Failing to Notice

In an email conversation with a friend last week, I was challenged to consider the idea that maybe I take life a bit too seriously. Perhaps I should lighten up, think a bit less, turn off my mind and just enjoy certain things without examining their deeper meanings or subconscious influences on my life. Now this friend didn’t say these things or challenge me to do so, but the course of the conversation led me to consider these things myself.

I’ve been in a season of reflecting on the question, “God, what in the world am I doing here?” and to have someone who’s not in my head ask the same question was disheartening to say the least. It caused the question to move from a philosophical inquiry to a full out examination of how I do life and teaching and ministry.

But this morning I read a “knot” by R.D. Laing while doing some research for class, and it confirmed for me that, in this case, to follow the masses would be the worst plan for me and completely counter to everything I’ve spent the last decade of my life working to change in my life.

The range of what we think and do
Is limited by what we fail to notice.
And because we fail to notice
That we fail to notice
There is little we can do
To change
Until we notice
How failing to notice
Shapes our thoughts and deeds.

There seems to be an epidemic of failing to notice in our society today. But the more time I spend reading and trying to share what I am learning about learning and thinking and intentional living, the more I see that, for many, the problem isn’t just not knowing. The problem is that many do not want to know. Because to know is to reflect, and to reflect is to critique. And often, to critique means to change. And change is a double problem, because to change, one must first admit they were wrong and must second work hard to discover the error and correct it.

Ignorance truly is bliss. But for the believer, to live in ignorance is to live in disobedience. To be created in the image of the omniscient God is to possess an inherent curiosity, a desire to both know and be known.

So how do we begin to think and to know in a world that emphasizes being known at the expense of knowing anything beyond ourselves?

Today, I believe I will just say that a first step would be to simply begin noticing just how much we fail to notice each and every day. From the mundane to the grandiose, there is so much we fail to notice around us.

Today, I believe I will simply stop and notice.

A Proud Yahoo

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness. Psalm 30:11

Today I choose to allow the Lord to turn my mourning into dancing. Mama Carlene would prefer that we dance anyway. I choose to celebrate a homegoing instead of mourning a loss. Early this morning, Carlene Brady, my “boss” when I worked for the Girl Scouts in Chattanooga, passed away. I say “boss” because Carlene was so much more than the director for whom I worked. She was an encourager, an eternal optimist, a swift kick in the tail when I needed it, a listening ear, an unbiased opinion, a word of advice, an example of humble faith, and a loving acceptor of all people. Carlene loved people, even if they were at their lowest point. But she loved them enough to not let them stay there.

I was one of those people that she loved. She loved Queens, YoYos, Yahoos and a host of other groups and people with a wide variety of nicknames and terms of endearment. I am proud to be a Yahoo. At the time, we were a wild and untrained group of complete goobers in our mid-20’s to early-30’s, staunchly refusing to grow up, and working at a summer camp to prove we didn’t have to. We were indecisive, emotional, sometimes irrational, generally impulsive and full of life. Carlene took us like we were, loved us at our worst, and inspired us to be our best.

God blessed me to have allowed me to cross paths with Carlene at one of the darkest times in my life. Looking back now, I can see how my weaknesses and hangups kept me from being able to see past the end of my egocentric nose some days, and I missed out on even greater blessings because of my own issues and struggles. But even when I fell flat and failed, Carlene knew the perfect balance of good natured tail kicking and kind encouragement needed to keep me going. Those three years at camp and one year in the office were a lifeline for me, and they were my saving grace many times. As much as we joked about it being the cause of our insanity, it was really the source of my keeping my sanity. And much of that was due to Carlene.

Many times I’ve wondered why God allowed me to take the job there for such a short time and then mess it up and run away. While I still regret the hows and whys of my leaving, I will never regret the time that I stayed. In that short amount of time, God used Carlene to prepare me for so many aspects of life and ministry.

I hated numbers. Carlene sat for hours and taught me how to make a line item budget for grants and events. She showed me how to plan down to the smallest details for financial responsibility (we accounted for paperclips in one particular grant), and she never got frustrated and did the work for me. Carlene would make me work and rework til I got it right.

I was a “big picture” visionary incapable of follow through. Carlene turned me into a detail-driven event planner and evaluator. I can see it and complete it because she taught me to take the time to ask the hard questions on the front end and cover all my bases and “what if” questions.

I was a judgmental snob. Carlene blew up every stereotype ever conceived about “surrounding counties” and the people that live there.

I HATED working in an office. Carlene sent me to camp.

I had lots of fun ideas. Carlene would sit and let me talk them out til I got them planned out or I shot them down myself.

From teaching Excel to middle schoolers to running an After School program and directing a summer day camp; from writing grants to planning trips and events at school; from managing my time to complete research to coordinating the logistics for a disaster relief supply point, I can legitimately say that not a day of my life in the last 8 years has not involved doing something that Carlene took the time to teach me. I am who I am today in large part because of who she was for me at a time in my life that I desperately needed direction and training.

More than anything else, Carlene taught me how to show love to people. Carlene loved the Lord and she loved people like He does. No faking, no pretensions, no requirements for being loved. She didn’t love you because you became a better person. You wanted to be a better person because you knew you were loved.

Being a Yahoo was one of the first times in my life that I belonged and I knew it. We would get together for Christmas and camp reunions, for cook outs and tanning dates. We lost touch a bit as life moved us in many different directions. But even now, years later, that group of Yahoos can get together like we did tonight and even after months or years apart, can pick right back up like we’ve never left camp. That kind of loyalty and love only lasts when it’s cultivated by a leader who lives it.

There are many things in my life that I’m not necessarily proud of. But I will always be proud to say that I’m one of Mama Carlene’s Yahoos.