Thursday, December 06, 2012

Church, wrestling and the loss of faith

I started writing such a protracted comment to this blog post, I shifted gears and am dumping out here what came to mind.

See, someone I am close to went to a christian school. And the experience is similar, so many having walked away from church. And subsequently became very angry with God about incidents that no one wants to ever to experience.

There are thoughts that are turned over repeatedly in ones head. Thoughts looking for a conversation.

There are feelings lapping the beaches of the heart. Emotions kept in check. Anger, grief, fear and precipitant numbness that all must be saved for the proper moment.

And when the proper moment does not come... or if it does come and it is too scary to give voice to the things inside, because it might involve strong emotion that is not typical to pleasant light chatter. The listener may just opt to back away slowly, and decide this is more than they can handle. And the heart that has everything pent up might easily decide it is much easier the hold in what is there than to risk/trust speaking (understandably). And the road to bitterness has begun.

And if one belongs to a faith community, one might wonder, who can help? Does anyone see? And when the grip on why people believe in God at all begins to become too heavy to sustain grasp, and faith erodes and slips away... is there anyone there? Anyone persistent enough? Anyone unshockable enough? Anyone with any time? Anyone with whom one would want to speak?

What is the purpose of a church if not partially to sustain the weary and celebrate with the joyous?

I remember asking questions and having people be worried when I asked them, and maybe I just imagined them making some space between themselves and I. I was in my 20's. I remember asking a woman that if every good gift was from above, why couldn't I marry my Jewish boyfriend? She gracious admitted to not having an answer. I appreciated her honesty.

More recently I have met the unflappable. I appreciate them very much. I was struggling with understanding why God would have created evil, if he indeed created everything. Her answer was subtle, but I could tell my line of questioning didn't cause her any panic whatsoever.

I know that God is ok with wrestling, even if it weirds other people out. I do wish church felt like a safe place to wrestle more often than it does. I wish many things about church.

Recently a person in our meeting spoke out saying that anxiety was due to a lack of faith. A double punch. The misery of anxiety and an indictment that it is your own fault. I did not hear Jesus' voice in that. But such is the way of community and congregation.

For my own, I accept that the purpose of church is very humble. It is merely carving a space and time to show up. And the best and highest use of that time, and the time after that is just to be a good thing to those around you who need it. It is being available. I think every faithful follower must get to a point where attendance is just obedience. And really, for me that hasn't been a bad starting point.

How to choose a good husband

So lately I have this hare-brained idea that I should just write a friggin book on how to choose a husband. Based on experience? I don't know, whatever, forget it.

The only thing I can thing to say though is this:

You cannot train a husband like you train a dog. Forget that idea.

You cannot do anything about these things: 1. his past. 2. his family 3.his future

And there are probably more things in there too. The fact is, his past can bring difficulty to the present. His future, which you also cannot do anything about, may bring difficulty. So for example, if his a person he is close to dies, and he changes into a different person after this, you can do nothing about this.

I begin to understand why Paul told us not to marry. Yes, Paul the apostle speaks and I listen.

And with that said, if he decides Paul the apostle was a charlatan, and so was the Messiah, there is little to be done there either. And you are still married to him.

And if you have kids, they will need a father. And no matter how great the trial, there are other people involved who are relying on you.

And so is there any situation that can more thoroughly make you throw your hands up and admit "My boundaries are crossed, my rules broken, my wishes gone, my dreams in shreds..." and still I am married. And my babes need a papa.

Now do you need God? Yes, you do.

And so, in terms of picking a husband, there are obvious requirements. And they can get pretty detailed. But in the end, you will most likely have to let go of them all. Oh, I hope I am not sounding like a jaded, war-weary, battleaxe. But truth is, marriage is often an improbable arrangement. I am happy for the ones with worries like shoes that pinch, sibling rivalry (which can cause insanity), or terminal giving without appreciation (it can happen). Women are often wired to want children. It is like a super-power we cannot resist trying out.

