Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A few verses for Chardon...

"My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death," he said to them, "Stay here and keep watch." (Mark 14:34) "I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart." (Romans 9:2) "Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?" (Jeremiah 20:18) "How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?" (Psalm 13:2)

"...and those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing, everlasting joy will crown their heads.  Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away." Isaiah 35:10

"a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance." - Ecclesiastes 3:4

"For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning... You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart my sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever." - Psalm 30:5, 10-12

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Praying for Enemies

The psalms are filled with great messages of praise and worship, of love and adoration, fear and awe, woe and lament.  They are also filled with pleas to dump burning coals on enemies' heads, to throw enemies into miry pits.  In as many words, the psalmist wants his enemies to burn in hell.

I wouldn't bring it up if it happened, you know, once or twice.  Everyone gets angry at her enemies now and then.  But this is a reoccurring theme - over and over, the psalmist says silence my enemies, destroy all my foes.  Granted, the psalmist in many of these cases is David, who spent a good part of his life literally running from his enemies, trying to avoid being killed by the king.

As I read through the psalms, every time I come to a verse or psalm about pulverizing my foes, I think to myself, oh boy, here we go again, slay my enemies, destroy my pursuers, burn the evildoers, bury the slanderers, yadda yadda yadda. And then the psalmist says, "But, me, God, well, I am upright and holy and righteous and amazing, so protect me and be near me."

I can be critical of this, but let's be honest.  We do this all. the. time.  Maybe not in public, but between friends and in our heads, we grumble and mutter curses on the people that drive us crazy.

Rather than roll my eyes at the psalmist and his regular return to complaining about his enemies, I want to keep reading to see how the psalmist deals with his anger, frustration, and fear, and what God does for him through these laments.

It's refreshing to know that God permits us to gripe about our enemies to him, to plea for them to be removed from our lives, and to protect us from our enemies.  In the gospels, Jesus pushes the issue even further and calls us to do something entirely other-worldly - love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us.  Prayer is absolutely necessary if we're going to try to love our enemies, and the psalmist models the mode by which we can communicate these things to God.

God might not send your enemies into a miry pit, and he might not change your circumstances, but there's a good chance that by unloading all of your anger, impatience, frustration, and concern at his feet, you'll make room for him to change your heart and give you peace, even in the battle, and maybe some discernment, wisdom, perspective, and eventually, love, to deal well with your enemies.

"Lord, hear my prayer,
listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
come to my relief.

Do not bring your servant into judgment,
for no one living is righteous before you.

The enemy pursues me,
he crushes me to the ground;
he makes me dwell in the darkness
like those long dead.

So my spirit grows faint within me;
my heart within me is dismayed.

I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
and consider what your hands have done.

I spread out my hands to you;
I thirst for you like a parched land.

Answer me quickly, Lord; my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
or I will be like those who go down to the pit.

Let the morning bring me
word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.

Rescue me from my enemies,
Lord, for I hide myself in you.

Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.

For your name's sake, Lord,
preserve my life;
in your righteousness,
bring me out of trouble.

In your unfailing love,
silence my enemies;
destroy all my foes,
for I am your servant.
- Psalm 143

Friday, February 24, 2012

Family Research and Writing

For the last few months, I've been working on researching what life was like in Geauga County during the mid-1800s for an essay I'm trying to write. For some reason, I'm having a hard time with this.  There are definitely resources out there, detailed ones, about life in the 1850s, but when I try to imagine life then, I tend to default to Little House on the Prairie.  I've known for a long time that my parents' house was built in 1844, if not earlier, and yet all this time I've been imagining people settling in Geauga County and building little lean-to's and ramshackle shacks to live in... not the solid, two-story, more-than-a-century homes that still stand today.

My imagination can't seem to allow for any kind of transition between wilderness without roads or pathways and settlements.  I can reach out and imagine being the first to arrive in a place, or one of five original settlers, and I can imagine coming once a lot has been established, but what was it like to be the 20th family to arrive?  Did half a dozen friends or brothers or relatives decide to launch out and settle in one area of the county and then bring their families once things were settled, or were there lots of individual pioneers, setting out to make something for themselves, alone?  And when five or six fellas finally put down roots and rolled out logs for their homes, how did they receive newcomers?  Did they invite the boys from back east to join them?  Were they all strangers? 

And what drove people west (or midwest) anyway?  How did they decide to leave their familial roots in pursuit of more farmland, more wilderness?  Did they leave family behind, like we do today, in order to find wealth and success elsewhere?

These are the sorts of questions I keep stumbling over, because I haven't found any real answers yet, at least not about this particular family line.  I have names and birth dates, weddings, deaths, and I have the names of towns they left and approximate dates they arrived, but all I have for answers as to motive is hypotheses.  I don't know if that's enough to write on - I might just have to guess, develop theories for reasons they left, what they found alluring about this region, what they left behind.  And own up to the guesswork. 

