Thursday, 15 December 2011

A British Pantomime Experience

Luke and I had our first British "Panto" experience on Monday night.  We celebrated his birthday early (due to other shows on his birthday being sold out--it's a VERY popular Christmas activity here in York).  Not sure what to expect, we went with open minds thinking we'd be watching something that was along the lines of mime.  Far from it!  And, if we had done a google search beforehand or looked it up on wikipedia ( we would have found out that it is in fact a musical comedy.  The one we went to was Aladdin, and yes, the audience was filled with children and their parents (and if you are wondering: at one point we wondered whether we should bring Tyler to an afternoon show, but decided that he wouldn't be able to sit that long).  As it turns out (since it is not mime) there was lots of loud music, flashing lights and a super scary villain so we're even more convinced that bringing Tyler would have been a fairly traumatic experience for him (especially considering that we even need to fast forward through "scary" parts of the children's animated book The Gruffalo and classic Disney film The Jungle Book) .

But back to the Aladdin panto.  I could tell at the beginning that Luke was not quite so sure, and neither was I.  There is quite a bit of audience interaction in a pantomime, and I'll be honest it is out of my comfort zone.  But by the end of the first half our modes had switched.  The children within us decided to show themselves and thoroughly enjoyed "Booing" Ebenezer (the evil character) and yelling to the good guys that a ghost was right behind them (as they sang the Ghostbuster theme song).  It was a blast!!  To be caught up in the story, the imaginative creativity of the show, part we were told to play...was magical.

And at the end of the show we transformed back into the adults we are, and decided to continue the magic at a pub on the way home with a mulled wine and a local beer called Humbug.  The best of both worlds.

If you are interested in sampling what we experienced that night check out
this clip of an Aladdin pantomime from several years ago:

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Getting lost in the creativity of work

Yesterday I looked at the long list of things to do and started to feel overwhelmed.  I wanted them to just be done.  The thought of spending long hours analyzing text and themes did not appeal to me.  Reading about critical discourse analysis, social constructionism and countless studies that need to be found and read to back up my work felt as exciting as someone saying you need to stare at a dot on a wall for 57 hours straight. 

What confused me a bit was that I could feel the dread of this work and simultaneously know that I actually love thinking about these topics.  I find them fascinating.  But other than the intrigue, a roadblock set itself down before me when I tried to think about a larger reason or impact that spending hours and days analyzing the way one newspaper article headline was worded would have on my life, my family, my community and yes, even the world. 

And yet this is the nature of my work, the particular forms of analysis I am interested is sloooooow.  That's the point.  It's not about breadth but depth.  However, there is still the uncomfortable feeling resting beneath that tells me that doing these things can't possibly matter and questions whether it is a waste of time.

But ending on this thought would be devastating and fruitless.

It is not a waste of time because I am realizing it is not just about the task at hand.  Yes, finishing a chapter or a section of a chapter is important.  Getting the reading done is critical, but the process and the time spent being lost in thought--asking new questions, trying to connect the dots in a different way, enjoying the possibilities of what a word or phrase is implying or assuming is absolutely essential.  It is where the creativity of the work is born and allowed to grow into something (potentially) worthwhile.  And if nothing else, allowing the time to think and explore makes for a happy day.  It makes the work fulfilling and enjoyable rather than trying to rush it by to get to the next thing.  It is about living life in the moment and learning that striving for results ruins the here and now, it stunts the growth of what you are doing and turns the focus away from what needs to be learned.

On this note, I've included the following video (I received it in an email from a professor in the Centre for Applied Human Rights here at the University of York)--it's cute and insightful:

So I want to aim to start getting lost in the creativity of the work--allowing time to think and explore and get beyond that "first idea".  This applies to any job I think, and for me I fully intend to use it both at home and at the university: for my parenting, housekeeping, researching and teaching.

I also found this clip helpful.  Dr. Csikszentmihalyi is a psychologist and has done research on how to be happy at work.  Here is what he says needs to be done to get there (and it's not about the big careers with lots of glory and rewards...):

Friday, 18 November 2011

On being 30

Last Friday I turned 30.  I think I am okay with this.  In fact, I believe that turning 29 was a bit harder--the last year of my 20s, the end of decade.  Now, I have a clean slate.  The 30s are wide open with possibility and I have just begun.  I remember hearing Joan Anderson (author of the book A Year by the Sea and many others) speak a few years ago and loved her description of each decade being a separate chapter of your life.  I've held onto that metaphor, and have high hopes that this next chapter in my life will be an exciting one.  With that said, I also want to join in on a family trend at the moment where I map out 30 things to do while I'm 30 (for most of the other family members doing this it's actually supposed to be by the time you turn a certain age, but when I decided I was going to do it I only had a week before my birthday and let's face it: 30 additional things to do when you want the items to be interesting and varied is a lot!).

