Thursday, April 27, 2006

Searching for Home (5th in a series)

Hmmm. Some interesting developments on the apartment search over the past twenty-four hours or so.

We went to see a place in town last evening and we actually liked it quite a bit. It would be much smaller than we currently have. But honestly that's to be expected.

The positive things about this place are numerous:

1. There are a lot of windows. And two of the largest ones overlook a park that is directly across the street. It looks like this park gets a lot of use--in a positive sense. (Living next to a park in the city is not always a good thing.) But it sounds like this is a great neighborhood gathering place. Lots of organized sports activities for kids and adults. And lots of folks walking their dogs in the morning, according to the woman who lives there currently.

2. There is a nook in the bedroom that would fit a computer desk for a little office space.

3. We would move sooner (likely mid-May, gulp, in about two weeks??) rather than later.

4. The decision would be made. And the amount of mental energy simply searching would be over with. Then I could devote all our energies to packing.

5. The scale is our scale. Not like Nu-topia. We know how to live in a neighborhood like this.

6. It's just a couple blocks away from a tremendously cool, hip, happening shopping district with a fantastic locally-owned coffeeshop and an equally fantastic locally-owned bookstore. So lots of character and city-like energy. I could write my dissertation in the coffeeshop, maybe. :)

7. We would be staying within the same school district, so E could keep going to his school and keep his friends.

8. It's comfortably in our rent range. A bit more than we're paying now, but not a risky stretch. In order to qualify for the apartment, you need to show that you earn three-times the monthly rent. And we do. Just.

Some negatives, though.

1. No fireplace. No pool. Nothing that shimmers with a feeling of amazing new-ness.

2. Tiny. We would really have to get rid of a lot of stuff. (A case could be made for this being on the positive list, though.)

3. The outside of the building isn't very attractive. Kind of blah and grey.

4. It's still as far away from church as we've been.

That's not a lot of negatives. And they're frankly not all that compelling...

Well, it's not a done deal. There was a couple who got there just before we did and they gave a check to hold the place. However, when we contacted the rental agent today, he informed us that those folks were having second thoughts and he advised us to go ahead and submit our own paperwork in case they do back out. (It's a ferocious market in the city.) I have to say, it's starting to look like we may pursue it.

Here are a couple photos:

Some Good News

I received some good news last evening that I wanted to share, especially after my dis-couraged post yesterday.

I just found out that I passed my first Comprehensive Exam! Wihoo! (As did my colleague, srf!)

One down, six to go . . .

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Turn and Face the Change

I have had a heavy heart lately, a few days now, and this accounts in part for my silence here. Things are rumbling about. And I'm trying to pay attention.

While I was in the discernment process of going to seminary (now seven years ago!), I had a couple very distinct images that seemed to capture the experience for me. I felt profoundly aware of the unknown during that time. I knew I could sense God's movement in my life. And I knew that things were going to change in ways I couldn't even come close to imagining.

The first image I had at the time was of walking on a very dark night with a flashlight. The paltry beam of light was all the illumination for my path that I had. It was just enough to see the next step, but nothing more. Each step, then, was one of faith--the long-term perspective was not available to me.

The second image I had was more vast than the path and the flashlight. This time the image stretched out before me, disappearing into the universe itself. Here I became aware of the world as a sweeping tapestry being woven by God at a spectacular, breakneck speed. And while I was in the midst of life changing, about to go in a new direction, I felt as if I would be brought up to the very edge of that tapestry for the briefest of moments. And at the edge, I would glimpse the unfinished edges, the great Unfinished Unknown that lay beyond it. Then, just as quickly, I would see the tapestry speed on beyond me so that it was all I could see. I always had a sense that if I could rise up far enough, I would be able to discern the beauty of that tapestry. But it was not for me to see. I was a part of it. Not above it.

Since then, when I feel life changing again, I am brought back to these images. Most of my life is spent in the daylight. I have a sense of the path, I know I'm on it. Or I'm comfortably in the middle of the tapestry, convinced it's complete and I'm merely a part of it.

