December 23, 2009

Is Your Life Wonderful?

I am a movie fan.  I love most genres and consider myself an amateur movie critic.  One would think that someone such as myself might have several movie "favorites," or couldn't pick from the vastness of moviedom.  But I do have a favorite that spans all genres: It's a Wonderful Life.  Some hate this movie because they think it's boring.  To those, I have three words: Attention Deficit Disorder.  Some hate this movie because they think it's depressing.  To those, I have four words: you missed the point.  Some hate this movie because it's in black and white.  To those, I have two words, hyphenated: closed-minded.

I don't know how or when this movie became my favorite, but I certainly know why.  Besides its humor, the beauty of early 20th century American life, and Jimmy Stewart; besides the wonderful character development and incredible acting (see scene where George Bailey prays at the bar), there is a wonderfully true and human story of redemption and blessing that never fails to bring tears to my eyes.

It's the story of an all-American boy-next-door with a heart of gold.  Despite his lofty dreams and ambitions, his sense of responsibility and love of family causes him to always do what is right.  And he gets the shaft time after time.  As his life goes on and he continues to get the shaft, he fails to realize that all his deepest dreams have been realized-- he has the love of his life, a wonderful family, caring friends, and a satisfying job.  When he is royally shafted, he thinks everyone would be better off if he'd never been born-- a typically selfish, self-pitying thought.  While he is steeped in this attitude, he is shown (by a theologically incorrect "angel") what the world would be like if he indeed, had never been born.  It is enough to cause him to realize how blessed he truly is.  His prayer on the bridge is full of emotion and he says, "please God, I want to live again."  And if the joy of this "rebirth" wasn't enough, his loving community comes to his aid as he had done for them.  As the camera pans over the faces of those who love George Bailey, they sing, and I cry.  It's moving, every time.

But as I watch it this year, I find myself strangely paralleled to George Bailey-- a stretch I guess, but I still can see it.  Like George, I have lofty ambitions and dreams.  I wanted to "...see the world!" as George put it.  Yet I find myself roadblocked, time and again and always choosing the responsible option.  I sense the trapped, lost, and disappointed feelings George has.  So maybe I don't need to be visited by an "angel, second class" in order to realize that thought my dreams and ambitions may never be realized, my life is full and blessed by other things I hadn't counted on.  Maybe I'm not married.  Maybe I'm not living in Europe.  Maybe I'm not jetting around the world.  Maybe I'm not a writer or a fashion designer or a baker or an entrepreneur.  But I do have a growing relationship with the Lord.  I do have students to whom I minister and teach.  I do have young girls who look to me to be an example.  I do have a loving family.  I do have dear friends.  And as Clarence writes to George, "no man is a failure who has friends."

So, if you've never seen this fantastic movie, shame on you and see it... NOW.  If you have seen it and hate it, shame on you and give it another shot.  And if you love this movie as I do, take a lesson from it as I have, and evaluate your life based not on what you haven't done, but on the blessings God has given you and the ways in which you have served the Lord. 

Merry Christmas!

December 18, 2009

The Nightmare Before Christmas...

Last night, during what felt like a time warp back to college days, I found myself simultaneously horrified and pitying. "Do go on," you say? Alright then, let me explain:

After our weekly Thursday night dinner, the eight of us decided to look at Christmas lights. So we piled into two cars, not in a heterogenous mix, but in a "girl car" and a "boy car." Ironically, we girls got the big red truck (deemed "Lady Bug" by the wife and "Thor" by the husband), and the boys got the black sedan. Thus, the time warp. Instantly I felt as if I were twenty again-- the windows were rolled down (giving me Irishhag hair and goosebumps, but who cared?), Mariah Carey was howling into the night, and the four of us were howling right along-- four college friends, behaving as we did five years ago. And then, when we had gone through a decent street of lights and then a cul-de-sac with lights that blinked to music, we happened to turn around and chanced to stop next to the boy car. Windows rolled down. The boy car was having a markedly less fun experience than the girl car, as I heard neither Mariah Carey nor howling.

We journeyed on into the ghetto of St. Pete in search of a house that had been heralded as the #3 best house on the "Today Show," and #1 by I don't know who. Sketchier and sketchier were the neighborhoods, and when we made a pit stop at a Walgreens that had an iron fence around it, I feared for my life. Yet we made it. We parked, the promise of lighted glory ahead of us. It smelled like pickles. We were handed what appeared to be a kind of Christian tract, about which I though, not a bad idea-- they have lots of people who come and go looking at their lights-- why not take the opportunity to tell them about the REAL meaning of Christmas? And then we got closer. A man blew big bubbles at us. How magical and fun, we thought! Standing in front of the display, which was in fact a home with a few fountains and little rivers on about 1/2 an acre and had created a path through their yard and covered it all with lights and... other accoutrements, we saw a big sign, calling everyone to accept Christ as Lord, repent, and be baptized "fully wet." Apparently to this couple, all three were necessary for salvation.

Now, I began this post with the admission that both horror and pity were among my emotions last night. Up until this point those emotions hadn't come out to play. And then I saw the china dolls dressed as brides under a television with a televangelist preacher doing his thing. These ten bride dolls were near signs asking if our "lamps had gone out," referring incorrectly to the parable of the ten virgins in the Bible. And then of course, there were the faded, tattered, matted stuffed animals HANGING from the trees and the house, including but not limited to: Fred Flintstone, a tucan, myraid teddy bears, and Minnie Mouse. There were so many that it was enough to cause attention deficit disorder in the most calm and collected human being. There were glass showcases filled with dolls depicting scenes of some holiday sort-- all random, haphazard, and having no rhyme or reason, except maybe the theme of psychopathic, homicidal maniac. One of my friends said, "Eight go in, and three come out." We laughed, but inside I think we all felt he might be right.

We went on. There were just too many odds and ends everywhere to fully take in the creepiness of this lights display. There was random open flame and a little tunnel that had a gigantic fake spider affixed to it. On the other side was a gate. Inside that gate we could see Pound Puppies and red lights along with a sign promising something sinister for the dogs, though I can't recall it anymore (probably I blocked it out of my memory and replaced it with happy thoughts). It was about that point when I saw at more Pound Puppies, who were roped together and hanging from a tree and suddenly turned, only to be startled by the man blowing bubbles... only this time he was far too close for comfort, and had sidled up to us so quietly that I nearly had a panic attack.

As we were about to leave, I saw dolls dressed as angels-- dolls who looked like the ones on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who burned up. I said so to another of my friends, who usually will give a laugh no matter how stupid my comment. She didn't laugh. She was thoroughly creeped out. And then I knew this lights display had gone far beyond creepy and now into horror territory. Exiting the display, past a random Barbie doll sitting in the lap of a teddy bear, we all tried to process what we'd just seen. I'm pretty sure this house was ranked #3 on the "Today Show" thirty years ago, because if Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera were to visit, they'd put it #1 on the most horrifying lights display list. Sure this terrifying display of thirty-year-old stuffed animals and decaying dolls was absolutely, ridiculously hilarious, but I also felt pity for the couple who were trying to share the Gospel. Not only were they not doing it in a way that would truly reach out to the culture around them, but also, they didn't quite have the Gospel down. Rather, they added to the already poor image that Christians have, and that made me sad.

And so as my tense body relaxed in the car, thankful to be alive, I reflected a bit on my feeling of pity. I hoped they found the Truth, that salvation comes by grace through faith alone, not baptism. I hoped they realized how scary and culturally oblivious their display was. And I hoped that I would never be guilty of the same thing-- distorting the Message, being culturally oblivious, and giving Christians a bad name.

December 15, 2009


The twinkling lights blinked with thousands of holiday memories, the magic of the present, and the promises of Christmases to come. Though no snow fell, her spirits rose with the anticipation that can only come with the season. Shine, sparkle, glitter, and glow.

How is it possible that this season has so much magic? I'm not talking about Santa here. I never believed in the "man with the bag," even as a small child. I remember wanting to believe. I can distinctly recall lying in bed on Christmas Eve, under the afghan Grandma crocheted, straining my ears with the hope that maybe if I heard hooves on the roof, Santa would be real. But really, I knew. My biggest clue was the rustling downstairs once Dustin and I went to bed. Especially the year we got our art desks. Clunk. Clang. Crash. Clang.

But truly, there is a kind of magic at this time of year. Magically, people smile at each other. People participate in random acts of kindness. People spend time with family. People slow down enough to taste a snowflake on their tongue or drive past a street with beautiful lights. Lights illuminate everything. Things sparkle that never sparkled before. The eyes of children are alight with anticipation.

Though I never thought it would, the magic has waned a bit as I've gotten older. Even so, when I stare out the front door and watch the lumenaria flicker down our driveway and the other driveways of Midlothian; when I feel the stillness of the night and see the stained glass of St. Christopher beyond the trees; when I drink hot chocolate and listen to Nat King Cole as I study the ornaments I've known since birth, I can't help but feel the magic.

