Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Far Out and Solid

I'm still exploring my new town and probably will be for some time. Actually, that's kind of how I like to live, generally: curious, and with my eyes open to the little adventures that may come my way. When I'm in a new place, it's as much a survival strategy as a way to entertain myself. Right now I'm trying out different places to shop. Eugene is home to second-hand stores and discount markets of every description.

I was in a discount grocery picking up a few items for Thanksgiving when I saw him. He had a big grey beard. He wore a broad-brimmed hat and quite a few layers of clothing. And he was pushing a cart with bags and bags of stuff attached to it. The beard is pretty normal around here, but from the other signs I guessed the chances were good that this man wasn't just carrying all his stuff around to keep it handy; he probably had no place to put it. Oregon has a lot of people who live on the streets or spend much of their time there. The place I've lived the last 16 years had almost none.  

When I was ready to buy my groceries we ended up in the same line. He was actually finishing up his transaction, so I got in line behind him thinking I'd get out more quickly than if I were at one of the other check stands, each of which had several people waiting.

The bearded guy was trying to chat up the grocery clerk as he stashed his stuff. Only he was trying to come up with "Have a happy Thanksgiving," in Spanish. I wanted to help him with that but I couldn't think of how to say it either. Nor was I certain this girl was a Spanish-speaker, though she might be. The clerk, for her part, didn't say a word or crack a smile. She just waited.

I thought he was done when he tied the last bag to his cartthe one with two  pomegranates ($3 apiece), package of fancy goat cheese, and box of gourmet ice cream sandwiches.

"I hope I have enough for this," he said. Uh oh. She swiped the card that represented his food stamps. He only had $31 on it, but he had $39 of groceries. It seemed to take an eternity for him to choose which items to put back. I thought about covering for him, but struggled to overcome my hesitation over his food choicesas if people on food stamps are unworthy of pomegranates, and that somehow I'm more worthy of the things I purchase and enjoy just because I'm blessed with a steady income.

In the end he was still $1 over, but the man now behind me in line did what I could not: he pitched in a dollar. 

The bearded guy was so gracious and appreciative. "You are far out and solid," he said. "As are you," the man behind me returned. "As are you." 

How do you think you would feel or respond in this kind of situation? I'm still pondering it. As I said, I haven't had to deal with poverty close to home in a long time. I want to be wise but also compassionate. I really don't want to be the kind of person who puts people into categories and decides how they are supposed to behavewho lets myself treat them as objects and dismisses them as persons. The kind of person who looks down on homeless people for wasting their food money and murmurs, "Get a job!"

At the very least, I want to make a plan to respond. And when I adjust my budget for the new year I'll put in a line item for "giving to the poor," even if it just means an annual check to the Eugene Mission. What do you think? Any tips?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Personal Update - Engagement

Well, now, it's official. Privately, C. and I agreed way back in July that we were going to get married, but now I have this fancy ring on my finger and need to brush off my French and start saying the word "fiance."

Oh, yeah, and plan a wedding. In an ideal world my personal assistant would work on that for me. If my life were a movie, my mom or best friend would get in those trenches with me. In the world I actually live in, it's going to have to be simple, and I'm asking God to guide and fuel the process so it can be a special day, beautiful but not too complicated. I'm so glad I was able to make the transition to Oregon first!

I'd asked C. not to propose until after I'd moved. Maybe Thanksgiving. We'd talked about having a gathering of friends and family to celebrate with us, but again, that's more a dream world than the kind of thing we could really pull off. A young friend, the daughter of my friends J. & L., just had that kind of experience. She thought it was just a party. Her boyfriend surprised her when, her close-knit family gathered round, he proposed. But she's young, and her family much less fragmented. What worked for them would require the kind of relationships that I just don't have. Especially right after a cross-country move. 

After considering timing and possibilities, C. decided it would be better to seal the deal before, rather than during or after, the Thanksgiving holiday, and not in front of other people. Maybe in a holy and special place. Not the best time of year for a mountaintop or alpine meadow; it would have to be someplace indoors. Perhaps one that represented the cloud of witnesses that, even if they can't be gathered around to clap and cheer, nevertheless could not be more pleased that we are taking this step.

