Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Moving Along

After a while, it gets depressing to keep hearing about people who try to post comments on here and can't, while meanwhile the spam comments keep right on coming. So, after a little thought and a whole lot of facebook comments yesterday, I bit the bullet and bought myself a domain name and have started up a blog not on blogspot.

I feel a little bummed and nostalgic about this--this blog and I have been through a lot together. But I do think it's time. In spite of not "believing in" New Year's resolutions, I've kind of made one under my breath, and it has to do with being more intentional about writing, and I think that might mean I also have to be at least a little more intentional about blogging and marketing. So, I have moved. My official url is http://thatsajennstory.com/ I'm still working on setting it up, and probably will be for a while, but there is something short for you to read on there in the meantime.

I plan on maintaining some sort of continuity between these two blogs, because, frankly, they're all "Jenn stories." (If you want to know what that is, just ask. Or maybe there will appear a blurb about that on the new blog eventually.) There will be link-backs and such. But the action is moving to a different location.

Thanks for sticking around and reading. Here's to more dialogue and more stories. Don't forget to share your stories, too!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

New Year's Bash

So far, 2011 is indeed turning out to be amazing, though not in quite the positive way which was what I meant when I said it.

Yesterday, I intended to take Oscar to the vet, to check out a few issues which had come to light after his New Year's Eve performance. I figured we'd be there an hour at most, and then go back to work for a few more hours and then go home. Or go up to the North Shore to finally get some books for this research paper I still have to write. (This thing is turning into a logistical bear.)

It was a bright and sunny day, and I was hoping that whatever was wrong with him wouldn't be too severe because . . . I love him, and also because I am broke. I was considering how nice it was that I had such a good car now, because now that the car repair bills have stopped with the offloading of the Corolla, I have dog repair bills on occasion.

About five minutes later, the truck in front of me stopped suddenly in the middle of an intersection with no warning, no blinker, and potentially (unless the sun somehow made them invisible) no brake lights. By the time I realised he was not moving, there was about a foot and a half between me and the truck's back bumper--not even enough time for my brakes to squeal as I slammed them, and then slammed into the truck itself. Next thing I knew, the airbag in front of me was deflating, black smoke was going up everywhere, and Oscar was sitting hunched over in his seat, mercifully alive because of his harness, and shaking with terror.

I thought wearily that I was supposed to get out and exchange information with the driver of the truck and then I remembered I had had such a good car and I had just destroyed it, and I didn't know how I could afford to pay more on my insurance, and all I had wanted to do was take Oscar to the vet and now he probably had more stuff wrong with him, and he was so scared and I couldn't unhitch him and hold him and comfort him because this stupid airbag was in the way and plus it felt like someone had thrown a rock at my chest.

The truck driver was very solicitous and told me just to stay where I was and wait until "they" got there. "They" turned out to be both the EMTs and the local police, and I was too disoriented to tell the difference, so when the EMT tried to ask me what was wrong with me, I started to give a description of what had happened to the car. They recommended I go to the hospital just to get checked out, and then they put a neck brace on me and had me lie down on a stretcher. They taped my head and the neck brace and my chest, and maybe my legs, to the thing, and all I could see was beautiful blue sky and clouds and occasionally one of their heads.

I kept asking about Oscar and I couldn't get in touch with anybody to pick him up at first, and the cop took him, trembling, out of the other side of the car and said he'd keep him at the station until someone could come get him, but as it turned out later he brought him to the local shelter instead. I was wheeled onto an ambulance, and the EMTs tried to take my coat off, but they should've thought of that before they taped me down, because it was impossible, and every time they tried, the neck brace felt more constricting. I noticed that the board was very flat, and that my spine was curving upward a little more than normal, and thought that perhaps these guys needed to work on their technique, because if they had had a person with actual back and neck injuries, this position couldn't be a good one. As for me, my worst problem was motion sickness. And worry about Oscar, but I managed to raise my arm up enough to text his Favourite Babysitters, and they picked him up forthwith. I was glad the EMTs hadn't been able to take my coat off, because that ambulance was cold!

After feeling sure I was going to vomit into my own larynx, I didn't and the ambulance stopped, and then they were wheeling me down some hallways, and it got a little warmer and I could see signs above the nurses' stations (even though I couldn't see the nurses' stations) that said things like "North Pod." It made me feel even more like I was in a Star Trek show, or maybe Dollhouse, going in for a "treatment." Except that the dolls usually walk in.

