Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Baby Showers Tres y Cuatro

Last week, I wrapped up my month o' baby showers with showers three and four. The third was a shower at work with my lovely Compassion friends. It was a joint effort, and I so appreciate all the work people put in. Gina started the shower with a slide show of what Mike and my child will look like...apparently she got Mike's receding hairline.

They also arranged for my Canadian coworkers to Skype into the shower, so lucky Aaron and Adam got to sit in on a girly baby shower. But we only made them stay 10 minutes. Gina also wrote a baby Mad Libs game for the shower. My friend Jen was in charge of the cake and had it special designed to match our crib set! So cute.

As it turns out, my coworkers are craftsier than I know, and Alexandra got several amazing handcrafted items, like baby booties, cardigan, and a loom-woven baby blanket. It was wonderful to see all my work friends and feel like I still have a place at Compassion, even as a Canadian traitor.

On Friday, Brenda and Jennifer threw me a shower with friends from church. Since I'd had a couple of day-time showers, they made it a Friday night coffee and dessert shower. Here are a couple of the lovely ladies who attended.

Brenda, who loves to bake, made all kinds of goodies like biscotti, coffee cake and, by my special request, key lime pie. Yum! Since many of the ladies were new moms, I got lots of practical gifts...like this one. (If you don't know, don't ask.)

And lastly, here is a 35 week picture for my sister-in-law who requested it.

I'm so blessed and thankful for all my wonderful friends, family and coworkers during this season of showers!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Not Our Home

Sometimes, the events of life seem so horrible that there is simply no way to explain, platitude our spiritualize our way out of them. Sometimes, though it sounds fatalistic, the only response seems to be, "this world is not our home." It may seem like a trite phrase (and not actually one contained in the Bible), but it expresses this verse well:

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day...So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:16, 18)

It can be easy to be at home and consider Allegheny Drive to be the final destination, living in modern-day America. It can be pretty nice. But seeing the experiences of some of my coworkers around the world reminds me that this is not our final destination - praise God! My coworkers in Haiti have often reminded me of this truth, through the series of trials they have battled over and over and over in just the 4 years I've been working for Compassion.

Seeing their perseverance amidst trial and amidst little hope that the material plight of this world will be changing has always reminded me of the importance of fixing our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. In placing our hope and joy not solely in the material, familial or relational joys of this life, but in God and our hope for eternity. This world will always ultimately disappoint; the latter, never.

Now, after many a hurricane, an earthquake, a burglary and the death of many a friend and family member, another tragedy has occurred to one of my Haitian friends. The adopted daughter of he and his wife was raped and murdered in their home.

It was senseless and brutal, and it is so hard to know how to respond. But here is how he has responded. It inspired and encouraged me, and I hope it will you too.

It was a brutal and premature demise, from which it will be difficult to recover. I cannot imagine what could be worse.

The Lord was on His throne when Jezebel conspired against Naboth, a righteous man, and ordered his death by stoning (I Kings 21). He was on his throne during the calamities in the family of Job (Job 1 and 2); and when John the Baptist was beheaded, the forerunner of the Savior of the world (Matt. 14: 1 to 13). He was there during the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7: 54 to 60). Moreover, He was there during the crucifixion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, His only beloved Son (Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 22 and 23, John 18, 19).

So many stories of martyrdom through the annals of church history confirm the reality of His presence in our time of suffering. We must not allow ourselves to be smitten with love for the world because our destination is beyond this earthly life ... WE ARE NOT AT HOME!

The Lord was in control when the bandits were allowed to make [her] a martyr. God could have stopped it, but He did not. We wonder why, but we know that He is sovereign; and glory be to His name forever.

[She] is happy now; I have no doubt, because she was a true servant of God. She loved God more than anything. She meditated all the time on His word and prayed constantly. On the day of her assassination, she was reading in John 18 and 19 (a passage I mentioned above). We found her Bible open in this passage, laid on her bed.

Finally, [she] has gone to be with her Lord. No one knew that she would leave earth that way... I know that I will see my dear friend and adopted daughter again in eternal bliss. Today, her family, my wife and I are still suffering, but as for her, she will never suffer again! I am still weeping, but her tears have already been wiped away forever! Glory be to the immeasurable God who has allowed this to happen.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Summer's Worst Two Weeks

As Mike and I think about parenthood, we naturally wonder what our daughter will be like: Sweet? Funny? Shy? And the ominous question has inevitably occurred to us: What if our daughter wants to play sports? To us, this prospect is as scary and unfamiliar as if a jock's son wanted to become a ballerina. If she wants to be a dancer, singer, actor, performer, or brain bowl champ, we've got that covered. But basketball, now that would be truly scary. We have baggage.

