Friday, August 29, 2008

If You Comment, I'll Donate a Dollar

Blogging has created a new social phenomenon. It's called "Comment Whoredom." (That's an actual scientific phrase, so if it offends you, talk to the scientists at the Social Science Behavioral Diagnostics Center.)

There's all these introverts who have blossomed through blogging, because we get to relate to others behind the veil of the internet, so you don't see how awkward we really are. Suddenly we see we have lots of friends, seeing the numbers tick up on our stat counters.

Only our friends don't talk back to us. Thirsting as only an introvert can for the affirmation we never received as members of the German club, we watch and watch for a comment to pop up. We become desperate for attention. In fact, we become Comment Hos. (Again, this is an official SSBDC term, I apologize for what potty mouths they have over there.) I know a number of highly respectable men and women who have had to go into treatment centers for this condition.

And I'm one of them. I'll even go so far as use charity to get you to comment.

So, for every one of you who leaves a comment on this post* by Wednesday, September 3rd, containing your name, I'll donate $1 to International Justice Mission, a human rights agency that fights for justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation, and oppression.

*Limit one comment per reader.

Pray for Orissa

With all the hulabaloo here in Denver, you'll probably never see this news story.

Please pray for this region in coastal east India. Because of the killing of a Hindu leader and several of his followers, rioting and violence against Christians has broken out (and it sounds like some Christians are fighting back). A Christian orphanage has even been burned down.

I'm not trying to be melodramatic, but now that I work at Compassion and I can "see" the faces of the children who are likely hiding in their homes, hoping not to be found and have their homes burned down, it makes this not just some news story but a really instance of fear and suffering.

Pray for protection for all involved, to an end of the violence, and that somehow God could use this situation for good--to bring peace and understanding to these groups.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Today, We Do Many Thing

I used to be a full-time English tutor for a high school girl from Taiwan, Newi. It was a pretty sweet setup before she was shipped back to Taiwan. Each day around 2 pm, after several hours of grammar and conversation practice, Newi would say, "Today, we do many thing," and then proceed to list off all the many things we had already accomplished that day. This was her way of saying, "Enough grammar, it's time to go eat cherries and watch Japanese soap operas," her two most favoritest things to do.

I was a pretty lax tutor, so I did watch Japanese soap operas with her once. They were pretty bad. Other times, she convinced me to play Monolopy with her, as good English practice. One time, I even took her to Elitch's with my friends, you know, as good American socializing practice. (Her rich benefactor uncle who ran a toothbrush factory in China suggested it, so don't look at me like that).

Well, today I feel like Newi: Today I Do Many Thing.

  1. I made mix CDs for Ephraim and Ricot in Haiti. Country music for Ephraim, his favorite. Ricot's contains all my favorite music, which led Mike to label it a "chick mix" of whiny white boys (my favorite).
  2. I bought $50 worth of scrapbooking supplies, realizing that slapping a huge $5 sticker on a page can save me at least 30 minutes per page (and I'm not paying for the scrapbook, otherwise this would kill my Scottish soul).
  3. I bought two books for my new extensive reading plans. One, The Worst Hard Time, on the Dust Bowl, a topic I'm intrigued by and which Mike is just sick to death of hearing about. Another, I'm a Stranger Here Myself, by Bill Bryson--a funny book making fun of America's eccentricities.
  4. I revised an interview template for interviewing people with AIDS. (Bad transition, there, huh?)
  5. I sent 1 billion emails.
  6. I gave editorial feedback to several writers.

So, today, I do many thing. I now feel completely justified in going to eat cherries and watch Japanese soap operas. (Or eat chocolate chips and watch Iron Chef, as the case may be.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

For Today... August 27, 2008

Here's something I'm stealing from someone's blog I visited recently.

Outside my Window... the family in the huge house across the gulley is eating dinner. Have I told you about the time the family caught Mike looking into their windows with binoculars? He was actually looking at the fox in the gully, but they kept their shades drawn for two months.
I am thinking... of axing the TV for a couple of months.
I am thankful for... the food I get to eat every day.
From the kitchen... provolone and ice cream and cereal. I'm apparently on a dairy diet.
I am wearing... Well, I guess this is as good a time as any to tell you. I've become a nudist. Mom, remember last year when I "quit" my job at Group? It was a discriminatory layoff for my lifestyle. Since then, I haven't been able to get a new job that will accomodate my life choices. This whole "Compassion" thing is a cover up.
I am reading... Just Courage by Gary Haugen. The space between the lines is really wide. When I worked in the publishing biz (doesn't that sound swank?), when a book wasn't long enough, you made the spaces between the lines larger. So I feel a bit stiffed. But I still like it.
I am hoping... I don't die in Haiti, I have an incredible time, I eat Haitian donuts, and Mike doesn't cry himself to sleep every night. Just every other.
I am hearing... House Hunters International. And they're in Amsterdam tonight!!!! I miss it! I'm addicted to this show.
I am creating... A scrapbook for someone I barely know, and I hate scrapbooking.
Around the house... Mike is on the phone. Shoot, men be talkin!
One of my favorite things... My parental unit.
A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week... Work, work, work, scrapbook, Estes for Labor Day...Oh my gosh, this just reminded me that I'm supposed to be writing a movie review tonight! Where is my brain these days? I used to be smart. Oh my gosh! I just read through this again to make sure I didn't spell anything wrong, and I had already forgotten I'm supposed to be writing a review!
Here is a picture thought I am sharing with you...

