Thursday, January 31, 2008

History: Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

The thing I remember most about my years in history classes is how removed I felt from everything. Geographically removed, emotionally removed. My dad’s family came to the States in 1703. After stints in South Carolina and Tennessee, they went to the promise land, Texas. And then in the 1800’s, ol’ Elijah Adam Euless stowed away on a train, got to Long Beach, California, and the rest, as they say, is history. My family has 6th generation Californians- no wonder I feel removed from the original 13 colonies.

As a kid in California, I don’t remember learning much about history. I know there was something about a Gold Rush, which is helpful, because it gave the 49er football team and their cheerleaders some inspiration for names. I also know we were told about the Spanish Jesuits who came up from Latin America and built missions along the coast. We took our requisite fieldtrips to Mission San Juan Bautista and Carmel, and looked at musty, cold rooms. And that’s about all I remember. Truth be told, I probably cared more about whom I was sitting next to on the bus, and what was being served for lunch.

Then came middle school and high school. I remember learning about the Holocaust and feeling grateful to live in America. I remember being appalled and weeping at the movie Roots. Something in my spirit knew that wasn’t right. I remember learning that the Union states were good and stood for freedom, whereas the Confederacy states were bad and stood for slavery. I suppose my educated teacher explained events in elaborate detail, but all I walked away with was that cursory understanding. Now that I’ve lived in the South, I realize it’s not that simple, but it’s fascinating how people in different parts of the same country learn history in completely different ways.

I could speculate on why I didn’t care to learn about the rest of the country when I was young. Did I just think that California was better than everywhere else? Probably. Is it not? Louie Giglio said once that we in CA think the country ends at the Rocky Mountains. Spot on. In any case, I think it is sad how little many West Coast people, myself included, know about our country and its history. On the East Coast, there are plaques, monuments and sites all over the place. All the way from Boston’s Freedom Trail (which is awesome, by the way) featuring Revolutionary War artifacts and places, down to St. Augustine, Florida, a city founded in something like 1562- WAY before those schmucks landed at Plymouth… Anyway. Super interesting, and they tell part of the story of our country. I wish we had that sense of history on the west coast. If you’ve yet to visit the east coast, please do it! Learning about others not only broadens our horizons, but helps us learn about ourselves. And besides, who couldn’t use a vacation?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

State of the Union and the Bush Twins

Okay, so I’ve seen a couple of ‘stars’ here and there in my life; but mostly of the athletic kind. So I am frrr-reaking out that right down the street from me are so many political big deals. George and Laura and the twins, Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, Barack Obama, (my new favorite sign: Barack the Vote!) Ted and Caroline Kennedy, Bob Dole, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, woah. I want to go sit on the steps of the Capitol, or see if there might be any empty seats in the gallery, just in case Laura needs some more company? I think these people would want to know me, I mean, why wouldn’t they, really?

Carlos said that this isn’t like a college basketball game, that you can just buy tickets for, but I don’t know… I’ve seen lots of sparkling clean, official-looking black SUV’s across the street at the Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons, I am inclined to ask a driver if I can hop in. It’s just one seat, I’ll be quiet.

For over a decade now, I’ve had this irrational desire to get to know the daughters of Presidents. It started with Chelsea Clinton. I mean, how awkward is it to go through puberty with the WHOLE world watching? Gotta have compassion for her, right? And then she chose to go to Stanford, right down the street from my house, and far from her’s; so I thought surely we’d run into each other, she would be lonely and we’d become bff’s. Yeah, that never happened. Kind of like the time I honestly thought that by moving to Seattle to go to SPU, I would meet A-Rod and he would fall madly in love with me. Phew, close call, glad THAT didn’t happen…

But in any case, I want to hang out with the Bush twins. I mean we have tons in common… They eat, I eat, they shop, I shop; why can’t we do it together for an afternoon? I’ll even splurge and get us all mani’s or pedi’s. I mean, it could be a little awkward with the secret service people swarming around us like flies, but other than that, major bonding could take place! So if you’ll excuse me, I have a Capitol to get to, and some people to meet. Wish me luck.