So here's the list (which is subject to edits as time goes along):

1) Dance in the rain (an easy one to start...we are in England after all)
2) Go to the famous Betty's tearoom with Luke
3) Run a road race
4) Attend Wimbledon
5) Publish something (anything!)
6) Go on a family bike (day) trip
7) Make significant headway on my thesis
8) Cook a roast dinner (yes, I still have never done this)
9) Take part in a 24 prayer vigil (rotating turns)
10) Try 5 different types of ethnic cuisine (i.e. Turkish, Morroccan, etc)
11) Read the entire Bible cover to cover
12) Read 5 books by British writers (bonus to then see where they lived!)
13) Hike a mountain (or closest thing to it based on accessibility...i.e. if it is here then maybe a hill)
14) Visit the York Art Gallery
15) Learn/relearn French (or at least some useful phrases)
16) Tour the Jorvik Viking Centre
17) Go out to eat on a date to Cafe Rouge
18) Travel back to the States for a holiday to see family/friends
19) Write more letters to our Compassion children
20) See/visit the lavendar farm just outside of York
21) Sing carols in the Minister
22) Walk all the Roman walls in York
23) Bring Tyler to his first show/kids performance
24) Write a children's story
25) Host a fundraiser
26) Buy a nice bottle of red wine and local cheeses (from Newgate market) to have for an in-house date
27) Come up with 52 in-house dates to do for less than $5
28) Do enough stretching so that I can touch my toes without pain :)
29) Be able to do 20 pushups in a row
30) Come up with a list of 1095 things I am grateful for over the course of the year (the number is assuming an average of 3 per day)

There you have it...a list of 30 things I'd like to do this year (subject to edits!).  And so I am going to sign off and begin: maybe by starting to work on those pushups, or maybe some writing on the children's story, or perhaps the French?  Phew!  It's exhausting just thinking about all there is to do, unless maybe...I've got it! I think I should start with that nice bottle of red and local cheeses?  Hmmm...yes, now that I'm thinking about it...yup, I think that's the one!  Happy Friday!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Our 3 year old

Yesterday Tyler turned 3--a wonderful number I think.  There are many significant things that come in threes: I come from a family of 3 kids, currently Luke, Tyler and I are a family of 3, we plan to live in the UK for 3 years (2 more from this point), when I was 3 I thought I was a big kid and "big kids can play in the parking lot" or so the story goes, we generally eat 3 meals a day, and if we're on the subject: I really enjoy 3 course meals, in tennis you need to win 2 out of 3 sets, my first road race was about 3 miles, I remember watching and enjoying The 3 Musketeers (and didn't mind the candy bar come Halloween time either), and so on.  Even The Guardian, a national UK newspaper, wrote about the significance of "3" back in 2003 (check out: to read about it)

It's everywhere: the number 3, which makes me think (and wish I could remember that time of life myself) it's a pretty cool age to be for Tyler. 

The world is still pretty new, and everyday is an incredible learning experience.  At 3 the bonus is you are starting to understand more and be able to converse about your thoughts (which makes for some really cute sayings and to be fair some not so cute--please don't say that in public--sayings).

Most importantly, I hope this year in his life will begin to show him the most important "3" that has come to be everything for Luke and I--that of the Trinity: the Father, Son and Holy Ghost "3".  We've wondered how to get this lesson across to our young son, a message that means the world and yet still amazes us, confuses us, and shows us we have much to learn about the God we serve.  Perhaps, and we hope to be on the right track with this one, we can show him how to have faith by learning to live by faith ourselves.  We hope he falls in love with God, and perhaps it will help him to witness us falling even deeper in love with God ourselves. 

And maybe in order to draw Tyler to crave the wisdom of the Bible, perhaps we need to be reading scripture more ourselves.  And what better way to celebrate the number 3 than ending with 1 Cor 13:13...

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."

Happy 3rd Birthday to our T-Man! We love, love, love you!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Learning to Barter

Bartering is not my thing.  It gives me anxiety to think about offering a price for something other than the price requested even when I know it's higher than it should be.  When we traveled to India back in 2006 we were told to barter otherwise we would pay a lot more than the actual price.  I couldn't do it.  My only successful attempts were when I really didn't want the item anyway: I would start walking away and they would keep lowering the price.  One shop we went into had these amazing handcarved wooden products.  We bought so many to bring home without asking for a significant price reduction (actually, didn't really ask for one at all) that, I'm sure out of his compassion for ignorant/dumb tourists, he threw in a couple of freebies.

At one point in my life I remember thinking I wanted to try to barter a price at a yard sale we stopped at, and so I did.  I offered a lower price, to which the woman (who was in charge of the whole thing) looked at me as if I was crazy and responded a simple, "No."  So I handed over what she originally asked and bolted out of there (urging Luke to move faster) before launching into a 30 minute discussion about whether or not the woman thought I was a total cheapskate, was I a cheapskate?, I didn't mean to offend, I hope we don't ever run into her on the streets, I don't think I'm a cheapskate, do you think I am a cheapskate? (Luke: No, of course not...) and so on.

Needless to say, poor Luke had a lot of reassuring to do that morning, and I have never asked for a lower price at a yard sale since.

Recently however, we were all gathered around for soup and salad at lunchtime, and I saw a glimmer of confident bartering in myself that seems to have emerged from the ashes. 

Tyler wanted to have a popsicle (or "ice lolly" if you are in England).  We make them out of a fruit smoothie mixture, and they have been a hit so far.  I wanted him to take a couple more bites of his lunch before the lolly, and knowing he is quickly developing a set of negotiating skills that could make for a long drawn out process, I aimed my requirements high.

Me: You can have your lolly after you have 5 bites of salad.

He immediately caught on that this number was a bit higher than is normally sufficient, he matched me with a low ball figure.

Tyler: How about I take 2 bites.

