Saturday, April 30, 2011

A reading year

My husband is a hard-core reader. He read 100 books in the last twelve months (doubling the goal he made for himself a year ago last May).

I'm more of a flirtatious reader, fluttering from book to book, toying with a particular author, or playing hard to get when it comes to finishing the last chapter. I've written about this before. That post from a year ago lists books I still haven't read (but all the titles have hyper-links now, if you're curious).

But Hubbins is inspiring me. He is smart. He knows a ton, not surprisingly.

If you were on a high-stakes game show and you were given the chance to phone someone to help answer a trivia-based question, he'd be the one to call. I'd give you his phone number...if that kind of thing wasn't frowned upon here on the Internet.

When we were first dating, I thought he was making stuff up all the time, trying to impress me. He does that too (and it's maddening when I can't tell the difference between made-up-stuff-to-get-a-reaction and real facts) but for the most part, he is a wealth of reliable information. I remember thinking I might marry this guy when I was comfortable enough around him to ask, "I've never heard that word before. What does that mean?" He specializes in marine biology, history, apologetics, politics, and Star Wars Trivia among other things, because that's what he reads about most.

I followed this blog for a while, by a woman who read one book every single day in 2009. I'm not that ambitious. A book a month seems do-able (gosh that sounds measly next to Hubbins' hundred). Will you hold me to it? Will you recommend some titles?

I'm saying all this on my blog because I think posting my progress will be motivating. I'm looking forward to sharing my literary adventures with you.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Five Minute Friday

If I knew I could, I would make a living sewing pillow tops and creating scrapbook pages. I would explode my Etsy shop to something that generated an income. I wouldn’t get bored doing the thing I love.

I would teach art to children.

I would go back to Africa. I would fly with my airplane-shy husband.

I would tell all the people I know (in real life and via blogs) how much they mean to me, how much they brighten my days.

I would plant a lemon grove, even in rainy Northwest Washington.

I would make pottery and paint it turquoise.

I would dry my laundry on a clothesline in the (scarce) sunshine.

I would collect blooming peonies all summer from my small garden.

I would write daily and make my blog something of cohesion rather than just random posts.

I would raise a bunny and train it to use a litter box. I’d build a hutch for the back porch since we don’t have a yard yet. I’d feed it carrots and lettuce and alfalfa pellets like I did when I was 8.

I’d spend more time with children and keep my perspective fun-loving and lively.

I would love my husband even more than I do today, coming up on our fourth anniversary next week.

I would be content with all the happy things that are already a part of my life. I know I can.




Something new!
The Gypsy Mama posts a writing prompt every Friday.
Anyone interested can submit their 5-minute essay.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tid bits: Garden, Love & War, Oso's Bowtie

Last night I puttered in my garden for the first time this year. I pulled dandelions and a few other scruffy weeds. The earth was soft and the roots came up easily. I pulled dead leaves out of the nooks and crannies, and trimmed dead branches. There's nothing quite like the sight of green shoots that survived the winter (including a freak snow storm in April) who have made their way up to daylight again. I'm back to cheerleading as we pull out of the driveway for work in the morning: "Grow my little plants! You can do it!"

*****************************

Hubbins and I are eight chapters in and still enjoying Love and War. We read aloud together last night. Communication these days feels less like a claustrophobic closet and more like a meadow on a hilltop, where you can't even see the edges, just the beautiful place you're standing. I'm happy.

*****************************


I sewed this bowtie for my nephew on Saturday. He wasn't in the mood to model it for us, so his buddy the miniature pomeranian decided to try it out. No photos yet...just picture something along these lines:


Saturday, April 23, 2011

If I was there that day

Saturday morning. Sabbath. A dark day.


Jesus is dead. They crucified him. His mother and the other women and I waited to take his body, but by the time he was gone, it was too late. No time to even honor the dead. The tomb has been sealed and there are guards all around it.

Are we crazy? Was he crazy? Did he lie? Can I really be angry with him?

He made such a big difference and showed me what God is really like, but I was hoping all the references to God's Kingdom weren't just metaphors.

They killed him. I still can't believe it. He was mortal, just like the rest of us. I was hoping that, pushed to the limit, he'd do another miracle, jump down from that cross unscathed. The whole hillside would worship God in a beam of light from heaven. But instead the sky got dark as they mocked him. I waited for it, hoping for something dramatic, and watched through tears as his body gave in, knowing he had the power if he chose. Such pain he endured. Regardless of who he was, we loved him, and we watched it happen: his last breath, his death.

