Three Men and a Crazy Lady

Memory Monday – Turkey, Part 2

The Concierge at the Hotel Sur was friendly but seemed a little bit bemused by the presence of this tall American who claimed to be from England, traveling all by herself, who had landed in his small lobby. He seemed even more taken aback when I asked if there were any safe places for me to walk around, as it was still early evening and light out, and if there was an inexpensive restaurant where I could get supper and not be bothered. Like the good Concierge he was, he had a satisfactory answer to both of these questions, but it dawned on me later that he might have been wondering why, if I really were as modest and concerned for my personal virtue as I seemed, I was visiting Turkey by myself in the first place.

I put my luggage in the really quite decent room which was to be mine for the next two nights, locked everything up tight, and sallied forth into the early evening sunshine. The area around the Blue Mosque was public and peopled and the mosque itself was breathtaking, so I walked up the hill and began to circumnavigate it.

The Blue Mosque

I made it around the first two sides with no issues, but as I rounded the corner of the third, a guy approached me. I mean, he walked right up to me, instead of calling out like the other vendors were doing. I don’t even remember what he said at first, but I have never been good at dissembling . . . or just telling people to beat it . . . so we ended up having quite a conversation there on the sidewalk, a bunch of other men looking on. He wanted to know if I wanted to buy a carpet. I said I would love to buy a carpet, but I didn’t actually have any money–I just wanted to see Istanbul. He could tell I was American. He was married to an American himself, he said. She was a redhead. They had two boys. He talked to me like this for a while. Then we said goodbye and he said to look him up if I changed my mind about a carpet. I laughed and said I would, and made my way to the restaurant the Concierge had recommended. It was a good restaurant. I had brought a book and so I sat there reading over my dinner and glancing up from time to time as the sun set over the Sea of Marmara. This vacation could be great. It was starting to get dark by the time I left, but seriously, it was only a five minute walk, and I was accustomed to tramping around East London by myself past 11 o’clock at night, so I wasn’t too worried.

The next day was as beautiful as the first. I had breakfast on the roof of the hotel and then set off to explore. I wanted to go into the Blue Mosque because it was impressive, and the Grand Bazaar because it was famous, but most of all I wanted to see Ayasofya because even then church history and theology fascinated me, and Ayasofya was linked to such an old part of it.

Ayasofia - the Basilica of Holy Wisdom

Ayasofya – the Basilica of Holy Wisdom and minarets

Some other young women tourists at the hotel were chatting to each other at breakfast about catching some of the night life in Taksim, and I wished I knew someone in Istanbul so I could go to places like Taksim and see some night life without becoming a casualty of it. As it was, I was probably going to be stuck in my hotel room reading a book. But never mind. It was a nice day. I sallied forth.

It was as I was leaving the Blue Mosque that things started to get a little strange. First of all, a man started following me. Did I want to buy a carpet? I gave him the same line I had given Married-to-an-American-Redhead the evening before, but this guy, lacking an American wife already evidently, was not to be put off so easily. After a little back and forth, he asked if he could take me to that cafe over there, see, with the tables outside, and buy me an orange juice?

I guess the fact that I was about to turn 30 and had never dated anyone, and also was getting ready to leave London, a city where I thought I would settle, and I was kind of angry about both things, I decided it was time for me to start taking some risks. Anyway, how risky is orange juice in broad daylight outside at 10 o’clock in the morning? We sat at that table drinking orange juice for a surprisingly long time. Orange Juice Guy (whose name I have since forgotten–Ercan, maybe) was a good conversationalist. He talked frankly about how he could tell I was different from other American girls, and how at first he had wanted to talk to me because he thought I was like the rest of them, but now he was glad he was talking to me because he could tell I was a really good and pure person, and he would want to protect me like his sister. In spite of the fact that I found this man insanely good-looking, I was comforted by this assertion. So comforted, in fact, that when he suggested we meet at this same spot again at 7 o’clock that night, so he could take me to Taksim, I agreed. Well? I had wanted to go to Taksim and hadn’t even mentioned it to anyone. Maybe this was the one way I could get there safely.

