22 October 2011

Things to do in Life!

I am a list maker. I make lists for nearly everything. So is it any wonder that I have a list of adventures I want to have in life? Of course not! Years ago I started a list of things I want to do with this life - adventures to be had, accomplishments to work towards. 

  1. Take tea at the Savoy in London.
  2. Arrive by train to Portsmouth, England - my grandmother's hometown where her uncle was the station master.
  3. Travel to England by the QM2.
  4. Kiss the Blarney Stone.
  5. Do a walking tour of England and Scotland for a couple months.
  6. Go to the top of the Eiffel Tower
  7. Take a week long baking class at Greystone.
  8. Create the perfect molasses chew cookie.
  9. Visit every continent.
  10. Swim in every major ocean and sea.
  11. Swim with dolphins.
  12. Learn to surf somewhere warm. (Maybe here or if I win, las Olas!)
  13. Have a photo published by National Geographic.
  14. Go on a photo expedition with National Geographic.
  15. Vacation at Wild Wadi.
  16. Learn glass blowing.
  17. Attend an opera at the MET
  18. See a performance by Lyric Opera.
  19. Design and build my own home.
  20. Go on safari and see giraffes, zebras, lions, and ride an elephant. 
  21. Write a children's book series loosely based on my grandfather and have it illustrated by my brother.
  22. Kayak around Polynesian islands with crystal clear water and white sand beaches.
  23. Earn a Ph.D. - I don't know in what, but I want to be a doctor. :)
  24. Ride the Orient Express (and maybe meet Poirot!)
  25. Drive on the autobahn - at high speeds!
  26. Learn to dance - salsa, mambo, tango, swing, waltz, hula, ballet - well! 
  27. Visit Israel (again) and spend a whole day at Yad Veshem this time. 
I'll keep adding to my list periodically - and hopefully I will start crossing things off! Maybe I should have a list of just places I want to see and travel to - I left most of those off, keeping the really important ones. I have goals too - but those are different than life adventures. My goals right now mostly relate to health: run a 5k in under 30 minutes, walk a half-marathon in under 3 hours, get my BMI below 22. 

There is so much in this amazing world to do and see, to learn and explore! One life just isn't enough. Get out there and start living! 

This is my entry in the Just Ask Bucket List Getaway Giveaway. Just Ask offers a breast and ovarian cancer screening and is encouraging people to share 15 things that I want to enjoy in my lifetime as a reminder to be aware of my health. Want to enter? Head over to TodaysMama.com to get the details. 

21 October 2011

What Tells of a Life?

I have been sorting through photos of my recent European adventure over the last week. A co-worker insisted that I put together a slide-show and do a "brown bag" lunch for a small group. I would have resisted but this is also the same co-worker who arranged free lodging with extended relatives in Krakow and lent me two camera lenses for the trip. I could hardly refuse such a simple request after all he had done for me.

The trouble is, I took pictures through my point of view, with my interests in mind, we all do. But as I sort through my 1700 photos I realize what interests me probably isn't very entertaining for others. Photos of my friends, who mean nothing to my co-workers.  Lots of doors and architectural details, kinda geeky. Photos of places that I want to remember for the memories they trigger, but objects that are not too special in their own right (the clock at Ceska for example). I take some fairly random pictures too. I am not very pleased with the bulk of the photos - bad composition, poor lighting, lack of focus. So that eliminated quite a few photos right there, but there should be enough remaining to get through a lunch show n' tell.

In the sorting and sifting I noticed another category of photos that I tend to snap, they are some of my favorites, photos that show life. Faces, hands - the signs of life lived. Pictures taken on the sly.

While on the tram I look down at a woman's hand holding her bag of produce and admire its wrinkled speckled beauty. Noticing the large knuckles and slight deformity, I wonder what has caused it. Perhaps it is rheumatoid arthritis, maybe my hands will look like this in 30 years. What have these hands seen and done? How many potatoes have they peeled? Whose hands have they held? What stories can this woman tell?