I was transferred to a "bed" and then propped up some, and spent most of the day waiting, updating Facebook from my phone, and then talking to one of the Favourite Babysitters after she showed up and my phone died. I learned that, if I had ever thought I wanted to work in an ER (which I never did think, I don't think), I really didn't at all now. I realised that, again, as in my cancer experience, I could've had this so much worse. I realised it even more when a guy around my age died while we were there.

Also, by the time I was allowed out, I had figured out for my own self that there was nothing more wrong with me than sore muscles and a bruised sternum. I didn't really need the doctor to tell me that. He was a sympathetic guy, though, who did the right thing by the crazy dog lady and wished me and my dog well as I left. Also, when he was examining my back, I got this 30-second massage, about which I was really tempted to say, "Actually, could you just keep doing that?" Why do doctors not prescribe professional massage? I'd be okay with putting that on my insurance.

Oscar's Favourite Babysitters fed me and then brought my doggie and me home. One of my friends offered to loan me a car, which was a tremendous Godsend, as my insurance doesn't cover rental fees. When I lay down in bed that night, I really didn't think I was going to be able to fall asleep, but I did, and slept quite well, actually. (Of course, it might have been jacked up Motrin.)

I'm not sure what God's trying to teach me, except I have a hunch it's what I said the other time: that sometimes bad stuff just happens. I can't say I didn't spend a whole lot of time wondering what the heck I was prevented from going to Minnesota for, because this might never have happened. Or why I didn't just leave work a few minutes earlier or later. But I also have to say I've seen God's face in my friends and family, near and far, who reached out to me with their concern and their help, and who have reached out to God for me in their prayers. I guess it's just as open to question why God spared me as to why He allowed the accident. I can't say I'm not still confused or worried or a little bit angry sometimes. But I also find that I'm a little bit grateful.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy (?) New Year!

Last evening as I was heading out for the New Year's festivities in which I planned to engage in lieu of celebrating with Brother-Dave and family, I was talking to my friend the Matchmaker about this little theory I have. This falls under the category of Superstitions I Have in Spite of Disapproving of Superstitions. It seems like, if you're going to have a cause-and-effect kind of superstition about the New Year, it should be that the New Year's celebrations should be a direct reflexion (or maybe foreshadowing) of how the rest of the year is going to go.

In my experience, however (well, okay--two years that I can distinctly remember), the "fun-ness" or misery of the New Year's experience is actually in direct contrast to how a year is going to go. For example: the party we had at my church in London as the year turned to 2000, along with the "after-party" at a friend's house, is hands-down the best New Year's Eve memory I have. But the year itself? Well, I guess I learned a lot or something (you know, like we were talking about last time), but it was miserable. So, I think, was the New Year's Eve following. But then 2001 (apart from, you know, 9/11) was actually pretty great. For me.

Anyway. If this little pattern I imagine I have discerned is true, then 2011 should be amazing.

I was already thinking this yesterday morning when I realised the cold I've been fighting had called for back-up and I was feeling miserable and might have to spend the evening with a box of tissues and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. But after a day in pj's and a nap, I was feeling ready to go out and enjoy the evening, so I headed up to Boston to join some people I barely knew for part of Boston's First Night. The main reason I was going up there was because Jason Harrod was playing at Park Street Church and the last time I heard him live was at a coffee house at Wheaton College when we were both undergrads there. He has no idea who I am, but I still like to feel like there's a connexion.

The plan, for me, was to go to the concert with these new friends and then cut out early and head back to the City for another party with some friends I actually know better. What I probably should have done, however (even though it was nice to meet some new folks, all of whom seemed very nice), was gotten there on my own steam, too, because leaving from the station that everyone else left from meant we had to park our cars a 15 minute walk away, which in turn meant that I had to walk that 15 minutes back myself at 10.00 at night on New Year's Eve. And I got lost. (I did enjoy the Jason Harrod portion of the evening, however.) By the time I found my car it was 11, and I thought I might just make it to the other party before the ball dropped.

I wasn't, however, considering the fact that I was in Spaghetti-Land. This is a part of Boston outskirts (Harvard, Allston, Arlington, Watertown, Newton) of many roads moving in and out of each other with insufficient signage. I'm sure if you live there, it all makes sense, but I don't, and I rarely visit--certainly not at night, on New Year's Eve. I ended up having to call Brother-Dave all the way out in Minnesota to get me unstuck, since he had lived on the North Shore once. I got to the party at 12.30. But at least I wasn't lost anymore when 2011 started.

I got home at about 2 a.m., and as I got out of the car in the basement garage, I thought, "What's that smell?" It was even stronger as I entered the basement. "Smells kinda like diapers." An ominous thought crept into my mind. As I emerged from the basement into the kitchen, there was no doubt.