As a bonus, before he returned to his carpet-selling, Orange Juice Guy told me that it was a good idea for me to go see Ayasofya, of course, but I should really also see Yerebatan Sarayı, or the Basilica Cistern, this Byzantine underground waterway near the basilica. It was pretty dark down there, and I wasn’t entirely sure what I was seeing, because by that point the fact that I had just accepted the invitation of a Turkish man I did not know, to go to the nightlife capital of the Turkish capital was dawning on me in all its insanity. I looked around at the pillars in the dark, snapped some pictures, and then decided to try to calm down at Ayasofya.

photo by Jennwith2ns 2002

Everything in there looked upside down. Do those tears look like they’re going the right direction to you?

I’m not sure I calmed down exactly, but the Muslim/Christian mashup in that gorgeous, ancient building did distract me for at least half an hour.

photo by Jennwith2ns 2002

Soon my mind began racing again. I had just, maybe the week before, told someone–maybe only myself–that I thought that standing someone up was unconscionable, and now here I was, having committed to something I was now feeling by the minute was a worse and worse idea. I tromped out of the basilica grounds, back toward Hotel Sur and the restaurant. I was going to get my journal and write all this out. And it was lunch time. I had to go through the small bazaar. Vendors were calling after me. I ignored them. I was angry–mostly at myself, for having put myself into such a stupid and, as it seemed to me at the time, impossible, situation. I have a code, you know.

“Please, miss,” said a young man–a very young man, far too young to be interested me, I thought–coming out of one of the shops, “Would you like to learn about carpets? You don’t have to buy one. I just want to talk to you.” In fact, I would have been quite interested to learn about carpets, and I really did want to get inside one of those shops just to look, but by now I was suspicious of everyone and was sick to death of being hollered after, so I rounded on him and said, “NO!”

“Well, I’m sorry!” he snapped back. “I don’t want to do anything to you. I don’t even want to sell you a carpet. I just want to have a cup of tea together and talk!”

I was breaking my code all over the place. Not only had I made a commitment I could not possibly keep, but now I had just been rude to someone I didn’t know and who hadn’t done me any harm. “It’s just tea,” he said, showing me.

I sighed. “Oh all right,” I said, and went into the shop.

A Different Game

Family Friday

I guess I have a weird bucket list. While some people have hopes of visiting far off places or hotwiring hearses, I dream of things like going to  Drive-In Movies and going to a spouse’s work-party. I went to a work party myself once, during the six months that I was a really quite unsatisfactory paralegal’s assistant. We went to Boston and everybody except me got drunk, and one of the women who also worked for the lawyer and was usually quite pleasant, spent the whole ride back to Our Fair City drunkenly berating me and insisting that my problem was that I was too religious and just needed to get laid. She was probably not the only person who has ever thought that, but she was definitely the first person to go to such insistent lengths about it. The driver and other passenger of our vehicle, neither of whom probably had much sympathy for openly religious types, were even embarrassed for her and offended for me.

Given that, I’m not sure why I thought it would be cool to go with a Significant Other or a Husband to a work event, but I did, and on Tuesday, I did. And it was, indeed, fun!

While the rest of the world was wrapping up their football/soccer fests with the World Cup, my Paul and I went to Rhode Island, to schmooze a little with his colleagues, eat hot dogs, and watched a couple of innings of the Pawtucket Red Sox.

The glow of the setting sun illluminates the beautiful game . . . Okay, yeah, that's a bit much.

The glow of the setting sun illluminates the beautiful game . . . Okay, yeah, that’s a bit much.

How is it possible I had forgotten how much I love the PawSox? When I worked at a Rhode Island day camp in the summers in high school and college, we used to take the kids there on field trips, and then also we as a staff would go to games for fun. The first time I went, I went with a bunch of guys from the camp and brought a book, but that was because I didn’t know better. I can follow the game and cheer with the best of them, thank you very much.

