Sunday, December 14, 2008

NYC, Chicago, and LA

Did you know that sticks of butter are long and skinny east of the Rockies, and short and fat west of the Rockies?! I knew the Hellman's/Best Foods and Edy's/Dreyer's brand thing, but I just realized the butter difference this afternoon while visiting my family in California.

OK, I know, it's kind of weird to obsess over butter anatomy. But comparing regional oddities is just about holiday tradition with my family. Big city heritage is something that I love about my family.

My dad and I are Orange County natives, or "LA suburbs" as I explain east of the Rockies. My husband John is a Chicago native, and my mom Leslie hails from NYC. We love to sit around and compare our big city experiences almost every time we are together. We laugh at the stereotypes, make fun of each others' city quirks, envy each others' best city qualities. We learn a lot about our country's big metro areas without having to spend a penny, which is good, since we already had to fly half of us to Cali!

LA - Leslie observes that it's not all fruits and nuts, as you might be led to believe. There are an awful lot of grandma-types who eat pot roast and where regular clothes. Whodathunk.

Chicago - It's midwestern compared to the coasts, but not really that much downtown, observe John and Leslie. People still don't make eye contact a whole lot. Probably because they are overwhelmed with masses of people, like in any big city, notes Dad.

NYC - I think this city has a ton of unique culture. Leslie (the native), says that especially in Manhattan, there isn't actually much homogeniety at all. A bunch of people from who knows where do a huge variety of who knows what.

Stereotypes at work again. They help get us going on communication. I don't know which is more fascinating to me - figuring out the stereotypes, or uncovering the flaws in them.

What is your city like? Are the stereotypes true, or not?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A family AND a village

"It takes a village to raise a child." African proverb, title of Hillary Clinton's book, 1996

I was in Abby's classroom (kindergarten) again yesterday - I continue to be amazed at the community that exists at the school, at all the caring people that make the place "go", at all the children whose lives are touched there for at least six hours every day. During my last twenty minutes there, one little boy sat next to me, leaning, sprawling, and wiggling as close as he could get. He was in "time out", a place where he had landed because he was clamoring for attention. That I could provide him with just a bit of that one-on-one attention for a few minutes made my day - and got me thinking again.

I'm going to start with stereotypes - which are not usually perfect but at least provide a point of reference and some truth. When raising children, it seems to me that many Christians believe that their family (or at most, church family) is the only safe place for their young kids (0-10+ yrs?) to be. To that end, they may choose Christian schools, church sports leagues, after-school church clubs, Christian books, Christian cartoons, home school, church-based service, only Christian friends. I think of ripples of uproar among Christian adults that I knew when Hillary Clinton wrote "It takes a village" in 1996. The thinking went, "Our children are up to us, God forbid that the government should start raising them." But I think that they missed the point completely.

I do believe that our families (Christian or not) lay the foundation for our kids' lives. But what I glimpse in the actions above is that some Christians don't really want to be a part of the "village" (or you could say, the neighborhood). They don't really want to be served by secular schools or sports or clubs. Let me try hard to distill my thoughts here. I acknowledge that they are kind of one-sided, but that's what I've got for now.
  • If I expect the village to raise my children, I may neglect to work hard at teaching values and character at home.
  • If I expect the village to raise my children, I may blame others when my children don't turn out as planned.
  • But, if I overvalue the family (and church), I am essentially devaluing the community I live in. The teachers, coaches, club leaders, mentors - they are not good enough for me and my kids. Invite them to Jesus, when my kids are too Christian for their group?
  • When I choose to keep my kids out of general public activities, I withdraw myself too. I give less to the elementary school down the street, the park district sports league, the Girl Scouts. I'm less likely to go volunteer with any of them, because my daughter isn't involved.
  • My kids are going to grow up and eventually live in this "village". Will they avoid it just like me? Will their neighbors, coworkers, janitors, etc. be the kids who we didn't get involved with so many years before?
  • Finally, I think back to the little boy cuddling up next to me at school. Some kids, even many kids, don't have a family that is as strong as they need. They need others in the village to love them, teach them, befriend them. If I live like family is the only place to raise a child right, I am ignoring the needs of millions of kids who have only a village to depend on.
And that is all that I have time to write today. What do you think? What is the balance between family and community? Why do you think that? I want to know.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A matter of perspective

Last post, I wrote about the movie "Religulous" - and how many aspects of the concepts of religion and faith can indeed seem ridiculous. Sometimes dramatic or tragic experiences change that idea. But maybe a chance for a different perspective is closer than I realize.

My dad commented - "I think a lack of faith is also a result of having too much of a city life. If all you ever see is what man has done, you can miss out on what God has done." I connected with that. I'd never really thought of it that way. It's places like home and sometimes even church, stuck inside of four beige walls, that I lose perspective.