These gentlemen intrigued me. The lines on their faces, the dapper hair, the style of clothes. How much have they seen? Have they had trouble negotiating the transition from Communism to Democracy? Are they among the ranks that long for the 'good ol' days'? What yarns could these men spin?

And there are several more photos that I wish I could hear the stories behind the lives represented in the images. But what tells the story of a life? The lines on a face? The scars and marks that remain? What do people think of my life when they look at me? What will they think in 30 years? In 50 years? Can I cultivate a life that creases my cheeks and etches signs of love and joy so that people will look at me and think 'she lives life well.'

Proverbs 27:19 "As water reflects the face, 
   so one’s life reflects the heart."  

And what is in your heart will be reflected on your face. So what does your face say about you? Is it an accurate reflection of your heart? What do you want it to say?

Curious to see more? I uploaded all of my photos (and I do mean all) to Flickr.  I will start to weed out the ridiculous, eventually. For a more condensed overview, check out the slideshow I put together for the brown bag at work. 

16 October 2011

To Catch... His Eye

I had been joking with the cashier, trying my best to break up the routine of his job. I swiped my debit card through the machine and punch my code in and wait for him to finish ringing me up. I don't know why but I glanced up and over. Down three or four check-stands he stood there facing me mimicking my actions, swiping his debit card and entering his pin number. I don't catch his eye, they are staring at the card machine. I freeze. My cashier is telling me something, but I can't track with what he is saying. Has he seen me and is choosing to ignore me? He must have heard me laughing with Terrie, a co-worker I ran into in the nut aisle. Surely, he knows I am here and is choosing to ignore me. Goodness his hair looks lighter, more salt in that salt n' pepper hair. Has the new job made him go gray over the summer? All he is buying is wine. Not surprising. I wonder if he is having a party. Another party I would have heard about but never been invited to. My fingertips seem to remember how soft his hair is and twinge with an urge to feel it again. My head swirls with panicked indecision of whether or not to greet him. But I have done my chasing. I could not catch him. Much more chasing after this one man than any self-respecting woman should have done. No more. I finally understand that the cashier rang up my avocado as another gourd, but it is to my favor and so he hands me my receipt. Desperate to be out of the market I grab my cart with the bag of groceries and bouquet of flowers and head out the door studiously examining my receipt as to avoid eye contact with anyone.  As I lift my bag out of the cart and shove the cart into the holding area I recognize his car beside me and catch a glimpse of him coming down the walk way. I yearn for him to say "hello," to acknowledge me, that is what I've always wanted from him. I walk up to my car, opening up the passenger side door and placing my bag on the floor. Jangling my keys I walk around to the drivers side, glancing down to his white Mercedes where he is likewise putting his bag of wine in the passenger seat. Terrified of him greeting me and yet longing for it, one more chance, I hope to catch his eye. I slide into the drivers seat a mixture of relief and sadness.
(This is not the same grocery store incident as the previous post. Just coincidence.)

A fun writing exercise from The Gypsy Mama.

14 October 2011

Stocking Up

Squirrels store up nuts for winter, similarly I stockpile chocolate.

Yes, you are counting correctly - that is a pile of 6 chocolate bars, 6 different flavors. As the cashier turned his attention to my groceries he quipped, "Someone is stocking up! Or had a really bad day."
I laughed and joked back, "It's been a rough week, a girl has gotta have her chocolate." The guy before me took a step back to check out what I was purchasing before grabbing his bag and leaving. I tried to rationalize my purchase, "These are the only chocolate that are total allergy free for me and since they're on sale, I'm stocking up!" He gave me a funny glance as in, 'What on earth could you be allergic to in a regular bar of chocolate?' And I just thought, 'Oh, honey! We don't have time for me to list it all!' Instead he asked if I had every tried a particular brand - I can't remember what it is now - explaining that it costs $9.00 for a small bar. My eyes got big as saucers, "Really!? What makes it so special?" "I don't know. We sell it, you'll have to check it out next time." After that I took my receipt, my bundle of chocolate and box of tofu and left. (Yes, a box of tofu! Duh! I couldn't buy just chocolate. That would be ridiculous. Plus I needed something for lunch the next day.)