Actually, in some ways, going to a PawSox game is better than seeing the actual Boston Red Sox, in spite of the “iconicness” of Fenway Park. McCoy Stadium is smaller, you can see everything better, it feels more small town–but at the same time, you know you’re seeing future greats–or current greats rehabbing. Or Victorino. Oh whoops. I mean . . . sorry, Victorino. It wasn’t your best night. Actually, I guess the whole team lost that night, but they were winning when we left, so it was still awesome.

Turns out, the Husband’s Work Event was a two-fer, even though I didn’t realise that going to a PawSox game one more time should have been on my bucket list, too. Can I make the list last longer if I put it on there one more time?

Gender Neutral

Theology Thursday

It appears that I’m going to be writing a few multi-part posts in the next few days or weeks. I hope you will feel free to engage with whatever I post whenever I post, but please also realise that, for example, what I say here, today, isn’t “done” yet, so that it may appear that I am saying one thing, when in the end it will turn out I am actually saying something else. Or something besides. Enjoy!

The Gender of God – Part 1

When I was in (Christian) high school, Ken Medema came to our school.

See? I can prove it.

See? I can prove it.

 

Ken Medema is a blind Christian musician who has the incredible gift of being able to make up real songs on the spot. He spent a week at our school and worked up a concert with some of the high school rock stars. Ken Medema was the most liberal Christian I had encountered at the time. When I borrowed some of his albums from our band teacher because I was suddenly obsessed with this music, I discovered that he was not opposed to referring to God as “she” on occasion. I have (as various people–especially men–at various stages in my life, including the current-and-forever one, can tell you) a tendency to want to keep everyone in line and make sure they are as “right” as I am, and at the time, I tried to do this by writing letters. In this case, I wrote a letter to Ken Medema telling him why referring to God in the masculine was really the only acceptable Christian way to do it. I don’t remember what I said–just that I wrote it. I did not get a reply. It didn’t matter, though. Everything else about Ken Medema was so wonderful and inspiring–and evidently God-inspired as well–that I still loved him and was excited when a few years later he appeared at my (Christian) college, too. He even made up a song just for me (surely not associating me with the letter-writing girl of the late 80’s) which ended up being uncannily appropriate to my life and which, if I can find the cassette and figure out how to convert the song into an MP3, I will post here sometime.

If I encountered Mr Medema again, I would not write him the same letter. I now believe that God is beyond gender. I think that the fact that Genesis 1.27 says, “in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (NIV) indicates that both men and women were originally and intentionally crafted in God’s image, and that that alone (though it is not alone, as evidence) implies that God is neither male nor female. Other things in the Bible lead me to believe that this does not mean God is “sub” gender, but is instead more than those two genders–and also that this really doesn’t have much if anything to do with sexuality. (I guess I think sexuality has something to do with God, but maybe not vice versa, and anyway, that’s not what I’m talking about here.)

It’s true that throughout the Bible, male pronouns are used in relation to God, and if we are to believe that Jesus is God incarnate (which I do), then God also appeared on earth as male. These facts are not insignificant, but it should also be acknowledged that the Greek (and Hebrew, too, I think? anyone?) word for “Spirit” is a feminine one, and that there is also feminine imagery used for God in the Bible–including Jesus. He compares His own Self to a mother hen and describes His (and/or His disciples’s) waiting for the fulfillment of His redemptive work to a woman’s labour pains. Which I guess we can either interpret as a guy talking about something whereof he knows nothing, or as God talking about something God knows intimately about. Also, as we have been discovering in this women’s online Bible study I’ve been facilitating lately, there are some uncanny parallels between King Solomon’s descriptions of “Lady Wisdom” in the book of Proverbs, and the apostle Paul’s description of Jesus in Colossians and elsewhere.

God, elevating the status of chickens. Which I guess is the right of the Author, if you think about it . . .

God, elevating the status of chickens. Which I guess is the right of the Author, if you think about it . . .