So he proposed to me at church this Sunday. I like that. C. always likes to be early for things so it didn't strike me as odd when he told me he'd pick me up at 9:30 for the 10:00 service, less than 10 minutes' drive from my house. Of course, since I'd arrived home the night before from a trip the East Coast, I had been up since 5:00. Uh huh; jet lag. So C. and I were early to church. When he ushered me into the sanctuary at 9:45 I wondered what he had in mind. He pulled out a little box... "Oh, this is the place," I said, since he'd told me he'd chosen the place where he'd ask me. I opened the box. A necklace? The gold chain was a birthday present, he said. And a good place for the promise ring, the "place holder" I'd been wearing since the beginning of the summer. Most people thought it was an engagement ring, but he wanted to get me something more.

The necklace tangled badly, immediately. C. was trying to straighten it out the whole time he made his speech. I can't tell you all he said; I was distracted by the knots. But he asked if I'd marry him, and I said yes. The promise ring went on the chain around my neck.

A second box held the engagement ring and the wedding band that will join it sometime this summer. He put the first one on my finger, and I smiled and kissed him.  It is a lovely ring! And he is a wonderful man. He adores me. I'm pleased with him and honored by the invitation to become his wife.

Perfect? Well, maybe not, but somehow just that we're together I can let go of perfect.

I would have loved it if we could tell the pastor and after the service began he'd announce it, with a big grin, and everybody would clap and maybe even stop and pray for us. Again, dream world. Neither of us is known in the church; those who I've met know I came out to marry C. and maybe they would not see the actual engagement as much of  step at all. I'm hoping when we get up to Washington sometime next month, I can announce it and introduce him during the service and get, perhaps, the response I desire. Maybe. Maybe not.

The sermon was actually very timely for me as I was rejoicing in my good fortune while quietly grieving my transplanted state. It spoke to the fact that our roots are now planted in heaven, and we don't need to keep looking to the world around us for pleasure or purpose or significance. This isn't home. We may not have the life or community we want, here, but that doesn't mean those desires are bad; they're actually going to find their fulfillment in the world to come. What does it mean to live in light of that reality, today?

I give my desire for attention a little mental poke. Does that hurt? A little. But the swelling has gone down. My love and I are together, brought together by the God who holds us in his hand, and maybe I don't need the affirmation of the world to feel safe and treasured. To know that I matter. Sigh. Wouldn't it be nice if this were not a question? Yet even if this adolescent-like thing I struggle with is not a permanent condition, perhaps its existence is going to prove of some use to me, as the years unfold. Is there some way God wants to use this, instead of just healing me and taking it away?

We did get the encouragement I'd wished for when we changed our relationship status on Facebook later in the day. Today's version of the great cloud of witnesses! More than 100 people left comments and congratulations. 

After church we talked to a few people, went out to lunch, and made our way to Best Buy where I made a scary decision to go ahead and spend my very generous supply of birthday money on an iPad 2. I was thinking about a Nook or Kindle but since the iPad can do all they can and much more... probably a big help for both work and school, I went for it.

Buying expensive and unnecessary electronics actually freaked me out more than the engagement, in a way. We got a substantial case and extended warranty for the iPad - somewhat to my comfort - but that did make handing over my Visa card $200 more painful. At the last minute I remembered I had a coupon from Best Buy, somewhere in my "desk stuff" box. Would it cover things like this? I didn't know, but I brought the thing anyway. (Found the coupon today. Nope, it did not apply).

Seems kind of funny that I came home, that day, with both a big ol' engagement ring and an iPad. I'm rather glad the engagement ring attaches me to my very own IT department. Yes, among his many skills and talents, C. is a tech guy. And to his credit, one who doesn't mind that I have an iPad 2 and he only has an iPad 1! (See, he is a keeper!)

