Friday, 24 June 2011

Simple Appreciation

My sister and brother-in-law are visiting from the US, and even after just a short bit we are having a wonderful time.  Two days ago we walked on the Roman walls and explored the Museum Gardens in the city centre.  The weather even stayed nice long enough for us to have a picnic on the lawn.  And these moments have made me appreciate so much: good company and conversations, tourism, nature in the midst of the city, history, and yummy food.

But a simple appreciation became clear to me that I wasn’t really expecting: standing in the shower.  You see, about a month and a half ago some of our tiles in the bathroom fell from the ceiling by our window (and the problem may have been exacerbated by steam from semi-long hot showers).  Then our shower door fell off.  So, on a bit of an impulse we decided to try showering European style—sitting in the tub with the handheld shower nozzle.  It took some getting used to but we ended up rolling with it.  We used less water, which made less steam.  It worked.

But when Diana and Paul came we decided to put the shower curtain back up.  Let's face it: it made life with one bathroom a bit easier (especially with potential "potty emergencies" with Tyler new to the potty system). 

So when I took my first standing shower in a month and a half I felt like I was at a luxury spa room.  It felt divine.  In all honesty, it has been a long time since I have appreciated a shower that much (I do remember feeling quite appreciative after my college La Vida wilderness experience, our visit to India and another one to Russia, but this time also makes the top list).  

I recognized the importance of living without the shower curtain for a period of time in order to see what a wonderful pleasure it really is in my morning routine.  I also love that the sitting showers made me much more conscientious of my water habits and I am now using less water even when I stand.

Simple appreciations, reminding me of how much I truly have to be grateful for.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Trials of Many Kinds (especially the Trivial Trials)

We are potty training now (eek!), and Tyler loves wearing his big boy underpants.  He has his favorites, but generally he's excited for any pair.  We ran into a problem the other day, however, when he insisted he wanted to wear two sets.  No big deal really, except for the fact that we were running low on the day's supply...two would be too high a risk at that particular moment.  So I said no, one pair would be enough.  And then he said "but I want two" to which I countered a reasoned argument, "I hear that you want to wear two, but we need to save the others just in case we need them this afternoon.  So right now, you can wear one, which would you like?"  And of course, he answered, "But I want two."

We went back and forth a bit, and then, after he ran out of an allotted amount of time to choose for himself I put one of the underpants back in the drawer.  And then: The tears! The utter dismay!  How could I?  Where was his right to self-expression?

I needed a breather myself and stepped out of the room until he calmed down.  This is not a big deal, I told myself...why does this have to be such a big deal?  With all the problems in our world, why is it that Tyler and I are in disagreement and now in tantrum-mode over an extra pair of underpants?  Ugh!

And then I heard God whisper, "Ah, yes, remember how this is not a big deal the next time you feel completely frustrated at a small matter.  Emotions can over take you, but the reality remains that it is not a big deal.  Remember that time when you were upset because your hair was extra frizzy in the morning or the time when you washed a tissue with all of the dark clothes and lint covered everything?  It felt just like Tyler feels right now, didn't it?  But remember how the emotion passed. It's important to train your tongue, your body, your mind to withstand the emotion--by not saying things you regret later, acting like a fool, or displaying an adult-like tantrum.  Maybe next time, you can pray to me for strength and wisdom instead.  Take a moment to breathe and face the emotion straight on, willing yourself not to let it overtake you.  And when you need to cry in frustration, cry on my shoulder.  Tell me.  Let me comfort you."

My frustration switched to empathy for Tyler.  I did know this feeling, and felt it more than I like to admit.  So when there was a pause in the crying I poked my head back in.

"Hey Buddy, do you need a hug?"  And without answering with words he came over and nestled into my arms.  Then he recounted what happened:

"I was sad, then I cried a little bit."

"Yes, and why were you sad?"

"I was sad because I wanted to wear two underwears and Mommy said 'No, only one.' Then I cried a little bit, but then I feel better."

"I'm glad you feel better. Are you ready to put your underwear and pants on?"

"Yes, I'm happy now.  Maybe we can go play outside, do that one Mommy?"