We all now know how I feel about bandwagons, and I think it’s safe to say that The Shack, when it came out, was one of those. It has its pros and cons, and one of the cons is, I feel, that it’s really kind of impossible to satisfactorily illustrate the Trinity. On the other hand, you may disagree with me, but it seems to me that, given this impossibility, William Paul Young does not a bad job. I’m particularly a fan of the fact that he insists on retaining the title “Father” for God the Father, but making God the Father in the story appear as a woman. I’m not sure why I’m a fan of this, except maybe that, while retaining conservative-ish (all you conservatives will be up in arms about this, I just know it) theology, it kind of sets us on our heels and drags us out of our comfort zones and makes us have to wrestle with who we really think God is and what we really think God is like and whether or why we should hang onto our previously held assumptions. I don’t think Young is wrong to do this, frankly.

Not jumping on or off any bandwagons. Just using reference material. For reals.

Not jumping on or off any bandwagons. Just using reference material. For reals.

It is for all of these reasons that, when RevCD “corrected” my use of a masculine pronoun for God last summer, I didn’t, in spite of my approach in high school, feel it necessary to argue with her. It is also for these reasons that, in the context of Now Church, where people are more inclined to use gender inclusive language than they might be in Then Church or in any of the other churches where I’ve worshiped and served, I try to avoid pronouns for God at all and use, as RevCD suggested, “God” whenever possible without it’s getting too cumbersome.

But if a pronoun is called for, I still use He and Him and His. There are reasons for this, too–because I believe there are reasons why the Bible does it. And I don’t think those reasons are because it was written by chauvinistic men in a patriarchal society who didn’t know any better.

 

Drinking the “Kool-Aid”

Whatever Wednesday: Workouts

Does this look like Kool-Aid to you?

Does this look like Kool-Aid to you?

Coach-Melissa and I met while working at Starbucks, when she wasn’t a Coach and I wasn’t a Director of Faith Formation and Outreach and neither of us were entirely loathe to drink lattes with syrup in them.

I do seem to remember Melissa reacting with horror to the posted calorie count of whatever new food or beverage item Starbucks invented at any given “roll out” period, and my being completely unimpressed because I have never counted calories so I don’t even know what that means, and actually, at the time I was frighteningly underweight and so from that standpoint might have benefitted from a few more syrupy drinks. I also remember that Melissa started getting into running the Boston Marathon and my thinking I never could nor would I be inclined to attempt something so crazy. But I also think she might have liked white mochas or something. I liked specialised con pannas, where I would fill up the little cup with whipped cream and pour three shots of espresso on top of it (instead of the other way round) and then drizzle half a bottle of caramel sauce over that.

Mmmmm . . . healthy.

Well, it is pretty delicious.

But fast forward a few years and I got cancer, and then Melissa was diagnosed with MS. She got married. I got married. Other stuff happened. Then our paths recrossed last year when, fed up with the “marriage 15” I had gained and couldn’t get rid of, and with my newfound back problems, I accepted her invite to join a seven-week fitness group she was running for free. On the first day we did an Insanity workout. It was . . . insane. I couldn’t move for about three days, but I was completely hooked.

Well, almost completely. I wasn’t going to spend any money to buy the workouts for myself, of course, nor was I going to drink any of the associated nutrition drink, Shakeology. Stuff’s expensive. I could go to Melissa’s workouts when I had a chance, and do some Jillian Michaels workouts I had at home in between. We had some protein powder at home if I wanted to make myself breakfast shakes. I didn’t like the idea of some kind of processed product I had to drink every day–and if I was going to do that, I would just drink what we already had in the house, rather than wasting it. I lost a little bit of weight, but the workouts at home were not any more inspiring than they had been before I started going to Melissa’s group. I didn’t do them all the time.

About nine months later, though, I was finally free of my Tamoxifen cancer meds, had used up all the protein powder for better or worse, and in the meantime had learned that Shakeology is naturally sourced, and loaded with 70 superfoods.

That was a good day.

That was a good day.

Also, Melissa’s story was pretty compelling.