Could it be that everyone senses the magic that began it all? Could it be that even those who don't believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior intrinsically feel drawn to this holiday because they were created to worship Him? I feel that must be true. I feel that through the jumbly, thick layer of Santa and gifts, the real reason for this stillness, this peace and joy, this goodness at this time of year is because there must be a reverence for the night when Salvation was born.

The magic of that night was unparalleled. I imagine the shining, twinkling, glittering, glowing star that illuminated the night like the Baby would illuminate human hearts. I imagine the quiet humility into which the Christ child was born. Bleating sheep, lowing cows, scratchy hay, and an Infant's cry. Then I imagine with rapture a multitude of shining, glorious angels spreading across the sky, revealing the Messiah's birth to lowly shepherds, with their heavenly melodies ringing into the night. I imagine the tiny, cave-like stable being visited by these shepherds, kneeling before the King of Kings who would one day wear a crown of thorns for them... and us. Remarkable.

Maybe that is why the magic of Christmas remains. Every flickering light, every dazzling sparkle, every melody reminds me of what must have been the night of all nights.

December 8, 2009

Hi, My Name is Martha...

By now you probably know I've been reading John MacArthur's Twelve Extraordinary Women. Every chapter has revealed a gem, a beautifully human and divinely saved woman with a story all her own and a life that serves as an example to all women. As we passed through Eve, Rahab, Ruth, Mary... I knew who'd be coming. Mary and Martha. Mary and Martha, the always-named-together, Biblical sisters we all know and love. Interestingly, for as much as I've enjoyed this book, I have actually been dreading this chapter. With a look of disapproving incredulity, you might ask, "Why?!"

Fortunately, I will be taking the duration of this post to explain exactly why. It's because I'm a Martha.

From a young age I could clearly recognize myself in Martha-- particularly the incident where Martha is busy about the house and her sister Mary is sitting at Jesus' feet. I have always been, and I would wager that I always will be the girl who bustles about the house, straightening this, wiping that, baking here, sweeping there, all in preparation of guests. I'm a "get 'er done" kind of gal... busybusybusy about my business. And you know who has always annoyed me? Those "free-spirited" type of girls who flit about carelessly, not thinking of what needs to be done, or how could they help. I'd be washing dishes, the hot water curling my already curly hair, the cheese sticking stubbornly to the plate, throwing mental daggers at the girl who gets to sit and fellowship without care and without work. I'm a Martha. Marys chap my hide.

The thing is, I'd read the account of Mary and Martha and Jesus... and while I knew Mary had chosen the better option (sitting at Jesus' feet as he taught rather than busying about the kitchen) because Jesus clearly says so, I have always harbored this incorrect idea that really, Martha was right-- she was the servant! She was the one doing all the work! Her sister was lazily and thoughtlessly abandoning her duties! And I dreaded this chapter because I knew that once again, I'd be confronted with my Marthaness and be shown again that Mary had done the right thing.

And I was right. That's exactly what happened. But this time, I resolved to swallow my pride. Here's what the Word says: "Mary... sat at Jesus' feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving..." That's where it began to sink in. Martha was distracted with much serving. Could it be that her servant hood, so good and right, had become a stumbling block? Could it be that all my busyness and activities that are so good and right can have become a stumbling block? I read on: "And Jesus answered and said to her, 'Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.'" Wait a minute, because I think Jesus actually said, "Amanda, Amanda, you are worried and troubled about many things..." I am so clearly a Martha, and Jesus could have very well said those exact words to me.

I am always worried and troubled about things being right, things getting done, things being clean, getting involved, doing my part, leading when I should lead, making things perfect, making my life perfect, making others' lives perfect... when really only ONE thing is needed. That narrows it down quite a bit. ONE thing is needed-- sitting at Jesus' feet and hearing His words.

That means that while my ministry is good and right, it is not that ONE needed thing. That means that while my job is good and right, it is not that ONE needed thing. All the good and right and important things I choose to fill my time are not that ONE needed thing. In the very act of serving the God I love, I have neglected hearing Him. God is not impressed by my busyness for Him. He does not love me more if I spend more time teaching children. The fact is, all of the wonderful ways in which I could serve Him could not ever even come close to what He has done for me. And what He asks is that I remember that and get my priorities in line. In the words of John MacArthur, "Mary's humble, obedient heart was a far greater gift to Christ than Martha's well-set table."

Ouch. This one hurt. I, the Martha, am wrong. My self-righteousness is wrong. My pride is wrong. And so though I don't know quite how I will do this yet, I am resolved to get these priorities in line. I spend time in the Word every morning. But is it really "sitting at Jesus' feet?" All of the other good things in which I'm involved need to come second to this ONE needed thing. And if that means something doesn't get done... oh well. *gasp* I will have chosen "that good part."

December 6, 2009

Restless Life Syndrome...

You've heard of restless leg syndrome? Well I have restless life syndrome. My mind plays mental ping pong: What do I want to do with my life? Do I want to teach forever? Should I go back to school? Should I get into debt? Should I move? Should I uproot my life? Should I go back home? Should I go overseas? Should I go into full-time ministry? These are the questions that bounce between my ears, thus causing restless life syndrome. At a time in life when most people are settling into their careers and building upon the foundation their schooling and experience have laid, I am experiencing a quarter-life identity crisis and feel less sure and more unclear than I've ever felt. Especially me, the over-planning, under-risking one who knew what she wanted to do with her life by the time she was seven. And now, at twenty-five, I have restless life syndrome. Is there a pill for that?

What I know to be true, however, is that restless is just a nice word for discontent. I've come a long way in the area of contentment when it comes to singleness, but haven't yet come to grips with my discontent regarding, well, what I should do with my life.

I listened to a CJ Mahaney sermon last week that reminded me of some important truths. I don't need to know the next step. I don't need to know what God's doing. He's always at work. When have things ever NOT worked out for His glory and my good? It should simply be enough that God has saved my sinful soul from hell. I shouldn't have to ask why, or what now? Clarity is not something God promises. He does promise to provide for me and to work things together for good for those who love Him. But He hasn't promised clarity. Mother Theresa said, "I have never had clarity, but I have always had trust." I would like that to be said of me.

My job is simply to trust and obey. Glorify God where I am, follow His leading, and trust that when it's time to take that next step, God will direct my steps. So now, my struggle is against restlessness (aka, discontentment). This is a ridiculously difficult and ambiguous struggle, but struggle I will until I learn to just trust.

November 30, 2009

Musings on a Christmas Tree...

The scent of "fresh balsam" fills my apartment and Nat King Cole is crooning from my iPod. Twinkling nostalgically on my little tree are the colorful lights I put up this evening, by myself. As I sit here, these melodies remind me of joyfully trimming the tree my with my brother and father (after Mom had very bravely put up the lights), laughing over old ornaments and trying to sing "O Tannenbaum" in German or quoting the Beatles' Christmas album. It was one of my most favorite things to do... ever. And this year I put up my tree alone. Suddenly I realized I have become one of those women I would see in movies and on TV who lived alone and trimmed their Christmas trees alone-- like Lucy in While You Were Sleeping, or Kathleen in You've Got Mail. Or even that creepy character on ER years ago named Amanda who was in love with Dr. Green and was kind of stalking him.
And with this realization comes a dull ache. I think it's the ache of the in-between. Miles separate me from my dear family, the ones with whom I built and kept and enjoyed traditions. Time separates me from my future family, the ones with whom I will build and keep and enjoy new traditions. I am in-between, and alone.
There is a quote from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol that says something about how Christmastime is a time above all others where "abundance rejoices and want is most keenly felt." While this is referring to basic needs, I think it applies to emotional needs as well. Families rejoice in their abundance of love and togetherness. Husbands and wives rejoice in the abundance of blessing they've been given. And the want of family is felt keenly. The want of a spouse is felt keenly.
I truly have no room for complaints, as my needs are met and my family is healthy, though far away. And yet, to write with candor, I find that ache in my heart as I listen to ancient carols and deck the halls. I have no promise that next Christmas, or the Christmas after that, or the Christmas after that I will have someone with whom I will trim the tree. But I am not truly alone. I have the presence of the very one whose birth is the reason for our celebration; and that is more than enough. I have to preach that to myself at this time of year especially, but it is truth. If you find yourself in the in-betweens, or far from family, or simply alone, it is my prayer for you and myself that we would find our satisfaction in Christ Jesus and not pine for the things we don't have and wish to have. The blessings we have in Him are abundant, and we want for nothing.

November 27, 2009

The Perils of Consumerism...

Forget National Lampoon's whatever. I've got my own crazy escapades for the holidays.