"Sounds like a great idea Tyler.  I'm glad you are happy now."

It was a peaceful transition from tantrum to fun, and a wonderful reminder that frustrating moments do come, and many times it is over very small instances. For me, I am going to remember that it is what we do in those moments with our frustration rather than trying to avoid the frustration completely that counts.  God is there, He cares.  He wants to comfort us and soothe us in those times of need, even if they seem trivial (or huge depending on the moment...).  Just like the toddler's tantrum, it passes.

We have an opportunity to choose wisely with every circumstance we face.  Some of them provoke joy, others grief, others laughter and others anger and sadness.  When we face those trials (even the trivial ones) that bring frustration, sadness or anger--may we lean on God to direct us how to deal with the emotion.  May we allow God to comfort us, and may we still seek to embody love (1 Cor 13 version) throughout it all.  May we find God's shoulder to cry on and let His loving arms tell us that, "It really is going to be okay."

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind." ~James 1:2-6

Friday, 17 June 2011

The Grass Carpet

Friday at last!  And wouldn't you know?  The clouds and chilly air have rolled in again just in time for the weekend, oh well!

Currently I am on a brief computer break in the Ron Cooke Hub (which is a new part of campus they just opened this year, a mile walk from my office).  I am here for a lecture by Baroness Helena Kennedy on social justice (hope to post on that later!).  The building is beautiful and state of the art.  These computers overlook a scattering of ponds (I am biased but the water, bridges and trees near the Sociology building are a bit prettier but unless I am out and walking around I do not get to view them all that often) so this is a real treat!

Upon walking into the building and into the main area (which has beautiful open space and very high ceilings), I saw what the University's website has been promoting and advertising recently: a square of grass in the middle of the floor available for those wishing to get into a sensory mood and explore the touch of a grass carpet.  It is supposed to enhance creativity:

It looks pretty, very colorful.  And to be honest, I'd be onboard for sitting on soft, green grass and pulling out a book or journal.  The thing is that it is still in a building (albeit a glorious one) and people of all sorts are walking by, chatting, the espresso machine is whirring at consistent intervals...I don't it self-conscious or what have you, but I think I'm going to pass on this one.  And, I have to make just one comment on the idea that sitting on grass is a novel concept (although I do see that here, as the rain is pouring down, grass indoors makes for a much more predictable experience).  Getting back to nature seems to be a popular theme right now (and I'm all for it--I love nature!), but it is interesting how many of these ideas offer the convenience of bringing nature into the very spaces we often want to escape to nature from. 

In any case, it looks beautiful and part of me wishes I could get in the mood to sprawl out in the middle of it...maybe after the lecture.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Lost Duckling

Yesterday I had to an errand on campus which made me leave my office (yay!).  The University of York is beautiful this time of year: trees, bridges, water, and LOTS of ducks and geese.  Over the past two months it has been a daily occurrence to see Mommy and Daddy ducks with their babies.  They are cute as cute can be and are growing up before my eyes (tear).  Some of them already bear more resemblance to their parents with full grown wings and feathers than they did just a bit ago.  It's also easier to walk around campus now that the babies are more independent.  When they were nesting and just hatched I encountered some pretty nasty hissing and flapping while trying to make my way to the library, a meeting or home.

But back to yesterday.

I was walking to the Sociology building over one of the lovely pedestrian bridges that crosses the pond when I heard frantic chirping.  Looking for the source I saw a baby duckling swimming as fast as its little legs would paddle in little circles and little zigzaws.  It was by itself and the logical part of my mind told me that wasn't so good.  Not wanting to interfere with nature but not being able to leave the duckling completely on its own I stayed fairly close by to watch.  The duckling continued to chirp and chirp and chirp.  Other ducks and geese in the area went on with what they were doing: eating, sleeping, swimming as this little guy made his way along the "shoreline".

