Tuesday, July 31, 2012

five goals for the next three months

I'm obviously still having trouble finding time to do things, like write. I continue to be distracted by television, constantly perfect weather, good friends, my awesome family. It's a rough life, people.
How can one write when weird stuff like this is going down?
But seriously, I long for motivation to accomplish things outside all of my summer frivolity and everyday work. So here's my syllabus for the next three months, for which you all should keep me accountable:

Make FIVE phone or skype calls to keep in touch with long distance pals.

Have FOUR new anything once experiences.

Write THREE posts per week.

Complete TWO works - hopefully finish the play I've started and write a children's book or even just a poem.

Move into ONE apartment, for goodness sake.

Feel free to place bets on what I will or will not finish. More importantly, feel free to harass me about these goals. I'll need the push.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Movie Review Monday: Red Riding Hood (and a little bit about Melancholia)

I've seen a few frustratingly un-entertaining movies lately. For example, I strongly warn you never to watch Melancholia. 
photo taken from here
It was apparently inspired by a depressive episode, and I think it in turn inspired a depressive episode in me. I get that there is something artistic in causing that effect, but it is really not a desired effect. Apparently part of his point is that while depressed people can be a burden, they are uniquely capable of remaining calm in extreme circumstances. Interesting, I suppose. And yet, I can't decide if that is necessarily a strength. Sometimes the appropriate reaction to a situation is fear. I do like the fact that he highlights that there is a flip side to the coin of mental illness, that the package often comes with unique advantages. I'd just prefer to have that point made in a way that does not exacerbate the negative consequences of mental illness in the process. bleh. Two claws down, Lobsters. Stay away from that one. If you want a movie that illustrates the experience of depression and even some of the strengths of those who carry the illness, I refer you to Submarine

image taken from here

After Melancholia, I was sorely disappointed by another movie or show or two that I tried to get into. So I was happy to watch Red Riding Hood, which I finally did find entertaining. A little drama, a little romance, a little action, it was fun. I have to steal my husband's genius new genre title to describe it, he says it was an "Action Soap Opera, a.k.a. The Twilight genre." Apt description, my love! 

My main complaint about the film is that it was obviously rushed through the channels and out the door onto the screen to capitalize on the Twilight craze. It might have gotten closer to Twilight's success if they had spread it out over 2-3 films. Actually, that's a bit about Twilight that drives me crazy, especially when their breaths are in slow-mo, and I just want to roll my eyes. But in Red Riding Hood, there were a handful of key moments that felt incredibly rushed and could have used some more time to effect their desired emotions and reactions. Also, in the end, I just couldn't quite figure out what message they were trying to communicate, and if it was one I really wanted to get on board with. She seems to end her days in near isolation, and that's not quite a goal I'm into recommending. 

One more tiny plus for the movie though. This is so weird. Amanda Seyfried's neck usually really bothers me for some reason. But wearing the "red riding hood" all the time, and whatever else the costume gurus did, really flattered her and she looked more lovely than I've ever seen her. 

image taken from here
So thanks, lovely Amanda, for breaking the long streak of duds in my viewing experience. One claw up for you!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sabbath Sunday: Amen and Amen!

This Sunday, I am finally going to a church service for the first time in a month (travel/volunteer duties have gotten in the way). yay! I am also spending some time in prayer for friends, including praising God for my friend, Kathleen, whose story I'd love to share with you here.

I unfortunately don't feel like I have the most bold or impressive capacity for faith, even though Faith is my middle name, and one might think it would be a discipline I would have worked harder at. But I do marvel at it in others.

I am in a women's bible study where we're currently using some Beth Moore study materials. A couple of months ago, Beth challenged us to consider whether there was something we'd been praying for, for a long time, but gave up praying for just when God might have been ready to give us what we'd been longing for? This was in the context of Zechariah [Luke 1] wanting a son, and ultimately receiving one, John the Baptist.