Washington D.C., Patriotism and Ideal vs. Real

I’m not a very patriotic person, in general. Sure I love my country, and I went to some 4th of July parades in my youth, and I’ve been proud when the U.S. did well in the Olympics; but Nationalism seems off-putting to me. When people think the States are right about everything, I want to immediately pack their bags for them and send them on an extended international trip to get some perspective. We aren’t perfect. We have hurt people. Forget the past tense, we do hurt people. We are the largest Arms dealer in the world- that’s not a good thing. For all of the blessed good in the U.S., there’s the equally ugly, embarrassing side that we all too frequently ignore.

I am trying to move away from the polarization I naturally do, and I’m attempting to hold both the good and the bad pieces at once. Save for examples like Howard Zinn’s book, history books are generally written from the winners’ perspective. But for those in power, there’s an equal story from those on the underside of power. It is hard for me to hold both sides in tension, but D.C. is the best place I can think of to wrestle with these issues. D.C. has an uncanny mix of both the best our nation has to offer and the worst.

I felt more patriotic even before I stepped foot in this city. Just being on the plane, I was aware that people around me were important, and doing interesting things with research and policies, living for something bigger than their own existences. On the one hand, D.C. is an extraordinary place. To see the sun setting on the Washington Monument, or watch it and the others lit up at night is breathtaking. I am only used to seeing such structural beauty in other countries. And even though I’m clueless about the content of their discussions, I imagine the material beauty I see pales in comparison to the great minds of the world, who meet here regularly.

On the other hand, I am aware that D.C. is a place of great pain. This morning at breakfast, we had a long conversation with Keandra, a local African-American. She shared how racism is still alive and well, something she encounters daily. She recounted various inter-racial conflicts. It goes so far that the Ethiopians and other black Africans here are prejudiced against the black Americans, thinking they are lazy and good for nothing. Shocking. She spoke of the drugs and violence and gangs tearing down youth here, and how the schools are literally falling apart. How devastating, that the town in which our President lives, and proclaims “no child be left behind” has thousands of children which are just that.

Even though it is uncomfortable, I am grateful for this chance to wrestle. It’s not neat and tidy, but it’s raw, it’s real. Rather than idealize this place, living the high life for a couple of days in Du Pont Circle, and then going on my merry way, I am glad Keandra shared what struggles this city has. It is good and bad, it is strength and weakness, it is light and dark- and it is important for me, for us, to be aware, and able to hold both together. That reconciliation makes me feel more patriotic.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Top 10 Reasons Why I love Washington D.C.

1. I feel more patriotic just breathing the air here (West Coast people don’t get this palpable sense of our nation’s history, I am sad to feel removed from it.)
2. The diversity shows God’s Kingdom
3. Our cabbie from the airport, who clearly isn’t American and can’t speak a lick of English, is listening to some speech of Hilary Clinton’s on the radio. Only in D.C.!
4. The public transportation is great and the city is so walkable. We walked to the White House from our hotel in 15 minutes!
5. And on the way, we passed the Embassies of Tajikstan and Mongolia- who does that?!
6. The crosswalk countdown in Georgetown starts at 50 seconds! (just in case…)
7. There are more museums than I can count and they are ALL amazing, plus they’re FREE! (We went to the American Indian and Air+ Space museums today- awesome)
8. Real change can happen here. I know, I’ve watched Legally Blonde II ☺
9. The Memorials are powerful, my fave is the Abraham Lincoln. Ol’ Baberaham, I like him. (p.s. I saw the top hat he was wearing the night he was assassinated at a museum today)
10. and lastly, Carlos’ grandpa was recently buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Good man.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Grey's Anatomy and God gripe...

Okay, so I have had an issue stirring around in me since the last new Grey’s episode. First of all, what the writer strike?! We have missed how many new episodes? This is why I should have just stuck to watching dvd’s. Figure it out people, distribute the money justly, let’s all get along…

But that’s neither here nor there. My issue is with something Callie said, while talking to George’s mom. Now, in general, I am a big Callie fan. I would even think of naming a daughter her name (though I think that could be cheesy, considering the state I grew up in). I think she’s fun, smart, has little (compared to Meredith, gah!) baggage, and George was an idiot to cheat on her, and not try to work things out. However, this is not a blog about my disdain for infidelity…

What she said, in a really sad voice, was, “I used to believe in God and marriage and heaven and hell.” Then George’s mom asked, “now what do you believe in?” And she said, “I believe in love, and second chances.” What makes me sad is that there was no equation of the two, they were antitheses if you will. I USED to believe this, NOW I believe this.