So here's when the perspective changes - on a family camping trip, Nov. 4 this year. Our celebration of Election Day was to run for the woods!

Perspective on a grand scale. Since I was a kid, I have loved the outdoors - many childhood hikes with my own family have now turned into taking my own kids to parks and on hikes in literally every place that we visit. I never realized it, but I never wonder if God exists on those hikes. It just seems obvious that Someone infinitely bigger than me has created the mountains, rivers, creatures, etc. around me. In those moments, it is OK to not understand that Someone. I usually just hike and enjoy the scenery!

Perspective on a tiny scale. Also since I was a kid, I have been also been fascinated by small things in science. This fascination has been reawakened this year as I have been teaching a few chapters of biochemistry to my pre-nursing students. When I read and teach about the intricacies of how changing just a few atoms can alter a drug or the expression of a gene, I am in awe of the details, inspired to learn more. (I just ordered a college Biochemistry book, actually, being a happy nerd.) Just like in the great outdoors, I don't wonder if God exists when I study the tiniest details. I'm just amazed at how brilliantly each atom works together, at the wisdom of Someone who got it all just right.

God, open my eyes to glimpse your bigness and your wisdom. Not even to understand them, but just to glimpse a world and plan and meaning that is broader, more ordered, more amazing than I can even imagine.

Friday, December 5, 2008


Religion. Ridiculous. It's actually the title of a real movie (that I haven't seen - yet) out in some theaters. I saw an interview with Bill Maher, the comedian star, on the Daily Show (DS) a few weeks ago, and I've been thinking about it ever since. The movie is more or less a religious satire, probing peoples' certainty about their own religions.

I was a little put off when the DS interview began, thinking, "How can you just go turn religion into a word and movie called ridiculous?!" Followed shortly by - "Hmm, but to be honest, I do agree that religion/faith can seem fairly absurd, if you step back and look from outside ."

Just as I was writing off Maher as a cocky and wealthy not-quite-athiest, he won me over with what I thought was a pretty profound statement. Halfway through, he said "I understand that not having faith is a luxury of a good life. If you're in prison and a guy says "all I have is Jesus," I get that." I realized that as I find myself sorting through aspects of my own faith this fall, it is only because my life is luxurious and good.

Fast forward. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, a one-year-old friend of ours had a severe seizure out of nowhere, and he spent the most of the weekend in ICU. At the end of the holiday weekend, I watched a TV movie (24) about young boys being conscripted into rebel militias in Africa. On a personal scale, and on a big-picture global scale, both of those situations gave me an in-your-face reminder of how life is not always so good.

Religion (or better put, faith?) may be ridiculous. Until we realize that we need it. When I need someone bigger than the world to fix the injustices of nations. When I needed peace and comfort as I watched my mother come to the end of her earthly life. When I cry out for healing for a friend or their child.

I don't have a catchy closing thought, because there are plenty of things on this topic that are still very fuzzy to me. I'll just observe that for today, life is not quite luxurious enough for me to throw in the towel and say it's all "religulous".

Daily Show interview re: Religulous
Other movies that have provoked these thoughts over the past year - Hotel Rwanda, The Last King of Scotland, Blood Diamond

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Heigh ho, heigh ho...

'Tis the season when I pay for the 4 weeks of vacation that I am about to take from teaching college. The days leading up to vacation are a ridiculous flurry of writing exams, grading exams, papers, labs, and on and on.

I have a growing appreciation for work - it gives me reason to focus, deadlines that make me feel productive (no matter how out of control the rest of my life is!), people that I must interact with. I think that work has the potential to bring out the best in us, but at least gives us a reason to get up in the morning. Sometimes, it literally drags us out of bed in the morning, if your work is your kids!

Anyhow, work necessarily gets in the way of hobbies like baking cookies, blogging, even necessities like picking up my house. All the thoughts I'm wanting to write about will have to wait until I get at least a little more work done. Happy working to you too - stop reading and get back to work!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Flat out cool!

I'm a bit of a tomboy. Yet I've always had long hair, maybe as much because it is easy to put it into a ponytail as it is to do fun "up-do's" with. A couple of months ago, I was in getting a semi-annual hair cut, and asked my stylist (again) for some much-needed style tips. Her first tip was - you've got to have a flat iron. Hmmm, I always thought those were for people with really curly hair who straightened it. Not for people like me, with a just-barely-obnoxious wave!

Well, I went out and got my first flat iron a month or so ago. It has changed my life! In about 5 minutes, I can now go from ponytail hair with a big crease in it, to smooth straight hair for an evening out. WOW. Why did I never know about this great new tool before?! The just-barely-obnoxious wave in my air-dried hair can actually be made to disappear for the first time in my life. If you have survived for 28 years like I did without a flat iron, it's time to give in and get one. In case you are like me, or are a boy and have no idea what a flat iron is, here you go:

Added bonus? This morning in our bathroom, I frantically got the last couple creases out of my hair and John smoothed the creases out of his un-ironed dress shirt. He glanced at my flat iron. Hey, he said, do you think that would work on the hem and buttons on my shirt? It worked beautifully. I'll iron my hair, but I guess I no longer have to iron his shirts! That's flat out cool.