But be aware, there are so many things you cannot anticipate, so many things which we do not get to control, best be realistic and lay that wager on a generous serving of "hope" and "God Willing"

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Eat. This is good winter fare for the beefeater.

Richard’s Beef Burgundy

This is a super beefy, hearty and um really incredibly yummy meal. It came from my stepfather Richard, who knows his ways around a delicious meat and potatoes meal. He has good taste. I think it would be good served over some egg noodles. It makes a lot and is the perfect use of a nicely trimmed chuck steak. (of large size) It is homegrown variation on the beef burgundy of the Julia Child variety. This recipe is just real ingredients prepared the way that really make them shine. Enjoy. It is really a great dish for cold weather.


3 lbs of Chuck Roast cut into 1 ½ inch pieces
2.5 T of olive oil
1/3 cup flour
14 oz. beef broth
1.5 cup Burgundy wine
2 T tomato paste (I have substituted tomato sauce in a higher quantity without bad results)
4 cloves of garlic (which is just a starting point, really?)
4 Bay Leaves (which I never have and so I use other things like Thyme)
1 t. salt (garlic salt perhaps?)
1 t. thyme
2 lbs small new potatoes (I admit I just cut up a couple russets)
1 lb carrots
8-10 small boiling onions
½ lb. medium sized fresh mushrooms
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

Now, I have mentioned a couple of my substitutions and I will just mention a couple more. I completely forgot the mushrooms and no one died, but I think they would really lend another important flavor/texture to the mix here. I used dried parsley, and for the boiling onions, I minced couple of the medium sized yellow onions and it was all good.

In a Dutch oven, heat the oil on medium/high and add meat and sear.

Remove the meat. Sprinkle flour over drippings. Stir in wine, broth and tomato paste, whisk smooth. Boil and then reduce to low and add garlic, and all seasonings (thyme, bay leaf, salt) and then the meat.

Simmer tightly cover for 1 hour and 45 minutes or until the beef is tender. At the potatoes, carrots and onions and cover again and cook for another 45 minutes.

Stir in the mushrooms and simmer while you make up some noodles.

Sprinkle with the fresh parsley as you serve it.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Phone message

A sort of backdrop of sadness, loss as a year passes.

And you got a phone call today! From Sweetwater Sound.

I am sure the guy didn't know why I was quiet. Your sister is doing well, all things considered. She is throwing her muscle behind her academics, coming up with high achievement.

Your baby sisters still ask about you, the answers are never very easy. I wish you were adjusting to a dorm room, counting your scholarship money, and feeling the achievement that college can bring (as well as Friday nights in the library).

Ugh, I am sure you are someplace easier than where you were the night you left, but you are missed.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Inherent talent vs. sustained hard work

He wrote me the tabs to the song and I used his guitar to try to play them over and over. He was in the other room and I was really self conscious as I practiced the words in Russian that he had written down, and as I tried to get my fingers to do as he had shown me. See, he had just completed his first album, and now he was showing me how to play this Russian folk song on a guitar. I had been practicing guitar in the ample free time I had in my komnata there in Saratov Russia. Maybe he thought I was more practiced than I was, or maybe more talented than I was.

I liked being behind the guitar, I liked reading and singing the Russian folk song, I liked feeling like I might get this, if I practice long enough... I didn't like continually goofing up in front of my new musician friend.

It was St. Petersburg, 1997. He had just turned his hair purple and completed a record. I was at the end of my time in Russia. I had spent a year and a half drinking tea with women 2 times my age. To me, a person my age who made music and lived in St. Petersburg was somewhat novel. Ok, I will admit it, I was happy to finally be with someone my age who was cool.

It was white nights, a time when the sun never actually sets, lending to the whole experience a surreality. I lost an important ring. I explored St. Petes on my own sometimes. Traveling alone is a topic for another time.

It was there that the question first came up.

Should you bother to do it if you don't have a natural talent for it? I mean, can you say you do anything if really, you aren't 100% (or even 90%) confident that you can do it pretty well? Isn't there any room for the tinkerer? Sometimes, it felt, in Russia anyway, that you perhaps best not mention your interests lest you were ready to demonstrate.