Because I had also paid off a loan I had taken out for seminary, I decided to buy a challenge pack–a workout system with a month of Shakeology and see what I thought. I chose P90X3 and Vanilla Shakeology, and after a few false starts (the almost broken arm thing and a crazy stomach bug), I did that workout and drank those shakes every single day and feel better than I ever have in my life. I’ve been to the chiropractor once in about three months, when before I was stopping in at least every two weeks. I no longer have exercise-induced asthma attacks like I used to every time I exercised. Oh, also? I used to get multiple colds every winter, and Paul got a few, but the only one I had was at the beginning of my Shakeology “journey” lasted all of three days. Now I’m excited to try PiYo, the new pilates/yoga hybrid workout that Beachbody just launched last week.

You have to know (you might know, if you know me) that I’m not a bandwagon jumper. In fact, as soon as something I like or enjoy becomes a bandwagon, it usually takes all my fortitude to remain loyal to that thing. (I confess a lot of times I don’t even bother, although I suspect that shows a lack of integrity.) So you also have to know what a blow it was to my skeptic’s pride to like the workouts, but especially the Shakeology, as much as I absolutely do. But I really do. So much that now I’m selling it.

Even if I weren’t selling it, I’d probably talk about it here a lot, because I am such a fan, but if you were to send me a comment or email me at jenn@thatsajennstory.com to ask me about it, I wouldn’t say no, either. I’m probably not “rah-rah” enough for this–when I’m looking forward to something I say, in monotone, “I’m really excited.” And I am really excited, but I don’t know how to be genuine and appear excited at the same time. All the same, I can tell you, I genuinely believe both the shake and the workouts are amazing. They’ve helped me too much and I’ve seen enough other positive effects, that I truly believe it can benefit other people, too.

Coach-Melissa made this graphic for me. Emerald only means two customers, though. You could be the third!

Coach-Melissa made this graphic for me. Emerald only means two customers, though. You could be the third!

Destination: Turkey

Memory Monday

Looking at those photos from 2002 last week reminded me of a lot of things, including Turkey.

Even though I worked with an extremely diverse population in my home in East London, both India and Turkey had, in different ways, become countries and cultures of focus for me. Going to India in 1993 had been one step in the path of getting me to London, but in 2002 when I realised I’d be relocating back to the States, I still hadn’t been to Turkey.

I had become accustomed to traveling all around Europe at very low costs as a London resident, by visiting and staying with friends in these other countries, and by flying budget airlines. So, probably not long after I truly decided I was moving back across the Pond, I also decided I needed to take one more trip. I thought about Italy, but I didn’t know anyone in Italy, and besides, everybody goes to Italy. If I were going to make European trips ever again, from the United States instead of from the United Kingdom, it was far more likely that I’d make it to Italy than to Turkey. Besides, I knew a British couple living in Izmir at the time. So, I reckoned, I could probably stay with them. They reckoned so, as well.

What I hadn’t reckoned on was the fact that either I couldn’t get a flight to Izmir, or else I couldn’t afford one, so my British-Friends-in-Turkey recommended I fly into Istanbul and take a bus (coach) to their city, and then reverse the trip on the way back. This probably wouldn’t have been such a terrible idea, except that if I was going to be in Istanbul, I wanted to see Istanbul. I can’t really remember how it was I decided to bite the bullet and schedule myself two nights in a small hotel in the Old City at the beginning of the trip, and two more nights on the way back. I bought my tickets and booked the hotel, which I had discovered after some research on Backpacker.com, and at the beginning of May 2002, just a few weeks before I left London forever as a resident, I left London temporarily as a tourist to Turkey.

Hotel Sur - I recommend it--at least as it was a decade ago.

Hotel Sur – I recommend it–at least as it was a decade ago.

“Be careful,” said my Turkish and Kurdish women friends. “You will love Turkey. But be careful of the men.” They said that last part a lot. “Be careful of Turkish men.”

“Don’t go down any alleys with anyone,” quipped . . . actually, I don’t remember who quipped that. But I know someone did. I remember the quip because please. Who actually goes down alleyways with someone they don’t know?

My British-Friends-in-Turkey told me what I had to do to get from my hotel to the bus on the second day and warned me about scam-artist cab drivers.

“Be careful,” said everybody.

Of course I was going to be careful. I wouldn’t go out after dark, and I don’t talk to men on the street anyway, so that wasn’t a concern. I was maybe a little naive, but I wasn’t stupid, and I was just nervous and yet determined enough, that probably, with God’s help, I was going to be just fine.

