Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Syracuse Thanksgiving

I have spent the weekend with my boyfriend's family in Syracuse.

I have spent the last several weeks being very nervous.

There have been tears, some clearly misdirected yelling and lots of conversations over these last several weeks.

Jacob had dinner with a rabbi friend of mine recently and came home with an adorable epiphany: this is totally normal.

It was a classic misunderstanding of the sexes. I absolutely knew that this was normal. Of course a 31-year-old Christian divorcee just might worry a little bit that the parents of her 27-year-old beautiful, kind, communicative, successful Jewish boyfriend might doubt her motives. But men don't think like that. He thought I was doubting his family.

So, with that difference resolved, he was able to let me go on being nervous without taking it personally.

And it turns out that my fears were actually totally unfounded.

His family is wonderful. This has been an incredibly restful and fun weekend. His siblings are my kind of sarcastic, his mother is fun, welcoming and a little bit of good crazy. His father is quiet and seems to have gradually warmed to me. His sister has beautiful and well-mannered daughters: two and a half and four and a half years old. I made them presents to buy their love. I figured if the grandkids liked me, his parents would have to like me.

So, I made felt crowns from the Juicy Bits pattern.There is an "E" for Ellie and an "N" for Nina.

I also made lace crowns from a post by Amy Karol with just a little velcro. I have to admit that I made one of these for myself.

Finally, I made matching floral garlands like I used to make at the Renaissance Faire. Since Nina corrected everyone and insisted her name was "Bride" and married her father seven or eight times over the course of the weekend, these seemed particularly well-received. On a side note, when asked what she wanted for breakfast, she responded, "'I want eggs,' said the bride!" Both of them are slightly precocious. Her sister said a little later with a perfectly appropriate transition, "Speaking of the Muppet show, I want to watch the boy one [Paul Simon]!" We got a long very well: the girls and I.

But I have to say that this weekend has reminded me that relationships are hard. I have shifted from being a woman who dates men to a woman who is partnered with a man and the difference is overwhelming sometimes. It is stunningly joyful at other times. But occasionally I am totally overwhelmed that my life is being changed in ways that I would not normally choose in order to be in harmony with Jacob. Sometimes his needs come before mine. Especially when all I want to do is to fall asleep when there are still fears and insecurities (belonging to both of us) that need to be discovered and soothed.

I think I was too young to actually observe this when I was dating Dennis and too raw to really witness it when I dated Jeffrey. It is what I have wanted but the reality of loading the dishwasher someone else's way, eating kosher, changing my morning routine and realizing as I look around at his family that I will create patterns of behavior over time with them, as well - that they might become my family without my ever having chosen them - is slightly daunting.

Do I want my life to change? I've got a good thing going here. Friends who go out to dinner with me, time for crafts, a church that fulfills my spiritual needs and pushes me further along the path. Am I ready for all that to be different? Right now, probably not. My life works for me.

But I'm fairly certain that it isn't sustainable. I will want to be at the next stage at some point here and it would really show hubris to insist that I will not move to that next stage until I'm good and ready. And here now is this man who loves me and makes me laugh and wants the same things that I want out of life. How could I not love him? How could I not make the changes in my life that need to be made in order to live in love with him?

All I can do is give thanks.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Salvation on the Small Screen

When I am reading Christian books in public, I am more conscious about “acting Christian” than at any other time. I fear increasing the scorn most people feel for the hypocrisy of Christianity. I don’t want to make it harder for them to approach God themselves because I appeared hypocritical.

Currently, I am reading Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Salvation on the Small Screen, which is about the 24 hours that she spent watching the Trinity Broadcasting Network with various other pastors, biblical scholars, atheist friends, and others. I’ve met Nadia and the picture on the cover does not do her justice. She’s an amazon of a woman: tall, gorgeous with long, thick, dark hair, dramatic pale-skin-dark-lips-and-eyebrows coloring, and great tattoos on both arms. On the book cover, she’s seated cross-legged on the floor, holding a tv in front of her face.