But these past few days, I know I'm in the night again. I'm being brought to the edge of the Unfinished Unknown and feel that swooning sense of pure need for God's presence.

I led worship on Sunday and felt the aching difference between being called by a congregation and being hired by a congregation. (I am hired.)

I await news, now long delayed, but promised again this week, about our financial future.

I move ever closer to the end of my PhD program with no promise that there will be a teaching position available for me once I get there.

And about the only certainty I do have right now is that I know we have to move sometime in the next two months. So that where I'm sitting now will no longer be home. Somewhere else will be.

I've been participating in the new blog ::Travelers Together:: and reading the Bible in 90 Days. I've just made my way into Numbers, (which believe it or not is one of my favorite books). This time as I've been reading these beginning books of the Bible, I have been noticing for the first time how very much these books are about *beginnings.* The beginning of the cosmos, the beginning of humanity, the beginning of the family of Hebrews, the beginning of the community, the beginning of a nation-state. The edge of the tapestry, in these books, is close on either side. We are close enough to the beginning of all things that we can see the Unfinished Unknown at all the edges. Now there is formlessness, now there is adamah formed from clay. Now there are strangers all around us, now there is Hagar spying a well. Now there are sea waters forming walls on either side, now there is a mountain trembling the refugees into being a covenant people.

The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years. I'm less than three years away from 40 years old. I've been actively preparing to be of some service to the church for the past seven years. I'm tired of preparing. I'm tired of the flashlight view of my future. It is not life-sustainable to gaze continuously into the Unfinished Unknown. I'm impatient for my call--whether to a church or teaching position. I want a home that, on the day I move in, I believe I will live in for more than two years.

My midwife warned me once that things always intensify at the end of a phase, just before you move into another. So here I am.

Friday, April 21, 2006

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Songbird says we're not allowed to think hard about these, just answer. So here we go.

Today, this is my favorite:

1. fruit: Trader Joe's raisins

2. song: E singing all the verses of "We are the Champions" at the top of his lungs in the shower

3. beverage: Adagio Irish Breakfast tea

4. shoes: My Sketchers

5. flower: sweet peas

Searching for Home (4th in a series)

In the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated, Astros first baseman Lance Berkman comments on his spring training home:
We've got a house in Celebration, Fla. It's the Disney town. You know The Truman Show? That's what it's like. The houses are kind of the same. They tried to create a little utopia. My wife, Cara, and young kids Hannah and Carly, are there most of the day. There are parks and pools and it's safe, so that's kind of why we picked it. It's strange. I couldn't live there year round. When people come over, they're like, Golly, this is kind of weird.
D read this aloud to me last night and smiled. Suddenly Lance Berkman's reflections had taken on a three-dimensional meaning to us after our apartment gazing expedition earlier that day.

We picked up E from school and headed out immediately to the little place that had, until just a few days earlier, been my first-choice place by far. This is the little spot with the fireplace. And it's super-duper close to church. With it's proximity to church I had imagined getting to invite folks over for lunch occasionally. Also being able to be more involved as members on Church Work Days (which now, being 30-45 minutes away, seems like giving up an entire Saturday rather than a morning). Also it would be easy to have one of E's friends come home with us sometimes and hang out, go swimming in the Summer, etc. Plus, the school E would attend is one of the state's "Distinguished Schools," which is incredible.

The apartments were about what we expected them to be. And I think we could be happy there and could make it work. There were certainly some drawbacks: the kitchen was very small and had the accompanying tiny apartment appliances--tiny stove (oven not big enough for a thanksgiving turkey), tiny dishwasher that looked about twenty years old, and a small refrigerator; the space itself is also quite small and would present a challenge to a family that has two people who work from home. (D is a freelance editor and I am a student who also will be teaching one course per semester at the seminary next year.)

We breezed through this first option, then piled back into the car and headed out (what felt like waaaay out) into the country. (We are city mice.)