It was Friday morning. Black Friday. Whether they call it "Black Friday" because of the darkness of the morning, the "in the black" retailers experience, or the blackness of hearts fighting over 42" plasma TVs I'll never know. Regardless, it was Black Friday, and indeed, the sky was black with the heaviness of pre-dawn (matching the heaviness of my eyelids). With my mother incapacitated this year (my usual partner-in-crime), my father agreed to accompany me in my shopping endeavors... not because he likes to shop, not because he wanted to grab the good deals... but because he didn't want me to die from being trampled to death in the entryway of a major retailer.

I was up at 4 and out the door by 4:40, making a stop at White Castle for my dad's breakfast sandwich. We would make it to Wal-Mart by 5, just when they opened. My goal: $25 printers, among other more trifling items. Christmas music filled the car for the first time since last December. I was energized-- ready for the day and ready for the season. I'll even go so far as to say that my father, the antithesis of the typical Black Friday shopper, was energized. Then we rounded the corner towards the Wal-Mart parking lot.

Cars. Lots and lots of cars. There were so many cars that we parked across the street. That was our first bad sign and should have been our cue to leave. But we didn't. In the darkness, we began to cross the street. Dad started to run-- not because there were tons of cars coming, but I don't know, I guess because it's a habit to run across a street rather than walk or trot. Naturally I followed suit. That is, until my feet and my brain stopped communicating. As is commonplace when I begin to fall, time slowed and I knew what was coming but could do nothing to stop it. Smack in the middle of the street, at 5 in the morning, Black Friday morning, I fell. I didn't just fall though. I wiped out. Smack on my knee, my hands, sliding onto my side, twisting my back. If it hadn't hurt so bad, I would have laughed. But my dad wasn't laughing-- he was completely freaked out (which makes it that much funnier now), thinking probably several things: he now would have two invalid women in his house, I would get hit by a car as I lay helpless in the middle of the street, and/or he hoped no one had seen this embarrassing display. I hobbled to the curb and waited for the pain to subside, then limped over to Wal-Mart only to find they were at capacity and the line curved around the store.
It was all for nothing. I had busted my knee, scraped my hands and side, and wounded my pride only to walk around the building in the cold, printer-less. I watched people exit the store with those printers. "I just fell in the street in order to get that!!" I wanted to scream. But I knew they'd probably scream back, "I have been waiting in the cold since 11 last night. I haven't showered, slept, or gone to the bathroom since then," and their crotchetiness would have made me reply with, "Well, you can take your printer and..."

But none of that happened. I hobbled back to the car and we tackled Target, Kmart, and returned to Wal-Mart, successful for the most part. I, a kind of Captain Ahab, had gotten my great white whale-- an electric toothbrush (you know you're getting old when) that was cut down to $40 (after which I would receive a $10 rebate and get the toothbrush for about 70% off). My Christmas shopping is now 98% complete, and I put a big dent in my mom's list.

At what price? A bruised knee, a bruised ego, a few scrapes, and tired eyes. If I looked simply at the events of the day, I'd say the deals and steals of the day do not make up for the perils of consumerism. But I looked beyond the events, and I see a memory made with my dad (he has given himself the "father of the year" award), a source of laughter for others (at great physical cost, though I really cannot stop laughing about it now... I'm laughing at this very moment, in fact), a Christmas list happily completed, a kind stranger helping us out, the satisfaction of getting a great deal and being a good steward of money, seizing the day, the joy of the beginning of the Christmas season, and the opportunity to help my mom with her shopping.

It's all about the attitude. Unlike the rumored fistfights that were occurring over TVs at Wal-Mart, and unlike the men and women who waited in line all night for products not for their families but to turn around and sell at a higher price, I went with the hope of bringing joy and being a good steward. And so for me, my experience, despite the perils of consumerism, was a positive one. Don't knock it till you try it.

November 26, 2009

Give Thanks...

I can't help it: I love old hymns, particularly ones I associate with memories of the holidays. "We Gather Together" is one such hymn that I had the pleasure of singing this past Sunday at my parents' church.

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;He chastens and hastens His will to make known. The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing. Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining, Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;So from the beginning the fight we were winning;Thou, Lord, were at our side, all glory be Thine!

We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,And pray that Thou still our Defender will be. Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

Interesting words for a Thanksgiving hymn. There is no mention of family, meals, or anything else that the holiday typically represents. I love Thanksgiving through and through. I enjoy getting up early to make breakfast for the football players, then lounging around and watching Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. I love ushering in the holiday season by viewing Miracle on 34th Street, and of course I gorge myself like everyone else on my mom's fantastic cooking, and soak up every moment of the time I get to spend with my family. Laughing, shouting, playing, eating, joking. I love this holiday. It's as great as Christmas but without the commercialization (ironically, because people jump over this holiday in order TO commercialize Christmas).

However... I think the focus of Thanksgiving (which most believe is one of the few holidays to retain its original purpose) has actually gone askew. Sure, family is important and we should be thankful for every day we have with them. But I believe the words of the song above bring the focus of Thanksgiving back 'round to where it should be: the Giver of all good gifts. After all, how can we be thankful for our families and other wonderful blessings if we don't know to whom we give thanks?

And so here are some things I'm thankful to God for this year:

The salvation of my soul
The (relative) health and life of my family members
The relationships with my family members
My friendships
My 2 new "brothers-in-law"
Employment and income
My ministry and the delightful girls I disciple
My own place
Health and becoming healthier
Good food
Clothes to wear

When you gather together to ask the Lord's blessings this Thanksgiving, please remember to give thanks to the One who gives immeasurably more than we could ask or think. Happy Thanksgiving.

November 21, 2009

Airport, Affleck, Awkwardness...

For those of you who read my previous post regarding the premonition my mom's friend had regarding me, a turkey, and a future husband in the grocery store, well... I went to the grocery store today and... it didn't happen (shocker). Neither did it happen on the plane ride here to Chicago. However, I must tell you about my airport experience this morning.

I sat complacently in the little black chairs at the airport, waiting for my flight and crocheting an ugly scarf with ugly brown yarn. Then out of nowhere, of all the open seats around me, sits one of the top ten most attractive men I've ever seen close up. Like, not movie-star attractive necessarily, but this amalgamation of boyish good looks and manliness; He was like a combination of Ben Affleck and that cute desk worker from Moody I mentioned earlier. Of course I didn't talk to him (I never do talk to attractive men... we've been over this), and he sat, fidgeted a bit, watched the crochet hook, got up, left. I thought, Well, that's the end of that. Figures. The cute ones never stay long. I boarded the plane, took the aisle seat of the second row, and forgot about Ben Affleck. Until we made eye contact.

"Anyone sitting there?" he asked, pointing his head towards the seat next to me.
"Nope," I said in a small voice with a slight smile, face reddening. I couldn't decide if it was God's sense of humor or pure irony that this attractive stranger was actually going to sit by me. Instantly a hundred thoughts raced through my mind: I've got to think of something to talk about with this guy! Should I flirt? Wait, I don't even know how to do that. Do I look OK? Oh my gosh he's cute. We very awkwardly did that always-very-awkward dance that people do in planes when depositing luggage and taking seats. He sat down. Tall. He was very tall. And right next to me! I rummaged in my purse for some gum. Wouldn't want my breath to stop what could be the beginning of a very beautiful... conversation.

"I'm really sorry to do this to you again," he suddenly said, looking sheepish but still very good-looking, "but I think I'm going to take that seat," he continued, pointing to the middle seat in the row in front of us. Clearly this man had commitment issues. OK, maybe he just had really long legs and wanted the first row. Did I mention he was tall? Tall, dark and handsome.

"Oh, that's OK," I insisted with a smile that belied my disappointment but indicated my relief that I wouldn't have to make coherent conversation with Ben Affleck. Awkward airplane dance again, except worse this time because he paused to let an elderly couple pass (cute of him), which meant I had to stick my butt in a woman's face and get closer to the elderly man than I found entirely comforting. Ben Affleck turned to me again, apologetically. "Sorry to do that to you again," he said. I smiled brighter this time. "It's OK," I said. And that was it. That was the end of my conversation with the attractive man. As quickly as he had come, bringing his handsome self near, he was gone again. I spent the duration of the flight crocheting my ugly brown scarf and looking at the back of his well-shaped head that kept comically nodding to the right and left as he fought sleep. I promise I wasn't as much of a creeper as that makes me sound.

I had to laugh inside. After writing about meeting someone anytime, anywhere, and my problems with talking to good-looking men, I thought it was quite opportune to be actually sitting next to such a catch. I was even mustering up the courage to speak to him. And then in God's typically funny, ironic way, he's snatched from me and I'm forced to do what I always do... watch and wish. And I just had to share this with you, for laughs. As I get older, I think I get more awkward... which does not bode well for the rest of my life!

November 19, 2009

Miss Independent...