But she’s wearing a clerical collar (she’s a Lutheran pastor) and a big cross at her sternum, and the title has the word “salvation” in it, so I have to act right while I’m carrying it.

Is this why people wear crosses?

So, when the woman with the oddly-shaped face with the scotched-tape nose sat down on the bench to wait for the train with me, I laughed good-naturedly when she apologize for having made myself and the other woman next to me move because she was so fat. I said, “That’s nothing to apologize for. We’re happy to have you.”

But then I went back to reading my Christian book.

Because she was probably crazy.

And I don’t like talking to crazy people.

They say odd things that are often offensive and I don’t know whether it is more loving to challenge them, like I would someone from my family or if it more loving to humor them, which would infuriate me if I were the recipient of the pity. Plus, engaging folks who say obviously provocative thing usually leads to more uncomfortable and crazy conversation.

Best to avoid contact.

For example, once, Jacob was waiting for me in front of the Ladies Fountain outside of the Art Institute. I walked right up to him and kissed him without saying a word and he responded by embracing me and kissing me for awhile. It was very cinematic. A little later, when we were catching our breath and smiling at each other as we exchanged pleasantries, a man walked over to us and told us how beautiful it was to see that. We laughed and thanked him and turned back to one another.

But he continued.

“I mean, it was really beautiful. I thought to myself as she passed that I might try to get her number but then I saw that she was all yours and that’s a really beautiful thing.”

OK, only slightly creepy. But manageable. But he continued.

“Now, if it were a man and another man, that would not be beautiful. That would be disgusting.”

At that point, I smiled, took Jacob by the hand and pulled him away.

I just wasn’t going to get into it with this intrusive guy. People are intrusive for a reason. And it’s usually because they want something from you: change, to change you, a fight, attention, to feel valuable, to feel superior.

And I wasn’t going to give it to him.

But what would Jesus do?

I honestly don’t know. Maybe he would have smiled, taken Peter’s hand and firmly pulled him away. Maybe he would have healed the man. Maybe he would have given him whatever it was he wanted.

Rthetorically, it’s easy to end on that last sentence and leave it hanging there to imply that I, too, should have the grace and peace necessary to give this man what he wanted.

But I don’t always get what I want. And I’ve come to believe that that’s a good thing. (Don’t tell my dad, though.)

So, I usually follow my instinct and then look back to see if my instinct was right. I believe this kind of introspection will actually change my instinctual responses over time. You know, all Gladwellian and Blinky-style.

But when I’m reading a Christian book, the rules change. Now, it’s not just about what kind of person I am and have to live with. Now, it’s also about being an obstacle on someone else’s journey.

Now, don’t give me some claptrap about everyone’s journey is their own responsibility, so I shouldn’t worry because my hypocrisy might be part of the greater plan. Although I acknowledge that might be true, it doesn’t change the fact that if I am an obstacle, that becomes part of my identity, and I have to live with being that new, slightly changed person.

My relationship with God is about liking the person I see in the mirror, both through trying to remember that I’m worth God’s unconditional love AND by trying to make choices that will sit well with my soul.

But when the woman with the sunken right cheek began to laugh out loud at the little sheet of magazine that she had torn out of a magazine from the doctor’s office she had just been visiting (too much information about health information early on in the conversation is also a good sign that the topics of conversation will ultimately be uncomfortable), I continued to read my book, although I kept a welcoming smile on my face so she wouldn’t feel completely ignored.

“I’m just sitting here dong my thing, not because I’m ignoring you but because this is the thing I was doing when you sat down,” I practically whistled to telegraph my innocence.

I knew I was affecting this posture the whole time I was reading about Joyce Meyer’s use of the “Amplified” Bible to create her own “study” Bible that she then refers to as a spiritual authority in our lives, despite the fact the original Greek and Hebrew have been stepped on so many times that only spiritual junkies should pay money for it.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” a still, small voice whispers to me as I read. But I keep reading because that same still, small voice is whispering to Nadia and I want to experience her growing humility as she finds kinship with the other sinners in this country who send part of their Social Security checks to Creflo Dollar in order to save souls.