Several, I say, several people have said to me lately, "Christmas is just around the corner." This is wrong, I say, wrong! This is August, still people. Don't steal my thunder.


Here's a post I wrote for Compassion's blog, which reminds me that we forgot to go pick up our farm share last night. Whoops.

Monday, August 25, 2008

In the Clouds

As Tara pointed out, I didn't mention my Pikes Peak trip. I do whatever Tara tells me to do, so I'll tell you about it. Tara and Bry called us up on Saturday, evil-ly asking me to procrastinate, to which I said yes. (Again, I do whatever she says to do.)

So we planned to drive to the top of Pikes Peak, which was on my summer to-do list. Whenever Tara tells you what time she'll arrive, you always adjust it according to the Tara Time Quotient: Tara Time + 45 minutes = Actual Time.

I forgot to apply the Tara Time Quotient to our excursion, so I didn't realize one of the Primal Rules: Never get involved in a land war in Asia, and don't try to ascend 14,000 foot mountains at 2 p.m.

Anywho, we drove up and the whole top of Pikes Peak smells like donuts. It's like how you always jokingly ask, when climbing some mountain, "Is there ice cream at the top?" And the answer here is "YES! And fudge and pretzels and donuts!" Not that I'm going to climb it. How depressing to climb 8,000 feet to find a bunch of fattys like me pigging out on donuts at the top?

Anywho again. By the time we got to the top of the mountain, we had about 3 minutes, no maybe 2, gazing out at the glorious view before a teenager boomed over the loudspeaker, "If you don't get inside immediately, you'll die and lightning will melt your insides," or something like that. It wasn't too hard to go inside since the whole mountain smelled like a donut, as I mentioned earlier, and as my luxurious hair was all standing on end from the static in the air.

After just long enough for us to gobble down some donuts inside, another booming teenaged voice came over the loud speakers, saying, "Get out now! We're all going to die! Lightning, Lightning! Run for your lives!" Or something similar to that, anyway.

On our way out of the building, after the $35 dollar 5-minute experience, the clouds came swooshing over us. It was so cool. They were moving so quickly, and swallowed us and the entire mountainside up completely.

Despite not actually getting to see much of the view for very long, it was actually a very dynamic day to go. Everything looked like a movie set--like some doom was impending on the horizon. It allowed us several times to, quite appropriately, quote Gandalf: "Fly, you fools!" And that's good enough to make any day a good day.

A picture of Tara and Bryan, clutching his munchies, just before they were gobbled up by the clouds, never to be seen again.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Weekend Update with the Vannys

I haven't been sure what to write about lately. So, as I always say, when in doubt, steal. My friend Becky blogged about what's new in her life, so I'm going to do that too.
  1. Mike and I just submitted our book manuscript. Did I tell you I decided to make Mike my coauthor? He was so helpful, and it turns out his logical, thoughtful brain is great at writing Bible studies. So, just minutes ago, I emailed my manuscript to my editor. Hooray!
  2. The Web site Mike and I review movies and books for took the summer off. (When all the good movies come out. Boo.) But we're officially back on. Mike will be reviewing two books a month; I'll be reviewing one movie a month, starting with Ballet Shoes on Tuesday.
  3. Mike's about to finish two big freelance projects he's been working on all summer, including the sequel to the fantasy book he edited that just came out.
  4. I'm going on a trip to Haiti from September 9 through the 20th with work. It will be a story and photo-gathering trip, so I'll be tagging along with 1 photographer, 1 videographer, and my 2 Haitian friends and coworkers probably doing things like holding boom microphones.
  5. I semi-redecorated our apartment with money I got for my birthday, including large and impractical items that I love, like my new wooden Asian screen and 70's style circle mirror for the dining room.
  6. We renewed our lease at our apartment through March 2009, so we'll be kickin' it Tuscan style for a little while longer.
  7. Since my book is now submitted, I'm going to take some time (once I'm back from Haiti) to relax and figure out what is next: maybe learning Spanish, maybe working out more(questionable), maybe getting a theology or law degree, maybe reading the Bible cover-to-cover, maybe eating ice cream, maybe moving to someplace impractical and far away, like the Dominican Republic or Bennet, Colorado.
  8. I was invited to do training in three of the regions I work with, so I'll potentially be going to Central America, Africa, and South America in the next 6 months. Coolest job ever.
  9. Now I'm just making these up to get to 10. Mike made me a delicious grilled cheese with heirloom tomatoes today.
  10. I bought a Halloween costume (Grecian goddess) to wear next week to my sister Chris' annual hospital banquet she planned. It's a Greek-themed banquet, and she's the most creative person ever, so if she planned it, it's gonna be cool. I think she's off buying tons of grapes as we speak.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Coolest Girl I Work With

I would like to introduce you to one more person I work with.