I don't know if Oscar got sick and therefore became distressed, or if he got distressed and therefore became sick, but this little dog who only one other time (when he was sick) has defecated in his crate, had somehow bounced the crate partway across the floor, and the inside of it and the outside of him were both utterly caked with what had once been inside of him. (I'm sure you would all appreciate it if I made a New Year's resolution to stop blogging about Oscar's poop, but it's momentous, guys.)

This is how it was that, at 2.30 a.m., I found myself scrubbing my unhappy dog, scrubbing his cage, completely disposing of his blanket that was his Christmas present in 2009 and a dog-toy which fortunately he rarely plays with, and then washing my hands, arms and face about 25 times. I know people say dogs have no concept of time, but I think that's rubbish. My dog knows when to wake up in the morning, and when it's time to go for a walk at lunch time, and when it's time to go home from work. I really think that, because I left him alone for far longer than I ever have before (except once when Dear-Friend-Paulina and I went to an Over the Rhine concert), he began to fear I wasn't coming back, and freaked out. Poor doggie. And poor me.

So this is why I'm saying I think 2011 is going to be amazing. Or . . . it had better be.

I hope yours is, too.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Better

If you're a person who believes in some sort of personal Divine Being, do you ever play this little head game? Something disappointing happens, and either someone says, "Well, God must have a better plan," or you think something like, "God is sovereign and things happen for a purpose, so clearly I'm supposed to learn something from this, or He knew something bad was going to happen if my wishes were fulfilled, so it's all for the best." Then you sit around mulling this over for way too long and trying to envision all the scenarios that you might have been spared from, or trying to figure out what it is you're supposed to be learning.

Here's an example:

I was supposed to fly to Brother-Dave and Sister-in-Lu's yesterday. I was going to use up my last week of vacation for the year during the last week of the year playing with TWCN and Smiley-Guy. But I live in a usually-cold, wintery northern state, and Brother-Dave's family lives in a pretty far away cold, wintery northern state. My northern state had been a little tardy as far as snowfall and winter weather, in comparison to Ireland, where my parents live, which isn't even supposed to get snow, and was having a blizzard along with the rest of Europe the day my parents were scheduled to fly over here. Closed European airports notwithstanding, my parents actually got on a plane, which actually left, and actually arrived safely in our cold northern state that hadn't had any snow yet.

You would think if it had waited this long to snow, it could've waited a little longer, until the winter festivities were over or something. But it didn't. We managed not to get a white Christmas (snow on Christmas is, of course, totally irrelevant to the holiday, but it sure makes for a lovely landscape), but the day after, we began to get a blizzard. In this neck of the woods, it doesn't even seem like it was that bad, overall. But the timing was miserable, and the short version of the story is that I am now not going to Minnesota to see my brother and his family, and my parents, who were supposed to leave today, now have to wait to fly out there until Friday, and are still working on extending their stay, re-hiring a rental car, and getting back to the house here in the meantime.

This is when someone comes along and helpfully says, "Well, God has a better plan." This is probably true, but it sure doesn't seem like it from this vantage point. There's no use in pretending that any of this is of earth-shaking importance, but if it's important enough for God to have another plan than it, it must be important enough to get kind of a reaction from the people affected. The reaction, at least from me, is that being stranded at home on vacation with nothing to do (but church history paper research, which I can't do much of anyway, because the seminary offices are closed and it's hard to find info on the Protestant modernist-fundamentalist controversy anywhere else in this heavily Roman Catholic part of the world), as contrasted with playing tea party for a week with TWCN is a weird kind of "better." I'd debate it.

Then today I woke up with a cough, which has now established itself firmly in my lungs. So--maybe it's "better" that I was prevented from going because Brother-Dave's family spent pretty much the entire time at Sister-in-Lu's parents' house over Christmas, sick as dogs. Surely they do not need to get sick again, even if it's a completely different type of ailment. But really? Wouldn't it have been simpler just to keep me from getting sick?

Maybe God's trying to grow my character, and maybe it's even working, because in spite of this rant, I'm not actually angry, as I might have been in the past--just a little put out and kind of cynical/curious about reasons. Or maybe He's trying to grow my brother's character, by giving him surely one of the most miserable Christmas/New Year's seasons he's ever had. Or maybe He's trying to show two-and-a-half-year-old TWCN that life's just not fair and the sooner she learns it the better: apparently she cried when she found out I couldn't come to visit her. I wonder how she'll take the delay in my parents' itinerary.

Well, it isn't fair. None of this is the biggest deal ever, but it's disappointing and frustrating and disrupting and . . . not fair.

