Sunday, December 23, 2012

I don't like donuts.

It was Sunday, and we were all loaded in the car after church.  My dad joyfully announced, “Hey, kids!  We’re going to go get donuts!”  My siblings responded with the gratifying celebration my parents expected, while my face dropped and I said, “But, I don’t like donuts.”  Mom had a cold tone to her voice, as she doled out the most underused parenting phrase ever, “You are going to eat a donut, Emily, whether you like it or not.”

I can only imagine how frustrated my parents were, when I sat at the table poking holes in my donut, the way my sister and brother poked holes in their beets.  I remember the overwhelming powerlessness of being told that I could not get up from the breakfast table until my glazed donut was gone.  If only it could have been a slice of toast, or a bowl of broccoli, but no, it was a donut.  Dread.

I really don’t know what’s wrong with me.  I empathize with the exasperation of people around me, when they kindly offer me a token of delight, only to find that I’m not delighted.  I wish I could somehow muster a sincere appreciation for fried dough and icing, but I just can’t.  It’s not that I hate donuts anymore.  When I was a kid, I really hated them; I had to choke them down.  Now, I eat them with the same tolerant disinterest I feel when I eat oatmeal, or swallow medicine.  It’s not terrible, but I wouldn’t go out of my way for it.  And a good cup of coffee definitely helps make it feel worthwhile.

Before anyone gives up on me, I do want to be clear that this donut-thing has parameters.  I don’t like donuts, but I do love cake.  I love cheesecake.  Fudge brownies and chocolate chip cookies.  Ice cream.  Even the semi-dessert, semi-side-dish Jell-O salads people make for the holidays.  In most ways, I think I am a normal person.  But for some reason…donuts…uhg.
For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 1 Timothy 4:4

Friday, December 14, 2012

The funny thing about aliens, Mayans, and the end of the world.

I love Signs.  My husband and I watched it at the drive-in when it came out.  We were actually parked in the back row, sitting in the bed of our pickup, under the stars, surrounded by a field of full grown corn.  It was deliriously creepy and we jumped every time we heard a stalk of corn crackle or brush up against something.  It was fun to let ourselves get swept up in the concept of how the world might end, and how human creativity and resilience, potentially coupled with divine intervention, might bring about pockets of survivors.

I’ve read articles about the zombie, Armageddon, end-of-the-world trend, and I find it kind of amusing.  Of course, there have been seasons of end-times obsession throughout human history; even the Bible includes such stories.  But there seems to be more widespread interest and fodder for it, perhaps more pessimism about our collective future, in recent times – what with the advent of the atomic age, the mega-storms and floods of our inconvenient ecology, and the nagging fear that computers might be devouring our souls, even as they edge curiously closer to Terminator-like self awareness.

I know people who spend time and energy pursuing these unfortunate possibilities.  They wonder about whether the government is covering up alien abductions.  They worry that the ice caps are going to melt and drown us.  They grow garlic to ward off vampires.  Sometimes they arm themselves, sometimes they stockpile canned goods.  Sometimes they don’t do anything, except for wring their hands and worry.

I thought the whole alien thing through a while back.  This is what I concluded.  If there are no aliens: awesome, there is nothing to worry about.  If there are aliens: they’re either benevolent, or keeping to a ceasefire.  If they have the technology to travel through space to our world, we are, by definition, at their mercy.  If the government is hiding them from us, they are either complying with an agreement that is keeping us at peace with them, or protecting us earthlings from the mass chaos that all the alien-fearing worriers would potentially incite.  Either way, we’re actually better off to go with it, than to fight it.  Again, there is really nothing for me to worry about.

Now we are reaching the end of the Mayan calendar, and the world, once again, sits with baited breath, waiting to see if this is really it.  I think for most rationally minded, healthy individuals, these subjects are all a matter of entertainment and diversion, but for the few who are still feeling anxious, wondering which day might be your last, I have some suggestions that might bring you comfort, or deeper anxiety:

1.       You are going to die.  I’m sorry to deliver the news so callously, but I hope you’ve been informed of this before.  Live each day with the full and transformative knowledge that your days and minutes are numbered, and it would behoove you to make good use of each and every one you are blessed to enjoy.  It could end for you at any moment.

2.       The world is not going to last forever.  Again, how long or how short it will go on is not for us to know.  It has been a beautiful, joyful place for humans to dwell, and I, for one, am thankful to have been born here, and not on Mercury, where my life expectancy would certainly have been much shorter – even if 12/21 is the end for Earth.