I have a friend who is beautiful. And her parents raised her so well. She sings. And her singing is beautiful, not because it is perfect, but because it is sung with her heart. And to me, it is that heart that makes things beautiful and perfect. Maybe it is because she is gifted to make people feel loved, maybe it is the life she lives as a Christ follower, not back-biting or 2-faced, not hypocritical or self interested, but just really filled with love for people. Her song is the best to me.

The question reasserted itself time and time again. I realized that it lived in all the people I traveled with to Ecuador who were trying to learn Spanish, amidst others in the group who poked fun.

Should you bother to do it if you don't have a natural talent for it?

And if I wanted to escape it, I went into the wrong profession. Teaching.

Should I bother to do it if I don't have a natural talent for it?

Ok, I admit it, no. No. No, I don't have a natural talent for it. But I plead...
Look, I can do this, I will work very hard and I won't ever give up. I will do the best I can I will work so hard. I will be gentle, kind, encouraging, patient. Watch, I will do all the things no one ever thought I could. Because it is that important to me. I want this.

And after so many years of teaching, I can honestly say, yes, I am a good teacher. Because I have the heart. I have managed to translate that heart into every interaction with students to know what they need, and when I don't I, by default, encourage.

Somewhere else, there is Beethoven, Mozart and every savant with an affinity for something that ever was. Playing chess, speaking to each other in prime numbers, or maybe with colors. Everyone given a tremendous talent. Everyone who is really good at something, anything. They are there. With their talent. And probably an angst or two.

And the rest of us are over here, trying very hard to figure out either what we are good at, or, if in a world with people dying of hunger, if we are permitted to do what we would love to do every day if we were in heaven.

And what if what we do isn't what we are good at? And what if what we are good at isn't something we love?

For example, I am really good at making snarky jokes, being a bit cynical. But I am also good at seeing good stuff in people, encouraging them and I can be articulate. I am a good learner when it's important to me, and I work hard at what I have decided to do. But was I born to teach? Born to be a musician? Born to speak words of wisdom to folks? I dunno, I have to believe that if a person deeply wants to cultivate some ability, they can do so.

So the question is, what is more important, what is inherently in a person as something they are just born with, or a lifetime devoted to crafting and cultivating talents or characteristics that match their values? just curious...

Should you bother to do it if you don't have a natural talent for it?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


There was an argument in my head over the stone that was, in my mind thoughtlessly placed on her grave. Her son, my father, had chosen dice to put on the stone. It was, I suppose reflective of the way he viewed things. But I couldn't help thinking it looked like gram was a gambler or crapshooter.

The Grandma I knew was 20 to 30 years older than I am now. What I remember are her wrinkly pudgy fingers dirty from working in the garden cleaning up a collander full of green beans. I remember goats milk yogurt drunk with trepidation and secretly enjoyed for its milky sweetness with strawberries. I remember the glasses of wine, the endless games with the backgammon board and the John Deere tractor which she rode all over her property as she kept things clean. Chicken coops that seemed mysterious and ordinary all at once. Chicken wire which I clung too as a toddler and the creek with all its multicolored stones at the bottom.

And now I see other things too, my own love for gardening as its own escape. I see the farmers my family were. I see what a farmer is, someone who doesn't give up easily, knows the entire landscape of human emotion by glaring it in the eye with each waking day's coffee, or crawling into ones pillow at night.

I remember the smells, oh the smells of her farm house. Strongest of cats, then some indescribable earthy smells, fire smoke, hard water, dirt and bacon.

More recently I remember trying to build friendships at a university, in a ladies group starting off by describing their grandmothers. By the time the 5th girl described her grandmother, I was wishing I could either slowly be swallowed by my easy chair. I also wondered how conspicuous I would be if I ran out. I considered lying. Not out of shame, mind you, more of feeling like I had fallen in with a group of fine young ladies whose grandma's were worlds apart from my own. I didn't want to stick out, but I didn't want to lie, either.

