Sunday, September 28, 2008

Staccato highlighting

I’ve been reading for school for the past two hours, and I’m having a hard time focusing. Not because there are 15 other things I need to get done today. Not because I’m dozing off. No. I’m having a hard time focusing because they former owner of the book was troubled.

I purchased the book used online through Amazon, risking the inevitable dog-ear, some highlighting and the occasional annotating. But I’m OK with that if it saves me money. This particular book is no different. It has all of these things, except, when it comes to highlighting, it is unique. So unique. Instead of highlighting by the line, this person highlighted by the word. As in:


This absolutely cannot save time. Lift highlighter, lower highlighter. Lift. Lower. Lift. Lower. Lift. Lower. Rather than dowwwwnnnnnn lift dowwwwwwwnnnnnnnn lift.

Nevertheless, if you don’t care about wasting the time and still choose to highlight by the word, why oh why highlight “of” and “a” and “an” and “of” again?

The words started turning into notes for me. I kept thinking of my piano teacher tap tap tapping her fingers on the piano next to me as I learned to play a piece “staccato.” The notes were to be short, detached, quick. Rapid-fire.

I know the author of this book didn’t write his words to be detached, and yet the former owner of the book transformed them into a staccato piece of music. INTO. AN. ACT. OF. PIETY. And notice how staccato is rarely quiet? Rapid-fire is not quiet. So the former owner now has the author yelling at me!

The sentence "Such sacralization of cultural identity is invaluable for the parties in conflict because it can transmute what is in fact a murder into an act of piety." does not need any further complications. It requires all of my focus to decipher on its own. So, you former owner you, I wonder if you knew this and just thought you’d be funny and staccato highlight throughout? Did you want people to not know what they were reading because they were too uncomfortable with the author yelling at them? Or did you want the reader to wonder what the heck was wrong with you instead of paying attention? Whatever you were thinking, not cool.

Friday, September 26, 2008

In the clear

A couple weekends ago I went camping with two wonderful friends. Have you ever noticed that everything is sharper--clearer--while camping?

The stars, you can actually see them.

Loons singing; crickets chirping; the snap, crackle, pop of the campfire. I can hear them because my cell phone isn’t vibrating, and my music isn’t blaring.

Food. It tastes better because you’re slowly cooking it over an open fire rather than zapping it in the microwave. The corn on the cob I had seriously gave the state fair’s corn a run for its money. And Smores? I’m not even a “sweets” person, and yet I couldn’t get enough! I think I had three? And French-pressed coffee is pretty much heaven when enjoyed on a brisk morning, sitting in a camping chair reading.

And friends. You really hear them. Through the smoky glow of the fire, you hear and feel their frustrations; you listen to their hopes and aspirations; and you’re reminded why you are friends with them. Because they are really stinkin’ great.

While camping, everything feels sharp and clear, but back to the “real world,” there’s Facebook, cell phones, traffic, honking horns, schedules, deadlines. There’s just stuff, and it gets in the way. It’s hard to get clarity.

But, this morning, I hopped on 94 to head to work, and I gasped. There in front of me, just above the line of the freeway and the tops of buildings was the sun. It was the full-circle sun you can look at because it hasn’t risen enough yet. It was this brilliant, deep orange circle contrasted by this crazy dark turquoise sky, still trying to wake up. It was sharp! So sharp. I wanted to text my closest friends to say LOOK AT THE SUN RIGHT NOW! Which, actually, if I got that text from someone, I’d probably wonder about them, but… (especially if they were in a different time zone!)

As the sun continued rising and losing its edges--turning into a big blob of dayness as I got closer to work--I realized I had just seen some clearness. Some clarity in the “real world.” And no, I didn’t crawl out of a Coleman tent this morning, but I did walk out of a house with a roof. And I did have three voice messages on my cell this morning from dear friends thinking of me (I crashed early last night). And I did have some piping-hot coffee in my hand. And it was Friday.

Sometimes I may have to listen a little harder or wait a little longer or watch a little more closely, but it’s so there. The clearness.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The guy who doesn't measure

I just got an update in the mail on my 401K, basically telling me how much I’m worth (how much money my brother will get if I die right now).
I spent nearly 30 minutes on the phone yesterday with someone, measuring out how much my new home and all my possessions are worth in order set up a new insurance policy.
I measured out 2.5 scoops of coffee and filled my pot to the 8 line in order to drink sweet, caffeinated nectar the second I hopped out of the shower this morning.
Last night, I set my alarm measuring out how much time I’d need to get ready, based on time of first meeting, planned hairstyle, etc.
I’ve been measuring furniture to make sure it fits in the back of the car and then its proposed destination in my new place. Inches matter.