And the responses after that came together like a perfectly cut key to a greased lock.

Me: Well, you'll need to eat more than 2.  I'll make it 4, but you'll need to start eating those bites right now to keep that offer.

Tyler: How about I take 2 bites.

Me: No, 2 is too low.  Your body will barely make any profit on that amount of vegetable consumption.  Think about all the energy and calories used just to chew the salad.  You need at least a little extra to live on.  Here's what I'll do.  I can bring it down to 3 bites, but that's my final offer.  That's as low as I can go.  3 bites and then the ice lolly is yours.  What do you say?

Tyler: Okay, I will do 3 bites and then I get one ice lolly?

Me: That's right.  You really couldn't get a better deal if you tried.

Tyler: Okay Mommy.  That sounds like a good one.

And the bartering deal was sealed.  Victory!  Maybe it's time to take another trip to India...or make sure we have a back-up supply of ice lollies, once those bartering chips are gone I am stuck.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

The Magic of Lollipops

Tyler and I had a fun time the other day painting pictures.  And for the first time in awhile I decided to play music while we painted.  It was one of those things that as you are putting it on you wonder why you don't do it more often.  I put on the cd of songs from Luke's and my wedding, and soon, to the curiosity and bewilderment of my darling son I was spinning around the kitchen.  Maybe, my sudden urge to dance came from a lack of coffee or too much coffee, too little sleep or not enough exercise, but whatever the reason Tyler (for a minute) was into it.

Then he had a request: he wanted to listen to a lollipop song.  We didn't have a lollipop song.  I listed out suggestions, tried to make them seem like they were similar to lollipops.  An ode to a lollipop: "How Sweet it is to be Loved by You", a song about the ingredients in a lollipop: "Sugar, Sugar" or a song about a girl who must have loved lollipops because they call her "Sweet Caroline".  But Tyler would have none of it.  The lyrics were important in this case and the words had to show their loyalty by actually singing about "lollipops".

And then I flashed back to my sister's preschool graduation...where cute as can be kiddos (I thought I was a much older sister than the 3 years between us would suggest) danced to the Lollipop Song while holding enormous lollipops.

Not having the footage, I turned to YouTube to help me win "Mom of the Day" award and there was extreme array of options to look at which all included the Lollipop Song.  I turned to the original version to start (what's better than the actual Chordettes singing it?), and we danced and danced and danced.  Luke came in and started dancing too.  Something about the harmonies and the memories, something about dancing in the kitchen, something about singing about lollipops was magical that day.  In fact, I still have lollipops singing around in my head.

That day, it was Tyler that had to tell Luke and me: "Okay, we are all done with that one.  Time to go outside and play."  To which we protested a bit, but then came to understand his reasoning.  It was sunny out, and in England you really have to take advantage of that when you can. 

So we went out to play, and then soon after dropped Tyler off for his second day of afternoon nursery school.  We waited until we were sure he was okay (after the teachers came out in the hall several times to assure us he was happily playing with Bob the Builder blocks), and we scooted back home. Before working, before cleaning, before doing anything, Luke and I looked at each other and smiled. 

And we danced to one more Lollipop song, like little kids sneaking another cookie out of the jar.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Adjusting the Sails

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” –William Arthur Ward

Luke found and shared the above quote, and it made me think about flexibility.  The idea of "adjusting the sails" seems simple and yet profound.  The realist in the quote is not dictated by the wind any more than he has to be--he is not relying on it to determine whether or not he will stay on course.  He will do all that he can that is in his power and take it from there.  He makes a determined and wise action based on the current circumstances and that is all.  He is not making a move based on what he think is to come or making up for what was in the past; he remains in the current situation and acts accordingly.

He must be flexible...willing to let go of the things he cannot control, accepting the way the wind moves and then pulling the sail in or letting it out without moaning and without waiting to be acted upon.

It has been a reminder to me to take what comes our way in stride, adjusting our sails and remaining focused on what needs to be done in the present moment.  Stay the course: doing what you can and giving to God what you cannot control.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Peapod Surprise

I am not a gardener. I generally feel quite a heavy dose of pity for the plants that are brought into my care as I know their chances for survival are low.  So when our neighbors brought over a couple of extra vegetable plants that they couldn't fit into their garden I felt sorry for the naive leafy babies.

It's not that I try to kill the plants, I just haven't mastered the art of remembering to water them when it is sunny and dry and not overwatering them when it's been rainy.  They haven't managed to fit in to my daily rhythm (although the fact that the rhythm changes frequently could also be part of the problem...).

But these vegetable plants (a cucumber, tomato, chives and peapods) are fighters.  They have overcome the odds and survived several weeks now.  And get this: they are growing.  It's an incredible feeling watching them sprout up to new heights and now expose a few blossoms.  I see where people can get hooked on this.

Today as Tyler and I were going around to the plants, about to give them some water (we're starting to be better about remembering--it's only taken us several rounds of sacrificial marigolds to get to this point) I noticed something spectacular--the peapod plant had PEAPODS!  I was so excited I may have startled the neighbor's dog, but regardless, Tyler joined in and we started looking for more.  There were lots!  And we ate them, right then, right there.  We managed to save a few for Luke too, who was off doing some inspiration work. 

I am still riding a bit of a high from the experience.  Though the credit is largely due to the determined and courageous spirit of the plants themselves (and the consistent rain we've had lately), I loved the thought that we had our very own vegetables in our very own mini-garden, fresh as fresh can be. 

