Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Busy, Stressed and Tired -- and Kidding Myself

I'm a Busy Person. By this, I mean that busy-ness is part of my identity, part of how I label myself. By extension, I am also a Stressed Person . . . and a Tired Person. And I'm sure I am a member of a vast company.

I've come by these labels legitimately. Even from high school, I got much too involved in things and had way too many tasks sitting on my plate. It has taken many years and much maturity to learn which tasks I'm good at and should say yes to, and which tasks I can bless this world with by saying an emphatic NO. But my BSF teaching leader made a little side comment last night that slapped me in the face.

[Isn't that how it often happens? You're listening to a speaker who has Points A, B, and C to communicate to you, but in the course of this communication, they make a passing remark that hits you square between the eyes and convicts you to the depths of your soul . . . and you very likely completely miss Points A, B, and C.]

I still self-identify as a Busy Person. But the reality is, I'm not that busy. Oh, I have plenty of things to do -- and I have more things I could be doing that aren't getting done -- but I'm certainly not rushing around all the time, with never a moment to sit and relax and think (as I have been at other
periods of my life). 

Yet, if someone were to ask me How my life is these days? (one of those dear friends who you know actually wants to know how life is and isn't just hoping for a pat, polite, small-talky response), I think my automatic response would be something to the effect of, "Oh, life's a little crazy, as always!" 

But my life is NOT a little crazy these days -- "as always." My life is pretty good these days. But it is my default mental state to think I'm Busy, Stressed, Tired Person. 

That was my slap in the face.

Because if my Busy-ness is merely a habit of thinking, is it possible my Stressed-ness and Tiredness are also? Is it possible, that, even when I have been genuinely busy, I could have born it all without stress and exhaustion if I had thought I could do so? 

Is it possible that, as the Bible teaches me, the Spirit really is my strength and He really does empower me to do all things He's called me to do if I relax and let Him do that? 

And is it possible . . . no, forget that. I am quite certain that I -- and probably many, many other women out there -- have nursed this self-image of a Busy, Stressed, Tired Person because there is, strangely enough, some female-induced peer pressure to do so. Because Busy, Stressed and Tired seems to also mean Productive. And Accomplished. And Worthwhile. And Someone Who Matters. 

We assume that being Someone Who Matters can't feel any other way.

But if scripture is to be believed, it not only can, but it should. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light, Jesus tells us. Is it possible that he's telling us the truth?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fredericksburg and Shops

Last Saturday, our family drove the one-hour jaunt up to Fredericksburg, one of the many little towns around here that we keep hearing we need to visit. There happened to be a Food and Wine Festival going on -- we didn't even know until we got there, but we didn't participate in that anyway.

We took a peek in an old, old Catholic church right by where we parked (I love looking inside old churches). We spent an hour or so at the Pioneer Museum -- well-kept, but similar to other such museums we've been to. Then we walked up and down main street seeing the sights . . . which were mainly people and shops.

Lots of shops. What's the word for the kind of shops I'm talking about? Maybe it's "specialty shops". Cute little stores packed to the ceiling with cute little things. There was a dog specialty shop we stopped at to see a million and one unnecessary and costly dog accessories. There was a Christmas shop where we saw five million and one beautiful and excessive Christmas decorations. Seven blocks or so of such places, lining both sides of the street. Plus all the German biergartens and chocolate shops.

It was a cute little town. I kept thinking how twenty years ago, I would have just eaten this up. I loved "specialty shops." I could have spent all day long looking at the items in these stores. I probably wouldn't have bought much, but I would have wanted to -- or I would have come away with ideas for things I wanted to try to make myself for cheaper.

Because I used to be a crafter, or at least fancy myself as one. I still have a stash of craft supplies in storage left over from those days, just in case I need something again. I loved the idea of making some cute little item to beautify my house with my personal touches. I often said I'd rather decorate my home with something I made that is of slightly lower quality but would have meaning to me, than with something fabulous that I just plunked down some money for.

There's probably a remnant of that sentiment still in me somewhere. But not much. Somewhere along the way, I lost the urge to make little things. Even more so, I lost the urge to HAVE little things sitting around my house looking pretty. As my mother was known to say, "It's just more to dust."

