Late Snow

Yesterday, it snowed. All day long. I kept looking out the back door at work, wondering if the County would close early. Nope. The new County Manager is a former Public Works roads guy. And miraculously, the snow stuck neither to the roads or sidewalks. It made pretty postcard pictures with snow coating the trees, grass and bushes. county lot snow.jpg

It was lovely. Lisa and I walked out in it for our breaks. We felt like we were living inside a snowglobe. Snow always feels magical to me. We don’t get it very often, and when we do, it vanishes quickly like frozen manna.

When I got up this morning, the temperature was 19 degrees. All that lovely white stuff had frozen into a crunchy, sparkly-sugar coating. We covered the yard as I threw her tennis balls, the inky sky holding a single shiny star. A few cars roamed up and down the street. I lasted about 10 minutes. When I stepped back inside, the temp had dropped to 17 degrees. Brr! Rex lasted about 10 minutes, too.

I wondered if this morning’s work at the County would grind to a halt. With freezing and thawing comes ice. Very little snow fell after I got home last night. But I knew the parking lots and side streets would be treacherous. I kept checking the website. Nothing. Ruby’s school pleaded 2 hours late yesterday afternoon. I hoped for the same.

I drove in under sunny skies. The Douglas firs stood silent in their white coats. The roadsides sat pristine, untouched by human feet or abandoned cars. It seemed like a movie set.

I got to work, fishtailing a little on the arteries’ turn lanes in Olympia. The County parking lot was nearly empty. What? I pulled up my phone. Then I saw the notice: All County Offices Delayed by One Hour. All in title case. What?! *Now* I see it. Sigh. I felt rooked, frustrated and annoyed. No wonder traffic was so light. And I got a great parking spot.

Sometimes, we just have to be flexible. Life throws curveballs. Instead of catching them, they hit us in the back of the head. We miss things. We make mistakes. What other good can come out of this? Cause I’m looking for it.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. – Romans 8:28

 

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Penultimate Joy

It’s Wednesday again. And the last day before my probation ends.

it's a good thing

I can’t believe it. I thought this day would never arrive.

The. Longest. Probation. Ever. In the history. Of. The. World.

Truly.

I am on permanently with the county as of tomorrow. I’m in my new digs in the basement of the courthouse building. It’s rather ugly down here, rabbit warren hallways, ancient linoleum, and 80s grade school era bathrooms (minus the pink powdered soap). Some of my colleagues refer to it as “the dungeon”. But I have a desk and a computer with two monitors and a phone and a chair that’s at the right height. Those count for something. Plus, I have coworkers who are kind and funny and who really like me. They even want me here. Poor deluded creatures.

I’ve been contemplating God’s great mercy today. I never thought I would leave the city. I was happy there. I felt called there, that I belonged there. I lived in the community and felt honored to participate directly in my local government.  But sometimes things happen that are beyond your control. And then it’s…”please stand by” time as the new chapter unfolds. This time with Thurston County has been like that. Lots of questions and wondering what’s next. Am I in the right place? Am I doing the right things? Why did the old path disappear? Did I do something wrong? I still don’t know.

Yet underneath it all has been a bedrock of peace. I have a place here. I can grow and learn and be myself all at once. I’m not going to miss what God is up to in this life, as long as I’m asking, seeking and knocking. I might stumble a bit along the way as I search out light sources, more lamps, if you will. It’s important to stay open and to listen.

I don’t know much. But I do know the One who knows everything and has since time began. He will never fail me.

 

Call Me Ishmael

raven.jpg

I’m getting configured to work at the other office. The new hire for the jail expansion project starts Tuesday. I brought my laptop to the courthouse complex and met up with the IT Tech. I logged in and he started to work his magic.

My coworker and I, the other project support staff whom I’ll call Lisa, chatted about this and that. She’s worked for the county for almost 27 years. She knows everyone and has proved a great resource for this newbie.

“Raven, how is that working? Can you listen to me tell a story while you work?” Lisa asked.

I had no idea who Raven was. Did someone else come into the room? I craned my neck. The tech’s name was Jim.

“Who’s Raven?” I asked.

“Oh, Jenny (Jim’s boss) told me he likes to go by Raven. His given name is Jim, though. I thought it was cool because I love crows.” True story. Lisa feeds the crows around the courthouse when she walks on her break. They flock to her.

Raven, aka Jim, shifted on his feet, a little uncomfortable at this revelation.

I looked at him for explanation.

“When I’m with my friends, I’m Raven. I identify as Raven. That’s who I really am. That’s what I go by.”

Pause.

“Oh, okay. Got it. Well, that’s cool.”

I didn’t know what else to say. I didn’t want to make the situation more awkward.