And then we arrived at Disneyland. Or Fantasy Island. Or the Truman Show. Or Mars. Or Nu-topia, as we've started to fondly call it.

After we exited the highway, we could see the Master Planned Community looming in the distance. As we got closer, E spied it and whimpered from the backseat, "Is that it?"


He whimpered again, "Same-ness. Ahhh. Everything . . . the . . . same," and then he pretended to faint.

The town is still actively being built, though some parts of it are currently inhabited. The setting is fantastic. Right now, after all this rain, everything is brilliant green. And the hills cascade everywhere. The homes are built by Toll Brothers, if that says anything to you. And you have a sense that the apartment buildings are the McMansion versions of the Toll Brothers houses. The whole complex communicates wealth, opulence, and privilege.

Right after we got out of the car, E reached down to run his fingers over the lush grass. But there were tiny red flags sticking out along the edges of the grass, so D and I both quickly called out, "Don't touch the grass!" Then we looked at each other and laughed. "We're in the suburbs." I announced, "Don't touch the grass, it's poison."

We went into the leasing office anyway.

This is what we found out. The builders opted for a Tax Credit option which means that a certain percentage of the apartments need to be offered to people whose income falls within a certain range: neither too little nor too much. If your income does fall within the range, you are able to rent the apartment at significantly below market value. Using their numbers as a guide, we discovered that we would be eligible to rent the three bedroom apartment at a rate that we could well afford. (At market rate, it would never happen.)


Well, I got that far in my post this morning before we left. My dear brother is visiting for the weekend, and he graciously decided to drive out with me to see this place that we couldn't stop talking about. Getting to go there with him took some of the shock out of the whole thing. We've been such city people for so long that the sheer difference between the places we're used and this other place seemed to be the thing that was overwhelming us the most.

We still don't know how we feel about it all. But we did submit our 'pre-application' which begins the process with no obligation from us to go further. One of the concerns is that the places are not actually done yet. With all the rain we've had, they have gotten behind in the construction schedule. They expect to be done by July 1. Which would be quite ideal. But the risk, of course, is what if they're not done?

I guess it's pretty clear that we'll continue to look around and think about other places. But meanwhile, Nu-topia beckons.

Here's the Sims-esque floorplan. (Ignore the crib option! That will be a computer desk, I assure you):

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Searching for Home (3rd in a series)

Alright, this is the contradiction that is me. ("I am large; I contain multitudes.")

My two front runners for the new apartment are cookie-cutter apartments. Yep. I don't know, maybe it only takes a few really depressing, dark, no-doors-on-the-bathroom places that go for $1200 a month in the City to open one's eyes to the beauty of clean, neat-cornered, be-windowed places of cookie-cutter fame.

And maybe I'm learning that there is a lot of variation in what I've glommed together into one category as cookie-cutter. The very first places we were looking at were very large complexes, one right after another. All with names that suggested that whatever filled that field before was much, much better than what fills it now: Whispering Willows, The Lakes, Oak Grove, Fox Run. You get the idea.

The sense we had the first day we looked at some of these places was of being in a ghetto--these complexes, one piled on top of the other beside the freeway, felt like the place someone decided to pile up all the people who couldn't afford to buy their own home. There was no air. No life.

The two places on the top of my list aren't like that. The first one is a very small complex--maybe 50 units in all (maybe less, can't recall). They are Cape Cod style, whatever that means. I think it means they look a little like cottages, only there are apartments on the first and second floor. This all means that it is small enought that it has the feel of a neighborhood. And there are trees, grass, and bushes around the outside. The biggest selling point is a little wood-burning fireplace in each apartment.

The other place we're considering just intrigues the heck out of me. It is a brand new building project in what I believe is a brand new town. In fact, it's a "master planned community." The apartments are billed as "luxury apartments" and include a built-in microwave, a dishwasher (never, ever had a dishwasher other than my dear partner), and a washer and dryer in the apartment. These places are so new that they're not even quite open yet. So we would be the first ones to ever live in the space. (It's like a little Sims apartment, isn't it?)