I started planning for next year and all the plants we could grow along the fence.  Then, Luke came home and we started plotting for a potential farm many years down the road from now.  We could be farmers, grow organic produce, write, teach and raise kids.  It sounded beautiful, it felt possible.

I kissed them goodbye and road off to work on the bike, visualizing the rows of zucchini, carrots, lettuce, onions, strawberries and such--at which point I remembered, in our fervor, we forgot to water the plants...whoops!

Perhaps the farm will need to wait, but in any case, today's 9 peapods were an unexpected tasty treat!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

The Global Rich List

I was reading from a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) report called Unfinished Business by Joel Quirk, and one particular quote struck me powerfully:

"When it comes to global inequality, the poorest 20% of the world's people are said to account for 1.5% of the world income, with the poorest 40% (the $2 a day poverty threshold), accounting for 5% of world income."

The next time I complain about not having something of material worth, I need to remember this.  And I need to remember I have it really, really good.  Sometimes it is easy to see what we don't have rather than be grateful for what we do have.  In addition, we might even have things that we don't need that we could give away to someone who does need them or sell them in a yard sale or something similar and donate the money to a charity we believe in.

We can easily get caught up in how much everything costs all around us and forget how rich many of us are.  If you are curious go to this website:, which calculates (gives you a percentage) where you place in the world's population according to wealth based on your income.  It is sobering.

What can we do?  Decisions can start small and make a big difference.  Maybe there is a local organization you could start donating to by cutting out a coffee, meal out, new shirt you don't really need, or similar items.  Maybe you could consider sponsoring a child through Compassion International ( or a woman ending the cycle of poverty by gaining skills to run her own business through Women for Women International (  Maybe you could host a Survivor Party and sell products from The Emancipation Network/Made by Survivors (check out:, an organization dedicated to fighting and eradicating sex trafficking around the world (for more on the organization see:  Other little steps we can make is to buy Fair Trade products when there is an option, make environmentally friendly choices by walking/riding a bike when possible, use reusable/cloth bags for shopping, invest in green energy, use natural cleaning products and toiletry items, use reusable containers rather than throwaway and so on.

There are so many ways to get involved and make responsible choices.  Most of us already are doing that to one degree or another.  But there are always more steps to take and we should challenge ourselves to do so. 

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Writing to my 12-year old self

I was sent an email by a woman I know who is doing an incredible project focusing on (pre)adolescents, and asked for women to respond by giving thoughts to their 12-year old self.  It could be in any form, any length--completely open to where the project took you.  So I put it off, and put it off, and so on.  It sounded like a wonderful opportunity to reflect and, not wanting to breeze through it, I kept waiting for the "right" moment, which can be synonomous with procrastination.  Finally, tonight I sat down and typed out a letter.  I'm sure I have many more in me, but this is what came to mind first and I thought I'd share.  And if anyone else feels inspired by this project please let me know--she is looking for anyone to contribute and it is completely anonymous (except if you decide to post it to your blog).

To my 12-year old self:
I’ve actually had a difficult time trying to figure out what to say to you because I know the mindset you are in right now, and it’s one that makes you think the world as you know it is the only one out there…which is so untrue it actually makes me smirk just writing it.  The world is a big place with so much room to explore and discover.  This time in this school with these people is merely preparation for what is to come.  There will be joyful times, sad times, frustrating times, silly times and hurt times but you make it through.  Each of those moments makes you stronger—you will make it through.

What I wish above all else for you right now is to remember that your voice matters.  Your opinions, your thoughts, your ideas: matter.  People will disagree, some will even try to make you feel small and make you believe that you have nothing to offer, but that is a lie.  You have something that no one else can contribute:  your voice.  Everyone has a unique purpose, and that includes you.  Your gut is telling you something…follow it.  The deep sense that won’t go away, that won’t shake no matter how hard you try—this is a very sacred part of you.  Don’t push it away, listen to it.  It knows you better than you think.  It will tell you to do what you love, to do what makes your heart beat fast and your mind center in a content state of peace.  It will tell you what you alone and no one else can do in this world, that is, to be you.  Your voice matters because without it the work you are doing and will do would be lost, the ideas you contribute to making the world a better place would be lost, the love that you give to your friends, family, neighbors and the strangers who you share a smile with on the street would be lost.  And that would be tragic.

Stand up for what you believe in, those who may laugh, mock or try to put you down are the loudest but they are also the minority (it’s true, they really are).  Hold onto hope.  Always.  And remember the old proverb, “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over it turned into a butterfly.”

So get ready to transform, Butterfly.  At times the process will feel like it’s dragging on and will never end, but then, the change happens.  You will find you have wings, you have freedom, and you will see that life truly is a beautiful journey.

Let your voice be heard.  The world is longing to see, to receive, to witness the beauty that your voice can contribute.  Believe that your voice will make a difference.  Just by being you, it already has.

I do love you, and I’m sorry for not acting like it sometimes. 

Friday, 12 August 2011

Playing in the Mud

Yesterday morning Tyler and I were playing outside for a bit before I went in to campus.  It has been raining the last day and a half or so (ironically it's been raining since the text went out from the woman I know to pray for rain to end the riots...hmmm).  So everything was quite wet. 

