How do you do it?

I had an interesting conversation the other night about boundaries—in relationships and in life in general. I am pretty sure that I am not a person that has a very mature understanding of what it means to operate with a lot of boundaries with people.

Today my husband had taken a day off from his seven day a week work schedule so that we could spend some time together as a family. The morning quickly disappeared with playtime with the baby, getting our tax paperwork ready, and random household chores. I was really looking forward to the afternoon—to doing something frivolous and fun together.

Instead, the three of us ended up commuting out in the afternoon rain and the ensuing L.A. traffic to Pasadena to pick up microphones that some friends are kindly loaning to us for our church service this Sunday. Ours were all stolen last Saturday night, along with all of our church’s sound equipment. So, because I am the board chair, and because my husband is the worship pastor, we have a great deal vested in having sound for our service this week. And this meant taking our one rare day off and losing a bulk of it to a tiresome journey.

I wonder what it means to protect yourself and your family in ministry. Would another high-boundary person have simply not gone to get the equipment, or let someone else carry the burden of making some kind of arrangement? What does it mean for us to be pastors here when we are not paid for our time and work, thus causing us to fill our lives to overflowing so that we can fulfill our ministry calling and pay our rent?

Or am I just making a big deal about a stupid rush hour car trip out to Pasadena…

Sisters

Last night I drove to LAX to pick up an old friend, AB. She is here in L.A. for her spring break of her final year in college in the Midwest.

AB and I have a pretty special history together. In college, I was the coordinator for a big sister/big brother program in the inner city of Chicago. My job was to match college students up with kids in the neighborhood for mentoring relationships. Once a month, I would plan some fun activity for everyone to participate in together.

My “little sister” worked every Saturday at the swap meet, so she almost never made it to the planned events–she and I would get together on weekdays instead. AB was involved with the program and she was matched up with a college student, only her student was kind of lame and would often miss the events. Because I was usually “unattached” at our parties, and because AB was “big sister-less” as well, we kind of adopted each other, and became each other’s honorary big and little sister.

As AB got older, our friendship grew in depth and substance. In my years in Chicago, she became one of the dearest people in my life. I will never forget in those early years receiving my first ever mother’s day card from AB. I will never forget being the ”adult” for her birthday slumber party at her house. I will never forget her screening the boys I would date. I will never forget the hours of conversations we shared about boys, the hood, God, and family. I will never forget being there for each other when J was killed.

It’s amazing to me where friendship comes from sometimes. I’m glad that it’s like that—that you never know who will enter your life and change it forever.

and on the seventh day…

Tonight our pastor showed up at the park rec center where our Spanish language bible study meets to worship on Saturday nights. He was greeted by a few hundred members of the Bloods street gang who had gathered at our park after the funeral of one of their own. He made his way into the building and began setting up chairs but was soon interrupted by L.A.P.D. storming into the building with their guns drawn. Our pastor and a young couple who were there to help set up were forced out of the building by cops who had received a tip that the Crips might be on their way to pay the Red mourners a visit. The L.A.P.D. confiscated more than twenty-five guns from those gathered on the park grounds.

As our pastor relayed this story with me over the phone, I expected him to tell me that, as a result, the Spanish service had certainly been cancelled. But instead, he shared with me that more than thirty people had shown up for worship, and that, after some difficulty getting inside, all who gathered had experienced a great time of praise and thanksgiving. I am pretty sure that I would have sent everyone home and gotten myself out of there as quickly as possible.

The helicopters have been circling on and off here for most of the night. Meanwhile my baby sleeps peacefully in the next room—the barking dogs and the hovering aircraft don’t wake her. She is kind of like her pastor and a small band of believers who likewise were able to rest tonight in the midst of the din of fear and the agitation of violence.

I have wondered a lot lately about the Sabbath and what it means for us to rest. I think that there is a lot more to it than setting aside some time to pamper yourself, or creating space in your schedule for quiet times and prayer. I don’t think that it is ultimately something we are to do as individuals. How does the soft still face of my sleeping baby and a bunch of crazy Latinos change the way I understand this idea of Sabbath in South L.A…?

mailbox manna

Dear Anonymous,

My guess is that you won’t ever read this, but maybe writing this has more to do with me than you anyway.

When I walked down the stairs to my front door last week to check my mail, the highest hopes I entertained were that perhaps the Newsweek had arrived a day early, or maybe a complimentary shipment of Storyhouse coffee would be balancing on the rack beneath our mailbox. As I reached inside our box, I was disappointed to find it empty. Surprised that there would be NOTHING in the mail, I put my hand back in for one more swish (something I am usually hesitant to do because of the little family of spiders who live in the beautiful palms above the box) and my fingers brushed the edge of a sturdy envelope. As I pulled it out I realized that, strangely, it was not sealed. It was addressed to us with our address written plainly, however it had not been mailed. No return name or address was written, and the envelope was not even sealed. A bit surprised I reached inside (again, thinking briefly about the spiders) and I pulled out three folded, colorful gift card holders.

As I unfolded the first, I was surprised to see Trader Joes printed on the card. I didn’t even know they DID gift cards. The next one, with its bold bull’s-eye, was a bit more familiar. The final card came from our good friend down the street, Ralph’s. The amounts written above the cards were generous.

Baby formula, diapers, wipes, and rice cereal would now be purchased with ease. I could look forward soon to Trader Joe’s peanut butter, frozen vegetables and brown rice. And we could once again load up on rocket fuel-less water to keep a baby fed and a breastfeeding mom hydrated.

As I walked slowly back into my house, I encountered my mom (who was visiting from Seattle) at the top of my stairs. By then the tears had already started flowing and my mom, obviously caught off guard and concerned, asked me what was wrong. “Someone gave us money for groceries…” was all I could get out before I began to sob. I went and stood in my room for a few minutes, leaving my mom and baby in the other room.

I don’t always know what the tears are for when they come. Are they tears of gratitude for the anonymous generosity of a friend? Are they tears of anger that we still, with my husband working full time at Fuller Seminary, and part time for a Jewish synagogue, can’t pay our rent and bills and put food on the table? Are they tears of shame that my mom would see how her thirty-one year old daughter is relying on help from others to have her grandbaby’s basic needs met? Or are they tears of communion with a God who has heard my cries and has sent me manna for one more day?

Though you remain anonymous, I am trying to see you in everyone who surrounds us here. In my pastor who would give us the shirt off his back if we asked for it. In my sister who has never said no to watching my baby for a few hours so I can go to class or write a paper. In our Kenwood neighbors who have done more to care for us this past year than I would have thought possible on this side of heaven. I am also trying to see you in myself. What are the things that I have that can be quietly and generously given to another who feels discouraged, isolated, or afraid.

Thank you, Anonymous.

Erika Carney Haub’s musings on life and God from South Central, L.A.