Here's the kicker about these two front-runners, though: they are more affordable than the tiny, dark, crummy places in the City. Something to think about.

So tomorrow afternoon we're going out to visit both, after E gets out of school. I am very excited. And I'll be sure to write an update as soon as I can.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Searching for Home (2nd in a series)

We got to see another apartment this evening. And this one was much more encouraging than the last. Of course, the last apartment was within the range of what we could afford. And this one, well, it would be straining the boundaries.

This place had a number of positive things about it. It definitely had character, wouldn't you say? The outside, while it looks pink in this photo, is actually more red. I think it has a sort of fairytalelike look to it, though.

There are three apartments in this little house. The two-bedroom, which we looked at today. A studio in the front (where you see the bay windows). And the whole second floor is a third apartment.

As you can see, the kitchen is a great size and features new appliances. (In our current place I have to wrestle the crisper drawer out of its place every time I need to grab an apple or carrot. And the stove lights every sixth or seventh try.)

Just off the kitchen is a teensy-tiny living room. (Smaller than 10x10?) There is a bathroom (with a door!) and two comparably small bedrooms immediately off the livingroom. (No hallways in the place. Every door to every room opens directly into the one next to it.)

The photos are of the apartment while it's empty. This was not how we saw it, though. There were three people in there when we arrived. And incense was burning so thickly that it was a little difficult to see at all. :) I believe the incense had something to do with the HUGE bong that sat just inside the living room (on the other side of a thick red blanket that covered the door between the kitchen and living room).

There were two black cats living in this apartment. And this is just amazing to us. A black cat in the first place we saw. And two in this one. Mind you, these are not bad signs for us. Because a black cat lives in our family, too! So it's as though we're greeted by some eschatological Felix in every apartment so far.

I could see us living in this place. But somehow, somewhere along the way, D and I started to get excited about the possibility of living out closer to church. In the suburbs. We have never lived in the suburbs in our entire married life (thirteen years). We have a place in mind, though we don't know if there will be vacancies in time for us. We're supposed to get a tour on Thursday. Unless we can't wait and try to get in tomorrow.

Either way, I'll let you know.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter Dinner Conversation with the 8-Year Old

E: "Do I get a dollar for eating this asparagus?"
Me: "No, but you get stronger, healthier, and wiser."
E: "So I can make better bets and earn the dollar that way?"

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Blogging through the Bible in 90 Days (RoundTwo?)

This invitation is coming late, but I hope you'll be interested anyway!

Inspired by the wonderful folks at Blogging through the Bible in 90 Days (thanks, Sister Steph!), I invited some folks from my church if they would like to embark on this journey for ourselves. So far only one other person has decided to go for it with me. But I suspect a few others just may join in before the end. (I haven't advertised it too well. Mea culpa.)

But it occurs to me that some wonderful folks who are part of the RevGal blog ring may have wished they had participated in this event the first time around and might be interested in joining us for the journey in round two.

Or maybe some wonderful folks who are not a part of that blog ring may be interested in doing this too? (Cyen? MBG? BG? RBR? SRF? DRD?)

If you are, check out the site I've set up for round two at Travelers Together. Then send me an email, or leave a comment on this blog to let me know you'd like to join in.

The idea was to start on Easter Sunday, but you could start up when you'd like.

Let me know!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Searching for Home (1st in a series)

What is upheaval, if not a good thing to blog about, eh? I decided yesterday that I could make our journey to find our new apartment a little blog series for you to enjoy. :) And I thought, maybe this might help me keep a good perspective on the "adventure" side of new beginnings.

Yesterday we were given a tour of one apartment on the other side of town from us, down in the "flats" instead of the "hills." (We currently live on the edge of the hills.)

