Saturday, December 30, 2006

Nicknames

Nicknames are inherently weird things, I think. Some people are great at coming up with them, and others are great at having ones that stick to them, but I don't think I've ever really been either type. The closest I usually get to nicknames myself are actually extensions of my standard nickname, Jenn. Jennwith2ns, for example. There's also a fairly large contingent who call me by first and last name together as if it were one word. I have found this all over the world. I'm not really sure what it is about me or my name.

Anyway, I'm feeling a little smug right now, because last night I actually coined a nickname for someone at work, and I think it might stick. Her name is Aline (pronounced Ah-LEE-nee). Last night New-Manager-Hillarie called her "Miss Aline," but it sounded like she was about to say "Miscellaneous." Now those of us who were there call her MissAlineous. Everyone said, "Wow, Jenn! That's great!" Except for MissAlineous, of course. Too bad for her.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Quiet

All the Starbucks customers seem to be happy that the holidays are almost over. Everybody spent the season getting stressed out. Except for me, I guess. I bought all my Christmas presents when I was in Costa Rica back in October, and my homemade Christmas cards were actually done about a month early, too. This has never happened before. I'm not really gloating. But I was pleased.

I don't think the season was very stress-free for my parents, though--maybe particularly for my mother. She had to change her flight home and come back three weeks earlier than planned, and then work on all these funeral preparations. Then my dad came and he had to write a sermon for it. Then David and Emmylou came, and try to spend time with both our family and her brother's family and go to the funeral, too. It wasn't even a very relaxed time for me. I am tired, I'll admit it.

But it was pretty great having them all around--especially having Mom around for extra weekends. I've gone on and on about my wonderful grandfather, but my more immediate family is at least as wonderful. Mom, for example, invited one of my friends over for a semi-impromptu lunch after church one Sunday, and then held her own in a two-hour religio-philosophical interview with him. This is impressive not only because it's not as if she didn't have enough to do, but also because the friend grilling her is quite possibly one of the smartest people I know. (I leave this assessment open to revision, but only because somehow I seem to know a lot of insanely brainy people.)

Dave and Lu left after the funeral on Wednesday. Mom and Dad left today. Roommate-Sarah has not yet returned from her parents'. The house is very quiet. It's kind of nice, in that I'm tired and I like quiet. But none of my family are very loud usually--except Dave, when he's watching a movie that strikes him funny. I miss them.
A Celebration of God’s Glory in Memory of One Who Loved Him

That was what the front of the programme said for Grandpa Madeira’s funeral. Even though he went Home a month ago, the funeral wasn’t until Wednesday. I know. It’s kind of weird. Everybody thinks so.

But it kind of makes sense, too, when you consider that there were three hundred people who came through the reception alone. I have no idea how many attended the actual service, but the church where it was held—the church Grandpa planted decades ago—was packed. If the service had been before Christmas, probably a lot of those people would not have been able to make it there.

Sometimes I’m in awe of my relatives. One guy who isn’t even related to us and I’m pretty sure never worked with Grandpa drove up from the Carolinas to attend the memorial service. A lot of the people who used to work for Grandpa years and years ago came, even though he’s been out of the pastorate for a long time and most of them work in big huge churches in the Midwest and you would think they would have better things to do with their time. An elderly Haitian pastor cancelled a speaking engagement because he said, “My best friend has just died, and I want to be at his funeral.” It’s kind of a dizzying realization that somehow I got lucky or blessed or whatever enough to be the granddaughter of a Great Man. (I actually can say I was even luckier to be the granddaughter of two, but I didn’t know my other grandpa as well, and he went Home right around the time this one’s Alzheimer’s started making itself known.)

The thing that made him great, though (and he would never have considered himself to be so) was how present God Himself was in Grandpa's life. He was kind of quiet (except when snoring or laughing). He prayed a lot. He just wanted more than anything else to do what God wanted of him. Even when he got Alzheimer's--even at the very end when he couldn't even talk anymore--he was different. Alzheimer's patients often get belligerent. Grandpa never did. Sometimes he cried. More often, he smiled. That's the glory of God IN someone who loved Him. It boggles my mind that God can be so present in regular old human beings. People like Grandpa remind me that He can--and He will if we ask for it, apparently.

It was great to hear people reminiscing about how much Grandpa loved (still loves) Jesus and how much he loved people—how loved we felt around him. It’s inspiring to realise that people got to know that Jesus loves them because Grandpa did. I was struck with the thought that here we all were, hundreds of us crammed into a church because we had known and loved and been loved by this bald guy, and really, even though we could cry in missing him, we weren’t really mourning him. We were celebrating that God came here at Christmas and died and returned to life at Easter so that we could live undyingly with Him. We were celebrating that Grandpa is getting to know that for real now. And maybe we were crying a little bit because we haven’t experienced that fully yet ourselves.