3.       Contemplating and preparing for events that are out of our control is futile, and distracts from #1.

4.       If the world ends next Friday, you will not care on Saturday.

Some people would say that I can be callous about the end of the world, because I have a Christian faith that asserts an afterlife.  For many, the promise of heaven is enough to sooth their fears about death and end times.  And I cannot deny that the Christian promise of an eternal utopia is both appealing, and potentially soothing.  However, my faith offers me something else that even some non-Christians, or Christians who feel less certain about Heaven might appreciate: my faith offers me assurance that I am in the care of a loving Creator, who intends well for myself and all humanity, regardless of what absurd trials may challenge us.  And my faith offers me a compass in life – an ethical measure and a foundation for my identity as a child of God – that gives me confidence to choose right and live meaningfully.  No matter what day is my last, I will come to that moment and know that I have done my very best to live well.  That, to me, is the best possible end to an earthly life, whenever it arrives.  I will rest in peace.  My dearest wish is for others to go through life with a similar knowledge and assurance.

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. John 13:1

Friday, December 7, 2012

I was a lousy cook.

I took Home Ec. in middle school and learned the basics of following a recipe.  I knew how to use measuring cups, how to boil water; I could crack eggs, flip pancakes, and whip up a mean batch of Hamburger Helper, by the time I headed to college.  But I hated cooking.  Along with various other forms of housekeeping, cooking was a chore I’d felt strapped with as a teenager, and I took no joy in turning raw ingredients into meals.  In fact, I survived college eating at the cafeteria, or whipping up microwave food, splurging occasionally on spaghetti, and feeding on snack foods throughout the day.

When I landed in Villach, Austria, after college, and hit the Spar store for rations the first time, I was shocked.  I felt like Ma Ingalls shopping at the general store.  The boxed dinners I had counted on were nowhere to be found.  Meat had to be requested by the cut, from the butcher; I didn't know what any of the cuts were called in English, let alone German.  The small rows of shelves were full of raw ingredients – flour, oil, starch.  The produce was locally grown, making small, pathetic piles compared to the enormous, shiny fruits and vegetables I was used to picking up at the store back in the U.S.  Even the eggs appeared to have been pulled out from under a chicken just that morning – sometimes feathers or bedding were still stuck to them.

I struggled to feed myself for the first couple months I lived in Villach.  I ate spaghetti three times a week.  Cereal and yogurt were daily staples.  A fellow teaching assistant turned me on to Brie cheese on zwieback toast, and I probably ate that twice a day.  I was walking several miles each day, back and forth to work and everywhere else I needed to go, so my pathetic cooking caught up with me.  I was hungry all the time.
Then my little sister bought a plane ticket and joined me in Villach.  While I’d been off at college, getting educated, she’d been developing her life skills in the school of hard knocks.  I thought, when she asked if she could come to Europe with me for a few months, that it was going to help her break out of her stagnation; I thought I was going to help open her eyes to the bigger possibilities in life and we were going to have a blast, touring the continent and spending time together.  What I never imagined, was that my sister – still a kid in my eyes – was going to head into that ill-equipped Spar store with me, and walk down the aisles putting spices and ingredients into our basket with a deft confidence that made my jaw drop.

That was before we even hit the kitchen.  It was there that I truly became her student.  She would grab a few staples and start opening the spice jars to give them a sniff before adding a bit of one thing, or more of something else.  She chopped vegetables and minced garlic. As she worked in the kitchen, I just watched her and learned.  She wasn’t afraid.  She didn’t need a recipe, and she wasn’t worried whether every dish turned out Betty-Crocker-perfect.  She just used her imagination to build a dish in her head, what the flavors would taste like together, how long to keep it on the heat to get it crisp, when to add salt and when to leave it out.  Of course, there was no pressure on the outcome: I was starving and thrilled to eat something besides zwieback.  What I got, though, were delicious meals, and a new attitude.  It was fun to cook with my sister.  And after she left, and later, once I’d come back to the U.S., it was fun to cook on my own.

I learned so much from watching my sister cook. The kitchen is no longer a chemistry lab, upon which I expect to be graded.  Instead it is an art studio.  There is now such a joy for me in experimenting with ingredients and techniques.  I see the cookbook as a guidebook, instead of a manual, and love looking over a list of ingredients and imagining the flavors, building the dish in my head and tweaking it to fit the groceries I have in my cupboards, or the preferences of who I am cooking for.  Sometimes everything turns out fantastic, and my kids rave about how much better my meatloaf is than the restaurant stuff.  Sometimes it doesn’t go as well, and we serve our dinner with lots of ketchup and barbeque sauce.

But the most important thing is that my kitchen has become a place of love and joy.  I enjoy making the menu and buying the food, I love to sit around the table with my beloved family and see them nourished by what I have prepared for them.  I think my sister got a lot out of her visit to Austria – but more than that, I still treasure the lessons I learned from her.

Anyone too lazy to cook will starve, but a hard worker is a valuable treasure. Proverbs 12:27

Friday, November 16, 2012

This bacon thing is getting out of hand

I used to make turkey bacon and thought it was great.  Then one week, I ventured off the health-food track and picked up some pork.  We’ve never looked back.