On the other hand . . . This is the kind of thing that leads some people to decide there is no God, or He doesn't love us, or He isn't all-powerful, and that, to me, seems like overkill. If there is a God, it makes sense that He might not make sense. I mean, made in the image of God we may be. God Himself, we are not (in spite of worldviews that try to tell us differently). In the first place, who am I to think any of this should matter to Him, really? And if, as I believe, it surprisingly does, does that mean He's going to step in at every moment, insuring that everything about my life is smooth sailing? (Evidently not . . . because it hasn't been!) I'm not writing this to prove anything. (Fortunately, since I'm not succeeding in that.) I'm just mulling this over. And here's what I'm thinking:

Maybe somehow, in some miraculous, sparkly-snowflake, cheesy Serendipity-movie kind of way, I'll meet this amazing guy this week and be married by next Christmas or something crazy like that, or maybe I'll just be stuck here with a chest-cold and no little-girl tea-parties. But either way, I still believe God is good, and God loves me, and God is all-powerful. I just don't think any of that requires Him to wait on me hand-and-foot, or forestall any disappointments, and I don't even think there has to be a "reason," or a "better," honestly. At least, not one that I'll necessarily ever see. The world is broken, and "broken" things happen here.

We celebrate God's coming into the brokenness at this time of year. He came ultimately to fix it--to fix us--but first He submitted to the brokenness and darkness, the disappointment and frustration and disruption (do I think His leaving Heaven to hang out down here with us wasn't a disruption?), and even now we're waiting for the final "fixing." It'll come. I hope I learn something from this, even if I'm not married by next Christmas, but maybe it's all just part of living here, and maybe, with God around, even if He isn't fixing it right now, that's okay.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Becoming Human

Earlier this month I was emailing a little with my friend Stephen. He was talking about how he approves of any holiday which involves his getting presents. He was speaking of Hanukkah mostly (and acknowledging that the reason presents are exchanged during that holiday was so Jewish children wouldn't feel bad that they weren't getting presents during their holiday the way the Christian kids were during theirs). I could kind of resonate with this sentiment, if the truth were known (as it is about to be).

"I like presents, too," I said.

I am fully cognizant that my pretty Christmas tree and the digital camera that my family are pitching in to get me for Christmas have nothing to do with what I believe to be a celebration of God becoming a human being. However. I guess you could make the stretch and say the presents are a celebration of the material world which God validated if He did, in fact, become a human being. Or you could just make a pun on the word 'presents/presence.' Anyway. I'm just saying, I like the gifts.

Let's be honest, here . . .

"I have to say," Stephen replied,

that as an outside observer, I've always been fascinated by the fact that Christmas seems to be a bigger holiday than Easter (when I was working retail, I had a customer berate me for us being open on Easter while she was buying stuff - I love irony). It always seemed that Christ rising and becoming God was kind of the point of Christianity. You're the first person to ever phrase Christmas as the day that God became human. Quite interesting...

At which point, I e-blurted,

I can't believe I'm the first person you've ever heard express that Christmas is about God becoming human. No offense to them, but my gut reaction was to blurt out, 'What kind of Christians are these people?' (I.e., the ones you know who haven't expressed it like that.) Easter isn't about Jesus becoming God. Christians believe He was God the whole time. Easter is about "reversing the curse," if you will--death (including separation from God) being the "curse" and consequence of the general human rebellion against God. God didn't want us separated from Him, but at the same time He is just and requires restitution for the upending of the order of things we caused in His creation. The offended party is the only one who can forgive, and the offending party is the only one who can make restitution, so God became human Himself so He could both make the restitution on our behalf and extend forgiveness to the rest of us after restitution had been made. By submitting to death (including a rift in His own nature--most Christians believe that for a moment God the Father turned His back on God the Son on the cross), He took on His own curse, and by coming back to life, He broke it. Not, of course, that we don't all physically die--it's just that the ultimate effects of death can be different. (Presupposing life after it, of course.) Anyway. That's why Easter is so awesome--it's the culmination of God's becoming human and releasing us from our fear of death and giving us a completely new direction for life both now and later.
I know--that's a long "blurt." But this is me--did you expect a short one?

Amazingly, Stephen actually responded even after all that, but he did make the point that, "I have a funny feeling that if I were to post a survey on Facebook asking why Christmas is important to Christianity (as opposed to the day everyone gets stuff), most would simply say 'It's the day Jesus was born' instead of any reference to God becoming human. But don't hold me to that."

