Thursday, April 26, 2012

Get Your Towel Dirty

There are some people we simply can't pay back, and I suspect that we should stop trying. There is nothing you can do to pay your parents back. They gave you life and no matter what you do for them, it's always going to pale in comparison. You have no gift that will measure up to life, ever. 

After Jesus on his last night took a towel to Peter's feet, Peter could have immediately turned the tables and washed Jesus' feet. It must have occurred to him, given his protests at Jesus' condescension. And it would have been a meaningful gesture, but it would not have carried the same power and symbolism. It always means more when the master serves the apprentice. You never forget it.

I have a mentor who in the last 12 years has done more for me than I can describe or absorb. He has played a role in every job I have been offered. He was the one who gave me the pulpit for my very first sermon. He connected me to a wonderful and generous church that supported me through seminary and the ordination process, and that supported me financially when I was a missionary. When I struggled to find a job out out of seminary, he made many calls on my behalf. He was the first one to tell me that I could get ordained by the PCUSA to work with InterVarsity. He is the one who suggested that I started this blog 5 years ago. When I was struggling personally a few years ago, he sat with me, listened to me, prayed for me, and cried with me. He endorsed my book and featured it on his blog for a week. Without his influence and his counsel I'm not sure that I would be a pastor and published author, and I know for certain I would not be the person that I am now.

For years I struggled to find ways to pay him back. I hoped for a day when finally I would have the stature where I had something to offer him. I was in mentor debtor's prison. Until I realized that I can never pay him back. That realization didn't carry  a helpless or inadequate feeling. It was freeing. On the day of that revelation, I made a new commitment, one that I could actually keep: Even though I can't ever repay my mentor, I will commit to helping other people who are coming up behind me. I will offer whatever I have to give to people who need it.

I have tried to hold to that ever since. Sometimes I even tell people why I am helping them, because I owe a debt that I can never pay. The hardest part might be accepting the fact that I have things to offer people. I tend to always feel like the student; it's been a slow process to accepting a new role as a teacher. I think we all have more power than we realize. There is always someone who can benefit from our expertise, our guidance, our feedback. If you're 13, there's a 12-year-old who is in need of some serious junior high knowledge about where to sit in the cafeteria and what corner to stand in during a dance. Or perhaps there is someone older than you who is breaking into your field and you have some wisdom to share. Sometimes we will respond to people, but the most poignant acts of service come when we surprise people with the initiative.

So my challenge to you is twofold: 1. Accept that you can't repay the mentors in your life, whoever they are. 2. Let your gratitude overflow to people who can benefit from your help. Or, phrased differently, get your towel dirty. There are a lot of dirty feet out there. 

Here are a few ideas:
  1. Help someone identify a specific gift or talent, especially if they are not aware of it.
  2. Truly listen to someone - ask them about what they care about, their experience, their dreams. Don't     project your experiences onto them but help them discover themselves. A true mentor does not shape people in their image, but helps them discover the image of God in themselves.
  3. From time to time, when you don't have the time, find the time.
  4.  Use your connections to help people who lack connections.
  5. Inconvenience yourself to make someone's life easier.  
  6. Once in a while, gently, encouragingly, and lovingly offer a little unsolicited advice.
  7.  Do the blue collar work. Work behind the scenes, even doing physical labor, without expecting any recognition for it.
  8.  Prioritize the emails and requests from people in need, not your colleagues who want to trade favors.
  9. Ask an unexpected question to an unexpected person.
My life has been changed by people who had every right to shelter themselves off in an executive washroom, but instead chose the role of a servant and washed my undeserving feet. Will I, and you, get our towels dirty?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

When Your Kid is an Introvert (ish) - Guest Post by Emily Freeman

She sits across the table from me in a room filled with high school students. It’s dinnertime, and I take slow bites as I watch her. She takes none at all. She’s studying her surroundings.

The students closest to us laugh at a joke I don’t hear, their voices louder than the already active hum of noise in the room. The beach house is big enough to sleep forty, but my kids and I are staying across the street.