Because she is so cool, she simply couldn't be included in a post cluttered up with other people.

She is Brandy Campbell. Writer, Cooker, Thinker, Blogger Extraordinaire.

She makes yellow derby hats look good. She runs for Rwandans. She is brutally funny. She organizes book clubs. I regularly wish I had written the things she wrote. But she deeply disagrees with the sentiment that "plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery," so I try not to steal from her. (At least, not intellectually. I do try to physically steal things from her, like post-it notes.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I Like My Job

I've officially made it 11 months in my job, which I am personally impressed by. I left such a wonderful group of people at my last job, it's hard to start over. But the last couple of weeks, I've had that feeling like I'm kind of at home. That's so nice.

I have some really cool coworkers who have made it all fun. Here's a few of them--the ones I happen to have pictures of.
This is Becky and Heidi. They're tall and pretty, but that's not why I like them. I like them because they're fans of Michael Phelps. And they're pretty.
Here's Katy. I've talked about her before. I like her because she wears June Cleavers dresses but has never actually used her oven. She's also into stuff and does stuff like moving to Uganda for two months. We're going to read Just Courage together.
Here are the regional trainers I work with, who are here for the week. Phoebe lives in Rwanda, Roberto from El Salvador, Henry from Colombia, and Rick who lives in China. I love getting to meet people from other places, so it's cool that's part of my job. And I was asked to go to Central America in November (where Roberto promised to give me homemade chocolate) and Africa in February and Brazil in March. Wahoo!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Dear World,
I'm sorry for my last post. I know it was a bit bratty. If I hurt your feelings, I sincerely apologize.

But you see, you and me and all the artsy types have got a bit of history. We've been stuffed in lockers, called four-eyes, told our pursuits are trivial, picked last for kickball, called nerds, not asked to the prom, and, worked at Starbucks. We've been bruised by you, world.
(Check out that rockin' bruise! It's morphed from pink to purple to green to yellow to brown. I wrote this whole post just for an excuse to show off my bruise.)

After all this, we're a bit punchy. We've watched you bump chests with the good ol' boys our whole lives. What can I say, I just wanted a bit of the glory.

Please accept my apology. And next time, ask me to the prom or at least the homecoming.

P.S. To make up, here's a video for you.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Too Legit to Quit

I celebrated today.

Quite often, I ask Mike, "Do you want to go check the mail? Maybe there's a check for us in the mail!" I don't know why I say this--there's no good reason that there should ever be a check in the mail. It's just one of my deep-seated life hopes, for a big, fat check in the mail.

Well, Saturday we checked the mail and guess what!
I'm 2 legit, 2 legit 2 quit. Hey, hey! 2 Legit, 2 legit 2 quit.
I got a check in the mail. My first royalty check as an author.

Take that world!

Hey all you engineers and mathmeticians and businessmen who mocked me all those years studying Pynchon and writing poetry. Ha! I got a check. A real check. And, yeah, so you make that much in one month, what's your point? I got a check.

For Party Divas at that. I didn't expect to make a dime on that book, so it's especially exciting and I don't have to feel guilty for making money on a book about poverty. So I celebrated tonight by buying a pair of dark-wash jeans from Express. Stacy London would be so proud.

Why don't you all join with me in celebrating by singing this song with me--my taunt to non-liberal arts majors everywhere: Yo, I'm a poetry-writing, flower-sniffing, liberal arts lover and I'm making money doing it.

(Don't forget while dancing to the song to do the motions: 2 Legit (hold two fingers up, then form an L with your thumb and forefinger), 2 Legit 2 Quit (same thing, followed by two fingers, and a flick of the wrist.)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Injured But Not Alone

We visited a new church this weekend. You know how sometimes you hear a message, and it seems like it was written just for you? We had that experience.

The pastor spoke about still walking, keeping going, and even dancing even when it feels like this world has given you some broken bones. It reminded me of The Shack, in which the father had both his proverbial legs broken by the evil in the world. But he realized that God loved him more than he could ever realize, and in fact, God was "especially fond of him." God was walking alongside him through life to help him and heal him as he hobbled on his injuries.

The pastor on Saturday also spoke about how, although God still allows humans to make evil choices resulting in this injured world, he loves us more than the most loving father here on earth, and comes alongside us to comfort us and hold us up as we finish the race, even when we don't know how we can possibly keep walking, let alone running, on our bum foot.

Here's a video he showed of Derek Redmond in the 1992 Olympics who pulled a hamstring. His father rushed down from the stands to help him finish the race, despite his pulled hamstring. Very touching when viewed considering that this and more is the care our Heavenly Father has for us especially in our hurt.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

I Want to Move to Kauai

I want to move to Kauai and eat fresh pineapple and jump in lagoons with waterfalls and do nothing all day long.

This song makes me want it more.