So, walking through these stores made me examine myself and my new set of values. I'd like to think there's something somewhat . . . I don't know . . . philosophical about this change in me. I looked at the stuff in there for sale and thought how astonishing these seven blocks would be to someone from a third world country. Or even to someone from this country a hundred and fifty years ago. My daughter is reading a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and looking through the Christmas store, I remembered the Christmases she described in her books -- getting one small toy item and a candy stick that they sucked a little bit every day for weeks to make it last. The Christmas feast that would hardly seem like a hearty meal for some of us. I don't remember her mentioning decorations at all.

Laura would have walked through this Christmas store with her jaw on her chest. The very idea that people could have as many Christmas decorations as they do and still walk through this place wanting even more.

When there are people not eating. When there are people dying of curable diseases. When there are children who can't read. I've just lost my appetite for more stuff in my life when there are so many uses for my money that could actually make an eternal difference in humanity.

But then again, maybe it's really only about not having more to dust.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

When I Don't Read Scripture Literally

About a week ago, I blogged about an article my friend asked me to read about a "progressive" approach to reading scripture. The author talked about a "canon within the canon" approach. And about not taking the Bible literally. All of which make me think and made me squirm . . . because I find myself too often conceding minor points to such people but unable to swallow their arguments as a whole.

Let me tell you about the Book of Job.

The Book of Job, from the Old Testament, was the first piece of literature my students studied in Freshman English this fall. Most Christians (and many non-Christians) are familiar with the basic story. Satan essentially makes a bet with God that devout Job would curse God if his many blessings were taken away, and Job proves Satan wrong.

But those basic plot points happen only in the first two chapters and the final chapter of the book. There are thirty-nine more chapters in between that people rarely read -- partly because they are written in narrative verse and are much more challenging reading, and partly because if you do challenge yourself with the reading, you find your whole impression of the Job story challenged as well. Job is not the patient Job we all think of: he gets very angry and, in the words of my students, comes dangerously close to crossing that line of cursing God. And when God finally comes to speak to him, His answer seems less than satisfactory to the modern ear, although it fully satisfies Job.

I bring up the book to address this question of taking the Bible literally. Because if one were to ask me if I take the Bible literally, I would generally answer yes. But that requires some explanation in some instances, like the Book of Job.

For example, I do believe that there was a historical man named Job who seems to have lived around the time of Abraham, and who was very rich and blessed, lost it all, and was known for his continued faith in God through all his suffering. There are other passages in scripture that refer to Job as an actual historical figure and not as a character in a narrative. (As the author of that article said, we need to use scripture to interpret scripture.) So, I believe Job existed.

However, I don't believe that Job and three of his friends sat together on a pile of ashes and pontificated to each other in metrical verse for thirty-seven chapters worth of material. The Book of Job is a narrative poem, and it seems clear to me that the author took the raw material of the story and put it in the form of that genre for artistic effect.

I'm also not sure that Job actually had three specific friends named Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar (although there's evidence such people may have existed) who sat with him during this time and made these specific arguments to him. It's certainly possible, but their arguments seems to center around specific humanistic themes in a way that looks to be molded by the author. (As the creationists are wont to say, evidence of design implies the presence of a designer.)

I'm not uncomfortable with saying that I look at the Book of Job as possibly being like what we would currently call historical fiction -- based on a true story with liberties taken by the author to shape the details into a good narrative. In that sense, I guess you could argue that I don't take everything in the book literally.

On the other hand, I absolutely believe the book to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, and that every truth communicated in there is Truth. I don't take the Good Samaritan story or the rest of Christ's parables "literally", but they are inspired Truth nonetheless.

It is also important to note, as I emphasized to my students, that while the Book of Job contains God's Truth, what it contains is incomplete truth. There is almost no mention at all in the book of the love of God for his people -- one of the most important things we need to know about God. One cannot build an accurate theology around the Book of Job alone (or around any small part of the Bible); it must be informed by the whole of scripture.

All this to say, the progressives do make a point about considering the genre of the section of the Bible you are reading, and reading it intelligently in light of that genre. And they make valid suggestions that there are other passages of scripture that fundamentalists interpret "literally" that might be written in a genre that doesn't allow for that.