I’m not sure I can handle a week in a house with my three kids and forty of someone else’s.

For five years now, my husband has brought students to this beach during spring break, one of the many trips he takes as their pastor. This is the first year I’ve come with him, bringing our kids. As I watch my daughter’s face, I begin to wonder if it was wise to come at all.

She’s eight and the slightly more social of our twins. But before she interacts, she watches people with eyes like a hunter, searching for acceptable behavior. She loves making friends, but in crowded rooms of people twice her size, she gets nervous. Unsettled. Exhausted. I watch her watch them and in one swift move she’s no longer sitting across from me but leaning hard against me, whispering into my ear, Mommy, can we eat outside?

We talked to a counselor once who told us our children learn their coping skills from their parents. I’m still trying to work through what is unhealthy coping and what is God-made personality. Adam's excellent book Introverts in the Church is helping with that. Still, my mind immediately wanders to all of my own coping mechanisms. Surely now my children are destined to eat mint chocolate chip ice cream when they’re bored, watch mindless TV when they procrastinate, and cry when they’re embarrassed. I’ll pay their counseling bills, I vow to myself.

I only feel slightly better.

Because as I watch my girl become nervous in this crowd of loud people, I see myself. I’m the one who booked the house across the street so we didn’t have to stay in the noisy one. I’m the one who is watching her every move during dinner to be sure she’s okay. I’m the one who is emotionally allergic to small talk. So is she the one who gets energy from alone or have I taught her to be that way?

On the continuum of energy, my husband and I both fall slightly on the introverted side. We need the same kind of space and the same kind of community. In order not to project our own personalities and insecurities onto our kids, we’re learning to take notes on the things and situations that uniquely give them life.

Sometimes I trust them into God’s hands. Lots of times I don’t. I pray for wisdom and for the courage to let her write her own story. And that the Lord would give her a light hand when it comes to the mint chocolate chip ice cream.

Do you have experience in parenting kids who seem to be following in your personality footsteps? I figured Adam’s readers will be the smartest group to ask, and I could use all the help I can get.

About the author: Emily P. Freeman, author of Grace for the Good Girl and Graceful, is a writer, speaker, and listener. She is the creator of the blog, Chatting at the Sky, where she combines photos and story to create space for souls to breathe. Emily is deeply curious about the mystery of Christ, the gracefulness of the everyday, and the sacredness of our inner lives. She and her husband John have been married for ten years and live in North Carolina with their three children.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Introvert Saturday: Loving Your Introvert: Thoughts from an Extroverted Mama

About the author: Kamille Scellick passionately believes that gathering around the table is where the body, mind and soul will be nourished. It's around the table where you're sure to find her on any given day...eating, talking, listening and sharing life with her husband, Ben and two girls (and others). You can find her sharing stories, hospitality, food and life with friend and stranger at her blog, Redeeming the Table.

These girls of mine couldn't be more different. As they bounce, climb and jump. Slide, bump and crash on the inflated air of plastic, with hair spun back like a weavers tapestry making conversation in their own unique way.

As I stood outside of that chain-linked wall, holding the tape recorder while looking into a sea of children, hoping for at least one friend. So she stands with her Baa Baa the lamb, enticing little girls her size into conversation. She's like a veteran captain taming the waves with her confidence and know-how of people. Her stature exudes confidence that is brilliant. When confronted with the sea of strangers, she dives in deeper.

While her older sister imbues a cautious observation. One I know. To scan the scenery before plunging forth; yet, she differs by being content on her own. I, on the other hand, scan...observe, in order to make a move.

She is a person who cannot be rushed.

Climbing methodically up the stairs as the crowd builds behind, and still...she cannot be rushed. Everything about her speaks "when I'm ready--I'll be ready," because she's a tea kettle on simmer--slow to warm.

Kindness and gentleness, her regard for others is astounding. She's my little Ferdinand protected beneath the shade, smelling flowers. Her world is right there.