I can tend to get dismissive about these types of bible study questions that get personal, and lean more towards focussing on the cerebral challenges. But my friend Kathleen took the question seriously. She shared with our group that when she first moved into town, she was praying for her husband to get a teaching job close enough to home that he wouldn't need to take a long commute. The close proximity would support their desired life style of using the car less and spending more time together as a family. She prayed and she prayed for a long time, and after much waiting, he got a teaching job and everyone rejoiced, and she stopped praying about it.

Thing is, the teaching job was not close to home, and he had to spend hours a day carting himself back and forth. But challenged by the study's question, Kathleen wondered if she's settled too quickly, if she'd given up believing that God had something better for her family if she could just have faith and patience. So she took her prayers up again. And she charged our whole group to join her. And she charged all the groups she knew that got together praying regularly. And we all prayed.

Here's the thing, we live in a really small town. There are not multiple schools for each age level, just one elementary/middle/high. Not a ton of teaching jobs to go around. Many of us had been involved in a group trying to address budget shortfalls the district was anticipating. We knew just how grim things looked. Millions of dollars behind, the only thing that seemed likely was more cuts/layoffs/over-crowded classrooms. There was a big part of me that was mostly smiling and nodding as Kathleen prayed, but I prayed alongside her. I mostly prayed, wondering how God would teach her to change her desires because it seemed so unlikely that He would fulfill them so specifically.

She knows God is not a vending machine. She knows full well that we don't just get everything we want. And still, she had faith that if she was honest enough to let God into that very intimate, private place, where her deepest desires and greatest ambitions lay, that God might deign to bless her in just the way she wanted. That's scary. That's bold. That's a big emotional, spiritual, and (as she invited us into the project) social risk. And she went for it anyways. Part of the process involved praying that God would give her enough faith to keep praying for this thing. 

And then this community group's organizing paid off and a new school budget was voted in. A school budget that involved hiring two new teachers for the district. One of those positions got swooped up right away. The one left was in the age group where Kathleen's husband had experience. Exactly one shot. And it was one shot more than most of us dreamed would have been possible. So he applied, and as I'm sure you're not surprised by now, we just found out, he got the job!

More often than not, when I pray, God doesn't give me exactly what I want. He molds me through the process. But had I given up believing that God wants to satisfy our desires, here and now?

I'm just amazed by my friend's boldness in prayer. I think it speaks so highly of how God is growing her faith and her heart. In addition to the spiritual triumph, I think this is also a beautiful story of marriage. I think one of the most important things spouses need to do is support one another's dreams. Even if your partner doesn't believe his/her dream is realizable, we need to keep faith, in both them and in God, that their best is within reach. Kathleen showed herself to be an ambitious wife, a visioning mother (chasing after a lifestyle that enabled more family time), and faithful daughter of God. And I just can't help but celebrate the amazing woman that she is. She encourages and inspires me, and I hope her story can inspire you too.

What long standing prayer do you need to revive and revisit with God right now? Can I join you in praying for that thing? Because I am learning to have a bit more faith now, and this prayer thing is so exciting to be a part of!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Long Distance Payoff

I've been writing for this blog about long distance friendship with Emily for over a year now. It's been great fun and a wonderful way to stay in closer contact with Emily and others. But after all this time, I start to have some doubts. My life feels rather overwhelming much of the time. Is cultivating this discipline to invest in long distance friendships really worth making such a high priority? 

My recent visit to Houston gave me a resounding "YES!" in response to that question. If you read all our posts, you've noticed me mention a long distance friend of mine from middle/high school, Libby [check out here blog over here]. By some miracle, we managed to be visiting Houston at the same time, both traveling with our toddlers alone. We only overlapped for a few days, but found a way to meet up in that tight window. It usually completely overwhelms me to think of trying to see friends amidst the millions of family events that always spring up while we're in town, but Libby's reciprocal efforts helped us overcome the challenge. 

The moment we saw each other, it truly felt as if we had been having play dates every week. But as we reflected on the last time we'd seen each other in person, we realized it had been over seven years. Since we'd seen each other last, we had both gotten married, both seen our husbands through PhD programs, both seen our husbands through the ominous academic job search, both moved cross country, and both delivered beautiful baby girls through quasi-traumatic c-sections. 