I’m going to say God’s help was the clincher, but I’m at more than 500 words, so you’re going to have to wait until next week to find out how the trip went.

Technically, this is still BEFORE dark. From the roof of my restaurant.

Technically, this is still BEFORE dark. From the roof of my restaurant.

Camp

Saturday Snippets

It’s awesome when you take three teenagers away for an overnight at camp on the first day of summer and at the end one of them says,

“I had fun. If summer ended today, I could say, ‘This summer I spent some time at a camp on a pond. I went kayaking and swimming and hiking–up the Biggest Mountain in the World.'”

 

View from the Biggest Mountain in the World (photo credit LS)

View from the Biggest Mountain in the World (photo credit LS)

Three Teenagers

Three Teenagers

The Last Straw

Theology Thursday

Last summer, before our congregationally-run Now Church voted to call her as our settled pastor, we had a meet-and-greet for RevCD and her husband, so we could, you know, meet and greet her. And better inform our votes, I guess. She and I were having a nice conversation and then, sort of between “shifts,” she said she was going to sit in the chapel for a while to meet with God before the next round of meeters and greeters. “Nice idea,” I said. “Say hi to Him for me.”

She grinned. “I’ll say hi to Her for you,” she said. I had previously just informed her that she probably needed to be aware that I was theologically more conservative than she was likely to be and she was (to my surprise at the time because I didn’t really know her then) okay with it.

“Yeah,” I said, “It’s too bad there isn’t a gender neutral pronoun that isn’t more personal than ‘it.'”

“God,” she said. “I really think it’s God.”

I don’t disagree, but I probably have a slightly different angle on the issue of God’s gender, and so I’ve basically been thinking up a blogpost around that conversation ever since. Which I probably shouldn’t admit, because then you’ll expect the one that I finally write to be better than it actually ends up being, but never mind. You might also expect it to be this blogpost, which is what I also expected, but I’m still having trouble wording it. So instead I’m going to reblog another Starbucks post from my Old Blog (which, it turns out, was a pretty good blog, if I say so myself) that is also theological. (The advantage to reading it here is that the original didn’t have pictures.)

In fact, there’s a theological term in there that RevCD and I might also not come at from the same angle, and actually, I probably wouldn’t use the term anymore, although I think I still believe in it in some way. See if you can guess what it is. And see what you make of this:

The Last Straw

Kristen-to-the-Maxx doesn’t think that all people are equally capable of all types of error and evil. She likes to sit at the bar and read the newspaper and make observations about all the lunacy that goes on in the world. I at least say that I think we’re all equally capable of any heinousness, due to total depravity, but I don’t think we’re necessarily equally likely to commit all the same errors and evil, due to our different personalities. We got into kind of a heated discussion about this once, because she was quite sure I, for example, wouldn’t do a certain thing she had just read about. I maintained that, while I couldn’t imagine being inclined to whatever it was, I couldn’t truthfully say I wasincapable of it. I have a maybe nearly superstitious fear that if I ever claim that I would never do something, I am forthwith doomed to do it. This isn’t entirely unfounded, because every so often I startle myself by doing (or at least really really wanting to do) something I theretofore never would have contemplated.

Last Saturday was one of those times. There’s a long version of the story, but the short version is that at the very end of an unusually stressful shift, a customer demanded his money back because one of us hadn’t given him the right sized straw for his drink. This was, in fact, something of a customer service error and, from that perspective, our fault. It was also a pretty big deal to make about a straw.

Some pretty big straws.

Some pretty big straws.

The problem was, by the time this irate personage had confronted us about it, I was so stressed about other stuff that I was practically hyperventilating. By the time he walked out the door, I was even more furious than he had been. If Rich hadn’t dragged me into the back room, I probably would have thrown iced coffee. In public. And if he hadn’t given me a hug (which I really really didn’t want, given that I was so mad, but which was clearly the smartest thing under the circumstances), I absolutely would have started slamming lockers and punching pounds of coffee beans back there. I’ve gotten mad before, but not like that.