Friday, November 21, 2008

One whole month of blogging

I took this random little risk and started a blog one whole month ago. A few observations on how it's going...

- I was most worried that not a soul would read it and my inexpert writing would be criticized. Well, in addition to Dad, quite a few of you have visited, commented, emailed - and none lambasting my grammar mistakes or loopy logic. I thank each and every one of you!

- One big reason I wanted to write here was to lay a bit more myself out there for you all to see and share, including (and especially) my family and friends. And in doing so, maybe inspire you to see and share more of yourself with others. So far, OK!

- It's kind of fun to have an outlet for actually thinking, a reason to process some of my thoughts and write them down and think that they are possibly interesting or inspiring. Mothering two little kids and/or teaching chemistry doesn't always lend itself to that, so this writing is fun. Previously, my only outlet for philosophy was my amazing husband John. Now I can debate with him and then some!

- Suddenly having a vested interest in the world of "blogging" is kind of distracting and obnoxious. Yes, I'm more willing to read/comment on someone else's blog than before, but I'd still much rather invest in the interesting people that I see face-to-face every day. So I'm getting the hang of being a fairly selfish blogger I guess, not feeling compelled to obsess with the blog-o-universe just because I have a teeny bit of it.

- Being brave is contagious. My thinking this last month has become, "If I can write a blog that who knows who will read, I can certainly open up about myself a little more to other people I meet, and try other little things that I've been too shy to do."

So I guess I'll stick with the writing experiment for at least a little while. Thanks for reading!

What's your world view?

Recently, a few books and these quotes got me thinking about why I should clarify my own world view. I hope it's a topic that might get you thinking too...

"How we understand ourselves and the world around us determines the kind of life we make."

"If we don't know what we can we live it and defend it? Our ignorance is crippling us."

So, what's your world view? Is your view mostly based on faith or religion, is it based on the subjects you've studied, based on someone else's view (agreeing or disagreeing with them), based on your life experiences?

Rachel (my two-year-old) is just learning to ask - "why?" But the only answer that she knows to give yet is - "Because." Our conversations go something like this: "Why Mommy?" "I don't know, what do you think Rachel?" "Because!"

I want to work at going a little further than that - not only being unafraid to ask "why?" and "who?", but also having more to answer than "I don't really know, just because." Today, I've only got my own questions to share (answers and ideas are swirling!). I hope these questions get you thinking too, about what your world view is, and why it matters.

Who is god? One being, creator, in everything, near or distant, constant or changing?

Who are you, and who are the other 6 billion people on the earth? Immortals, reincarnations from another life, equal or inequal beings, responsible for each other or not, connected to people in current, past and/or future generations?

What is your view of time? Is time cyclical or linear, with beginning and end or not?

What do these things mean - forever, love, purpose, justice, good?

They're hard and defining questions, if you stop and think about them... Do you have a question to add? I'm not ready to give you a pat list of good Christian answers, but I'll share more of my big and small thoughts in the days to come.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wanted: Woman running through park, pushing blue and yellow sleigh. Possibly stripping. Definitely freezing.

Did I catch your attention? Did you happen to drive past Hessel Park and see her this morning?!

Well, it was me. After a two week break from walking Abby to school and running outside, I'm back! So here I am with a quick shout out to Jim/Ana/JingleBells5K and two moms from Abby's school. See, it had been a very mild fall, and then suddenly autumn began her quick descent into winter, and the temperature dropped to 30F or colder in the mornings. I relegated myself to the treadmills at the gym.

But then something strange happened. I enjoy the solitude of jogging, but I'm always up for a little competitive (athletic?!) challenge. In spite of the weather, the two girls I've met that walk or bike their kids to school every single day kept doing it. One brings her one-year-old along, the other continues biking three miles to her son's preschool. And then brother-in-law Jim asked if I'd run a 5K in a few weeks. I couldn't help but rise to the challenge.

So, this morning, I made my first foray back into the cold, pushing Rachel in a giant bike-trailer-turned-jog-stroller (a.k.a. sleigh), wearing a heavy coat and eventually "stripping" off my hat and gloves because I was actually warming up! I ran miles of random quick intervals, and just the thought of what I must have looked like barreling quickly around town makes me laugh. (Unfortunately for you, I couldn't find the camera this morning to share the moment.)

Moral of the story - just keep doing whatever that great little thing is you're doing - you never know who you might inspire to step out into the lonely cold and copy you!

