Friday, August 29, 2014

Back to School

The back-to-school season is upon us. Yes, I'm back at it, too; a generous gift will cover my tuition this year. Thankful for that, but cognizant of the time and energy it takes to work and go to school while serving and supporting a family all doing the same.

I did the first week's work of my online class last Sunday before leaving on a business trip and used a comp day on my return to get week two done; from here on out, though, we'll settle into a pattern of schoolwork every Saturday.

Hubs is driving to Portland on Mondays, now, for the final stretch on his M.Div. Daughter Haley is back at college in California. Son Daniel hasn't started classes yet, but he made it to the 5:30 am polo-team practices this week (!) and has his first pep rally with the band tonight. Monday night he goes back to his mom's place for the next two weeks, ready to register Tuesday and start actual classes on Wednesday. Senior year. Both Chris and Daniel graduate in June! Haley and I will finish a year later.

On Monday I snapped a picture of Chris heading off to class with his backpack, but he didn't want to see it posted on the internet. What, no more back-to-school photos when you're 45?!

See, though, 20 photos of kids' journeys to school from around the world (Global Citizen). 

Children are accompanied on their walk to school through Guizhou Province, China 
Flickr: Jeff Werner

Monday, August 11, 2014

Tim Keller on Understanding the Ego

"The ego often hurts. That is because it has something incredibly wrong with it. Something unbelievably wrong with it. It is always drawing attention to itself -- it does so every single day. It is always making us think about how we look and how we are treated. People sometimes say their feelings are hurt. But our feelings can't be hurt! It is the ego that hurts -- my sense of self, my identity.

"It is very hard to get through a whole day without feeling snubbed or ignored or feeling stupid or getting down on ourselves. That is because there is something wrong with my ego.

"It is incredibly busy trying to fill the emptiness. And it is incredibly busy doing two things in particular -- comparing and boasting. ... The way the normal ego tries to fill its emptiness and deal with its discomfort is by comparing itself to other people. All the time.

"In his famous chapter on pride in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis points out that pride is by nature competitive. It is competitivensss that is at the very heart of pride. 'Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next person. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about.'"

Source: The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, Timothy Keller

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The "Look at Me!" Lifestyle

I did a good bit of my growing up in a quirky, connected small town, an island in the Pacific Northwest. I don't idealize that way of life but I certainly came to miss it. I was in junior high when we left; we moved four more times before I was out of my teens. I graduated from a high school of 2000 students, most unknown to me, and never found reason to go back.

There are worse things than being anonymous and invisible. And starting over a few times helped me grow and develop without getting stuck or having to keep carrying around awkward mistakes and embarrassing moments. All of us can profit from the occasional chance to get away from disappointments, poor choices, or a bad reputation. To start again with a new school, a new job, a new friend. I don't regret that.

Sometimes I've wondered, though, what it would have been like, what I would have been like, if we'd stayed in one place. 

Now that I'm back again in a quirky, connected community, I see the difference. I notice how Chris and his parents expect to run into people they know wherever they go; I listen to their stories, and I realize that people here are quirky and connected, not invisible and anonymous; this is kind of what I remembered and what I had in mind. Chris, on the other hand, is restless to get out. He's ready to start over.

Do you think our culture as a whole has changed, though? For example, being a teenager now is subtly different than it was a few decades ago. There are still the cool kids, the popular kids, but nobody has to be isolated, anonymous, invisible. If you have a phone and a couple of social media accounts you can find friends of a sort, people like you, and can express yourself. It's true for people in big cities, small towns, faceless suburbs; doesn't matter. You may not show up much in the high school yearbook or get your name in the local paper, but still be all over Facebook or Instagram.

Experienced this at the ballgame Chris and I went to a week or two ago. Yes, Eugene has a baseball team (the farm team of a farm team!) and a couple thousand people showed up to watch the Eugene Emeralds play the Hillsboro Hops. They had all these little promotions and activities between innings, and ordinary people were chosen to participate. There was a beanbag toss for free ice cream cones which Chris said his kids had done many times when they were smaller. When one batter got a double, everyone in section 4 (our section!) got coupons for double bacon cheeseburgers at Carl's Jr.

At one point a cameraman came toward us with what the musical cues told us was the "kiss cam." Apparently he was ready to put us up on the big screen if we were willing to provide the image for a 10x20' public display of affection; we were and we did. Later, the ballpark announcer gave out a hashtag and encouraged everyone to pull our their phones and snap selfies of their day at the ballpark to post on Twitter or Facebook and be broadcast on that same 10x20' screen. So we did. Look, there we are! Celebrities for a second!

It may only be for a second, but the seconds come so often I think they add up to far more than Andy Warhol's 15 minute of fame. 

"The places to which people in the past looked for guidance in finding identity--such as the church, tradition, and social conventions--have been superseded. People now look to the media for guidance in discovering a sense of self. Therefore, it is no shock that we find people living life as actors. ...We have grown up in front of screens and cameras; we know what it is to consume media and to perform, even if it is just for those around us. Life has become a media performance, and we already know the lines."