If I know anything about God to be true, it is that God is the inventor, the very embodiment, of love and second chances. The whole Old Testament reiterates this theme again and again, Israel as an unfaithful bride, God as the ever-merciful husband; or Israel as the wayward child, God as the longing parent. The New Testament repeats this theme in parables like the Prodigal Son. Even on the cross, the thief says to Jesus, “remember me” and Jesus says, “you bet.” (my paraphrase) There is NEVER a time where God’s heart is not for people to be reconciled to God. Reconciliation of people (to themselves, to others and to God) is a meta-narrative, if you will, throughout Scripture and history. God wants us to be whole people, and God knows how many second chances that takes! I can’t begin to count the ‘second chances’ I’ve been given.

What makes me sad is when people experience or see suffering and think that if there is suffering, there can’t be a loving God. Or when people do something they deeply regret, yet don’t allow their stories to have a new chapter written. When they resign themselves to thinking, ‘this habit, this behavior, this decision’ is just part of me. And they don’t allow for newness in their lives. We all make mistakes, no one is perfect, everyone needs second chances and love, to come out of dark places.

God gives us those things. Do we receive them? Truly? Do we give each other love and second chances? Even when we’ve been wounded? It is hard work. But worth it. And as God’s hands and feet on this earth, that is our call, to be ambassadors of love and second chances.
Maybe we’ll meet a Callie some day? Truth is, we probably already know one.

These are my random thoughts when watching a tv show…

Sunday, January 20, 2008

GRATITUDE: the Anti-Anxiety

When you’re having anxiety attacks the first week of the year, that is not a good sign. This feeling of panic has become a weekly feature in my life, kind of like taking the garbage cans out on Thursdays, just another thing I’m growing accustomed to. I don’t like this about myself.

I’ll be honest, 2008 has been a little rough on me, so far. It came out of nowhere. I mean, 2007 was full of growth and memories and joy and then BAM, all of a sudden it’s 2008, and I’m having anxiety attacks every time I look at a calendar, day-planner, or think of all that is going to transpire this year (graduating, trying to get pregnant, moving who knows where). 2008 always seemed like a year far off in the distance, I knew it was coming, but apparently I wasn’t emotionally ready!

Theologically, I know that God is in control of my life and will aid me through every situation I face; he is with me, doesn’t forsake me, and equips me with everything I need. So I’ve been trying to figure out how to be relaxed and productive, honoring the many tasks at hand. My friend Jordyn was commenting on how she doesn’t understand how you surrender things to God and feel peace, because it’s those anxious times (when things have piled up and she feels the weight on her shoulders) that she is most productive.

She made me think, and I realized that she’s on to something, because WE are God’s agents in this world, we are his hands and feet, and we can’t just pray for God to figure out our lives and then just wait around lazily. Sure, ask for miracles, but pursue what you want too. I mean, the Christian jargon of, “I’m just waiting for a door to open,” is kind of obnoxious sometimes. I mean, I get it, but who was I listening to, Donald Miller, that said sometimes you need to kick closed doors in if that’s where you’re passionate about being…

So how can I go through this year, which will undoubtedly be busier than any other year of my 29 years of existence, as well as full of unknown pieces, and feel at rest? I’m not sure, but I think the answer is gratitude. When I left the library last Tuesday and felt that ball of anxiety in my stomach consuming my internal organs, I just looked at the sky and said,

“God, thank you that there’s a blue sky in January. Thank you that I can breathe, that I have legs to walk uphill with right now. Thanks for our new Prius, which I love, and thanks that I get to meet with fantastic college girls every week. Thanks that we have more friends than our schedule has time for. Thanks that we’re pursuing our dreams and living with passion, even if that includes scary ambiguity. Thanks that I have the best partner I could imagine for my journey through life, and that you are teaching me about my life’s calling in ministry. Thanks that you are the giver of good gifts to my life; they are abundant, even when I forget about them, and I am grateful!”