Thanks Jim, Ana, J, and L!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

When a stereotype is not enough....

"I do not like that man. I must get to know him better." Abraham Lincoln

I'm a Christian. Regrettably, I've sometimes allowed that to color my viewpoints of other religions, other people, other worldviews. I found Lincoln's insight on a box of tea a couple of months back. I've been thinking about getting past my stereotypes and first (flawed?) impressions ever since.

I attended a professional development seminar at work yesterday, discussing "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz with about twenty other random colleagues. I expected it to be a book about achieving better communication skills with my students. It was that, but it also turned out to contain a significant amount of "new age" and "relativist" type ideas that I don't really agree with. With a strongly Christian background, I've actually never sat down with a book on either of those topics, considering them more or less devilish. I decided that rather than cancel out of the reading and discussion, I'd try and get to know the ideas a bit better.

I don't like most of the worldviews that Ruiz put forth in the book. But because I read the book, and then sat down to discuss it with others, I discovered a few things -

1) For all of the differences I saw, there were a striking number of similarities between Ruiz's beliefs and my own. I am sure that we could talk for hours.
2) On the other hand, allowing myself to be confronted with such a different belief set helped me sort through what I believe surprisingly clearly.
2) Our discussion at work wasn't at all "weird" or "anti-God" - in fact, others tied in what they had read to verses from the Bible, sermons on Sunday.
3) Talking about the text gave me a chance to get to know many other people from work, who were drawn to open up about their life views, values, experiences. I am certain that a fairly different group would have shown up at a "Bible study".

The thought that I took away from the book and the day? It was the third agreement: Don't make assumptions. Have the courage to ask questions.

Don't like someone, don't like what they believe, don't like what they said? I'm going to continue to work at following Lincoln's example and do the really difficult thing - get to know them better.

Friday, November 14, 2008

All in the neighborhood

There's this corny Sesame Street song that comes to my mind... "Who are the people in your neighborhood?" I've been working a little harder than usual at getting to know my neighbors this past year or so. We moved to a new house a year and a half ago, and now Abby goes to school less than a mile away. Good excuses to branch out.

Neighbors, I'm thinking, are one of life's treasures. Just this morning, I had a few other moms and kids over to our house, all from within a mile (or a block!) of my house. One from Korea, one from Virginia, one from Pennsylvania, one from Texas. The one from Russia couldn't make it. I love visiting with each of them, and also just sitting back and watching them love their kids, take pictures, share stories. Who needs a road trip on a foggy, rainy day when you can take one in your living room?!

My neighbors introduce me to people I'd never get to interact with otherwise. Just in our immediate cul-de-sac, I've gotten to know a handful of the over-80 bunch, a Korean family and their nanny, a high school math teacher and her nieces, a family with two ten-year-olds and a thirteen-year-old. As much as I love the "small group" that I am in at church (full of young families), getting to know my neighbors gives me a great opportunity to talk about and do something other than kids and sermons!

Abby's class at school is a part of our "neighborhood" too. I was there earlier this week, and I get to interact with kids from around the city. They are from different countries, different socioeconomic classes, different types of families, and have different strengths and weaknesses. They remind me of the variety in my city, and that we all live side-by-side, working together to get our kids to school, get them through K, 1, 2, 3....! Being in the classroom helps me put a face and a value on the many families in my city.

My neighbors remind me everyday that the world is a much bigger place than our little family, our little church, our set of friends. I've got a slice of the world right at my doorstep, a glimpse of the world to explore, learn about, and love. They may be different than me, but what better chance to experience the "diversity" of the world and get to know it face to face?

What kind of random neighbors do you have? Have you talked to them lately?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

You try it!

My dad has a saying I think of often - "To criticize is easy, to do better may be difficult."

I don't necessarily criticize a whole lot of things, but I do try to copy them. Writing (a blog, lately), throwing a party, trying a new exercise at the gym, taking pictures of kids, to name just a few. Lacking my own creativity, I guess that I am a shameless copycat!

Almost every time, two things happen - 1) I fail almost completely, 2) I suddenly respect the person and their skills much more.

Lately, my tidbits of writing have opened my eyes to all things written in a new way. I've started to pay close attention to the words of my daily heroes: an interesting novel author, a faithful blogging friend, a journalist. Two of my main hobbies, taking pictures and cooking, are like that too. The more I attempt and fail at them, the more I respect those who do them better than me!

Tempted to criticize? Try the task first. Gain some respect for another person. Pass on a compliment.

"To criticize is easy, to do better may be difficult."

Turns out, who am I to criticize? I'm off to share some compliments!

Monday, November 10, 2008

So far so good on a Monday...

I put out more recycling than trash this morning (from the past week). That's a first!

I ran intervals and biked a little at the gym. Sucks to be inside, but I'll deal with it.

