Thursday, December 24, 2009
"Christmas Eve Gift" is a game that my husband's family plays every year on Christmas Eve, along with it's next-day companion, "Christmas Gift." The point of the game is to be the first to say "Christmas Eve Gift" or "Christmas Gift" to everyone else you see before they say it to you. It's silly. It's childish. It's a LOT of fun!
I love Christmas Eve. It's probably my favorite day of the year. It may not have all the presents of the next day, or the fond wishes of Valentine's Day or the green-seeking of St. Patrick's day, but it has it's own kind of peaceful anticipation. Christmas Eve's back home used to be a relaxing family event. My little brother and I would take full advantage of our vacation from school to sleep in late, then get up and lounge around the living room in our pajamas until the afternoon rolled around. Sometimes we'd play games, more often watching Christmasy movies until a parent told us it was time to get dressed and ready to go.
Sometime around four or five we'd all pile into the family car to drive a few blocks over to my dad's mom's house, where we'd arrive with arms full of gifts and be greeted with the smells of good, old-fashioned, heart-attack special, southern-style food baking or frying in the kitchen. Grammy, as I always called the curly-red-haired old woman in sweatsuits who delighted in teaching us how to play Blackjack, would usher us into the living room, absolutely forbidding my mom to help in the kitchen (she always did anyway), and pour both my parents a glass of red wine before retreating back to her Paula-Dean-ery. My uncles and-- in earlier years-- an aunt (who subsequently disappeared off the map) would all make their way one by one into the same room, taking up residence on the ratty old couches. My Uncle Pat, especially, could fill a room all by himself, his loud-voiced arguments and boisterous laughter booming in all our eardrums. Every year my brother and I would eagerly ask Uncle Pat to show us his old burn scar he got when he was our age, and as he peeled up his workman's jeans, he'd tell the story of his foolish play with matches, the moral of the story obvious in the wrinkled folds of scarred flesh. Then dinner would be served, and we would either crowd into the tiny kitchen or balance our plates on TV-dinner stands on the couch.
Dinner usually was a toss up between fried chicken or chicken cordon bleu, with greenbean casserole, and my favorite sugary dish to this day: Grammy's candied sweet potatoes, with the just-brown mini marshmallows crowding the surface of the dish like floating glaciers. After dinner, my mom would once more brave Grammy's wrath to muscle through the dishes. Those two women cleared the kitchen within minutes, for which we as kids were always grateful, as we sat, anxiously chomping at the bit, while staring at the gifts under the colorful Christmas tree. Sometimes we couldn't resist snatching up one or another and shaking them, for which we were promptly chastised, and we would lay it back in place and sit back with a sigh of longing.
Finally, the ladies came out of the kitchen, everyone's wine glass got a quick refill, and everyone sat once more, my brother and I taking up our seats near the tree to hand out presents. Usually, Uncle Pat somehow received the most gifts, and my little brother was always fascinated by the model trains and RC cars he unwrapped from our mysterious septuagenarian great-uncle in Iowa. This same uncle sent us NASA memorabilia, and I always received a doll from Grammy's sister, Rose. Though I was not particularly fond of dolls, I was always enchanted with a new one for at least a few days before that unblinking glass-eyed stare earned such enmity that I stored it in the blackest recesses of my closet, never to return. Sometimes we would receive a set of RC cars, and my little brother and I would have races over the brown shag-carpeted living-room floor, while Uncle Pat and my father argued politics.
When the time finally came to bid everyone goodnight and head home, I would lean in close and kiss Grammy's wrinkled, soft cheek, which always smelled of the powdery makeup that dusted her bathroom counter. We would hug Uncle Pat goodbye, wrapping our arms around his massive shoulders like we were wrestling a bear. I usually waved goodbye to my reticent Uncle Dennis, a tall beanpole who usually sat most of the night with only a sentence or two escaping his mouth. Then we would follow my parents out into the cold winter air, the dry Idaho wind whipping our hair and coats. Tucked back into the car with our gifts in our laps, we would talk about plans for the next day: whose house we'd go to, or who was coming over to ours; which relatives would be in town to celebrate; which wrapped packages under the tree at home we knew were ours. My brother and I took great pleasure in hinting what we had bought for our parents, and I'm sure more often than not, they knew what everything was before they even opened it.
We would arrive home to a twinkling Christmas tree framed in our big front window, with the Christmas lights around the trim of the house softly glowing. It was family tradition that everyone opened one small gift from under our family tree on Christmas Eve, so we would immediately start clamoring for everyone to gather in the living room. I can't decide if I was more excited about opening my own present, or selecting one for my mother to open, but we always opened one at a time, "ooh"ing and "ahh"ing at whatever was inside. Then my parents would send us off to bed, encouraging us to fall asleep quickly because "Santa knows if you're sleeping, and he won't come until you're asleep!"
One year, at our house in downtown Boise that had a loft over the living room where my brother slept, Santa was spotted filling our stockings on Christmas Eve. It was dark when my little brother snuck out of bed to peek over the rails and gain a glimpse of Santa Claus. He told us about what he saw the next morning at breakfast, tight brown curls gently tousled from sleep and his little round face screwed up in innocent confusion.
"I saw Santa last night," he said.
"Oh yeah?" my parents asked, interest instantly riveted.
He nodded, clearly troubled. "But he didn't look like the pictures," he informed us matter-of-factly.
"What did he look like?" I asked. I was fairly sure by now that Santa was imaginary, but not sure enough to completely doubt my brother's obviously convinced earnestness.
"He was skinny!" my brother insisted. I watched my parents exchange a knowing smile, and I held back my own laughter. My little brother had caught my dad stuffing stockings, but in the darkness of the living room, he'd thought he'd spotted a curiously skinny Santa Claus. So from that day on until my brother found out the sad truth about everyone's favorite jolly sleigh-driver, he swore on his honor that Santa was actually a trim and fit figure (apparently with an amazing metabolism when it came to my mom's chocolate chip cookies).
Yeah... I love Christmas Eve. There's something magical about it that somehow gets lost in the hustle and bustle of Christmas morning. It's not the gifts, though. Admittedly, I've always loved getting and giving gifts. But even though I still get gifts, I miss those old days driving over to Grammy's house for Christmas Eve dinner and enjoying the company of my little family just before bed on Christmas Eve. I think the real gift of those Christmas Eves was family. If you think about it, the first Christmas revolved around the gift of family: Mary and Joseph welcomed a new little one into their family, and in so doing, were adopted into the family of God through their faith in the One He had sent. Tucked away in a smelly old barn, that blessed family celebrated the gift of love in the most memorable fashion any family ever did, wrapping it in cloths and laying it in a manger.
Like me, you may be far away from family this year. Or you might be surrounded by a huge family, stressed out at all the demands for gifts and visiting, and so on. Or you may not have any family. Whatever is the case, I hope you can take the chance to appreciate the greatest Christmas Eve Gift: the Son of God who came into the world to welcome you home. Merry Christmas Eve, everyone! And happy birthday, Jesus.
Friday, December 18, 2009
I don't know what it is about this time of year that makes me want to crawl into a cave and wait it out, but I have some pretty good ideas:
* Everyone is in a rush to get somewhere or do something and common courtesy seems to take a lethal blow.
* Nerves are frayed and tempers are fragile (especially on the roads)with all the holiday stress.
* Everyone (which usually ends up including me) is sick with something, and feeling under the weather.
* The job market is dismal as companies lay off workers and cut costs in response to end of the year financial evaluations.
* Its so cold outside.
Obviously, I have a case of the Holiday Blues. Of course, it doesn't help that the hubby is out of town on business all weekend. Try as he might, my cat just doesn't make the cut when it comes to combination bed-warmer and cheerer-upper (although-- shhh! don't tell!-- he got a try at the former last night, despite the ban on kitties in the bedroom. If I change the sheets and vacuum, Johnny need never know!)
Meanwhile, the interview I went to on Wednesday pretty much bombed in my estimation. Though I had been praying over it for a week that God's will would be clear, I must admit I was still a little disappointed when I left the room feeling like I had given a less-than-stellar performance. I keep repeating to myself: "If God doesn't want me having that job, then there was nothing I could have done to get it anyway, and if he does want me to have it, then nothing I did could screw that up." But-- in typical human fashion-- I want to credit all the power to myself, for good or ill, so I am constantly warring with the temptation to rehash the stupid answers I gave to a few of the questions. Okay... it wasn't horrible... but I would still be (pleasantly) surprised if they called me after that interview. Oh well, as everyone keeps reminding me, it's a good learning experience.
Meanwhile, I sort of fell off the wagon with my exercise/diet routine for the past few days. It's amazing how hard it is to fit in two miles of walking between church activities, babysitting, job-hunting, gift-shopping/making, and all the other little leach-tasks that drain away my time. I've been giving myself an excuse because of my cold, though if I'm honest with myself, walking would probably do it some good, what with the sinus-clearing cold air out there. Plus, the surprise cruise my parents bought me as a graduation gift is only two weeks away, and I was (vainly)hoping to have some semblance of a beach-body by the time we boarded. I wonder if they sell liposuction gift cards? Think anyone might buy me one for Christmas? Hmm...