Mike's sports aversion is fairly easy to riddle out. As the smallest kid in school, he was always picked last, and it was at the hands of jocks that he was stuffed in lockers, garbage cans, and given swirlies (unsuccessfully, he'd like to point out).

My own antagonism towards sports is inexorably fastened to, of all things, church camp: "Summer's Best Two Weeks." Or, as I more aptly call it, "Summer's Worst Two Weeks."

As a little girl, my sister and I went to our church's sports-based summer camp. At camp, you learned how to play different sports each day, presumably in order to determine what you liked and what you were skilled at. Sounds fun, right?

The person who, no doubt innocently, planned this camp hadn't met the likes of me.

The goal was to learn the various skills of different sports and then be given ribbons (blue, red, and whatever comes after) based on what skills you had been able to master. My sister had a grand ol' time. Naturally outgoing and coordinated, she started raking the blues in. Me, not so much. The first several days passed with no ribbons. I couldn't master even the most basic skill sets of any of the sports. By the 4th day or so, camp counselors began taking me out alone to work with me individually to hopefully squeeze a ribbon out of my fumbling fingers.

To no avail. I simply stunk at sports. I couldn't master any one skill in any one sport. The grand finale of the camp was presenting all the ribbons to the children in a group ceremony. It was humiliating to an already shy, insecure girl. In the end, they may have given me a pity purple ribbon in curling or some such sport, but I can't remember. What I also can't remember is any kind of spiritual teaching at the camp. Surely it was there, but it left zero lasting impact on my brain.

But one thing was seared in my mind forever: You're no good and everyone knows it. Perhaps this seems a tad melodramatic, but children's minds are rather melodramatic, or at least mine was. (It's a good thing God gave me the most loving, supportive parents ever, considering how fragile my psyche was.) Through church camp, I learned to associate sports with shame, failure, and embarrassment. I learned that sports weren't about fun, but about achievement and competition. I learned that if you're no good at sports, you're an outsider. It pushed my inward nature yet further inward. I don't believe I ever willingly played group sports again. Every college ultimate Frisbee game or work volleyball tournament found me sitting on the sidelines because I never wanted to feel like I felt at Summer's Worst Two Weeks again.

Wow, what a downer post, huh? I set out intending to write a funny account of my misadventures at summer camp.

But in any case, what if Alexandra wants to be an athlete? I'll support her. But I'll never connect personal value to a score. I won't raise one particular skill set over and above the other skill sets God has created. And if she just happens to take after her nerdy little parents, I'll teach her that it's OK to be different in a world of jocks.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sock Monkeys and Monolithic Bosoms

I have now nursed a sock monkey.

Last night, Mike and I went to our first breastfeeding class because, yes, we are those intellectuals who go to classes to learn what other people have been doing naturally for thousands of years. Mike was a little unsure about going to a breastfeeding class because, as he put it, "I don't have breasts." I reminded him, though, that he does have a memory which I sometimes lack. Mike's lack of endowments aside, he came (it's pretty easy to get men to do things when you're pregnant), though he did ask in the car, "Do you really think there are going to be any other men there?"

The answer was a resounding yes. The room was packed with supportive, attentive husbands. Long gone are the days of the 60s when, according to my 1960s baby book, the woman shouldn't really expect the father to be there for the childbirth - he probably has important work to do! No, these men are cut from a different cloth. They were all leaning forward (perhaps this had to do with the giant pictures of bosoms displayed on the wall) and asking more questions than the ladies.

One of my favorite question and answer exchanges with a dad:

Dad: "So, can you drink beer when breastfeeding?"

Teacher: "[Long explanation about the pros and cons of alcohol while breastfeeding, followed by:] So, it's OK to drink one glass only occasionally as long as you wait 2 hours before breastfeeding."

Dad: "How often is occasionally?"

Teacher: "Not very often, you know, occasionally."

Dad: "So like, once a week, twice a week?"