Their grandmothers reminding them to keep their knees together in church by saying "Close your bible book!" contrasted sharply with my sweet granny who was scolded by a pastor for not wearing dresses to their small town church. I don't believe she owned a dress. To say nothing of him asking her not to come back till she quit smoking.

Or the time she ran her car into the smoke shack.

Or I could have told them, in retrospect about how grandma started following Christ when she was about 80. Or that she lived in the South Pacific with her family for a time. Or about the owls around her house.

One must mention her raising 4 kids, as well as 2 of her grandchildren. I can only imagine as an only child, it wasn't what she had anticipated.

Their grandmothers with lacy aprons baking something light and fluffy and scrumptious, mine with hands in the soil and cooking. I do think of her really as a very rustic Martha Stewart, actually.

I wish I could catalog all the stories of grandma, because they are wonderful. She was a true character. In her latest years she never stopped, receiving awards for her letter writing campaigns to begin veteran's history projects and revamping forgotten sacred lands.

I remember kissing her felt just like I imagined kissing Yoda would be like. Sorry gram, but each one of those kisses I anticipated such.

And when my turn came to describe grandma, I didn't chicken out, I told them that my grandma wore coveralls and rode around on a John Deere tractor and probably secretly wished that someone else would "weedeat the crick" (and sometimes not so secretly). But truthfully, I didn't go back.

When she died, her main entertainment was the birdfeeders outside her window. She loved, no, she lerved the birds and would make all varieties of suet and hummingbird food for them.

I remember as a very little girl her house seemed filled with secret stashes of Prang watercolors and coloring books and blank paper screaming to be drawn on. And strange interesting books and photo albums. As a little girl, I loved her sort of dirty but exotic seeming house. It just seemed to contain a million benevolent secrets.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Things I seldom think about: Women in church

Because I was not raised in a church, I don't have all that baggage goodness of understanding roles that women play in the church.

I have felt at times that I wasn't particularly good at "staying in line" in the context of what a "female role" was in church, but I was a pretty lousy "renegade" too.

Truth be told, I seldom thought about it.

But lately, there are so many different things coming at me about prescribed places women belong, and men too, that I never even realized existed. I am meeting intelligent people who have interesting stories to tell about where they bumped up against the edges of what was expected and came away a little flounced, and maybe surprised. And perhaps a feeling a bit turned out.

Like the married couple youth pastor team who had difficulty explaining to a pastoral staff that they worked together as a team and needed to each pull a wage.

Apparently the pastoral staff that the wife came for free, maybe with a plate of cookies.

And the young woman who has observed throughout her life the gentle nudging off the platform of female deacons and elders. Why didn't they get to serve?

And the man who can find no purchase within ministry at churches, carrying a message that it is men's job to help their wives realize their life goals (oh! I LOVE this!).

And things that I haven't thought much about arise in realizing "oh, yes, I guess they are there," and I have never very well played into the role of abiding female, have I? or have I? Maybe I have played into it more than I even realize.

Drowning in Love notes...

Fingers click clacked the letters urgently. The white paper set intrepidly by the keyboard and the soft eyes looking, waiting so quietly for the click clacking to stop, and the realization to set in. Focused deeply on a task, the click clacker doesn't realize what the blue eyes are patiently waiting for.

Realization of a love note.

There are times in life when you have to let go of precious things, things that you wanted and thought would be normal for you. Dreams deferred, deep sorrow, caring for people who need a person there to catch them.

And then there is that one little persistent beam of hope. somewhere. it just won't go out, it won't stop shining, it won't stop being beautiful, it won't stop being just whatever it is.

for the past i am not sure how long now, I have been receiving weekly love letters from my oldest daughter.

to tell you the truth, when she began writing them with some regularity, after i was overwhelmed with the sweetness that caused her to write them, and when she kept writing them i started to wonder why? and began to imagine that i had some how messed her up in a way that caused her to write a bunch of love letters to me.