I was mad because I was stressed, and I was mad because I felt disrespected, and I was madder because I felt my colleagues had been disrespected. I was also mad that someone could make such a fuss about a straw.

Then I realised I was making a bigger fuss about a straw. I don’t know what that guy was or is up against to make him care about straws so deeply, but it wasn’t really the point under the circumstances. The point was that I had opted to let whatever he was dealing with turn me into a monster. I became hateful and violent, which, in my more self-righteous moments, I never thought I was capable of being. Also, he actually came into the store again last night and I found to my chagrin that I was too afraid to face him. I don’t like to think that I’m a coward either.

People say, “Don’t be so hard on yourself.” And we’ve been able to joke about this since. It’s becoming in-store lore already, and in the lore I don’t look as bad as I really did at the time. But still, sometimes it’s not being hard on yourself to take a good hard look at the depths of personal darkness. The stuff that people see can be bad enough, but often it’s only the tip of the iceberg, and sometimes you do or feel something that opens the cellar door just for you. Even if no one else can see how dark it is down there, you can. And then it’s hard and scary to look, but it’s not unreasonable or unwarranted to do it.

My personal cellar is not this cool. This one is Istanbul's. (25 - The Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayı)

My personal cellar is not this cool. This one is Istanbul’s. (25 – The Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayı)

Sometimes I think God lets me get in touch with my total depravity so that I can stop subconsciously thinking I’m incapable of certain things and therefore capable of taking care of everything myself. I like to think I’m good all by myself, and then it turns out it was Him all along. When my pride gets its kneecaps kicked in and is no longer blocking the doorway, He can lead me down the stairs with a flashlight or two and get a little spring cleaning done.

If Medusa's down there, definitely need backup.

If Medusa’s down there, I definitely need a Hero.

The Light Bulb Thief

The Tuesday Reblog

This story’s so funny . . . plus, if you read it, you get a two-fer, because I practically wrote my own post in the comments.

A Generous Helping

I had a dream!

Note my declaration is past tense meaning there is no similarity in weight or profundity to Dr. King’s Dream. No, I had a dream that scared me enough to rouse me from my deep slumber to ensure the security of my homestead. You know, that hazy stumble to check the locks on the doors, ignoring the fact that if someone wanted in badly enough, a locked door wouldn’t stop them.

Because I didn’t fully wake, I don’t recall the entire dream, mostly just the impact it had on me – then later, the impact it had on others. I am a very deep sleeper. For years I have said that comes from having a clean conscience. I’m not sure that is true, I just say it to make myself sound righteous.

imageThis dream involved a thief. But he wasn’t just any thief, he was after one…

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Long Ago Farewells

Memory Monday

I ran into an old friend today . . . on Facebook, of course. I don’t even remember how we first met–probably the ESOL classes at my church in East London–but I do remember going to visit her quite a bit. She was a refugee with some pretty traumatic refugee experiences, and I wanted–and she wanted me to–write her story into a book, but then I left London and we never saw each other again–until today on Facebook. We hadn’t really known each other for more than five months when I flew away, so I didn’t expect her to remember me, but she said, “I have been searching the fb like mad for u but I couldn’t find u coz I couldn’t remember ur last name, I’m glad u found me.” Me, too!

Usually when I think of momentous years, I think of 2008. But actually, on 3 January 2002, I had an inexplicable freak-out about returning to London (where I had theretofore assumed I was going to settle for the rest of my life) and so even though I did return, the wheels were set in motion from that point onward for me to leave. I used to say that God told me to, and I still reckon He might have, but whether He did or didn’t, I don’t expect my choice surprised Him very much and things seem to be working out–at the moment, anyway.

Anyway, this made 2002 a pretty momentous year, too, because before I left London for good in May that year, I jumped into a bunch of new experiences kind of at the last minute, just in case. One of the things I did was find out that even though I didn’t have a work permit to work in the UK, I could volunteer as a teacher’s assistant at one of the local schools.