When I start trying to write about these people, though, I get caught up in the details, afraid to misrepresent a date or intention, afraid to read too far between the lines.  Their mom and dad passing away a year before they left New York might not have anything to do with their decision to move to Ohio.  Just because I can only find one other brother's name doesn't necessarily mean that was the only one he had.  Just because they had babies late in their marriage might not mean they had trouble conceiving.  These are all my own conjectures. I'm using my personal experience as a lens through which to interpret their lives, assuming that because we're family, we might have shared these same kinds of experiences, thoughts, and ideas. 

But we're family.  The shape of my nose and bone structure of my face aren't the only things that have been passed down from generation to generation. Unless there's some significant effort to deviate from what came before, some dissent or disagreement, some major conflict or culture shift, there's a good chance that the beliefs and values I possess were handed down to me from my parents' parents' parents' parents.  So is it that far off to assume my great-great-great grandmother might have responded a certain way because that's how I might respond? 

These are the dangers about writing about people who are dead.  They aren't here to clear up the story.  That's also the freedom of it.  They aren't here to protest my theories.  And writing about people who are living... well, you are certain to only get them in one, maybe two, dimensions, and all through the lens of personal bias and perspective.  This portrayal of family is only family as I see it, not necessarily as my brothers might see it, or my grandfather, or my great-great-great grandmother.  Which is why it's personal essay, personal memoir.  Family and familial roots are important to me, so I want to write about it.

It's just so dang hard. :)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Whole 30 Day 30... DONE!

That's riiiight - we made it through all thirty days of no grain, sugar, dairy, alcohol, or beans. And survived! Brandon officially dropped 15 pounds, and I'm hovering around 7 pounds off.  What's more important, though, is that we feel pretty fantastic.  I have already elaborated about how this diet has improved our wellbeing, so I won't go into detail again. 

Moving forward, I don't see us going back to the way we ate before.  I didn't expect to say this, but I think this diet has "revolutionized" the way we eat and think about food.  We plan to continue eating according to the Paleo diet, which means googling "paleo + chicken..." "paleo + fish..." etc. in order to get some real good recipes, and sticking to a natural diet.  There are also a lot of blogs I've stumbled upon that have some darn good recipes.

Now that we're through with the very restrictive, it's time to start introducing some elements that we eliminated in order to see how our bodies react.  We already know about soy for BW.  I'm curious to see how his body responds to dairy in particular, and then gluten.  My main goal personally is to not let sugar take hold again, and to continue cooking meat and vegetable based meals, with the occasional grain, instead of the other way around.  I also want to continue being aware of what additives are in my food, and avoid them.  As much as possible.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Today, I Wrote a Blog

This has been one really productive week at work.  I left today with lots of check marks on my to-do list.  I love lists - especially when I get to cross stuff off of 'em.

By this time each night, though, I am just plain shot.  I've been staring at this blog post for about thirty minutes and you can see how far I've gotten.

Henry has been waking up around midnight every night for about an hour and a half, for about the last week, and I end up staring at those blinking lights on his monitor until he finally goes back to sleep, and then I think that I hear him crying when he isn't.  Wee!  He finally slept through again last night, so maybe we're back on track.

On the food front, we wanted to go to a basketball game last night and I need to grocery shop this weekend, which means there's mmm, eggs, cabbage, ground beef, and spinach.  Yeah.  We're five days away from the end of the Whole 30 plan, but we decided to break the rules and order pizza.  I thought it might taste good, but even getting the good pizza that we like so much didn't matter.  All of that cheese and grease and bread... blah.  Not good.  On the plus side, we now know that the habits and tastes we've adopted the last three weeks are going to stick.  What isn't sticking is weight :) 

Okay, I give up.  This is a lame, lame, lame excuse for a blog entry.  And now, Biggest Loser. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Whole 30 Day 14 - Simplicity

Brandon and I went out to dinner and line dancing Friday night. It was our first date night since before New Year's, I think, and also our first night out on the Whole 30 Challenge.  We've been Googling every restaurant and fast food place's menu and nutritional information, trying to determine what we can and cannot order when we're away from home, and there's a lot of items in the "cannot order" category.  The more we read, the more disgusted we've become with what companies do to food in order to "enhance" flavor and color, "preserve" it longer, and make it cheaper.  It's no wonder we're all so fat and sick.

We decided to go to Brown Derby Roadhouse in Medina because generally steak, sweet potatoes, and veggies are Whole 30 approved.  After an unfortunate Chipotle incident, we found out that Brandon is really sensitive to soy, so we asked the waitress if they had a nutritional information menu, or allergens menu.  They didn't, but by some great coincidence, the waitress has a daughter who is allergic to nearly everything, so she took great care to make sure our food was prepared without butter, soy, gluten, etc. She was awesome, and so was our food.

Besides our dining out adventure, the initial battle against cravings and habits has subsided a bit.  We even pulled off a Whole 30 Super Bowl, complete with chicken wings, guacamole, shrimp cocktail, and kale chips.  I'm also feeling less bewildered at what to prepare for each meal.  It helps that everything simply tastes better.  Fresh fruits and vegetables and meat, prepared simply with some herbs and spices, and voila! Delicious.