But kidding aside, one of my most common tasks in my job is editing interviews with new moms in the developing world. To put it mildly, many of the fathers do not attend breastfeeding classes with their wives. Many are too preoccupied drinking, gambling and hitting their wives. There are a lot of good fathers in the world, but man, there are a whole lot of bad, too. So I am thankful for men who are willing to sacrifice 2 1/2 hours on a Tuesday night to talk about breastfeeding. Go, men!

I do find it rather funny that boys spend so much time in their adolescence trying to get just one peek at the fabled female domes when they could just walk into a breastfeeding class and get an eyeful. Mike and I were late, so we had to sit in the front row, just feet away from the large projecting screen displaying 6-foot high bosomy monoliths. I felt like I was gazing up at the Mount Rushmore of busts.

We practiced breastfeeding on our stuffed toys that we had brought. I (not yet having children) had no doll to bring, but only one sweet little sock monkey to nurse. But luckily the teacher lent me a doll instead so I can still look Sock Monkey Sam in the eye.

On the way home, Mike admitted that he just couldn't picture me breastfeeding. "You're too ethereal," he said. Ah, yes, I am rather cloud-like and celestial, am I not? I began feeling very smug until he followed up with, "I can see you hugging her and then lecturing her, but not breastfeeding." Nice.

Although I have a bit of the schoolmarm in me, I am rather looking forward to breastfeeding. It has to do with cats. I love kitties and puppies and warm cuddlies. Although I don't usually have the "proper" feminine feelings about various feminine things (such as pregnancy and childbirth), I do love to cuddle things. Yet, I've been denied this right all my life because of my cursed nose and allergies. Perhaps this is why I'm so uptight and repressed. In any case, I look forward to unleashing my full cuddliness in nursing my baby.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

An Anesthesiologist's Open Letter to Preggos

After my post about the horror of childbirth, as portrayed in my birthing class, an anesthesiologist sent me this letter, based on his misadventures in OB. I thought it was pretty darn funny and is meant in good fun. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. (On a side note, there have been some important breakthrough studies on the level of pain in childbirth. Read more here.)

Dear Women:

Congratulations! You are about to become mothers. It's a momentous occasion whether it is your first or your fifth child. The challenges and triumphs over the coming years will truly serve as a legacy for your families, and I wish you the best of luck!

Warm congratulatory expressions aside, let's get down to the heart of the matter: you are all completely crazy. The screaming does nothing to help alleviate the pain. The hails of expletives do not speed the process up. And demanding that your husbands fluff your pillows 37 times per hour does not magically roll the clock back 9 months.

Please do not misunderstand me. I can empathize with your situation. (I had to take entire classes on feigning empathy in medical school. And I aced them!) I'm here to help you!

Do you remember the day that epidurals and c-sections were discussed in your birthing class? It was probably right before you decided that you want to have a "natural" birthing experience. You wanted to practice your rhythmic breathing and balance on your birthing ball. You may have discussed having some raspberry tea during labor to help you relax. Your "birthing plan" may also have involved the use of a mirror so as to witness the unspeakable horror associated with your current endeavor. Well, you should have paid more attention to the epidural discussion 6 months ago. As you may be realizing this very minute as you sit on L&D, your birthing plan has just been flushed down the toilet.

I know that things don't always go as planned and you might have some frustration because of that. But here's a concept that you need to warm up to very rapidly: I am the only friend you have right now. Your OB/Gyn is hiding in the lounge waiting until the last possible moment to come into the room to deliver your spawn. Your nurse is out at the nurses' station trying to figure out what kind of concealer and foundation you used to hide your horns, cloven hooves, and forked tongue. And I just saw your husband out in the hall flipping through the yellow pages to find a divorce attorney. I am the only person who can help you.

So I implore you: let me help you!

When you have abandoned your natural birthing plan and beg for an epidural, it wouldn't hurt to be nice to me when I come into your room to place it. Do not blame me that it should have been placed 2 hours ago when you were still refusing modern medicine.

I know that you're uncomfortable. I also know that I didn't show you the giant 6-inch long needle I have to shove into your spine (for this would have made you lose the last ounce of sanity you have), but just try to remember that there are needles involved. Your epidural is not placed using the whiskers of kittens and fluffy piles of goose down. So for the love of all that is good and holy: HOLD STILL. In 2 minutes, you can wiggle and squirm all you want.