But we still experience it a little. Even though we all start dying as soon as we’re born, there’s life, too. At the end of the reception, the cousins got together for our traditional “Crazy Cousin Picture.” We take one any time we see each other. At first we were nervous that people would think we were being disrespectful. Then we decided that, since we weren't. It would have made Grandpa chuckle. Maybe, out there, wherever "there" is, gazing on the face of Jesus whom he loves, he still gets a glimpse of his crazy grandkids. Maybe he still chuckles.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

They said . . .

Here are some thoughts I didn't come up with myself, but they seem related to mine and struck me as very true:

The first one is from a novel based on a true story, about a young man who is one of the Lost Boys of Sudan:

"It was a broken world, I knew then, that would allow a boy such as me to bury a boy such as William K."
--What is the What?, Dave Eggers

"We’re thankful for this time of year. It reminds us that the unlimited God took on the very limits that rob human beings of our own feeble glory—and then broke those limits."
--my brother

It's is unquestionably true that Starbucks Christmas mix CD's that we play in our stores get a little old, because there aren't as many Christmas songs as there are Everything-Else songs. But on the other hand, I noticed on Christmas Eve, there really are a whole lot of beautiful Christmas carols, even beyond the familiar ones. And they're deep and rich or just plain delighted and all of them sound like a winter-coloured party. I read somewhere else (Crossing Borders by Rodney Clapp, to be exact) recently that Christians would regain Christmas as our holiday if we regained our sense of the enormity of Easter. I believe this is true, but I don't think that means it's bad to try to celebrate Christmas for all it's worth in the meantime.

"Sing, daughter of Tziyon [Zion]; rejoice! For, here, I am coming; and I will live among you," says Adonai."
--Zechariah 2.10, CJB

That's a lot to sing about--that God would play by our rules so seriously. That not only would He submit to rearranging our messes according to the brokenness we instituted, but also submit to the form He had given us, and live here with us. That someday He will fix the world and live with us, not just by His Spirit, and not just in His pre-resurrection body, but in a way we have never imagined.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Happy

Yesterday was happy. Or maybe I mean I was happy yesterday. I've been happy kind of a lot lately, but yesterday was probably exceptional. I worked an opening shift and at 5 a.m. was physically jumping up and down and talking like a small child to New-Manager-Hillarie. If you know me at all well, you'll know that even if I occasionally lapse into baby-talk to be stupid, jumping up and down is just not something that comes easily to me.

All the customers were really nice, too. The most annoying thing was one of them not getting the jokes I was trying to make with him. But that's not really that surprising; the surprising thing may have been that everybody else did get them. I also got to dispense fun-facts-that-have-nothing-to-do-with-Starbucks, such as the etiquette of eating with one's fingers in North versus South India. The customer receiving that information was, I think, startled and impressed.

In the evening, 33 people converged on my house for soup and bread, provided by Roommate-Sarah, my mother, and me, and for cookies provided by themselves. There were lots of cookies. And lots of people. Everybody knew somebody, and everybody had somebody to talk to, and two people invited themselves to my church, and nobody seemed to get bored. (Hopefully they won't get bored when they actually come to church, either.) Also, it was kind of freeing to be able to wish everybody a Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays, because even if not everybody there believed in Christ (as Christ, the Saviour of the World, I mean), everybody there was celebrating Christmas in some fashion or other. Incidentally, New-Manager-Hillarie (who was unable to attend due to previous commitments) is Jewish but gave all of her staff Christmas cards with lottery scratch tickets in them. I won $2, which was the price of the scratch ticket. But I didn't pay for the ticket, so I guess I am $2 richer, though I have yet to cash it in. Do they tax you for $2? If not, with that money I can almost buy two short cups of Starbucks coffee on a day when I am not working.

After getting up at 3.45 that morning, I still managed to stay up until midnight, and I was still happy. And tonight, when I get home from work, Brother-Dave and Sister-in-Law Emmylou will be here. Hurrah!

I hope you're having a happy Christmas season, too.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Less Personal Disappointment

It is hard for me to describe exactly what I mean by feeling relieved to know that the world is broken. Particularly because I already know it. But as I’m sure you know, there’s knowing something and then there’s knowing it. (I just wanted to see how many times I could use derivatives of the same verb in one sentence.) That Sunday, listening to how other people were disappointed, I felt for once as if the disappointments weren’t because God secretly likes to play games with us (although the book of Job might make it look like it).