11 October 2011

Dreaming in Purple

I am all woman.  And those internal organs that make me female have been the bane of my existence since puberty hit. They have caused me problems from the time they 'woke up.' It is partly for this reason that I have always had a strong suspicion that I would not be able to get pregnant. (Before I go on, let me clearly say I do not know this as fact - it is just a strong hunch; I don't want to offend those of you who know with certainty.) The idea of being pregnant has never been particularly appealing either. But this is due to vanity. I have always struggled with my weight and the idea of being pregnant and getting fatter yet horrified me (because of course I would never be able to lose the 'baby weight'). The lack of desire to carry a child and the idea that it wasn't likely does not mean I did not have a strong desire to have children - loads of them - it just meant my plan was to adopt. At least one from every continent. In the last few years my opinions had started to change, not about adopting - I still very much want to do that, but about bearing children, about being pregnant. What caused the shift? That annoying cliche, "the biological clock." As I just passed my 38th birthday with nary a date to be had in the last year (or the last 38 for that matter), let alone a spouse, assuming the physical ability to have children - my chances are just about out. I no longer have a choice in the matter, the decision has been made for me. I do not like that the matter was taken out of my hands. This past spring-summer in particular has been a struggle. A struggle to let go of the newly accepted idea of being pregnant. A struggle to let go of the idea of having children at all, ones that I can truly call my own.

The precious Madeleine Sophia
Being a parent is not a right, it is a gift, a precious gift - and one that I will not receive. Yet realizing this has made the children and teens who do allow me to speak into their lives as friend, mentor, "auntie," "mama hennyfir" that much more treasured. A dear friend has taught me a lot about how incredible a gift children are to a family as she and her husband have walked the painful road of miscarriage with all its unmet longing, desire, and questions. And when that road took the uncertain turn towards adoption, I started to learn what an amazing gift a birth mother bestows on a couple. One day in June I sat at my desk completely distracted, fidgeting more than normal, constantly checking  for news. News of a baby to be born. News of a smooth adoption. News that my friend had been blessed with the outrageous gift of life. And when the story of that day was finally told, I cried. Big tears of joy and happiness, mixed with relief, rolled down my smiling cheeks. I have never been so happy for a baby's birth.

When it came time for the baby shower - scheduled for after the birth, just in case the birth mother changed her mind - I knew exactly what to give my friend. Two very adorable dresses had been hanging in my spare closet for the past three years. Dresses I had bought on a whim when the same friend had announced her pregnancy. Even though other friends have had children in that time, little girls too, I could never bear the idea of giving these dresses to anyone else. Hope's embers still glowed, however faintly. It was with delight that I finally took them off the rod and wrapped them in tissue paper. Looking at the size tag I had second thoughts as they may be the wrong season when they are the right size, but hopefully  this lil' girl will be petite like her birth parents and it will all be fine. Behind these two dresses was another little outfit, a romper, the cutest romper I have ever seen.  Look at it, isn't it super cute? I had bought it as a baby gift for a friend. That child should be about 18 by now. I thought the outfit so adorable I couldn't give it away. I decided to keep it for my own baby girl who certainly wouldn't be that far off in the future. For the last 18 years that little purple romper has been my symbol of hope and dreams. Hopes and dreams that were not unanswered, but shifted, and are in the process of being answered in a very different way than anticipated. With some hesitation, reticence and sadness (and a few thousand times of asking God, "Are you sure, really-really sure I won't need this?") I took that outfit, burdened with so much meaning, and added it to my friend's gift. A friend whose hopes and dreams were at long last answered, also in unanticipated ways, but answered in a beautiful brown-eyed way. I really don't know that I could have given the romper to anyone else. It would have been easier to give it to Goodwill, never to be seen again, than to give it to someone who doesn't understand the process of releasing our hopes and dreams and the heart-ache involved, who couldn't appreciate that this was more than just an article of clothing - I was giving part of my heart. As my friend opened my gift I had no regrets about passing on my symbol that I had been holding onto for so long, its time had come to an end for me, I only hoped she liked it as much as I did. I am content, my heart is full, it overflows with love for my boys - my Micah boys - and they would have looked down-right silly in a purple romper meant for a 2-year old girl.