I want to pause on that for just a second... wouldn't it be great if we could somehow parent in such a way that made our kids adore us? Ah... an impossible dream.

But as they came daily, I began to get overwhelmed "I love you! don't forget! I LOVE YOU!!!" I wish more people wrote love letters as prolifically as she. Would we all be so bedraggled then?

She is persistent. It has been months. I must have received upwards of 50 love letters from her. They are all over my desk, shoved in my bible, shoved in notebooks, used as book marks, in between recipes, taped in random places around the house... wherever you go around my house, you are likely to find a love letter.

I am no longer fearful that I somehow messed her up and the outcome is love letters. I must be very careful to cherish each one, as she observes carefully what I do with them.

She will say, "You just set it down, don't you like it?"

and I will stop what I am doing and look at her, and take her pink pillow cheeks in my hand and say "Are you kidding? Whenever I get one of your love notes, it's like God is using you to tell me how much he loves me. He loves me so much that he gave me a daughter that writes me love notes every day. They are the BEST part of my day,"

Then she perhaps has gotten exactly what she wanted from writing that love note, and we are all happy.

Lately, when i tell her that i love her too, she tells me "I love you more!"

I could post a few here, but for now, it has been wonderful just to meditate on being drowned in love letters. I hope it is an experience that everyone gets to have at least once in their lives.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The call to profession

I am truly grateful that in my family, one was really strongly encouraged to find a direction in life that would sustain one financially. Being a writer, a poet, an artist, a dramatic artist, an anthropologist, a naturopath... ahhh nah. Be an engineer.

Never mind, I didn't become an engineer, but I did obediently find a path somehow, that would keep me from being dependent on someone else. And THAT is a really important thing for a young female. And to my complete surprise, and what seems like completely by accident, I have a solid amount of education and experience under my belt anymore, I am finally discovering that elusive thing I couldn't find when I was younger: confidence.

My daughters, I don't think, will know this problem. They seem to have the confidence of a tsunami.

In retrospect, I realize I could have become anything, a nurse, a weigh station attendant (why does this profession fascinate me?), a waitress and even an anthropologist or a writer.

But at certain age, one might look at the career that they have ended up in and start thinking a little Parker Palmer, is this what I was meant to do?

I have. no. clue.

Do I know a lot about it? Yes. Am I knowledgeable and trained in my profession, oh heavens yes. And then some.

Do I feel like I am good at it? What measures that? Do I seem to be doing well at it? I have no idea. Am I doing something good? Ugh. How can one know?

I have landed as a teacher. For many years now! I think one comment from an immature friend who was great fun to be around, a comment which peeked out someone much more in step with what was important than what he usually portrayed, made a big difference:

If it will make me a better dad, than it will all have been worth it.

When he said that, I realized he had spoken something true and important, and at the time I had no kids much less marriage prospects on the horizon. If it would make me a better mom, it will be worth it.

My husband says, if you love it, these questions will go away. Because you love it so much you will inevitably become good at it. It might be true.

But sometimes I wonder why the notion that I would be a good teacher at all would ever occur to me? I am snarky, irreverent and come from a family who is selfish, arrogant and well, selfish (like me, at times).

I remember: I thought, I will learn much much much. And it is true. I have learned much. But I want to be a Very Good something or other. I am not sure if I will get there with teaching, because teaching takes something like an amazing personality or a tremendous mind blowing amount of wisdom like Yoda . I haven't found an educational program yet that will give me either of these things(maybe I should go back to The Evergreen State College, I bet they have a program to become Jedi Master).

Truth is, Great Teachers have something Special. A Confidence. A tremendous amount of knowledge, an ability to articulate and a fortitude to do so. And love, but half of that I have covered. Really, I do.

Except that, I feel like I have always been taught and reminded to keep my mouth SHUT.

How is one supposed to do all these things at once?

Once a student told me I had missed my calling, that I should become a photographer. I buckled inside. Who me? An artistic endeavor?

But that would go against EVERYTHING I HAD LEARNED.