It's so easy to give in to the negative thoughts and musings. If I let myself, I might be in a full-fledged state of December Depression right now. I'm jobless. I don't know where we'll be living beyond February. I barely have money to buy groceries and I'm having to spend my graduation gifts on Christmas gifts for other people. I'm sick. I'm lonely. BUT...
Did you notice that every one of those pity-party sentences started with "I"? I'm beginning to see (and wish I would have learned this years ago) that the focus on me is the fertile soil which allows the seeds of depression to blossom. If I just weren't so self absorbed, I would be a lot happier. That's why I keep having to come back to the realization that, lo and behold, this season isn't about me at all! Despite all the pressure to buy presents and bake goodies and look good, Christmas has only one point: to celebrate the entry into a sinful world of the only precious and perfect Savior, Jesus Christ. And the more I realize, the more everything else just seems to sort of fall away.
Out of work? Think again!
"The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent" (John 6:29).
Strapped for cash?
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:19-21).
Worried about the future?
"So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (ain't that the truth?) (Matt. 6:31-34).
"But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body" (Phil. 3:20-21).
Wondering what happened to the peace of this "Silent Night"?
"[He] will keep in perfect peace all who trust in [Him], whose thoughts are fixed on [Him]" (Isaiah 26:3). It's that simple!
And, you know, I have no reason to doubt the reality and truth of these promises. Everywhere I look, I see God's hand taking care of me, providing for me, giving me good work to do for His sake and glory. I really have no excuse for not being grateful. I have been redeemed from the grasp of sin and death by the humble birth of the Messiah and his work on the cross: what better reason to celebrate this Christmas?
Are you, too, struggling with a case of the holiday blues? Take two of Isaiah 26:3, and call me in the morning!
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Meanwhile, I am smelling the delicious smells coming from my kitchen in preparation for our church's annual Thanksgiving Breadfeast. It's basically a carb-centric potluck, and I went all out this year: pumpkin bread, mini-cinnamon rolls, and sugar-free pumpkin pie. I totally Martha-Stewarted it. Oh, and in explanation, I figured if McGyver (which I have recently and voraciously discovered) has become a verb, Martha Stewart should be one too. Hence, "I Martha-Stewarted it," meaning "I went all out like the perfect little kitchen goddess." And I did! The two pumpkin products were made from real pureed pumpkin, and the cinnamon rolls were handmade too, courtesy of my handy-dandy electronic best friend, Miss Bread Machine.
So I was telling my mom about this Breadfeast thing, explaining that before the eating, everyone sits in the sanctuary and they pass the mic around so everyone can share what they're thankful for. I usually get up every year and talk, but for some reason this year I think I won't. I do have things to be thankful for, of course, such as being done with my bachelor's degree (by the end of next week, at least) and having figured out a workable solution to my job crisis for the moment (I might be turning my babysitting favor for Leia into a real job and watching another family from church's kids the other three days of the week; I'll know for sure about those by next week.) But for some reason I don't feel like sharing this year. Maybe it's just because I usually only share about church related stuff, like GA successes, and GA's been having a tough year so far. But partly, I think, it's because I want to keep my good news to myself, tuck it all inside and indulge in my own little private joyfest. God provides so wonderfully, and in such surprising ways (I literally felt like the idea for the job issue hit me like a two-by-four between the eyes on Monday), and I just feel like celebrating that between me and Him. I'm so blessed!
Mmmm... okay, temptation has gotten the best of me, I'm going to have to ditch you to go get some of that yumminess!
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Anyway, I was reading this week's chapter this afternoon (cutting it a little close since we're all meeting to discuss in about two hours), and it got me to thinking about where we should draw the line when it comes to identifying ourselves by how we spend our money. This week's chapter was (roughly) about brand-as-identity and Christian products being used to identify ourselves as a Christian, rather than acts of faith and love. I totally get how it can be a subtle trap to allow our clothes to speak for us to the extent that we miss out on opportunities to witness because we've become lazy. However, this chapter got me thinking about a common (or maybe not?) saying I've heard almost ever since I became a Christian at sixteen years old, and which has probably features in every "tithing sermon" I've witnessed: "Does the way you spend your money reflect your beliefs?"
Now I know well-meaning pastors who use this one are probably just trying to get us to take a second look at our budget and reevaluate in favor of supporting missions and etc. But it really stuck in my mind this afternoon. Should we even be focused on the way we spend our money when there are so many more important things out there that we're neglecting? And what about the ways we don't spend our money? I know, I know, in all areas we should work as if working for God and so on... but the question stands.
Earlier in the book, the author described a trip he took to a foreign country where a local missionary took him on a tour of the local "sweatshop graveyard" where American clothing companies would rent out a factory and hire thousands of workers for a year or two, mass-produce tons of closing, then simply close up shop, laying off all those people to fend for themselves, jobless and desperate. Then he went on to describe the teens he often stood behind in mall stores, who grabbed items off the racks, items usually made in those countries, probably tired hands in sweatshops. I got a vague feeling of unrest reading that.
The fact is, I buy most of my clothes at Walmart or Target. Any conscientious or human-rights-advocating consumer might smack me over the head for that, but I honestly can't afford anything else! If it's not there, it's at the thrift store, whhere, again, most of the cast-off clothing that lines the racks was probably made in not-so-great environments in other countries where companies can get away with treating people as means to an end. And you know what else (this is a guilty point every time I eat dinner with the lady in my small group who is a bird scientist)? I eat non-organically grown eggs. I also eat chicken and beef that aren't guaranteed organic and animal-friendly. I buy cleaning products whose packaging-- for all I know-- will take until the time my lineage has petered out to decompose.
Point being, I know full well that my spending habits don't glorify God, either by what I buy or don't buy-- at least not as much as they should. Oh, I try to avoid dirty movies and music, and shun any clothing that's immodest or advertises bad stuff (or anything for that matter-- I have a personal vendetta against advertising things on my torso, to which I make an exception only if that thing is both very comfy and very cheap or free). But when it comes to getting so conscientious about the things I'm spending money on and the local and/or global effects of my personal consumerism, I have one major problem: I can't afford it!
Compared to the bulk eggs I can get at Sam's Club (and we go through eggs as regularly as toilet paper), organically grown eggs would cost me a fortune (a fortune much better spent buying things like milk, cheese, butter, fruit, and my non-organically-grown meat products). To be honest, I would love to be able to buy organic foods-- I love the concept of injecting less chemicals and fertilizers and random ingredients into the things I ingest-- but sadly, I just can't afford it.
And the worst part about that is that I feel guilty. What if God himself is looking down upon the poor over-crowded chickens and jobless foreign textile workers I've wronged with my thoughtless cheapskatism and frowning? Is he flipping to the places in his word that speak about being good stewards and treating others with love and giving me a big fat F in his divine red felt pen?
But then I think about the message of this book and I wonder: wait a minute! Am I taking the consumerism thing too far the other way now? Shouldn't I be more concerned about how I'm living than what I'm buying? Or shouldn't I? I'm really mulling over this. What do you think? When it comes to how we use our financial resources to glorify God, how far do you think is far enough? And how far-- in either direction-- is too far?
** In other news, Joanna slept a full hour and a half today! Woohoo!**
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
For instance, I had the fastest recovery from an illness that I think I've ever had. This may be because I was actually staying at home and resting, versus going to work/church, etc., anyway. Thank goodness for the hype about Swine Flu. It turned out to be a couple days of fluctuating fever and some coughing, but that's about it. However, the panic going around about how easily it spreads inclined me to stay home, which means I had all the time in the world to sleep and take meds and get better. Praise God for perversely helpful circumstances!
Let's see... what else can I dwell on? Hmm... oh, how about this: my best friend is now on Facebook! Woohoo! While I was sick, I got pretty depressed, so I started calling her almost every day. It's usually a few weeks between times when we catch up, so this was a welcome reunion She's making plans to come out and spend a week with me when I graduate, and I'm already making grandiose plans for visiting New York with her and my mom and renting a hotel room and going out to coffee every morning... yeah, we'll see if I can actually afford all that when the time comes. But still, I'm very excited.
And of course, perhaps one of the best things to dwell on: Thanksgiving is coming up! Now I used to hate Thanksgiving, partly because as a child I seemed to always get sick the week of Thanksgiving, so I couldn't eat all the yummy food. But since I married Johnny, Thanksgiving has come to hold a whole different significance to me: camping! Every Thanksgiving, Johnny and I, his dad, and whatever other uncles, cousins, and friends who want to come head down to the mountain property in Virginia and spend three days "roughing it" (i.e. stuffing our faces with yummy food around a warm campfire and hiking). It's literally my favorite time of year., and it's so close now! Only ten days away!
Oh, and I need to throw one out to my GA girls! Miss Taylor and I managed to run the GA Winter Lock-In (I know, a little early this year) with just the two of us. And it was largely a success! Christine was at home with the hubby, having some rough times, but Taylor and I managed. And I'm so proud of us for getting everything done, especially after having just recovered from the flu!