But even this is hard to describe, because on the one hand, the correspondence I had developed with Brian (whom I have decided just to call Brian, because it’s both less cumbersome and less obstinate than calling him “Previous Commentator”) felt very intentional. By which I don’t just mean that I decided to write him and he decided to write back. There was something about it that felt very God-orchestrated. It didn’t seem like some random thing that God had just allowed, but rather something He had planned.

When my cloud castle came first came crashing down around my ears (who knew clouds could hurt so much? besides being so wet?), I was very irate about this. If God planned the correspondence, then He must have planned the disappointment, and that's just mean. Now, though, I'm more okay with the idea of His intentionality behind this, but only because of the equal certainty that the world is broken. A world where my friends David-and-Heather want to share God’s love overseas, but they get denied by the organisation they want to serve with. A world where T wants to teach, and she gets the runaround for two years and finally has to settle for an assistant’s job. A world where Chris wants to use his many talents but a two-year life-glitch keeps him stuck at MacDonald’s (which should not, by the way, be compared to working at Starbucks, because I actually wanted to work at Starbucks, but I don’t think he really wants to work at Mickey D’s). A world where someone of whose bone and flesh I think I am doesn’t recognise me and feels he has found his missing rib in someone else.

From the broken-world angle, even if God orchestrates the circumstances, it seems He mostly does it within the confines of the brokenness we humans chose back at creation. It’s like He limits Himself to those parameters. It’s like a glimpse of why and how He can mourn when we mourn, and yet cause the source of our mourning. Right?

I think it’s going to take me months (at least) to be able to verbalise all this. But here is a little more of what I mean:

I believe that God is sovereign. I believe He has ultimate control of the universe. I believe His will will ultimately be done. On the other hand, why would Jesus tell us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven,” unless sometimes it wasn’t? God's will is going to be done all right, but maybe not as it is in Heaven every time. (Praying for God's will takes on a slightly different shade when I think about it this way. It seems a little less passive and timid.)

So, for example, it might be God’s basic will for everyone to find a soulmate. (I didn’t used to believe that, but now I do; I may explore that one more later. Or not.) But the world is broken, so not everybody does. God could, of course, come in here and fix all our messes, and He does fix some of them, and He redeems all of them. But if everything were an immediate happily-ever-after, first of all we wouldn’t grow (as the Tanzanian taxi-driver intimated in October), and secondly He would be overriding our free will and depriving us of the dignity of choice. And the choice, back at creation, but also by every God-denying act each of us commits (or thinks, or says) every day, was for the world to be broken.

At Christmas people who think about such things, think about Jesus, and how God confined Himself to human form and human limitations. When we read the Gospels we see Jesus working supernaturally, but we also see Him not knowing everything immediately, and needing revelation and power from His Father and Spirit. I always thought that was the only way and time God limited Himself for us. But now it occurs to me that He’s been doing it since Adam and Eve decided not to trust Him. It’s not that He can’t break into our world and fix everything. It's that He doesn't. It’s that so often He limits Himself to the boundaries we set, which means that He has to be a lot more creative in order to get His will done.

What this implies to me for my particular situation in November is something like this: It may be God’s desire for me to meet and marry a godly man. It was surely His will for people to join in that sort of Christ-revealing relationship generally. So the desire for that kind of relationship is in me, and it is good, but it does leave me vulnerable.

It’s not like God wanted my pain. In that sense, the disappointment isn’t personal. He wasn’t, as I had first suspected, chortling over what a funny trick He had played on me—again. The world is broken, and we all get disappointed—even in things that seem like they should be God’s will. And maybe this is because most of the time, God plays by the rules we set (which is ironic, since I have some difficulty playing by His).

But He bends the rules, too, because He can make something beautiful out of anything. God would have known that Brian and I were not the right people for each other, but He also knew that I would learn things about Him and His will and myself and the strength He’s been building in me over the years if I corresponded with Brian for a little while. If I got my hopes up. If I got my hopes dashed. I’ve learned a lot from this kind of disappointment before this one. I didn’t think there was anything more to learn from it—and quite honestly, I didn’t want to find out if there was.