Although it is only 31F, at least the sun is shining.

No diapers changed yet - my two-year-old's poop in the toilet is a wonderful thing!

Almost every dish in the house is clean (all waiting to be put away).

Almost every piece of clothing in the house is clean (all piled on my bed).

What are you happy about today? Even if it's a Tuesday, Wednesday, ....

Friday, November 7, 2008

Too little faith

It is difficult for me to write about my faith in God. Why? On one day, it is lacking. I study science, and I am more unsure all the time what to think about the beginnings of the world. On another day, I don't want the stereotypes of Christians, God, or the Bible to turn you off to reading or considering. On yet another day, I am sure that something I read in the Bible impresses powerfully on my heart, and yet am also aware how absurd it sounds that a God in heaven could really have left us a spiritually alive book. I long to have an unshakable confidence and faith in my God, but I don't.

Today is a day where my faith falters, and yet God's words somehow encourage my heart. Two of Jesus' good friends, Peter and Thomas, watched a real life flesh-and-blood Jesus for three years. They saw his miraculous healings, heard the first-person version of the Jesus' words. While Jesus stood trial, just hours before he would be killed, Peter denied that he knew Jesus, that he'd ever been with him. Once, twice, three times, all within around two hours, he did this with Jesus only around a stone's throw away. Just before that, Jesus himself cried out in prayer - more or less - Father, please don't make me go through with this! Almost nothing about that makes sense to me. Just a bit later, as he was dying, he called out, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" Thomas, well, he is forever known as "doubting Thomas" - and all because he wouldn't believe the rumors that Jesus was resurrected until he saw him for himself. Not that unreasonable, really.

In these three people, who had much more real experiences with God than I have, I see embarrassment, fear, despair, loneliness, doubt. Their faith failures and struggles happened. I identify with that. Their faith failures and struggles were also not the end of the story of how God used them.

Jesus said this to Peter, knowing that Peter would deny him, but before it happened. "...Stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. Simon (Peter), I've prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out [that your faith would not fail]. When you have come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start." Luke 22:31-32

Jesus, pray that for me.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Family pictures - the good, the bad, the bumpy!

This is my family: bumps, discolorations, odd shapes and all. Wow, you think, I never would have guessed that you were a gourd! Well, here's the story...

We've been needing new family pictures for a few years now, and I've finally gotten around to it this fall. I envisioned pictures of us out in the leaves at a park, until I asked around about prices and quickly changed my visions. Sears with a coupon for us!

In order to keep a shred of my dreams alive, I decided to take this little family of gourds (my farmer's market decorations) out to the backyard for a little photo shoot. You can see the results above. John is the tall one who claims to be bronze, and the three of us girls, well, we all look a little alike in a weird sort of way!

My gourds got me thinking about how bumpy, oddly shaped, and strange each of us are. And yet, we belong in our families (we're oddly shaped look-alikes?!). Our families love us, listen to us, celebrate us. My family loves me in spite of my big feet, the incredible volume of my nose-blowing, unruly sarcasm, endless new recipes, and other great qualities!

My dad, moms, brother and sister love me. Eight years ago, John's family welcomed me, giving me an Illinois home for the first time. I am blessed beyond words with my dear family in John, Abby, and Rachel. Churches in each of our cities have welcomed us as family. It's truly amazing, considering that nose-blowing thing.

And yet, I have to admit that sometimes I forget how oddly shaped I am, and instead notice that you look kind of funny. Ironic, considering how crooked and lumpy I look in the picture above.

God, give me more and more love instead of criticism for all of the family that you have blessed me with.

And to my many families, thank you for loving me.

Photo editing provided by, suggested by Dina! Your work is way cooler than mine... If you lived closer, I would have commissioned you for our photos! Thanks, D.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama won... now what?

A quick 5 minute trip to Facebook this morning reminded me of the variety of emotions that people are feeling about the presidential election results from yesterday. "An historic event" happened (I love the proper "an") - you may be crying tears of joy, worried about the takeover of a liberal communist, apathetic, or somewhere in between.

Over the past two years of presidential campaigning, I've thought long and hard about what issues are important to me, about what kind of country I would like to live in. For me and many people around my age (20-somethings), this election was one that engaged us more than any other politics so far. As we processed our thoughts, a few most important values or issues floated to the top for each of us - what a great opportunity to think through them! And then we voted yesterday.

Obama won, and whether that is a dream come true or a nightmare, those values and issues shouldn't go away. Now that each of our votes are over and done with, what do we do with those values and issues?

I want to act on the things that I decided were most important to me. I cast my vote, but now it's really up to me. For example, I'm passionate about showing care for the poor, including health care and education, nutrition and family building. I contribute to those causes in small ways, but I'm challenged now to do more.