Friday, August 15, 2008

I Ate a Gymnast for Breakfast

Have you seen those girls? They're tiny. I could totally eat them for breakfast. What's funny is to watch the Americans next to the Chinese because those cute little sticks make the Americans look huge, like cave trolls or something. And then you see the Americans next to real life people, and they're like teensy-weensy hobbits too.

I propose we have a real-life oaf, you know someone who's of average size and height, do all exercises next to the gymnasts simultaneously. So while Shawn is bounding across her floor routine, there's one of us plodding along next to her, looking like an elephant. Then there will be two extra players in all the Chinese routines--an American gymnast on one side, and then one of us again next to the American.

Just for perspective. It will help you appreciate them. They International Gymnastics Committee should really think about it.

That is all to say that here's a post I wrote for Compassion today. But sadly, there are no oafs or cave trolls or hobbits or elephants in it.

And P.S. The women's gymnastics final rocked last night! And now I'm exhausted.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bland and Amiable

I just started reading Just Courage by Gary Haugen, and he cites a quote that struck me. I looked up the essay it came from, "On Liberty," by John Stuart Mill, to read it in context. It's by a British philosopher and atheist who wrote it around 1860.

He makes some strong accusations against Christians which still seem justifiable today. Here's the passage, I bolded and italicized what really struck me. Do we hold our "beliefs" as bland and amiable ideas or as necessitating action?

"[Almost all ethical doctrines and religious creeds] are full of meaning and vitality to those who originate them, and to the direct disciples of the originators. Their meaning continues to be felt in undiminished strength, and is perhaps brought out into even fuller consciousness, so long as the struggle lasts to give the doctrine or creed an ascendency over other creeds.

...[When] the doctrine has taken its place, if not as a received opinion, as one of the admitted sects or divisions of opinion: those who hold it have generally inherited, not adopted it; and conversion from one of these doctrines to another, being now an exceptional fact, occupies little place in the thoughts of their professors.

From this time may usually be dated the decline in the living power of the doctrine. We often hear the teachers of all creeds lamenting the difficulty of keeping up in the minds of believers a lively apprehension of the truth which they nominally recognize, so that it may penetrate the feelings, and acquire a real mastery over the conduct. No such difficulty is complained of while the creed is still fighting for its existence: even the weaker combatants then know and feel what they are fighting for.

...But when it has come to be an hereditary creed, and to be received passively, not actively — when the mind is no longer compelled, in the same degree as at first, to exercise its vital powers on the questions which its belief presents to it, there is a progressive tendency to forget all of the belief except the formularies, or to give it a dull and torpid assent, as if accepting it on trust dispensed with the necessity of realizing it in consciousness, or testing it by personal experience; until it almost ceases to connect itself at all with the inner life of the human being.

To what an extent doctrines intrinsically fitted to make the deepest impression upon the mind may remain in it as dead beliefs, without being ever realized in the imagination, the feelings, or the understanding, is exemplified by the manner in which the majority of believers hold the doctrines of Christianity.

...All Christians believe that blessed are the poor and humble, and those who are ill-used by the world; that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven; that they should judge not, lest they be judged; that they should swear not at all; that they should love their neighbor as themselves; that if one take their cloak, they should give him their coat also; that they should take no thought for the morrow; that if they would be perfect, they should sell all that they have and give it to the poor.

They are not insincere when they say that they believe these things. They do believe them, as people believe what they have always heard lauded and never discussed. But in the sense of that living belief which regulates conduct, they believe these doctrines just up to the point to which it is usual to act upon them.

The doctrines have no hold on ordinary believers — are not a power in their minds. They have an habitual respect for the sound of them, but no feeling which spreads from the words to the things signified.

...Even with the strictly religious, who are much in earnest about their doctrines, and attach a greater amount of meaning to many of them than people in general, it commonly happens that the part which is thus comparatively active in their minds is that which was made by Calvin, or Knox, or some such person much nearer in character to themselves. The sayings of Christ coexist passively in their minds, producing hardly any effect beyond what is caused by mere listening to words so amiable and bland."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What's Your View

Here's a post I wrote for the Compassion blog.

Photo by my talented coworker, Tonny Tunya in Indonesia.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A New China Syndrome

What's the deal with Olylmpics announcers?

It seems like the things they say just get more and more absurd every four years. Last night the Chinese male gymnast team was doing really well, sticking all their landings and such. The announcers loud response to one particularly well-stuck landing was "There's a new Chinese Syndrome. It's called China Gold!" What? What's that even mean? Did he think he was coining a new catch phrase?

Then they ask really silly questions, like when Kerry Walsh lost her wedding ring, the interviewer intently asked her, "Why is this ring so important to you?" (Duh, it's her wedding ring!)

Or they say things like, "It's hard to understand the close relationship between Michael Phelps and his mother. They're so close, it's hard to describe." (Yeah, it's almost like they have the close relationship of mother and son.)

Here's a video on another China Syndrome, but it might be evil propaganda against the Chinese, so watch warily.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sarah and Jen

When I moved to Amsterdam, Sarah and Jen created a paper chain they hung in their house, each chain link representing a day until I returned home. Each day, they'd tear off a link. For this, I love them. And for many other reasons.