This place had been advertised quite a bit on the online source that we're heavily relying on. Every day or so the landlady would update her description and post it again. Honestly, it was the ever-shifting descriptions of this one little place that finally made me give in and set a time to see it. I had a feeling it wouldn't be right for us (one description said, "Perfect for fixer-uppers and carpenters.") I cannot adequately express how much that does not describe D and me, by any means!!!

Other key phrases from some of the descriptions included: "We need someone to love this handmade space;" "Drawback: you must pass through the second bedroom in order to get to the rest of the apartment;" "HUGE bathroom;" "If you're the kind of person who needs your spaces defined and every corner square, this place is not for you."

But the last description was titled something like: "Small garden, quiet retreat." And, well, I'm such a sucker for these kinds of words.

We arrived for our appointment at 12:15, to a front yard that was bustling with toddlers, infants, a woman with magenta hair, teenagers, and the landlady at the center of it all. We descended down the sloping driveway which led to a door in what used to be a garage. Before going inside, we paused by an old motorcycle, parked (for months? years?) against the side of the house. The landlady made sweeping gestures towards the wooden fence lying in pieces around us: "We're gonna have this fixed, so it's, y'know, clear whose space is whose," she said, glancing up at the magenta-haired woman who was sitting on the steps, now well above us, who apparently lived in the rest of the house.

We moved into the entry way where a computer was set on a desk in the corner. A tiny window was above it, letting in dusty streams of light. My first thought, upon entering the space was, "Huh, the electricity must have been turned off after the last tenants left."

Then we went into the first bedroom (the one you have to pass through to get to the rest of the apartment). A twin-sized mattress was set on top of a small, built-in loft, about waist high. There was no window in this space at all. A black cat slept on the unmade bed. A dim lamp on the ceiling made a feeble effort to light the space. ("So, okay, electricity is on. And, people are living here now?" I thought as I gazed at the unmade bed.)

Beyond this room was the kitchen and another space just beyond that which, if it were a livingroom would leave no space for a table. Nor would there be any space for anything much larger than a single love seat. Which, if you put that in, might take up any room for a television or stereo.

Beyond that room, there was the HUGE bathroom. Which was, in fact, HUGE. (Why?) HUGE with no door to it, though. Leaving the toilet exposed to the livingroom/dining room/kitchen. There was also a bathtub, with a european-stye shower hose (no mounted shower head, no shower curtain). The rest of the HUGE bathroom was some kind of tiled shelf(?) that extended from just above the tub, out to the wall (about eight feet by four feet). There was also a washer-dryer stacked unit smushed into the corner that was in indescribable condition. (No, really, you do not want me to describe it to you.)

Off to the side from the bathroom/dining room/kitchen, there was the second bedroom, which the landlady warned would get "very, very cold" during the winter because there was no heat in the building. There was another built in, waist high loft for a full-sized mattress. Upon which a woman sat talking on her phone with her sleeping infant beside her.

The landlady opened a window in this room, and instructed us to climb up on the built-in cabinets in front of it and poke our heads out: "Your boy could just climb out the window," she said encouragingly (the window opened out at ground level), "and play in that alley there!" Great!

You know, we actually considered this place for quite some time as we moved about the space. It was, dear reader, the exact opposite of the cookie-cutter apartment! Despite the holes in the walls and floors, the staircase that went nowhere ("You can use that as a bookshelf!" enthused the landlady"), the cabinetry that at first appeared warped but on second inspection was actually built that way--well, we thought, "Maybe we could make this work."

But eventually we decided it would feel as temporary as any space we've ever been in. And that we really couldn't make it work--maybe someone who loves to tinker, to repair, who has a vision for creating space, who doesn't mind peeing in the diningroom/living room, could go with it. But that's not really how we would describe ourselves on first pass.

So the search continues . . .

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

We're Moving . . .