We measure. We measure everything from ingredients in recipes and money in our accounts to ourselves compared to others. We think things like “We just don’t measure up” or maybe even say things like “They don’t measure up.” A couple days ago I was reading Ephesians, and I was reminded that we cannot measure God because he’s crazy reckless like that. He doesn’t use a coffee scoop or calculator, and he certainly doesn’t have judging eyes. So we may as well put away all of our measuring tools and gadgets.

“Now to him who is able to do IMMEASURABLY more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
Ephesians 3: 20-21

What a relief! And really, what girl doesn’t want the mysterious guy who throws caution to the wind? The guy who doesn't measure...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Paper or plastic

On the way to meet friends in Uptown over the weekend, I saw the best billboard. It’s for the YMCA and it says “It’s OK if your gym bag is from the grocery store.”

A couple things passed through my mind after reading this. First, it’s infinitely better than the billboard for cottage cheese that I see on my way to work that says “the little curd that could.” Honestly. Who thought that was a great idea? And second, a gym where it’s OK if I walk in with my tennies in a red and white plastic Target bag is a gym I’d actually go to. Which says a lot, as I’ve only been a member at a gym once in my life for about a year. And, in fact, it was at a YWCA. But for some reason, the billboard warmed my heart. It’s just endearing. And then suddenly bags...made me think of something else.

I always went to the same beach in Cali with my friends. I’d park in the same general vicinity. Walk down the same trillion steps to the water and make my way to the same area in the sand. In the summer, this was done at least once a week, more if I was lucky. And every time, EVERY time, I saw the same homeless woman, who I came to think of as the “bag lady.”

She had long gray hair and skin sun-wizened and leathered. She always wore a faded blue ball cap, but the clasp in back was broken so it never fit quite right. The rest of her outfit was what you’d expect a homeless person to be wearing. Dirty, holey, dusty. But distinguishing her from the many other homeless people in So-Cal were her bags. On each of her arms she carried two grocery bags filled with other grocery bags. So that’s four grocery bags with what had to be hundreds of other grocery bags inside. Then she also had a filled grocery bag somehow attached to each of her hips...I think tied to her belt loops. She always walked slowly, seemingly without purpose. Her face was expressionless. I saw her every time I went to the beach. Sometimes she was walking alongside the train tracks on the other side of 101 from where I was parking. Other times she was walking along the beach behind where I was sitting. Sometimes I’d see her from afar. Sometimes she’d pass me. And I remember asking my friends if they saw her all the time because I certainly did. No, they didn’t! How could that be, I wondered, that I always see her and no one else does? Weird.

A couple weekends ago, I was back in So-Cal visiting my friends and was able to hit up that same beach like good ole’ times. And I thought about the bag lady as we packed up after a day in the sun and headed to our car. I, for once, hadn’t seen her, and I wondered where she was. Perhaps after a year she had finally moved on. And then, as we got to the top of the trillion steps, there she was! Coming out from behind the public restrooms with all her bags. That’s her! There she is, I told my friend. See?! Every time! A year later and I’m still seeing her!

I often contemplated doing something for her. Should I bring her food? Give her some money? Or we always brought coolers of food, I could just give her our leftovers. I could save bags if she collected them and got money for them? I don’t know. But you know what? I never did anything. I saw her every week, and I never did anything. And if I’m really honest it’s because I thought I was too busy, too important. Maybe there was some fear mixed in with that thinking. I stereotyped and assumed being homeless, she’d waste the money I potentially gave her on drugs. And maybe I even thought she should try to get a job instead of walking around with thousands of plastic bags.

So, I thought of her and the billboard’s words: “It’s OK if your gym bag is from the grocery store.” I want others to be OK with my grocery bags but I wasn’t OK with the bag lady’s bags.

We’ve all got bags. They look very different, and may not be as obvious as the bag lady’s bags, but we carry them around--drag them around--much like she does. They’re deep wounds inflicted by others’ actions and words. They’re disabilities. They’re financial troubles. They’re insecurities. They're addictions. Whatever, but we’ve got ‘em, and we want others to love us in spite of them, and maybe even because of them.