As I drove to Hebrew, reflecting on all of these things I am grateful for, the anxiety started to ebb, and I started to feel his peace. I wish I could say it lasted the rest of the week, or even all day long, but that’s not true. But it was there, and it was awesome... So I’m going to try to develop this regular practice of gratitude in this crazy season, to proclaim all the ways God has been faithful and a deliverer, hopefully increasing my trust that once again, as always, he will come through for his child. Because I know he will. I have tasted, I have seen, and I know that the Lord is good.

Thank You, My Love: on Death and Making Good Memories

Today was one of my favorite days at the hospital so far. I met a woman who’s husband was in the ICU, about five minutes before the doctor came in to withdraw his life support. We sat there together, sometimes in silence, sometimes talking, watching him breathe his last breaths. It was a sacred space. I have seen all kinds of addictions and tragedies in the ER and ICU, but nothing has struck me like this woman’s love for her dying husband.

She was simultaneously strong and vulnerable as she shared what the process has been like for her. To see him being relieved of pain brought her joy, but the thought of being without him made her heart feel “so heavy, it’s like my legs won’t be able to support myself.”

They have been married 35 wonderful years. She told me lovely stories of their decades together, including the last words he spoke to her. A week ago, when she took away his dinner tray as she always did, he said, “thank you, my love.” Those are the last words his lips uttered.

Today, as he lay there gasping his last few breaths, she held his thin, frail, purple-skinned hands, and looked at him adoringly. She took a cloth and wet it, then wiped his face. Then she went to her purse and got out a comb, and smoothed out his hair. Small, unnecessary actions, done with such great, lavish love. It makes me think of the last night of Christ’s life, when he washed the feet of the disciples. Unnecessary, and about the last thing I would do if it was my last night on earth; but he chose to serve those he loved.

After a while longer in the room, she decided to go get something to eat in our cafeteria. As I walked her to the elevator, she asked about my marriage. I shared a bit, then thanked her for letting me share such a beautiful and moving last moment with her beloved companion. Before she stepped on to the elevator, she said, “I’ll always have the memories, I’ll carry those with me. Make sure you and Carlos make LOTS of good memories. Save for your retirement too, but go home today and tell him you want to make memories, that’s what life is about.”

Amen. I pray that we and all of our friends can live such lives, FULL of adventures and great memories, so that at the end of our time on earth we can look back on our lives and say, “Thank you, my love.”

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Shoulders, Burdens and Jesus

What was the deal with Atlas anyway? Trying to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders; what a waste of effort and energy- that is not how we are made. My shoulders are small. God’s shoulders are big. I hardly have enough time and energy to carry around my own burdens, let alone anyone else’s.

So why, then, do I try to be perfect at times? Why do I think it is up to me? Why do I blame myself if a situation doesn’t go perfectly? That’s kind of self-centered and arrogant. Why do I feel anxiety and beat myself up before a situation even happens, thinking that I might not do well enough? Even when it does go well, and people praise me for it, why do I discount their opinions? Why do I listen to the lie that if people are kind to me, it’s because they don’t know the real me, and if they did, they would see I am a fraud. Why do I polarize things into the unrealistic and unhelpful categories of black and white, perfect or failure, strength or weakness, good or bad? This is a lose-lose situation where I don’t set myself up for success. All I set myself up for is an impossibly heavy load on my incapable shoulders.

Control. Apparently all of this is about control, and apparently I want to be the arbiter of my own reality. That is silly. Laughable, even. In my right mind, I would NOT want the weight of the world on my shoulders. I wouldn’t even want the weight of my own problems, really. Carrying them is exhausting. And ridiculous. Unnecessary. Jesus said that his yoke was easy and his burden was light. A good trade if you ask me. Give him the big stuff. He is more equipped to handle it anyway, being God and all that...

Proportions. My friend said that we get our proportions backwards. We think, “the demands on me, the questions, doubts, and fears I have, the things I have to do are all so stressful and BIG.” And we make God out to be small. When in reality, the converse is true. GOD is big, and all of the competing things that steal our joy and time are small. I want to rest in truth and be freed from burdens. I want to remember that though my shoulders are small, God’s are big. That allows me to experience grace. Then I, in turn, can offer grace to others. And invite authenticity. There is no condemnation for those in Christ, there is grace, there is peace. And that feels a lot better than a heavy load on my shoulders.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Dogs-Part One: What the Crap!