How about you? What values or issues defined your vote? Life? Peace? Education? Environment? Economic stability? Can you help at a crisis nursery, make peace at work, help in a local park, spend your money more carefully? You expected your candidate to do more - can you do more?

Obama won't fix (or break) the country, in spite of our hopes/fears. We will never fix all the problems of the world. But I will live, work, and pray hard at it.

Weakness: a window to strength

Last week was Abby's first parent-teacher conference. My one question for her teacher was how my shy daughter was adjusting to the social complexities of kindergarten. "Well," her teacher replied, "she has grown a lot over the past few months. Just today, we read a book about a shy bug, and I asked the kids - who knows what "shy" means? Abby raised her hand, and gave an excellent definition." Defining our own weaknesses is pretty easy to do.

Later, I was talking with John about Abby, and he made an interesting observation - she is a girl of deep caring emotions, and can easily have her feelings hurt. She guards herself carefully to avoid being hurt. However, she also shows remarkable kindness and tenderness to other kids, babies, and her little sister. The tender heart that makes her struggle with shyness is also one of her greatest strengths.

John is a great teacher, gives incredibly clear talks at his professional conferences, and sends easy to read emails. He is a good communicator - and he has become that way because he isn't so good at being super-animated, entertaining, or flashy when he speaks.

As for me, one weakness I always struggle with is insecurity, wondering what others might think of me. When someone shares a word of encouragement, it really lifts me for days. As a result, I try to make an effort to share encouraging words with others - my family, an old friend, the cashier at the grocery store. Lately, I've been seeing that sharing encouragment is one of my strengths.

So next time you're wondering what you are really good at, pause to think about what one of your weaknesses is. Our weakness is often a window to a strength.

Another slant on this - I'm reminded of this comment from Paul, whose vision problems humbled him and showed him that ultimate strength can come only from God.

"'My grace is enough; it's all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.' Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ's strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, adn with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size - abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become." 2 Cor. 12:9

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Running low on money?

I just read a New York Times article (my source for headlines at least!) -

Stark Signs of a Slowdown, Days Before Election - Less than a week before Americans go to the polls to select a president, a government report released Thursday showed that the economy contracted in the third quarter as consumer spending dipped for the first time in 17 years. (complete article reference below)

While I'm well aware of the many negatives associated with an economic downturn, I found a couple of very bright spots in this news. Before that though - it is mind-boggling to me that we have been spending more and more every quarter for 17 years!!!

I'm just about done reading my college's book of the year, Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte. I also read a bit of another book this morning, Raising Unselfish Kids in a Selfish World by Jill Rigby. Royte lives in NYC and follows every bit of her trash to landfills, recycling, sewer, etc. Great reading actually. Her ultimate solution for the massive amount of waste that we generate is - buy less and use less. Rigby writes about how "me-centric" we have all become, and writes that a solution for living different is to live gladly with what we have, instead of always wanting the latest clothes, house, games, trip, you name it.

Two respectable ladies writing about topics that are dear to my heart - raising unselfish kids and taking care of the world around us. One main conclusion - buying less.

Maybe running low on money will be good for all us - good for building character in me and my kids, and good for our world. Spending less has never sounded so profitable!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My life of luxury

lux⋅u⋅ry 1. a material object, service, etc., conducive to sumptuous living, usually a delicacy, elegance, or refinement of living rather than a necessity

I've been realizing during this past year that I do truly live a life of luxury. Though I live near the very bottom of the middle class, and often want much more than I have for myself and for others, I'm starting to see how the things I claim as "rights" or necessities for myself other Americans aren't quite all that. I need food, clothes, and some shelter. Yet I have all of this, and a lot more.

1. I can have more than one child. If I lived in China, debates on pro-life/choice would be a moot point.
2. My daughters can go to school. In Afghanistan, they might not ever learn to read, let alone make it to college and beyond. Never mind me working outside the home.
3. I have time and space to "build a strong marriage". In many other countries, I might share this same sized house with many, many family members.
4. I can live across the country, and yet see my family every year. Even a hundred fifty years ago, to marry an adventuresome husband might have taken me across the ocean or country forever, never to see my family again.
5. I can vote. Not until 1920 could American women vote, and those who earned us the "right" were beaten, imprisoned, called insane.

I could go on and on. One of my favorite quotes sums up my conclusion -

"O Thou who has given us so much, mercifully grant us one thing more - a thankful heart." George Herbert

What luxurious privilege are YOU thankful for today? I'd love to hear...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Art therapy

"The Peanut Gallery" - I recently hung six clipboards on the wall of our hallway to serve a sort of rotating art gallery. Problem is, lately the girls have been generating about 6-10 pieces of art per person per day, so it can rotate pretty quickly!

Abby's bright watercolors of people (new accomplishment for her - love the long fingers!) are some of my favorites, cheering me up every time I look from my computer to the hall way... It's great to see that what spills out of them in their creative time is bright and colorful.

