Friday, March 19, 2010

What we almost named our baby

Naming babies was really easy until I had a real baby to name.

I am a baby name critic from way back. Kathy likes to help me hone my skills by reading me birth announcements from hospital websites. I rate the name on a scale of 1 to 10 and then give detailed critique full of the type of adjectives one would expect to encounter in a wine-tasting.

Blake Oliver: Smooth flow; should age well. Oliver has that distinctive Old World flavor so reminiscent of London street vendors. Blake gives a modern tang, but without that overbearing tartness of the more trendy Drake.

Ariana Elle: The first whiff smacks of a Disney princess, and the aftertaste leaves one craving obstruents.

This makes for a fine hobby until one has to name a real baby, a living being who will have to wear this name for the next 80 years. It will have to wear well through all kinds of terrain: cruel kids on the playground, the teenage quest for conformity, the young adult quest for individuality, the job market, the marriage market...what name could possibly fulfill all that we require of it?

And just when you think you've hit the jackpot, there's always that attack from unexpected corners. I had several beautiful names picked out, but when I thought to check the initials, I kept running into words: RAM, HAM, ARM (not that that has to be a deal-breaker; Mac, my college roommate, carried off her unmarried ARM initials beautifully, as well as her married initials - ARF).

At one point, we really thought we had a winner: Tessa. Cute but not too cutesy, recognizable but not too popular, feminine but not frilly. I tried to think of everything, including how it would work in Tanzania. I knew it would be easy for Swahili speakers to pronounce, because it fits right into Bantu phonology. Then one day I had a funny feeling - it fit TOO well into Bantu phonology. So well that it might already be a I looked it up:

Tesa: to torture, torment, hound, harass, or persecute

Thwarted again! And what a close call - I came a hair's breadth away from getting myself into quite a cross-cultural pickle. "Nice to meet you, Pastor. This is my husband, Tim, and our daughter, Persecution."

So, back to the drawing board. We've been searching the cybersources for new inspiration, dusting off some old favorites, and shuffling around our top choices looking for that magical combination. Sorry to disappoint anyone wanting a sneak preview, but all name deliberations are top secret until Babymac70 makes her grand debut. This is our firm policy for three reasons:

1. People are more friendly to names when they are already attached to adorable babies. "You named him Artaxerxes??? Let me see a picture....well, isn't he the sweetest thing! I always liked Artie as a nickname."

2. We reserve the right to change our minds up until the last possible moment. Can't have everyone get used to calling her Delphinium and then have her pop out looking much more like a Myrtle.

3. We need time to screen all of our options with a Swahili-English dictionary.

Let's hear your votes! What name would you suggest for Babymac70?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Wanting to want to

This past week, we lost a wonderful friend and mentor, Bob Martin. Some of you may have known him. For those who didn't, I'll try to sum up this amazing man in a few sentences before going on to share something I learned from him.

Bob was the most genuinely humble person I've ever known. Despite being a highly educated theology professor, he allowed no one to call him by anything but his first name. He cared for people actively and insightfully, especially for people who might easily be passed over. He made you feel like you were doing him a favor by letting him minister to you. He had many successful ministries as a preacher and professor, but his greatest legacy was the personal faith that he exhibited and the beautiful relationship he had with Mary Lou, his wife of 59 years.

Bob retired from teaching in his late 70's, but he never retired from ministry. Even after their retirement, Bob and Mary Lou helped revive a small rural church and supported many missionaries, including us. They repeatedly invited us to come and stay with them in North Carolina, and I am ever so glad we had the chance to do that last winter. Staying in their home was like being in a different dimension; every activity, from cooking green beans to watching the nightly news, seemed bathed in grace, and I felt like I was walking with living legends.

I only took one class with Bob at Johnson Bible College, a three-week summer school course on the Gospel of John that met every morning from 8-11. I don't remember much of anything that Bob said about the book of John; it was his rabbit trails that were the most memorable. Out of all the things I've heard or read on the theology unanswered prayer, none has impacted me more deeply or been recalled so frequently as the story Bob told about the death of his four-year-old granddaughter after a long battle with aplastic anemia. You can talk theology all you want, but there is nothing that strengthens the faith like seeing someone who has been through a valley and can be completely honest about what they don't understand, yet their faith is still strong.

