoW camps, or to work as slaves in German factories and farms. The city itself was razed to the ground.

My favorite quote was from an editorial George Orwell wrote to the Tribune in September 1944 in admonishment for how the media, and the world really, was collectively turning its back on Poland (p. 537):

“Do remember that dishonesty and cowardice always have to be paid for. Don’t imagine that for years on end you can make yourself the boot-licking propagandist of the Soviet regime, or any other regime, and then suddenly return to mental decency…”

That is such a timeless warning not only for political entities, but us as individuals. Dishonesty and cowardice have a cost and we cannot ignore them without realizing the toll that takes on our humanity.

Happiness for Beginners by: Katherine Center

My friends at Amazon sent me an email, because they know me so well, and thought I might enjoy this book. I had a week left in January and three books already done, so I decided a short piece of fiction might be the thing. Apparently, no one knows me better than Amazon because I did really like this book.

It’s another piece about a woman’s get away and journey of self-discovery. This one is set on a wilderness survival course in Wyoming. There is a romantic storyline here too, but it’s more about what the heroine learns about herself. I really liked Helen Carpenter. Our lives do not have any circumstantial similarities, but I identified so much with her personality.

The Epilogue in this book is worth the entire book. It’s written in Helen’s voice and it’s such a beautiful reminder that we get to frame our own story. You can write it as a history of all the tragedies that have ever befallen you or you can frame it as a journey of overcoming. She says it’s beautifully on page 308:

But that’s not the story I want to tell. Those aren’t the moments in my life I want to dwell on. They happened. They mattered. They left their marks. But the things we remember are what we hold on to, and what we hold on to becomes the story of our lives. We only get one story. And I am determined to make mine a good one.”

How good is that? Fiction teaches me just as much as nonfiction.

That was my mindful January. As I read this back I see a few themes emerging. I’m grateful for all the things that converged this month and I’m excited to see just what I do hold on to.