I got to thinking about how God is the perfect gym! With Him, your bag can be from Cub or Rainbow or Byerly’s. And for Cali peeps, Von’s, Ralph’s or Albertson’s. (Paper or plastic too) Or it can be Eddie Bauer, Lowe Alpine or Nike. It doesn’t matter. For Him I don’t have to put on any airs. And no one should have to put on any airs (or take them off for that matter) for me to accept them, to show compassion on them. He loves that bag lady with all her grocery bags. And so should I.

I nearly missed my exit off of 94 thinking about gym bags, but I was struck by the meaning behind the billboard. Pretty sure I took the phrase in a direction the peeps from YMCA weren’t really after, but nevertheless...God accepts any gym bag, loves all. It’s one of the reasons I follow Him! It’s why I walk into His gym every week. But in turn, I, too, am to love all, including the bag lady.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Booked solid

I packed six boxes last night. On the top of each of them, in thick Black sharpie, I wrote BOOKS. I then turned and looked at my bookshelf and across my room. I hadn’t even made a dent in my books. When I moved from California, I knew most of my stuff would go into storage for an indeterminate amount of time, so I needed to be selective with the items I would take with me to mom and dad’s. In all honesty, I really wasn’t that particular about what I’d be bringing with me—save my books. They would not leave my side, much to the chagrin of the movers. (Couldn’t I pick something light?)

I’m currently reading Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman. I love it simply because it makes me feel better about myself. I am not alone in spending too much time contemplating book organization. Do you go alphabetical? (And if so, by what?) Chronological by era? Color scheme? And as I put book after book into box last night, I wondered if Fadiman had any insight on how to pack books. What's the best way? This is important! But as I dusted the horizontal ledges of a bookshelf someone made for me (also something that would not be rendered to the storage unit), I asked myself why? Why books? What’s the big deal?

Well, for me, books tell so much more than one story. There is the one, of course, told on the pages, but there’s also the one about me. Each book takes me back to an exact place, time, emotion, revealing a part of my life, a part of me.

I was in 8th grade, still living in Memphis, when I read Cold, Sassy Tree (Olive Ann Burns) and Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte), books that made me realize I may be different. I liked words. Like, really liked them. Not everyone did. (How could anyone ONLY read Cliff's Notes?!) And then the books from my college trauma literature course, including Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods. Oh how I love that creepy book (that I proved by writing an obscenely long paper on it). In that course, I think I came to realize the power that words hold, and don’t hold. How they can heal, and not heal. And it's also about the time I began getting the question "What are you going to do with an English major?"

I was reading Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy) when my then-boyfriend and another couple vacationed to Lake Michigan. Sweating in a tank top and my underwear laying on an awful white, woolly couch in our second-floor apartment on Cleveland in the dead of summer wondering if I could somehow get any closer to the window fan, I read Richard Russo’s Empire Falls as slowly as possible because it just was so good. I didn’t want it to end. I think there may have been a few gin and tonics sipped too. And C.S. Lewis, who I read and scrutinized during a period in my life when I wasn’t sure there was a God and even if there was, I wasn’t sure I wanted Him in my life.

And book clubs! Seriously. In My Blood (John Sedgwick)? I can’t believe we had to read that. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld. (Oh, R.O., this will forever crack me up!) Many of my books from my Cali book club hold sand between their pages from the glorious afternoons spent reading on the beach.

In Ex Libris, Fadiman talks about the “You are There” reading. Reading books in the places that they were written. This I did in Israel with Walking the Bible (Bruce Feiler). I was there. Feiler was there. Jesus was there. I recommend “You are There” reading!

My books also tell you who my friends are. A dear friend appropriately gave me David Sedaris’ Naked. Without this friend’s steadfast humor and smiles in my life, I assure you I would have many a frown-filled day. Most recently Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist from a friend whose quiet, easy understanding incites a peace in me that is hard to come by in this world, much like the words of that book did.

Point to a book of mine, and I’ll tell you the story within it and a story about it. And maybe that’s it...that’s why I carry them with me everywhere. They bring my friends who can’t come with me. And times that I didn’t want to end, but had to end. And emotions that I’d like to bottle up. Others I never want to feel again, but were life-changing and maturing nevertheless.

I’m looking forward to unpacking them in my new place. And even if everything else is still in boxes, once my books are out, I’m home.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

This never happens

“This never happens.”
Oh, but I think it does.
Isn’t it funny how when you’re around... things that “never” happen, happen. Like, take babies, for instance. The one time you go out with friends and their child is cranky (kicking and screaming bloody murder), they look at you with bewildered eyes and say it’s strange, because this never happens. Mmm, sure.
Someone’s late to a meeting and as they rush in they say there was traffic and there’s never traffic on that particular road. Mmm, sure.