In conclusion, just remember that I'm on your team. With just a little bit of cooperation, you'll be poised to enjoy the arrival of your new family addition. You might even want to name your baby after me, but I'll leave that up to your discretion. Congratulations once again--and next time just give me a call and we'll schedule an elective c-section and dispense with all of this in advance.


Your anesthesiologist

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Major League Sport of Womendom: The Comparing Game

I believe one of the most basic and pervasive impulses of the female is to compare one's self to other females.

As far back as I can recall, I've been playing the comparing game. When I was in 4th grade and in fluorescent orange spandex for my Janet Jackson dance recital, I distinctly recall comparing my 10-year-old belly rolls to those of the other girls around me. My OK-ness was determined through the comparing game: As long as my belly rolls were fewer and smaller than the majority of the other girls, then I won. Thus began a life-long value system of determining worth through comparison, an almost subconscious instinct to constantly rank and either win or lose. Perhaps men do the same thing, but I can't pretend to know anything about the male psyche.

As we grow older, the comparing continues but slightly alters based on context. The body comparison game continues...well at least to age 33, I can vouch for that. This is why I've never understood why any woman would want to work out at Curves. So many women dislike working out in front of men, afraid of what the men will think of them. It's not the men you have to worry about, honey! It's the women checking out your backside 95% of the time. Unless you're super hot, perhaps. I don't know; I haven't had this problem. When I work out at a gym, the men pay no mind to my legs. (Unless they're just super-stealth, which I highly doubt.) The women are the ones quantifying and ranking all other females in their proximity to see how they measure up.

I have come a long way in resisting the urge to compare myself to other women, but I'm learning that I still have a long way to go. I've been feeling, as many pregnant women do, like a plodding heifer for the past many months. But after attending my birthing class last week, I felt much better after playing the comparing game with the other preggos in the room and finding that I wasn't doing too shabby, relatively. I know this doesn't make me a very nice person, but it does make me an honest one.

With pregnancy and motherhood, new aspects are now added to the comparing game, "natural" childbirth and breastfeeding being the two that immediately come to mind. I don't know how many times I've been asked what my plan for these two things are. Most often, of course, they're simply appeals for information. But there certainly exists a culture of pride and guilt surrounding both. Whether or not we've triumphed through unmedicated childbirth and fed our children from breast rather than bottle become the next two notches on our feminine comparing belt. We don't, as some Native American tribes did, hang scalps from our belts as signs of our value, we hang our natural childbirths, our breastfeeding, our pant size, our job, our stay-at-home status, our method of schooling, and on and on.

My own disease of comparing has been brought home to me as I contemplate what birthing, parenting, etc. decisions I will make. As I've researched the various birthing options, the thought always lurks in my mind, "But what will other women think of me if I get an epidural?" How vile a thought. I like to (perhaps mistakenly) think of myself as a logical, even-minded person who makes decisions in a balanced way. What someone else will think of us if we choose a or b should absolutely never play any role in decision making.

So, as I embark on this new step of my journey as woman, I realize that I have come along way from my fluorescent orange spandex comparing days, but also how weak I still can be. I would like to be a woman who makes her choices by carefully weighing the factors and making the decision she thinks is right or best. A woman who evaluates and values herself without reference to those around her. A woman who views other women not as a measuring stick, but as unique and beautiful individuals. I'd like to be that woman, but I'm not there quite yet.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Oh, the Horror!

Last night, Mike and I went to our first "prepared childbirth" class. You can get all the information you need these days in books and online, but I thought the act of going to a class would make me feel more prepared. (Besides the fact that I forget information I read faster than Dory the tang fish.)

The class started pleasant enough, with introductions and definitions and niceties. As the class moved on, I found the information sinking into my fish brain, and I was pleased I had decided to eschew my normal "ignorance is bliss" stance for a "prepared childbirth."

We talked relaxation techniques and stance techniques. We talked about how it is very doable to have a medication free labor. And I felt like, "Hey, I can do this! I am woman, hear me roar!" I had nearly begun to think, "Epidural? Who needs an epidural?" And then.

The video.

Why do they show this video? Is it a cruel joke? To get you all hyped up on "natural" childbirth and then go wa-bam in yo' face with a whole lot of horror?