We received some rather unexpected news the other day that we will be required to move out of our apartment within the next two months (by June 30, D's 40th birthday!). We have been living in seminary housing for almost three years now, with some special disspensation from on-high. Because I am a PhD student and not an MDiv student, I do not technically qualify for seminary housing. I don't know. Go figure. Because PhD students are so much wealthier???

Well, it turns out that this Fall there will be an unusually large incoming class plus three new faculty members who have all requested transitional housing. (Read, "our apartment," apparently.)

While the news is not welcome, (it will be expensive and a huge upheaval in the midst of everything else), we are at least glad to have good reason to get out of campus housing once and for all. We went straight from my MDiv program on the East Coast to this PhD program out here--which means we've been living in seminary housing for (ugh) six years. That's just wrong. That means for six years we have not received any mail on Saturdays, for instance, because the mail room is not staffed on that day. Nor have we received the mail at our actually home for that long, but stuffed into little locked cubbies on campus.

I have gone into pitbull mode in trying to pro-actively attack this situation. I've filled a purple folder full with our credit reports, rental options, maps to sites, contact information, etc. (Hmmm, I think I take after my Mom.) We saw some places on Saturday and hated 'em. We've realized that we are not, by any means, cookie-cutter folks. We love old homes, quirky corners, wood more than cement, green space more than parking lots.

The housing market out here is insane. One website gives instructions for how to create a pet resume in order to help yourself get into a place. It includes vaccination records (and obedience school records if you have a dog!), plus letters of reference from your veterinarian, landlord, friend, and pet sitter (whom they assume is a professional pet sitter). Good grief.

In the meantime, I've added a new mantra to my daily life: "If I break it, I don't have to pack it."

May I Introduce You?

I just discovered that two old friends have entered the blogosphere recently! Hooray! I invite you to visit their fledgling sites at Longboard Long Haul (on learning how to surf) and Amor Fati: Brooklyn (on Learning How to Pay Attention and Hoping to Love What Is). Great stuff!

BG and MBG are friends from college, oh, way back in the day. MBG preceded me to seminary and made the journey seem somehow possible. BG worked at our former life for a few years before they both headed off into the wilds of Brooklyn.

So I invite you to stop by their places and get to know them, too. I think you'll be glad you did. :)

Monday, April 10, 2006

Double Speak?

Yesterday on the way to church, the Beautiful Boy (now 8 years old) said: "What's the deal with calling it Good Friday? It must have been named by either a sarcastic apostle or the government."

Friday, April 07, 2006

Arts Alive!

Songbird has asked us to relate five performances that have been meaningful to us over the years. So, here we go (listed in no particular order):

1. Yeah, I gotta admit that getting to see E perform in anything is just about the best performance experience I can think of. I think especially I remember his kindergarten performance of Raffi's song, "All I Really Need" ('is a song in my heart, food in my belly, and love in my family'). I was teary-eyed for that one because I still could remember so well holding him in my arms and singing to him that very song when he was an infant. Okay, sentimental. But true.

2. Vita and Virgina at Union Square Theater off-Broadway. Written by Eileen Atkins for herself and Vanessa Redgrave (both of whom were in the performance we saw). Based on the love letters between these two fabulous women.

3. Lost in Yonkers on Broadway a mere fourteen years ago, the weekend D & I were engaged (April 15, 1992).

4. Getting to play King Nebudkednezzer in the church play one Sunday morning when I was about ten years old. And realizing I loved performing. (Is that why I'm in liturgical studies today? Good grief!)

5. Getting to go to the symphony for the first time this year. Which you can read about here and here, if you're interested.

And now, dear Reader, I'm taking the day off. And, on top of that, the sun is shining for just about the first time in a month and a half. (You think I'm exaggerating, don't you? I'm not!)

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Heat Vision and Jack

D & E told me a couple days ago that they had a treat to share with me as soon as I finished my exam. And now I've just got to share it with you. It's the half-hour pilot episode of Heat Vision and Jack, a hilarious show starring Jack Black as Jack Austin and the voice of Owen Wilson as Jack's talking motorcycle (and former roommate). If you're looking for a great, campy way to spend the next half hour, click on this link to the video on YouTube.