Well, I pulled a “this never happens” yesterday.
After being out of town for five days, I returned home to a short stack of mail, one being my credit card bill. Now, let me pause here and tell you--admit to you--some things about myself. I have never been late on a bill. Never. I have an Excel spreadsheet that actually charts all my bills, when I pay them, how much they are. I still balance my checkbook by hand. In addition, I periodically check online to make sure the computer’s record of my account is right (notice I said the computer, not me, because I know I’m right :) ). When it comes to credit cards, I was taught that you must always pay off your credit card at the end of the month. If you know you’re not going to be able to do that, then don’t use it. So, I have always paid it off at the end of the month. And this was recently proven when I went to get pre-approval for a house and the lender told me I had some of the best credit he had ever seen. I only tell you this to exemplify how what I’m about to tell you never happens.

So, I open my credit card bill and there is one new charge. LATE FEE: $29. I flipped. What!? That’s all it says. No explanation. I call the 1.800 line and listen to music for 4 minutes and 32 second. And then Holly answers and asks how she can help me. I say she can help by explaining the $29. What’s it for? She tells me it's because I never paid my bill from last month and thus, have a $29 LATE fee.

I wish I could have heard myself. I’m sure I sounded hilarious. I ridiculously told Holly, “this never happens!” And it doesn’t! And as I told her this, I began making a mental note of all the places I needed to go to confirm that I was not mistaken. But, strangely enough, my hand-balanced checkbook did not show a payment. That wasn’t proof enough though. I went online to see if I had forgotten to document it, but it had already been cashed by the bank. Nope. Not there either. I went home and rummaged through my credit card file (you had to know I have a filing system!). I file all my statements and last month’s statement is just not there. Nothing. I have June, July, September. NO AUGUST.

I didn’t pay my credit card bill last month. I really don’t know how this happened because I can’t imagine I received it in the mail and just didn’t pay it. (So, maybe I can blame the mailman.) But nevertheless, it was not paid. I immediately went back online last night and paid it...I mean because even though now it’s not due for like two weeks, hours matter. I’m sure said Credit Card Company is going to cut me some slack when they see that I paid at 8:05pm versus 7:38am the next morning.

Anyways. It was a little mini-lesson in understanding and giving others the benefit of the doubt. I know Holly’s eyes were rolling when I said “this never happens.” And they probably would have rolled harder if I shared with her what I just shared with you regarding my financial upkeep. But I promise not to roll my eyes next time you tell me "this never happens!"

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Gift of Seats

Really? Could it be? It looked as though the last two passengers just boarded the plane, passed my row and plopped down in their assigned seats. This meant I had row 14 to myself. At least seats 14A, 14B and 14C. I was strategically sitting in the aisle seat for easy access to the bathroom, but now it didn’t matter. I unbuckled my seatbelt and shifted over to the window seat, moving my purse and book. I needed to take full advantage of this! A whole three seats to myself. It was an unexpected gift, really. This just does not happen often. So I pushed up the arm rest next to me and pulled my legs up to sit Indian-style, something so not possible if there were a person—big or small—next to me. Then after we had reached our cruising altitude and the beverage cart had gone by and therefore lights were shut out, I decided it was time to sleep, and I was going to use these free seats. So, seatbelt still on—because they hadn’t turned the seatbelt light off—I awkwardly laid down across the three seats, pushing the second arm rest up too. For the record, I pulled my hood up before laying down. Otherwise my head would have been on the seat. Gross.

I shifted. Ouch. Seatbelt from 14B in my back. Shifted again. Dangit. Other seatbelt from 14C now in my shoulder. Ok. Shifted again. But then after a few minutes, my hip was hurting because the edges of the seats, where they come together, actually raises a little and is firmer, and that area was digging into my hip. Ugh. Ok. Shift again. I had to loosen my own seatbelt so I could move around a little easier. And then my shirt needed to be pulled down because it was starting to ride up with all my shifting. At this point I’m muttering to myself about how stinkin’ cold it is and I should have opted for socks and tennies instead of flip flops because my toes were freezing. Ahh...ok. I’m finally situated. As I calculated in my head how many more minutes we had to go before landing and how many hours—given the time differences—it had been since I had last eaten (these are the things I think about)... I drifted off into a snooze... And then BAM! Owie owie owie! The second arm rest that I had pushed back, had come flying back down to hit the lower left part of my head. (I swear the man behind had to have done it, otherwise why would it randomly fall?) So there I was lying across the three chairs on my side with the arm rest now resting on my head. Wow. Three seats to myself. What a gift! And I just HAD to use it.