I would love it, though. But for some reason I had learned that I was to be the weigh station attendant, not the career anyone feels born into, the one that you did because you could, and it served the purpose.

And truly, first world problems, anyone? That's what this pondering is, and I know it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Service. It's not easy.

In reading Mother Teresa some years ago, I remember she told her new helpers that all the people that came to the Home for the Dying were "Christ in his most distressing disguise,". That is to say, that the help and comfort that they were giving to people that arrived at the home were to be treated as though they were Christ. She went on to describe people stuck in sewers whose open wounds had attracted all varieties of nasty things, and for the sisters of Charity, those people were their opportunity to show love to Christ.

This all spoke to me.

Service is hard. Even when you are not taking care of people abandoned in death, it is hard. Taking care of the living is messy, hard.

Even if we get over ourselves enough to give a few hours of the week, there are challenges we never anticipated. People who take advantage of charity. People who somehow seem to know our weaknesses and go right at them. People who lack any gratitude, but rather complain about the quality of what they receive. People who ask much more than we are able to give.

It is enough to make almost anyone just quit.

And so?

My husband does a ministry he loves. It is the wood ministry. He delivers wood to people who need heat for the winter. He brings the kids, they make friends. It is altogether a good thing. He also makes coffee for a group who meet to worship and learn. He realized later he did have hopes of what might have come of these service ops, but they never manifested. Of course he doesn't stop. He loves to be useful.

My own work in service has been messier. It has played on personal weaknesses, have felt taken too far in what I could give. Life lesson? Boundaries, and perhaps a dusting of not guilting myself to give more than I could, because the end of that was quitting.

Where am I going with this? Am I saying it is better we don't serve unless we are good at it? I am not ready to say that.

I have heard that doesn't call us only if we are ready (or equipped), rather that he makes ready (or equipped) those he calls. So I wait. Equip me, please.

Service is not easy. Even harder when what lands in our lap is exactly going to need us to be strong where we are weak.

And when our "confidants" point out "Well the problem is that you are weak in this area," OH! Thank you, I was hoping someone would come along to offer some criticism.

My point is, at some point service will likely become hard. Maybe even too hard. Ministry work is not messing around stuff, your boundaries will be crossed, your anger may be activated and the areas of weakness in your character will be exposed. What is the use then?

Well, then I supppose one might ask themselves then "Why am I doing this?"

Is it because it makes me feel magnanimous?
I want to be redeemed for my faults to do something good?
Because I have nothing much more to do?
Because I feel guilty about something?
Because I want to do good?
Because I want to give back for what I have received?
Because I feel like I ought to?

Figuring out why to pursue doing things which are hard, painful, unpleasant is an important thing too, the motivation to service is really relevant, it will determine one's level of commitment for when things get hard, unpleasant, messy or inconvenient. And service-related work will eventually get at least one or more of those things.

But if one finds the enduring reason (for me, it is the example Christ set), then maybe in going through those times when one feels insulted, diminished and undervalued (by one's own perception) might bring some good wisdom, humility, honesty and reality to one's life.

Perhaps? Didn't Jesus get all that stuff too? Didn't St. Francis tell us to consider ourselves blessed in persecution because of our faith? Uh. Hard truths.

file this under: things I am still working on.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Perpetually hacked

For almost 7 years now I have published at

I am happy with the work I have done there, I see quite a change in the person that started that blog to the person who writes this today.

But is perpetually hacked these days. We have tried many things to undo this, fix and repair and amend and deal with it, and none of it sticks. Eventually it gets hacked again.

So I have given up I might try to print that blog and just start afresh here anyway, it had its run, it has taken me from the mom of one infant to the mom of 2 and erstwhile mom of a young lady.

I changed towns since beginning chezwhat, changed houses and a couple times changed jobs. So I still have so many things to write about, and now I am just going to write them all out here.

Welcome. Kick your feet up and perhaps at some point something I write will make you think or at least go "awww" when I put up the pictures of my extremely beautiful girls.