But I can only say so much about what another person's struggle has meant to me, so I'll move on to share one more simple but deep lesson I learned in Bob's class, one that I had always felt to be true but was never able to articulate. Bob once told us that he was convinced that the problem of not living up to the standards that God has set for the Christian life is not an issue of people wanting to live a holy life but not being able to. Rather, the problem is that our desire to love God more, to serve more faithfully, or to live more purely, is not truly a desire to do these things, but a desire to be the kind of person who wants to do these things.

"I want to want to do the right thing," Bob said, "but I if I could ever get past the point where I want to want to, and arrive at the point where I truly want to, then I believe that I would."

The simple honesty of that statement has always astounded me. Because isn't that exactly what it's like when we struggle with sin or with apathy in our relationship with God? I find myself praying things like, "God, keep me from doing this again," or "Help me to love you more." And the very reason that I pray these things is because I know I do not really want to stop sinning; if I really wanted to, if I felt that the benefits of living a holy life were superior to the benefits of sinning, I probably would have stopped already. And passion for God increases with the natural progression of faith as we go through trials and let go of our own control over our lives, but who really wants to go through that process when we could just pray directly for the end result?

One time when this was especially relevant for me was during those confusing years when I was scoping out the missionary idea. I am SO not the kind of person who becomes a missionary. I hate the outdoors, and I have practically zero experience with personal evangelism. But God planted the thought in my head, and I felt obligated to give it a fair hearing. I was pretty sure what it was all about, though; I kind of thought it was an Abraham thing. You know how Abraham had his knife out and was ready to shiv Isaac, but God sent that angel to say, "Ok! You passed! I can tell you're serious. Now put the knife down." Well, I figured this was what God had in mind for me. If I could just get to the point where I could honestly say that I was ready to go on the mission field, I knew God would say, "Wonderful! Since you're so willing to give up everything and follow me, here's a surprise: you can stay exactly where you are!"

The problem was that being willing meant being willing even if I didn't get that last minute reprieve, because God is excellent at calling people's bluffs. So I spent years going through the motions of being a missionary inquirer without actually wanting to be a missionary. But there must have been some grace at work along the way, because for once in my life, wanting to want to actually turned into wanting to. It's like how C.S. Lewis says that the best way to become a good person is by pretending to be a good person. Well, apparently the best way to develop a heart for missions is by pretending to have one.

Even after going on our internship in Tanzania, I still didn't truly want to go back. Months later, Tim and I were sitting in our cinder block apartment in Knoxville, trying to decide where to go from there. We knew that we didn't want to be staying in that apartment and living off of tips from Red Lobster forever, and it was time to choose between getting real jobs and buying a house or signing our lives away to PBT. And and that point I'm not sure I even wanted to want to. But we both knew one thing by this time, something I had inadvertently learned in my years of stringing recruiters along: we were born to do this. We could do something else, and maybe God would even accept it as a consolation effort, but we would always wonder what would have happened if we'd said yes.

So we sent Scott Graves an e-mail that he'd been waiting for for about five years, and we signed our lives away. And somehow from that point on, I experienced something new. I wanted to go. And it's a good thing, because I don't think I could get through the humbling experience of raising support or the rigor of grad school or the heart-break of preparing to leave my family on the fumes of wanting to want to.

I wish I knew if there was a cohesive point to all this. Maybe it's that we need to be honest about where we are on the wanting to want to vs. wanting to continuum, because there really is a possibility of getting from one side to the other, but it's so easy to deceive ourselves into thinking we're already at the point of truly wanting to. Maybe it's that we don't have to wait until we truly want to before stepping out of the boat, that faith can follow action, or that the action itself is the best kind of faith.

I'm not sure. It will be a long time before I have anything worth saying in a theology class, if ever. But one thing I learned from Bob is that you can put an idea out there for people even if you don't have all the answers. That sometimes we learn a lot just from hearing one another's thoughts and finding out that we have the same questions.