As my kids get older, and their palates mature, somehow foods they once loved become suddenly indigestible.  The antidote to this trend, it seems, is inevitably more bacon.  First I bought bacon bits for salad.  Then I found myself sprinkling them into green beans, next burgers, then meatloaf.  Now, I can’t say for sure, but I might have sneaked a tablespoon or so of bacon into their oatmeal the other morning.

Running parallel to this developing bacon addiction, has been the sudden influx of widely available, bacon-infused products.  Would my children eat more broccoli, if I had a bacon-scented candle lit on the table?  Would they remember to brush every morning, if their toothpaste tasted bacon-y?  I think it’s altogether possible.

I’m not sure what I was thinking, last week, when I picked up yet another bacon incarnation: bacon flavored spaghetti sauce.  And it wasn’t because I was making the kids a quick, little pasta dinner.  No, I took the ultimate risk and added this absurd concoction to the world’s most amazing, Italian dish – which should never, ever be messed with – lasagna.  I know a lot of people who claim to make a fabulous lasagna.  It makes me snicker, really, because how can you possibly go wrong, when you are preparing a dish that is made up of layer upon layer of pasta and cheese?  But anyway, you are all going to have to bow out of this informal lasagna competition – I have it won.  I now have the ultimate secret recipe: Bacon Lasagna.  My kids always love lasagna, but they have never before eaten the whole pan in one meal.  All hail – bacon.

I’m thinking about weaving bacon around the turkey next week for Thanksgiving.  If I do, it might be the first time ever that 6 people, most of them children, eat an entire 16 pound turkey in one meal.  I haven’t committed, but I’m seriously considering the endeavor.

One note of warning: Bacon flavored soda pop.  We knew it was wrong, but we tried it anyway.  Stick with Bacon Lasagna.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Dear Good Samaritan...

Reading people’s bumper stickers is a wonderful source of amusement for me – the more the better.  Sometimes I gain some pithy insight, sometimes I cringe or groan, but almost always, I am entertained by what someone choose as their personal message to the world behind them.

As much as I love reading bumper stickers, I rarely display them myself.  To me they are kind of like tattoos – there’s no one, brief message, by which I would want to be defined as a human being – or even just as a motorist.  Not even those cute stick families, or an ichthus (the fish shape Christians use to identify themselves to one another).  Both are still loaded symbols that might convey to someone a disdain for them I do not have, or a vanity to which I do not subscribe.

Sometimes I am tempted, in my love of back bumper bling, to try to create a collage of stickers that somehow defies the stereotypes I fear reinforcing.  What if a put my pro-life “Motherhood is a proud profession” sticker next to my “Obama Biden 2012” sticker, add a hopeful, “Jesus loves you,” throw in a cheesy, “smile, it makes people wonder what you’re up to,” and then top it off with a snarky, “Don’t worry what people think, they don’t do it very often.”  It would be kind of fun to add the stick family of Star Wars characters, too.  Would the people behind me at a stop light, from whichever camp of abortion, politics, religion, contemplation, or Sci-Fi, be confused and angry, or marvel at my breadth of commitments and sense of humor?

Last week, someone proved to me why no message can ever stand alone, as a testimony to the world about who you are and what you are about.  My husband had a campaign sticker on the back of his truck, and we came out of a store to find a note tucked under our windshield wiper.

Perhaps this person thought they were going to have a laugh at our expense, and I’m sure they proudly boasted about the pile of these photocopied greetings that they had distributed during election season.  But what does anyone gain from calling someone else an idiot, based on one, small modicum of information about that person?  If you are going to call yourself a “good Samaritan,” I suggest you pull open your scriptures and actually read the story.  Jesus’ story redefined community, illustrating that those who agree with you, who publicly claim to operate out of the same perspective, are often of no value to you in your time of deepest need – real community has to do with reaching out to one another, past divisions and divides, and offering our best to one another in every circumstance.  Labeling someone “idiot” is in direct conflict with the story of the good Samaritan. 

This note tells me, from this one, small modicum of information I now have, that the writer is not a faithful, generous servant of Christ, using the blessing of freedom to build up our country and make the world a better place, but instead a judgmental, divisive person, who has done their candidate and their Creator a great disservice, by spreading ill-will in their name.

But I would like to push myself, unlike this “good Samaritan,” to look the past one, hopefully small, shortcoming I see in this person, and remember there is an entire person on the other side.  I’d like to believe that they are actually a good person, with a misguided sense of humor.  I’d like to hope they will offer me the same grace when I cut them off on the freeway, forget to use my blinker, or accidentally swerve into their lane while avoiding a fallen branch.   I hope they can join me in attempting to offer less judgment, and more acknowledgement of our commonalities.