I was trying to figure out what I could do to help.  I didn't want to make the situation worse, but I was worried for the duckling's prospects without a parent to protect him.  Before I could come up with any viable solution, I saw a duck from across the pond speedily swimming directly toward the duckling.  Then, the duckling started swimming towards the duck.  And I promise you I am telling the truth: it felt like a chick flick for waterfowl.  They met beautifully, as if rehearsed many times before, in the center of the pond and (what I took as lovingly) nestled and pecked each other.  Then, without much pause, the adult duck continued to swim to shore and the baby followed, much calmer now that he was safe again.

I'm sure people walking by and those in the area thought I had a bit of a problem as I scurried around the approximate 40 feet of shoreline this all took place in, ducking behind trees, taking a few steps, pausing, then taking two more.  But the cost of looking awkward and suspicious was well worth witnessing love reunited.

After the ordeal, I found myself being in awe of that little duck: he never gave up.  He had to keep going, he knew his life depended on it.  The circumstances were such that he had to show his strength, he had to rise to the occasion.  And so I began reflecting on the truth inherent in some of my all-time favorite quotes which I'll include below (in case you are inspired to reflect on reaching into the depths of what we're made of...if not feel free to skim straight past this part :)

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” ~Marianne Williamson in her book A Return to Love (it has also been quoted by Nelson Mandela in one of his speeches)
"Be not afraid of greatness: some men are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them." ~William Shakespeare, "Twelfth Night"
"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great." ~Mark Twain

After reflecting some, I started wishing I had been able to take a video of the whole ordeal, which then made me do a quick search on YouTube to see if anyone else had thought along those lines.  Turns out someone recorded a baby duck rescue from a pool.  If you need a 2 minute "cute" break, then this is worth watching.

I believe the man in this video helped these ducks in a simple, yet profound way, and at the risk of making too much out of a cute video I'll put another quote in here that I think says it all:

"The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but to reveal to him his own." ~Benjamin Disraeli

 And so I'm going to make these goals part of my "Life Mission Statement" (which this moment has made me want to start):

1) Recognize my authentic voice, to "make manifest the great glory of God"
2) To let my light shine
3) To not fear greatness
4) To keep away from belittlers (or tune them out!)
5) And to help reveal all these things to others about themselves

Right!  Big motives and thankfully, expectations that allow for these things to happen over time not by dinnertime today.

You may be asking (as I am)-- all this from a lost baby duckling?  I guess to that I can only say: I'm glad it wasn't a lost moose.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Your Arms are Better

Recently Luke, Tyler and I had a family outing at a local playground.  When we first journeyed out the weather was fairly warm, and Tyler being on a short-sleeve shirt and "no sleeve pants" kick was very excited to sport his summery outfit.  After enjoying the swings, the slide, a "green home" playhouse and making up silly dances in the field right next to the playground, the temperature took a dive to be on the chilly side (we are still amazed at how fast the weather changes here in England--we thought we'd be used to it after growing up in Massachusetts and Connecticut, but the rapid speed that it seems to occur here still takes us by surprise).

At that point, we told Tyler that he needed to put his coat on because we didn't want him to catch a cold (which in all honesty is something I thought I would never hear myself say.  I don't even necessarily believe that you can come down with a cold from the chilly weather, and yet I find the words tumbling out of my mouth before I can stop their sneaky escape).  Tyler, caught up in utter fun, did not want to oblige his worried parents and replied with the all-to-familiar "No, I don't want to."

At this point he sat on Luke's lap for a "breather" and snuggled in, wrapping Luke's arms around him.  "So cozy" he said as we continued to reason with our little we want to take care of our bodies, how they need to stay warm, how we want to keep him healthy, yada yada yada.

Luke asked after we felt we had adequately presented our points, "Ready to put on your coat?" And Tyler looked up at him with his big eyes and simply said, "Your arms are better."

Luke looked at me, and we smiled.  There was something to Tyler's statement that seemed so simple, and so profound.  It started me on a train of thought that included: violence, war, social justice, exploitation, pathways to peace.

Love is what we need to be striving for in our daily lives, something that seems obvious and yet when it is broken down is actually quite the challenge.  We have been trying to learn and live the 1 Corinthians definition of love, and we've been struck at how consuming it is.  Take a look at the requirements (this is the NIV translation):

1) Love is patient.
2) Love is kind.
3) It does not envy.
4) It does not boast.
5) It is not proud.
6) It does not dishonor others.
7) It is not self-seeking
8) It is not easily angered.
9) It keeps no record of wrongs.
10) Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
11) It always protects.
12) It always trusts.
13) It always hopes.
14) It always perseveres.