I had never intended to watch the...er...sensitive bits of the video. I safely waited until I could see it was just a talking head before I'd look at the screen and quickly avert my gaze whenever it seemed something unsavory was coming. But several times, they caught me off guard, those fiends! I inadvertently saw things that ought not be seen and are the reason we have "people" (i.e. doctors, midwives) for that.

Even when I wasn't watching, I had Mike's face to watch. Mike has the most dramatically expressive face of any person alive today. Sometimes rather than watching movies, I'll simply watch his face. He emotes whatever the main characters are emoting and cringes and guffaws and squirms. He's like a melodrama in and of himself. So even when not watching, I could see the horror brimming and overflowing in his eyes. I have already expressly forbidden him to watch our own childbirth because I can't handle the truth in his face.

It didn't help that the women were all naked in the video. Why couldn't they have covered up with a nice bland hospital gown? It also didn't help that the video was circa 1993 and the women all had 90's bangs. Somehow the 90's bangs made the horror even worse.

All night, my dreams were riddled with visions of labor. (And, by the way, "labor" seems far too tidy a term.) And this morning, all I can picture, for some reason, when thinking of labor is cows and horses giving birth...because it's awful similar. I feel like my mind is going through Willy Wonka's Tunnel.

So, after my night of horrors, disguised as a pep talk on how "You can do it! Childbirth is beautiful and natural!" what do you think I did this morning? Researched epidurals, thank you very much.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Male Gossip

Hey, lookie here - I wrote a post for Aaron on over at Blogging Theologically today. It was also mentioned on this site of a fancy Canadian author. Neato-frito.

Also, I noticed that Mike and my little book that we worked on together was mentioned (in picture at least) on the Compassion blog today (Passport to Prayer). This book hasn't gotten around so much, so I'm glad to see it's out there being helpful to at least two people. :) Writing is funny. You send little words out into the universe, and you have no idea what lives they are leading on their own out there. So I'm glad to see these words, at least, are still alive.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Master Bath

Mike recently finished a huge home project. Besides redoing our bathroom and baby room, he also just finished replacing every single door in our house from hollow oak doors to pretty six panel white doors. Doors are so cheap, and they make such a difference in brightening up the house. Mike is such a hard worker and I don't want him to get bored with no house project, so I've already started dreaming of his next project. What? Sure, he owns an ice cream store and it's our busiest season and we're having a baby in a month, but just think of how much busier we'll be once the baby is here!

So whether it happens in the next month or in 18 years when Alexandra is all grown up, I've started dreaming of how we can finish the very last untouched room in our house: The master bath. Now that our bedroom is so darn purty, it's a shame to look through those french doors to our unfinished bathroom. Here's a before. (Notice the monkey that suddenly jumped up behind the camerawoman.)

We'd like to continue the Hawaiian/tropical feel of our bedroom, but we'll have to do it on the super cheap, so we're going to have to get creative.

My sister has offered us these Hawaiian bathroom accessories that she hasn't found a place for in her own home:

They remind me of a Hawaiian resort. Bath accessories: check. Next, we're continuing our crusade against oak in our house and this cabinet is about the last bit left to stamp out. But it would be way too expensive to replace it, so visions of refinishing are filling my head. Isn't this a lovely idea:

I think this is positively gorgeous, but it's more complex than any re-finishing Mike has done and it wouldn't match the bath accessories. Or how about a more mellow green?

I love this one, too, and it would match the bath accessories. Or, the option Mike is leaning more towards, especially since we could do this one for free, having all the paint we would need already:

This one would also allow us to paint the walls a color, such as a nice green. (It would scare me too much to paint the walls a color if I already had a colorful cabinet.) Of course, our cabinets are fairly simple, so I would make poor, poor Mikey add extra trim to them to have more corners for paint to stick to. What do you think? Which is your favorite color?

Of course, I'm avoiding the obvious questions of how to replace our white vinyl floors for free and our faux marble countertop for free, but I'll think about that tomorrow. For after all, tomorrow is another day!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Once Upon Another Shower

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Amberella who was so loved, that she was thrown an embarrassing, yet wonderful number of baby showers. After her first shower with family in Denver, her lovely friend Candace in Laporte threw her another shower with her long, lost friends from northern Colorado.

There was her friend, Sarah, whose belly hers finally caught up with, after lagging behind earlier in the year. Amberella was glad to finally be getting all the attention and preferential treatment that were her just desserts, that Sarah has been no doubt experiencing for the past three months.