Finally-- pardon the pun, lol-- finals are on Saturday. Yes, they're on Saturday-- and Saturday only-- this semester, which is a stinker (especially since I no longer have to worry about taking a day off work to go to them). Now technically, that doesn't feel like a good thing, but really it is; once I complete these two finals, I have just one more in December and then I'm home-free... completely done with my bachelor's degree! (Now if only I could use the dumb thing to get a job... oh wait, no whining. I gotcha!)
And the last thing to give my title full significance: Christmas is coming up! There are so many things I've been wanting/needing the last few months that our budget has been too tight to warrant buying (such as new underclothes, the heels of my favorite shoes fixed, more tea from Teavana, etc.). Now that Christmas is here, I might actually be able to get some of those things without spending any of our money! True, I'll have to find money for the gifts we're supposed to be giving. But I can always count on Christmas to bring at least one gift card or check, which will be, to my cash-starved lifestyle, like finding buried treasure! :)
Okay, well, I think I've un-complained enough now. Before I'm tempted to change that, I'd better get off here and go study for those finals!
Friday, November 13, 2009
Proverbs 17:22 "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones."
I've had a pretty yucky week. I came down sick with something on Saturday last week, which meant I had to cancel on watching kids for the BCMD conference. This means ever since I've been worrying about what I'm going to do for Christmas presents, since I won't have that $250 to rely on. I've also been coming to the depressing realization that an English Bachelor's Degree is about as useful as a high school diploma when one is looking for any kind of specific job. Nobody wants it.
Meanwhile, Johnny came down sick too, so we were both stuck in the same apartment for five days with fevers and bad attitudes. Needless to say, that combination didn't exactly make us very friendly with each other. In fact, it wasn't until last night that we actually even sat down and talked. I've been depressed about my job situation and marriage and school all week. Not a happy camper.
But I'll tell you what: Laughter is the best medicine. I found this "channel" on Youtube called How It Should Have Ended (HISHE), and they have a few on there that literally had me in fits of laughter. Such as this one:
I'm still giggling.
Anyway, I really need to get on the ball. I have a project due for class and my GAs are having a lock-in tonight... and I for one, don't have some insane do-everything-I-need-done gadget on my utility belt. In fact, I don't even have a utility belt. So yeah...
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Okay, to be fair, Johnny and I just had a fight. It was minor, as most of our fights are, but I’m still in my pouty, I-don’t-want-to-make-up-yet stage. I’m waiting for my best friend to call me back so we can commiserate on how—surprise, surprise—our marriages aren’t the paradise we thought they’d be when we said “I do.” Not, of course, that I want out. Of course not! The mere fact that my hubby, who insists he’s allergic to all things having to do with cleaning, has not only cleaned out the cat’s litter box, but is now vacuuming up the stray litter crumbs from the hallway—probably as his way of saying sorry—makes me a lucky woman. But sometimes I look back on how idealistic I was about “how my marriage would be” and I just have to laugh. What a little naïve maroon I was! (Did that sound like Bugs Bunny? Because I sorta thought it did.)
Anyway, where was I? Oh, the fight. Well basically, it was a variation on the same tired topic that has plagued our marriage since the first days: we live across the nation from my family. Now I know everyone has their own little unique issues to deal with in their marriages, but this one seems to top them all because it is literally unsolveable. Case in point: since Johnny’s family lives here in Maryland, and mine lives in Idaho, we can only be near one or the other. If we move to the middle, it would then only require a plane trip either way, for almost the same cost as we pay to visit my family now, if you can believe it. The only way we would be able to live near both our families is if we somehow, miraculously, came up with enough money to pay for one family or the other to move to where we were. The problem with that? Johnny’s mom and dad both have their whole family out here that they would never leave, and my parents don’t like the East coast. I was not kidding when I said this issue is unsolveable!
On top of that same-old-same-old issue, my grandmother is now sick. Well, I suppose mincing words won’t do anyone a favor: my grandmother is dying. She’s been sliding down the slippery slope of dimensia for almost a year now, and it has finally gotten so bad that last night, in response to my pleading of something I could do to help, my mother responded that I should pray for my grandmother to die. You can imagine how that felt. But there is pretty much no way for me to go home and visit, since Johnny insists we can’t afford it. Even if I could get home, what could I do in the one or two weeks I would be there to make a difference? I would still have to come back home, pulled like a cliff-jumper at the end of their tether, back to the relative safety the distance provides from all involvement. But I WANT to do something. I am, you could say, desperate to do something. Yet every time I mention moving back to Idaho, Johnny points out that my father, who has a good deal more experience than Johnny in the same field, has had to move to California to find work. He has a point: Idaho is a desert when it comes to job opportunities for guys like them. Oh, I might be able to find work easily enough, but I’m not sure it would make enough to support both of us. Still, I’m tempted to look.
Even if we did move out there, though, it would only be tearing Johnny away from his family, even as we moved closer to mine. Sense the conundrum? I really don’t know how this issue will ever be resolved. One of us is always going to be upset. Maybe God will give us a miracle: maybe we’ll wake up one morning and the US will have folded in half. I can dream, right?
Friday, November 6, 2009
::pan into my face::
"Um... hi. My name is Stephanie. And this morning, um, I woke up from this really like weird dream. The world had been like taken over by zombies, and I was part of a small nomadic group of people who hadn't turned yet. We were, um, traveling along this road when this bunch of kangaroos hopped up. They weren't zombie-kangaroos, just regular kangaroos, except they could talk. They were all girl kangaroos, except for this miniature one who was a boy, but he was the leader and as we were passing a pond surrounded by cattails, the boy kangaroo told all these girl kangaroos they had to go take baths, and so we, the people, decided we'd go hang out with the kangaroos by the water too, because for some reason zombies are afraid of water. Anyway, while we were there, a few of us were sitting around on the shore watching the kangaroos bathing when suddenly this overstuffed old easy-chair haunted by the spirit of Michael Jackson appeared. We weren't scared, but we thought it was sorta cool, so we started talking to him, and it was like he was transmitting from somewhere... not actually there, y'know? And he was literally inside the chair, like we could see the outline of his face in the upholstery, and he was wearing sunglasses. We were asking him questions, and I asked him where he was, and he said he was in hell because he had had an affair with a woman and when the kids had been born he had married her but he didn't love her. Yeah, I dunno. But it was really sad the way he was talking about someday hoping he could get out of Hell and go be with his kids again, so I was getting all choked up and crying. Then someone pointed to a group of town homes built by the pond, and on one of the lit balconies of these town homes, a bunch of zombies were doing the dance from Thriller, and I pointed it out to Michael and was all "Look! Isn't that awesome? You know, I memorized that dance for my wedding!" (which is actually true) and he nodded and gave a sad little smile. So then we were in this vacation house with a pool when this other group of survivors of the zombie-ism came to meet us. For some reason I knew that we met up with them every year, only this year was different. This time, one of them was in a wheelchair, with his hands tied down and he looked like he was halfway-zombiefied because he was really pale and just being mean to everyone. And two more of them came in but suddenly started arguing and as they were fighting their skin on their faces started to turn weird colors and droop like wet clay. I had a teenage son who I was holding onto by a leash, and the two fighting guys were between him and I and I started to pull him over to me except he stopped and said "Mom, don't you think we better not interrupt these guys until we know what's going on?" So I was like "Oh yeah" and stopped pulling him and waited to see what would happen."
Well, folks, that's all the time we have for today! I hope you enjoyed this edition of "Sharing Our Subconscious" with your (deranged) hostess, Stephanie!
Yes, yes, I actually did have that dream last night. Please don't ask, I don't even know how to begin to answer.
In other news, I'm having a fairly interesting day. I say interesting because some parts are great and some are not so great. Ready for it? Here I come with another set of bulleted lists! (I love these things!)
* Since I will be busy with a writers conference in DC tomorrow and working a BCMD childcare gig from Sunday night through Tuesday afternoon (i.e. staying in Baltimore for several nights), Johnny stayed home from work to spend the day with me today.
* I got Einstein for breakfast, and bought a pair of cute boots to replace my tired old black heels.
* Johnny got paid today so we could finally buy milk again! I am SO making coffee tomorrow morning!
* I enjoyed reading several zany and beautiful stories by talented classmates for my Art of Narration class. I love it when schoolwork is fun.
* Due to the convenient excuse of a youth fund-raiser, we will be buying Chick-Fil-A for dinner tonight. Yummyness!
* The two kids I babysit are sick, possibly with swine flu, and that makes me very sad. :(
* I'm not very much looking forward to the insane two weeks ahead which start tomorrow and don't end until the Saturday after next with the completion of my finals.
* In an effort to keep from going crazy, I tried to get all of my work for this week done early so that I could start focusing on next week's work. Well, I thought I had been successful in that little endeavor, only to find that mid-week, my writing teacher decided to up and change the requirements completely for our final project. Meaning the two page essay I already wrote and posted now needs to be discarded and I have only tonight to do another essay unless she decides to have mercy and change the deadline. Grr! ::assuming a yoga position:: It's almost over, it's almost over, it's almost over.