This is so me. I will go to great lengths to use up or make the most of certain things. For example, if I have a coupon, it doesn’t matter if I don’t really need anything from that particular place, I feel this need to go use the coupon simply because I have it! So, the coupon is meant to save you money, but I’ll actually go spend money I didn’t need to spend because I have a coupon. So it doesn’t save me anything. It only takes away! One of my friends and I joke about how ridiculous we are when unexpectedly we have a free evening because plans fell through. We suddenly begin stressing out because that free time needs to be well-spent. We need to make the most of it! We’d probably be better if original plans had stayed in place because then we wouldn’t be stressing. And if I have three seats in an airplane to myself, I’m going to use them, dangit! Even if leaning up against the window, using my sweatshirt as a pillow may be 100 times more comfortable. And even if it means getting hit in the head with an arm rest.

I wish I had this problem with life, in general, sometimes. Why don’t I make the most of moments, events, relationships? Why don’t I stretch myself across entire days? Because they are all gifts. Undeserved gifts that I take so for granted. In fact, sometimes I wish them away. I wish certain days would hurry up and be over. I wish some conversations, some chores or responsibilities weren’t necessary. I think if I thought of everything as an undeserved, unexpected gift from God—which I believe truly is the case, even if sometimes an arm rest hits me in the head—I’d make so much more of the moment. Maybe I need to start thinking of days as three empty seats on the airplane...

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hearken, ladies!

So, my “Well-played” list posted back in July was somewhat popular. It gave guys a few tips on how to play well with girls. Since then, I’ve been collecting tidbits of information from my single guy friends and family. Girls: here’s a helpful list for us!

1. Do not order the most expensive item on the menu, knowing he’s going to pay. Like the $42 halibut.

2. Don’t hug the dude’s roommate (from behind as he sits in front of his computer) the first or even the second time you meet him.

3. Girls say “I have a crush.” Guys say “I’m into her.”

4. Do not bore your new crush with the “mundane details of your day.” He will be bored and want to run far away from you. (Ok, but this goes both ways. Like, I don’t care about the bolt size or particular kind of wood or the price of different sheets of metal for your current project on the first date.)

5. Do not text him and then when he picks up the phone and calls you two seconds later, NOT answer because you’re nervous.

6. You may have researched the restaurant that he’s taking you to the night before and even picked out what you’re going to eat, but you still have to pick up your menu and pretend like you didn’t do this.

7. If a guy randomly pops back into your life via email, phone call or text, after weeks or months of no communication, it simply means he’s forgotten that he doesn’t like you. So, don’t be fooled.

8. Do not be afraid to lean in for the first kiss. Supposedly guys have been taught to be gentleman, and therefore do not want to offend you. (or they’re chicken)

9. Legs are the new chest. (I’m just sharing what I heard!)

10. After having not seen or even communicated with a guy for two years, don’t tell him you’re thinking of moving to be closer to him.

11. Whether or not he allows you to pay (this doesn’t apply to first dates), offering is always nice.

12. Guys like to be reassured.

13. Don’t profess your not-gone-yet love for your X TO your X while your new beau is nearby.

14. Don’t let your mom buy him birthday or Christmas gifts after mere months of dating.

15. Be careful not to take too many pics too soon.

16. "Been busy" is never a real reason. If a guy is "into you," he makes time. He'll call late at night or text or...something. Anything. But busy-ness does not stand in their way, so says them.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Who needs a carrier anyways?

My parents give me a hard time for never taking the easy route. Sometimes I knowingly choose what’s hardest. Sometimes I think the hardness chooses me, but they’re right. I’m often trouble. While camping this past weekend, I repeatedly picked the toughest way to carry wood.