This Thanksgiving season I decided to think about the reasons I'm thankful for singleness. Usually my cons outweigh my pros on this topic, so I thought it might be time to try to tip the scale the other way. The following is the first thing for which I'm thankful:

Yesterday, after about 13 1/2 hours at work, I walked up my three flights of stairs wearily, turned the key in the lock, dropped my purse, and sighed. I was home. I was home in my own place, my very own place with my very own things, kept clean in my very own OCD way. At that moment, I realized that was one very big reason I'm thankful for singleness. I love everything about my apartment.

I love how I can watch whatever I want to watch whenever I want to watch it, and as Lucy from While You Were Sleeping so astutely noted, I have "sole possession of the remote control... that's very important." Nobody can make fun of me for watching a goofy Lifetime movie, and I don't have to feel bad about watching "Glee" instead of some sports game, probably involving two college teams about which I couldn't care less. I love my yellow lamps I picked up at a thrift store because I couldn't afford new lamps, but I love more than any new lamps I've ever seen. I love my Breakfast at Tiffany's poster which would inevitably come down if a husband were to occupy my dwellings. I love that I can burn whatever fragrance I like in my candles and no one can complain that it smells stinky or girly, because I have the last word about the odors in my household. I love that my house is impeccably clean (well, besides my bedroom, which will be littered with clothing until Jesus returns). I love that there are no vestiges of man in my bathroom-- little hairs, especially. I love that I can have lace curtains and shabby chic floral patterns in my bedroom without feeling bad about emasculating a husband. Perhaps most of all, I love that I have a whole walk-in closet to myself, filled with wooden hangers holding fashion potential of biblical proportions.

So really, I suppose my love of my apartment is mostly selfish... but I think there are definite benefits to living by oneself for a period of time. I like that I can pray aloud. I like that I can sing loudly in the shower. I like that I don't have to wear pants. I like that I can dance like a spaz. I like that I can eat my healthy food that most people hate and watch my goofy movies that most people hate. This is my season to live alone, one that I at some point may give up forever. I'm thankful for it.

With that being said, it brings up a concern I've wondered about when it comes to having my own place and being independent. I've always been very independently-minded. Some would call it strong-willed. OK, my parents would call it strong-willed, as that kind of child is what they raised. But as I grew, my independence grew. My college roommate and I used to muse that our Independence had to have been a big reason why guys didn't ask us out-- we were too intimidating for them, I guess. Too much for them to handle. Ha.

But truly, as I become more and more independent-- paying my own bills, cleaning my own house, buying my own groceries, fixing my own problems-- I wonder if this independence really may be too intimidating for most men, and even worse-- will this independence make it harder for me to submit as a wife some day? Probably. Which is why I have realized that the more independent I become, the more dependent I must be on God. When I depend on Him, then it's not about me leading my own life. It's about God leading my life. So when and if that man comes along who is strong enough to handle this "too much to handle," I'll already be used to submitting to and following my God, so submitting to and following my husband will be less of an issue.

So for now, I will continue to work on depending on God, and I will continue to love living on my own... one of the blessings that comes with being single!

November 15, 2009

Holding Out For a Hero...

Alright single ladies. I'm going to be candid here. Every time I have made a big change in my life, I have thought, "maybe here and maybe now I will meet my future husband." When I started Moody I thought certainly he would be found somewhere within those walls. When I moved to Florida, I thought absolutely he would be waiting for me here. And at each junction, the Lord has said, "Nope. Not yet. My timing. Wait on My timing." I don't usually think, "maybe when I round this corner, I'll bump into him," or "maybe when I get on this plane, he'll sit next to me." But sometimes I do. And if you are a single girl and are honest with yourself, you'd probably nod your head too. I don't know why we do that-- the irrepressible spirit of hope within us? Our blind expectations for the future? Our trust in God? Beats me. But I definitely thought about this tonight... twice.

First, I was sitting in church and noticed someone I'd never seen before. He was really good- looking. Very, very good- looking. In fact, he reminded me of a young Marlon Brando (see picture and swoon). I didn't meet him, don't know his name, and probably will never meet him. I didn't look at him and think, "that's my future husband," because that would be silly. Also, I am pretty sure that someone who looks like Marlon Brando wouldn't be looking at me. Regardless, it reminded me, quite happily, that at any moment, God (if He in His infinite wisdom would choose to do so) could drop someone into my life. He could indeed meet me around a corner. He may very well sit next to me on a plane. He could possibly shake my hand on a Sunday. And this thought bouyed my hope and trust.

Then I was wandering around Target looking for mousse and other such necessities while chatting with Mom on the phone. Conversation had gone its normal route when suddenly she told me that a friend of hers had instructed her not to buy the Thanksgiving turkey until I get there, because she believed that that's where I was going to meet my husband... at the grocery store. We laughed, because this friend of hers is a funny, free- spirited type and she means well. And I really laughed, given the thoughts I'd already been thinking about God and His infinite wisdom. I was quite amused. I doubt I'll meet my husband while finding the perfect frozen bird at Jewel. But maybe I will. Regardless, I'm not going to hold my breath, but I will keep "holding out for a hero" with faith that God's timing is perfect, and whether we meet at a grocery store, on a plane, at church, or wherever, it will be as it should be, because it is designed by God.

November 14, 2009

To Flirt or Not to Flirt...

Flirting is in the eye of the beholder. Or the ears of the hearer... I guess I mean the senses of the senser. Flirting was this nebulous entity when I was in high school-- something I could never quite wrap my mind around in order to actually practice it, and certainly I'd never recognize it if I received it. And then there was college, where conditions were ripe for flirting just about every time one exited his or her dorm. The flirtation cloud hung low over the campus, showering the students when they least expected it. Walking through the SDR (student dining room) was like walking through a hormone-charged battlefield and one might not get through meal without a flirting battle wound.

My only real experience with flirting was watching girls do it around good-looking guys, and it made me want to throw up all over their excessively smiley faces and perky personalities. They would giggle, poke fun, purposefully annoy (how is this an effective flirtation strategy? Yet I've seen it done so often!), pout, and flatter. This was flirting? Then what about the times I'd be out with friends and we'd leave a store and one would say, "He was totally flirting with you!" Bewildered, I would think, he smiled at me and made a joke... that was flirting? There were no giggles, no flattering! Hence, my confusion.

I remember having conversations with the girls on my floor about flirting... I was never really sure what constituted actual flirting, officially, and if there was a line in the sand that, once crossed, meant that now I was flirting. I wasn't a moment ago, but yes, now I am. We came up with three realities regarding flirting that I still kind of hold to today, but I must be honest-- flirting is still as foreign and unnatural to me as it was when I was a teenager. It is, at its essence, an attempt to get a member of the opposite sex to notice and become interested in you. We can see that clearly when young children push each other down and run away in order to be chased. But everything gets foggier when you get older. So here are the three realities about flirting I've come up with:

1. Flirting is in they eye of the beholder. I've already made this statement, but it's a good one, don't you think? I know this to be true, because every single man and woman I have asked, "what is flirting?" has given me a completely different answer. To some, it's speaking in double-entendres (ew). To others, it's laughing at their jokes. Still others look for body language-- hair flips, head tilts, proximity, that good-old arm slap. To some it is witty banter. And then there are some who will take a mere smile to be flirting. And this is where flirting is in the eye of the beholder: if one wants to be flirted with, then they will find a way to sense flirtation. They will see a smile as only for them, they will sense witty banter to mean there's a deep, interpersonal connection, they will see a hair toss as "please date me; I'm all yours." I do have personal experience in this area. It haunts me today and is part of what led me to #2, as you'll read in a moment. I will never forget the moment I was sitting at our bro/sis table in college. It was after dinner and we were talking and goofing off, as we were wont to do. I was wearing my hair in braided pigtails for whatever reason, and playing with the tips. Girls do that, and especially I do do that, as after I eat and I am enjoying conversation, it is necessary for me to find something with which I can occupy my hands. And then we all begin a conversation on this very topic: what is flirting? That's when they boy across from me looked pointedly at me and smiled. "I heard it's when a girl plays with her hair!" Instantly I reddened and dropped my hands to my lap. I was definitely not flirting. But he wanted me to be; how do I know? He asked me out shortly thereafter.

2. My girlfriends and I decided that, unless we were truly interested in the guy (and assuming that if we were we could even figure out how to flirt), we would do our best not to give out flirtatious vibes. Why? Because why would I want to get a guy I'd never date interested and then have to shoot him down? Or why would I want to flirt with someone who would shoot me down? I guess it boils down to self-preservation and those Berlin Walls around my heart again, but there's an element of loving our brothers there too. This is where some of my girlfriends differ, however. Some of them believe that we should practice flirting with anything male that moves (okay, maybe not that broad). "Why?" I ask them. "To practice," they tell me. I don't really think that's a good enough reason to play with the hopes and emotions of guys. I don't need the bit of self-esteem rush you get when someone flirts back (not that they do either... just saying...). So I don't. Many of my friends have tried to get me to flirt with Baldy, but I won't do it for two very good reasons: I'm afraid of rejection; also I'd probably never actually date him. So why put myself out there if I'm not even serious. Those are the kinds of games girls play that make guys think we're crazy.