 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:29

Friday, November 2, 2012

I love the High Life Lounge – for serious. I love it.

I love this place.
Whether it’s the awesome collection of beer signs or the wood paneling, I couldn’t say for sure.  Maybe it’s the $2 Sloppy Joe, because everyone knows I hate overpaying for a meal, but the High Life is the dingiest place I ever loved.  Out with a friend a few weeks ago, I was taken aback, trying to figure out what was wrong with the place.  Finally the giant fans clued me in – they had shampooed the carpet.  It just didn’t feel like the same place when the shag was fluffy – and didn’t have Chili-Cheese Tater Tots smeared into the fibers.  I’m sure it will better by my next visit.

The High Life is a place where you can order Schlitz without shame, and take down a deviled egg or two while you enjoy your cheap, crappy bear.  I don’t disparage the good times available at the west side’s upscale hotspots, complete with their fancy martini menus and well-dressed patrons, but if you’re going to pay for a hoity-toity beer, the last thing you want to do is have it served to you with a napkin around it.  Why pay for a status beer, and then pretend you want to hide the label?  You get none of that at the High Life, a place that feels like you grandparents’ basement, where you can buy the same brands of beer your grandpa would have stocked in his basement fridge, and eat the same comfort foods your grandma would have served you at the Formica table, with the green flowered vinyl chairs.

My grandparents were all strict Baptists.  They didn’t have a beer fridge, or a basement hang out.  Even my high school home was a historic farm house with a cellar, not a paneled basement.  Maybe that’s why the High Life is such a comfort to me – it’s the teenage beer party I never got invited to.  And best of all – there are enough other 30-somethings hanging out there to keep me from feeling how old I am that the d├ęcor of my childhood is now back in style.  I hope you all have a similar place in your town – otherwise, maybe you have some neighbors that will share their basement with you?

Be happy and enjoy eating and drinking! God decided long ago that this is what you should do. Ecclesiastes 9:7

Friday, October 26, 2012

I'm into creepy karaoke

I’ve only seen it a few times, and at the same place, so maybe there is some karaoke out there that isn’t so creepy, but so far, for me, it’s one of those train wrecks you can’t turn away from.  I feel like I’m ready to write a sit-com pilot, based on the recurring characters that show up and sing their hearts out each week.

There’s an assortment of trucker-types: middle aged men who know the lyrics to a bizarre array of obscure, and sometimes more than vaguely suggestive, songs.  There’s one in a flannel shirt with a beard, who played roulette and sang I Want You Back, all in falsetto (I think he was trying to use his falsetto, anyway). 

Then there’s the guy who wears old grey sweatshirts with team logos, shop teacher glasses, and dad jeans.  He brings his wife.  She sits there and rolls her eyes, while he perseveres through Hank Williams and Johnny Cash – he generally hits the final note like a pro. 

There’s also a round faced guy who looks a little more ethnic – we think of Guillermo on Jimmy Kimmel.  He sings pretty decent, and hasn’t made the hair on my neck stand up with his song choices, but we do wonder if he works as a parking lot attendant by day. 

I’d try to give you an example of the really creepy fare, but, if you can imagine, not one of those songs am I otherwise familiar enough with to be able to recount it.  Carl, Bob, and Ralph are in a rotation all night, so if new faces don’t wander into the Bar & Grill, the Karaoke DJ (is that what you call the person running the machine?) brings up the level of the show by doing their own number.  The one guy has a great Neil Diamond sound.  Pretty awesome on They’re Coming to America, but a little disconcerting on those off the wall Willie Nelson and Whitney Houston numbers he pulls up.

Two younger guys (probably the future Carl and Bobs) came in and joined up for some pretty awesome duets and trios the one time.  They got the girl who was running the machine to join in for Life in a Northern Town and they did such a cool version we were actually looking the song up and adding it to our playlists the next day.  It gave us a glimpse of why other, perhaps less warped than us, people actually like to come see karaoke sometimes.

We’re going back tonight for the Halloween Karaoke, and trying to bring some of our friends down with us.  They advertised prizes for best costume, and best costume with song.  We’re going as cheerleaders.  Any good song suggestions, in case I get my husband tipsy enough to sing?

You sing foolish songs to the music of harps, and you make up new tunes, just as David used to do. Amos 6:5

Friday, October 19, 2012

I love grocery shopping...normally.

I love grocery shopping.  It’s the one situation where I can spend $120 a week and feel not a moment of buyer’s remorse.  I don’t have to spend 15 minutes in the condiment aisle, considering the pros and cons of, “Oh, man, I love this peanut butter, but do I really need another jar of peanut butter?  What is my husband going to say if comes home and finds another jar of peanut butter in the cupboard?”