07 October 2011

Movie Review: "The Way"

Wednesday night I lived on the edge and stayed out late - on a work night! Shocking! What did I do in my moment of carefree extravagance? I took my mother to a screening of the movie, The Way, which is being released today. How about that for some wild times! I even sneaked in my own water bottle and snack! I am a wild and crazy woman.

Okay, all talk of me aside, the movie is great. No, I mean it. Really fantastic. This is me, giving the movie 2 BIG "thumbs-up."  The Way is one of the best movies I have seen in a while. Well done, Emilio!!

Reasons why I like The Way:
  1. It is thoughtful, thought-provoking, and challenging while being very entertaining.
  2. The characters are well developed, engaging, and funny.
  3. The scenery is stunningly beautiful. 
  4. The movie affirms life, relationships and community - without being preachy.
  5. Last, and certainly not least, it has a positive Gypsy character.* 
I like this summary of the film from its website:
"In the film, a father unfortunately comes to understand his son’s life through his death and along the road finds himself as well. The main protagonist of the film is the conflict we each have within ourselves of choosing a life versus living a life. This greater question of finding oneself is a matter of acceptance and choice. Given the circumstances of our lives, how do we understand ourselves, our family and our friends, and the choices we make? Do we blindly go through life unaware of our actions and how they affect not only ourselves but others, as well? What role does our community, friendships and faith play in our decisions?"

A great line: "You don't chose a life, Dad, you live one." I wouldn't normally so heartily endorse a movie, but I really like this one. It draws you in and at the end, you feel as though you were among the travelers, that you had journeyed with them. I could identify with the character of Daniel - on the surface as a bit of a wanderer wanting to experience the world, a cultural anthropologist, a walker. But also, I could identify with the internal searching and struggle to find where I fit in the world. The Way strongly resonated with where I am at in life, the path I'm going down, the tumult of thoughts and emotions that are rumbling through my head. Thoughts that now include "When can I walk the Camino de Santiago for myself?"

Just go see it. http://theway-themovie.com/tickets.php

*Curious why this would make my top 5 list? I am, by schooling, a cultural anthropologist who did her Master's thesis on the "The Exclusion & Marginalization of the Roma in the Czech Republic and Slovakia."

05 October 2011

The Coffee Drinker Who Doesn't Like Coffee

We stood on either side of the condiment bar at Starbucks, doctoring up our cups of coffee. "Jenn, would you pass me some sugar?" I looked at my side of the bar and noticed there wasn't any of the Sugar in the Raw packets, but then saw them on top. I pointed to the canister that was closer to him, "It's right here." "No. Not that kind of sugar, the normal kind." I look down at the cubbies again and see three packets of "normal" white sugar. I dig one out and hand it to him. Jon just stares at me. "That's it? Can I have another one please?" "How much sugar do you need?" He had already put one of the "Raw" sugars into his coffee. "I need a lot, okay!?" I hand him one more sugar. His head tilts, an exaggerated sigh escapes, and his hand is still held out in front of me. I pass him the last sugar packet. "That is going to be so sweet!" "It has to be really sweet for me to drink it. I don't really like coffee." "What!?!?" I'm completely shocked and perplexed, we go to coffee fairly often, and I'm just learning this about him. "I like that it is hot." "Why don't you drink tea then?" "It leaves a funny taste in my mouth?" "How about hot cocoa, then?" His face scrunches up, "That would just be weird!"  I didn't even attempt to understand that last statement. There is no accounting for or understanding Jon and his drinking preferences.