Scared of what He might do to me

I grew up in a Christian family, and have had faith in God for most moments of my life. I've seen his faithfulness and goodness demonstrated to me over and over. Yet, almost every time that I go to church and sing a song like "May your rule and reign take over me, for I long just to please You...", I have to change the words in my head to something like - "Make me want your rule and reign...". Because I can't honestly "mean" the lyrics otherwise.

Why? Because I am afraid. I am afraid that life with God is going to be a hard (miserable?!) life. It's got potential to be a life of suffering, pain, embarrassment, brutal character formation, giving up all the things that I enjoy to serve a lot at church, and on and on. Some of that is true, and some of that we do to ourselves as we mess up the way that God intended us to live. But I'm beginning to glimpse this year that maybe the big invisible God is not out to make my life miserable like I think.

I tell Abby and Rachel (my little girls) that God is a Big Daddy, even bigger than their own big daddy. (Although I don't always know what to make of God, I know that he's still worth experiencing for my girls...). Oddly, when I think about the scary version of God that I just finished explaining, it doesn't mesh very well with the versions of dads that I experience - my own dad, and John as a dad to our kids.

Asked last night what pleases them or brings them happiness in their kids, this is what those two dads had to say. I've had to shorten their words greatly, because these dads have plenty to say about what their kids do that make them happy. (thanks for sharing to my two favorite guys)

John - "More than anything, seeing them being happy... Seeing Abby being caring, which is who she is. Seeing Rachel being energetic, which is so much of who she is..."

Dad - "The quality of character that each [of you] has demonstrated... Joanna demonstrating caring and a strong moral compass.... Joel's strong sense of loyalty, ability to face difficulties without complaint... Danielle's tenacity, work ethic, strong sense of self..."

Turns out that what dads want for their kids is for them to be joyful in life, to demonstrate character in a variety of situations, to excel at being themselves and bringing joy to others as they do. The "being" stands out more than the "doing". Pain, embarrassment, monotonous chores around the house for the kids - these dads don't get a thrill out of those things for their kids.

In the words of two dads, I find some spoken words that reflect what my God might say to me if He were here. Maybe it might go something like this - "Joanna, when I see you being happy, enjoying your family, out running, baking cookies - it makes me smile. When I see that you care for those around you, your excellence and hard work at home and work, that pleases me..." Those things, I could keep on doing. God, keep convincing me of your love and showing that I do not need to be afraid of life with you.

Ask your dad what makes him happy about his kid. And know that another Big Daddy would probably say the same.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The road that goes nowhere

No, not "the bridge to nowhere" that Sarah Palin kept and then rejected. Not going to get political (today at least!).

I was talking with John last night about his current research project going nowhere. Since our world pretty much consists of "good research" = "getting a PhD finally", it is always very discouraging when work doesn't go well for him (you can guess why, after many years of school!). I wanted to pray, wanted to ask God to help him, but what do you say??? "C'mon God, take care of us!" (Abby said the other day that it wouldn't be very nice to yell at God, I told her, well, I think it's OK, lots of us do it sometimes!).

More often than not, I find my own words in the words of someone else - a song, a book, a quote, a comic. This was no exception. I read this this morning, with cartoons blaring the background:

"Barricade the road that goes Nowhere;
Grace me with your clear revelation." Psalm 119:29

Ha - there's the words I can use to pray (and maybe you too). So I'm with Gov. Palin on this, we don't want that bridge/road that goes to nowhere... God, keep us from spinning our wheels, spending years going down a wrong path. You know the feeling, the frustration and wondering if this is the right road, right?

Maybe God doesn't always give us a yellow brick road to follow, but I'll take a "Bridge out" or "Road closed sign" instead - even if it's initially discouraging.

God, for John, just turn that direction of research into a barricaded dead end if it's going Nowhere, and then show him where to go instead. And for all the others, who are pursuing promotions, new babies, new friends in a brand new city, wisdom from doctors, a meaningful life, barricade what's NOT going to go anywhere, so they find your path with a lightening bolt of revelation.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Better breeding or a walk on the wild side?

What do you need, better breeding or a walk on the wild side?

Visit the grocery store this fall, and you will see big, colorful, sweet apples - and they are in season and therefore cheap! (What's not to love?!) Run with me this morning, and you would jog past many crab apple trees, covered with some of the tiniest apples you could imagine. The wild ones are hardy in their own ways, but would hardly ship well or sell. Their genes haven't been tampered with much. The "well-bred" ones have been improved by many scientists to improve their appearance, taste, size, sturdiness for travel, and resistance to disease. Great qualities to have! Though they've been changed against their will, I'll take an improved apple almost any day.