Peacefully playing and bouncing with her baby doll by herself, not minding the solitude in this crazy jamboree. Meanwhile, her little sister making friends, embracing the loud by adding to it, is finding herself.

Extroversion and Introversion, I have one of each. As an extrovert, I'm seeing more and more how this world is geared toward the extrovert. How the extroverts abilities to dive right in, make friends, major in communication and open book, is seen as the greater. How in school settings the teachers or parents can worry about kids, like my oldest, not throwing themselves into the whirlpool of sociability.

But, what if these little introverts were quite content where they were. What if these little introverts didn't need us to feel sorry for them or push them to become someone they were never meant to be? What if they don't need, or even want, that many friends?

I confess that's it's hard for me to understand this and accept this about my introverted child. I have felt sad knowing that she might not have many friends, or be alone. Yet, I have to see her as she climbs the wobbly stairs, while holding tightly to that plastic hand with contentment and joy. She does not lack security or courage in that friendless side, because it's as if she knows more about this world than I think she sees.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Introvert Brand (redux)

Today Jon Acuff, author of the remarkable book Quitter and all-around funny guy, asks for feedback on awkward moments that introverts face in church. Given that I've been talking about this issue for so long, I think I am the King of the Awkward Moment. It's quite a professional brand I've developed. I thought I should re-post my article on The Introvert Brand so we can all laugh, and cry, together.

I wrote a book called Introverts in the Church, and I swear that it is a serious book. I didn’t realize I would have to remind people of this when it was published. But one of the first book reviews, written by a dear friend and mentor, began like this: “Introverts in the Church. No, this isn’t a joke.” And here I thought the title was significantly less funny than other working titles I played with:

Introverts in the Shack
Three Cups of Tea…By Myself
Blue Like Introverts
Outliers: Introvert Edition
Introverts in the Hands of an Extroverted God
Good to Introvert
Girl Meets Introvert, Keeps Looking
The Life You’ve Never Wanted
Left Behind, and Happy About It

Surprisingly, my publisher rejected those title options. I had thought we settled on a boring but descriptive option, but apparently my book title also works as a punch line.

As many authors can attest, however, after a few months of talking nonstop about your book topic, you get the writer’s equivalent of the late-night giggles. Everything becomes a punch-line. You catch yourself applying the topic of your book to every conceivable situation. I started seeing introverts the way Haley Joel Osment sees dead people. As I poured the milk on my cereal, I pondered, “I wonder what type of cereal introverts prefer? Shredded Wheat has a lot of substance and depth, but Lucky Charms has layers of meaning, and the more you eat it, the more you learn about it.” Then you realize that you’re psychoanalyzing your cereal and you seriously consider pouring the leftover green-colored milk over your head. Yes, I went with Lucky Charms. I’m an Irish introvert. We’re magically delicious.

It doesn’t help when people you encounter in social media tend to reduce you to your book topic. Once I was asked to write a blog post on how introverts and extroverts can partner in ending the international orphan crisis. Granted this is one of the pressing global issues of our time, but is the fact that I need to retreat into solitude after extended social interaction really a significant factor in solving it?

Another time I tweeted that my book was selling better on Kindle than in paperback, and the first response was “Maybe introverts are just thrifty.” I’ve received a few Facebook birthday wishes that said “Happy Birthday, introvert.” Or there was the time I confessed that in college we smuggled in a student from another school to be our flag football quarterback (he was the brother of a friend and also just happened to be a Heisman trophy candidate that year) and someone replied “Totally sounds like something an introvert would do.”

This happens in real life too. I haven’t received as many speaking invitation as some of my peers, and I’m convinced it’s because people assume that I, as a self-acknowledged introvert, will be a train wreck of a public speaker, and that I may not even be willing to leave the house. Once, when I did miraculously venture out to meet with a prominent pastor and bestselling author (to protect his identity I’ll call him “John O. or “J. Ortberg”), he told me: “We made sure you would interact with as few people as possible on your walk from the church lobby to my office.”