There was her friend, Jen, who gave Alexandra a computer engineer Barbie, which Mattel based on Jennifer herself.

There was her friend Amy, writer extraordinaire, who was kind enough to drive up to the shower, even though her son surprised her with a visit home this weekend.

There was her friend Candace, who hosted the party at her magical abode, which is always brimful of delicious treats whenever Amberella visits.

There was her demure English major friend, recently turned karate black belt master Stephanie (left), her first big boss turned wonderful friend, Pam (second from left), her little friend who packs a mighty punch, Becca (3rd from left), and her editor extraordinaire turned lawyer extraordinaire friend, Kate (right).

Candace prepared a delightful lemon cake, festooned with flowers from her own garden.

Along with a delicious chicken salad, watermelon and asparagus to keep Baby Alexandra satisfied during the shower.

Amberella was so thankful to be surrounded by her wonderful and diverse long lost friends whom she loves so much and who made her feel so loved!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Couple Pictures from Estes

We had a pleasant, albeit short visit to Estes. Here are some pictures of our time. Tuesday, late afternoon, we drove up Trail Ridge Road. There was a ton of snow for August! But it was warm and lovely.

There were bunches of picas. Picas look and sound just like squeaky toys. I want one for my very own.

That night we actually found a restaurant we like in Estes! Smokin' Daves, a relatively new BBQ place. The corn on the cob was white and sweet. The Southern green beans were fresh and bacony. The brisket and ribs were tender and delicious. I'm sure we'll be going back.

Wednesday, we watched the hummingbirds eat and fight and eat and fight and eat and fight from our cabin.

We hiked to Sprague Lake from the Y...a 4-mile hike that made me feel about 90-years-old, I was so sore and achy afterwards.

We went to the Alluvial Fan, where Mike's dad made questionable choices.

Then today, we left early in the morning to get back to work. Thank you, Vans, for the nice holiday!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Mid-Week Mini-Trip

We're heading today to Estes Park for a little mini-trip. I get to use my flexible work schedule to take advantage of Estes in the summer. The last time we were there, I was 7-weeks pregnant but didn't know it. I just thought I was feeling particularly lazy. We'll see how much more energy I have to hike now, at 32 1/2 weeks, compared to 7.

On a random site note, I recently got a maternity belt with birthday money Trevor and Dynell gave me. It's the best! I wish I had gotten one sooner. Lately, I haven't been able to walk far at all without getting bad side aches and a very sore lower back. But I wore my new handy-dandy belt on Sunday, and was able to hike for 1 1/2 hours! Here's a pic of our little hike, which will serve as my 32 week picture:

Of course, hiking longer simply enabled me to make my hips hurt like I'm an 80-year-old, but it was worth it, to feel like I'm a normal person again. I don't know if other pregnant women feel like this, but sometimes I despair that I'll ever feel normal, fit and energetic again. I can tell I'm ready to start feeling healthy again because I've been searching for a gym (something I'd sworn off of for several years), and last night I bought 4 workout shirts, a pilates DVD and a book about 14ers at a garage sale. Do you think I'm ready to move again or what? In case you were wondering, Mike bought a bb gun to pretend he's Captain America and a staff to pretend he's a wizard.

As a side treat, here's a video on acting from Sir Ian McKellen on how to pretend you're a wizard.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Tipping (Sacred) Cows

Today I wrote a guest post over at Aaron's blog. Aaron and his wife, Emily, are the ones who took me to the hospital and stayed with me during my recent appendicitis fiasco, so you should like them! Here's my post...

Recently, my husband and I said words that got people hopping at our small group. We were feeling ornery. I've never written about the topic because I don't want to be stoned for tipping over a sacred cow. But in the interest of open and honest discussion, I'd like to broach the topic with you:

A close, personal relationship with God (or Jesus)

This phrasing is so very prevalent in much of contemporary Christianity. You can hardly go to a church, retreat or Christian bookstore without hearing about this close, personal relationship that we are told is the heart of Christianity.

Here is my bias so you can understand why such phrasing concerns me: I am a copy editor at heart. I highly value accuracy. Second, I'm a strong proponent for sola Scriptura. It's the primary guide we have in a world of fallible humans and changing culture. So if it isn't explicitly in the Scripture, I'm wary of it.