Strategically staying at campsite #2, my friends and I were yards from the wood shed where we could take a “rack” for $3—on an honor system. I kept wondering how many logs exactly make a rack, given that the shed had no racks or organization at all. It was just really a big mess of wood—and some of it wet, which I thought warranted a discount of some sort. But anyways, I’d load up my arms, usually with four, maybe five, logs. This would get awkward by the fourth or fifth one as I tried to hold the other three or four with one arm, while the other arm lifted the last one on top. Then, when I got the right amount, usually a little more than the right amount because I’d be cursing by the time I got back to our site about to drop them all on my feet, I’d roll them all back against my chest, and voila ... back to our camp site with a rack, half a rack, one-fourth of a rack ... I’m not sure. And usually I had a nice scratch or two on my forearm and lots of wood chips/pieces/dirt on my shirt and sleeves.

Well, one of my friends is an Eagle Scout. So, when I say “we went camping,” really I should say “my friend took us camping.” But he has this handy-dandy wood carrier. It’s a rectangular piece of sturdy canvas with two leather handles on the ends. You can lay this thing down, load up your wood and then carry it easily and cleanly. When I’d jump up to grab us more wood, he’d ask if I wanted his carrier. Nope. No thanks. My arms are just fine. “I’m cool,” I’d tell him. Who needs a carrier anyways? So, off I’d go, sometimes with my other friend who also passed on the carrier. We’d return arms sore. Well, one time I finally acquiesced and took the carrier. I was pleased because, just as I suspected, it was more of a hassle then it was worth. I thought it only made the process more awkward. I proudly told my Eagle Scout friend that this little eagle-ette did not need a carrier. He just shook his head.

So, next time we needed wood, he went and got it. He took his carrier, and when he got back to our fire, I saw how a person is really supposed to use the carrier. Of course, I had been using it the wrong way. Watching him, it made so much sense. Why wouldn’t you carry it like my Eagle Scout friend was?

On our second morning, I woke up before my friends, and I was cold. So, I took the carrier (looking to make sure no one saw me taking it) to the wood shed and filled ‘er up so I could start a fire. I carried it the right way and because of this, I actually carried more wood on that trip than any of the other wood trips I had taken. And I didn’t get any scratches on my arm, and my pjs didn’t get dirty either. I literally smiled as I walked back to camp thinking about how ridiculous I am (and also really pleased that my Eagle Scout friend was still sleeping ... I didn’t want him to know his carrier was kind of cool!). I repeatedly choose the hard route in life, when it’s so not necessary. I’m always telling God, nope, I’m cool. I got it all under control. That is until logs go everywhere and the fire goes out. He offers comfort, hope, forgiveness, and I so often fail to accept these things. He’s the wood carrier! Accepting Him doesn’t mean that there isn’t going to be wood to carry in life, or that you’re not going to have to build any muscles, but dang, it means it’s a whole lot easier and cleaner and better!

Camp site #2 was also strategically close to the bathrooms ... er ... holes in the ground. So, it was midnight, and I grabbed the flashlight to go traipsing through the dark woods to use the bathroom. My girlfriend asked me if I wanted her to come with me. No. I can go to the bathroom alone. I didn’t want to make her come to the smelly holes either. She was nice and warm by the fire. I’m a big girl, I thought. I'm fine. So, off I go with my big-girlness and my flashlight. But when I got to the outhouse I couldn’t make myself go in. I stood there staring at the door thinking there was no way I could open it. And even if I did open it, was I really going to stay in there alone long enough to use the bathroom? I think not. It was way too creepy. (All I could think about was the little ladykiller from “The Shack”) So, I trudged back to camp and sheepishly smiled at my friend. Um, well, yeah, can you come with me? She did. Happily.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Not in vain

Crappity crap crap.
That’s how I’d describe a couple periods of my life. They hands-down sucked.

Now, I am not comfortable saying God purposes bad things. As in, He decided that so and so should go through this horrible thing so that this other good thing could happen. That would mean God somehow needs “bad” to create “good.” There are actually whole classes to discuss issues just like this (and I take them!), so we’re not going to go super deep now. But I just think this line of thinking can be controlling on our part. Are we really going to suggest that we know what God did and why? Admittedly, it feels tidy and neat to say such things, especially when we so desperately want answers. It’s much harder to say you just don’t know what God’s doing or not doing when it comes to bad things.