Our little sand/dirt pit was a mud pie makers paradise, and I thought it would be fun to introduce the idea of "cooking" in the mud to Tyler (he's played in the mud lots just not necessarily making pies and other fun treats).  So we started making cookies and pies and I threw in an avocado just so our arteries didn't clog up and our sugar levels didn't get drastically out of control (or maybe it was to alleviate the guilt?).  In any case, Tyler moved on from any sort of food groups and asked if we could make what only a toddler with a father who has a similar fascination would want to make: mud poopies.  Right.

I responded, "Mud poopies?  The thing is I don't really know how to make those."
Tyler, as if anticipating my hesitation, said, "Maybe you could give it your best try."
I couldn't really come back with anything that wouldn't sound hypocritical--how could we ask him to give it a try, to do the best he could when he didn't think he knew how if I wasn't willing to do the same?

So I caved.  "You're right Tyler, I can give it my best try."
Tyler responded with a nudge of reassurance, "That's all you can do." (Not kidding, he really said that word for word)
To which, I nodded, and repeated for emphasis letting the words soak in, "That's right.  That's all I can do."

And then, we made mud poopies. I was out of my element molding these things in my hand, and it was a bit of a stretch for my gag reflex...but chalk it up to another way I'm willing to bend my own comfort zone in order to drive home life lessons I want to stick with our little man.

We had a quality moment that morning in the mud.  Feeling it squish in our fingers and making all sorts of lovely and not-so-lovely things.  We were creating.  And after the initial fun of the mud poopies we moved on to castles and used weeds to build a forest around our castle.  When creativity is flowing, it's best to let it flow.  And I'm glad I didn't let my unease stop it.  We had loads of fun, and when I had to head off I actually felt a bit like a kid again.  Allowing the fun and play to lead where it wanted to lead: it was amazingly freeing.

On top of the fun, creativity and freedom in play, my 2 and a half year old son reminded me that trying my best, even when I am convinced I don't know how to do something, is worth a shot.  And it really is all we're asked to do.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Leap Before You Look

To follow up on my blog on commitment, here is a poem by W.H. Auden that has been a favorite of Luke's and mine.  Though Auden may be talking about something completely different, we love the idea of needing to overcome danger, fear, approval and leaping towards what you need to leap towards.  Looking first (rather than producing further strength or strategy) at times only serves to create hesitation and hesitation prevents the beauty of the moment, the dream you are pursuing, or the love you share with others from blossoming.  It will feel scary at times, but you must leap.   You must risk giving up safety, which is often only a false sense of security.  Go in the direction that you know you must go--the place where God is calling you to be brave and trust Him to work things out.  It is always worth it, no matter the outcome.

Today's blog is inspired and dedicated to two special people we know and love dear as they prepare to take a big leap--you can do it!

Leap Before You Look by W. H. Auden

The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is certainly both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.

Tough-minded men get mushy in their sleep
And break the by-laws any fool can keep;
It is not the convention but the fear
That has a tendency to disappear.

The worried efforts of the busy heap,
The dirt, the imprecision, and the beer
Produce a few smart wisecracks every year;
Laugh if you can, but you will have to leap.

The clothes that are considered right to wear
Will not be either sensible or cheap,
So long as we consent to live like sheep
And never mention those who disappear.

Much can be said for social savoir-faire,
But to rejoice when no one else is there
Is even harder than it is to weep;
No one is watching, but you have to leap.

A solitude ten thousand fathoms deep
Sustains the bed on which we lie, my dear;
Although I love you, you will have to leap;
Our dream of safety has to disappear.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Riots around the UK

It is amazing that in the last few days London, and then elsewhere in the UK including Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool and elsewhere, have been rampaged by rioters and looters.  I received a text last night from a friend that called for the Christians to pray for rain--terrential rain--that God might prevent anymore senseless destruction and brutality from occurring.  And rain it has been for the last day and a half (in York at least).  Still, more tragedy occurred: three men were killed Tuesday night and many others hospitalized from the violence.

Read here for a timeline on what happened and potential reasons:

What strikes me is that I feel like I'm having flashbacks to the Rodney King incident in the States back in the 90s and the chaos that followed in LA.  The difference now is the ability for rioters to rally together through facebook, Twitter and other technologically advanced means.  But inspiring stories are also being reported: ones of those using the same technology to come together as a community and help clean up the mess left behind.  (See:  Reading about people like this--coming out and making change by doing something constructive gives me hope in the majority of people out there.

Let this be an example to us of why it is important not to remain silent.  A terrible tragedy occurred (the shooting of Mark Duggan by a police officer is what seems to have sparked the violence), but when the tragedy seems to spark something that leads  to more of the same, the power of a community can make a difference: in healing, in preventing more hatred and discrimination, in supporting those who have been hurt.

They didn't let fear win the day, rather they are saying enough is enough and doing something about it.

Monday, 8 August 2011

A Commitment Move

The idea of commitment seems to be everywhere lately, which is one way I start to pay attention.  You hear something once: it sounds good, you try to remember (but probably forget) and you continue as normal.  You hear something twice: your ears perk a bit, you remember the last time you heard it and know it is something that is making an impression, but you may still forget it again soon after you hear it.  But when you start to hear, read, and see the same general message consistently over and over and find it everywhere you start to wonder if God is trying to tell you something.