But the voice points out the woman next to me and realize that my own humility – and therefore peace – is at stake.

So, the next time, she announces something in the air, “Well, it looks like they’re starting to rush the door,” I close my book and confirm her observation. We share a couple more exchanges and I laugh at her joke, which didn’t make me at all uncomfortable.

Luckily, she wanted to be close to first on the train, so she didn’t try to wait for me so we could sit together on the train.

I’m not that good a Christian, yet.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Advent conspiracy

I love that I have gotten my life to a point where I am making almost all my presents to people because it gives me life to make things. Wanna go there with me?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Because I miss you all

If you have your own blog, copy/paste this list and bold your own. I'm going to add a new one to the end of the list. You should tell. Leave a response here with a link if you do this.

Have you ever?

1. Started your own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community.
36. Taught yourself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelos David
41. Sung karoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie (Do wrestling DVDs count?)
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a lawsuit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Read an entire book in one day
101. Been within five feet of a wild animal that wasn't a squirrel or a bird?

Thanks Priscilla.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


When I lived on Orcas Island, one of the most profound things I've ever heard in my life was said to me in a conversation at Sauna night one Sunday shortly before I left in October. Tim the Human is called so to distinguish him from his friend Tim F. and because he did research living with gorillas for years and needed to be distinguished from them. He does a phenomenal gorilla impression. I asked Tim the Human where he had been all summer.

He said very simply, "I joined the tribe of a friend of who dying for about a month."

It would be easy to disregard this as hippy-talk but I was really moved. This was community, the thing that I went to Orcas to find. No one lived in denial that this man was dying. Instead, a dozen people moved nearby so that he would be surrounded with friends when he did. This means that a dozen people looked at the routines of their lives and decided that making money wasn't as important as loving their friend.

What if our society allowed us to be that kind of person all the time?

I'm reading Overtreated by Shannon Brownlee for my one of my classes. It describes the economic incentives in American society that encourage people to believe they are sicker than they are because it helps other people make money and is good for the economy.

It's heartbreaking. Good research shows that American spends more on health care per capita and actually have shorter life expectancies than any other developed nation.

And because of systemic financial incentives, we live worried about our health rather than surrounded by love. If Tim the Human's friend had bought into this mentality, he would have been in hospital undergoing invasive tests that were unnecessary because he couldn't have been treated for what they found anyway because he was too weak. Instead, he accepted that the payment for a life of love is death. Interestingly, the payment for a life of worry is also death.

When I was 20, I had a sore throat all the time. I went to my mom's doctor and first he looked at me and said, "Really? Every day?" in a tone of such incredulity and paternalism, I might have crumbled right there and admitted no, maybe not every day just to make him stop looking at me that way. But I was teaching and I was eating 6 or 7 cough drops a day to get through all of my classes so I knew the answer was "yes, every day." Luckily, I had recently taken a health class that changed my life by pointing out how many doctors set up a parent-child dynamic because it makes life easier for them rather than because it makes patients healthier. With this new-found knowledge, I insisted that it hurt every day. He asked a few cursory questions about my allergies and the daily medicine I was taking for it and said finally that maybe I had acid-reflux, a new disease in 1995, ordered a series of blood tests and warned me that he would probably have to prescribe a pill I recognized from commercials.

I didn't like the off-handed way I had been treated and looked for a second opinion with an ear, nose and throat doctor who said I should have my tonsils out, especially since my father had also had his out in his early 20s. My younger brother pointed out that this same doctor would be the one who would do the surgery, which would get him more reimbursement from my insurance, so of course he thought I should have my tonsils out.

By this time, I had new insurance and looked for a doctor of my own. On this newfangled internet, I searched their database and found a 55-year-old woman who had gotten her medical degree in the last few years. A perfect candidate for someone who would actually listen to me. It turns out she had been the office manager for her husband's practice and went to med school as her children got older and moved out. She was short, had wild curly grey hair and reminded me a little bit of a hobbit. She asked what I was reading when she walked in to the exam room and had opinions about the book. She asked me lots of questions about my throat and determined that the allergy medicine - which was a blend of antihistimine and decongestant, also new-fangled in 1995 - was drying me out too much. She changed my prescription to an older version of the drug without decongestant that was no longer being advertised on TV and prescribed a separate, milder decongestant.