In other news, I had an absolute blast for a few minutes this afternoon chasing my cat around the house and playing "catch the reflection" with him using the computer screen and the late afternoon light. You can't beat a cat for wonderful randomness. He's getting so big though. Funny how things tend to live up to their names. I didn't know this at the time, but apparently Bean, the character I named him after, starts out very small (as did my Bean) but gets huge as he gets older... like giant-level. Go figure.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
I am SO tired this morning. I prefer to blame it on the fact that I have no milk to put into the coffee I am so desperately craving. However, I must admit that I did stay up just a tiny bit late last night applying for jobs, putting together a portfolio of articles for submission, and chatting with Steve and Vickie. Roughly translated, a "teeny bit" means 2:30 am. I know, I know... very dumb. But I prefer to see it as paying in sleep what I made up for in blessings of companionship. ;)
And I did, at least, apply for one job. It's a position as an editorial assistant in Bala Cynwyd, PA. Naturally, they'll have to offer me a huge amount of money for us to actually consider moving out there, as Johnny would have to give up his job at SGT. But it's a position with a company whose parent company is Pearson Media, which also owns Penguin Books and Pearson Education, either of which could be a gem when it comes to getting my foot in the door to the editing business. If I was able to take this job, I would be ecstatic. However, It would probably also mean leaving FBCL and most of our friends, so my excitement would be tempered by sadness... anyway, no point in counting unhatched eggs, so I'll just give it up to God, knowing he works out all things for the good of those who love him. And I do! So I'm golden!
In other news (literally, FOX, to be specific) I found out this morning that in the 31 states in which gay marriage has been put to a vote, it has always been turned down. Now, at the risk of getting some particularly nasty notes, I am going to talk about my feelings on this issue and pray that anyone with an opposite opinioon who happens to visit my blog today will extend me the same grace I shall try to extend them. All I have to say, really, is that this information made me feel better. Truth be told, I don't like denying gays thier right to marry other gays. In fact, if it weren't for my biblical and personal convictions, I would probably never do so. However, the Bible does, in several places, explicitly state that homosexuality is a sin. So, being a Bible-believing Christian, I find it impossible to ignore that when asked to vote. I have heard that some people separate their religious views from their political views in an effort to maintain American objectivity in politics. However, I cannot do so. If my aim as a Christian is to become more like Christ, should I not then think like him, even on issues that are not particularly popular? And my personal issues with the gay marriage thing stem largely from high school: I used to run around with the "outcast" crowd in high school, many of which were so relegated because of their alternative sexual orientation. Because of my association and friendships with these people, I was usually assumed to be a lesbian myself, which was-- needless to say-- highly annoying. First of all, it irritates me when people assume to know anything about a romantic life they are not at all involved in. Comments about the "homoerotic interplay" between two male characters in a movie when they are literally fighting (see "The Red Shoe Diaries" comments on Hulu) especially irritate the snot out of me. And now that I'm married, the idea of once again having to explain that "No, I mean I'm married to a man," fills me with annoyance. But before you assume I am either anti-gay or homophobic (and whatever connotations those may hold for you), let me expressly state that I do understand the gay rights movement. I understand that it must be difficult and maddening to fight for the same privilege that everyone else but you seems to have, the right to marry legally and enjoy the same tax, insurance, and legal benefits that every other couple receive. However, might I point out that perhaps changing the definition of an institution that is older than homosexuality itself might be the wrong way to go about this? Wouldn't it rather be much more effective to lobby for tax/legal/insurance benefits to be extended to domestic partnerships? This way, the gay crowd could get many straight non-married couples on their sides, as well as turning away much of the enmity of straight marrieds who don't wish to have to specify their sexual orientation on legal forms just below marital status. Just a suggestion. Regardless, I may vote against gay marriage, but it's not because I don't like gay people. They're just people, and I'm generally a people person. Chances are, I'd have just as much fun watching a chick flick or grabbing a latte with a lesbian as with a straight girlfriend, given the chance. I don't like denying anybody something they want, but sadly, faith isn't always about doing the things you like to do. Sometimes it's about choosing God's way of seeing something over everyone elses' be they the media, politicians, or minority groups. Still... it's nice to know that I'm not the only one voting against gay marriage. Like I'm somehow validified in my right to vote the way I see things as being right. Because believe it or not, the media gets to me. All these ads, blogs, books, etc. on how gay's are the next black civil rights wave who are being oppressed by white America does make me feel bad. Then again, I guess I should get used to feeling bad about the color of my skin. After all, by merely being white, I have shouldered since birth the responsibility for every evil that ever entered the world, right? Oh... don't get me started. ::sigh::
Anyway, I should probably step down off this soap-box before someone throws a stone, so I will hope that whoever reads this has a great day in spite of my yammering, and go and take care of my own business. Be blessed!
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
I am, at the moment, sitting in my soft pink bathrobe (the one Johnny got me three Christmases ago), eating coffee yogurt for breakfast (no, it's not very good), and thinking about an interesting dream I had. I dreamt I owned a mechanical horse. It was small at first, but once you mounted it, it grew to horse-size, and I was riding it every day around a place that was a cross-breed between Lancaster and the Boise foothills. Now, bear in mind that my dreams are usually full of terrible creatures, disappointments, death, and post-apocalyptic worlds, and you must admit that this was a pretty awesome dream to wake up to. I don't know why my dreams are always so depressing... and maybe this is a turn for the better.
So I watched a movie the other night. Now on the normal bases of language, violence, and sexual themes, I would never recommend this movie. But the story it told, and especially the main character, moved me to tears. The movie was called "The Red Shoe Diaries" with David Duchovny (gotta love D.D.!), and I identified more with the leading lady than I ever have with any other character in any other movie. She is who I was only a few years ago, and who I occasionally fear allowing myself to become again. Her passion and fears and obsessions drive her eventually to commit suicide, and while I don't see myself ever going that far now, there was a time when I was in the grip of equally powerful emotions. Anyway, it's just a thought. If you're in the mood for some romantic drama-- if you don't mind liberal doses of all the aforementioned nastiness-- check the movie out. You can find it on www.hulu.com for free.
So finals are coming up... I'm excited about that. But I'm nervous too. I spent nearly three hours yesterday searching for jobs on sites like Monster and Washington Post, and I really haven't found anything that piques my interest. I'm not even really sure what I'm searching for. What I would like most is to find a telecommuting position as an editor, but telecommuting positions for trustworthy companies seem in short supply. There are few, if any, publishing companies, especially in Maryland, large enough to be hiring staff, so that knocks that one outta the ring. Furthermore, the place I used to work (and would very much like to work again should the chance arise) is currently only hiring scientists, which I very much am not. Sadly, it looks like after all this work getting my stupid bachelor's degree, I am still pretty much back to square one: experience is the only useful thing, and I have none. Well, not unless you count watching kids, making lattes, and shelving. That's what I need to find: a job at an internet cafe/library. Ha! LOL. Actually... I do kind of miss my old job at Starbucks. Yesterday I resisted checking the SBux website for openings, but I' not sure how much longer I'll hold out. I know it's a dead-end job unless I want to end up working nights and weekends the rest of my life, but I really miss the company culture. And the free coffee. I wonder how much it costs to start my own cafe? Not that cafes seem to do to well in Maryland. Now in Idaho, that kind of thing would take off. Ah, well... thus the danger of relocation.
Anyway, my coffee yogurt is gone now, and I have a load of homework waiting to be done, so I had best leave this off before it gets too full of fragmentary sentences and parenthetical statements. Ciao!
Friday, October 30, 2009
Okay, so I know that's a goofy title, but I can't help it. I'm in a nerd-mood today. I could really go for a couple hours of wasted time on World of Warcraft, or running a Star Wars paper-and-pen role-playing game with my hubbies friends. Problem being I keep forgetting that I gave up role-playing. Sadly, the idea of it is always much more fun than the reality: sitting there waiting for a free moment to talk to the GM while some overbearing male-geek hordes his attention to ask about how many hits he can get in with his lightsaber and completely ignores me. I'm no feminist, I'll have you know, but I absolutely refuse to play RPGs with men anymore. It's one of the few niches where women's lib has not even made a dent in how things are run. I am shut up, shut out, and down for the count. Anything I do to rebel against the status quo of male-character domination usually either ends up in my character remaining in the same situation throughout the game, or in my characters death by the vindictive hand of a power-hungry GM. So I don't role-play anymore. But I do miss it. On the other hand, there are always alternative creative outlets.