But anyways. Back to my crappity crap crap times. I recently had the privilege of sharing a little bit about my own tough experiences with someone who is now struggling through something very similar. This person and I do not know each other, and we live hundreds of miles apart. But thanks to a mutual connection, we were introduced via Internet. I emailed, not words of advice, but just my story. I received a response filled with gratitude, assuring me that just my sharing was making all the difference in the world. And I sat staring at my computer screen surprised ... huh... The tears I cried, those awful months, that fear ... none of it is in vain. Years later, they're offering a little bit of comfort to someone else, someone I don't even know. So, I don’t think God made me have bad times so that this person could experience something good. No. I think the world is just filled with bad things, period. So God maybe helps put certain people in certain places at certain times, so that none of our bad times are in vain. And for that, I am grateful.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Because I'm me

Why isn’t a lovely lady like you married yet?
Would you be interested...I have a friend who has a single son…
Have you tried online dating?
Why don’t you have a boyfriend?
Why are you still single?

Really. How does a person politely respond to these things? All well-intentioned and often complimentary, I know. But still. I know there’s not supposed to be such a thing as a stupid question, but...

In a recent meeting at work, a coworker actually blurted out if a lightbulb had just gone on..."SO AND SO is SINGLE, Heather!"
Um. Ok. Again, how do I respond?! Thanks for thinking of me, but we’re in a MEETING!

A couple days ago I spent the afternoon at work editing Alum News...the deaths, weddings, births that will appear in the school’s next magazine. Well, I think I may have visibly stiffened as I got to the 2003 graduation year. It’s the year I graduated from college. People my age are getting married, or they are married and just had a baby. Or they are married and just had their second baby! And I’m...well, I’m NOT. I’m not married (and subsequently don’t have children). And I don’t foresee myself getting married anytime in the very near future, based on my recent dating track record, or lack thereof. The wedding and birth announcements were translating in my brain to the questions above. Why isn’t...? Why don’t...? Why haven’t...?

The answer is so obvious though. Because I’m me! I’m ME. I’m HJ, Hedder, Heather J, seester, the biggest 28 there ever was, Heatha B. Jones. I am ME, and today I am single, And why am I single? Because that’s exactly what God has me being today. Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t always embrace the I-am-single-hear-me-roar attitude. I mean, who really loves going to weddings sans date and getting nudged out on the floor for the bouquet toss with the 8-year-old flower girls? And who really loves being single as we’re on the verge of fall and the “perfect” autumn dates are endless? I don’t. I really don’t. I’d love to be pursued. And I’d love to have a best buddy of the opposite sex who makes me laugh and softens my edges and could stay up late talking to me about my classes, and politics and life. But I don’t right now. Admittedly, I wallow in this reality sometimes. I wallow in the Whys, and getting asking the Why questions isn't so helpful. So, I have to choose to—sometimes just once a month or other times daily (or five times a day)—to not wallow.

But, next time that person in all their good intentions asks me a why question like the ones above, they will probably be confused, because I’m going to say “Because I’m ME,” and then I’m going to walk away. I know it’s simplistic and maybe a little snotty, but it’s the truth! I’m ME! And today I’m single. And there are too many other fun things to be doing—like camping—than contemplating the Whys.

And someday maybe someone can ask, "WHY does he love YOU?" And I’ll be able to answer with the same response, "Because I’m ME!"

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Brought to my knees

Last night, I fell. I fell first to my knees and then to my hands.

I always get really concerned when I invite someone somewhere. I’ve asked them to MY environment in some way, shape or form, so I feel very responsible for their comfort. I want to make sure they have correct directions, that they know exactly where to go upon arrival and that I’m there to greet them when they arrive. So if that means being near the door at a party, or texting for whereabouts, or whatever.

Last night I invited a friend to this church gathering I’ve been going to fairly regularly on Tuesday nights. So we first chatted on the phone about directions earlier in the evening. I then texted her the number of the entrance she should use once I got there and checked on that. And then told her to text me when she arrived so I could be at the door to get her. I even sat in the back row so I could have easy access to the door. Well, through the window I actually saw my friend arrive and park. Excited, I jumped up and ran—not really ran, but definitely fast-walked—out of the room where the gathering is, into the hall and was about to turn the corner to the lobby where my friend would be entering.

I haven’t quite figured this out, but at this church, there’s also something for the military going on at the exact same time. There are guys and girls in their fatigues, training or something. I know. It sounds weird. But there’s camouflage and boots, and they’re always milling about. I don’t know. So, as I rounded the corner, these military people were all lined up in the lobby.