Everything had changed. And yet it felt as if the growth of our friendship had never skipped a beat. Through all that change, our long distance efforts to support one another through life paid off in the quiet comfort we enjoyed that day in that hot hot park with our girls. Not all friendships are like this, there's often awkwardness when you first see someone after a long time apart, and I don't think anything is wrong with that. AND, I was really grateful to find a friend in Houston who's traveled such a similar road and whose path I could cross with such joy. It was truly uplifting. Long distance friendships, such as this, are such a sweet gift. 

Somewhat tangentially, and mostly random, a few weeks ago, I found myself sharing a really sweet and from my perspective, photogenic moment with Sofia. My heart ached at the idea that there would be nothing but this feeling in my memory to preserve that instant. I thought to myself, "Man, the President's family is so lucky. I bet they have photographers swarming around them all the time capturing every moment like this for them." Well, after my dad gave Sofia and I a ride to this little play date with Libby and her little girl, he stayed on and took a few pictures before running his own errands. I may not have mentioned here recently how my father was a professional photographer during my whole upbringing. In other words, we got our very own personal paparazzi. Wish granted! The shots of just the girls are mine, but I am so thankful to "Big Papa," as Sofia calls him, for preserving a snapshot of Libby's and my brief but precious time together.  

photo by: Craig Stewart
photo by: Craig Stewart

Monday, July 16, 2012

Movie Review Monday: Submarine

We stumbled across this quirky flick through watching trailers to other films.

Basic idea: quirky teen boy senses that he's not quite like the other kids at school. said boy seeks out appropriate romantic partner. boy aims to convince girl to attach herself to him socially.  troubles arise, conflict ensues, growth of character develops.

The characters surprising and well played. The girlfriend is not cliche in her tastes, but also not untrue in her struggles. The way they depict the mother over the course of the film is particularly fascinating. You at first see a buttoned up mousey character, you come to realize her lost dreams and aspirations give her depth, and as you see her struggle, you realize her beauty. They accomplished this really well visually while developing these aspects through the writing. The tone was genuinely enjoyable. It had the right degree of voice of a high school boy in the making of the film, without giving way to the potential chaos that road could lead down to.

I went into it expecting a Wes Anderson-like, highly stylized film, with heavy sarcasm and cerebral wit. I think I got everything I was looking for in the viewing experience, with a whopping added dose of depth and substance. Some of these highly stylized films are so ironic, that truly dealing with any real issues is just below them. Not so with Submarine. The film tackles fidelity, illness, and depression, without breaking the light quirky format or doing a disservice to these weighty issues.

Not much else to say, but two claws up!

Have you seen it? What did you think?

Friday, July 13, 2012

I heart Delta

A while back, I posted one of my few negative blogs here, ranting and raving about how horrible my travel experience was over Christmas. I figure it is only fair to be similarly expressive about my opposite experience.

This past week, we flew to and from Texas. But this time, I flew Delta and had a lovely experience (only further solidifying my opinion that Continental has gone to pot, thanks to United. sorry. done ranting.).

I went into this flight more terrified than any other flight in my life. I was traveling with Sofia SOLO for the first time ever. She, squirmy, wriggling, active toddler that she is, was to sit in my lap for a total of four flights, all at least two hours long. Feeling sorry for us both yet?

But you know what? A good flight attendant can make a world of difference. Once upon a time, I was pregnant, quite pregnant, bulging pregnant, and when I politely asked a stewardess to help me lift my bag into the overhead bin. She full on scowled at me and told me that was not her job. I apologized and explained, in case she just thought I was really fat and lazy, that I was pregnant, and instructed not to lift heavy things. She told me I should have thought of that when I was packing. Eesh. Thank heavens, she was not on this recent flight.

Instead, I got Barbara. Barbara admired my child. Barbara snuck special treats under a blanket, so other passengers wouldn't get jealous, back to my child to keep her ears from popping from the pressure. Barbara disposed of my child's dirty diaper for me. Barbara entertained my child just when she was about to get too squirmy for me to handle, so that instead, my child sat sweetly in my lap. I love Barbara.