A Teddy Bear's Picnic with Year R/1

A Teddy Bear’s Picnic with Year R/1

I ended up helping out in about three different classrooms and it may have been the most fun thing I did the entire time I was in London, so it’s kind of surprising that alone didn’t make me stay. On the first day, I read stories to a group of cuties in Reception (Kindergarten). Javed wanted me to read Where the Wild Things Are. So I started reading it. We paused carefully at each page to look at the pictures.

Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak

Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak

“That one looks like you, Miss,” said Javed.

Not the most flattering comparison, but he wasn't exactly wrong.

Not the most flattering comparison, but he wasn’t exactly wrong.

The school was not a religious school, but it was a very religious school, all the same, because most of the kids were from religious families. Far and away the highest percentage of the kids were Muslim, but there was also a sizeable Sikh and Hindu population, and just a smattering of Christians. One thing I loved about British schools was that there were actually Religious Education (RE) classes, so the kids were learning about different faiths, and none of the teachers had to be afraid to talk about them. Sometimes the classes were a little tricky, though, when a given teacher was trying to teach about a faith that wasn’t his or her own. Like, you should’ve seen the day that one teacher placed another book on top of the Qu’ran when he was teaching about Islam . . .

But there was also the Year 4 teacher who was trying to teach the kids about Easter. It was Easter time, so I guess they were trying to be seasonal with their lesson plans. My guess is that this teacher might have fallen into the “spiritual but not religious” category, and so when of the children asked a question about some Easter specifics, she didn’t know how to answer. I was sitting in the corner trying to work on some remedial reading with an individual child, when Manvir, whose family I had been friends with for years, piped up. “Ask Jenn!” he said. (Everybody else called me “Miss.”) “She knows all about this stuff.” So, in a community school full of Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and a very few Christians, I talked about Jesus being God and coming to die for our sins and coming back to life again and the whole time I kept waiting for someone to get offended or for the teacher to tell me I had crossed a line, but nobody did, because it was RE, and in RE we talked about beliefs.

At the end of the year, one of the teachers had his class sing me a farewell song since I was leaving England, and all the children gave me hugs. I guess I didn’t know when I signed up to volunteer in school, that saying goodbye to a bunch of children–most of whom I hadn’t known before January–would be so difficult. It took me three years at least to get over London. I’m glad I’m where I am now, but I’m glad I was there, too. I’m glad that I kept making friends until I left. And I’m glad I had those five months at that school.

"Til We Have Faces" - I'm pretty sure most of these kids are in university or beyond, by this point, but just in case, I overexposed all our faces. You still get the idea.

“Til We Have Faces” – I’m pretty sure most of these kids are in university or beyond, by this point, but just in case, I overexposed all our faces. You still get the idea.

Canoe Date

Family Friday

People who write books about marriage usually tell you, among other things, that you should have regular date nights with your spouse. I fully endorse this practice. I also endorse being creative about these date nights. Tonight, my Paul and I went out for dinner, and I love going out, but sometimes you’re paying for two people to get degrees (Alicia and me) and besides, nobody needs to go out for dinner all the time, and there are so many other fun things you can do together.

Like Canoe Date.

The year we got married, we had a big picnic/party a few months after our wedding, and there Uncle Ted and Aunt Elizabeth gave us a nice bottle of wine and some nice cheese and maybe some nice crackers, too–I don’t remember. They told us to save them for a special occasion. So a few weekends later, after having bought a canoe from Ocean State Job Lot (also a fun date location, incidentally) with some wedding money, we took the wine and the cheese and the crackers and paddled out to the Island in the middle of the pond. We were going to have our little picnic on the Island itself, but there were ants. Lots and lots of ants.

Fortunately, we also had some spiffy new collapsible lawn chairs which my Paul had had the forethought to throw in the canoe with the bottle of wine and the cheese and the crackers. There are some rings of rocks in the shallow water on the far side of the Island, so we put the chairs in the water and sat there, with our chairs and our feet in the water, eating our wine and cheese and crackers. It was, indeed, a Special Occasion.

Now we have Canoe Date every year, only once, on the seam of spring and summer. That way, it’s always a Special Occasion.