This week has been an eye-opener for me on the subject of writing novels. I think in fact, that God is speaking to me through the many Author's Notes, writing handbooks, and homework assignments I've encountered. In case I haven't obsessed about it previously on here, I desperately want to be a writer. As in professional, actually-gets-stuff-published kind of writer. So I guess author would be a better term (yes, I am an English major!). I have ideas for novels and characters and plot details crowding up the RAM on my computer and stuffed into a tiny notebook in my purse which I carry everywhere. I'm constantly adding to them, like a mental pack-rat. I've started more than a few of them, but I always have trouble once I get a certain way into it. Then I make the mistake of reading over what I've written and realizing how abjectly terrible it is. But the point is finally starting to drive home to me that it's okay for a first draft to be terrible: as long as I complete it, the first draft can be complete garbage. That's what revision is for. I've been so insecure about these awful novels I'm writing because I never really stopped to consider revision. Oh, I knew I'd have to do it eventually, but I've always seen revision as more of a check-to-make-sure-there's-proper-punctuation-and-grammar-and-everything-looks-neat kind of thing, rather than the almost complete rewrite it is for most authors. See, I'm not trying brag, but I've always been pretty girted in academic writing. When I took classes in high school or college that required more than one draft, or peer review, I was usually the person skating by with "Excellent job!" comments and "Don't change this, it's awesome the way it is" written on the peer review copies. But if anything, I realize now, this has been a handicap. By never having anyone point out to me something that needed revising, I have never actually learned how to revise. Therefor, punctuation, spelling, and grammar were my only concerns. I haven't really learned how to truly write at all! What a revelation! So now that that little gem has hit me square on the forehead, I feel better than ever about sitting down and finishing one of these awful novels I've started. Not that I have the time to do so, mind you.
School has been crazy. I'm hanging in there, actually somewhat ahead in most of my classes. The vacation I took this month required me to get a week ahead in all my classes, and I have a short job coming up watching kinds in Baltimore for a BCMD conference series, so I'll need to get a week ahead again. On the whole, I'm proud of myself for sticking to it despite all the distractions, but I feel a little frantic for finals to finally be over. I want to be a free woman. I've been in school (with only a few brief breaks) since I was five. Twenty years later, I feel more than overdue for a chance to finally make my own decisions and live out the life I want to live. To bring this discussion full-circle, I was designing a character for online Star Wars RPGing (okay, so maybe I didn't totally give up the RPG thing) yesterday at the dentist's office (sidenote: I find it strange that I dread going to the doctor's office, but I love going to the dentist) while I was waiting for Johnny to finish his cleaning. The character is a female Twi-Lek (the colorful creatures usually featured as slave-dancers in the Star Wars movies, with one or two tentacle-like branches on their heads)
who was sold into slavery at a young age, and after years of struggling to get her freedom, finally is sold to a decent sort of guy who keeps a decent sort of cantina, who promises to allow her to work toward her freedom as an entertainer and occasional bouncer. At the time the game is played, she will be only a few months from freedom (I'm hoping the other RPGers will catch on that if they pay her/my remaining debt and free her/me she/I will join them on the mission in whatever capacity she/I is/am needed), and she is itching to go out and make her own decisions, travel the stars, and be her own master. Anyway, the point of that long-winded explanation, is that I just realized I wrote myself into that character. I am only a few months from freedom from academia, and I am anxious to go out in the eyes of my imagination and explore the stars, and write about them, of course.
Oh, before I forget, I have a request for any of you Company Girls who might chance to read this long-winded blog (I hope at least all the little ADD-side-notes were entertaining for you): a couple who are friends of ours had a baby girl two months ago named Abigail. The discovered that she had two holes in her heart that were preventing her heart from functioning adequately, so they have now been in the hospital 24/7 for about a month now. The doctors have had glowing reports about the success of her surgery and improved functioning, and have even started discussing plans to return the exhausted couple and their precious little girl home finally. However, this morning I got an update that Abigail's heart function fell to 50 bpms unexpectedly. I am sure that this is a huge source of anxiety for her parents, not to mention the thousands of other people who are praying for her. So I would just appreciate it if, before you even leave this page, you would say a prayer for Abigail's complete healing and recovery. Thanks so much!
Anyway, that's all. Hope everyone has a fantastic week! God bless you all!
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Outside the neighborhood was drowsy with the lazy energy of a Sunday afternoon. A few people strolled along the fence that surrounds the pond in the green. One of my neighbors had his radio on, blaring a sermon through draped windows. I gathered the dirt and dust in little piles, shifting the leftover pots around on the concrete slab to get at every nook and cranny. I heard a muted bark, and looked over my shoulder, glasses falling slightly along the bridge of my nose. My neighbor had come out on his patio, and teased his eager dog with a football, training him to sit. I watched, smiling. I love dogs, and this chocolate pit bull was wriggling with joy at the prospect of one-on-one attention from his master. The neighbor saw me watching him, lifted a hand in greeting. I nodded at him and turned back to my sweeping. A breeze tufted my hair, and I could smell the roast inside that my husband was preparing for dinner. All things were good.
I finished sweeping, and scooped my big pile into a garbage bag, then set about inspecting the few plants left out on my patio. Their emerald coils concealed a few brittle dead leaves here and there, and I plucked them out, dropping over the railing and watching them flutter to the grass one story below like little brown moths. My neighbor had gone back inside, and let both dogs out to tussle and play on the balcony. I watched them briefly. The sermon was gaining in volume and speakers, a few classic resonant black preacher’s voices, booming with characteristic tremulous emotion. I caught a reference to Isaiah, then to Daniel. I smiled again, a secret smile of satisfaction to be one in on a secret membership, that of faith in a loving God. I felt a warm increase in goodwill toward my neighbor.
Suddenly I heard a word that stopped me cold. I frowned, sure I had heard wrong, but no. Here the voices were again. Only now, where there had been the impression of holy faith and pious zeal, the façade had melted away to reveal something ugly, something disturbing.
“… that’s because those idiots, those stupid fucks worship themselves a white God…”
I was frozen to the spot. The voices went on to discuss stupid white people and their single-minded bigoted devotion to a white God, and the incineration they would receive in Hell for their trespasses, but I barely heard them anymore. Occasionally the sharp punctuation of a “shit” or “fuck” broke through to my numbing consciousness and I cringed.
Finally I set down my broom and fled inside to my husband. I told him what had happened, and he launched into a characteristic tirade on the real racism problem in America. He grew up in this place, made miserable in school by black bullies who tormented him for the whiteness of his skin. But I always thought—secretly—that perhaps he overstated things, just a little. Maybe they just weren’t nice to him, didn’t trust him. But surely, nobody could be so bluntly racist, not in modern day Obama’s America. Surely, he was wrong.
I am from Idaho. This ham-hock-shaped state in the north-west has built an undeserved reputation as a backward, racist state, due to its harboring of the infamous Neo-Nazi commune near tiny Couer d’Alene, Idaho in the north. Though the commune has long since been driven out and the gates of that compound locked for good, people still tend to cling to old rumors and false information. But I am from the biggest city in Idaho, still a small one by most standards, yet beautiful, sprawled along the winding banks of the Boise River Valley. My high school graduating class was proud to claim the few black students there were. Though black families are unusually rare in Idaho (earning it a joking nickname for some of “White-aho”), they are welcomed, and often treated with the surprised pleasure of rare celebrities by most Idahoans. My first boyfriend, in fact, was a half-black boy named Jeremy, and I used to marvel at the way our intertwined hands resembled the creamy consistency of a chocolate-vanilla swirl cone as we walked home. Jeremy was immensely popular with nearly every clique in our school. Welcomed by theater geeks and Goth kids alike, he could also throw one back with the Saturday night partiers, try his foot at hackey sack with the Stoners, or conjugate French with the Nerds like a pro. Everyone liked and admired Jeremy, whether for his charismatic, likeable personality or his seventies-era afro that crowned his head like a giant Styrofoam puffball.
Once, after a history class lesson on the Reconstruction-era South that left me feeling a little disturbed, I asked Jeremy on our walk home if he had ever experienced racism. “Not really,” he replied, shrugging his thin shoulders nonchalantly. “One time someone shouted something out of a car window at me, but I’m not sure what they said.” I had nodded, appreciating the awkwardness of that kind of thing, but relieved, somehow, that the only black guy I knew led a fulfilling, equally-worthy life with his white classmates.
These memories come back to me sharply, and I am reeling now at the contrast. Surely, I think, that neighbor can’t really agree with the words of those pastors on the radio, can he? He, who just smiled and waved at me as I watched him with his dogs, cannot think me one of the White Infidels who will burn in Hell for my belief in a racist God, can he? I try to consider the alternative: that this man, my neighbor, is in fact a believer in these lies; does, in fact, hate me for nothing more specific or dynamic than simply the color of my skin. I think, idly, what would happen if I were to do as he: select a white supremacist broadcast and blare it out of my open patio door. I would be kicked out of my apartment within a day, sent off without a word or a refund of the month’s rent I just paid, at the very least reprimanded harshly against such measures being taken next time. But this man is not advocating white supremacy with his broadcasting selection. He is advertising his own hatred for any person of European descent within earshot. And this is allowed.
Moved from shock to anger now, I slam the glass sliding door shut, blocking out the hateful voices accusing me of a crime I have never committed based only on a profile of pigmentation. Going further, I turn on my computer, intent on playing something—anything—that drowns out those muted tones I can still hear through the glass. My computer clicks on, the screen loads. I select the wrong icon in my haste, and have to close it. Turning on my media player, I select the first album I come to, a Third Day one. The man’s soothing southern voice comes through the speakers like a shaft of light in the smoldering darkness of my emotional pain.