Names have always fascinated me. People name their kids all kinds of things, and sometimes people change when they become adults. They’ll choose to be identified by their middle name, or a nickname. Shakespeare said “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” in “Romeo and Juliet”, right? Does changing our name change who we are?

I remember wanting to change my name when I was little. I fancied something a little prettier, like Marie, or fancier like Nichole. Susan is serviceable and has a timeless quality, my mom says. I like the name, generally, but in French class I was Janine. I liked the soft “j” sound on the French tongue. 

I don’t know why he chose a raven. Does he like their omnivorous diet? Or their gregarious nature, and the fact that they have few natural predators? Maybe their intelligence? They have proven problem-solving skills. Some cultures have regarded ravens as spiritual figures or gods. Jesus mentioned a raven in a parable, showing how people should rely on God for sustenance like the ravens do (Luke 12:24).

Sometimes, we seek a new identity, one not tainted by past mistakes or painful memories. Jesus said he will give us a new name at the end of time:

Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious I will give some of the manna that has been hidden away in heaven. And I will give to each one a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it…” – Revelation 2:17

The search for identity and belonging via a name is universal. I pray Raven/Jim finds what he’s looking for.

Commit It

commit button.jpg

It’s drizzy and gray today. A half moon winked at me behind the fast-moving cloud cover as I drove into work. Every day, it’s a little brighter when I drive in. I relish it. I can see the eagles soaring overhead and the kitten fog lying between the trees.

Here we are, in the first full week of the new year. All those resolutions shine before us. What will we do with those great new goals? How do we get from here to there? I’ve been considering this.

Today’s scripture from my Bible app is out of Proverbs.

Commit your actions to the Lord, and your actions will succeed. – Proverbs 16:3

Com-mit, verb:

  1. carry out or perpetrate (a mistake, crime, or immoral act):
    “he committed an uncharacteristic error”
  2. pledge or bind (a person or an organization) to a certain course or policy:
    “they were reluctant to commit themselves to an opinion”

3. send, entrust, or consign, in particular.

The second definition applies here. To “pledge or bind” my actions to the Lord makes sense. But the third definition could fit, too. To send/entrust/consign my business to Jesus, as in transfer, could happen.

I’ve been meditating on that today. What does it mean to commit my actions? Other translations say “commit your works”. “Works” always seemed like whatever type of ministry I was participating in at the moment. It had a weightier quality, like works were more deliberate and definite, even definable. The Message version says, “Put God in charge of your work, then what you have planned will take place.”

If I put God in charge of my work, it’s not just my job, though I’d greatly appreciate His blessing in that realm. My work constitutes everything my hands find to do. Taking out the trash. Washing dishes. Driving to the store. Filing. Lord knows, *somebody* ought to bless filing. Work might include conversations with the kids. Probably covers feeding and watering the mammals every morning, too. It’s everything. All of these things fall into the NLT arena of “actions”, too. Some would say talking doesn’t fall into the category of actions. I disagree. Our words have the power to create and motivate.

This seems like this verse constitutes the “legs” to what I wrote about yesterday: surrender. Will I put my faith in action (see what I did there?) and do everything to the glory of God?

Yet it’s more than the day-to-day, of course. It’s the bigger plans. What’s the next thing for Jonathon and I? Where do we want to be in 5 years? What’s the plan for retirement? What will the kids do for careers? The burden of it needs to be transferred, though not fleshed out yet.

This verse, like so much of Proverbs, contains a seed that only grows upon meditation. It’s talking about the daily jobs we handle. It’s also talking about the next steps, the dreams and purposes and future we haven’t even begun to tackle. All of it needs to belong to God. Every little bit.

I guess the real question ends up with us. God is committed to us, day in and day out, 24/7. This commitment of ours becomes a partnering of sorts. If God is for us, how can we ever truly lose? The only question is, will we commit?

Bake the Cake

 

chocolate cake.jpg

It’s the sitting down.

An author I’ve been reading a bit of lately says of writing, “I can sit anywhere. I can sit at the kitchen counter. I can sit at my desk. I can sit on the living room couch. But I have to sit. I can’t measure the windows for new curtains, or pick up all the action figures and toss them in the toy bin, or do dishes. I must sit. That’s the hardest part.” It’s a paraphrase, of course, but you get the idea.

Writing a little each day is like the etudes I used to work on for flute lessons. To be frank, I hated them. They were all about featuring arpeggios or sixteenth-note runs, or, God forbid, the dreaded B key at the base of my flute. Tuneless wonders all, putting time and effort into those ditties seemed an exercise in futility. I wanted to play beautiful melodies. I wanted to push the limits of myself and the instrument. Those rudiments slowed me down.

