Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Diary of a Recovering Rodeo Queen

Howdy, Ya'll!

It's that time of year again. The fair's in town, the smell of livestock mingling indelicately with the odor of deep-fried everything. Bright rides lighting up the West Texas night sky (yea assonance!). Funnel cakes. Bar-b-cue. Really good lemonade. Laughing children. Bellowing cattle. And the rodeo. My rodeo. It's that time of year when my secret love for leather jackets and skirts, for lambskin dresses with matching belts and boots, for fringe and jewelry and RHINESTONES, for dyed Wranglers, big belt buckles, for make up and hahairspray and color coordination all boil to the top. Hi. My name is Shanna, and I'm a recovering rodeo queen.

It all started some seven years ago when I encouraged to run for the West Texas Fair and Rodeo Teen title. I can't remember what made me want it. Me, a plain jane, t-shirt and jeans, no make-up, low maintenance kind of girl. But it was a good experience. Helped me to stop being so shy. Still, when the year was over, I all but swore that I'd never do it again. I thought I'd had enough. Except that every year when the rodeo rolled into town, I would go watch the pageant and miss it. A lot. So I decided to run for the Queen title four years after my inititiation into the world of rodeo royalty. And it was another good year, good experience. But I hung up my crown and banner at the end of it readily. I thought.

But the truth is that there is something deep down inside of me that still loves the idea of being a rodeo queen. Still loves the clothes and the introductions at rodeos and riding in parades. So, being the obsessive person that I am, I've thought about why that is. And thought and thought about it. And here's what I think. I felt like just about the best version of myself as a rodeo queen. I looked put together, fully coordinated, nice. Like a girl. I was important, in some measure, and you could tell by my banner and crown. I wasn't shy. And I was pretty good at it. So I was thinking that maybe that's why so many athletes seem to always long for the glory days after their careers are over. Or soldiers, or whoever. Maybe they felt like the best version of themselveses in the midst of all that, and when it's gone they spend years recovering, missing it and wishing for it. For that feeling again. Even if it was hard and they were ready to hang it up when the time came. Maybe that's why people like Michael Jordan retire and come back. And retire and come back. Because it isn't easy to feel like you've seen your best, and it got left on the court or in the arena or on the field.

But here's the thing. There wasn't anything special behind that crown and banner execpt me. So that best me is still in here somewhere. It was always there. Being a rodeo queen was just a catalyst that helped me find it. And that's true for everyone. Everyone has a best version. Not everyone finds it. And that is something of a tragedy because God wants the best for us. He created it for us. He created our personal best and He wants us to realize that fully. On and off the court. With and without the banner. And what better way to glorify and honor God than by being our very best selves that He created and calls us to be. Not that we have to be the our best all the time, but that wouldn't be a shame if we only ever catch glimpses of it in sports or as a rodeo queen, or whatever.

And honestly, I have a suspicion that most of us have never seen our best best. Because our best is that part of us that comes alive when we are living in Christ. It's that part of us that lights up in His Holy Presence, when our spirits dance with the Holy Spirit and never miss a step. When we're living the life that He intended for us.

So this is me hanging up my crown. I don't need it anymore. I need to learn to live in Christ. And to let those things that I liked so much about myself as a rodeo queen shine through anyway. So if you know anyone who needs some rodeo queen clothes, I've got some for sale.

And as I'm finally giving it up, it's nice to think that maybe the best is yet to come.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Gryffindor House

In the magical world of Harry Potter, students at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry are divided into four houses based on their personal attributes and characteristics. Ravenclaw houses the cleverest students, Hufflepuff takes the kindest students, and Slytherin welcomes the most devious and ruthless students. But my favorite house, the one that I would want to be in if I were a character from J.K. Rowling's imagination, is Gryffindor, home to the bravest students. Not because I think that I am exceptionally brave, but because I want to be. I have a deep appreciation for courage. I think we all do. We all seem to love stories of heroism, like soldiers who battle our enemies, or people who battle life-threatening illness or life-altering injuries. We love stories of cowboys who ain't afraid of nothin and princes who face down the dragon to rescue the princess in the tower. We admire the quiet courage of people like Mother Theresa who live among the very least and give all they have to care for them. Or of kids who refuse to fall into the destructive lifestyle that their parents have lived out before them. We even love courageous animals, like Lassie. And I think that the reason that bravery appeals to us so deeply is because it takes a great amount of courage to live. Like Bilbo says to Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring, "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door," and it is. You just never know what might happen when you are outside of the safety of your home. And as some of our nation's gulf coast states have learned this week, you're not always safe inside you home either. In a moment, you can loose everything you have and love. You never know what might be around the corner to disrupt or dismantle your life. And everything we do in life takes some amount of courage. Like loving people, and trusting people, and caring about people. And living a life of faith really takes courage. Trusting in a God whose face we can't see and whose voice echoes not in our ears but in our hearts, and who we don't really understand all the time is not an undertaking for the faint of heart. Because the life that faith leads us into is no spring picnic. Jesus told us that we would be pesecuted because of Him. That we would have trouble in this world. Because the way of Christ is not the way of the world. Perhaps my favorite statement of faith in the Bible is in Daniel 3:17-18, where Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego tell King Nebuchadnezzar that, "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, o king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, o king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." I love this not because of the first part. It's not that hard to say that God is able to save us from any tragedy. The hard part, the part that takes courage, is saying that even if He does not save us or spare us, we will still be faithful to Him. And it takes a lot of faith to say that too. Here's the way I see it-- it takes courage to have faith, but through your faith the Lord replenishes that store tenfold. And that's what makes us able to stand up and say, "I know my God is able. . .but even if He does not." And that's what makes us able to live-- really live and have life it's very fullest, not merely suffering the slings and arrows, as Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet's famous soliloquy. Because faith gives us the courage to step out of our doors and be swept away to wherever the road may take us. To rise above our fear of pain and loss and really love and really trust and really care.

E.E. Cummings once wrote that, "It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are." And as I find myself (seemingly suddenly) at an age when I should be grown up, I know that this is true. That it takes courage and faith to become who it is that God has created and called me to be. That it takes courage to make the choice to listen to His still small voice whispering, telling me who I am. Those of you familiar with the Potter books know that Harry chose to be in Gryffindor House, where virtue and bravery would be honored and fostered, rather than Slytherin House, where power and winning are encouraged above all things. Harry chose the House that would grow him into who he ought to be, and who he wanted to be. It's a choice that we all have to make at some point. To allow ourselves to be lured by what is important in this world, or to become who it is that God intends for us. I hope it's a choice that I've made with courage.

Friday, September 02, 2005

A Big Thing

I am accustomed to natural disasters happening far away, but Hurricane Katrina's aftermath it's not far away. It's really close, and people that I know are affected by it. This is one of those Worse Things that happen. But for the people in the states and cities hit, it's not a national disaster. It's a deeply personal tragedy. I realize that the meteorological folks name hurricanes for a reason, and I realize that it's probably easier to name them with human names than to make up something else, but it seems to me a bit innapropriate to personify something so horribly inhuman. I can't imagine how devastating it must be to loose your entire house and absolutely everything in it. Or to wait in worry to contact family who might be dead. How would you even begin to pick up the pieces? I just pray for peace for the people, and for hope.

Hey, Jeremy Jackson--Mom told me that your family is okay. I'm so glad to hear it. I'll keep praying for ya'll.