The one thing, however, that can quickly ruin an otherwise glorious trip to the grocery store, is a lousy cart.  I do, in fact, often decide which store to patronize, based exclusively on the quality of their shopping carts. 

The worst is Walmart.  I shop there only when necessary, because they have the hinkiest carts in the universe.  You have to live for excitement to enjoy that moment when the cart suddenly veers into a rack of glass jars, as one of the wheels inexplicably decides to stop turning.  There are usually layers upon layers of filth and grime on the push handle – the flavor of which apparently pleases my one year old – and the minute you load the basket with a gallon of milk and a rump roast, the whole cart pulls to the side and one of the wheels offers a rhythmic hitch to the rest of your excursion.  And that doesn’t even get me started on the child restraint issues.  What would it take to occasionally replace those plastic latches on the seatbelt?  Does my toddler need the opportunity to high dive from the seat to the tile, while I’m digging through the produce, trying to find one, decently ripe avocado?

Target, by far, has the best carts.  They have the kiddy carts with the big red seat that allow two kids to ride in style at a time.  I sometimes go out of my way to shop at Target, just to enjoy the sweet, smooth drive of their Cadillac carts.  Of course, for what they charge for beer, they can afford to keep their carts nice.

Fareway is really my ultimate favorite.  They have a small town grocer mentality.  Their meat counter is renowned for great deals and great cuts.  They even empty your cart for you at the checkout, push your groceries out to your vehicle and load them in the trunk while you stand and watch them, or strap in your toddler.  Hyvee and Dahls – it takes over an hour to get my shopping done, as I have to wade through aisle after aisle of unnecessary varieties and absurd merchandise, intended to rope me into impulse purchases.  But at Fareway, I get what I need and I get out – in 45 minutes or less.  And their carts are always in good, working order.  Or at least they always were…

This week, Fareway failed me miserably.  My toddler wanted to ride in a "car" cart, so I put her in, but didn't stop to strap her, because she's always been content in the car.  I was already three isles into it (and therefore a million miles away from the other carts), when she started climbing out to do her own shopping.  I went for containment, but found that the seatbelts in the car were broken, so I was out of luck.  Obviously, I didn’t meet my 45 minute shopping goal, because the highlights of the trip included repeated confrontations over her picking things off of shelves, doing at least half my shopping carrying a wiggling worm who wanted to escape from my hip, and knocking over a giant cardboard display full of boxes of tea.  The good news was that in her attempts to escape me, she only bonked her head twice, once in front, once in back.

God bless the staff at Fareway, though, who never seemed troubled at all by my ill-behaved little turkey, even when 50 boxes of tea were strewn across the aisle.  After she threw her final meltdown in the checkout line, when I was ready to push the cart with the broken straps off a cliff, the sweet older gentleman pushing our groceries out to our car gave my little terror the warmest smile, pulled out a candy necklace and said, “Maybe she will like this; thanks so much for shopping with us today.”

OK, Fareway, I’ll be back – but would you please fix the seatbelts in the car cart?  And don’t think for a minute I actually rewarded her behavior with candy.  I think you know who deserved a treat after that shopping trip.

Their chariot wheels got stuck, and it was hard for them to move. Exodus 14:25

Friday, October 12, 2012

One dog, one vote

I generally hesitate to talk politics, especially because I really don’t think Jesus was a Republican or a Democrat.  I see a lot of damage done to the gospel by Christians invoking their faith in support of one party, one candidate, or one issue, over the others.  While I do think that employing our faith in our ethical and political decision-making is essential and logical, up until this week I thought one-issue voting was a misguided practice.  I believed that it was a tool used by people of faith to try and manipulate one another – as if Christ came to earth to reshape the American political environment around a single issue – a particular sin.  That without examining any other aspect of a person’s life, choices, or faith practices, you could conclude whether they are truly a faithful follower, exclusively based on their voting record, sounded absurd to me.  That, of course, changed in 30 short seconds, when I saw the powerful message I’ve posted here:

Many churches want to tell me how to vote.  Many pundits want to tell me how to vote.  Many powerful, well-funded special interests want to tell me how to vote.  But now my dog wants to tell me how to vote?  For real?  My dog gets a say in how these elections should turn out?  Animal cruelty is now the single-issue litmus test I should employ for electing candidates?

Take it easy – I love animals and Steve King does kinda sound like a creep.  But I also love steak, and I could definitely see the sport in pelting a deer with an arrow and taking it home for dinner.  I absolutely love going to the races and seeing the swift and majestic horses run, even though it sometimes results in their untimely demise.  No, of course, I don’t support dog fighting.  And I definitely wouldn’t take my kids to watch two animals fight to the death.  But I’m not sure how heavy my concern is for whether pets get included in disaster plan legislation.  If my own home were to catch fire, I can assure you, getting the dog out would definitely be at the bottom of my "disaster plan," compared to making sure all the people get accounted for; it would, frankly, make me sad if first responders had to weigh a legal obligation toward my pet against getting back to the firehouse and being available to help other humans.

