When Life Gives You Bad Artichokes

Sometimes it seems like the world is out to get you. It began almost two months ago when I had a terrible, no-good, very bad week. On Monday someone close to me was in the hospital, Tuesday brought a smashed car window, Wednesday followed up with a head cold, and Thursday the other car was stolen. This was also my last week of work at my old job. Misery likes to go out with a bang.

As I sat on the phone with my insurance agent, I was irate about the unfairness in the world and felt violated by the loss of a car that had great sentimental meaning to me. The police officer came to file the report and asked “Do you know who has your car?” I blinked at him twice, speechless and exhausted.

He said it was a dumb question, but he had to ask. It was not him I was fed up with, it was a world where such dumb questions had to be asked.

A friend called me that night and determined I was most certainly getting Punk’d so I could look forward to meeting Ashton Kutcher soon. The laughter soothed me like warm bath water, and from then on I was able to chuckle every time I told someone about my series of unfortunate events.

I started a different job, without the tears and anxiety of the last one, and was astonished by the blessing of work that meets my skills and interests.

For two weeks I took the bus and found peace among the people watching, surprised by how my stress evaporated as I surrendered my control of time to the bus schedule. One day I missed the bus, and decided to walk the mile to church instead. I discovered up close the curious sights I previously glanced past when I drove that busy stretch of road encapsulated by my metal shield. I arrived late, and that was perfectly ok.

I experienced acts of kindness from those willing to drive me places, and found new friends while hitching rides to the gym or home from bible study.

I was pushed to finally buy myself a new bike, something I had talked about since moving to Seattle in October. On my first day riding, I stopped at the park on my way home and met a succession of lovely people. The old couple who never spoke but cuddled on the bench next to me. The seven year old, whose mom left her with me while going to the bathroom, and told me she thought spelling was boring. The spandex cyclist who wanted to discuss our nearby sidewalk musician.

After the two and a half week waiting period passed, and my car was declared a lost cause, my fiance and I decided to buy a converted camping van as our new second vehicle. I thought people would think we were insane, but I’ve interpreted hints of envy instead.

So this is how life goes at times. You have a terrible, no good week where it seems like someone dumped your snow globe upside down. But as it settles back into place, you can marvel at how each piece drifts down like leaves in the fall. Bits of glitter catch the light and shimmer in ways you’ve never seen before. The surroundings have changed slightly, but you notice what parts of the foundation remain constant and how beautiful the change can be.

When you fall on your face, and scratch up your hands, you might be surprised to find yourself holding your hands open more often. You also pay more attention to where your feet are going, not necessarily out of paranoia, but out of greater awareness. Open hands and open eyes are postures of peace that sometimes only come after falling.

My new bike, Veronica, named in honor of the spunky and efficient Veronica Mars, who consoled me by solving all the other crimes while my car remained stolen.

My new bike, Veronica, named in honor of the spunky and efficient Veronica Mars, who consoled me by solving all the other crimes while my car remained stolen.


Last week I bought a package of globe artichokes from the grocery store, giddy with the anticipation of savoring one of my favorite foods. When I tried to cook them last night, something I’ve done numerous times before, they wouldn’t cook like normal. They remained tough and tasted bitter.

Artichokes are not lemons, there would be no making lemonade. I had to toss them out completely. And I was irritated.

But here is what you get with bad artichokes: a good reminder of life’s unpredictability. Something I thought I knew so well ended up leaving me confused and frustrated. Whether it be a health problem, a stolen car, or a bad artichoke–these moments wake us up from our complacent comforts. We get the choice to be bitter and tough, or to throw out our righteous indignation and open our eyes to a different possibility.

Months before any of this happened, I wondered what it would be like to face problems with an attitude of excitement rather than frustration. What if, when something goes wrong, I responded with anticipation and joy at the possibility of how God can turn this around and do something wonderful with it? Then I was given the opportunity to find out.

There is a difference between believing God makes bad things happen to you on purpose, and believing God gives you great purpose through the transformation of bad things. 

My pastor in college was a remarkably wise woman, and her final benediction always included a prayer for “peace that passes all understanding.” I scoffed at this idea, thinking that kind of peace was an unreachable dream for my anxious mind. The last two months have contained that peace though. There is no understanding why, because I should have been stressed and worried about the amount of change I was facing. Instead God granted me peace, with open hands and eyes that can throw out a bad artichoke and start over.