Now, I'm no plant scientist, but I learned in school that plants are occasionally crossed back with the older, more wild versions. Corn, for example, is sometimes crossed with ancient corn, teosinte, to improve its hardiness. Keeping wild varities wild is critical to maintaining the health of modern varieties, and yet almost all teosinte is endangered or extinct. Wildness is worth preserving too.

So what does all this mean for us? If we stay wild and untamed for our entire lives, we'll never grow to be quite as beautiful, big, or resilient as we could be. On the flip side, if we become too well-bred, too much of what everyone around us wants, we will lose some of our deepest strength and character. We need some cultivating, and we need some wildness. Lately, in my comfortable adult life, I find that I need to inject a bit of the wildness back into my life. But other times, I need to let others press on me and improve me a bit. So here are a couple of prescriptions, depending on where you are at...

For "better breeding" - let others have a small chance to improve your character.
1. Do what she/he said (your husband or wife, your mother-in-law, your friend) - just try their suggestion!
2. Try that activity that your boss suggested (be it a boss in the workplace or just your bossy kid at home).
3. Take a leadership role, instead of just griping. Good leaders are forced to do a lot of listening and caring and adapting to others.

For "a walk on the wild side" - do something uncomfortable!
1. Ask a friend how he/she came to hold a conviction that is quite different from your own. Shut up and listen. Don't even give your side of the issue.
2. Do something you would have before you became a right-wing conservative, or before you wrote off God or church. Vote for a Democrat. Pray.
3. Try something that you're afraid of failing at. Start a blog that might never get read. Start exercising - get out and enjoy a long walk.

For today, I'm going to pick #1 for better breeding and #3 for wildness (by posting right here)!

To all my thoughts, assembled while jogging this morning - Rachel wants to add from the stroller - "Moooom, the wind is freezing me cold!". Above, holding a full-grown "wild" apple and a beautiful one from the store.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

On my mind today

Every opportunity lost makes room for many more opportunities gained.

Happiness is a journey, not a destination. (that one I saw around town)

Love is a journey, not a destination. (that's my own twist!)

Give thanks.

Have those been true for you too?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Am I like my dying tomato plant?!

I was looking out the window during lunch today at my beloved (dying) tomato plants, which will soon be wiped out at the instant when the temperature drops below 32F. I thought to myself, "What good are annuals anyway?! Wouldn't it be great if all plants were perennials, coming back on their own, year after year?"

Then the thought struck me - I'm like an annual. So are you. We begin life, tiny and young. We grow up, until we are able to provide fruit to those around us. For my tomato plant, that fruitful period ebbed and flowed from late June to late October. Then death becomes imminent, and in a blink of an eye, we are done. What's left? What's the use?

Well, just like annuals - tomatoes, flowers, or otherwise - our lives are finite. Colorful, very fruitful at times, but finite. But annuals do leave a legacy, and that is their seeds. Annuals do a better job of making seeds than perennials I think (have you ever tried to grow a perennial from a seed?). One bean plant can give me hundreds of seeds (if I didn't eat them all summer!). Each of those store well, and when the conditions are right next summer, can grow, feed us for another season, and then leave their own abundance of seeds. God has created us with relatively short and sometimes rather insignificant lives. I will be sad when my tomato plant dies (this weekend?), and grieve much more when a person's life ends. So what do I do? I live for the season that I was born into - feeding those that I can while I am alive, and leaving many, many seeds for the future.

Rest in peace, my dear tomato plant. I want to be like you when I grow up!

Stop and smell the flowers...

Have you stopped to notice the beauty around you lately? We were out on a walk at the lake and gardens behind our condo complex this week and I couldn't help but notice the flowers as the girls climbed on the rocks. Grabbing my camera (which I missed while John was away last week!), I zoomed in close, and then closer, to capture the beauty and interest of a flower I'd never noticed before. Pinks, yellows, lady beetles (these bite - not nice like lady bugs!), butterflies. It's amazing to see the unique details of each flower, most parts serving an important function. They may attract a certain type of pollinating insect, feed a butterfly, wait for pollen deposits! (I learned this fall that trees can be male or female - and you want to choose carefully, because depending on the tree gender, it may or may not drop stinky fruit or pods on your property). Each flower is beautiful, fully functional and inspirational all at once. Check some out!

"Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields [or your yard!] and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it?... If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers - most of which are never even seen - don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you?" Matthew 6: 28-30


About me

This blog is an experiment in writing for me. It seems that my mind overflows with thoughts sometimes, so I'm putting some down "on paper". I want to share the passions, questions, inspirations of my heart with you. Those usually revolve around a few things - my faith, my family (including friends!), my food, and staying fit. Add a lot of outdoor time and some science, and you have a snapshot of me and my heart.

I seek to live life with my whole heart, and as I share my experiences along that journey with you, I hope that you are encouraged to live wholeheartedly too.