So now what? Were the last three years a waste? He started something and we all hoped he would finish it, but maybe this is what he knew would happen. Continuing on is up to us. Or maybe it was all in our heads. I don't know anymore. My head hurts from crying, and I can't think clearly.

WHY GOD, WHY? I miss him! He changed everything! And now he's gone. The grief is bottomless.

Sabbath rituals feel so familiar, but so forced today.

*******

Thank you Alece, for a new perspective.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Frankly, My Dear...

Yesterday I told Self-Esteem, "It's time to learn to swim."

Then I pushed her into the deep end of the pool.

***

I participated in "crazy hair day" at work. This is noteworthy (no really, it is) for two reasons:

1) My hair has long been a source of shame.

2) I've always assumed that Unnoticed = Acceptable, and Conspicuous = Unacceptable.

But I'm debunking these myths.

It was "youth week" at work so we dressed up and decorated for a number of themes to make banking fun! And hip! I didn't participate in Sports Day (no jersey), or Clash Day (didn't have the guts to purposely dress tacky) or Rock Star Day (required knowledge of popular culture, of which I have none).

Crazy hair day I could do. I wasn't the only one. And I got more smiles and thumbs up and praise than I ever have. HA!!! Take that, insecurity! It was my attitude and participation that mattered more than feeling classy.


It was good confidence training to walk into the lobby looking like a Teletubby, greet my clients, and assist them with their financial needs (new safe deposit box, loan application, potential fraud). I wanted to laugh at myself to ease my own discomfort, but I carried on with business as usual.


It felt good to not give a damn.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Family Vacation, 2001

Vacations near water were the best. Our shoreline at home in Northwest Washington was sheltered by the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound created a rocky, sea-weedy, barnacled barrier from full size waves. So we were excited to spend a few days camping on the Oregon coast. Things we loved about Oregon included No Sales Tax! Real Sandy Beaches! The Actual Pacific Ocean!

All seven of us piled into our Chevy Suburban with an elaborate seating arrangement based on age and number of pillows. Big kids sat in the way-back on the removable bench seat with pillows and blankets (in permanent recline-position); younger kids sat in the middle with backpacks full of travel games. Mom and  Dad sat up front, manned the ship, and monitored snack-consumption. All the camping gear was stowed in a rented u-haul trailer we pulled behind the Suburban.

On the day I'm remembering, we were weary of traveling. We'd stayed with our Grandpa in eastern Washington for a sunny beginning to the vacation, and seen some beautiful territory along the nearly 300 miles from Wenatchee to Vancouver, Washington. It was hard to believe that the scraggly, brush-covered hillsides were in the very same state as our mossy, evergreen hometown. But it had been hours since our last stop, and we were all a little stir-crazy.

As we approached the I-5 bridge over the Columbia river, we predicted who could hold their breath the longest. In the tradition of road-tripping families across the country, we used the length of the bridge as our goal. The highway lifted above solid ground and the tree line zipped past us. All five kids inhaled loudly.

Then, silence. Except for Mom and Dad chatting up front and the sound of our nine passenger Suburban traveling at 70 miles per hour (not unlike a 747 at thirty thousand feet).

We glanced at each other to gauge our competition. My lungs began to burn. The seconds ticked slowly. Our faces turned red and our cheeks puffed out around pursed lips.

Somebody exhaled. One down. We tried not to look at each other, in case of laughing out loud.

Someone else exhaled. The two breathers compared their total time and watched the three remaining.

Two more exhaled, loud enough to sound like all three kids. The bridge ended and we crossed into Oregon.

Just as quickly as inspiration struck, we forgot our breath-holding game.

Except for Elliot. He continued holding his breath. Everyone else was facing forward talking about what our campsite might look like, but I watched him without drawing any attention, wondering how long he’d hold out.

Finally, in the loudest burst of breath yet, Elliot exploded.

Dad jumped in the driver’s seat, startled by the noise.

“Who was that?” Dad asked in a raised voice.

I assumed Dad was impressed by the landslide winner of the breath-holding contest. In an effort to give credit where credit was due, I yelled up to the front seat, “That was Elliot!!!”

As soon as I said it, I realized my mistake. Dad looked up into his rear view mirror to make eye contact not with the contest winner, but the culprit. Dad was not a fan of being startled, but I remembered this too late. Not that raising five kids would make a person jumpy; Dad had always been easy to scare (and always with negative consequences).

Elliot was still breathing heavily and recovering from his feat of lung strength, but he got an angry scolding.

I looked at him sympathetically and whispered, “Sorry.”

He shrugged knowing Dad wasn't really angry with him, just irritated from the scare.

But then I smiled, and quietly congratulated him on his record-breaking time.