Despite all the upheavals and changes in all of our lives the last six years, they've remained these loyal rocks. I think it's because they're engineers, not flighty English majors. So this post is dedicated to them, my ying and my yang. Here are just a couple of the buckets of reasons I love them.
  • One is light, and one is dark (in more way than one). One is bubbly, and one is candid. They bring balance to my life, like my chi. (I don't know what chi is, so I'm gambling that you don't either and will credit my use of the word to my brilliance, not my ignorance.)
  • They wear sweater vests, and they think this is cool. One time, one of them saw the other wearing a sweater vest, and judged this as the green light that these were still permissible in places other than country clubs. They feed on one another's sweater-vest wearing to justify their own Eddie Bauer wardrobe. They are active sweater-vest proselytizers, trying to win others, such as myself, to their cause. (If it makes you two feel better, I saw a 45-year-old mega-church pastor from Florida wearing a pastel pink sweater vest this week.)
  • Very often, we like people for why they like us. Sarah likes me because when I first moved in with her, I told her I was "kind of a ho." She has loved me ever since. I, therefore, have loved her ever since. (Important note to those unfamiliar with our jivin' street talk: I am not a prostitute, nor have I ever slept around.)
  • Jen quite often innocently says movie quotes that are (unbeknownst to her) quite dirty, or says phrases in all innocence that come off all wrong. (I'm thinking "Hands Solo," "Let's go all the way," etc. etc.)
  • They're both super-duper smarty pants. (Engineers, you know.)
  • Sarah loves wine, and Jen loves beer. That's cute.
  • Jen could watch Zoolander over and over and over and never bore of it, and she owns every Disney movie ever made, even the heinous ones.
  • For my 30th birthday, they wrote their top 30 reasons why they love me. This isn't why I love them, but it sure doesn't hurt.
  • They both are independent thinkers. This means that Jen made the very brave decision to move to a church that was better choice for her, and means that Sarah is a pastor's wife who defies all conventions.
  • Sarah is a pastor's wife, but you'd never know it (not that there's anything wrong with those types). She's so cool that she's started her own 'fish dialect and gotten others, like me, to speak it like her lemmings.
  • Jen's been everywhere, and says things like, "Well, I know when I was in Spain..." She's also the prettiest person I've seen up-close.

But mainly they're both extremely loving, candid, fun, interesting, stimulating, fabuloso people. I'm lucky that either of them ever even talks to me.

I love you two!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Fully Committed to What?

At yesterday's closing of the Willow Creek Summit, Bill Hybels said that in all his studies of leaders who accomplished great things for God, they had one thing in common: They were wholly committed and given over to serving God and being used by him.

They weren't promoting their own agenda or chasing their own dreams, but simply begging God to use themselves for him. He spoke about Mother Teresa, how her unquenchanble desire was that God would use her, that she would serve his purposes.

I've been thinking about what I've been wholly committing myself to. I remember back to days walking the paths around Group Publishing on my breaks, praying, "God, I don't care about myself and my own ends. Please just use me. Here I am, send me to accomplish your purpose." I've been quite astounded at how God answered that prayer. He said, "OK."

But I realize that in the past year or so, my vision has diminished. I haven't kept the purity of that prayer in my heart. My old idols have crept back in. Lately, if I track my thought patterns, instead of being fully committed to serving God, I have been given over to concern with myself, worrying far too much about how I'm faring. It's become this gross priority in my thoughts. Then this seeps into all things in life. Instead of the first thought and priority being serving God, being wholly available to his purposes, it's taking care of myself, worrying about my status and advancement in this world. Blech.

Holy Discontent or Infernal Busybody
Craig Groeschel said that when he's fully committed to serving God, he's miserable most of the time. I found this comforting. He's miserable because he has a holy discontent, a burning desire to be God's servant to change in the world what he knows God wants changed.

Mike has helped me to see that one of the gifts God has given me is a holy discontent. A realization that this world is not how he would have it, and a desire to be his hands to do something about it. That's what it is in its redeemed, refined form.

But when I allow my concerns in this life to diminish to myself--worrying about my own ends--my discontent diminishes too. Instead of being a holy driver of my actions, it becomes the whip of self at my back. Instead of being a passionate servant of God, I become an infernal busybody, always going, going, going; here and there, to get "my things" done.

Action Steps
Being easily excitable, I'm quite proud of myself for not giving into the urge, upon leaving the conference, to be trying to start some new ministry or some new book or chasing after some other fool thing. I'm showing admirable constraint. :)

My first action is to remain committed to the great responsibility God has already given me of being the most loving, supportive, encouraging, uplifting wife possible.

The second is to spend some down time getting back to that first love: of committing myself fully to God, reading theBible, and praying. "If a branch remains in me, he can bear much fruit; apart from me, it can do NOTHING," said Jesus. I think I need some more time in the nest, or ripening on the vine, as it were.

This song is prayer.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Depth, as Promised

I heard Gary Haugen, President/CEO of International Justice Mission speak today. I was so excited, because IJM is one of my favorite organizations. It works with people who are oppressed around the world (bonded labor, forced prostitution, police brutality, etc.) to bring their cases to justice.