And you know what else? Turns out that when a flight is facilitated by wonderful employees who make everyone feel well served and cared for, even your fellow passengers are nicer to you. Despite my baby kicking our neighbors, pulling on their seat backs, or interrupting their reading by trying to say hi while she ran down the isles (ok, that last one was pretty cute), they wouldn't even accept my apologies. I tried to apologize in advance of the flight to the man sitting next to me that it'd been a long day for both of us, and I would do my best to contain her, but she was tired of being cooped up all day. His response? "Well then it has been a hard day for you, and the last thing you need to worry about is what anyone else thinks." I nearly cried, it was so kind.

Then on the last leg of our travel, quite sick with a nasty cold, after having only two hours of sleep the night before, the pressure started to get to my ears worse than its been in over two decades. God was gracious and had made Sofia sleep through pretty much the entire flight up until that point, and even through most of the landing process. But as tears streamed down my face and I did all I could to stay still so as not to disturb my sleeping girl on my chest, I began to draw some attention through apparently agonizing facial expressions. The women across the isle became fully distraught that I was uncomfortable. My seat neighbor, kind gentlemen, was trying to figure out what he could do to help, and every single stewardess on the flight surrounded me, attempting to find a way to rescue me. But the sweetest moment? All the hubbub woke my child. She sat up, turned around, saw the tears on my face, and with troubled concern in her own eyes, she wrapped her arms around me and while giving me a nice long hug, she said, "Mama, love." And then she went back to sleep. I would almost go through everything about that flight all over again just to experience that moment a second time. Almost. Not really though.

So thank you to Barbara, and the kind stewards and stewardesses of Delta Airlines. And thank you to anyone reading this who has ever extended a little extra patience, kindness, snacks, or entertainment to a Mama with a child on a flight. God bless your compassion! Thank you, my sweet Sofia, for being the best traveler your could be at 18 months, and for loving your Mama. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

don't read this if birth stories give you the jeebies.

This time last year, my water broke. 3:30 am. Your father had just climbed into bed after spending a long evening playing awesomely nerdy games with friends downstairs in our townhome in Virginia. He stayed up until 3 am because you were already three days late and we were convinced you weren't coming until the doctors forced you to. We were wrong. So, even though he only had half an hour's sleep, we woke Daddy up and I told him it was time to go.

I was pretty nervous. Everyone says that childbirth is painful and that you don't get to sleep much afterward for the rest of your life. I hate pain and I love sleep, so I wasn't terribly thrilled to get the day started, no offense. I did take comfort in the facts that I would most likely live and that the pain part would most likely be over in 10 - 30 hours. I was a little annoyed that Daddy hadn't slept because I knew he'd need rest to be able to help me make it through everything. I was also annoyed that I was leaking weird fluids. 

We checked into the hospital, and I started feeling contractions about ten minutes after they hooked me up to monitors. We went into a nice large labor room, which was great because then Fee Faw and Grandpa and Auntie Jenna could visit. I was in labor for about eight or nine hours before the pain became unbearable and I asked for an epidural.

Eiley, some mommas power through labor with no medication. That's just not how I roll. I wasn't trying to be a hero.

The drug dealer arrived and told me that I'd feel a pinch of a needle and then I wouldn't feel anything. That guy was a liar. I felt the pinch then relaxed and focused on sitting the way he had requested. And then I felt the most horrible, searing pain of my life. I'd say it felt like someone stabbing me in the back, but if you think about it, he was actually stabbing me in the back. Daddy had to leave the room and cry a little bit afterwards because it hurt him to see me hurting. He's nice like that.

I was comfortable for eight whole hours. I napped, listened to music, hung out with my family, drank juice, breathedbreathedbreathed. Then you decided you wanted to join the party, so I had to push.