Let’s get real.  When we are consider the plethora of issues and problems with which our communities are struggling, when we confront all the exploitation and injustice that goes on around us, when we dream of how to make the world a better place – has the propagation of special interests gotten so out of hand that now even our pets get a say in the political process, provided they make a donation large enough?

 He responded, “The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Mark 7:27

Friday, October 5, 2012

I broke the seal.

Somehow, the embarrassment I felt wasn’t nearly commensurate with the absurdity of what was happening.  On the other hand, too many beers, topped off with a shot or two, does help numb your inhibitions.
It was 1996 and my husband and I had recently started dating.  I was a senior in college and he had just graduated the spring before.  He immediately found himself at ease with my friends, which was really a big plus, because it made it that much easier to make time for dating when he could just join right in with my other friends.  He seemed to take it in stride when we held quiet cocktail parties, instead of raging beerfests (although he did not get the reaction he had hoped for when he crashed the Christmas party dressed as Santa Claus).  He laughed along, instead of asking to be let out of the car, when we got carried away with snorting contests on the way to the bars.  And he even thought it was funny when one of my friends suggested one night, as we were heading out to a pub, that it would be funny if, on the way back, we stopped at a nearby home where there was a boat parked in their driveway, and took a photo of everyone by the boat.
It was not a particularly unusual night at the pub.  There were a couple shots exchanged, and plenty of beer consumed, since only one of us had to drive home.  We had actually squeezed all six of us into a 5-seater car, just to ensure that no one would drink and drive.
One of my friends frequently repeated a mantra on nights like that, “Don’t break the seal,” she would say, “Once you break the seal, you’re going to have to use the bathroom every five minutes for the rest of the night.”  How right she was.  Before we left the pub to head home, I thought I would arm myself against the constant hilarity of my friends and the coldness of the night by taking a quick trip to the restroom.  I felt much better as we piled into the sedan, and my boyfriend offered me his lap.
“Hey, guys, are we going to get the boat picture?”
“Of course!” we all chimed and the driver headed over to the house in question.  We all were joking and laughing pretty hard the whole way, giving me an all-to-familiar sensation that, in the back of my mind, rebuked me for my foolish decision to empty my bladder before the drive.
When we got to the boat, we were certainly not the most smooth criminals to ever cross onto someone’s property, as it took quite a feat to get all of us out of the car and posed by the boat.  In the mean time, I found myself succumbing to the kryptonite tri-fecta: laughing uncontrollably, breaking the seal, and insane Iowa cold.  Despite the warmth of beer, coursing through our veins, all of us felt the sharp sting of the bitter cold, and I, in particular, quickly realized that while my face, hands, and feet were freezing, my thighs were, by contrast, suddenly quite warm.
I couldn’t even hide what was happening, and there was another roar of laughter as I squeeked, “Oh, no!  I’m peeing my pants!”
To which my friends replied between chortles, “Oh, no!  You’re riding home on your boyfriend’s lap!”
And, yes, my boyfriend let me sit on his lap for the, thankfully brief, ride back to our apartment.  And somehow it didn’t even feel like a fight to maintain my dignity, sitting on my love interest, wearing urine-soaked pants.
I see in retrospect there were many rules for right living I broke that night: “don’t trespass,” “wear your seatbelt,” and “don’t break the seal!”
Stupidity is reckless, senseless, and foolish. Proverbs 9:13

Friday, September 28, 2012

Fair is not fair.

It shouldn’t take more than a brief glance at the circumstances of life around us to know that fairness is an illusion we subscribe to, not a reality we can expect.  In a number of ways, both personal and through my friends and loved ones, I have been repeatedly reminded that life is, most certainly, not fair.  Unprepared, ill-equipped teenage mothers populate our high schools, but wonderful, responsible people with great resources and hearts full of love are somehow denied or delayed the joy of parenthood.  Wildly irresponsible drivers make it through red lights unscathed, time and again, but a young mother loses two of her three kids when her minivan is run over by an SVU while waiting to make a legal left-hand turn; somehow the other driver walks free.  Cancer, fire, unemployment, heartbreak…sometimes these challenges are brought on by our poor choices, but all too often they strike, seemingly, out of nowhere.  We shake our fists to the sky and lament how incredibly, indescribably unfair it is.

In these moments, when fairness shows its fakeness, when I glimpse behind the curtain and see how illusive justice really is, I take comfort in the story of Job.  It is a very Hebrew story, because it does not subscribe to the New Testament, strongly Christian theology that God must always be “good.”  God, in fact, gives Satan permission to decimate Job’s life.  Much is made over the fact the God doesn’t do the decimating; however, it is clear that God gives consent to Satan’s experiment.  And Job, while refusing to curse God, does do some pitiful whining.