As we were walking to Starbucks we passed a MAX stop that had an alert posted: "Due to "Occupy Portland" some services may be interrupted or take longer than normal." I mentioned it to Jon, wondering if he knew what "Occupy Portland" was. I had heard it mentioned on the news, but didn't have any details. He hadn't even heard of it. This afternoon we received an email from Office Operations warning us about "Occupy Portland" - a protest and march event planned for Thursday.  Jon and I started chatting via Communicator.
Jon: We should join them!
Jenn: OH! That is BRILLIANT! Let's do it!
Jon: We can just yell catchphrases like... Yes we can!
Up with hope, down with dope!
umm, what are some other ones?
Dude, you're getting a Dell! That'd be a fun one to yell.
Jenn: hahahaha!! Hell no! We won't go! - that's a classic
Jon: hmmm, I don't know if that'll work when the mob will be marching somewhere...but it would be funny to chant that while you're walking away from a location
Jenn: Okay, maybe not.
Jon: I can't believe it's not butter!
Jenn: That would be HILARIOUS!!!!!
*At this point I was lost in hysterics made worse by trying not to laugh too loud, which just made me start crying with loud staccato bursts of laughter.
Jenn: I have a whole Will Ferrel (in Old School) scene going on in my head with that last one.
Jon: hahahah, we're going streaking through the park...bring your green hat.
*After this I totally lost composure. Even writing it now I am snickering at the thought of Will Ferrel running through Portland, through the protesting crowd with just a green hat, yelling "I can't believe it's not butter!"

This morning I had to park on the street as the office parking was full. In response we had this conversation first thing this morning:
Jon: I was just talking to SAA about how she rides her bike to work now...maybe you should start doing that! Then you wouldn't have to worry about parking!
Jenn: I would have to buy a bike.
A helmet.
A bell.
That's too much investment.
Jon: Ha, it's funny that those are your first concerns...I would think living so far away would be on of the first!

And one last bonus courtesy of Jon. He shared this link with me today. I was frightened and intrigued all at the same time. We decided I should get a pet hyena to keep me safe in Honduras.

03 October 2011

Fear of Being Found Out!

I have joined an online book club. I don't understand how it will work just yet, but I know I need to be part of this group. God has been showing me a lot lately about myself, revealing the depths of my fear, the pervasiveness of my fear. But just as I started to get overwhelmed by the distance there is to cover to overcome fear, my mom gave me the book Dangerous Wonder about taking risks to live a faith-filled life, guess what topic the first couple chapters touches on? Yup. Fear. Then one of the blogs I follow, (in)courage, announced their fall book club selection - What Women Fear. Are you noticing a trend? I am. I am looking forward to journeying with a community of women, discussing the role of fear in our lives, and hopefully gleaning ideas of how to walk in faith and overcome unhealthy fear.

Maybe this is a crazy idea, but I thought to kick off my journey with the book club, why not write a post about one of my fears. There is one fear that I am having a knock-down, drag-out fight with lately. It also happens to be the sub-title for chapter 3 - Fear of Being Found Out. I haven't read that far yet. Maybe it would advise me not to post in a public for-the-world-to-see forum my fear of being found out. But like I said, I haven't read that far and here I am about to expose myself.

I am afraid of being found out. Being found out as a sham, a fake, an impostor, a flibberty-jibbit, a cotton-headed-ninny-muggins. Worse yet, I fear being found out as unqualified, incapable, insufficient; and the people who thought better of me being left sorely disappointed. The thing is, I am not enough for what is being asked of me - and that is a good thing. Knowing that I really can't do it in my own strength, I have to lean into Christ all the more. That is, when I remember rightly.

As I work through my Bible study, knowing that it will soon be my turn to lead, I wonder what I have to give to the ladies, whether I have what it takes. I don't know my Bible as well as I should. I'm not as faithful and studious as I ought to be, certainly not enough to be a leader. Will the women's ministry leader come up to me afterward the first time I lead and rescind her offer to be part of the leadership?

Even though I feel as though Jesus is amping up a crowd of angles chanting "Do it! Do it!" I want to shrink from the challenge of starting a new growth group at church. "I am not a charismatic person, I can't start something - it will flop."