3. When girls decide not to flirt with boys until they want a specific boy to flirt back, I have found that they actually do practice flirting. With each other. I know that sounds weird, but girls, be honest. How many times have you told your girlfriends, "That outfit makes you look hot!" or, "How you doin,'" and then laughed about it? Of course it's never serious, as you'd never actually flirt with a girl... but it's as if it's a safe environment in which a girl can practice her flirting without ever actually roping a guy in. Ideal! Ideal? Not really, because it all goes back to #1, and no one really knows what truly constitutes flirting anyway. It's possibly one of the most ambiguous things on the planet, like the the existence of the Yeti, or Carrot Top's humanity.

Bottom line: if someone wants to be flirted with, they'll perceive things that way. Therefore, I steer clear of flirtatious behavior so as not to mislead men. And therefore, I very rarely pick up on men flirting with me. I'm just as clueless about flirting as I ever was. Maybe that's what makes it so irresistibly interesting...?

November 9, 2009

The Cultural Battle That Is Me...

Today, the only thing that kept me from crying was remembering that I wasn't wearing waterproof mascara. I sat in my little gold Saturn, watching the rain sprinkle the windshield and willing the light to change to green so I could just go home already. Then my very own mascara vs. tears situation gave me an epiphany regarding two dueling parts that make up my whole; two dueling parts that have been at war in me from childhood.

My mom's family is very Irish, and therefore characterized by something very Irish: emotion. Tears are commonplace at family gatherings. In fact, it has become a bit of a game for my cousins and myself-- when we gather for prayer, if my grandpa or any of his four children do the actual praying, there will be a throat catch, and inevitably... wait for it... a few tears. And that's when we peek from our prayer and give each other knowing, mirth-filled looks. We knew it. Hugs and kisses abound, tears flow, and they like it that way.

My dad's family is very German, and therefore characterized by something very German: stoicism. Tears are non-existent at family gatherings. In fact, I have not once seen my father or my aunts cry... unless of course from laughter, in which case I have seen it more than a few times. When one of us falls down, no one comes running with compassion and a band-aid... instead they double over in fits of giggles. Emotions aren't discussed, touchy issues remain untouched, and they like it that way.

There are no words to express the amount of love I have for each side of my family, equally. And while each side is loving, odd, hilarious, and entirely entertaining, I have suddenly realized that it has created a bit of battleground in me. My Irish side tells me to let out my emotions-- cry, laugh, shout, fume, rant, dance... my first instinct is always to follow these emotions in that characteristically passionate way Irish poets pour out their hearts and souls into ballads and sonnets, the way Irish musicians throw their emotions full force into a jig or reel, and the way Irish women throw dishes at their offending husbands in anger.

But then my German side takes over, saying, nicht! Schreien Sie nicht! I must not cry. My will and pride to never be seen as weak become stronger than the emotion, I suck it up, and that's that. Picture me: jaw set, head high, clear throat, step forward. Practical, right? Just as I said-- I wanted to cry, but wait! I wasn't wearing waterproof mascara, so that's that. Irish emotion vs. German pragmatism.

Culture composes so much of what makes me... me. Not just what I have grown up around and the people who have surrounded me, but my genetic makeup. My link to my ancestors is my Irish emotion and my German stoicism. What makes you... you? What cultural battles rage within you? What links you to your ancestors?

November 6, 2009

No Means No...

Funny I should be writing this post today, after I passed the teachers' lounge, filled with a figurative cornucopia of culinary delights-- not the least of which was a cheesecake with cherries and a crumbly danish top. But write this post I will...

About 9 months ago I decided to get healthy, and that meant a lifestyle change. Let me put it this way: I could no longer consume whatever struck my fancy, or whatever Mr. Sweet Tooth (my true nemesis, evil on every level) would command. It took a lot of planning, and it wasn't too difficult to stick to my plan for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. What I found to be the real struggle was passing the teachers' lounge, or going out to eat with friends. Pastries would taunt me, with their wicked, wicked cream cheese filling just begging to be eaten. The cookie aisle would call to me as I perused the produce section... it was a siren song, truly.

But, firm in my resolve, I would approach the dreaded lounge, look the offending cake in the eye and say, "no." I walked away. That first "no" was probably one of the most difficult words I ever said to myself. I thought about the cake throughout the day... imagined how it would taste, how delicious it would be... and I also imagined the guilt I'd feel if I blew my diet. The horrible over-filled-and-stuffed-to-the-gills feeling I'd be left with after the last bit of vanilla icing left my tongue and the sugar high wore off.

So the next time I was met with a culinary contender that was not part of my plan, I said, "no." And I walked away. And just like that, little by little, "no" became easier to say. The more I said it, the easier it became. My evil nemesis was losing power! I began to see the effects of saying "no." I was shrinking before the very eyes of those seductive danishes!

I was struck by how closely this mirrored the battle against sin. Titus 2:11-12 reads, "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age..." In our sinfulness, we have no power to say "no" to sin, but by the grace of God and because of his power, we can.

Let's imagine you are trying to overcome a particular sin. The first time it looks you in the eye, you may think about how much you want to commit that sin, how much you'll enjoy it. But then hopefully you'll also think about the price that was paid for that sin, and the consequences that will ensue. And when you say "no," that first time, it may be the hardest word you'll ever say to yourself. And you'll walk away. You may think about that sin throughout the day, too... but if you say "no" and mean "no" and walk away, it's a victory. And by the grace of God, every time you continue to say "no" to that sin, it will get easier-- you will begin to see the effects of saying "no:" closer communion with God, better fellowship with believers, a life of holiness, and freedom from enslaving sins.

Unfortunately, when we're enslaved by sin, it seems awfully fulfilling at the time... just like that cherry cheesecake with the crumbly danish I snuck from the teachers' lounge. Oh did it look delicious. Oh did I anticipate its sweet, succulence. Oh did I regret it. When we say "no" to sin, we see clearly enough to see it for what it really is-- a complete affront to God. When we say "no" to sin, we see clearly enough to see the consequences that come from it. What appeared to be fulfilling is nothing short of appalling.

Try it today. Say "no" to that enslaving sin-- whether it's laziness, pride, lust, anger... Say "no" today. It will be hard. I wish there was a "sin-be-gone" spray like I wish there was a "glutton-be-gone" spray. But what it boils down to is the grace of God and self-discipline. Say "no," walk away, and enjoy true freedom.

November 1, 2009

How are Your Heels?

I just saw an advertisement for heel cream. This heel cream claimed to rid you of your cracked, disgustingly grotesque heels and leave you with heels as smooth as baby feet. I had literally not thought about my heels for maybe ten months. Who has heel insecurities, really? Then I thought, "When does it end? When does the poor body image/body insecurity train stop and all the women get off and say, 'This is the end of the line-- I will go no farther than this.'?"

Enough is enough. I mean, I get the weight issue. That's insecurity number one for women. Besides needing to be healthy, we constantly are harangued with images of perfectly thin, toned women with neither cellulite nor fat roll, and are often expected to live up to those images. So while I don't succumb to them, I understand all the advertisements for diet fads and weight-loss programs. Then they attack hair contentment. Basically, if we as women have hair, we should be happy. But according to advertisements, our hair needs to be thick, lustrous, shiny, and frizz-free. It should sway in the breeze, tempt men to run their fingers through it, and fall perfectly over our forehead in an oh-so-coy manner. So now we are insecure about our hair. And our faces. Let's change our eye color. Let's fix our wrinkles. Let's cover our blemishes and the things that make us "us." Let's fix our teeth and make them whiter. Let's be insecure about the unique face God gave us. How about the level of our skin's softness? Our skin should be touchably smooth, including our armpits and definitely our legs. Forget moles and freckles-- those are automatic insecurities.

And now, we can be insecure about our heels. Oh for the day when women will stop looking in the mirror, picking out all the "flaws" society has pointed out, and instead will realize that God designed them before they entered the world. Do we realize that every time we are dissatisfied with our God-given looks, we are telling God that he made a mistake? More importantly, when will we as women spend more time grooming our spirits and fixing our internal flaws than grooming our bodies and fixing our supposed external flaws.

Our minds have become so warped that what consumes our thoughts is the color of our eyelashes, the luminosity of our skin, and the tightness of our abs. How many of these things will matter into eternity? None of it. So why do we care so much? Pride, probably. We want better heels than so-and-so; we want a different so-and-so to notice our lustrous hair; we don't want inferior skin-smoothness. So as usual, pride is at the root of our deepest problems. What do you say we root it out and get off the poor body image/body insecurity train for good?