And so that is the case for commitment with me lately.  I find it in most reading I am doing (even random academic reading which is quite interesting), hear it in lectures or talks, see it in various aspects of life and have, consequently, talked a lot about it with Luke.  The idea is that often we want a guarantee that something will happen before we commit to it.

For me, this has surfaced within my academic writing.  I want to know where I am going before I write, and yet, often this prevents me from being fully able to write what I would like to.  Instead, I am finding I need to fully commit to the writing, to the project, to the degree before it starts to pour out.  A man named Patrick Dunleavy writes about this concept:

"You will very rarely work out what you think first, and then just write it down.  Normally the act of committing words to screen (or pen to paper) will make an important contribution to your working out what it is that you do think.  In other words, the act of writing may often be constitutive of your thinking.  Left to ourselves we can all of us keep conflicting ideas in play almost indefinitely, selectively paying attention to what fits our needs of the moment and ignoring the tensions with what we said or thought yesterday, or the day before that.  Writing things down in a systematic way is an act of commitment, a decision to firm up and crystallize what we think, to prevent this constant reprocessing and reconfiguring."

This idea that Dunleavy talks about can also be applied to most everything beyond writing.  Commitment, in many ways, offers freedom to a scenario.  If you have committed to something or someone then you know if any hard times pass your way the question is not if you will make it through it, it is how you will make it through.  So if there is a dream or a calling that has been bumbling around, the surest way to find freedom in pursuing it is to commit to it.  The questions start to change from whether or not you will be able to do something but how you will do it and how long it will take. 

I am discovering how tempting it can be to give up on something when it starts to take awhile to complete or it didn't work out the way you thought it would, but how this giving up (and often it can be a chronic problem) is something that prevents us from experiencing freedom and joy.  Committing to something is hard (ask anyone who considers themselves to be in a committed marriage!), but the fulfillment and joy that comes from knowing you will find a way to make it through the tough times is worth every aspect of that hardness when push comes to shove.  And in many ways, when the commitment is applied to a dream or a calling it frees us to grow into what God desires us to become: mature, loving followers who obey what He desires of us.

So here are some fun quotes to hammer the point home:

 "The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand." ~Vince Lombardi

"When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it - but all that had gone before." ~Jacob Riis

"Bear in mind, if you are going to amount to anything, that your success does not depend upon the brilliancy and the impetuosity with which you take hold, but upon the ever lasting and sanctified buldoggedness with which you hang on after you have taken hold." ~Dr. A. B. Meldrum

And now, if you are eager to have a dose of inspiration about how your voice matters so very much then I recommend you watch the following and listen to the words.  It is a song by Matthew West called "Something to Say". 

Blessings and many wishes for you to commit to what God has called you to say, do and be.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Wisdom from Mama T

I have a fascination with the life and work of Mother Teresa.  The more I read about her the more I realize that she understood what it means to be a Christian.  Without seeking attention, people from all around the world traveled to meet her, to see and experience the work she was doing in Calcutta.  That amazes me.  Can you imagine someone from across the globe calling you on the phone or showing up at your door because they had heard of the work you were doing and were so intrigued by it they felt compelled to see it firsthand?  Incredible.

And more so, I think all followers of Christ are called to this type of living.  The type that makes people wonder what your life is all about and feel compelled to experience it themselves.  Mother Teresa lived authentically for Christ and obediently followed what He called her to do: work with the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta, and cover them with His love.

Not all of us will be called to the slums of Calcutta--God has a unique piece of the picture for each of us to fill--but there is a very important similarity.  We are all called to cover those we come across and the work that we do with the love of Christ.  We are called to embody his love by receiving it into our lives and then channeling it to all we come across.  This can be fulfilling in so many ways, and it will also be one of the most magnificent challenges in other ways. 

In his book, Something Beautiful for God, Malcolm Muggeridge records some thought-provoking words from Mother Teresa as she gives insight into the heart of her work:

From pages 112-113:

"Faith is a gift from God.  Without it there would be no life.  And our work, to be fruitful and to be all for God, and beautiful, has to be built on faith.  Faith in Christ who has said, 'I was hungry, I was naked, I was sick, and I was homeless and you did that to me.'  On these words of his all our work is based."

"Because we cannot see Christ we cannot express our love to him; but our neighbours we can always see, and we can do to them what if we saw him we would like to do to Christ."

"Our works are only an expression of our love for Christ.  Our hearts need to be full of love for him and since we have to express that love in action, naturally then the poorest of the poor are the means of expressing our love for God."

From page 118:

"Malcolm: Would you agree that one of the troubles is always thinks there must be some collective solution.  He would say, there is Mother Teresa, she saves so many people, she helps so many people, she saves so many children.  But this is just a fleabite; this is nothing; there must be some other way of doing it.  And his feeling about this makes him less inclined to throw himself in the way that you want into the sort of work that you're doing.

"Mother Teresa: I do not agree with the big way of doing things.  To us what matters is an individual.  To get to love the person we must come in close contact with him.  If we wait till we get the numbers, then we will be lost in the numbers.  And we will never be able to show that love and respect for the person.  I believe in person to person; every person is Christ for me, and since there is only one Jesus, that person is only one person in the world for me at that moment."

What would it look like if we treated everyone the way we would treat Jesus if we saw him face to face?  How would that change our underlying attitudes and reactions towards those that are challenging to love?  What does it look like to learn to love the people that have hurt you, have wronged you, have annoyed you and so on?