Daddy and I had gone to a childbirth class about a month before you were born. We learned techniques about how to breathe, how to focus, how to make everything easier. I threw all that out the window. My eyes were shut for the nearly two hours that I was pushing. (In fact, I learned afterward that there was a nurse who arrived right as I began pushing who I didn't see until about 20 minutes after you were born.) I'm embarrassed to tell you that I screamed for my last few pushes. The nice doctor gave me a little talking to, gently reminding me that I could use all that screaming energy to push you out of there. I listened to him, and he was right - I focused and you plopped right on out. (I later apologized to the staff for the cliche childbirth scene. No one wants to go to work and listen to a fat lady scream at them.)

You were the most disgusting, perfect, beautiful, slimy, giant little thing I'd ever seen. I stared into your eyes for a good five minutes, shocked by you, you living miracle. It was so nice to meet you, and I love getting to know you more and more each day. Daddy and I adore you. Happy birthday!


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

excuses, excuses.

Here's my version of "the dog ate my homework":

I have been M.I.A. on here for over a week now for a variety of reasons. I'm sorry to report that cable television at my parents' house is a main distractor. There is a reason Jeff and I choose to live without cable. We simply can't resist the temptation to watch it all. the. time. I occasionally watch Home Improvement, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and Boy Meets World. There's often some Backyardigans, as I write we're watching a new show starring Eric McCormack, and my dad tends to watch tennis a lot, which somehow pulls me in as well. I mean, did anyone watch Murray's emotional speech after LOSING winning second place in Wimbledon this week? Eat your heart out, reality TV - that stuff was real drama. 

Gawww. Picture of Murray CRYING borrowed from The Sun
Anyway, my other distractor was Eiley's birthday party and dedication. Eiley turns one on Thursday, and Jeff's mom was able to come visit from Idaho, which was awesome, but meant squeezing in lots of quality time. Also, Jeff and I generally do not stress out when hosting parties, but I somehow let a very simple gathering at a park cause my blood pressure to rise and my head to ache. I think I was too focused on making everything look ideal. Plus connecting people is not my strength, and there were people from six different areas of my life, and I felt pressure. I was able to have some fun though, thanks to the almost 40 people who came to help us celebrate Eiley and the one person who brought me a bottle of water and a painkiller halfway through the shindig (thanks, Ani!). Plus seeing Eiley smash her way through a cupcake was delightful.

Photo stolen from my lovely cousin, Brandi. If Eiley ever has another birthday party, Brandi will be deemed official party photographer.
My third distractor was Eiley's dedication. Okay, this didn't actually require much planning, but I was pretty stressed out just about standing in front of the church. A mild case of stage fright. Who knew?

Photo stolen from Drake, who was totally peeking during prayer
My fourth distractor was work. It's taking a lot of effort to keep up with that. More than it used to. I don't know why though. Maybe it's just the combination of everything else with it.

My fifth distractor was so much more than a distractor. It was learning of a tragedy. The 32 year old wife of my Virginia Beach pastor passed away on Sunday. She was beautiful, loving, welcoming, gracious - seriously, choose a positive adjective and it would apply to her. At my sister's wedding, she toted my sleeping Eiley around for a good half hour, lamenting that her babies were growing up so fast. She has three children, all very young, and she was an adoring mother. While I didn't know her super well, my heart is hurting for my East Coast church friends and pastor.

And that's where my mind has been. I'd like to say that I'll write more often, but I can give no guarantees. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


One of my favorite finds in our inherited garden has been our chive plants. I only discovered them by going after a pile of degree in the beginning of spring, assuming I'd be clearing out the pot to grow something of my own. I'm so glad I waited to see what those small green shoots would yield! 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Cooking with Zoe: Feeding a Crowd

Most of the time, I prefer my social get togethers to be small, intimate affairs where good rich conversation can take place. But some circumstances just call for feeding a big crowd all at once. For me, figuring out how to feed and seat a crowd is super stressful. But perhaps the stress heightens my awareness. I was in the midst of stressing out about feeding a crowd recently when I read the story in John about Jesus feeding the crowd. 

Something I don't remember being taught about this meal, is about when this miraculously satisfying meal took place. Check it out with me, the book of John in the gospels, chapter 6, verses 1-14. Look at verse 4, the festival of Passover was near. The reason there are huge numbers of people around is because they've come to celebrate Passover at the Temple. But instead of going to partake in Passover, (the ceremony that remembered God passing over the Jews who had marked their homes with lambs blood in Egypt, sparing their lives when death passed by) they gather around to be near Jesus. 