Next on the agenda for our busy day was bowling. Yup. We swung by C.'s house to pick up the kids and headed over the fire station. C. packed up gear in one of the bright-red trucks - in case there was a call during the afternoon - and drove us in it to the bowling alley for the volunteer fire department's annual bowing and pizza event.

One of the fire dept. girls squealed when C. told her we were engaged now. Apparently he's talked about me a great deal. And since he's in the habit of going around showing my picture to people, they all knew who I was. Bowling and pizza I could take or leave, but it was great to be included. I was expected to be there, really. I bowled terribly, but enjoyed talking to some new people - including the high school senior now dating C's 18-year-old daughter.

We wrapped it up with a family birthday party and an ice cream cake back at the house. I was one of the honorees, actually, having reached the ripe old age of 41 about 10 days earlier. The other was D., C.'s son, recently turned 15. With seven teenagers and five adults, things were pretty lively.

C. and I slipped away to call my closest family members with the news of our engagement. Then we went to a hot-tub place - a pricy but pleasant indulgence for when we want to be alone together. This seemed like a good day for it.

So, now we can move toward the next chapter. C. would really like to nail down a lot of the wedding details before the end of January. For you Myers-Briggs fans, he's all "J" and I'm more of a "P," so where he feels the need for closure I resist committing to a course too soon. He's more stressed by the lack of decision, I'm more stressed when I feel pressured to make a decision. I'd prefer to do what needs to be done as I feel it needs to be done - not before. Not when I don't know what I want. I can't picture how to either pursue or let go of my dreams - most of which have to do much less with things like dresses and flowers and more with things I can't control like who should come and how they should behave.

We're aiming for June. I'm hoping to pull off a wedding for less than, say, $5000. Think it can be done?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Arizona Prays

I went to Arizona at the end of September. After dragging my feet to book a room for the conference I was to attend, I learned there was no room at the inn. At the last minute I contacted a local acquaintance and asked if I could stay with her. Barbara was delighted to take me in.

She also told me great stories about the things the Lord is doing among believers in Arizona, some of them part of a national initiative to raise up 10,000 intercessors in every state. Want to know more? Maybe you could use some of these ideas in your own context!

1. God Bless Arizona Prayer Walk: Leading up to the state’s centennial (February 14, 2012) Christians are walking the streets of every city and town praising God and inviting his blessings on their state. Can you think of a better way to acknowledge God's goodness and welcome his work in the years to come?

2. Border Initiative: Christians in Arizona, California, and Texas are also prayerwalking along our country’s Southern borders, seeking God for transformation in the border towns and among the peoples of both the US and Mexico. Learn more from BridgeBuilders.

3. Prayer in the Public Schools: Recognizing the importance and influence of the education system in their communities, Christian leaders in Arizona organized 11 all-night prayer gatherings in different schools, set to culminate 11-11-11 (tomorrow!) What a way to bring prayer back into the schools! Learn more at eleven11.

4. Prayer Torches: Several prayer “torches” are touring the area, inspired by the Olympic torch it seems. Everywhere they go people are gathering to pray 24/7. Indian reservations have been participating as well. Learn more from Lite The Fire.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

I live out by Neptune.

Eugene, my new town, has its very own 1:1 billionth scale model of the solar system. It's designed to show how small and widely spaced the planets really are, relative to the sun. Models of the orbs are spaced out along the riverside bike path. 

I live right by Neptune. Who wants to come out for a visit? 

When I get my bike fixed up I'll have to take a tour of this solar system. And if I ever get lost, I'll just need to use a little celestial navigation...

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Tell a man about a fish, and he eats (but maybe just in theory)

Friends and observant readers will have picked up that while I love to serve people and am reasonably capable at taking care of my own day-to-day needs, my cleverness is more in the realm of words, ideas, systems, shimmering repartee, and the like - not practical matters like how to drive a stick-shift car, finesse some other piece of machinery, find something I need, or get from point A to point B.

I'm not great with my hands, particularly well coordinated, or adept at spatial reasoning. And yes, I'm one of those people you could describe as "directionally challenged." I've been lost in more countries than - well, than most of you.