I Have DONE it!

Woo hoo!!! Alright! I took the exam! I did it! I did okay with it, too. I finished it. I wrote it. I am done with that. The first one is out of the way. I am launched. I am one step closer to being finished altogether. It was possible. This is possible. Life is good.

How's that for an update? :)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Comprehensive Exam Land

Well, I think I am as ready as I'm going to be able to make myself for the exam tomorrow. I had a terrifically productive day of condensing my thoughts on liberation theology and Tillich into write-able concepts in the 4 hours I'll have to write them. I created 'cognitive maps' of the main ideas for each one. The Gutierrez one is lots of pictures. The Tillich one is still lots of words. I hope to have these maps memorized. Then as soon as I go into the room I will write them out on paper and work off of them. I need something exterior to my own head to keep me on track.

I also spent a good part of the day actually writing my responses to the questions I hope (I hope!!!) I'll be answering. This was a great thing to do--to help me get it all into my own words before I have to sit and do it for real. It helps to see that it was possible. And that it could be said. And to see about how long each of my answers were while not under duress.

Now tonight I'm making chicken and dumplings for dinner. Comfort food, anyone? And I'll plan to take it easy tonight--probably write out the maps a bunch of times. Then I'll let sleep do her work tonight. Review in the morning. And head over for the exam a little before noon.

Any and all prayers--for calm, confidence, clarity of thought would be deeply appreciated.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Maybe It's More About Being Loved?

I've been turning over last night's post throughout the day today. And as I did, a new way of thinking about it began to form. (And thank you, Katherine, for your part in creating those new rivulets of thought.)

Slowly, it began to occur to me--the strangeness of the command to love. I'd had this thought before, but it hadn't swept into this particular space before. Really, how can anyone be commanded to love? Isn't that sort of an oxymoron?

Then, somewhere along the day (as I soaked myself in Tillich and Barth and Rahner in preparation for my first Comprehensive Exam on Thursday!!!!), I remembered that corny song that says something like: "We love because God first loved us."

And then Katherine's thought came in there in reponse to my heartfelt question: How in the world do I teach my son to love himself? She wrote: "By loving him?"

Somewhere in there I thought, "Wow, I sure did put a lot of pressure on the boy by reciting this particular Scripture." It occured to me that that Scripture really puts the onus on the person. But it says nothing about God's grace. And what if it's impossible to do any of it (love God, love neighbors, love yourself)? Suddenly I remembered that I went to a Lutheran seminary, for heavens sake, and if I learned anything there (and I did, I learned a ton!), it was that relying on ourselves to get it right is always a sure-fire way to fail.

So this evening as the three of us walked home from our dinner at a fantastic Chinese restaurant, I said to E: "Let's give this a try . . . For now, don't worry about loving yourself or even loving God. I know you already love others; that comes naturally to you. Instead," I said, "learn how to feel loved by the people in your life. And pay attention to how it feels to know God loves you. And then, maybe, the rest will follow on its own."

I don't know if this is it. But it feels right at the moment. It feels just crazy enough to suggest it's God's gift.

How Do We Ever Learn to Love Ourselves?

Tonight I had an intense conversation with my beautiful 8-year-old son. The very same one who only three days ago heard from his classmates that he is "lovable deep down inside; helpful; thoughtful; generous; kind; smart" and more. After dissolving into tears for the fourth time today because he had lost at a game, D & I tried to strategize with him about how to handle losing better.

In the midst of this conversation, there came a moment when it seemed appropriate for me to bring up with E what Jesus said when someone asked him what the greatest commandment is: To love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself."

"The problem," said E, "is loving yourself."

After my son was born eight years ago, I stopped believing in original sin. I simply could no longer believe that he was born harboring some sin within him when I held him in my arms. There was no lack in that infant.