Mark Sayers, The Vertical Self

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Growing Out, Growing Up

Sharing a kitchen table with a growing, carb-loving, teenaged boy and a man twice my size had its effect on me. Or maybe it was eating off those hefty, 100-square-inch plates we got with department-store gift cards. And leaving behind the community rec. center and the beautiful running trail by the river. At any rate, in the early days of my marriage I traded in old habits for new ones that did not suit my slighter frame and thereby gained 30 pounds in 18 months.

Got to the point I'd had enough of that. I found a doctor to confirm what I knew to be true, lecture me on health and nutrition, and threaten me with a prescription for statins. Yeah, high cholesterol. Went home that afternoon and signed up with a bossy, legalistic, calorie-counting web service to train me how to eat less and tell me how I was doing.

Looks like it did the trick. It's been nine months, and I've just about lost those 30 pounds. Might not be able to get into my wedding dress, but, well, no need to. And can wear most of the other clothes packed away after that first summer.

I may gain it all back, it's true. But now I think I know how to keep the pounds off and have the will to do it. That's a good feeling. I don't have total control of this situation but nor am I completely powerless; I have choices to make but can make them and live with the results.  

People of any age can struggle with weight, I know. Yet in my mind the whole weight-watching thing is very much associated with middle-aged women. So this whole experience, along with all I've encountered as a step-in parent to a couple of almost-grown-up children, has helped me recognize and accept my new place in the human community. No longer a young person, but a member of the society of parents (and other grown-ups).

Funny that it should take so long.

"I am still every age that I have been. Because I was once a child, I am always a child. Because I was once a searching adolescent, given to moods and ecstasies, these are still part of me, and always will be... This does not mean that I ought to be trapped or enclosed in any of these ages...the delayed adolescent, the childish adult, but that they are in me to be drawn on." - Madeleine L'Engle

Thursday, June 12, 2014

When Bookworm Summer Camp Gets Cancelled

The most difficult thing I’ve dealt with lately may surprise you unless you know me well. (If you do, well, you know!) A month ago I learned that my university had changed the requirements of my major in such a way that while I’m closer to a degree, I can no longer justify the two classes I’d been gearing up to take this summer. What?! I was so looking forward to the books, and lectures, and the chance to get out of town and meet new people a lot like me. Like summer camp for bookworms! It may sound strange, but I couldn’t think of a better way to spend those extra weeks of vacation I get for what my company (kindly) recognizes, at least from a benefits perspective, as almost 20 years of service (while Hubs only gets five days of paid leave a year).

As I realized I’d have to cancel my trip to the South, I felt the usual weight of summer depression descend on me as it has almost every year as far back as I can remember. Depression about the long, unchanging days, a life without structure or markers; depression about myself and my life. In years past I've found one of the few effective strategies for fighting it has been to go somewhere for a few weeks. Somehow being away from home made it easier to set aside the self-pity. Better yet was when I could pour myself into a mission team who, for a month or two or three, would have to be my friends and who would need me to be the kind of grownup who focused on looking out for them rather than giving center stage to my shame about being lonely and pathetic in the social department. Those were actually some great summers!

If, though, summer struck and my calendar was empty, some of my panic and shame had to do with being single. I envied those with families or the kind of friends who do family-like things like camping, road trips to national parks, and free concerts in the park with a picnic basket. Now and then a family or group of friends would include me or respond to my invitation to do something like that, but I wasn’t a good social organizer, and they did tend to be the kinds of things someone would just want to do with their family, if they had one.

rout “having fun.” I like to go exploring in places both familiar and unknown, and I like to play with words and ideas; I love a great three- or four-way conversation. But other kinds of fun – “summer fun” like water sports and volleyball and frisbee and goofing around, physically – are just not my cup of tea. So summer was often a reminder of what a wallflower I was, and that opened the door to a debilitating sense of being different, of being a nerd (though that’s cool now, what?) and a loser (still not cool, not ever).

Now I have a family now. They don’t share very much of my odd sense of what’s fun and what’s not, but some of it. That’s a big help. The day I had my biggest emotional melt-down over all this, Chris came home with a glossy magazine listing and describing all the local campgrounds and many of the summer events, and we talked about places we'd like to go. An actual camping trip is going to be hard to schedule, but we’ve already made a trip to the coast for a local festival, took in an old car show, and spent a few hours on the banks of a beautiful little river while our son and his friends played in the water and Chris took pictures. As neither a child nor the parent of one I still self-conscious; a bit of a misfit. I sort of fit. Not the fit I’d like to imagine I would have in an ideal world. Well, such is life.

With a family, I now have people to do things with, more companionship. But the cost has been high in terms of other relationships. With two jobs and the whole wife/mother thing, I haven't been able to make the kind of friends I’d like to go do fun things with (by whatever definition of fun).