As far as etudes (French for studies) went, I would never perform them. Can you imagine if I did? “Well, we’ve put together a concert of Susan’s best etudes and warm-ups. Sit back, relax and see if you can recognize what she mastered from each one.” Snore! Who would even come. Okay, my parents and Jonathon. We’d drag the kids, too. But no one else. Why would they?

The work that goes into mastering something isn’t pretty. It isn’t even entertaining. It’s frustrating and sweaty and boring and grueling. It’s the rebar in a building. It’s the epoxy holding the carpet down. Our bones, muscles and sinews keep us together. But seeing any of them means we’re broken somehow and need immediate medical attention.

And yet, the etudes and warm-ups and exercises forced me to improve. I got quicker. I learned more about rhythm and tone. I acquired enough breath support to push out the low B when needed. They were necessary to my growth as a musician. I couldn’t just blow them off (ha!). I had to do them well to move on. Learning to sight read an F chord arpeggio meant I didn’t have to think. My fingers’ muscle memory caused me to hit the correct keys, and then look ahead to the next one.

I can see now the importance of what is unseen. Most of life’s real work gets done behind the scenes – parenting, regularly showing up for a job. All of these things add up, eventually. Our children grow up to be kind, responsible people. We learn new skills and earn a promotion.

When I stood up to perform, music on the stand and flute at the ready, the audience only saw the icing. I mixed and baked the cake while I practiced.

 

Little Office on the Prairie

tumwater prairie

This field office is out a bit from the main digs from Central Services, which is the Courthouse Complex in Olympia. I believe that campus is 6 buildings total. We’re in this small office, attached to the Mental Health Triage Center, in Tumwater. Work release sits behind us. The jail sits just up from us, a small parking lot away. Across the street is the Juvenile Detention Facility. Great neighborhood.

Truth be told, it’s felt a little like homesteading. We got a borrowed refrigerator. I bought a secondhand coffee maker and microwave. The project manager brought in a Keurig. We had to add a copier/scanner, and upgrade to desk phones that work. Our cell phones don’t work well inside, so we step outside the concrete box to take or make calls. Somehow, we’re off the cell network in this wilderness. We don’t have 40 acres and a mule or anything, but we’ve had to make this place workable.

Yet what a lovely setting. Hawks circle above. Rabbits and squirrels scurry in the underbrush. Young maples line the sidewalks, their leaves already tinged with red. Some have completely lost all their brilliant summer foliage.

I walk outside on my breaks. The sun pours down its golden blessing. I see clouds, seemingly combed over the expanse of blue pate. Some look like they’ve been whipped up by God’s KitchenAid. Blackberries release their fragrance. Walking across the main road, you discover a paved path. It winds around a neighborhood under some tall trees. Eventually, you come to a quiet creek, burbling to itself, tucked down into a green ravine.

Immediately south of us, past the jail, lie several industrial facilities. There’s a moving truck company, one that sells building materials, a print shop, a coffee roaster, a beverage bottling plant, and the county coroner. Not much foot traffic, but lots of trucks. Some elderly folks walk themselves and their dogs back here. It’s all paved and off the main drag, though not a lot of shoulder. It’s quiet out here, despite the undesirable neighborhood.

I know the rains will come on soon, relentless and gray, marching us straight through winter and into spring. At least we don’t have to stack cordwood for heat and cooking, or dig an outhouse. But for now, it’s a moment captured in amber light. “All is calm, all is bright.”

 

Friday Anniversary

truffles

(source)

I’ll take one of each, please…

Good morning! Today marks the second anniversary of my job with the City. I can’t believe it’s been two years already. In 2015, I got hired on as a two-year position, a budget line item for departmental records management. But times change and needs change. So here I am, gratefully and gainfully employed.

What have we learned this year, boys and girls?

I’m glad you asked.

Last year got pretty rough. Several directors and key personnel moved on. Within the space of seven months, we lost 5 directors. But you know what? We all kept on truckin’  until new managers got on board. We worked together and now have a new normal. The new management was worth the wait.

  • Locks on unisex bathrooms are essential. Now you know.
  • Some people think candy canes potentially hallucinogenic.
  • You can’t – and won’t – please everyone.
  • I can keep plants alive after all, as long as they aren’t too demanding. Huzzah!
  • You will be misrepresented and misinterpreted eventually.
  • No, you can’t pay your Comcast bill at the City permitting desk.
  • I still don’t know if Shelton has a local folk dancing troupe. So don’t ask me.
  • There is such a thing as good chocolate and bad chocolate. Sorry, folks.
  • Our perception colors everything.
  • The only constant in this life is change. Despite FUD, you can still get up every day and bring your best to your job. You can rely on Jesus and He will get you through. He is faithful, no matter what.

Happy Friday!