Here's what I learned: If we want to be leaders who do things that matter, we have to engage in endeavors that matter to God, endeavors that God is passionate about. What matters to God? 1. The world. 2. Justice. In scouring the Bible to write Hope Lives, I did learn over and over and over how many times the Bible brings up justice. God really, really, really cares about those being oppressed and demands that we speak out for and help those being oppressed.

Honestly, I always found this a bit frustrating. I don't think I go around outright oppressing anyone myself, and I don't see anyone walking around around in Colorado with a sign on them that says, "Oppressed" or "Oppressor," though the both exist. The problem of oppression, which God cares so deeply about, can just seem a bit hard to find living in white, middle-class suburbia. But let that not blind us to the fact that it's still as HUGE a problem in the world as it was in Old Testament times. There are 27 million people in modern-day slavery around the world, and 2 million children are in forced prostitution.

But that can seem so defeating. What in the world do I have to do with that, and what in the world could I ever do to help?

I love the story of Jesus feeding 5,000. In chapel at Compassion a couple weeks ago, someone used this as an illustration, and Gary used it again today. The disciples had this intimidating, impossible task: Feeding 5,000 with 5 or so fish. Jesus wasn't intimidated by this. He simply asked the disciples to give him what they had, and he would make it sufficient. God doesn't care what we don't have or how insufficient we are. He simply asks us to give him what we have.

So, my question for today is: What do I have? Instead of thinking about how BIG the problem is and how LITTLE I am, I can open up my little hands and say, "Here, God, here's what I have. I can make fudge. I can write blogs. I don't know what you can make out of these meager gifts, but they're yours to use."

I also learned another thing: I've been getting a little scooped up in MY agenda. What is my agenda? To get a house. To settle in and nest and be happy and comfortable. Those aren't bad things, but when I put gaining those things as a priority, above seeking God's purposes in this life, I get frustrated, discontent, and, as Mike can attest, whiny.

Following God can be scary. Fighting oppression is not for the faint of heart. We always call following Christ a journey, and sometimes, hopefully always, that journey is an adventure. Adventures are scary, unsure, hard, and can seem hopeless at times.

But in our fright and despair, Jesus is brave and trustworthy and ENOUGH. And I'd rather be on an adventure than a walk around the block.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Best Gift Ever

One of the perks of my job is that occasionally my coworkers in other countries will send me gifts. I've gotten a painted coconut from Honduras and a wood plaque from Burkina Faso and a batik scarf from Indonesia. You know, that kind of thing.

So today I got this mug.
What neat writing, but, umm, is that blood? Dripping from my coffee cup?

You turn the mug around and see this.

As I drink my coffee in the morning, that freedom fighter will be poking his rifle into my mouth. Just around the corner from what you see here is a woman in a sari carrying a bayonet. Definitely going to be nominated for one of the best gifts ever.

Speaking of other countries, I just got my tickets to Haiti. I'll be going September 9-20 if no crises break out this time. The rest of this week, I'm going to the Willow Creak Leadership Summit, so all my blog posts will be super deep and spiritual and...leadery.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Marriage Is So Hard, and, Books!

I just read an article I found interesting, because it reminded me of some misconceptions I had entering into marriage.

In my church/friend/college-group-club I was in before marriage, I heard many a, many a, many a time that "marriage is so hard." In sermons and seminars we'd listen to the great "struggles" of marriage. In small groups and coffee talks, we'd talk about how darn hard marriage is (like we knew). The fighting, the sacrifices, the compromises, the turmoil. I remember one good friend saying, "I'm going to have to be so crazy in love to get married because it's just too hard to be worth it otherwise."

So I entered into marriage waiting for the other shoe to drop. Waiting for the screaming and crying and tortuous turmoil.

I'm still holding both shoes.

Perhaps this line of reasoning was really just employed to make all us sad-sack singles feel better about our plight. ("Hey, enjoy singlehood. Once you're married, your life is in the toilet most of the time!") But it drove into my head that marriage=suffering. My ideas were all wrong.

I do know a lot of couples for whom these superlatives held true. Marriage was hard, marriage was screaming and crying. The first year or two was...unpleasant. But I know other couples who seem to trip through the tulips of marriage like any other day on the Irish hills. (Do they have tulips in Ireland? They should.)

I guess I'm one of the tulip-trippers. I'm sure my marriage will go through the hard times. Hey, it already has. I can remember some nights locked in the bathroom, pouting in the bathtub. (OK, just one, but it felt like more.)

It's not easy, but I guess it's like they say with pregnancy and labor: It's all worth it. So you don't really remember the night gritting your teeth and screaming, because at the end of it, you're holding this wrinkly, slimy baby that's the most beautiful thing you've ever seen.

(Did I really just use that analogy? Yes, I did. Marriage=slimy baby. I think in the blink of an eye, or in the post of a blog, I just became the kind of person I can't stand. I'm going to have to write a scathing post about how much married people who ooze and goosh about marriage and liken it to child birth make me want to puke.)