You can all call me crazy
For the things that I might say
You can laugh all you want to
I know there will come a day
When we all will come together
And learn to set aside our hate
If we could learn to love our neighbors
Just like we would love ourselves
We've got to come together
'Cause in the end we can make it - alright
We've got to brave the weather
Through all of the storms
We've got to come together
'Cause in the end we can make it - alright
We've got to learn to love
Again, I am stunned, and the burning edges of anger peel away from my heart for a moment. Come together… set aside our hate… learn to love our neighbors…learn to love. We’ve got to learn to love. I have got to learn to love. I breath in, listening. The chorus repeats, exhorting me to heed its urgent message of forgiveness, reconciliation. Learn to love your neighbor,” it urges. “Learn to love him,” despite what he has done, what he still does. Learn to love the man who would condemn me to Hell for simply being white, learn to love a person who is instinctively inclined to hate me before he has even spoken to me. Can such a thing be done?
Yes, I am a firm believer
In the things that we can do
If we would all just come together
And let the Lord lead our way
It can be done, my heart whispers. You can do it. You can love him, even if he will never love you despite what you do or who you really are. You can love him, pray for him to walk out of this darkness of hatred toward his fellow men and women. You can do it because, while he may believe in a God that smites people based on their lineage, you do not. You believe in a God who loves every person, who cringes at the way we hurt each other and longs for unity among His creation. It is this God, this King of Kings who fills your heart with purpose and love, and enables you to do the impossible, to do what you alone do not have strength to do.
And now, as I feel that strength of holy conviction flowing through me with the words of the song, I drop my head, and the words flow like cleansing water or tears. “Lord… bless that man. Bring him out of the darkness of his hatred. Teach him the truth of your words, and cut away the lies ensnaring his heart. Put your healing balm upon his eyes like you did the blind man’s, and wipe it away to reveal glory and truth and love to him that can cleanse him of his hatred.” The music fades away like the sigh of amen.
Today I have experienced the burn of racism, and it cuts like a foreman’s whip across my heart. But I refuse to succumb. I will not carry on the legacy that has allowed this color-based hatred to span whole generations and switch color lines to corrupt those peoples who were once the innocent victims. Today I have experienced racism, as a white woman in a black man’s land. And I have fought it with the only tool available to those overwhelmed by hatred: love, the love of a Savior who prayed for those who jeered at Him even as he hung on that cross. May you be equally empowered by such transforming love.
(The song, "Come Together" is by Third Day, on their 2001 album "Come Together.")
Friday, September 18, 2009
So this will be the official first for two occasions: a) my first time writing a blog to participate in the Small Things Coffee Talk originated by Rachel Anne, and b) my first time writing two blogs in one day (the previous one was a copy-pasted free-write I found too amusing not to share about my psychotic kitten, Bean).
So to be perfectly responsible, I suppose I should admit that in doing this I am procrastinating on my homework, which at this point also consists entirely of writing. I have been doing a lot of writing lately, actually, all for school, but one piece in particular is stealing my heart as we speak.
I have long been struck by a feeling of obligation to record all of my grandmother's old stories from her childhood on a farm in the wild Northwest. These stories used to lull me to sleep at night with images of dappled ponies and wild boars and cougars. Now that my dear, gentle grandma is falling increasingly into the cruel clutches of dementia, despite a fairly healthy life, I feel the commitment pressing even more firmly on my already over-committed shoulders. If I do not write these stories now, my panicking subconscious whispers, I may never have another chance to make sure I've done them justice. But it seems all things are coming together not only for the good of those who love God, but also for the good of those stories that-- I am sure-- entertained him as well. I am taking a creative writing class now, in my last semester, finally having figured out that the class title, "The Art of Narration," is UMUC-ese for "Creative Writing." And here I was thinking it taught about public speaking or something. Silly me. Anyway, the first assignment for this class is a creative non-fiction piece, at least five double-spaced pages long. I have already written ten. I'm not done yet. Grandma's stories, seemingly locked somewhere within me since those days of pigtails and playing pretend, have come spilling out onto my screen in waves that I cannot staunch. It is like-- please excuse an accurate but slightly disgusting simile-- pleasurable vomiting. For once, in my writing, I am doing both exactly what I should be doing, and exactly what I enjoy doing.
:: Please hold on a moment while I rescue my mouse out from under my cat's behind. He likes to lay on the pull-out section of the keyboard drawer, and it makes productivity slightly difficult. Be right back.::
Okay... where was I?
Well, in other news, Johnny has bought a raft. For anyone who might actually read this and doesn't happen to identify themselves as my mother, relative, or someone in Sunday School, Johnny is my full-bearded, full-figured boisterous introverted maintenance-man husband and best friend of three-and-some-loose-change years. Every year since he was too small to record them in his amazingly accurate memory (I married a man who could tell stories almost as well as my grandmother), Johnny and his family have made the half-day journey to an RV park on the shore of Chincoteague Island in Delaware. Since I have known them, I have gone along three times. This traditional vacation always falls squarely on the week of my husband's birthday, which makes planning for it either easier or harder depending on my personality type for that year. Anyway, the area is chock-full of wildlife, though I've never actually seen the wild ponies Assateague is famous for (Think the child's book "Misty of Chincoteague"). This wild life is largely scattered throughout the many inlets, bays, streams, marches, and estuaries that overrun the area, and is best witnessed from the safety and comfort of a persona boat or kayak. We tried the kayak thing, last year, and I was mostly okay, though I did experience a moment of stark terror when our kayak flipped (that was Johnny's fault) and I landed in pitch black water, briefly went under, and came up with salt stringing my nostrils and thick mud seemingly sucking me down into the depths. I have an irrational fear of dark water (i.e. any water I cannot see what is swimming in it with me). So, of course, my husband's fondest wish every year about this time is to get me out on the water with him and explore. I love my husband. I know what he is trying to do. He thinks facing my fears will negate them. And for all I know, he might right. With a couple thousand years of similar repeated overturnings, I may start to lose my terror of open water. But meanwhile, I can simply enjoy nightmarish imaginings of this years vaunt on the water in his new four-man blow-up raft. And in my mind's eye, it holds to its name and blows up just as we reach the the deepest part of the inlet. ::sigh::
In other news, against my better judgment I am going to post all over the internet (okay, just at the end of a very long blog that I hope nobody will finish reading) my latest secret: I want a baby. Yes, I, who have been infamous for my rantings against the idea of pregnancy, birth, and jumping on the trendy train with all the other women in my Sunday School who have sequentially swollen and burst with new life, am finally to the point of wanting a child. I blame Melissa.
He doesn’t talk much in general. When I’m clipping his nails (to avoid the cruel practice of de-clawing, which I opt out of more for the expense than the animal-PCism) in the bathroom, he gives me a fair earful of plaintive feline wails, of course. Once, he even hissed at me, full on pulling back his soft muzzle to reveal diamond-like shards of baby teeth, as though proving he was part and parcel of that same family of flea-bitten unfriendly strays I found in the window-well and called the SPCA on. But an earful of “No! Bad kitty!” and cuffs on his small head seems to have gotten across the message that backtalk of any kind is unacceptable with this mom, especially when she is cradling a two pound bristling ball of claws in naked arms just before a shower. Yes… I beat my kitty. I know, I know. Bad for his self-esteem. But I don’t see how cats have all that much use for a high self-esteem anyway. They’re born cocky, and could use to come down a notch in my opinion. And he still comes trotting back every time he’s swatted, conveniently forgetting that the same hand that softly strokes his downy underbelly is the one that slapped him off the dining room table five minutes ago. Cats are masters at the art of forgive and forget, as they are at climbing, stalking, and neatly trussing up small dead things as party favors.
I get sad when I think of his family. Of Mama Cat, escaping from that cardboard box where all her babies were stored, shooting across our apartment in the middle of the night and prying the screen-door open, jumping off the first floor balcony and orphaning her children as she streaked away into the night. Of Bean, sole healthy child among a litter of upper-respiratory infected angry little hissers. Of what the SPCA probably did with a bunch of little kittens who were born unhealthy anyway. But my baby was saved, and that’s a small good deed. Not a shot in him yet, yet he’s as healthy as a November wind. And just as fast, imitating his mom in manic streaks across our apartment, leaping out from behind the coffee table as I pass and ricocheting off my shins, proclaiming his proud “Rowr!” to the world.
My cat is psychotic. He fits in well here.
Monday, August 10, 2009
1. During our trip to Myrtle Beach last week we somehow misplaced the power cord for the PS2 (i.e. no more watching movies in the bedroom).
2. We arrived home last night a full two hours after we intended to.
3. When we got home we discovered that the indoor kitty had somehow gotten fleas.
4. We also discovered that the intense heat we were lucky enough to miss all week had wiped out half of my plants on my balcony veggie garden.
5. It was so hot inside our apartment that a bag of potatoes sitting in our pantry rotted, filling the whole hallway with an awful stench.
6. Though we took out the trash before we left, somebody left a banana peel in the new bag, so we now have our own personal army of fruit flies attacking our kitchen and the rest of the hallway.