Too bad I had to. Or maybe too good. Because if it’s possible to say this humbly (which it probably isn't, and just the fact of my saying it may show just how unbelievably flawed I still am), it’s starting to dawn on me that maybe the beautiful thing that God is making out of this particular disappointment is . . . me.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Verbotomy

District-Dan (my district manager, I mean) recommended that I check out the following site:

www.verbotomy.com

It is so cool. If you like words, that is. I recommend you check it out while you wait for me to continue philosophying (philosophising? philosophizing? Why is this confusing me so much right now?) about how broken the world is.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Happy St. Lucia Day

Make sure you find yourself some cardamom bread to eat and some candles to wear on your head. (If all else fails, rolled up index cards with gold tinsel work pretty well.)

This afternoon Roommate-Sarah has been giving piano lessons, as she does. During the first one, the mother and little brother of her student sat in the living room (because, oddly enough, the piano is in the dining one) and watched the Charlie Brown Christmas special on videotape. This was noteworthy 1) because I love the Charlie Brown Christmas special, and 2) because of “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.” Although the video volume was very low, from my vantage point in my room at the top of the stairs, near neither it nor the piano, I was able to hear that the young girl having her piano lesson started playing “Hark” about two seconds before the children in the show started singing it. They caught up and finished the song before she did, all the while singing about a half-step lower than what she was playing. It was very bizarre. But by the time I realised that my brain had been trying to follow both, the children singing had gotten to the words, “God and sinners reconciled,” and I stopped. There’s a very old-fashioned and unpopular thought for you, but it pretty much sums up the point of Christian holidays. Something about getting things to harmonise and flow at the same tempo. I think this has something to do with the thoughts I’ve been exploring lately, but I don’t expect any direct connexion will be uncovered today.

Anyway, to, um, “hark” back to the thornbush post that obviously made everyone so uncomfortable that I didn’t get any emails for about a day, there I was on the cusp of November, terribly out of sorts. The Sunday of that weekend I went to church and found out (again) what it’s for. There’s definitely the worshipping God bit, but I was still kind of mad at God, as you may recall, so that day the Christians-are-really-all-family thing (a.k.a. the community of believers) was the best part.

That Sunday I hadn’t had enough sleep, and I felt abysmal. I went to church and said a whole bunch of rageful things about God in a quiet way to some friends. I meant those things, too. At least, I meant that sometimes it seems like God is sadistic. But as the day went on and the more I talked, the less I felt any of it. And part of the reason was this:

I heard other heartaches, too. It wasn’t like anyone was saying, “You think that’s bad. At least you didn’t actually meet and start dating. Let me tell you what happened to me . . .” But stories do tend to elicit stories, and through the course of the day I found myself listening to more stories than I told. Here I am, stuck in a life that has not turned out as I wanted or envisioned (in this specific case, or more generally, I had to admit to myself). But so, it appears, is everyone. Everyone is disappointed about something.

The world is broken. And I feel so much better knowing that.

Not that I didn’t know it before, of course. And not that I felt better because I was subconsciously thinking, “If my life stinks, so had everyone else’s better.” It didn’t even make me feel better in the sense of my managing to guilt myself into feeling that everyone else’s lot in life is far more dire than mine (which I’m sometimes very good at doing). What it did do, though, was make this one particular disappointment feel a lot less personal.
Persistent and Anti-Social Feeding by Pigeon-Rights Activists . . .

. . . has nothing to do with anything else I plan on saying today, but I would like to point you to the article from which I derive this title:

http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/europe/12/12/uk.pigeons.reut/index.html?eref=rss_world

I’m not sure on which side of the issue it discusses I fall. I remember well the tree outside my House-With-The-Yellow-Door in East London, which then-Roommate Beth and I dubbed “Trafalgar Square” because whomever parked a car under it ended up regretting it in about five minutes and washing it some short time later. Still, it’s hard to imagine the real Trafalgar Square without its airborne rodents. (I use the term loosely. Please don’t anybody try to tell me that birds can never be rodents.) Sometimes the things one loves about a place are the things one hates about it. In any event, one doesn’t read a phrase like that one every day, and I had to share it with you in all its glory.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Usual Thornbush

Once upon a few months ago (maybe nearly six by now), I met this guy. Except I didn’t actually meet him, because we live too far away from each other, but I was quite taken with him anyway. I won’t go into much more detail than that, because it will likely both bore you and make you uncomfortable, and plus the only words I can use to describe how I thought about him at the time come out in clich├ęs like, “He understands me better than any other guy I’ve ever met.” (You can read this to yourself in a high-pitched, squeaky, mocking voice if you like. That’s how I do it.) Assertions like that are, in themselves, probably incomprehensible to some degree, maybe even meaningless, definitely cheesy.