Simplicity is the topic of the week here.  Our small group is studying the spiritual disciplines, and this week is simplicity.  This diet aligns itself with the concept of simplicity-- cutting out all of the fillers that can be bad for us-- but there are other ways we've wanted to focus on simplicity this week, and there are plenty of them.  Brandon is very good at letting go of things, so he did a round with the kids' clothes and toys, and our own clothes and objects in the house, to decide what we need and what we can give away.  It's amazing how much stuff we accumulate.

One of my objectives for this week is to track how I spend my time, with the hopes of finding more of it for things like writing and studying.  My plan is to take that analysis and devise a "time budget" for each week.

But the element that I feel has been most on my mind is buying stuff.  I am amazed by the number of times the phrase, "I really need to buy..." runs through my head in a given day.  From towels to jeans to lamps to candles, when I think I "need" something, I've grown accustomed to just going out and buying it.  The spiritual discipline of simplicity questions that impulse and habit.  Do I really need another pair of jeans?  Do I really need another lamp to match the lamp on my nightstand?  Having been made aware of this addiction to buying stuff, I find myself cutting off the thought, "I need to buy..." and asking instead, "Really?"

This sort of discipline will hopefully open up more space to be content with both the food we eat and the stuff we have, rather than desperately chasing every impulse and desire. 

"But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that." (1 Tim. 6:8)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

My 30th Year: Read Ten Books

I've been thinking about my thirtieth year list and looking at the growing stack of books I'd like to read in 2012. Rather than get discouraged, I've decided to identify ten books I plan to read in 2012. When I finish one, I think I'll try my hand at reviewing it on here.

In some ways, ten books feels like a modest goal. I love to read, after all, and ten books in 365 days sounds like a breeze to me... until I think about my kids and job and husband and making dinner and sleep and exercise.  Then I chuckle and reshelve the books.

SO, to keep focused, here are the ten books I aspire to read this year, in no particular order:

Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard J. Foster.  This is one we're reading for small group-- working through a series of spiritual disciplines, one by one each week.  I like it for its practicality and application.  We're about four chapters into the book.  It might not be fair to count this as one of the ten, but eh, who's making the rules here anyway?

The Best Spiritual Writing 2012, edited by Philip Zaleski.  This is a carry-over from 2011 (also shouldn't be counted...) that I'm about half-way through.  There are many great poems and essays in this collection, all offering something to contemplate as I go about my day.

Bring Down the Little Birds: On Mothering, Art, Work, and Everything Else by Carmen Gimenez Smith.  Carmen is on the faculty at Ashland, and I have been wanting to read this little memoir for a year now.

A Double Life by Lisa Catherine Harper.  This book won the 2010 River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Book Prize, and again, I've been wanting to read it since it was selected.  It was also a 2012 National Book Critics Circle Best of the Small Presses Selection.

Townie by Andre Dubus III.  Andre Dubus is coming to Ashland this summer for our residency, and this is his most recent book.

Half the House by Richard Hoffman.  Hoffman was published in River Teeth recently, and he's also coming to Ashland, this spring. 

Mountains of Light: Seasons of Reflection in Yosemite by R. Mark Liebenow.  Liebenow was the 2011 River Teeth Book Prize winner, so there you go.

Beautiful and Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry  by David Orr.  This one was given to me by Joe Mackall and I just love the title.

Young of the Year by Sydney Lea.  This is a collection of poems by a poet I admire.

Space, In Chains by Laura Kasischke.  Another collection of poems.  She is coming this summer to Ashland too.

Coral Road Poems by Garrett Hongo.  Also coming to AU (coming to a theatre near you?) this summer.

Since the last three are collections of poems, and I'm cheating by including two books I had already started in 2011, here are two page-through-as-I-can books, and one book I'd like to re-read:

All the Fun's in How You Say a Thing: An Explanation of Meter and Versification by Timothy Steele.  This guy really excites me, even though I'm sure 99.99% of you are saying, "seriously? versification?" But I loved Tim's poetry at Key West and at West Chester, and while this is textbook-y, I am certain it will be the sort of thing that I can use in my writer's toolbox.  So there you have it.

The Best American Essays 2011, edited by Robert Atwan (series editor).  I mostly want to read this so I know what essays are being considered the "best" so I can aspire to that level of writing.  Also, Bob Atwan is going to be at AU in May for the River Teeth Nonfiction Conference.

Ah, and I just thought of another book I'd like to read this year (do you see how this is a problem for me???) - Bonnie Rough's Carrier.  I might slip it in place of Liebenow's book in the top ten and get to Liebenow if I finish the top ten.

Finally, the re-read.  I read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis back in high school and would love to revisit it.

Alrighty.  You'll know if I'm making progress on this list if I actually report back on the books.  I'm excited to have a goal, even if it seems like a weak one.  Maybe I'll surprise myself and finish ten books by July.  I just laughed out loud, so don't hold your breath.

P.S. An obvious trend I'm sure you noticed: most of these books are work-related texts.  Fortunately for me, my job is literature centered, so reading for work doesn't involve instruction manuals or operating manuals.