October 29, 2009

My Field of Faith

While it is important to never go looking to insert our agendas into Scripture, there are certainly myraid applications that can be made. I thought of this yesterday while teaching Ruth as an "extraordinary woman" to my middle school discipleship group.
Ruth was a single woman, recently widowed. She faithfully followed her mother-in-law to Israel and took it upon herself to try to support the two of them in a female-unfriendly world. She was faithful. Faithful to her family, faithful to her God, and faithful to be a hard worker. She was where she was supposed to be, when she was supposed to be there, just being faithful to do what God wanted her to do...
And then Boaz spotted her in his fields. Boaz noticed not how beautiful she was, or how funny she was, but that she was working faithfully. And then he heard about what she'd done-- how she had stayed with Naomi and moved to Israel. He was smitten. Sure, he needed some prodding to actually seal the deal, but what struck me was the simple logic of this love story: Ruth was faithfully working, serving her family and her Lord-- not trying to find a husband to support her. And Boaz noticed her because of this, not because of how thin and stylish she was, or how entrancing her personality was.
Application for me, single woman who loves the Lord and wants to get married some day? Do what God has called me to do right now. Faithfully serve him. Don't seek out a husband. Because the right one will find me someday, right where I am, doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing. And he will notice my love for the Lord, and that is what he'll love. And that is why I'll love him.

October 27, 2009

The City in My Soul

I walked past the passersby coming off the train, whipping around them like an intrically designed pinball game. The true Chicagoan doesn't walk; the true Chicagoan weaves. Earbuds in ears, the humming of the city provides a white-noise backdrop to the soundtrack I'm creating.

It's cold. I set my face against it and grit my teeth, waiting for that heating vent I know is coming... and there it is. A bit of warmth, just enough for me to muster energy to hop up the stairs of the rickety peeling painted El platform. Clinking change into the machine-- beep, beep-- and now I'm ready to be whisked off to my destination in that steel bullet that whines and roars around the buildings tall and statuesque.

Past the stops I know so well, past new buildings that are unfamiliar, past the river waiting to be dyed green, past the people with whom I share a deep kinship of home, I make it to my stop, then walk-- no, weave-- through the rain and past the people, up and down the streets that are the heart of the city, the heart of the country, the heart of me.

Gloves, hat, jacket, warmth, style. Carmel apple cider in hand, the cold blasts my face in this, the Windy City. The rhythm of my feet against the pavement match beat for beat my earbuds and heart, and there is a connection between me and my city which cannot and will not ever be denied.

You can take the girl out of the city... but you'll never, ever take the city out of the girl.

October 17, 2009

Baldy and My Weird Crush Habit...

There is a man who works at my favorite pizza place here in Florida. He doesn't just work there; he twirls and swirls pizza dough and creates the most wonderful New-York style pizza in a tiny little pizzeria with faux brick on the walls and a big TV that plays silly movies.

I don't know this man's name, but I have a little crush on him. He's got this mysterious air about him... and also a delightful Italian accent. He's really good-looking... and completely, totally bald. Not because he has no hair, but because he wants to be bald. And so I've taken to calling him "Baldy." I know nothing about Baldy. I don't know what he believes, what makes him laugh, what his story is. Because of this, I don't really have a crush on Baldy... I know I would never really date him.

But that doesn't stop the fact that when I go to this pizzeria, I can't seem to look at him. I can't talk to him. I can barely function, and in fact, I have been known to run into tables and blush furiously (yeah, I'm that smooth).

While discussing this humorous and ridiculous crush on Baldy, I discovered yet another peril that may be unique to me, or may be unique to long-time-single women. Because my heart is so guarded, and because I'm a little more than terrified at the thought of actually getting married (despite my desire to do so), my best friend pointed out the fact that I often develop crushes on guys with whom I would never realistically develop a relationship. That way, I can separate myself, keep my distance, while still admiring from afar.

Pathetic, I realized, but true. I thought about this one guy from college. I don't even know how I discovered his name, but I thought he was just the cutest thing ever. He had boyish good looks and an adorable smile. We had one class together, and he sat all the way across the room. I think he spoke to me once, and I almost swallowed my tongue. He was also a deskworker in my dorm building, and that fact created my funniest memory of my ridiculous and unattainable crush. One evening, a few of my friends and myself had gone down to the first floor to get some pop, or something like that, at an idiotically late hour of the night. While one went to the deskworker (of course this was the deskworker) to get change, I was suddenly overcome with a horrible "something-in-my-eye" syndrome. Seriously, it hurt so bad. Instead of finding something witty or clever to say to the deskworker, I was shouting to one of my friends, "There's something in my eye! OW! There's something in my eye! Can you see it?! OW!" Again, smooth. If I could barely look at him before, there was no way I could look at him now. And not just because there was something in my eye.

This seems to illustrate fairly well my problem of crushing on the unattainable. They are usually guys who might be considered "out of my league." Perhaps it's my way of avoiding rejection (by never ever letting them know of my crush). Perhaps it's a playing-out of a formerly low self-esteem (because I assume I'd never be with someone so good-looking, or funny, or... whatever).

Regardless, I wonder if this tendency of mine is unique to me, or if other young women crush on those they'll never have, simply because it's safe? I'll probably never speak to Baldy besides, "I'll have an 18" cheese pizza," and, "thank you." I'll probably continue to crush on distanced, handsome, mysterious gentlemen (maybe it's a Mr. Darcy thing?)... until one day when I develop a permanent crush. Then Baldy will fade into the background. But until then, "I'll have an 18" cheese pizza, please." *hands touch while giving credit card* *face reddens* "Thank you." *sigh.*

October 15, 2009

The Roots of My Tree

I know an ice handler who wears a flannel shirt with pearl buttons
the size of a dollar,
And he lugs a hundred-pound hunk into a saloon icebox, helps
himself to cold ham and rye bread,
Tells the bartender it's hotter than yesterday and will be hotter yet
to-morrow, by Jesus,
And is on his way with his head in the air and a hard pair of fists.
He spends a dollar or so every Saturday night on a two hundred
pound woman who washes dishes in the Hotel Morrison.
He remembers when the union was organized he broke the noses
of two scabs and loosened the nuts so the wheels came off six
different wagons one morning and he came around and
watched the ice melt in the street.
All he was sorry for was one of the scabs bit him on the knuckles of
the right hand so they bled when he came around to the
saloon to tell the boys about it.
--"The Ice Handler," by Carl Sandburg

Have you ever looked into your family's history and found a gem of an ancestor? Have you ever sat and listened to stories of yesteryear and imagined how you might be like your forefathers and mothers? I am intrigued by many of my ancestors, but none more than my great-grandpa, Papa Len. I had the privalege of knowing him before he passed away, though I don't remember him well. Let me paint you a picture:

I quoted Sandburg's "The Ice Handler," because the moment I read that poem, I thought it must be written about my great-grandfather. Surly, swarthy, and stout, he was a man of few words but a man of many stories. He had a square face and squinty eyes, and a smile with widely-spaced tiny teeth. He never lost his hair, and he always wore plaid. Many of his sentences would end with the phrase "by golly." His laugh was a bit of a sly, raspy, cackle.

That is the man. Here are his myths and legends:

He was born to German immigrants in 1905 in Wisconsin. As a young man, about 14, he cleaned up for the famous Wild West Show. He even received an engraved pistol from this Show (that was later stolen). One day, he got into a fight with another young man, and a horse ended up kicking the boy in the head, killing him... at which point Papa Len ran away from home. He lived in South Dakota where he worked as a carpenter and helped create Yellowstone National Park. Around 1926, he made his way back to Chicago and worked as an ice man in the city. He may or may not have had a drink with a grateful Al Capone, and may or may not have delivered more than ice...*wink.* Somewhere along the way (I'm not sure of the timeline here), he became a champion weight lifter, and was approached to play for the Chicago Bears before football really took off. He laughed at them and declined. He was also a lumberjack, which is where many of his stories took place. I remember him telling me about the time he found a bear in the bathtub and the bear escaped out the window, ripping the windowframe with him, still stuck to his butt as he trotted off into the forest. He knew the horrific John Wayne Gasey, too-- he used to open up the park bathrooms for him to change into his clown clothes *shudder.* By the time I knew him, he was old and quiet, a husband to Josephine, a father of three, a grandfather to many, and a great-grandfather to me... and one would have never guessed about all he'd experienced. But he was always as tough as nails. Once, he had a heart attack. The paramedics were called, and when they tried to help him out, he punched them away. Tough as nails.

I am fascinated by him, and look forward to one day talking with him in heaven. My family's history is full of interesting characters. Who makes up your family tree?

October 10, 2009

From Irrational Fears to Real Issues...