Okay, so like most parents, I generally think my baby is perfect. Since we have no human babies (yet- more on the ‘Baby in ‘08 campaign’ later), our dog Burly is our baby for now… And we generally think he is the best thing ever, short of walking on water. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body, he plays with people of all ages and stays by me when we walk anywhere… He’s fun to play with, but could sleep all day too, my kind of guy. I’ll be honest, I have often called him the best dog on the planet. He’s portable, he’s sweet, and could do no wrong. Even when we went to Australia and our friend Kirsty called Burly the stealth-pooper, I didn’t believe it. In one ear, and out the other. It must have been because they weren’t taking him out enough, I thought; it couldn’t possibly be Burly’s fault!

That was my opinion until this past month. That’s when he decided to start pooping in our house. Now, potty training ceased a year ago, and he’s been able to ‘hold it’ for a long time… But apparently our formal dining room now looks like the grass outside. I wish I could say it is an honest mistake- that I too, sometimes take my dinner outside and am disoriented when I don’t see the Thomasville table and chairs. But that’s not the case…

I don’t understand why, all of a sudden, that is the room of choice for these surprise poops. That’s our nicest room. Is it the crown molding? The chandolier? The South American silver candelabras? Does he just have that good of taste? About once a week, we find the surprise poops and are so aggravated. Yet he doesn’t seem to care that we are upset, this is like a game for him. Not good puggybear, not good. So anyone with wisdom or practical advice for poop-avoidance, please shed some light on our situation.

On being Canadian (for a summer)...

Because we want to move abroad, and in honor of JJ/Lisa moving to Canada (and starting a blog!), here is an old journal entry I wrote after summer school at Regent (which I LOVED and would recommend to anyone!! It's amazing...)

After two months of cultural immersion in our neighbor to the north, not only do I have more of an affection for maple syrup and the phrase “eh” than ever before, but I’ve come to some other realizations…

First of all, any travel mag could’ve told you this, but Vancouver is an awesome city! I have appreciated it SO much in my short 2 months here. The design is really awesome and public transportation is great here, which not too many US cities can boast about. I love all the parks and trails and water, so even though you’re in a metropolis, there are still untainted stretches of land that you can feel are your sacred spaces. And the beaches are great! Who knew?! The restaurants, culture, museums, fashion, nightlife and access to outdoor activity abound here…

However, there are things that stress me out, such as the high taxes, and major 2-way roads with no dividers (which give us Americans at least a semblance of safety.) Also, the blinking traffic lights give me a headache, as does getting an interrogation while crossing the border. The most bizarre car-related thing I noticed, was that right at 3pm every day, out of nowhere, comes a mass of tow-trucks, which swarm around downtown like vultures looking for prey. Beware… Don’t say I didn’t tell you. Luckily I escaped being one of their victims.

I guess I used to think of Canada as the U.S.’s “little brother to the north” (embarrassing to say, but true.) I am glad that I got the chance this summer to get to know how different (way more liberal!!!) it is, and how a different government than ours works, including hearing about socialized medicine (which can be really awesome (free surgery) or really sucky (when you go to the E.R. and wait forever)). All in all, it was a great experience; any place that has the French language on their groceries and that invents it’s own holidays “just because”, like B.C. Day, is just cool. Why don’t we have Seattle Day? Or California Day? No work, just because you happen to live there… Someone should start this up in the States, I’m telling you…

Monday, January 7, 2008

Choose Our Own Adventure

Among the joys and stresses in our life (this week), we are flying to interview in Washington D.C. b/c we found out that Los made it to the final round of his application for the amazing Olmsted Foundation scholarship. This is a prestigious and awesome opportunity where, if he is selected, we will move to Monterrey, CA to get language training and then be paid to live overseas for two years for him to get his Master’s Degree in International Affairs. Such an incredible time, that we may never get again in life; we want this really bad!

For a while we were trying not to get our hopes up, but our great friend Jesse reminded us at dinner this week, it’s okay, it’s good to get our hopes up. So they are up! If we don’t get it, no worries, life in the States will continue to be great… But we are going for it. We think we would learn so much from living abroad. And it would be amazing to be paid the same as in the States, while getting to travel a ton, as well as get language training and a degree out of the season.