Okay, I won't hold him to that. But it really got me thinking. Many Christians want to "take back Christmas." Even though most of the time I am at least partially thinking that in fact it was we who commandeered a pagan holiday or two, and while I don't feel bad about it, it does seem maybe a little hypocritical to phrase it quite that way--in spite of such subversive thinking, it does feel pretty good to have someone random that isn't from either of my churches wish me a Merry Christmas. Like my long-lost Muslim friend who just contacted me on Facebook this evening, for example. But I think sometimes we Christians think that all we have to say is "Merry Christmas," and that is magically going to translate into everyone's head everything that Christmas means to us. Let's face it--those words don't even translate that to most Christians half the time, busy as we are trying to make the holiday significant. Frankly, I'm more likely to be thinking of how stressed out my wallet is this month than I am about how God invaded human history as one of us.

It seems to me that if we really want to get Christmas "back," we should worry less about correcting people who cheerfully and well-intentionedly tell us to "Enjoy the holiday!" and focus more on the fact that God became human. And that He did so, in part, to help us become more human, too, and give us endless reasons to celebrate.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Indispensable

It is a wry joke in many circles that religion and guilt go together. I would argue that genuine trust in and commitment to Christ don't go with guilt, but the general "religion + guilt" thing might be true, I guess.

Whatever the case, I always feel this low-level guilt if I happen to miss church. I was ill a couple of Sundays last winter and had to skip out on Sunday mornings and even cancel youth group, and I felt like I had to do some kind of penance or something, even though usually there was also an accompanying sense that God was trying to get me to take a break because I wasn't doing a very good job of it on my own. This morning I missed church because I pretty much slid off my driveway while trying to get out of it this morning. So, it's not like I didn't try to go to church. I tried a couple of times, actually. I also tried not to slide down the embankment on one side, the stone wall on the other, or the woodpile at the bottom. I couldn't even walk Oscar this morning it was so icy out. But still I felt guilty, and so I decided I was going to spend some time on a novel I've not been writing about Mary the mother of Jesus, because I'm working on the birth of Christ part right now and that's Christmas-y and a good use of Sunday-morning-not-at-church-time, right? But I ended up on facebook instead, and then I felt guiltier.

I think this guilt thing is even worse because I actually work for a church. So not only do I feel like I'm shirking some kind of spiritual responsibility, but also that I'm skipping out. I spent a large part of the morning worrying about the Sunday school, because I knew two of the teachers weren't going to be there, and at least one of the subs couldn't make it, and I couldn't sub if I wasn't going to be there, and what about the youth group, and we already couldn't do our plan A for the day, which was a trip to Boston, but if I still couldn't get out of my driveway by this evening, could we even do plan B?

I sat cozy and worried on my couch for most of the morning and then 10 a.m. came and went and suddenly church was over and there was no Sunday school to worry about anymore. They either managed or they didn't, but the moment was passed, and likely everyone survived, even without my hovering presence. It dawned on me that, although I helped get a new Sunday school programme going this year, and although I more or less organise it (I say "more or less," because we all know I'm mostly less when it comes to organised), the teachers are the one who teach it, and they're all adults and they could figure out what to do. And although I do believe my church hired me because they needed someone this position, and I actually feel that God orchestrated the matching of me and the church and this job, somehow, it's also good for me to remember that I'm not indispensable. Or . . . good for me to remember that part of the point of my job is to set things up which empower other people to take leadership in the church, and that I don't have to be in control of everything (because anyway, I'm not)--if I'm really doing my job right, people should be able to make things happen (or make the decisions to cancel things, even) whether I'm there or not.

I still feel responsible for being present on a day that's supposed to be a workday. But I guess this can count as one of my sick days. I haven't had one in almost a year, and it'll be 2011 in just a few more days . . .

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Voyage of the Lost Treader

So once there was this guy named C.S. Lewis, and he wrote this amazing series of novels about a magical land called Narnia. One of the most amazing of these seven stories is called The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The framework of the story is a sea voyage, but the themes are deeper themes of personal development and . . .

. . . the new movie based on this book touches on some of them, and they get in most of the key episodic elements, but I kind of feel like they missed the overall point. Also, somebody in Walden Media is clearly a Lost fan. I don't really think mini green Smoke Monsters were exactly what Lewis had in mind. Somehow. I dunno. There was also something highly reminiscent of a hatch moment, some "Others," eerie whispering voices, and some sort of nameless evil that had to be overcome by a more or less arbitrary action which, in the end, didn't seem to answer any questions or have much to do with anything.

Also, not related to Lost, the undragoning of Eustace was pretty disappointing . . . although not as disappointing as I was afraid it was going to be.

I think if you don't know the story, it was probably a decent movie as far as entertainment goes. But I just threw in a spoiler so . . . maybe not. Heh.

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