It all started in my best friend's car when I was discussing the possibility of getting a haircut. I hemmed and hawed with her about the pros and cons of cutting my long, curly red hair.
"But I have waited so long for my hair to grow out! It takes so long and I love it long. I rarely complain about it when it's long."
"So keep it long..."
"But I'd love to cut it into a cute angled bob like that girl in my apartment building."
"So cut it..."
"But..." I paused. I hated to admit what I was going to say next. I said it anyway. "This is stupid, and you're going to laugh, but... I have this fear that I'm going to cut my hair, and then immediately afterward I will meet the man of my dreams and we will quickly date and then I would get married, and my hair would be short, and I've always wanted long hair for my wedding!"
There was a brief silence as the car hummed its way to the mall. Then we erupted in laughter.
"That is totally irrational!"
"I know!"
After our giggles died down, there was another silence. I spoke up again.
"The problem is I just can't commit! Or I make impulse decisions. There's no in-between. And this does not bode well for my future..."
Giggles again.
"Hopefully this does not mean I will impulsively marry or not be able to commit to the right one... I actually think I have way more issues than anyone with no dating experience should have. You know, by not dating, I have saved myself from tons of emotional and physical issues... but by not dating, I have also developed tons of issues. Experiencing years of rejection by omission has kind of played havoc on me..."
We laughed. And we felt like we were on a sit-com. But truly, these issues are real, and as I sat there thinking of them, I thought maybe I should warn young, single women to be aware of these potential hazards of singleness.
As a single young woman, I'd made an art of guarding my heart. As my best friend's husband put it, I'd put the Berlin wall around my heart and snipers on top, shooting down all those who'd try to climb in. This was good, in that I was not swayed by potential suitors who would only break my heart and take pieces with them. This was bad, in that I removed any vulnerability when it came to relationships with guys, thereby appearing cold-hearted.
I haven't yet come up with a good solution for a young woman who wants to wait to date until she has met someone who meets God's standards for her... a solution that would keep her open and soft-hearted rather than closed-off and distanced... but when I do, be certain I'll blog about it.

September 28, 2009

What I Do, What I Love, and What I Love to Do...

What is the difference between your job and your hobby? When you do it? How much you get paid for it? How much you love it? How many have combined the two?

Watching a completely boring and disappointing Fame was not a complete waste. I watched people doing what they absolutely loved. They practiced, they practiced, they worked, they worked, they sweat, they sweat, they cried, and they cried... but they loved it. Their hobby became their job. And they loved it.

Here began my thought process: Hmm. I kind of wish I'd stuck with tap-dancing. Tap-dancing is so dorky that it's cool. It would be a great thing to pull out one people when they least expect it. I never practiced though. Too bad. Should've stuck with ballet too... then I wouldn't have to do Weight Watchers now, probably, because I'd be a lithe dancer... but I never practiced. Actually I think Mom has a picture of me pouting in my ballet outfit. Wow, there were a lot of things I never practiced... basketball, tennis, softball. Especially softball. I wouldn't practice at all and thought I was a terrible player... until the end of the season when I'd actually do alright-- only because I'd been forced to practice for three months. Piano-- I hated practicing piano. Probably why I can only play "Canon in D" and "Carol of the Bells." And the flute. I never made it past like, sixth chair out of ten floutists. I played for eight years, which is why I can still carry a tune, but I never practice.

I began to voice these thoughts, and my best friend's husband simply said, "You didn't love those things." He was a good teacher, but he didn't love it. He turned his life upside-down to start doing what he loves-- which meant two more years of school... but he's doing what he loves. His wife DID practice piano and became a superior pianist... because she loves it. And her hobby has somewhat become her job as she became a music teacher/worship leader/drama teacher.

Oh how my thoughts whirled. What do I love? What do I love to do so much that it never feels like practice or work?


So now what? That doesn't mean I don't love my job... but it made me think. It's not enough for me to turn my life upside-down just because I love something. My life is not my own-- it's the Lord's, and my desire is to serve him with my talents. I somehow need to find a way to meld my passions/what I love with the gifts he's given me and what he wants for me.

I'm not a risk-taker. But I'd love to put my foot through a door and have the Lord carry me across the threshold. I would love to put a God-given talent to work and love every minute of it.

And what do you love? What do you do? Do the two intersect?

September 27, 2009

I think this was a poem I wrote for my former roommate's graduation a few years ago. I chickened out though, I think, and painted her something instead. But when I looked over this poem just last week, I liked it. I thought I'd share it with you. It seems harsh, but the title is "My Prayer," and sometimes we have to pray the hard things for our loved ones-- for the purpose of holiness.

"My Prayer"

When you walk across the chasm
Separating student from teacher
Clutching simple parchment
Symbolizing wisdom
May you have humility enough
To know the limitations
Of your wisdom
And the inadequacy
Of your knowledge.

When you walk down the future aisle
Separating single from oneness
Clutching fragrant flowers
Symbolizing unity
May you have unchanging love enough
To know the divisiveness
Of your strong mind
And the vast impurity
Of your own heart.

When you walk hand-in-hand with young ones
Separating youthful from aged
Clutching tiny fingers
Symbolizing blind trust
May you have perfect patience enough
To know the depth of true need
Of your own self
And the immaturity
Of your person.

When you walk towards the lighted gulf
Separating living from dying
Clutching aging life breath
Symbolizing struggle
May you have faithful belief enough
To know the black filthiness
Of your dark sins
And the salvation by grace
Of your own soul.

September 24, 2009

A FEW of My Favorite Things...

While my favorite things are not schnitzel with noodles, girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes, or bright copper kettles, I do have many favorites. As I mulled this over in my mind, I came up with a short and by no means complete list:

... crunchy crackers, polka dots, dark and heavy clouds, fresh bread, silhouettes, hints of cinnamon, woodsy smells, being freshly showered, "new" smell, Caprese salad, singing when alone, references to Chicago in songs, big earrings, dark nail polish, a book that engrosses, well-developed characters, skeleton keys, a new idea, clean and cool sheets, lightning, theological conversations, breezes, dim lighting, the smell of coffee, a good sneeze, a pretty cupcake, nice teeth, a blank piece of paper, daily planners...

While compiling this list, I was reminded that "every good and perfect gift comes from above," and I also reminded myself to worship as I enjoy my favorites. I hope you'll do the same today.

September 6, 2009

When Fat Girls Get Thinner...

When you look in the mirror, who do you see? When you think of yourself, who are you?

I am a fat girl.

I am not really a fat girl; I am an average girl... but only just. When a girl has been fat her whole life, it's hard for her to think of herself otherwise. I grew up thinking I was big-boned. It was not unrealistic to think so; after all, I'd always been overweight and tall, and come from "good stock" on my dad's side. Turns out though, I'm not big-boned. I'm normal-boned, and tall. Turns out I have collar bones. Turns out I have cheekbones. Who knew? At any rate, I lost 30 pounds. I had been the same size for about 10 years. And now I'm thinner than I was in middle school. That's a good thing-- I'm healthy, I feel good, I look good. But I am a fat girl.

Most fat girls, no matter how self-confident they are, are insecure. We don't look like girls in the magazines, guys don't look our way, and we get looks of disdain when when we order whatever we want at a restaurant. We are used to and fear rejection. We assume guys won't be interested in us and we'll be the perpetual friend and maybe never the girlfriend. We can't walk into any store we want and wear something cute and stylish. We don't turn heads. When that's the life you're used to, it's not easy to make an adjustment.

I'm a fat girl because I still feel insecure. I feel guilty for ordering what I want at restaurants. I assume guys won't be interested in me and I'll be the perpetual friend and maybe never the girlfriend. I forget that I can walk into any store I want and wear something cute and stylish. Though my outside has changed, my inside remains.

And my question remains: how does a now-thinner fat girl stop being a fat girl?

Apparently, it doesn't matter to my psyche that I have always had the same intelligence, sense of humor, and friendliness. The fat girl thing just kind of consumes, because like it or not, our world has a hard time seeing past the fat to the treasure. And so now that the fat (or much of it) is gone... how evident is the treasure?

fat picture/thinner picture

August 27, 2009


Last weekend I saw what I thought would be a typical QT movie, meaning of course, that it would be brimming with undue and over-done violence, would be humorously irreverent, expertly filmed, completely stylized... and totally enjoyable. Inglorious Basterds was exactly that, and I loved every minute of it.
What I didn't expect was the sociological/philosophical questions it would bring to mind.

*** spoiler alert ***

I sat there, laughing (though shielding my eyes from the gore) with the rest of the theater when the members of Brad Pitt's inglorious squad beat a German soldier to death. I laughed (though shielding my eyes from the gore) when they carved a swastika into their foreheads so they could never forget the atrocities they'd committed while wearing the Nazi uniform. I was pleased to see that they weren't going to pull a Valkyrie, but that Hitler was indeed going to die, and of course-- I laughed when they riddled him with bullets. I felt a sense of satisfaction when a theater full of Nazis and Nazi sympathizers burned.