7. This morning as I was working on the computer, the pot rack in our kitchen finally gave out and tore out of the wall, sending pots and pans sprawling all over our kitchen and leaving some nice big gaping holes in our kitchen wall.
8. The falling pots and pans knocked over the bottle of triple-strength laundry detergent I had left the lid off of while I ran a load and sent it spewing all over the kitchen floor.
9. Retreating to my computer after wiping up the detergent as best I could, I discovered that a new patch downloaded to my game has somehow turned off an essential add-on and made my game nearly impossible to play in the capacity I'm accustomed to.
10. Getting picked up by my "boss" to go babysit, I was greeted with the rotten stench of an exceedingly stanky poopy diaper that had not been changed, and I got to marinate in the smell all the way to her work and back to her house.
If you have ever read that beloved children's book, "Alexander's Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day", then you will understand what I mean when I say I am having one. I am having a day to rival poor Alexander's, complete with pest infestation, stinky smells, and huge messes. I'm just not sure I even feel up to the overwhelming challenge of facing up to these obstacles. Perversely funny as all this is, a small part of me still feels like retreating back to the safe-haven of my bed and waiting for the day to pass, hopefully without the roof caving in or the world ending by fire.
But it's days like this when-- along with the realization of the shortness of my own temper-- I am also filled with a realization of God's faithfulness. I may not be David with a host of enemies pursuing him, I may not be Moses facing off against the Pharaoh, I may not be Joshua invading a hostile Canaan... but I still have enemies. Be they odors, pests, or slimy spills, I have a host of evil lining up to sap my strength and leave me broken and tired of fighting. But God is with me! Philippians 4:13 joyously proclaims "I can do everything through him who gives me strength".
God has not given up on me. He isn't simply watching disinterestedly from the sidelines like a critical audience. He is here, with me, facing the challenges I face, and pouring his mighty strength into me. And with my God, who gives me strength, I can overcome the onslaught of flea or fruit fly. With his loving support, I can nurse those remaining plants back to health. With his mighty help (and a hubby with tools) I can put my kitchen back together again.
Because I've realized this verse isn't just a verse for the big battles and the epic challenges in life. It's for the little things too. The little annoyances that pile up and weary the soul and make your back ache... this verse covers those too. God's strength isn't just a supplement for adrenaline when you're up against a wall: it's for the energy to make it through the rest of the race or finish cleaning the house when you're dog-tired and there's still so much to be done. God's strength is mighty and multifaceted, plentiful and varied. And he is faithful.
So whether you're facing mounds of laundry, wearied by work issues, or going up against Goliath, please know that God's strength is enough for you today and everyday. You can do everything laid out for you to do today through the strength and love of him who created you. Rest in that thought for a moment, and then press forward to reach that prize!
Or, in my case, scour the apartment with a steam cleaner and fly swatter...
Monday, July 13, 2009
It has been a turbulently quiet day. I awoke late, cheeks still salty from a good cry I had the previous night. My grandmother is getting worse and my mother is exhausted as her sole caregiver. My father is working in California and rarely gets to see her, and my little brother will be going back to school in Washington soon and will no longer be able to support her in her efforts. I invited my parents to go on a cruise in January to celebrate the final completion of my long-awaited bachelor's degree. But money and time intervened and they ended up having to say no. And I cried about it. Almost-24-year-old that I am, I bawled like a toddler refused her favorite toy. I know I am being selfish, and bitter, but somehow I had made the mistake of placing the yearnings of my whole heart on that six-day trip with my family. I had imagined the time I would spend with them, being celebrated by them for my accomplishment. I could picture getting dressed up for dinner in one of the fancy on-board restaurants, my father raising his beer and toasting me as their first child to graduate from college. I saw myself rising early and going jogging on the track with my mom impressing her with my unwonted fitness, after which we finally went for the manicure she's been inviting me to every time I've seen her for the past three years, me sporting my shapely, unbitten nails that I had worked so hard to grow for her approval. I could see us exploring Disney World together on the way down, Nassau and the pirate museum on the way back, with my dad offering to rent a sailboat and let me steer like I used to when I was five in the sunny harbors of California. I pictured the pride on my parents faces that their little girl had finally gotten her life together, had finally become someone.
So I cried. I cried that my grandmother is sick and unable to take care of herself, that the care of her and my handicapped uncle has sapped my mom of all her strength and joy, that my father feels second rate compared to his ailing mother-in-law. I even cried, selfishly, because my brother is helping my mom when I can't. I want to be the child she can rely on, the child she turns to when she needs a break, a glass of wine and a good movie to make her forget about her many jobs for a little while. Instead I am locked here on the East Coast, a four day drive or $400 plane ticket away from visiting my family. I have obligations to fulfill here, family to care for that-- while they accept me as one of their own-- are not truly mine in the most basic sense. I have no job, and no money with which to purchase a trip of such magnitude and just pick up and fly to my family's aid.
While I was crying to remembered the times when, in high school, I would get punished for some seemingly insignificant transgression or another, and while sulking throughout my punishment, repeat to myself the most heartbreaking promise I have ever made: "Someday, I'll get away from them. Far away, where I can live my own life and they can't bother me." I regret that promise. What a horrendous way to realize that the old adage holds true: "Be careful what you wish for." I would give anything to be a part of my family once again.
My husband and I discussed the idea of sending me out for an extended visit, for a month or so. I could stay with my mom, after my brother has left for school, and help her attend to my grandmother, take her shopping and clean for her, take her for walks, and finally get a chance to write down all those old stories she told us when we were little about her childhood before they die with her. I hate myself for wishing it, but... if I do make it out there, I want her to die while I'm there. I don't want to learn about her passing from yet another foreboding phone call that leaves me with a phone phobia, like the one that came with news of my brother's leukemia. For nearly a year I rushed to the phone anytime day or night, nearly panicked with the news it would give me. I don't want that again. I want to be there, able to comfort my favorite grandmother in her last moments, able to console my mom and hug my ridiculously tall and skinny little brother so tight that I can clasp both of my own elbows. Able to see my mom and dad free to be a part of each other's lives again. I don't want yet another major family ordeal to happen when I'm too far away to be a part of it, when I come shuffling in after the fact like a dog who knows he's been a nuisance. Obviously I don't want my grandmother to die now. But I also don't want her to live like this, as a burden on my mother and a wedge in her marriage. As an alternately absent and embittered "patient" in a retirement community that she'll never consider home, pushing away and verbally abusing the one child who has stepped forward to care for her in her time of need.
I want... but I don't know what I want, much less what is needed. Only the Lord knows that, the God of Abraham, who has planted and uprooted nations. Does his gaze that encompasses the whole earth see the trials of my family? Does his heart swell with our suffering as does my own? I know it does. The God who watched his own Son die on a cross, helpless to turn the hearts of those he died for, must know what it is like to watch a family put under fire, to watch a loved one fading, to be helpless and faraway while the effects of sin and death on a ruined world hurt the ones you love the most. And if he knows my pain, and if he loves me and my family, which he created with loving hands and died for, how can he not desire to intervene, to soothe the burns with the pure salve of his love? And my God, who is vastly wiser than my selfish, hurting heart, knows exactly what needs to be done, and he will do it in his mighty way, and someday, we will look back on this time, this trial, with gratitude in our eyes. May it be.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Anyway, the realization I had that my heart was "clouded with lies" stemmed from the devotions I've been doing in a bible study lately, entitled "The Disciple's Prayer Life" (). Anyway, it was talking about our perceptions of God and his character. It stated that he created us for fellowship primarily, and that just didn't sit well with me. It's not that I didn't believe it, at least intellectually, but rather that this conceptualization of God's character just didn't mesh with the picture I've held of him in my heart. It asked me to describe how I viewed God, and I had to sit and think about that for a moment. Finally, a concise description came to mind: I view him as a general. I recognize his authority and power, and I feel indebted to him for the salvation and blessings he's bestowed on me, so I serve him as obediently as I can. But when it comes to cozying up to him and being buddy-buddy, the idea strikes me as foreign as a soldier cuddling up to her superior on the couch while watching chick flicks. Just doesn't seem to be realistic.
So that got me thinking. They say your first and greatest impression of God comes from your father. Well, there were two takes I could have on this. My father, the one who raised and cared for me is anything but the military type. He was very loving and caring and treated me in every way as his own beloved daughter. But I don't think he is the one who formed that God-image for me, unfortunately. I think that image stems from even farther back, from my biological father.
My mom got pregnant with me when she was about my age, and she wasn't married yet. It's a typical story nowadays, but it must have been terrifying even then. So the first thing they did was tie the knot. But my biological father was not exactly the "responsible, settle-down-and-have-a-family type". He was in the navy, and was, as far as I can tell, a bit of a charmer, probably a bit egotistical and the like. When he found out my mom was pregnant, his first instinct was to go for an abortion. I try not to blame him for that, because I have never been in his shoes, and he doesn't have the same outlook on human life as I do. Nevertheless, it's hard to think that upon your first conception, your own father was already looking for ways to get rid of you. Regardless, my mom (my heroine) nixed the abortion idea and went ahead with the pregnancy. Bill (my biological father) really wasn't all that "present" during my birth and early infancy, despite their marriage. My mom always gave me the impression he would rather be out drinking or partying than at home playing the part of Mr. Cleaver. So, inevitably, the marriage failed. My parents split up and went their own ways, and my mom took the entire burden of parenting upon herself. Several years later, she met a funny, goofy guy at work, who she later married and had a son with (i.e. my precious little brother). That is the man I call "Daddy".