In the second half of the 20th century (as far as I can tell), we developed the vernacular around this concept that we can have a close relationship with Jesus or God. (I think it might date back to this video. :) ) This idea was extrapolated from many verses such as John 15:15, Philippians 3:8, Psalm 59:16-17, and many others. We didn't really have one succinct way to express these concepts, so we developed a vernacular around it that, while not necessarily being incorrect is also not found in the Bible. (There is no verse in the Bible that talks about having a close, personal relationship with Christ or God the Father in so many words.)

I see this shift in our focus as a positive balance away from a focus merely on outward piety to a focus on genuine belief.

But here is the crux of the matter: Now, several decades later, this vernacular has stuck more than the original Bible verses it was derived from. This is always troubling for this reason: Rather than beginning with Scripture and deriving our meaning from it, we begin with the concept, "a close, personal relationship with Christ," and then approach the Scriptures to derive meaning out of them that fits within our pre-constructed framework. We are not coming to the Scriptures empty-handed to see what they might teach us; we are coming to the Scriptures pre-loaded with our thesis and looking for verses to support it.

Any scholar could tell you that this is bad scholarship. And it leaves us so very open to read the Scriptures based on our own current culture and worldview.

For example, we live in a highly individualistic society. Individualism isn't inherently good or evil, but we certainly can lean too far in one direction. Our culture tends to be self-interested rather than socially-minded. We look out for ourselves first. We ask the question, "what do I get out of this?" more than some other cultures. This can lead us to an unhealthy inward focus in many aspects of life.

I believe the negative effects of this can be seen in our concept of what it means to "know Christ." Oftentimes in discussing our "relationship with God," we can focus on our own individual, personal experience in life. We can begin to view our "relationship with God" as a means to our own cozy psychological experience. It can become very focused on how we are feeling. It can become very focused on our individual quest for a pleasant experience in this life.

It is true from Scripture that God comforts us (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) and Jesus came to give us rest (Matthew 11:28-30). Clearly, God cares about our inward struggles. But has our contemporary culture that can tend toward individualism and inward focus allowed us to focus on some verses far more than others?

Does our preloaded bent of a "close, personal relationship with God" cause us to read this passage and focus on "knowing Christ" (by which we often mean having a quiet time) at the exclusion of "participating in his sufferings" and "becoming like him in his death"?

Does our culture cause us to read this passage and focus on "the knowledge of the Son of God" at the exclusion of "works of service" and "becoming mature"?

Moreover, do we read phrases such as “knowing Christ” and “the knowledge of the Son of God” and interpret them in light of our pre-loaded concepts rather than understanding them in light of the original language and context? Do we see “knowing Christ” or “having a personal relationship with Jesus” as more than just having a quiet time, but being amazed at the “surpassing worth” of who He is and what He has done? Does our “personal relationship” fill us with wonder or is it just an item on the checklist?

I'm definitely not suggesting we chuck "knowing Christ" (a far more comfortable term to me than "a close, personal relationship with God" simply for the fact that it is in the Bible) for "works of service." It's not a matter of faith versus works.

It's a matter of recognizing that we are, nearly at every turn, influenced by our culture and by our presuppositions. It's a matter of being willing to come to the Scripture, as much as we humanly can, not subtly trying to fit it into our comfortable preconceived notions, but with a mind humbly willing to admit and consider what it finds.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Lessons from a Gelato Shop

It's been just a little over one year since Mike and I took the mad leap into opening an ice cream and gelato store. Although it can begin to seem normal, at times we wake up and realize how weird it is that we own a gelato store. If you asked us 10 years ago what we would be doing, this certainly wouldn't have been on the list! (We would have said philosophy professor and stay-at-home mom.)

But still, how fun will it be for our daughter to grow up around an ice cream store? Mike and I both remember growing up hanging around the hospital/clinic with our dads. Mike played hide and seek at his dad's doctors office and I loved to spend the day with my dad and uncles at the chiropractic clinic when I was sick. (What other kid got to lay on the electric massage bed while sick?) Now, our little girl will have fun taste-testing ice cream and washing dishes in the back. ;) She'll be like one of those kids on sitcoms whose parents have unreasonable and unlikely jobs: A writer for a mother and a gelato maker for a father. It tickles my romantic bones.

Anyway, now that we've been in business for a year, we've learned a few things. Here are just a few things we've learned about the universe since our adventures began.