SO… we had to pick our Top 10 countries/cities/schools to give to the interview board. After a TON of deliberation, here are the finalists! First, let me say, it is crazy to have an open heart toward all of these selections equally. But for very different reasons, they could equally be amazing experiences, so we are fired up. The choices are:
1. Madrid, Spain
2. Cordoba, Argentina
3. Brussels, Belgium
4. Geneva, Switzerland
5. Mendoza, Argentina
6. Aix-en-Provence, France
7. St. Petersburg, Russia
8. Cape Town, South Africa
9. Istanbul, Turkey
10. Cairo, Egypt

Exciting, we will keep you posted!

Channeling John Calvin

Last summer I went to some of the major sites of the Protestant Reformation, including John Calvin’s church and grave in Geneva, Switzerland. Maybe this seems boring or dorky to you, but I love the history of our faith and am captivated by some of the brave members of our ecclesial family from the past. I didn’t realize how much I might need their help and knowledge until this week. Less than three weeks from now I will be attempting to take my Presbyterian Ordination exams in ‘theology,’ ‘polity’ and ‘worship and sacraments.’ Life is tremendously busy for us right now (beyond school and the hospital, plus friends and family) which I’ll write about next, but this blog is to ask for prayer for those exams. Most people who take them study a lot and take courses to prep them on the various parts they entail; yeah, I’ve done neither…

So I’m going to try to learn as much as I can in 3 weeks before the 9 hours of testing is upon me, but I would appreciate any prayer I can get. The exams cost $70 each, and let’s be honest, I really don’t want to pay to take them again. Also, we may be moving before they are offered again, another reason I feel pressure to pass them. I hope that they end up feeling like a blessing to me, as the two I’ve already passed did (the Bible Content Exam and the Biblical Exegesis Exam). Please pray that I can focus on and take in the material I need to know, and articulate it in a coherent and witty way on the 25th-26th of this month. Muchas gracias.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Friends, Football, Food and Fun on the First

Okay, so the last of our holiday parties was today, our annual Jan. 1 party, always a crowd favorite. It's one of those times I wish I could freeze and savor much longer than the 7 hours it actually lasts... Friends from all different parts of our lives descend on the Mill Creek house for games of all sorts (football on tv, cards, board games, puzzles, etc. on different tables) and one HUGE pot o' chili to be had.

It is so much fun to have everyone we love in the same place. It is reminiscent of our wedding/rehearsal dinner, everywhere we look are people we like! Yay for that. It was cool to see our college friends mixing with work friends, and this year we had the treat of having 3 infants there, ranging from 2 weeks-6 months.

I remember years ago, when the party mostly included recent college grads. It's cool to watch the evolution of guests to include married couples and now kids, Jman being the oldest at the ripe old age of two. I love watching my friends parent, and am getting excited about that chapter to come in our lives. We're now homeowners with careers, advanced degrees and dreams a lot bigger than we dreamt at 23... I love growing up. I used to think that life after 23 would suck, all down-hill from there... And I am glad to be wrong about that, every year gets better and better. The adventures we take, the connections we make, the healing that takes place. I am grateful for it all. So here's to 2008 and all that's to come; I am expecting nothing short of greatness.

Happy 2008

My first post of the new year... lots of pressure. I'm too tired to write anything profound, so I'll save reflection on our insights of the year just passed for the near future. Last night while Los and I drove to Forrest and Shannon (and JUDAH!)'s house for the New Years' party, we asked each other what the most significant 3 things about 2007 were, for ourselves, for the other, and for us as a couple. It was a great convo and powerful to introspect/reflect about that... but I'm too tired to recall it all. For now, anyway.

Can I just say that being an introvert is hard work during the holidays? Can I get an amen on that? I mean there are people everywhere... And FABULOUS people. People with whom I wish I connected regularly, but life gets in the way of that, so we cram it all into a 2-3 week period... that is just crazy. But exhilarating, stimulating, and I love it.

But now I am wiped out. And ready for a good long break until I go to another big party. So all you January partiers, feel free to skip my invite;) I'll be busy laying on the couch all month.