15 years ago I started a new job at the YMCA. I had just finished college, and I sold myself well in the interview process. My new bosses took a chance on me and offered me my dream job running programs and supervising staff. I was quick on my feet and I worked hard, although not always in an orderly fashion. My staff and I laughed a lot, and I tend to think that was a good thing.
In childcare programs you hit the ground running, and there wasn't much time for office organization. We were short staffed that first September, and I was opening programs and driving buses. Finally one day in 1996, after about 6 months of constant movement, I took a few days and organized my office. It was really a thing of beauty. And my bosses and loved ones can tell you that this moment has never been replicated. I have never cultivated habits of neatness. But I have to say that I really thought that was a turning point for me. For three days my desk was clear, and there were places to sit. Books were neatly stacked on the shelves. I was able to sit a few moments and breathe in the Air of Orderliness that my neater colleagues swore by. And I liked it.
On Thursday of that week a Baby Chipmunk made a mockery of my efforts. Out from a nearby creek It crept, across a large parking lot, dodging YMCA gym traffic that normally did not even stop for small children. It paused outside the heavy glass automatic doors and waited for a human to set off the weight sensor by the door, and then It darted inside. Down a long corridor the Little Rodent scurried, and when It got to my office It paused again.
I had been sitting quietly, breathing in the Air of Orderliness, smugly satisfied that I had turned over a New Leaf. For three days now my office had been neat. Perhaps the Chipmunk squeaked, and maybe He didn't, but our eyes met across my desk one minute before He sauntered through the door and took a seat on my bookshelf.
Not convinced this was a problem yet, I stood up and said, "Shoo!" Which did not faze It at all. So I moved a bit closer and stomped my feet, and that's when it happened. The Baby Chipmunk leaped eight feet across my office to another bookshelf and chittered at me. To this day, I think that if I had sat back down and breathed in some more Air of Orderliness, I might have been okay. But I called my co-worker Stacey instead.
She rushed down to my office, and in retrospect I think it's because a baby chipmunk sounded adorable. And It was. Too bad It was possessed by Satan. We worked together, Stacey and I, for the better part of an hour, attempting to trap That Chipmunk. We finally managed to get It into a box and returned It to the creek, but when I returned to my office to breathe in some more Air of Orderliness, it was too late. Every box, book, paper, chair, binder, pencil and picture had been knocked on the floor. The office had been trashed; I never recovered.
The next four years passed in a blur of work and life, and there was never again a moment to put that office back together. I burned out of that job after having a baby and realizing that 70 hour work weeks and babies don't mix well, no matter how much I wished they did. I loved it though, that peculiar non-profit mix of constant movement, constant people, constant work.
My son has some of the same challenges I do with neatness and order. He asked about it last night as I was cleaning the house. I was working on the couch, which had become rather disgusting as only couches with children can. Lifting the cushions I found such a fright I cannot describe, and I quickly pulled the covers off pillows and the couch and threw the mess in the washing machine. We looked around our disorderly house, made worse by two weeks of winter break and Christmas, and my son asked if there was something broken about his brain.
I explained that our brains are just wired a bit different, and I believe this to be true. For even as I was stripping the covers off the cushions to wash, I knew that it might take me several days to get the couch put back together. It's a complicated experience, how my mind jumps from one thing to the other. Part of it is that the covers are difficult to put back on. But part of it is that I don't sit on the couch. And part of it is that I could put one cover back on a cushion and sit on it, and not even notice that the rest of the couch wasn't together. What is around me rarely matters when I am focused, even though the couch does look a little odd configured that way.
My father is the same way. My mother once replaced our puke green curtains with salmon colored vertical blinds. It was months before he noticed.
So I told my son that I don't think our brains are broken. If you are hunting and running from lions, I told him, it is important to be quick on your feet. In the case of lions, it is important to be unpredictable in one's movements. And when hunting lions, I imagine that one must be willing to bear a certain amount of discomfort. Crouching in the grass, intensely focused, one must be able to ignore the smell of lions, the heat of the sun, the grumble of one's stomach. And then when the moment comes, leap into action. And then run like hell, zigzagging across the wide open plain, never giving the lion a chance to eat you. We are Lion People, I said. (Disclaimer: I know nothing about actually hunting lions.)
These same skills pair well with my son's video game enthusiasms. But they don't do much for sitting in school all day. They don't do much for homework. It means that nobody here is fond of housework.
At my church back home in Goleta, I worked with a beloved woman who spoke often and fondly of Psalm 46:10, "Be still and know that I am God." This verse never did for me what it did for her. When I closed my eyes and thought of God, I found myself spinning endlessly, intertwined with the Spirit, endlessly spinning and falling through nothingness. It was hard to understand stillness, when what I experienced was constant movement. I could not imagine stillness as anything other than death. And perhaps I still do not.
I know why this is. When one spends a lifetime being chased by lions, one learns to constantly move. To stop is to be eaten. Stillness is death.
But I am perhaps coming to know that death comes anyway to all of us. As I spin on endlessly, I find myself unable to write, unable to think, unable to live into God's claim on my life. And so I pieced together the damned couch tonight, although I could have lived with it broken another four years. I find myself slowing down on the endless circles of friendships that have sustained me in my movements these last years. I long to breathe an Air of Orderliness for the first time in 15 years, and a Stillness has begun deep within that resists the constant movement of the Spirit.
I am not particularly grateful for this Stillness. My Lion People Ways have served me well the last 32 years. To stop now is a terror I can barely describe. And for those who say to simply trust and all will be well, let me answer that you have no idea the lions I have faced.