I don't have time to address all of those here. I'll just close with two points:

1) Fundamentalists need to be less arrogantly dismissive of such arguments made by the progressives, because they make valid points and we only denigrate our case by being unwilling to seriously consider the opposing view.

2) In my serious consideration of opposing views about such passages of scripture, I have yet to be convinced to jump on board with a progressive interpretation. So when, for example, friends ask me to read the creation story in Genesis 1 as a poetic account of the beginning of time, with spiritual truth to be gleaned from it but without literal facts at its base, I recognize this as a valid idea to consider -- but when I have considered it, I cannot yet buy the argument.

And I may have to take another post sometime to further explain why that is.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Mommy/Daughter Time

Hubby has been traveling a lot on business lately, so I'm spending a lot of with my daughters. And as much as we miss Hubby, I'm enjoying some new things with my girls. For instance:

- Once Upon A Time -- Oh, my goodness! This is, like, our new obsession. I remember when this TV show premiered, I read a review and thought, Hmm. That sounds interesting. But not interesting enough to add another weekly required viewing activity to my life, so I forgot about it. But as the girls get older, we have a much more difficult time finding TV shows that are entertaining for all of us that are also appropriate age-wise for all of us . . . and "Once" hits the spot.

We're watching the first three seasons on Netflix, and I'm so glad we are. It would drive me insane if I had to wait an entire week (or more) for the conclusion of each episode's cliffhanger. This show is FASCINATING. How fun would it have been to write this! Figuring out how to tie all these different fairy tale characters together. We are loving, loving, loving this show.

- Dance class -- This is a brand new one. The eldest and I have been bouncing around the idea of checking out adult dance classes at a dance school a couple minutes from our house. So this week, we finally took the plunge. We got to sample all the class in one week for $20: Hip Hop on Monday, Jazz on Wednesday, and Ballet last night. Walking is painful today, as you might understand. It's been a long time! I didn't realize until last night how much I miss my Sioux City dance class friends.

I think we're going to stick to the Ballet on Thursdays. More our speed (even my daughter preferred it, to my surprise). And the nice thing was, last night, we were the only students there, so we get basically a private lesson.

- New homemade dishes -- My eldest has taken on the duty of cooking some of our family's meals. And this has been an adventure because she is trying to eat more healthy stuff, so we're all having to eat her new experimental healthy dishes. But a few have been hits. She discovered a veggie burger recipe that just isn't that bad . . . I would almost call it good. She made a veggie fajita that I really enjoyed. But the best one yet: she found a recipe for homemade lo mein that is just like what you get in restaurants. Oh, my! SO good!

-Walking the dog -- Now that some semblance of fall is falling on southern Texas (some semblance . . . kind of . . . I miss fall . . . ), it is getting cool enough that the family is more interested when I say, "Who wants to go with the dog and me on a W-A-L-K?" (The spelling is for the dog's benefit; the minute he recognizes the word, he dances like a maniac with impatience until we're out the door and it makes us nuts.) These days, the neighbors have fall decorations up -- lots of scarecrows and ghosts -- and it has been a hoot to watch the mutt staring these creatures down, trying to figure them out.

Sigh! We won't have both girls with us for these moments for too many more years. Gotta treasure these days while they're here.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Reading the Bible Seriously

My liberal (I think she prefers the term “progressive”) Christian friend tagged me on an article she wanted my opinion on: “16 Ways Progressive Christians Interpret the Bible.” It was an interesting article – far more than I can respond to in one post.
But you could have taken nine or ten items from his list and written an article, “10 Principles Serious Christians Use to Interpret the Bible” and left out the progressive label. Some of these, in my opinion, should just be standard practice for any responsible reader of scripture:

  • We read the Bible prayerfully. (Of course.)
  • We seek to apply full attention to Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. (“Full attention” would be the phrase of concern there, and he doesn't elaborate on that. But I don't know any conservative Christian who is opposed to considering what tradition, reason, and experience have to tell us about what the Bible says. The question is, in matters of disagreement, who trumps who.)
  • We realize that there is no reading of any text – including the Bible – that doesn’t involve interpretation. (Of course. That is why there are so many denominations. But as I tell my literature students, the fact that there is more than one way to interpret a text doesn't mean that it can be interpreted in ANY way we choose. There is a limited range of possible interpretations. Just sayin'.)
  • We do our best to read the biblical texts in their original languages – and consult scholars and others to assist us. (Absolutely.)
  • We consider the best available Biblical scholarship from those who study it academically and professionally. (Yep. Of course, "best available" is always going to be a subjective claim.)
  • We seek to read passages in context. (Mm-hmm.)
  • We consider historical socio-political contexts. (Yes.)
  • We allow scripture to interpret scripture. (Most definitely.)
  • We do as much of this as possible in community with fellow Christians, not as a solo act. (Crucial. We are not intended to be lone rangers.)
On these matters, I cannot disagree. However, I did make this point to my friend: this may describe how this particular progressive Christian approaches scripture, but I doubt it is how most progressive Christians approach scripture. In fact, I doubt it is how most conservative Christians approach scripture either.
The unfortunate fact is, most Christians of any ilk don't take the time to approach scripture in any serious fashion at all. Most Christians listen to a preacher or teacher or friend, and decide if they like what they are hearing, it must be true – if they don't like it, it clearly isn't. God forgives my sin? Ooo, I like that: TRUE. God would forgive even a serial killer if he surrendered his life to Christ? No way – I don't want to believe that: NOT TRUE.
Rarely does the average believer actually go to the Word itself and wrestle with what it has to say about a matter and let the Holy Spirit speak to their heart. They let someone else do the wrestling and pick the interpretations that tickle their ears.
Progressives AND Conservatives. We're a lazy people.
More on the rest of this article another day . . . 

Friday, October 10, 2014

What's In a Name? RESPECT

During a pleasant conversation over frozen yogurt yesterday with another newbie teacher at my school, I remarked casually how much I enjoy hearing "Yes, ma'am" from my students -- because I hear it a lot and it's new to me.

She smiled and said, "Oh, I expect that. It's a Texas thing." She has a student who just moved here from the north, and she has to keep reminding herself that the poor thing is not necessarily being rude when he answers her with a "Yeah" instead of a "Yes, ma'am."

"Ma'am" and "Sir" are the expected ways to address your elders in these parts, my friend tells me. Now I'm wondering if Texans find my daughters rude. (Although I doubt it.)

This discussion stirred up memories of similar conversations with friends in New Jersey about how our children were to address us, their friends' mothers. The standard among most of my friends was "Miss _____". As in, "Miss Sue" . . . "Miss Judy" . . . "Miss Marilyn." I had taught my daughters to call their friends' mothers "Mrs. So-and-So" right off the bat, because this is what I was used to. Some friends accepted that and got used to it. Others told my daughters to call them Miss Such-and-Such . . . which my girls rarely got the hang of.

"I figure, my kids hear me calling adults by their first names," my friends told me, "It'll just confuse them if they have to call them by a different name." Confuse them? Uh -- no. I grew up with this system in place and never got confused. The woman I called Mrs. Garnett my mother called Leona. Simple as that. In fact, it was very helpful; I learned people's full names.

But I willingly accepted whichever name these kids gave me, as long as they were spoken with respect. I never got offended at being called Miss Gwen. However, I did get offended when the "Miss" was left off.

There was one little girl living near us whom we had over for a couple playdates. When I first met that child on my front porch and she enthusiastically greeted me by my first name, I wondered what I was going to do with that. Since her mother didn't correct her, I decided to let it alone.

But as the playdate went on, I realized that this girl did not see me as an authority figure in her life; she saw me as her peer. When I told her to do something, she took that merely as a suggestion. She even asked me personal questions that I thought were ENTIRELY out of line for a six-year-old to be asking of an adult. (And this seemed to be typical of the other schoolmates my daughter had who called me by my first name.)

(On a side note: It wasn't surprising when her mother came to pick her up and had to say, "We need to go" twenty-three times before her daughter gave an inkling of response. Twenty-three times. Yes, I counted.)

By about the third playdate, my inward fuming got the best of me. I finally -- politely -- told the young lady that I preferred that she call me "Mrs". She looked at me as if to say, ohhhh, you're one of THOSE people . . . Whatever, kid.