But about a year ago, I started to believe in original sin again. I started to believe in it the first time E said something like this to me, because somehow, in the midst of all our support, building-up, and gentle lovingness toward him, he still experiences himself as broken.

This is my cry and my prayer tonight: How in the world do I teach my son to love himself?

Monday, April 03, 2006

Catching Up

These past couple days have been incredibly full days. In a good sense. The birthday celebrations were really joyous. We had a such fun ice skating on Saturday. It was astounding how far E has come with the skating since we first took him in December when he looked like a colt getting his legs under him for the first time. This time, all decked out in his hockey gear (looking three times his actual size), he just cruised around the rink like it was nothing. Some of my favorite moments were when he would declare that he was going around by himself. And I'd watch him from afar motor around completely on his own. Then again, some of my favorite moments were when he would spontaneously reach out and take my hand or his Dad's hand. My son.

As expected yesterday was way too full to pay much attention to the fact that it was E's actual birthday. And even this is something to marvel at--E was completely gracious about it all. The folks at church helped a lot. Lots of people wished him happy birthday. And when we gathered again in the evening for the Living the Questions group I'm leading, we all sang to him. (We even managed to do so at the exact moment he was born. It was 10:17 pm East Coast time, which E astutely converted to 7:17 West Coast time. (It hadn't occured to me to do that bit of math myself.)

Although I had not been looking forward to getting back into the swing of things (after enjoying time to actually study during Reading Week last week), class this morning went quite well. Not because everyone enjoyed it fantastically, but because I could tell people were engaged and being stretched and challenged. I also felt, once again, my own eagerness to be doing this officially (not merely as a Teaching Assistant, but as the real deal). I know this feeling can only be a good thing, but impatience is impatience! It ain't a comfortable place to be.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Celebrating Eight Years Old!!!

We are in the full swing of Birthday Celebrating here. It all started with the little party he had at school yesterday. Very cool thing. E's teacher does the greatest thing with the kids' birthdays. She sets aside some time for the children to gather on the rug, with the Birthday Child sitting on a chair up in front of them. Then each kid in the classroom proceeds to say at least one nice thing about the Birthday Child, which is then gathered on a giant piece of paper.

As a Mom it was really moving to get to sit there and hear what all the children have to say about my kid. It was very beautiful to see my Boy receive all the compliments in such a gracious way. And to see him really receive them into himself. Not in a puffed up sort of way, but in a growing larger sort of way.

After the kids brainstorm ways the Birthday Child is terrific, then they all go back to their desks and write a letter and draw a picture for the Birthday Child. Meanwhile, the Birthday Child writes a letter to her/his parents. We haven't opened the packet of letters yet. Maybe at dinner time tonight. What a meaningful keepsake, though!

Yesterday afternoon I was also the Cupcake Mom for the first time in my life. And this was way cooler than I expected it to be. After considering buying cupcakes from the local bakery (until I found out they would be $1.15 a pop!), I went the good old Betty Crocker route. And I sincerely enjoyed preparing them. I got the mix with the fun little colored 'confetti' things on the inside. They were vanilla cupcakes. I also got the white icing, but got the multicolored nonpareils to sprinkle on top (to match the confetti on the inside). Very festive.

It turns out that making the homemade cupcakes was the best decision I could have made. I was amazed how many kids asked me if they were homemade or store-bought cupcakes! I hadn't even set them down yet, upon arrival, when one little girl asked me then nodded her approval, "Homemade are so much better," she said knowingly.

I think my favorite moment was when one of the girls (who we've known since kindergarten) asked me, "How do you get this paper to wrap around the cupcake?" :)

I happened to have my cupcake tin there (cause I couldn't figure out how to transport the cupcakes without it!) so I brought it over to her desk and explained the process to her. "Ohhhhhh!" she mused. Priceless.

So this morning we opened gifts. (Thank you, dear Family!) And now I need to go to make the birthday cake and prepare the lasagna for dinner tonight. Then off to Mel's for lunch. Then ice skating. Woohoo!