The notes in my bible summarize this scene by saying, "Jesus replaces the Passover." Certainly I'd studied before that Christ was the Passover Lamb in His death and resurrection, that ultimately allows God to Pass-Over us, seeing Christ's righteousness instead of our sinfulness. But well before His death, people were turning to Him functionally as the Messiah whether or not they consciously understood Him as the Lamb of God in this sense. 

And more specifically, not only does Jesus substitue the event of Passover, these people came to Jesus instead of coming to the Temple. Check out John 2:19-22. In these verses, Jesus makes a cryptic reference to Himself as the Temple. I love how one scholar I read put it lately, the Temple [and Jesus-as-Temple] was the place where Heaven (God's realm) and Earth (Man's realm) overlapped. In verse 22, it says that only after His resurrection did this click for the disciples, that Jesus was the Temple, the means of access to the presence of God. And yet, this crowd that Jesus feeds, they go to Jesus during the festival that called for them to go to the Temple. And with Jesus, they eat. 


Did they get it? Did they get that they WERE going to the Temple when they followed Jesus? Or was God just illustrating something through them without them even knowing what they were doing? Probably the later. Either way, that's pretty cool. 

Ok, now skip ahead to the Last Supper where we are back at the Passover, sharing a meal with Jesus again. Jesus is breaking bread and passing the wine around talking about how His body was going to be broken for them and that they should continue to take this meal and remember Him. 

1 Corinthians 11:23-26
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Again, a meal with Jesus at the time of the Passover. Again, like in John 2, Jesus is referencing his to-be-broken body, Jesus as the Temple. And we have this instruction to perpetuate this ceremony in the observance of communion. So how do we put this all together, Jesus-Passover-Temple-Communion? 

For modern day Christians, the Temple equivalent is the church building. And for some long-time christians, or those simply walking in christian culture, the building can start to feel hollow. Maybe this was also true for Jews when Jesus stepped in. They'd been going through a great deal of trouble to construct this temple, and yet something was missing . . .

The five thousand diners probably didn't get it, but in choosing to gather with Jesus, they participated in Jesus becoming the Passover and in Jesus being the Temple. Jesus demonstrates that He is the source of true sustenance (John 6:26 "I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves") at the same time as He is becoming the place of true worship, and true access to God. And when the disciples participated in the Lord's Supper, they too partake in Jesus as Passover and proclaim Jesus as the true Sacrificial Lamb. 

So then when we participate in Communion, what is it we are doing? When we authentically participate in communion, whether or not we recognize the significance, we are a) loving one another, b) loving God, and c) glorifying Christ as the means of our access to God and true love of one another. 

We are joining with the saints before, the five thousand diners, the disciples, and the people in the seats around us on that given Sunday to worship God, to enjoy direct access to God, to accept Jesus as the sacrifice for our sins, and to realize true love. Most truly in Communion we become the Body of Christ, the Church. 

Church is not a temple building, because Jesus is the Temple. Church is not a religious ceremony, because being with Jesus has replaced the Passover. Church is not keeping our gifts to ourselves, because when a little boy shares his food, everyone eats. And when Jesus shares the food that is the sacrifice of His Body, everyone's truest hunger is satisfied. 

Church is not an individualistic spiritual experience*, because Communion, remembering Jesus, is "com" = with, together, "unus" = oneness, union; united together. It is in this togetherness, reconciled with each other that we are able to come together reconciled with God. 

Church is a group eating together. Church is Jesus satisfying the needs of a crowd. Church is where we do communion. 

Church is where we do love.

And when we do love, when we rightly do church, we are loving God, we are bringing Him glory.

Matthew 22:34-40
"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And [Jesus] said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it: 'You shall love you neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets."

Together, remembering Christ; Together, with Christ; 
Together, with all the saints beside and before, we are the Church. 

*a small intimate meal, if you will; though in Christianity we certainly have space for private intimate times with God; that's just not Church