My fear of being found out really comes alive as I try to answer a series of questions from Micah.
"Why are you interested in working with street kids in a foreign country?" -Because I fully believe God has called me to this particular ministry. That's all I've got and I know it is insufficient - just like me. My answer is insufficient, because I am insufficient. And if I don't come up with a better reasoned, logical, convincing answer to this question, and especially the next one - "What talents, skills or personality traits do you have that will play a key role in your ministry with homeless teens?" - then the director and board are going to find me out. They'll know what I already know deep in my heart, that I don't have what it takes, and I'll be rejected (That's another fear - being rejected. Two fears for the price of one trigger, lovely.) The truth is I do have talents and skills, some that can be used by the ministry; and I do have a personality, albeit a quirky one, but one that seems to be well suited for life at Micah. I could have a two page list of very convincing proofs for my interest in street kids, but the one that really matters, the one that will get me through the difficult times is knowing that God has called me.

The thing is, if I try to prove how capable, competent, and worthy I am of these roles I am going to fail. I cannot do it in my own power. I truly am not enough. But thankfully, graciously, God is enough. Even though I am full of weaknesses, His power is made perfect in weakness. His grace is sufficient for me (2 Cor. 12:9). And if God has called me to these roles, then he will provide the means and ability as well (2 Tim. 1:12).

Amongst my grandmother's things that I looked through after her passing I found this quote, which I wrote down and put on our fridge, I wish I knew where she picked it up:
"The will of God will never take you where the grace of God cannot keep you."

My Profound Thought for the Year

Apparently I came up with something profound last night, and didn't even know it. I didn't set out to say deep thoughts, I was just rambling the partial thoughts as they came through my mind. I shared the same thought with another friend tonight and she thought it was so good that I was asked to repeat myself over and over until she had copied it down. So I am sharing it here on the off chance you too might think it is profound.

As my girl friend sat on the couch sipping her tea and me my cocoa, she explained how she feels God has withheld a husband from her. She can point to His providential care and provision in various circumstances - except when it comes to a husband. She wandered down the road of "what if..." to the cross-section of "if only..." pausing to ask me if this was familiar territory to me. I admitted to wandering down that way occasionally, but explained I try to steer clear of that neighborhood; unless there are lessons to learn and areas of growth that can be identified, there isn't much point in revisiting the past - what's done, is done. I would drive myself crazy if I dwelt on those two questions. Thankfully my wretched memory doesn't provide much to fuel that kind of reminiscing and recrimination.
We started listing our friends who are also in the same situation, that is, someone in the 35+ age bracket, godly women, no baggage that is too detrimental, single, desire to be married, but single none the less. It was quite the lengthy list. But then I asked how many guys she knows that are in a similar status; is there anyone in your church that you'd want to date? A long pause. "Is that Tim guy still going to your church?" "Yeah, but he has been dating this cute gal for quite awhile now. Plus, if you knew his whole story, I don't think you'd be interested." Another pause. I shared what a friend said several weeks ago: "Men are like parking spots; they are either taken or handicapped." We laughed, and then sighed at the truth of the statement. I then started my soap box rambling of incomplete sentences trying to capture incomplete thoughts. Thoughts about how the modern American church is doing a disservice to men, there is an epidemic shortage of godly men.

But this is what all my ramblings boiled down to:

I don't think God is withholding a husband from my friend, myself, or from any of the names we mentioned. I don't think he is saying "No. Not now, you need to grow in this area first." Instead, I think He is right beside us, grieving with us. He is sad with us that our longings, our dreams and desires have gone unfulfilled. And He is sad for the men that could have been our husbands but have chosen to walk away from Him. He is sad for all his children. For the women who have been faithful and uncompromising, but at the sacrifice of their dreams for family; and for the men, who have given up on Christ himself. I think there is an epidemic of single women in the church, in part because the church has failed to raise up men of character.

Yes, this may seem awfully harsh on the church and on men. I'm open to counter arguments that can explain why I need two hands to count the single women I know at just one church that I attend, and why I can't even come up with one name of an eligible bachelor between the two churches I regularly attend. But for my gal pals, I would just hope that my perspective would help us to not question ourselves so much. Put away the "If only I was _____ [smarter, funnier, thinner, livelier, prettier, etc.]." and remember that you are a child of the King, you are Daddy's princess, you are enough, and He is enough.