The difficult truth to face here is that I’ve never been very good at building and maintaining those kind of friendships, much as I desire them, apart from some kind of structure that throws me together with people like me on a regular basis – like those mission teams of years past, or the close relationships I used to have just by showing up at work and at church events. And that's not really happening now; opportunities to just show up and be with people are rare for me. If I have to get on the phone and ask someone to have coffee or go for a walk with me, it’s like I just can’t do it, can’t take the social initiative. I’ve always been shy. And because I know that’s fairly ridiculous in a grown-up person, I beat myself up over this foolish, crippling social handicap, and fear that if I do have the opportunity to share my heart with someone, all the deep and ugly loneliness will come spewing out (it happens) and who wants to take that out in public?

We’ll make it through this summer, and maybe I’ll even have some fun (by my definition or in spite of it) and some of the structure will return in the fall. The sticker price of my husband's recent surgery was steep; the hospital alone wants $4,000 for it. So I'm not sure I'll be going back to school. My tuition, being optional, is probably the first thing I will choose to cut. It can wait. And maybe that is God's gift to me. I could use some of the time and energy – both this summer and in the fall – to work up the courage to pursue some friendships eh? I do have a few, now, they’re just kind of new and fragile and could wither away if I don’t nurture them.

This may be the key. Check out this encouraging article I read today: How to Regain Hope in 5 Minutes

Friday, May 02, 2014

Three Delusions

"It's been said, sometimes seriously, and yet sometimes tongue in cheek, that the average person suffers from three delusions.

First, that he has a good sense of humor.
Second, that he's a good driver.
And third, that he's a good listener.

"Now I've always thought that it was pretty important to have a good sense of humor in life. I think that makes life go a little bit better. And in our civilization and in our culture, it's very very important that we're good driver.
"But of those three, the only one that's absolutely crucial to spiritual growth is that we be good listeners."

Scott Wenig, speaking at South Fellowship, April 6, 2014
Love this anecdote and intend to steal it for use in my own teaching!

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Pretty things, painful memories, and how I was surprised by wholeness

Shortly before Chris and I got married I went back to Denver to help my old housemate pack up and prepare to move out of the place we'd shared for fifteen years or so. She had been there longer than I had and faced some serious and painful downsizing. Her grandmother's china was on the got-to-go list. She offered it to me.

I was touched by the offer of these treasures and the chance to carry on some of her family history. I didn't take the boxes with me, though, since I was flying. Instead I left them for the moving truck.

We said goodbye, and I returned to Oregon to continue the task of setting up my own new household, itself complicated by the realization that Chris and I had rather different preferences for well, almost everything, it seemed. We both had sacrifices to make. The wedding registry process was rough. Neither one of us wanted to fight about things like dishes and towels or wedding music and decorations, for that matter when there were so many more important things to work out. But we were mystified by each other's preferences in each of those areas and more. I ended up taking back quite a few of the wedding presents one of us said we wanted but the other didn't like. We defaulted to what was functional and plain.

I'm not really a girly girl but was sad to have so few pretty things, and to realize that many of the pretty things I already have would probably have to stay in boxes until, maybe someday, we get a bigger place, or don't have any kids at home.

Some months after the wedding, my roommate's sister had to make a trip to Eugene and brought me the three boxes of china. She also gave me some disturbing news about my old roommate, now living with their mother in Washington. It had been a tough transition for her. As I soon discovered, the china hadn't fared well, either. I opened the first box and unwrapped a few things. How did so many of them get broken? I must have thrown some things away, then, but I pushed the boxes back and decided to deal with them later.

Later finally came just last week. Chris and Daniel were both away for the night. I steeled myself for what I thought would be a depressing task, another scene of pain, disappointment, brokenness.

But it was not. I didn't find a single broken piece of broken china, just one after another that was beautiful and whole!

What had happened? I briefly imagined that Someone had worked a frivolous miracle on my behalf, but I suppose it's more likely that I had thrown away the only broken pieces the first time I opened the boxes, not realizing the rest were just fine.

I was further surprised to realize, as I surveyed our kitchen, that I would not have to re-pack the boxes and return them to the garage. Our spacious kitchen has room. So I began using the most serviceable looking pieces, like the cups that aren't paper-thin and edged with gold! Who knows, maybe I'll have some reason to get out the really fancy ones now and again, too. (Like a visit from my old roommate, who I'm glad to say is doing much better. She mostly just needed the time to grieve and adapt.)

Looking back on those days, two years ago, when Chris and I were struggling to furnish the house, I realize how far we've come in appreciating each other's values, preferences, and perspectives. Sometimes we are even able to find things both of us like! Moreover, love continues to cover: we like to please each other, and that goes a long way to producing kindness, respect, and forbearance. There are lots of things I now do or think about his way, and things he does or thinks about my way. Marriage is certainly harder than living with a roommate. The stakes are higher. But, with time and patience, we're learning how to walk together.

The morning after I unpacked the china, I made breakfast for us both and served it on our "new" plates. I knew better than to offer him tea or coffee in these lovely little cups; he's not a hot-drink kind of guy and wouldn't have much use for cups that only hold a few ounces. But I'll enjoy them. And I suspect he will enjoy seeing me enjoy them, too.