The Wallpaper of Metaphorical Significance

I have my own bathroom at the house where I’m staying.  It’s a fine place with a shower and a mirror and even a skylight.  The door doesn’t like to stay open and there’s carpet in weird places, but as bathrooms go, it’s pretty swell.

One of its many interesting features is wallpaper.  When last Interpreter and family remodeled, I guess, wallpaper was an in thing, especially two different kinds of wallpaper in the same color scheme separated by wooden chair rail molding.  Wallpaper is less an in thing these days, so Interpreter’s wife (I do hate calling her that as though that relationship is what defines her, but Interpreter in Pilgrim’s Progress doesn’t have a wife and there isn’t a ready character in that list onto whom she really maps for me.  So we’ll stick with it for now and my poor feminist heart will just cringe) has decided that the wallpaper needs to go.

As with most household chores connected to redecoration, though, wallpaper doesn’t go without a fight.  It takes time to peel it off, especially if it’s not a priority and especially if you can’t be bothered to get the specific tool for removing it.  So part of the “rent” of this bathroom is taking down the wallpaper when I think of it, when I have time for it, when I feel like picking at loose edges.  It’s an exercise that’s good because it has concrete and measurable outcomes when my day job has neither, but it’s also rife with possibility for someone like me who likes to see metaphors in pretty much everything.

photo-13-e1342148421962See, the thing about wallpaper is that it doesn’t come off like a lid.  There’s no magic corner that you pull and the whole sheet of it peels with a satisfying shrrrrrrip!  At least not this wallpaper; no, this wallpaper has some large chunks that come off neatly and many other that are tiny strips, little scraps that leave other corners to pull.  And wallpaper has the decorative layer and also a second layer, and the two layers don’t always like to come together, so sometimes you peel the same area twice—and the second layer really, really likes to stay on the wall.  It’s a very interesting look in that bathroom right now, that’s what I’ll say about that.

But this is my life right now, Reader—not pulling off wallpaper but the wallpaper itself.  Like that bathroom, I will not end this summer looking the same as when I started.  There are some events—weddings, patients who die, friendship shifts—where huge chunks of the paper come off in sheets of change.  There are other events when only the top layer obliges removal, the bottom layer of who I think I should be stubbornly clinging to the ways things are.  And there are other events where nothing comes off, nothing changes, where change has to come in tiny little strips that gradually change the shape of the wall piece by piece.  Some places are hard to get to, and some you have to remove huge things like the towel rack to really get at; there are pieces of me that are getting wholesale shifted around right now, and that’s not always pleasant and is rarely easy.

Perhaps it doesn’t make sense to you, this idea of God randomly pulling off my wallpaper self with patient fingers rather than a wholesale chisel to show me what’s underneath, what He wants me to look like, to get me ready for whatever new coat of paint He has in mind that will make me even better.  But when I stand in this bathroom on the weirdly-present carpet under the long skylight and peel wallpaper, I feel like I’m scratching away at my own ready-made metaphor.

Here’s to hoping neither God nor Interpreter’s wife is really gunning for pastels next.



See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.  (Isaiah 43:19, NIV)


The Call

There have been many people, this past week, who have asked me, “How was camp?”  The rules of my answer obey that of any trip; most people don’t actually want to hear your stories, they just want to know that you had a good time.  This doesn’t mean they don’t like you, but it is the case that you should always pay attention to how you’re being asked about a trip before launching into a breakdown of all the things that have happened to you.  A very wise friend of mine taught me this difference, and it’s saved me from a lot of long and mildly awkward conversations.

That being said, I’m truly grateful for the handful of people who have asked and genuinely wanted to know what happened, patiently sitting with me for an hour or more as I detoxed the experience.  (Interpreter and Mr. Great-Heart—a man I’ve known for some time now but hasn’t yet made it into these discourses; he was one of my deans at the camp and I could not have made it through without his support—come instantly to mind.)  I won’t say that camp was an utterly life-changing experience, because I came back to my life and it hadn’t changed that much.  I got a job (praise the Lord!) and am going through orientation for that, which is a difference.  (A welcome one, for sure.)  But life didn’t really change a lot.

I did.

I started this blog a year ago to explore the possibilities of being called (Called?) to some form of ministry rather than a life of “pure” academics as I had planned.  I could never have dreamed all that has happened in the intervening time, and have roughly the same reaction to it as I have to camp—if I had truly understood what I was getting myself into, I would never have had the guts (insanity) to take the first step.

Camp taught me two things:
1)  Serving to the loss of yourself is stupid.  Not serving at all to avoid this possibility, however, is also stupid.  It is not all about me, but then, it’s not all about other people, either; God loves me enough that I don’t have to be anything or have all of the answers in order to be helpful and in His service.  I don’t know that I can ever fully explain to you, Reader, what a freedom this realization is.  Just because I am not everything doesn’t mean I am nothing.
2)  I have no dignity, and that is perfectly fine, because God loves me anyway.  (Seeing a theme here?)  I am, by nature, a somewhat fastidious and rather proud human being; at camp, I ate dinner with no hands, flopped down slip ‘n’ slides, got pushed around in a mudpit, hopped like a madman in the highly energized morning worship, danced like a fool in the dance class I taught, and generally abandoned the idea that I was ever going to be anything other than totally lost to the moment so that my middle schoolers could feel safe enough to do the same.  The freedom in being whoever you are is actually pretty incredible.

Releasing your pride like that is something else.  And you know what?  I don’t want it back.  I like being able to look like an idiot and not worry about whether people will still love me.  Granted, I’m not going to go tangoing down West Main any time soon, but I will dance when the Spirit moves me, clap when I feel the rhythm, and laugh hysterically when something is that funny.  Because God loves movement and laughter and sadness and expression, and everyone else can kind of bugger off.

I have been so wrapped around the axle of what The Call means that I’ve totally missed all of its complication.  One of the speeches (sermons?) given the first or second day of camp included a reference to us counselors as people who had answered the call to be there, to serve in this way.  It was a facepalm of obvious moment to me to hear that; yes, we were answering that call to serve, however reluctantly.  That was ministry, and all of the other places I work that cause me to be at church 5 days out of 7 are answers to some call, and that is ministry.  And this ministry is not less or more than Professional Ministry, because we can’t all be God’s hands—some of us have to be the elbows, or the left shin.  And that’s okay, as long as each day brings a new readiness to serve in whatever ways come to us—and not to serve in ways we don’t feel equipped.  I actually turned down such a service opportunity this week because I knew that I wasn’t ready for it, and that is also hearing the call in all its tones.

The dance class I taught spent the week learning a piece I had choreographed to Regina Spektor’s The Call, because humor abounds in the unwatched places of my life.  And it was awesome to see my gals perform it, to watch their hard work pay off and see how proud they were of themselves—and how proud I was of them.  It was also pretty cool to hear this song and realize that, wherever I am, He is there when I call…and I’m tired of pretending that I have any real objection to being there when He calls.

Much prayer will be appreciated as I head into this final year of grad school, Reader, because taking these lessons into a life that wants me to be something different—in which I want me to be something different—is going to be bloody difficult.  But I can’t keep saying that God happens in the church sphere of my life; He is in all of it, and I want Him there, and I will follow Him even to the grimy ridiculousness of middle school camp because I know He will never abandon me there.


After breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Master, you know I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”  He then asked a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Master, you know I love you.” Jesus said, “Shepherd my sheep.”  Then he said it a third time: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was upset that he asked for the third time, “Do you love me?” so he answered, “Master, you know everything there is to know. You’ve got to know that I love you.”  (John 21:15-17, MSG)