How can you see Jesus in this type of person's eyes?  I think it is one of the most difficult challenges, but one that is not only life transforming--it could be world changing.  This type of love--one that does not keep a record of wrongs and is unconditional--is only possible through loads and loads of continuous prayer.  It is only possible after God's love has been received into our lives.

So many of us know the children's song, "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so."  But in order for God's love to be life changing I think it needs to go deeper.  We must know it in our heads and believe it because it is in scripture: this is an important step.  However, in order for deep change to occur we must know it inside and out--we must experience God's love, feel the power of it.  If you are wondering if you've ever actually experienced His love, then you have not because it is a moment that is and will always be impressed on your heart and mind.  It is unforgettable and unmistakable. 

I had my moment not so long ago when I was praying.  My prayer was to feel His love, to know that I didn't have to earn it and that He truly did love me no matter what mistakes I make.  I waited and waited, and then, seemingly out of nowhere, it rushed over me.  I felt it.  I knew it more than I have ever known anything before--He loves me.  And I could not hold back a long, body-heaving and gut-cleansing series of sobs.  And I suddenly understood: I will do anything for this love.  I never want to be without it.  Ever.  This has to be my motivation in everything I do--it is the only thing that will sustain and deeply fulfill.  It is worth living and dying for.  It is all-consuming.

Prayer is what keeps this love close by and front and center.  It isn't something that can be learned once and then checked off--it needs to be consistently reaffirmed, remembered and actively pursued, but it is worth it.  It is a process to learn how to receive God's love and give it to others, and one that I aspire to learn better and better.

Mother Teresa's words have been a wonderful reminder and visual for me to keep my thoughts and actions in check: everyone I come across is made in the image of God.  They are his masterpiece, and therefore a piece of him.  How can I interact in such a way that I am showing my love to the Creator by bestowing loving words, actions and attitudes towards those he also loves so deeply?

Mama T tells us the answer is to give love and respect to each person we interact with: one at a time. 

Imagine the change we could make if we did.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Salad Surprise

I love fresh lettuce, especially the soft, buttery leaves.  And summer time is the most wonderful time of the year to find fresh buttery lettuce.  I have found several grocery stores and farmers markets that have provided a wealth of rewarding heads of greens recently.

Simply, it has been lovely eating the last few months. 

With one exception.

This exception occurred last week as I went to wash and cut a head of red lettuce for dinner.  Much to my surprise I saw a green shiny spider crawling along the leaves.  "No big deal," I thought to myself.  "It's just a sign of how fresh and amazing this lettuce is."  Trying to be brave I took a moment to try to determine what to do about the those of you who know me know, I am anything but fearless when it comes to spiders.

Then I saw spider #2.  "Be fearless.  Be fearless."  I coached myself.  "This is a moment to shine, to show that I am not as squeamish about 8-legged bugs as I used to be."

So I acted: I yelled for Luke (who is fearless with spiders--my hero!).

He bravely swooped in and struck down our teeny salad inhabitants, thoroughly washed the lettuce in case any more family members were hiding out and finished dressing it.

He also ate most of the salad that night.

Though he assured me he triple checked for any more spiders,  I couldn't mentally get over images of mistakenly eating one or seeing another one crawl on my fork.  From the entire experience I resolved to practice bravery the next time I encountered the species.

And it did happen.  The encounter came when I was with Tyler which helped a lot (I don't want my son growing up thinking that I won't protect him from these creepy crawlers...even if he does have a fascination with them and is constantly wanting to touch or "play" with anything that wriggles and is not quick enough to crawl away from his little fingers).

Anyways, I was with Tyler and I felt it: a slight tickle on my hand.  I looked down and there it was.  A monstrous (about the size of a small freckle) looking spider was taking a journey across the landscape of my skin.  I jumped, yelped, and before thinking at all squashed it right there on my hand.

Tyler looked at me, a bit startled, but laughing at my random outburst.

"What was that one Mommy?" he asked with his cute, inquisitive look.

"That, was a fierce, icky spider.  It was thumping along like a lion in the jungle and I needed to go 'Hiya' like Karate Kid does,"  I tried not to be over-dramatic but also needed to make sure I didn't minimize this moment.  I had squished an enormous (itty bitty) spider without even thinking.  My bravery could not be lost for I was not sure if it would ever come again.

Tyler laughed and said, "Do that one again!"  And the game of squishing the icky spider on my hand that sounds like a lion in the jungle and provokes a Karate Kid "Hiya!" from me lasted for the next 25 minutes.

I realized at the end of the game that I, amazingly, did feel braver about spiders.  It was as if I had transformed into some sort of Spider-hunting Cowgirl.  Watch out 8-legged creatures--the karate chopping cowgirl is loose!

It was a bright moment for me as a mother. No teeny-tiny spiders are going to get near my children!

The next night, after feeling a new surge of confidence in this area, I was putting on my boots getting ready to go out to meet some girlfriends.  From inside one of them a spider fell out (they are everywhere! ...especially in a house that does not have screens, which is more common than I realized here in York).  Initially I felt a surge of panic, but then I remembered my proud moment with Tyler.

So, transforming into the Spider-hunting Cowgirl, I made one very loud thump with my boot and...squished him.  Thrilling!  I am an extreme pacifist so it feels strange to say killing anything was indeed thrilling, but in this case, it was.