Quite a list, and that does not include the intro and conclusion usually included when this passage is read aloud, which makes clear that without love we are nothing and we have done nothing of importance.  To love is to live fully.  To love God, to love our neighbours--this is what we are called to do.  It is not something we can take lightly, and it is not something that can just be done.  It takes practice, it takes commitment. It takes getting over ourselves and our emotions to evaluate the bigger picture, overriding the immediate impulse and acting on love.

I do believe that the more we can personify love in our daily activities and decisions, the more we can counter the seemingly impossible dark issues that are alive and well in our world. And for Christians, this is what it is all about.  This is who we are required to become.  This is what Christ meant for Christianity to be about: love.  Showing His love by living it, and sharing His love with all who will receive it.  He is the greatest example of what it means to be the "hugging" arms of God the Father.

So for our young son, in a moment of weather-uncertainty, to choose the comfort of his daddy's hug rather than a fleece hoodie to keep him warm, we could only agree with him.

That's right, Tyler.  Your father's arms are better.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

A Matter of Luck

Last Saturday night, Luke and I went on a date (hooray!).  A man I met in a module/class I took in the Spring term had invited us over for dinner.  During his Masters he is living on campus.  He most likely will return home in August.  Home for him is the Gaza Strip, to which he calmly told us in answer to a question of what it's like to live there, "For us, life and death is just a matter of luck."

It was a dinner conversation that made me realize just how fortunate of a life I have lived and am living so far.  This 31-year old man (around our age) is married and has a daughter the same age as Tyler.  He accepted a scholarship to study here at the University of York in the well-respected Centre for Applied Human Rights.  He hopes to return back and be able to work with law enforcement.  Before he came here, he was a police officer although they are not allowed to carry weapons (Israeli law, which also mandates that Palestine does not form a military).

Coming from a Western point of view, we had to ask: are you worried about your wife and daughter?  He would be, he said, if he allowed himself to worry.  The thing is that he recognizes there is nothing he can do.  They felt it was an important opportunity for him to pursue, one that he hopes will help him to be an agent of peace in his country.  Worrying would consume him if he let it, and having faced death in the eyes on several occasions, he is aware of the randomness of military aggression and murder.

He told us about a time when he was sleeping soundly in his parents home and woke up to the loudest blast he had ever heard.  The other half of the house (thankfully the one that no one was sleeping in) had been ripped apart by a bomb.  The windows and doors were gone, and things were displaced everywhere.  Another time, Israeli forces fired small bombs that explode and send nails flying everywhere.  The nails covered the front of his home.  It was at this point that the family decided they had to move.

His family has been trapped inside their home for days at a time (once while his wife was 7 months pregnant) without access to basic supplies of food and water.  His brother-in-law is missing four fingers from one hand after shrapnel from a bomb came through a window. He knew a neighbor who was killed "escaping" his own home.  He was shot in the back and left to die.  No one could attend to him because they would also have been shot.

It is difficult to come across a person like this, a person who is our age, and feel speechless.  What do you say?  How do you explain to them that you know nothing of what they have lived?  How do you explain that your country of residence supplies Israel with approximately $3 billion every year which is equivalent to $8.3 million a day (this is about 1/5 of the total US foreign aid budget)?  How do you make up for the fact that the US, your home country, knows that about 3/4 of this foreign aid given to Israel is spent on military and weapons?  How can we really say we want peace in a region of the world where we are promoting a bully scenario and feeding bombs, guns and other military equipment into one side?

But he already knows.  He's known a long time.  I did not until this year, a few months before meeting him in class.  I still do not know much, and I was humbled by his hospitality.  I wanted to apologize.  It is the people--on both sides of this conflict--that have suffered so much.  Too much.

He knows this too.  He craves peace.  He hopes for it, but his eyes show he is skeptical. 