You can't control the universe: This is really too bad. It would be quite handy to control the universe, wouldn't it? But one thing we have learned repeatedly owning a small business is that there are things you can control and things you cannot. You can only control your response to them. Luckily, Mike is like a little duck, and ice cream seems to roll easily off his back. Like when an employee melted an entire case of very expensive gelato or when our fancy Italian gelato machine broke (that American handymen don't like to work on) and remained broken for two weeks waiting for a handyman brave enough to touch it. We can't control our employee's mistakes or the trepidation of handymen. But we can still have peace. Peace that, even when the gelato case breaks and the employee doesn't show up for a shift, our responsibility isn't to control and perfect the universe, but to simply respond in the best way that we can.

You can't foretell the future: This would also be mighty handy, although it would take all fun out of life. In the past several months, an unprecedented number of frozen yogurt stores have opened in our city. It can be a bit scary. Had we known a year ago that our competition in the frozen dessert market would double in a year, would we have gone forward with our store plans? Well, I guess that's why it's nice to not know the future. We can't live our lives in fear, or, at least, it sure would not be enjoyable. We can only know what we know and make the best decisions we can based on that. We can't waste our lives worrying and fretting over what we don't know and can't control.

Success in this world isn't all that important: Well, it's important to be able to eat and pay your rent, but other than the basics, there are so many other things that are of far more value. We have family who love us, a church who cares for us and a God who is always with us. The rest is just gravy. This mindset helps us to weather the unexpected.

It helps to be nice: Mikey is a nice boy. But we've learned that niceness isn't necessarily the skill of all small business owners. I guess they don't necessarily get into it for their cuddliness. We've met a number of other business owners, and while we've met some incredible people, we've also met some whose skills don't lie in the warm, friendly department. This is where my lovable hubby can have an advantage. Mike is especially a hit with the over-60 lady crowd. I don't know why, but they seem to love him. It also so happens that the over-60 crowd like to eat ice cream regularly.

Work is good: It's been so wonderful to watch my husband get to work hard at something. Even though we're not personally making a dime, work is good. Before we started the store, many people questioned if Mike would like it or if it would be too much work, which I thought were funny questions for someone who was unemployed. It's not Mike's dream job and there are hard things about it, but the satisfaction of doing a long, hard day of work is something we can easily take for granted.

Cinnamon roll ice cream covers a multitude of sins: It's good to be the owner of a gelato store.

We need to exercise more: See above.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Elementary School Dreamin'

A couple of weeks ago, I got to interview the woman whom I thought was the coolest girl for most of elementary school. The coolest girl that I knew in person was my best friend, Susan. I, by luck of geography, got to be best friends with her because I happened to live three doors down from her. She was the pretty blonde with the coolest clothes. How did I know they were the coolest clothes, sheltered child that I was? Because she had the same sweaters as DJ Tanner. Like, the exact same sweaters. Over-sized charcoal grey knit, coming down to about mid-thigh, festooned with fluorescent circles and triangles were DJ's hallmark. Where Susan bought them, I do not know, but her coolness was forever established.

Who is DJ Tanner you ask? Why, she was only the star of the most popular sitcom from the time I was in third to fifth grade. (After that, I became too cool for Full House, I believe.) But for a time, she was my gold standard of girlhood. She, Candace Cameron, was also the sister of my dream guy, Mike Seager on Growing Pains, played by Kirk Cameron. Really, I had a book called "Kirk Cameron: Dream Guy." I only gave it away once I got married and didn't want to make Mike uncomfortable in his presence. Sometimes, such as every day when I see the headline entertainment news, I scoff at the teeny boppers who could possibly like Justin Bieber, that baby. And then I remember: I had posters of Kirk Cameorn in my bedroom. When Susan came over for slumber parties, we would dare each other to get up on a chair and kiss the poster, and we'd blow him kisses before going to bed.

So, it was kind of exciting that I got to interview my old hero and sister of my old flame for work. I maintained my professional, mature attitude the whole time, and didn't even meltdown once saying, "Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, I loved you!" Now I kind of wish that I had. In any case, here is one of the articles I wrote as a result of that interview, and here's one more.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Developed World Temper Tantrums

Remember when I posted this video not long ago? Well, I wrote a little post about it for the Compassion blog. You can read it here.