But then it hit me... how sick is this? How sick are we that we, as a collective group of individuals in a theater, are actually happy and pleased to see the torture and deaths of a group of people (however heinous their own actions had been). Were we really so very different from the Nazis in the movie who laughed as their hero sniper killed hundreds of ally soldiers? We sneered from our theater seats as Hitler laughed at the allies dying... and then we laughed as the movie depicted their deaths.
I don't even know if QT intended this little commentary, because I think with a film like that, he enjoyed seeing the Nazis "get theirs" as much as the rest of us in the theater. Even so, it made me think... and maybe you'll think about it to...

August 24, 2009

Reaching the (Supposedly Reached) Unreached...

There is a people group that are being ignored by the Christian masses. This group is not located in a distant jungle, atop a mountain, the remote tundra, or the epic desert. The group to which I am referring is the civilized western Europeans.

Despite the rich and legendary Christian threads woven into their tapestry, these countries have effectively eliminated God from their lives, leaving less than 1% of born-again believers among most European countries. That means that most African and Middle-Eastern countries have a higher percentage of Christians than the European countries which have taken their religious freedom for granted for centuries.

The Irish (despite their St. Patrick, who brought Christianity to the Celtic pagans) have a cover of Catholic religiosity and Protestant violence, but the brokennes, alchoholism, and emptiness hangs over the country as thick as the fog that hangs over the fields.

The German (despite being the birthplace of the Reformation) have all but abandoned their heritage of Christianity in favor of Post-Modernism.

The French, the Italian, the Greek... all of these countries are united in more than their currency system. They have abandoned the faith they once had, and because they are not a third-world country, because they speak a recorded language, and because they have the freedom to believe in Christianity if they choose, they are ignored.

I would even go so far as to say that some Christians turn their nose up to those who would be missionaries in Europe, as if they "can't take the heat," or are looking for a posh assignment in missionary-dom. That kind of attitude is ridiculously uncalled for and ungodly. As if those in Europe didn't need the gospel as much as someone in the Congo. I believe the great commission told believers to go into ALL the world, not just the remote corners. The missionary to Europe faces different challenges than his brother in the Amazon, but they are challenges just the same. Hearts are hard, probably harder than most. Europeans are well-off, and believe they have all they need-- why come to Christ? They argue with intellectual stubbornness that an aboriginal tribe wouldn't possess.

This is a frustration of mine, this is a passion of mine. This is something I want to see change.

August 17, 2009

How I See It...

It is the first day of school. I am wearing new shoes that smell so good I took an extra whiff this morning (knowing of course, that would be the last time I could do so before they began to smell of sweat, not freshly manufactured goods). I am also wearing a new outfit, stiff with store-starch and creases, and Mom carefully put my hair into a ponytail this morning. I am scrubbed clean. On my back is a new backpack that has not yet lost its shape, and in said backpack are fresh, clean, new supplies just waiting to be used: a crayon box filled with that comforting crayon smell; freshly sharpened pencils with perfect, unused erasers; pudgy little "pink pet" erasers that would most likely not be used for erasing but would instead be picked apart in moments of curricular boredom; notebooks ready to be filled with knowledge; Lisa Frank or kitten folders and trapper-keepers-- the beginning of organized bliss! What's more, I also have in my possession a brand-new Mickey and Minnie lunchbox, complete with thermos that is filled with pineapple-orange-banana juice. There is most certainly a note from Mom inside.

I shyly walk onto the playground. It's still a little warm, but there's a cool breeze reminding me that my favorite season is on the way. I haven't seen most of my classmates for three months, and some of them have really grown taller. All are scrubbed clean, and the boys have their hair combed as neatly as if it were picture day. The new shoes, clothes, and backpacks gleam with the splendor of "back-to-school," and there's a bit of pride in each young face.

Inside, the room is clean and organized, with lots and lots of apple paraphernalia. My name is on my desk, my books, my supplies: I am expected and wanted here. The teacher is excited and smiley, the students are nervous and anticipatory. I love school.


It is the first day of school. I am wearing the only shoes I know I can stand up in for eight hours. I could not afford a new outfit, so instead I wear whatever looks professional, stylish, and commands respect. I took less time than usual on my hair this morning because I was so tired that I got ready too slowly and started running late. I am scrubbed clean, yet wear a layer of sweat in this Florida heat. On my arm is an over-stuffed purse filled with everything that should be in my desk and not in my purse; what's more, I have in my possession a plastic Target back filled with a peanut butter sandwich, apple, and a 100-calorie pack. There is certainly no note, unless of course I write one to myself to remind myself to bring the cupcakes or drop off the movies.

I frenziedly walk into the school, drop off the cupcakes, and make my way to the parking lot where I watch all the students roll out of their cars in their new shoes, clothes, and backpacks. It's 8:00 a.m., but it's already ungodly hot and it's so humid that my hair shrinks two inches. I haven't seen most of my students for two and a half months, and some of them have really grown taller. All are scrubbed clean; the girls' hair has grown inches and the boys' hair has been cut inches. There is an air of doom and gloom in the sorrowful yet expectant faces I meet with a smile.

Inside, my room is clean and organized. In my compulsiveness I am dreading the entrance of the students which will inevitably lead to a room that is less clean and organized. There is no apple paraphernalia. My name is on the list of outside, lunch, and devotional duty: I am expected here. I act excited and smiley; the students are nervous and anticipatory and a little bit more brazen than I ever remember being. Somehow, even so, I love school.


It's interesting how point of view changes when you go from the classroom to behind the desk...

August 13, 2009

The Mealtime Memories...

I can still smell big burgers and fries (and sometimes noodles and garlic bread) when I think of some of my favorite memories. My memories paint me walking through the sunless, fluorescent tunnels of Moody, rounding that corner where maybe you'll spy a cute boy coming from the boys' dorm, and then up the ramp to the glorious meadow of tile where sunlight peeked in and people swarmed from every direction with one mind: food. If it was indeed "Big Burger Thursday" at lunchtime, the line into the SDR curled back around into the bowels of the tunnels, back towards the areas only Food Service ever dared to trod. There seemed to be a haze of gluttony hanging over each college student, for we had smelled the big burger and fries from the courtyard, and followed its aroma to the tunnels. We would stand in line chatting with our friends, but secretly we were planning our burgers and mentally strategizing our way through the SDR, praying the lines would move quickly or that they wouldn't run out of that blessed colby jack cheese.
Finally the meal-ticket-puncher would punch-punch the meal out of my card, and then it was every Moody student for himself. Mentally arming myself, I'd walk straight to the lefthand side, as everyone knew the righthand side had the leftover junk that only those too lazy for the big burger line would touch. Tray. Knife. Fork. Napkins. And boom, I was in line, ready to go. Wait, slow down just a tad so as not to look too eager in front of potentially good-looking boys.
At last, some joyful Food Service worker would slap that patty on the bun, and I would be free to add condiments. Then the fries. Add colby jack cheese, and another slice just for me to eat, simply because it wasn't over-processed orange plastic like what they offered for sandwiches.
Then came the quick eye-sweep of your bro-sis table (the Moody phenomenon of seating arrangements that yielded a high quotient of flirtatious activity) to scope out your eating buddies, and then the seat choice. Choosing wisely, I would sit as closely to the center as possible. One by one, the seats filled in. Boys and girls taking lunch breaks from their classes would revel in the rare mid-day opportunity to converse.
Perhaps it was due to the difficulty of classes, perhaps it was the unique Moody "bubble," or maybe it's just that college students are weird-- whatever the reason, I found that mealtimes were rife with moments of hilarity. Witty things were said, ridiculous things were said, hermeneutical things were said. For those with a penchant for witty banter, this was their stage. Laughter, flirting, more laughter, done with food, back for an apple, play with leftovers, rip up napkins... an hour and three rounds of people later, they would begin to shut off the lights. A Food Service employee would stealthily spray disinfectant just far enough to not poison you, yet just close enough to make you want to leave.
If it was dinner, it would be even longer and include one or two food fights and more relaxed conversation, as there were no pending classes after the meal. And once the lights shut off and the spray bottle came out, there would be the inevitable and predictable trip to CPO to check for mail, and hopefully a love note. Laugh through the tunnels past the creepy exposed and yet strangely brightly painted pipes, almost run into people around the corner, do some tunnel shenanigans after another disappointing CPO run, and then say goodbye at the junction of the dorms. Up the elevator for a night of girly hilarity on the floor... with another day of the same ahead. I would smile.
Don't ask me why my favorite memories bring me back here. It's possibly the pseudo family this world created, the comforting routine, the joyful relationships... whatever it is, it is treasured in my memory-- the mealtime memories.