I’m in heels, having come straight from work. I’m fast-walking, as I mentioned, to greet my dear friend as she arrived. I turn the corner, and I think—I can’t be sure—but I think my heel caught the carpet wrong. And … I’m down. Woman down. To say it like this though makes it sound as though it was quick and painless. Like … she’s up and then she’s down. And that’s not what happened at all. It was a slow process. First, one knee hit the ground. Boom. Then slowly the other knee came crashing down. The second boom. And lastly, both hands met the ground, thankfully stopping my face from planting itself in the carpet. That was the third boom. What instantly came to mind was the movie “Vantage Point” which I watched over the weekend. That movie has an annoying amount of rewind action. It was constantly showing events in reverse. And that’s what I was envisioning … myself in reverse. Hands back at my side. Knee up. Other knee up. Walking backwards, very quickly. Back to my safe seat in the gathering room. But as this image raced through my mind, I realized I’d have to go past the military people to get back to my safe seat. And then reality hit. I just fell. In front of people. I had a line of men and women in camou behind me. I just pulled a major Bridget Jones.

Now, all of these thoughts took up probably three seconds. They were the three seconds of silence that ensued my fall. Everyone was speechless. The military behind me, the two greeters at the front door (if they were there, why did I feel the need to greet my friend?! They can say hello just fine!) and my dear friend. All were quiet, until I began laughing. I was devoid of all embarrassment. There was nothing except humor. The greeters laughed and yelled their condolences. My friend nearly fell as well from laughing so hard as she bridged the 10 feet or so between us. I rolled over onto my side, still on the ground, laughing and shaking my head. And finally one of the military men extended his hand to help me up, asking, with a smile if I was alright. Yes. Yes I was. Thank you. And yes, you can laugh.

So, what actually happened … I didn’t really greet my friend. She was the one there to greet me on my way up, with a hug. A big hug. She welcomed me back to my feet and held my hand as we walked into the gathering room, and even found us seats.

I’m so happy she came...just in case me falling down before her like the magi worshipping baby Jesus didn't get this point across...

Monday, September 01, 2008

Life on a stick

I fair’d it. Yesterday I paid $5 and took the fair express bus from the MG transit station down to the great Minnesota Get Together with hundreds, thousands of other people.

At the fair where people-watching and disturbing smells abound, you can get just about everything on a stick. Ostrich on a stick. Chocolate-covered bacon on a stick. Deep-fried veggies on a stick. Hot dish on a stick—tater tot hotdish dipped in breading, deep-fried and then served with a side of cream of mushroom soup. I’ve kind of wondered about the stick schtick. Is it because putting it on a stick makes it easier to eat? Maybe it started with the corn dog? It’s so much easier to eat than a regular hot dog and you don’t have to touch it at all…which is important germ-wise after using the restrooms or walking through the animal barns at the fair. The user-friendliness of sticks caught on and spread to other foods perhaps?

For work, I volunteered to work the booth in the education building. My fellow booth workers and I passed out rulers; as we did this, one of my friends liked to say “inches on a stick…and no extra charge for centimeters.”

After I worked I wandered around aimlessly with various sets of friends, taking it all in while still trying to pay careful attention to where I was going. Every two seconds I was either running into someone (or they were running into me, for which I would still say “sorry”) or about to step on something that I wish would stay in the animal barns. Later into the evening with a couple of friends, I found myself watching the go-karts zip around this small track, as we ate our chocolate malts which we got right next to the sculptures carved out of butter in the dairy building. We watched quietly until one of my friends asked what we thought the go-kart worker would say if we asked him for life advice. I pondered this as I watched the guy all in blue listlessly help direct and then eventually drag in one of the go-karts into the corral. I wondered if these go-kart workers travel around and do this as their fulltime job? Like, next do they go set up shop at the Iowa state fair? Or is this just a parttime gig that they do for two weeks just for the Minnesota state fair, just for some extra cash? It just doesn’t seem like the type of job that a church youth group or women’s club could volunteer to do. But, back to the question at hand, what would that dude down there tell me if I asked him to give me some quick life advice? Life on a stick, if you will. If he had to put life on a stick for me, to make it easier to swallow, what would he say?

Alone on the bus ride home, tired after 9 hours of fairing it (I’m kind of proud of myself for making it that long!), sweaty, I began to wonder how I would hand life on a stick to someone. If I was only given a couple sentences, what would I say? Because with a stick, there is only so much room. Its not like you can heap on extra as you would if you were serving in a bowl.

I kept coming back to my favorite Bible verses from Romans 5. I think I’d just say there is hope. With God next to you, in you, for you, there is hope. And it's a hope that does not disappoint. The end. And if there was still room on the stick, I'd tell them to go check out Romans 5: 1-5.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.