He will return back home, to his wife and daughter.  He will work for peace, and live with a reality of life and death being a matter of luck.

And I will do what?  I will write, I will share. About him. About his life experiences.  About the other side.  About the people on both sides.  And I will be thankful for the many things I take for granted: a general sense of peace, safety, a house to live in with my husband and son, food that is accessible in one of many locations, family and friends, my education, a lack of thoughts regarding a reality of war and aggression, a lack of thoughts about whether someone I know and love will be killed by a bomb, a lack of thought as to whether I can return to my country and if I return if I will ever be allowed to leave its borders again. 

See, I've worried.  I've worried about many things.  And this conversation made me realize that most of those things are not worth the time I spend on them.  Instead: gratitude, gratitude, gratitude.  We (Luke, Tyler and I) do not have hard lives.  We have had hard moments and challenges, but even those cannot compare to having our house blasted in the middle of the night.  It was important for us to realize that at this particular juncture in our journey.

We have so much, and it's important that we make every effort we can to share it.

For more information on the Israel-Palestine conflict check out the websites below:

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Backwards and Upside Down

Why call a blog "Asparagus for Breakfast" you may ask (or you may not and then the rest of this answer is going to seem uninteresting and perhaps tedious...but if you can stomach it, please bear with me)?  For one, I think it has a nice ring to it. And secondly, it happened that the morning we indeed had asparagus with our breakfast that I realized we had flipped a lot of normal things on their head.  It did take me awhile to fully come to terms with all we have changed about our lives (a year really, from the very start of trying to make coming here a reality), but it happened.  We've been trying to eat healthier--include more veggies in the diet, keep out the sugar and not so good things (it is a process and we're still in it).  I was trying out a particular Detox diet to see if it would help me feel more energy, and somehow or other we found ourselves eating asparagus as part of our morning cuisine.  The funny thing was that morning (and not necessarily any other mornings since) Tyler was chowing down on the asparagus.  Go figure!

This moment made me take a pause and  briefly go over how this past year has been a flip flop for us--everything from living in a different time zone, different (but similar) country and culture, occupying different roles (Luke as primary caregiver and me as full-time student), different lifestyle (no car, no dryer, no dishwasher, no microwave and such) and different habits of all sorts.  At least the language isn't different...well, for the most part...there are quite a few new terms we are learning: pants are trousers, underwear are "pants" (good one to know), french fries are "chips", chips are "crisps", boots are "wellies", the trunk of the car is a "boot", the sidewalk is "the pavement", and so on.  The British do not call boo-boos "boo-boos", and when we say the word in front of others we get very strange looks (a what?).  Band-aids are "plasters" and the list goes on.

We discovered that after being here a couple months that disagreeing about the weather is rude.  If someone opens up a conversation with "What a miserable day!" You agree.  It doesn't matter if you think it's lovely (but chances are if they are saying it's miserable, it probably is).  It's meant for conversation, and agreeing is equivalent with accepting an invitation to chat.  We also discovered that forming lines/waiting your turn or queuing" is a really big deal.  People know there place in line (say, to get on a bus) even if it looks like there is just a random mass of people.  Do not cut...even if you think you are just joining the mass--join the back of the mass or wait for someone to cue you in and wave you in front of them.  (Oh yeah, and waiting in line is "queuing").  If you've been to England you may be laughing now and either reminiscing of what that was like or totally disagreeing with me, to which I would have to say that these are not directly my own observations.  They came from a book that was shown to us by friends here called Watching the English written by a woman who is English.  Since reading sections of it I have definitely noticed several occasions where she is right on.

In short, there has been a lot of change over the last year for our 3-person family.  There have been adjustments--some welcomed and some reluctantly let in--but we are learning a TON about who we are, where we are going and who we want to be.

The morning we sat eating that stalky green crunchy veggie with our tea, I decided I wanted to record the journey of these backwards and upside down life moments.  I want to remember why we did what we did, how it felt, what it looked like and what we learned from it.

So there are the ins and outs of this particular blog...random thoughts about norm-challenging, finding the real us and what we need to do in the midst of invisible rules telling us what we should do.