I still have two artichokes left. And tonight I’m going to try to cook them another way. Either it will work or it won’t, but I’m happy to try again and look for the opportunity instead of the problem.

What is your response when things go wrong?

Also, what on earth is the secret to cooking globe artichokes?

The Silent Danger of the To-Do List

Some of you may have noticed that I dropped off the map the last few weeks, and since I had only updated you on the first two weeks of a four week trip perhaps you wondered if something treacherous had happened (so kind of you, really). Good news though – I’m alive and well back in the United States.

My third week of research in Sweden uncovered a depth of complexity that is hidden behind the facade of a perfectly peaceful social system. I gleaned this information not through a scholarly article or a lecture, but more often among lunch conversations and extended hallway interactions. At one lunch, in the upstairs room of a restaurant occupying the old student prison at Uppsala University, a researcher summarized her perspective on the situation for me.

“The Swedish mentality is one of silence. Don’t say anything and avoid conflict. Everyone believes the vision of Sweden as this historically peaceful country, but that is because of silence on the darker facts.”

Silence is often associated with peacefulness. But there are two types of silence: one is receptive to truth and the other rejects truth.

By being present with each person I met, and asking the right questions, I was reminded of how necessary it is to be receptive instead of rejecting. In a new environment, I often retreat to a position of silence where I can safely observe for awhile. I must then choose whether to be receptive or rejecting of the things I observe in that position of silence. The obvious example is being aware of the judgments I make and whether they are biased or fair. However I must also be aware of myself and the actions I’m taking; it is easy to take notes and reject any sort of personal involvement, but it is much harder to be receptive to an invitation to participate.

The Uppsala Cathedral through early morning fog - a good reminder that God is still there even when something in our lives distracts us from seeing Him fully.

The Uppsala Cathedral through early morning fog – a good reminder that God is still there even when something in our lives distracts us from seeing Him fully.

This is true not only for doing research, but in daily life as well. I stopped blogging for a month because I got swept up in a complex travel itinerary, catching up with friends and family once I returned home, and then moving to a brand new city. Although it was beneficial for me to be present in each of those moments, there is a difference between living in the moment, receptive to invitations, and living in the to-do list, rejecting risky endeavors.

My silent danger is that to-do list. I grow consumed by checking things off and reject the potential moments that get in the way. I deny the possibility for peace of mind because “I just don’t have time right now.” Then, as usual, the truth of what I could be doing gets put on the back burner. This mentality also avoids conflict, because I am preventing the tension between what I need to do and my true calling of what I could do. The peace I pretend to achieve is just a cover for the peace I lack – because I can get things done without actually getting to where and who I want to be. So either I’m a really good Swede, or this is a widespread condition in humans.

Oswald Chambers wrote

“A Christian worker has to learn how to be God’s man or woman of great worth and excellence in the midst of a multitude of meager and worthless things.”

The to-do lists we busy ourselves with contain a multitude of meager things. The challenge then is to move towards a place of receptiveness, peace, or presence that is worth more than whatever we keep distracting ourselves with.

Since I just moved to a new city, I quickly found myself in that silent, observational position where I am rejecting potential moments of worth because I have too many other things to do. Although this can create a seemingly peaceful standard of feeling accomplished, I am aware of how this enables my avoidance of conflict because I don’t want to face the truth of what I could be doing instead.

For some of us, the to-do list keeps us from monumental life changes like the career we wish we had or the life of faith we are too afraid to embrace. For others, the to-do list prevents us from small moments of meaning, invitations to care for another person, or even gratitude for simple things. Whatever it is, to achieve a life of excellence and great worth requires being receptive to the less obvious parts of life. Once we begin to focus on what we really want to be doing, instead of only what needs to be done, we can find the meaning we are all striving for in life.

This is a daily challenge. Remember to give yourself grace for the days when your to-do list is all you can manage. Unfortunately sometimes that is simply where we are in life. But don’t settle because you think you aren’t capable of anything more. Instead of outright rejecting the invitations for new experiences, avoiding the conflicts of fear and insecurity, open yourself up to the possibility of meaning even in the smallest of moments. They say you can’t find something you aren’t looking for—it is true not only for the things we are too afraid to face, but also for the joy we don’t believe we can achieve. The beauty of hope is believing God has something more meaningful in store for you than your to-do list, as long as you are willing to be receptive enough to look for it.

 

How has your to-do list prevented you from being receptive?

What things would you do if you didn’t have anything else in your way?