Because of all this, it’s unclear to me whether this introvert thing is a genius piece of branding (in addition to being, you know, my personality type) or else an inescapable straitjacket that will limit me and make me a bit of a joke. In twenty years, will people say, “That book really changed things in church culture and Adam has become a significant voice”? Or will they say, in a sexy deep voice: “Adam McHugh: he is the most introverted man in the world. He doesn’t always go to church, but when he does, he prefers not to talk to you.”

Time will tell. Let me know what happens. I’ll be at home.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Introvert Saturday: My Kids Think Church Isn't For Them (And They're Right)

About the author: Anne Bogel is an INFP and total Christian education nerd, and she muses about the intersection of faith, the church, and women on her blog Anne-with-an-e. You can find her on twitter at @ModernMrsDarcy.  Anne has also written the most popular guest post in Introverted Church history: A Christmas Snapshot. Also check out her review of Introverts in the Church.

I’ve been afraid to say this out loud, but here goes:

My kids hate church.

They say it’s not for them. And they’re right, it’s not.

You see, two of my four children are introverts. Crowds drain them. They process internally. They hate noise.

But we attend an evangelical megachurch, and the controlling equation of children’s ministry, from age 4 on up, is Big + Loud = Fun. But my kids aren’t keen on big, and they don’t do loud. Children’s church isn’t fun for them; it’s terrifying.

So they think church is not for them. And they’re right: this children’s ministry is heaven for extroverts, but it was not designed for kids like mine.

I am terrified they will think Jesus is not for them either.

But this isn’t just about my kids. Church isn’t for me, either, these days, because if they can’t go to church, then I can’t go to church.

My church values honesty, authenticity, transparency. The sermons are practical, addressing issues the congregation is dealing with.

Which means my kids can’t tag along to Big Church, unless I want to answer questions like, “Mom, what does ‘pornography’ mean?” after Sunday service.

This is THE issue of faith in our house right now.

I’ve been attending church when my kids can go play at their grandparents’ during service. They’re happy, and I’m happy to get to worship with other believers.

We teach them about God at home, but they don’t go to corporate worship right now. I hate that.

But I can’t fault them for objecting. They’re not wrong: church isn’t for them.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Going quiet

I'm sorry I've been so quiet recently. Actually, introverts should never apologize for that. I'm giving three talks next week at Westmont College in Santa Barbara and that is consuming most of my attention. On Tuesday I am speaking at a leadership lunch on "Leading with Integrity" which I'm going to interpret more specifically as "Leading with Authenticity." On Tuesday night I am participating in a panel on "Introverts at Work," in which I will share my work experiences in the church, parachurch, and chaplaincy. Then on Wednesday morning I am speaking in chapel.

Immediately after Westmont, I will be driving up the coast to the Santa Ynez Valley for a writing retreat, working on my next chapter for my new book. This chapter is called "Listening to Scripture."

So I will be going quiet until later in April, though I may post a guest post or two. I would very much appreciate your prayers for the next couple of weeks. Peace!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Guest post on Emerging Mummy

I started writing about the subject because I noticed that a lot of other people were talking about what introversion isn’t.

Introverts aren’t social. We aren’t fun. We aren’t open, or free, or welcoming.

The stakes of “not” get higher in some Christian circles, where the “ideal” believer has started to act alarmingly extroverted: Participating widely, eagerly assuming leadership, flitting about the social circles of the church, opening your home to new people, wearing your faith on your sleeve. If you display those attributes, you might get called a Christian “on fire.” And if you’re not one of those people, you might be quenching the flames.

I was tired of people telling me what I wasn’t. So I vowed to start talking about what introversion is and what gifts we bring to the Church. I started reframing the central issue: it’s not sufficient to say that we lose energy in social interaction. Instead, we are people who thrive in solitude, who gain energy and creativity and fire in our precious times alone. Some of our best moments come when we are lost in our inner worlds. Most of us need more of them, not fewer.

To read the rest of my guest post, on Sarah Bessey's awesome blog Emerging Mummy, click here.