OK, enough yapping about marriage. I stole this from Brandy (the girl you're all gonna ditch me for.) I thought it'd be a sneaky way to brag about how much I read. Oops. I guess my pretension isn't as effective when I just put it right out there.

This list has something to do with the National Endowment for the Arts’ Big Read program, or something. Allegedly, the NEA estimates that the average adult has only read six of these 100 books. Let's see how erudite and impressive Amber is. (I used the word erudite to impress you. See how many levels of fantastic I have?) I bolded the books I've read.

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (love the shoes, love the hat, love it.)
The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien (this should count as 3, I get an extra gold star)
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
Harry Potter series - JK Rowling (this should count as 7)
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
The Bible
Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte

Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
(didn't like it)
Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
Complete Works of Shakespeare (I didn't actually read sonnet 362. Or all those boring Henry plays.)
Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger (Love it.)
The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger (Friki-diki.)
Middlemarch - George Eliot
Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell (Started it, couldn't finish, watched the movie instead.)
The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald (One of my favorites.)
Bleak House - Charles Dickens (Never heard of it.)
War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Love it.)
Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame (Just read chapters, not all.)
Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy (Tried twice. Couldn't do it.)
David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis (This should count as 7, too.)
Emma - Jane Austen
Persuasion - Jane Austen (Started it. Watched the movie instead.)
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis (This was already listed above, silly list.)
The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne (Does half of Winnie the Pooh and half of Wind in the Willows count as 1?)
Animal Farm - George Orwell
The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown (Tried. Got bored on first page. No attention span for albinos.)
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery (Hello!!! Of course!)
Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
Lord of the Flies - William Golding
Atonement - Ian McEwan
Life of Pi - Yann Martel
Dune - Frank Herbert (Tried for my husband's sake. But love only goes so far, apparently.)
Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley (Love, love it.)
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon (Listened to it on tape. Realized afterward it was full of charts and drawings and what not.)
Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
The Secret History - Donna Tartt
The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
On The Road - Jack Kerouac
Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy (Why are there 3 Thomas Hardy's? Just don't like him.)
Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding (I love the movie and like the Simpsons' spoof of her...)
Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie (I've seen him in "Bridget Jones's Diary.)
Moby Dick - Herman Melville (Like it. Sperm whale trivia and all.)
Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens (I was the rose girl in the high school musical. Who will buy my sweet red roses?)
Dracula - Bram Stoker
The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson (Haven't read this, but really like his writing.)
Ulysses - James Joyce (Not a fan of my Irish comrade, actually.)
The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath (I have read most her poetry, and Daddy is one of my favorites.)
Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
Germinal - Emile Zola
Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
Possession - AS Byatt
A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
The Color Purple - Alice Walker
The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro (Saw the movie.)
Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
Charlotte’s Web - EB White
The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Faraway Tree Collection
Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery

The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
Watership Down - Richard Adams
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
The Three Musketeers
Hamlet - William Shakespeare
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
Les Miserables - Victor Hugo (I read the first chapter in French.)

So I read 37. How many degrees of cool does that make me?

On a similar note, here's Time's list of the top 100 novels since 1923. I don't like a lot of these because I think they're erudite and pretentious, but I'm a sucker for lists. I've only read 13 of these, and they're the types of books you read just to tell other people you've read them, not because you like them. (Though I do love Invisible Man, Ralph Eliott, and Beloved, Toni Morisson. I must think I'm black.) And, please, "Are you there God, it's me Margaret?" by Judy Blume? I read it at 12, and don't think I'm any the better for it.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog

Greetings, blog fans. This is a special blog entry. It's special because it's being written by a special guest blogger: me, mister Michael Jonathan Van Schooneveld. Blogtastic.

I'm here today to talk to you about something serious. Choices. Every day we make choices. Every day events transpire that affect how those choices turn out, so many events, so many little changes, many of them the result of other people's choices and reactions. Life is complex. I often wonder: might it have turned out differently? Just a little change could have sent my life spinning off in a completely different direction.

I've aspired to be a lot of things in my life. I can't say I've managed to become many of them. Some of the most important things, I have (husband to an awesome wife). But I've had a lot of big, some might say megalamoniacal, dreams. Sometimes you just never get the chance. Sometimes you just never really try hard enough to make it happen. Sometimes achieving one dream takes you away from your others. And sometimes you find you don't know what your dreams really are.

Well, I sometimes dreamed of being evil. A mastermind (my sparktest personality). I can't help it. Supervillains excite me. Even at the renaissance festival, I literally couldn't help myself from cheering for the villain of the tournament. Something about it just makes me smile. What kind of villain would I have been? The Joker (Dark Knight) had a certain philosophical bent I appreciate, but I'm just not that crazy. What would it have taken to make it happen? Well, today I saw something that I think gave me, and will give you, a glimpse.