The part of Job I turn to for comfort, however, is Chapter 38, when the Lord finally responds.

From out of a storm,
the Lord said to Job:
Why do you talk so much
when you know so little?
Now get ready to face me!

God then asks Job to account for all of creation, “Were you there when I set the earth on its foundation?  When I directed the oceans to stay within their shore?  Did you teach the lions to hunt or the birds to fly?  Are you the one keeping this whole thing going?”  God asserts that humanity, Job specifically, is in no position to judge God, to claim God is wrong, or unjust – or, as it were, unfair.

I usually prefer to claim scripture like Romans 8:28, We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.  Such passages affirm God’s goodness and the hope that our difficulties and sorrows are actually God’s own handiwork.  God’s divine plan, carried out for our good.

But Job brings me comfort when the trials and hardships are inordinately unfair.  When there seems to be no possible good that could be worth the price I, or my loved ones, have to pay.  When the world just seems utterly unfair.  When I know that these hardships could not possibly be inflicted by a loving God.  I share, in these moments, Job’s lament; if I’ve done something wrong, Lord, just tell me what it is, so I can do better and deserve better. 

I also cling, in these moments, to God’s power and authority: God is still bigger than me.  Only God can judge what is really fair.  Only God can know how much I can take.  It is God’s prerogative to use me against Satan – to prove to Satan and humanity alike that God’s people are bigger than their hurt, that we can have a faith that runs deeper than our blessings.  Like Job, I can beg for a break, I can demand an explanation, but sometimes the lessons of this life that are sent through me, and through my friends and loved ones, aren’t even my lessons to learn.

Sometimes, like Job, you can refuse to curse God, you can conscientiously live for a higher purpose and by a higher code, and God will, inexplicably, still let Satan take stabs at you.  But unless you’ve seen the storehouses of heaven, laden with hail and snow, you’ve got to live with the reality that fairness by human standards is not fairness by God’s standards: and God’s standards always prevail.

I created both you and the hippopotamus. Job 40:15


Friday, September 21, 2012

My dog is passive-aggressive.

Wouldn’t it be great if Naboo would just sidle up next to me and say, “Hey, Em, I really hate it when you ignore me and play with the baby.  How about a little love my way?”  Even better, when she’s staying with friends, if she could just snuggle up in my friend’s lap and grumble, “You’re nice and all, but I absolutely hate it when Emily drops me off and doesn’t come back for two days. Could you tell her I’m angry and sad?”

Either would be so much more productive than sneaking away from the baby’s and my tea party to crap on my husband’s shoes (this morning) or, when we were out of town, running directly to the living room to plant a turd on my friend’s welcome mat after a long session of outdoor play.

Apparently, my next reading project.
I am making this confession with the full knowledge that once I do, I may never get free dog-sitting again.  And I apologize to anyone who has ever kept my dog, because I should have recognized the pattern years ago.  Previously, the mishaps of my otherwise well-behaved and housebroken dog were infrequent and subtle enough to explain away with “perhaps she didn’t know which door to go to” or “darn it, I got so caught up with the kids, I forgot to let the dog out.”  Over the last several months, however, in addition to the two examples above, there was also the circle of urine she peed around me, not once but twice, after I spent too much time away from home over a weekend.  Apparently she thought I was her personal territory.

It is now obvious that her antics are not accidents.  She is speaking without words.  Realizing this, it’s up to me to get out that book by “The Dog Whisperer” and see if I can get my own message through to her.  I don’t know how you say it in dog, yet, but in English, it’s something like, “Quit sh!tting in the house or you’re going back to the kennel!”

For perspective, when a friend of mine got married, his dog pushed his new wife down the stairs.  When that didn’t work, the dog tried to blow her up by turning on the gas stove before she got home from work.  I guess I should just be happy that my dog hasn’t hired a hit on the baby.

When that happened, the LORD told the donkey to speak, and it asked Balaam, “What have I done to you that made you beat me three times?” Numbers 22:28

Friday, September 7, 2012

I've got nothing to confess.

Now, this is not to say I have achieved perfection. Only that I don't want to talk about the hurts, frustrations, and trials that are reminding me daily of how truly human I am and how truly broken this world is. I am finding hope and tender mercies every day and am so eternally grateful for the dear friends and loved ones who have offered their help and encouragement. Thank you for every prayer you've offered and please be patient. I will, almost certainly, do something hilariously stupid by next Friday - so check back then!