All this is merely information gleaned from my mom's recollections to me, usually imparted with anything from flippancy to abject disgust and bitterness. I think my mom is still dealing with the scars Bill left on her heart and soul. I wouldn't blame her. But my earliest memory of my first father was from after my real father had already taken the job. Bill didn't keep in contact very well (okay, like at all) during the early years of my life, though my mother never revoked his right to visit and spend time with me. He just didn't seem all that interested in having a kid. He seemed, however, to have a sudden change of heart when he started dating a children's author who loved kids. All of a sudden he was calling to ask if he could take me to the park to ride a pony or up to the mountains to play in the snow. He was suddenly into this "daddy thing". And I was loving it! I still remember the name of the pony I rode: Pepper. Is that pathetic? I had so much fun being the center of attention of this charming and fun-loving man who called himself "Daddy Bill" and his fair-haired lady friend.
But somewhere along the line, Bill's relationship with the author must have fallen apart, because I stopped seeing him anymore. He just sort of faded back out of existence. Eventually I think I just stopped asking about him. Then, one night, after my family had moved to Idaho from our sunny California home, I had a revelation. Shuffling quietly into my parent's bedroom, I stood in the doorway and asked my sleeping mother a life-changing question: "Mama, is Daddy Bill my real daddy?" My mother, too asleep to be tactful, and probably not even aware of the import of my question, simply answered yes, and told me to go back to bed. I cried myself to sleep that night. Thereafter, I had a definite sense of always being the "stranger" in my family, the odd one out, the child who didn't exactly belong. It wasn't that my parents treated me any differently. But now I knew who I was, and the identity I formed from that information was alienating.
I'm not trying to tell you a sob story here, but merely give background. I came to Christ at sixteen, after a turbulent battle with depression, something that has continued to plague my life since, and will probably always be something I deal with. But despite the love poured out on me via the message of God's only son being sacrificed for my sins, I still carried that sneaking suspicion with me that God was in some ways very much like my original father figure. This connection jumped out at me the other day. All this time, despite all the ways He has blessed me and shown me his care and regard for me, I still tend to think of God as a general or commander, who recruited me into his army not based on his value for me personally, but merely because he viewed me as an asset for getting his own way. And obviously, I don't project the desire to impress the ladies onto my Heavenly Father. But how many times must I have simply assumed that God merely wanted me on his team so I could increase his kingdom or bring other's to the faith?
It may sound ridiculous, or, who knows, it may even sound exactly like what you suspect of his motives. Who knows how many of us have gone through life believing that God was the divine carbon-copy of our own fathers: that he wanted to use us, like our fathers did. That he only wanted us as a trophy or a servant, like our fathers did. Or, God forbid, that he didn't want us at all, like so many girls with absent fathers must suspect.
How did we go so wrong? The most basic and well known verse declares God's abundant love for us: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world [or use the world, or abandon the world], but to save the world through him." John 3:16-17 He loves us! He wants to be with us. Yes, He desires us for other purposes as well, to spread the light of his gospel to the nations, to administer hope and healing to a broken world, to feed the hungry and free the captives, but above all things, let it be known that he first and foremost created us and sent his son to die on that brutal cross because he LOVED us and wanted to be with us. What a powerful truth to clear the lies from our hearts!
Thursday, July 2, 2009
So I was reading my rote one chapter of Jeremiah as my devotions this morning, and something hit hard with me in this chapter. Jeremiah 16:18 reads
"I will repay them double for their wickedness and their sin, because they have defiled my land with the lifeless forms of their vile images and have filled my inheritance with their detestable idols."
Now normally when I read about idolatry, the "spiritually open, vulnerable and receptive" part of my brain just sort of checks out on a lunchbreak. If you think of it as approaching the Bible with a checklist in hand, you could say I normally just put a check down for the "idolatry" item and say "Nope, I'm good in this area." I would guess most of us tend to think that way. The way the Bible describes idols, they seem pretty basic: a hunk of wood or stone, carved into some weird shape, and put in a temple or shrine or on a hill and bowed down to and offered gifts. I don't know about you, but I'm past my "bow down to statues" phase. No... I'm serious, I did have that phase; in high school I was a Wiccan for a brief period and had a statue of "the Goddess" in one of her three forms, which I burnt incense to and prayed in front of her little shrine at least once a day. Sounds pretty hardcore, huh? Looking back now, it feels foolish, the way I sat there in my little ritualistic setup hoping and pleading with a ceramic bauble to do something in my life to make me happier, prettier, more successful. It was just a trinket my mom bought me, but I put all my hopes on it to be my god.
I guess that's why when I read in the Bible about idol worship, I tend to check out, because I assume that once I came over to the one true God who needs no statue or incense or magical candle circle to answer prayer, I was past the idolatry phase. It wasn't a problem anymore. I had outgrown that particular temptation. And, in a way, I was right. I have moved on past that specific form of idolatry. Meaning I no longer believe that inanimate odds and ends will be able to do anything more powerful in my life than look good on a bare shelf. That form of idolatry has been beaten out of my life. The temptation is more subtle now.
Looking at this verse, though, the subtlety seemed to ebb away like a thin veil, and God suddenly revealed to me how idolatry is still in my life. He speaks in that verse of how the Israelites have defiled his land and inheritance with their idol worship. Hold on: let's backtrack. That wasn't him talking about their land and inheritance. It was his. Where they lived and the things they had may have been on loan to them, but they still came from and belonged to God. And they just didn't seem to get it when He told them he could take it away if they didn't stop worshipping their idols. This got me thinking: what is the "land" and "inheritance" God has given me? Well, there's the usual Christian list of "thank-you card prayer" fillers: a place to live, food to eat, a good family, etc. But how about the things that really matter to me? Stuff like my money, or even my time? I tend to forget about these things, because in truth, they seem a little abstract. Especially time.
One doesn't usually think of time as a thing that is given. It's more like something that is just there, though there never seems to be enough of it there. You ever get that feeling? How many people do you hear who talk about how busy they are, how there's never enough time in the day to get everything done. Here's the kicker: how many of them use that as an excuse for why they aren't spending time with God? ::sheepishly raises hand::
So I started thinking about how this "time being an inheritance from God" factored into idol worship. Now my track record isn't too great. I tend to have an on and off relationship with my Bible. Meaning I'll read it a chapter a day for about three days, then something comes up, I get busy, or bored, or sick, and decide I can just "do it later". Three weeks later, I finally allow my built up bad-Christian guilt to drive me back to my Bible, but only long enough to take the edge off of conviction, and then something comes up again. Repeat cycle ad nauseum. A thought popped into my head this morning that seemed to point a big meaty finger directly at that not-so-bright spot on my Christian resume and say "here's your idol." Sure, I may be past the whole incense and fairy statues phase, but I'm still a big fat idol worshipper in a very subtle area (to me anyway): my time. Several times I've committed to God that I would spend some time during every day (generally the morning) reading God's word and praying and spending time with him, and it always gets crowded out by other things. Yesterday it was a migraine and several back-episodes of Buffy. The day before that, maybe babysitting or cleaning house. And before that? Ministry, not kidding. But that time that I promised God, it's not mine. He gave it to me, and I dedicated it back to him. It is his inheritance, his property. And I have filled it with every manner of "vile images" and "detestable idols." And, maybe this is a little extreme, but who's to say He isn't getting just as frustrated with me as he was when the Israelites were doing the same thing during Jeremiah's time? Who's to say he isn't getting very close to taking away this time that he has gifted to me? Ever notice that the moment you start enjoying some free time, it seems to go by even faster? I wonder if that isn't just an impression, but God trying to speak to us. Is my constant brush off during the "morning dates" I've promised him resulting in my to-do list getting longer and longer and my goals getting more and more distant? It sounds a little off the wall, but it could be true.
Either way, I've promised Him that time, and it's about time I stop filling it with detestable idols and start making good on my word. For me, this means I’m going to start picking a time every day and spending the full amount of it in the Word and in prayer, even if it means I have to go OCD on myself and set a timer. For you it may mean you need to start thinking of that quiet time as a quality time for you to spend listening to God rather than asking Him for favors. Or maybe it means you need to start thinking about starting a quiet time, or put more priority on your time with him than on your massive to-do list (trust me, I understand how hard that is). But personally, I’m going to trust that God will remain true to His character. After all, he’s never let me down before. And when he says that if I stop misusing the gifts he gives, then he won’t take them away, I’m going to believe Him. And as an added plus, maybe I’ll actually have more time in the day for homework and housekeeping and fun. It’s worth a try.