The next time she called for a playdate, I answered the phone and she said (dripping with sarcasm and attitude), "Hi, Gw- . . . I mean . . . Missuzz Ka-" . . . and I immediately knew that I could not have this child in my home today or I might slap her cheeky little cheek. Fortunately, my daughter wasn't fond of her either. That friendship faded away quickly.

So, yes, I'm enjoying the "Yes, ma'ams" in my classroom. One of the many things I'm finding they get right in Texas.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

No, You CAN'T Have It All

A few minutes ago, while scanning my Facebook newsfeed, I clicked on an article titled, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All." I'm not sure why I did; such articles usually annoy me. And I haven't finished reading the article yet (it's thirteen pages . . . yeesh), so I don't know exactly what conclusions the author is headed toward. But the beginning is rather interesting.

The author is a woman who works at Princeton, I believe (like I said, I haven't finished or read really closely yet) and who spent a couple years in Washington in a high-profile, highly influential position -- the job of her dreams. Yet she gave that job up after two years to go home and spend more time with her family, realizing that her "dream job" simply wasn't worth the sacrifices she was making.

She talks about how choosing to leave your job and "spend more time with your family" has become a euphemism in Washington for being fired. How crazy would it be for someone to actually make that choice of their own volition! Who would give up this kind of power and prestige to devote more energy to being a spouse and raising your kids? Nobody, of course.

But she did. And now she's speaking out, taking back the lies that she used to tell young women in her speaking engagements -- that you can have a high-profile, powerful job and never sacrifice anything in your family life.

Reading this reminded me of a seminal moment in my life. A couple of them, actually.

The first was during my first year of teaching, which was my second year of marriage. I was busting my butt trying to be a good teacher -- and for those of you who don't know, being a good teacher is hard work. Long hours. And for me, constant thinking about students and how to help them and how to get through to them. I was also trying to figure out this wife business -- how to give my husband the attention and support he needed, cook meals, maintain the house, all that.

Then one day, I had a sudden scare that I might be pregnant. I literally was so emotionally distraught, I had to call in sick. The idea of adding a baby to this mix was inconceivable to me.

The reality was, I was too much of a perfectionist. I wanted to be Perfect Wife, Perfect Teacher, and eventually Perfect Mom . . . and I was now coming to the painful reality that this was not possible. And I spent a week or two fuming about this. FUMING at the fact that I had been told all of my life that I could be anything I wanted to be -- and I had been lied to.

The second seminal moment was when hubby and I started talking about having children. I had been teaching for a few years at that point; I was juggling Wife and Teacher fairly well. But I sat and considered seriously the prospect of having a baby and realized I didn't know how to do add a Mother ball to my juggle. And the reason I didn't know is because I had not seen anybody do it well yet.

I knew three kinds of teachers. 1) Lousy teachers, who put minimal effort into their job and got minimal results. 2) Teachers whose lives were completely centered around their jobs -- most of them were single, or childless, or with grown children, and/or their spouses worked for the school system, too. And 3) good teachers who had lives outside of school but who were literally making themselves crazy or sick -- most of them seemed to burn out after a few years.

I had no role model for how to be a good teacher, a good wife, AND a good parent, all at the same time. It was easy to assume that it couldn't be done.

I'm now trying to do all three for the first time in my life. So far, so good, but it is definitely a challenge.

In any case, I'm stunned by women -- and men -- who throw themselves into high-pressure careers and somehow think their families aren't affected by this. I suspect they are in denial; I suspect they know that their families are adversely affected -- they just don't want to acknowledge it. Why?

I probably shouldn't go there . . . maybe another day . . .

Monday, October 6, 2014

A Eulogy to Saturday Morning Cartoons

I was informed of lamentable news this weekend. ("Lament" is one of my Freshmen's vocabulary words -- glad I chose it -- it's quite useful.) Apparently this past Saturday morning was the first Saturday morning in fifty years where a network television station did not broadcast Saturday morning cartoons.

Saturday morning cartoons are dead. Let us all observe a moment of silence for the end of an era.

Watching cartoons on Saturday morning was a defining characteristic of my childhood years. Every other day of the week, my mother would have to come in and wake me up. But for some reason, on Saturday morning, my body consistently knew when it was almost 7am and woke me up of its own accord. I never overslept.