I can navigate any of those challenges but I have to try harder and it may just take me longer. When I'm in charge, I can rise to the occasion and exude the capability and confidence necessary to lead others, but it takes a lot of focus and a healthy dose of grace. Which is good, right? Patience, humility, grace?

But moving into a new house and being given the run of another has meant hearing where a lot of things were kept and how various things work, and I'm not sure how much I got down. It's a little too embarrassing to say, wait, can you just put that into writing for me? I'm not completely at sea, but often have to try three or four times to unlock a door or open every cupboard trying to remember or discover where the _____ is kept.

Anyway, my slowness on the uptake with these things has reminded me of the difference between telling somebody how something is done and teaching them to do it. I mean, there is a BIG difference. If the guy at the storage unit told me the code for the gate or the padlock and had me put it in, I would probably have learned the trick with him watching and correcting me instead of struggling through on my own with nobody around. If someone said, "Get the cookie sheet out of the top drawer" instead of just telling me the cookie sheet is in the top drawer or taking it out for me, I think I'd be able to find that cookie sheet again.

I don't want to put the onus on my "teachers," but it does motivate me to watch out for the same trap in my own teaching. To tell somebody how to do something is not the same as to train them how to do it.

Training takes longer, but it sticks better than a lecture does.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

My New Life

C. manned the moving truck - following me the whole way
across country as I drove the car. It was great to have his
reassuring presence at my back. Several days after we came
through some of the roads we drove were closed by snow.
Just a quick personal update for y'all. Sorry I haven't been blogging. With three significant writing projects hanging over me (and several small ones), puttering around in the blogosphere is hard to justify. Much as I enjoy it.

October was a crazy month! Packing, moving, and saying goodbyes brought what seemed an endless swirl of emotion and a flood of logistical tasks. I had to step up and deal with all kinds of things I prefer not to face, and it was hard not be crabby and stressed out about it. And when I was crabby about it, I felt terrible. Somewhere along the way - maybe a couple of decades ago - I seem to have picked up an idea that I'm supposed to be able to take everything in stride, and I can't.

What will November be like? A little less intense, I think. Even though C. is dying to give me the engagement ring tucked away in his sock drawer. I know. You're excited about that. So am I.

But I don't want the ring, not yet. I've only been here a week. I'm still wrestling with culture shock, homesickness, ambiguity, and new relationships - it's all a bit much. Psychologically, it reduces my stress a bit to be able to tell people I moved to Oregon to get married and let them interpret that as they like, without having to be - in my own mind anyway - actually engaged.

I'm not ready to be engaged. Why is that? C doesn't understand it. I think it's just that I want to feel a bit more steady on my feet when when I make that commitment. So I can say, "I, Marti Smith, being of sound mind, agree to marry you." Rather than a frazzled, "Ah, OK, what the heck!" I think Thanksgiving would be a good time to cross that particular threshold. But when I get through today's rapids, are there just more on the other side?

Am getting along fine with both C's family and the folks I'm living with. Wish I could manage a bit more quality time with the latter, but so far it hasn't been possible. Ah well; little by little. I like them; I think they will like me. My desire to start putting down roots and establish viable daily patterns has been delayed a bit by family responsibilities. Maybe a reality check, a picture of what is to come. In the last week I've not only moved into a new house (with all the tasks that go with that) but also attended three water polo games, picked up our boy from school a couple of times, and been charged with staying at the family homestead during the day to take care of the dog, receive the trick-or-treaters, etc. for a week while C's folks are out of town.

It's nice to be wanted. But I'm trying to put in eight hours of work a day and keep up with grad school. My head is only just barely above the water. November 12, Saturday morning, I leave town for a week - and have to both make arrangements for a place to park my car in Portland and make sure I get a new driver's license by my birthday, two days before.

So it's a busy time, and I feel excited but also unsettled. 

D, front right, with his high school water polo team.
Swim team starts in a few weeks. Today is D's birthday: he's 15.