And while I do not expect to turn into a serial spider-killer I am encouraged that if I encountered another spider in a head of lettuce leaves, I might actually be able to handle it myself with bravery.

Unless, of course, the spider is furry, larger than a half dollar or has jumping capabilities...yuck, yuck, yuck...if that is the case, I am SO calling for Cowboy Luke to step in while Cowgirl Jennifer takes a coffee break.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Tea Time with Mr. and Mrs. Alderma

I worked in the city on Thursday.  Our neighbors were selling tea and baked goodies at a little church-like building in York, and wanting to support them we ventured in.  Luke and Tyler continued on to the Museum Gardens to fully enjoy the sunshine and I did a bit of study hopping…starting at Pret a Manger (where I enjoyed a free cappuccino, yay for freebies!) and then went back to the little church for a very economical cup of tea for a good cause (they were raising money for their Scouts group).  However, I couldn’t help but notice the decorative structure in the corner of this cozy building with two people lying down, hands folded in prayer.  The plaque above them states:
“Here Lyey True portraitures of Robert Watter Knighte Alderma. Twise Lord Maior of this cittie. A father to y poore a friend to y comminaltie of this cittie. A good benefactor of this church. Who died May 20 1612 and of his wife Margarete. Who died March 30 1608.”
There appeared to be a grave beneath the horizontal statues, which to be honest, weirded me out a little bit.  There we were, a bunch of people eager for an afternoon tea or coffee, sitting at tables and chairs, chatting, working or taking a moment to be calm, in the presence of a grave with two people’s remains deep inside.  I don’t know.  For me, it is a bit odd, which is why I sat on the opposite side of the room as far away as possible.  I mean, I know they are secured in lots of cement and other such materials, and I’ve had peaceful moments in cemeteries and really enjoyed Westminster Abbey when we toured it years ago, but drinking my tea near a grave in a church converted into a cafĂ©-like atmosphere is a new experience.
I was trying to imagine how this situation might look in a Starbucks, and the image that comes to mind is something out of a Saturday Night Live spoof or Candid Camera. A big coffin centered in the middle of a collection of tables and comfy chairs.  Maybe it would even hold a display for the latest book or products…hmmm…
But, who’s complaining?  The tea was quite satisfying and the price a true bargain.  The experience definitely stretched me beyond my comfort levels.  And as Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “A woman is like a tea bag - you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” So while I may not have been in a situation constituting “hot water” I like to think sharing my study space with a couple of people that have been dead several hundred years one that is making me stronger…even if that only means a stronger, more dedicated tea drinker.

Supposed to be

I was playing with Tyler this morning as he went to town with his lego-like blocks.  One particular interesting structure caught my eye, and I immediately asked "Tyler what is that one supposed to be?"  He looked at me for a moment and hesitated.  Then asked, "What is that one supposed to be?" in a quizzical tone that made me aware he wasn't quite sure what I was getting at.

I continued.  "What is it supposed to be?  Is it a crane truck?"

He still looked a bit confused but repeated back to me, "Yeah, it's a crane truck."

And then I started thinking.  I knew Tyler wasn't thinking the structure was necessarily a crane truck because he hesitated, and with crane trucks (when his structures are crane trucks) he does not hesitate.  He is very certain of what they are and makes sure everyone else has clarity as well.

But I realized in this moment my desire to make sure it (whatever it might be) had a label.  What Tyler created was supposed to be something, it was an assumption that when he was creating it he knew for sure what he pictured it to be.  And I thought about how this was, perhaps, how I viewed myself and the direction I take in life.  There is a bit of occasional anxiety when I don't have it all figured out--mapped--for the next 5, 10 or more years of what I want to do, to become, as if the label (i.e. career direction, family direction, spiritual and emotional direction) needed to be clear at every step.

I wondered if this desire to label is actually more inhibiting than freeing.  Tyler's block structure was just that: a block structure, and perhaps the greater freedom comes from allowing it to be that without boxing it into a category.  Rather, over time it might even morph into a crane truck or a building or a tree or an animal when the game calls for it.

So to move out of the block analogy (and if it was overly confusing with how my mind worked that out hopefully I can redeem that here): I thought of what our true callings and purpose are while we are on this world and came to the idea that maybe it centers on a much more general notion than I previously thought...that is, to learn to love and receive love first from God and then others.  Our purpose is to love, praise and serve.  It seems that everything else we do would fall into these categories.  And the freedom of accepting these callings/purpose is that we, too, may express this differently over the course of our lives.  It may be one thing, but probably it will be several from treating neighbors with kindness, to loving your kids, to following a deep passion, to serving others, to helping others find their voice and standing up for those who are not being heard and so on.

When people asked me what I wanted to do with my life in high school or college, my immediate response would be to think of a vocation or something tangible (i.e. have a family, travel and so on).  Now, I'm beginning to see how my response is changing.

How would I answer that question now?

I want to give and receive love.  I want to praise God through my actions and thoughts.  I want to speak up for others, and let the many blessings I've already been given in this life be used to the greatest possible effect. I want to learn and to never stop learning.  And I do not want to box myself in to what I or others may think this structure that God created called "me" is supposed to be.  I want to just let it be and see what happens.

Maybe, just maybe, it will take a variety of creative forms over time, each form being called forth when it is needed.  That, I think, would be pretty cool.