As I recall, the first show I watched at 7am was the "Laff-a-Lympics" -- a show that had all the various Hanna Barbera cartoon characters divided into three teams (the Scooby Doobies, the Yogi Yahooeys, and the Really Rottens) who competed in Olympic-style events. It was corny, and I loved it.

Another favorite was the Bugs Bunny show (sometimes the Bugs and Daffy show, sometimes the Bugs and Tweety show . . . ) with its catchy theme song: "Overture . . . cut the lights . . . ."  Scooby-Doo, of course, and its later variations with Scrappy Doo and with celebrity guest stars. I still hear the voices of the gang when they recognized this week's celebrity:  "[gasp] It's Mama Cass!" (Yes, Mama Cass was a guest star on a Scooby Doo cartoon. My introduction to the Mamas and the Papas.)

Bill Cosby did Fat Albert, which wasn't one of my favorites, but I still watched it. Another unforgettable theme song, which my husband pulls out and sings once in a while. "Na, na, na -- gonna have a good ti-i-i-ime . . . "

Super Friends, with Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin, and Aquaman at the Justice League Headquarters. Oh yeah.

Captain Caveman. Jabberjaw. Speed Buggy. Hong Kung Phooey. Grape Ape. Oh, my -- GRAPE APE, people.

There were some live action shows that I like, too. The Harlem Globetrotters show -- with funny bald guy Curly. Isis. Bigfoot and Wild Boy. Electrowoman and Dynagirl (no lie -- I'm sure if I saw the reruns I would be horrified at their awfulness, but I so loved them at the time).

And, of course, the greatest Saturday morning invention of all time: Schoolhouse Rock. Brilliance. I still can't say the Preamble to the Constitution -- I have to sing it. Somebody made Schoolhouse Rock into a stage show, and I heard that when they began, "We the People . . . ," the audience stood and sang along with patriotic tears rolling down their face. I would have done that, too.

Saturday morning was an escape. By the late elementary years, my school weeks were difficult. Successful as I was academically, I felt like a social outcast in school. I didn't feel liked, and I didn't like myself much either. I dragged myself through the week, waiting for the few hours on Saturday morning that I could lose myself in being a kid and forget the pains of growing up.

No more Saturday morning cartoons. My kids feel no loss. Yet I grieve.

Friday, October 3, 2014

So Precious

My two daughters had a babysitting job last night, but the eldest got sick so I stepped in to help. My job was to put the babies to bed.

First remark about the experience: I have never seen a baby go to bed as easily as these two did. I changed their diapers, put on their pjs, turned on the sound machine and lay them down. After I turned off the light and shut the door, they went right to sleep. Amazing. The older boy went to sleep easily, too. This mama knows how to train her children.

Second remark about the experience: babies are just precious.

Even when he spit up on me, he was precious.  Even when his brother filled his diaper with poop, he was precious. The tiny little fingers . . . the tiny little pjs . . . the tiny little diapers . . . it's been a long time since I held a tiny one and you forget just how tiny they are.

Now, I'm not kidding myself: I remember the screaming and fussing, too. I remember the times when I loved my kids but I couldn't stand another moment in the room with them that day. Parenthood is hard sometimes.

But the precious tiny little fingers!

It's October, and even though it doesn't feel anything like fall here in Texas (sigh! I miss fall . . . ), Halloween stuff is out in the stores and in a few people's lawns. I am not a fan of Halloween, in general, for many reasons. But I have found myself, in the past couple weeks, having an urge to watch an old videotape we have stored away in the fall decorations:

"Elmo Says Boo."

Yep. I am dying to watch a Sesame Street Halloween video. Something about the memory of that video makes me feel serene and peaceful and happy. When the music from that show runs through my mind, I feel preciousness surrounding me. And for a moment, I long for the preciousness.

I have friends who would tell me that this is God's way of telling me I need more children. I doubt that. I think this is God's way of preparing me to have grandbabies. Precious tiny little grandbabies. Not quite yet . . . but they'll be here before I know it.

And I'm going to sit them down beside me to watch "Elmo Says Boo."