It's called Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog. It's a little something Joss Whedon (creator of the astoundingly good Firefly and Serenity) cooked up with his friends and family during the writers strike. It's a musical in three acts detailing the attempts of Dr. Horrible (played by Doogie Howser) to get into the Evil League of Evil, win the girl of his dreams, and defeat his nemesis, Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion). Somehow I just saw myself in it. But really, my motivation is that I think it's hilarious and I love Joss's shows (and Nathan Fillion) and I want you all to see it. And it's not always going to be available to see for free; this is a special thing, so watch it. His sidekick is Moist, he lives in a world populated by such great villains as Bad Horse, Fake Thomas Jefferson, Dead Bowie, and Professor Normal. Watch it. Now. And remember what you have been spared.

Never Question a Blonde

This morning, as I stroked Mike’s hair in bed (sorry for that disturbing image), I noticed one white hair hiding above his ear. I pointed it out. "I’m a blonde!” was his angry response as he squinted at me through bleary, sleep-filled eyes.

I’m unsure if this was to infer that he is a blonde and therefore the white hair must simply have been a blonde hair, or if this was meant to simply deny the presence of anything but golden locks on his head, but it reminded me of a very important principle. A principle you will do well to always keep in mind if you want to make it in this world:
Never question a blonde.

Blondes are one of the most touchy races on earth, like a caught badger, and one must learn the proper care and feeding of blondes if you are to be long for this world. I’m using the term “blonde” lightly here, the same term that millions of “blondes” hold onto with the vice grip of a determined and desperate badger.

You see, there are many blondes living amongst us that you don’t even know about. It was easier in high school and college. Those who proudly boast, “I had white blonde hair when I was a baby,” in the sun-kissed days of high school and youth, still hold on to some of their yellow streaking, allowing them to claim blonditude.

I had a good friend in college who proudly flipped her “blonde” hair over her shoulder, because the tip-top layer still retained the faint yellow of summer church camp. But, honestly, the rest was brown. Just brown. (People have died for less, if you find me dead in bed with a poison dart in my head, you know what happened.) But because she had the obligatory top-layer of faded yellow, she passed.

But once you’re an adult, it gets messy. All semblence of blondtitude is gone, but they hold on mercilessly to the title. I’ve been quite surprised in my adult life to be in the middle of a conversation with a mocha-haired woman, quite clearly a brunette, when she throws out the blonde word, talking about how she loves being blonde and such. I’m always quite taken aback.
It’s called The Blonde Denial.

Women and men whose golden locks faded in the 2nd grade are still desperately clinging on to the label and all the glory it implies. They’ve resorted to various subgenres of blonde to prove their blonditude: dirty blonde, sandy blonde, dishwater blonde. (Is it really better to liken your locks to dishwater than to admit your passage to brunette?)

So the rest of us must tread lightly when dealing with our sensitive brothers and sister, still bereft and dealing with their loss of identity.
Here’s a few pointers:
  • Never, ever use the word “brunette” to describe anyone. It’s just too dangerous. And for many constitutes the ultimate insult.
  • Slyly ask to see their childhood pictures. No blonde can resist parading out their golden pictures and talking about their golden hair. Once they've revealed their identity, you’ll know to never question the blonde.
  • Just call everyone a blonde. If:
a. It’s a real blonde, then all will be in order.
b. It’s a former blonde, they’ll agree and you just won yourself a lifelong friend.
c. It’s a brunette, we’ll understand and can laugh together at the absurdity.

Important Addendum:
Above post is in no way to imply that my royal Dutch husband is anything other than a true, perfect blonde. Just look at that pink skin burning through his pale sunflower strands.

Any offense caused to said True Blonde is completely unintended. You are a paragon of honey-tipped god-hood.

Governmental Warning: The U.S. Government is warning all brunettes to keep their distance from one "Amber Van Schooneveld." She is said to have multiple death threats out on her, and any brunettes known to associate with her will be assumed to be part of her plot to undermine the blondeness of the country.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


As we've learned from countless angsty poets and musicians, dads can really mess us up. A messed up father can destroy a child's perspective of themselves, the world, and especially of God (the Father).

But I have my own video to add to those two sobering ones.

Although the negative is true, I'm happy to report that the reverse is true too. My daddy gave me a name, but then he also gave me love and hope and security and dancing.

So many people can't stand the idea of God the Father because their father was hard, impatient, demanding, and demeaning. But for me, embracing the idea of God the Father, the Father who reputedly has "loved you with an everlasting love" (Jeremiah 31:3) is natural, as my own earthly father has always shown me an unconditional, enduring love.

Believing that "the Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love" (Psalm 103:8) is second nature. My own father pours compassion and grace on me when I suffer. My own father has always been slow to anger, never reacting in quick heat. My own father is abounding in love--I've never experienced the limit of it yet.

Understanding that Jesus "did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as ransom for many" (Mark 10:45), is made clear by my father's example, who lives to serve others, putting them before his own needs.

It's not hard for me to believe that "this is how God showed his love among us...he sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4: 9-10) because I know my own father would sacrifice everything to save me.

I am a confident, balanced, and successful woman in large part because I have a father who is an enduring, supportive, loving rock in my life.

In a world full of hurt and broken promises and bad choices, dad, thank you for being the father you were created to be.

Happy 61st birthday!
Your little angel girl