My sore throat went away.

It wasn't acid reflux.

It wasn't bad tonsils.

I wasn't sick at all.

I was taking the wrong medicine.

This was not my only experience like this in my early twenties when doctors wanted to make me sicker than I was and to prescribe more medicine to fix what turned out to be side-effects of other medicine. In my last semester at school, I was crying every day but able to get out of bed and get all of my work done every day. Conflicting symptoms for depression. I had to see 2 mental health specialists who wanted to prescribe prescription anti-depressants until I found a third who suggested I change birth control methods before I did anything drastic.

I am grateful for those early experience and for that health class. I worry much less that I might be sick and assume much more that something is simply out of balance if I'm not feeling well.

My sister-in-law's mother died in bed at home surrounded by her family and friends, most of whom grew up with her in India. Like Tim the Human's friend, throwing off the denial that death is inevitable let her find balance since the weight of fear was gone and her friends were there to hold her up. She could not fall; she could only move forward like the tightrope walker that we all are.

What if we lived that way all the time? Expressing gratitude for the health we have, seeking help only when something is debilitating or when prevention will make life better? I know it's more complicated than that for a lot of people but for a lot more of us, we look for problems with microscopic focus so that we don't have to look up and see with our own eyes. If we look down, we do not have to move forward. If we don't move forward, we're less likely to fall. But what if we recognize that for the lie that it is? The most dangerous point for a tightrope walker is when she loses momentum. If we focus on creating community, won't the love that results keep us balanced? With that, we cannot not fall but get to keep moving forward, closer to God's kingdom with the light from there illuminating the things around us more and more, showing them to be more beautiful than we ever thought they could be.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

An historic occasion

In my Political Economy class last year, we were taught an equation that showed that there is no rational reason to vote since the "costs" outweigh the benefits. The costs always outweigh the benefits because with so many other people voting, the chance that my one vote matters in teeny tiny. This is called a "free rider" problem: I do not participate because I get the benefits whether I participate or not.

Especially, living in Chicago: Obama Central.

But I am not a free rider today. I am not part of the problem. I am part of the solution.

The photo is a little fuzzy because I felt a little awkward. These are not the booths with the curtains that you see on TV. Now, though, I kind of wish I had taken a little more time to makes the names less blurry.

Oh well. It's the vote that counts.

Saturday, November 01, 2008


Do you want to know what I find most frustrating about school?

I already know how to do this stuff.

Sure, I could be taking finance classes and cost-benefit analysis but I know myself. I will never take a job that requires those skills.

So, I'm taking classes in my interest areas because I want leadership skills and content-area knowledge. But the trade-off is that the homework for these classes are just practicing skills I already have. I gave a five-minute presentation in one class and the professor told me it was great. That was it. Just great. Nothing to improve, even the stuff I brought up as unsatisfactory to me. I'm currently working on a neighborhood overview of a local neighborhood. I've already done a better and much more thorough analysis of the neighborhood I used to work in. In fact, the college intern did the kind of work I'm doing now so that I could do the higher-level stuff. In several classes I have to design a policy to respond to a community problem. Again, something I've already done but for real and at a much higher level. These projects take three hours of research where the stuff I've done for work has taken weeks.

So this is all just busy work.

But busy work that takes time and energy that I don't really have. I'm happy to do all the reading in the world. That's stuff I don't know. But this crap? This is what you're grading me on? I wrote a paper a couple of weeks ago that was a glorified book report that was also supposed to reference the other readings for that week. I satisficed and just wrote a book report without references and only lost 2 points out of 20.

But I have to get the 18 points or I won't pass. In a trade-off between 0 and 18, I have to put in the time to get the 18.

I'm a little pissed off, can you tell? I'll give you a hint: you can tell I'm pissed when I lose all humility. Yup, definitely right there.