Why do evil people live so long abd gain such power? Job 21:7

Friday, August 31, 2012

Let's burn a book

A few years ago, my kids’ curiosity about childbirth began to surface, so I thought I’d take the birds and bees by the horns. I went out and bought the first two books in a series that offered developmentally appropriate, values based information for my kids’ age ranges and we read them together.  The older book included a very basic, but direct explanation of intercourse.  I thought it was a great first step to unveiling the mysteries of life to my older girl without freaking her out.  I explained to her at the time that this was private information, which she should not share with her friends or younger sister.  She's been open, since, about bringing me her questions.  The book for my younger daughter was much less specific about the baby making part of the equation.

My big girl did a great job of keeping it to herself. Seeing my middle girl’s shock this week, I knew she hadn’t been told.  I was just building up the courage to tackle that same reading with my middle daughter, now that she’s approaching that stage of late-elementary curiosity, but the elementary school library usurped from me the privilege of being able to break the story gently.  She checked out a nifty book the librarian recommended to her about the human body, and during her free reading time later in the day, she discovered a chapter on reproduction that included a diagram of a penis inserted into a vagina.  Needless to say, when I picked her up from school, the first thing she did was to show me the book and seek an explanation for what was, to her, a pretty confusing and disturbing image.

I am, needless to say, livid.  Although I empathize with the school, in that it is difficult to know what is on every page of every book in the library, a diagram that graphic should have certainly been caught by someone along the way – the writer who was aiming to sell the book to elementary schools, the publisher who supposedly reviewed and approved the material, the librarian who with a simple look at the table of contents could have seen there was a chapter on reproduction that should, perhaps, be reviewed before putting the book on the shelf.

Now, instead of gently introducing these mysteries to my daughter, I have to work backwards from her awkward dismay to reassure her of God’s plans for our bodies.  I can take part of the blame for not having covered the material sooner; she could have heard the news on the playground or in the backyard by now, but no fellow school kid was going to explain it to her with the vivid and shocking specificity and credibility that she encountered in that diagram.

We took the book to the principal and the librarian called me back to let me know the review process the book has to go through before it can be pulled off the shelf at her school and the two other elementary schools in the district that also have it in their collection.  I’m hoping no Kindergarteners decide to check it out before they make up their minds.  In the litigious atmosphere of schools, they did not, of course, offer any apology.

 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Genesis 2:24

Friday, August 24, 2012

Babies are dumb.

We brought our first daughter home from the hospital, pulled her out of the car seat, laid her in the middle of the living room, and told her, “OK, now do something funny.”  We didn’t have to wait long; sure enough the laughs began.  Why?  Why do we find our offspring so entertaining?  Because babies are dumb.

My future Mensa candidate
Babies can’t help that they’re dumb.  They don’t realize that when they hide their face behind the window curtains, laughing with delight at their amazing disappearing ability, the entire rest of their body is still in plain sight.  They don’t realize that the fuzzy new toy they can’t seem to quite pull into view is the hair that is still attached to their own head.  One of my favorites: they honestly believe that they can fit on the miniature dollhouse toilet and will try futilely to sit on it.

My baby girl topped her sisters this week, on proving my mantra that “babies are dumb.”  She got a hold of a bottle of Japanese Cherry Blossom hand sanitizer and dumped it down her face and body.  Because I had no idea how much she’d actually consumed (FYI- hand sanitizer is extremely high in alcohol and only a small amount can give a child alcohol poisoning), and I could smell the fragrance on her breath, we got to make an evening visit to the ER.  She showed no signs of inebriation (although that probably would have been funny in only the sickest sense), but we still had to let them do a blood draw to make sure she was OK.  It was excruciating, holding her down for it, knowing that she had no way of comprehending why she was being put through this torture.  Then we had a long wait in the room, while they ran the labs, twice, because they got an error the first time.  On top of that, I had to endure the inquiries and suspicious glances of all the hospital personnel, who are legally obligated to report me, if they suspect this happened as a result of abuse or neglect.  The labs came back clean; she hadn’t actually swallowed anything at all, for which I am grateful, and certainly not anxious to repeat the exercise.

The very next morning, however, my darling girl discovered a fresh pile of dog poo, ripe for the curious eater.  Imagine my surprise when I turn around after only a moment’s distraction to see her hand up to her mouth and a bright green turd between her lips.  I have no idea what dog poop tastes like, so I can’t be sure if it was my dismayed directive or her sensitive palate, but it took only a moment for her to spit it out and there were no teeth marks or other signs that it had actually made it into her mouth.  I wasted no time in throwing her in the bathtub and thoroughly brushing her teeth.  Not that a bath was going to do any good at removing dog poop from her insides, had it made it there, but it definitely made me feel better.

My word of advice while I was bathing her, “Sweetheart, if you’re going to gargle sanitizer, do it after you eat the dog poop next time.”  See, babies are dumb.

Here are some proverbs of Solomon: Children with good sense make their parents happy, but foolish children make them sad. Proverbs 10:1