***********************************************************

10 years later I still ask him, "Remember the time I got you in trouble for holding your breath?" The more years that pass, the harder we laugh.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Hair Update

Almost a year after meeting The Greatest Hair Stylist On Earth, my hairdo now involves COLOR! These pictures don't show it very well...but look! I have hair in front again!




Big improvement over this look, don't you think?


HA!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Colors I Have Loved: Emily and the Technicolor Afghan

What do these photos have in common?

My crib, before Mom and Dad brought me home from the hospital.
(Is it just the lighting that makes it look so sterile?)

Me in our wooden rocking chair with giraffe.

In our wing back chair with a straight-haired kid and a baby I don't remember.

Easter 1986 in matching dresses made by Mom

Age 7 with newborn sister
See the rainbow afghan in every picture? I didn't realize my parents had it as long as they did until I started flipping through my photo album this morning. I loved that blanket.

Which is why the gift I received over the weekend means so much to me.   


My Mom-in-law crocheted an afghan for me, inspired by the one I discovered on this blog.

As soon as I saw the finished blanket, I remembered the rainbow-afghan. And now I have my very own.

Wrapped in my newest heirloom

Monday, April 11, 2011

Good words

It is crucial to understand that the teachings of Jesus do not by themselves make a life. They were never intended to. Rather, they presuppose a life. - Dallas Willard
These words soothe me. They liberate me from defining myself through Christian-y actions; from measuring my worth based on how well I fit into church culture.

Remember this quote I posted in January?
Your beliefs will be the light by which you see, but they will not be what you see, and they will not be a substitute for seeing. - Flannery O'Connor
This is why it resonated with me: faith isn't a costume I can hide in, or a dialect I can use to blend in, or a hammer to bang on peoples' heads to get their attention. It isn't a happy meal or a prepackaged kit. Some assembly IS required. Batteries are NOT included. I'm grateful for that.

Faith has to be worked out and wrestled to the floor and slowly allowed to have influence.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Paradox

For the majority of my life everything fit into categories. Right or wrong. Holy or secular. Providence or punishment. Us or them.

My world isn't so black and white anymore. The older I get, the more grey areas I discover. I'm not satisfied with the kind of simplistic explanations I heard in Sunday School (where the answer to every question was either "Jesus!" "Read the Bible!" or "Pray!").

My wonderful, God-fearing, selfless mother is being eaten alive by Alzheimer's. Where's God's grace in that situation? Why do her retirement years have to be spent waiting for someone else to determine when she can leave the house, instead of traipsing the globe in freedom and independence?

The family rules and absolutes I used to measure myself against have all changed. Were we overzealous as children or are we off-track as adults? If the yardstick I've measured my success against is gone, where does that leave me?

I married the love of my life and we followed all the rules to make the most of our engagement, but marriage is still hard. Why do I often feel like I've lost any ability to communicate with the one I love?

I crave community but can't stand shaking hands, singing pleasantries and smiling on Sunday morning. Where do I find down-in-the-trenches-with-you friendship? I don't meet people I could call in the middle of the night during a crisis when I go to church. I meet people I can wave to across the parking lot.

So my prayers sound like this these days. Raw.

I'm learning that life is hard AND God is good. The two aren't mutually exclusive, surprisingly enough.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Zippo vs. Blowtorch

When I was 3 years old, I sang this song in Sunday School:
This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine.
Hide it under a bushel? NO! I'm going to let it shine.
Don't let Satan blow it out! I'm going to let it shine.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
I don't know if I could define "bushel" even now, but the message of the song is still burned in my memory: be an example to others and share your faith with people who don't believe.

“Sharing your faith” is a loaded phrase. It’s not like sharing your lunch, or sharing a funny story. When it’s FAITH you’re sharing, things take a drastic turn for the serious. I’ve heard a lot of church-folk use this phrase casually, but the implication when it’s said among Christians is anything but casual. Kind of like “sharing” the Heimlich maneuver with a choking person: “this is going to be uncomfortable for us both, but you’ll thank me later.”

This kind of sharing was a big deal for me when I started attending community college. I was 16, still a high school student, fresh out of home school. It was the first secular setting I'd spent any time in. The same month I started college, my church launched an evangelism campaign that included a media blitz, literature to distribute, training, scripts, and all kinds of impetus to go into the community and save souls.

I believed (and still do) that it was a helpful endeavor, like a search and rescue mission. But in my immaturity and wide-eyed paranoia outside my protective Christian bubble, I obsessed over making every conversation an opportunity. I didn't want to take my salvation for granted, nor deny anyone else assurance about eternity simply by staying silent. But, oh, did it wreak havoc on my conscience. I interpreted every impulse or nudge to speak up as conviction direct from God. It was miserable. "This little light" became an obsession.

In my art class that first quarter, we were allowed to bring CDs to play while we painted. A classmate played an Alannis Morriset album (I was horrified and though I didn't understand any of the lyrics, they all sounded angry). I brought a Jars of Clay mix tape and watched the classroom for signs of recognition or softening.

One art assignment was to find interesting textures around campus. In the library, I used my charcoal crayon and newsprint to transfer the texture of flooring tiles where they formed a "T." I held it up to show my classmate. "Look, a cross!"

I gave the Four Spiritual Laws booklet to another classmate, with some stalker-ish (but sincere) explanation that I wanted him to be truly happy.

On New Year's Eve that winter, I had a panic attack while visualizing another classmate going to hell. I’d never had a conversation with her, but I had her phone number from a class get-together she organized. I called her at midnight. Thankfully, she didn't answer, and by the time I saw her again on campus, the compulsion had passed and I said nothing.

The list of examples goes on.

When I transferred to University three years later, I started attending a campus church that met in a lecture hall. Those of us interested in getting together with a smaller group of peers were divided by dorm into Bible study groups for a second weekly meeting. Our group leader also met with us individually. The focus of the campus group was relationships, built within the three weekly scheduled gatherings. But the relationships were flimsy at best. I started to feel like a number rather than someone these peers actually wanted to hang out with. I felt like a project. It was the opposite of what I was looking for. I began to realize what it felt like to be on the receiving end of sharing.

I'm not consumed anymore by missed opportunities to share. I don't advertise my theological preferences on T-shirts or bumper stickers. Instead, I find myself drawn to subtle expressions of faith in others. People who are sincere capture my attention. Honest admission of struggle (instead of pretending everything is OK) is refreshing. A sense of humor is always appealing. Evidence that someones life has been improved by a relationship with God is more compelling than a speech.

I've stopped shining spotlights into the eyes of everyone I meet. Now I look for fireflies instead.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Ira Glass, Billy Mays, and Jesus

Ira Glass got me thinking about faith over the weekend.

On Saturday I spent most the day in my craft room sewing and listening to This American Life via podcast. One episode was called "Bait and Switch" - stories about people taking the bait, falling for scams, or being tricked. The portion that had my full attention was about evangelism. It was SUPER interesting to hear this topic discussed in documentary-style by Ira Glass. One of the producers talked about tactics he’d used as a college student in an evangelical organization: a survey meant to strike up spiritual conversations or an event with a hidden agenda (been there, done both).

The producer talked about a beach party he helped organize. Girls in bikinis handed out fliers inviting anyone interested to drop by a luau later that day. Mid-way through the party (a series of wholesome skits), several people stood up and started talking about what a big difference God had made in their lives. The guests looked at each other and realized, "This is a gimmick. These girls aren’t ‘on the market.’ This is the exact opposite of what we came here for!"

Proselytism is a subject I'm familiar with (as a former proponent) and hyper-sensitive about (as a current opponent). My problem isn’t the message of Christianity, which is chock full of benevolence, second chances, and peace. But the message is totally lost when it’s delivered like a marketing ploy. I hate the stereotype that every Christian is a crazy televangelist in disguise, and the actual emphasis many churches put on "witnessing." Blech. It makes church feel like a pyramid scheme.

It seems to me that the really important things in life are communicated in multiple ways, person to person, in the context of friendship. I don't know about you, but I don't make decisions based on a single billboard, or a guilt-laden forwarded email, or because a used car salesman says my name three times in a sentence and makes eye contact.

Example: I use OxyClean because my mother in law showed me how much it whitened her vintage linens. I bought a tub of it based on her recommendation as someone I trust and the evidence I saw for myself, not because Billy Mays inspired confidence or used clever marketing tactics and eventually wore me down through volume and repetition.

The other thing that bothers me about being overly (obnoxiously) verbal about personal beliefs is the tendency to brag, or take on the attitude "Be like me!" The idea that my life should be a shining example to others puts all kinds of pressure on me to act as if I have it all together. The result is that I become less authentic instead of more authentic. I can spot this a mile away in other people, too. Nothing bugs me more than unreasonably cheerful people who always mention "blessings" or name-drop while describing how good God has been in their recent experience. My assumption is always that people like this are exaggerating simply to evangelize me.

What about you? Does the phrase "authentic faith" sound like a trendy church phrase or an oxymoron?

Does my ending a blog about faith with an open-ended question feel like a gimmick?