Back when I started this blog I promised myself that I was not going to write anything about my experiences involving men-and-liking-them (which I do, in case there was ever any question about that), because I thought it might make people squirm and besides I’m not really sure how much I want people knowing my business in that area—at least not until I can get paid for it. (This kind of makes me wonder if I’m some sort of emotional prostitute—but then maybe all writers are. I might have to ask myself about that some more a little later.) Still, I’ve been learning a lot recently, with the correspondence with the guy I have dubbed “the Previous Commentator” being the main and initial catalyst, and I blog about what I’m thinking about, so I guess some of this had/has to get in here after all. (I don’t feel like first-naming him, although he seems to want me to, but if you are inordinately curious and have an absurd amount of time on your hands, you may be able to find him, and references to him, on this blog.)

In mid-October we finally had each other’s email addresses outside of the website on which we met each other, and I was dutifully and impatiently waiting for him to get through a Spate of Busy-ness in far-away-land so that we could pick up our correspondence in earnest. Only, during the last weekend of the Spate, he met somebody else. In his part of the country. In person. So when I finally got his long-awaited email, it told me that he had met someone else and was planning on pursuing her.

This is and was, of course, all very logical, given distance and the fact that we still barely knew each other and the fact that surely this woman (whom I couldn’t first-name even if I wanted to, because I don’t know it) is a wondrous person and there’s very little way for Previous Commentator to know how wondrous I am via a couple emails and even a blog.

But you don’t meet someone who understands you on such a deep level every day (at least, I don’t), and I had already realised that if this dude ended up turning me down (which I knew was a distinct possibility, given all of the above), it would be worse than all my other disappointments with men because with most of them I could eventually say to myself, “Yeah, well, they just didn’t really get it anyway.” But I couldn’t say that in this case. In the end I decided I didn’t feel rejected, exactly, but I did feel not-chosen, and it was just as bad. And I was devastated.

It would be an understatement to say that I don’t react to this type of disappointment well. Most of the time, I get mad at God first. I mean, He was the one who allowed this correspondence, for example, to go even as far as it did. I had been praying through it the whole time—as I always do—and I hadn’t expected anything, really, from the outset. So it just seemed really unfair for Him to let me meet somebody like this, and allow me to get my hopes up, only to have them dashed again. I’ve had them dashed enough times that in the last few years I have resisted allowing myself to have any hopes in this area at all, and I promised myself I wasn’t going to have any ever again unless there was really good reason. In this case, I felt I had good reasons—during this time there were some startlingly uncanny answers to specific prayer related to this. (And they weren’t semi-trivial things like, “Oh, that’s one of his favourite books, too?”—although there was also that.) What were all those answers for? It seemed like an awful lot of work at prayer-answering if nothing was going to come of it. Had God just looked over here one day and said, “Oh yeah—we haven’t wrung Jenn through the relational wringer in a while. That’s kind of fun; it’s probably time for another round”?

All my upbringing and correct doctrine and blah blah blah say that God isn’t like that, but that is sure what it felt like, and I was furious with Him for almost a weekend. I hadn’t wanted to feel like this ever again. How many more times would I have to? How come things never got any better? I told myself things like, “Well, obviously Previous Commentator was not the right person,” and “Well, maybe God allowed this to happen again so that you can find out you can deal with it differently than you have before,” and “God loves you and there’s a reason for everything, so there has to be a reason for this, too.”

None of those thoughts helped any, though. They just made me madder. It also didn’t help any that Roommate-Sarah was gone for the weekend, and Starbucks-Jerry had moved away, and I was sick with some sort of cough so I was stuck in the house by myself until I had to work that Saturday night. Although it did give me the freedom to yell at God at the top of my lungs without worrying about freaking anybody out. I couldn’t help thinking wryly about the post I had written here a few days before about how maybe God likes it better when we’re having a rough time so that we can grab Him by the lapels and scream “WHY?” into His face. “He must be having a blast right now,” I thought.

Then Sunday came, and things started to change.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Language Blunder Update

I seem to have the flu, probably partly from staying up too late at night for no reason. I am rather impressed with myself for managing to keep energetic enough to work the busiest shift I can remember, with my district manager, former manager, current manager and a layer of ache separating my skin from my innards, all on hand for it.

But I have been remarkably blog-lazy lately, and felt the need to say something. The something in this case is that the DJ on the radio the other day was talking about U2's staying power or something like that, and, comparing some of their various albums (excluding the Zootopia era, which I proceeded to have a nightmare about that night), called them "equally as good as" each other. He could have saved so much time by simply saying "This album and that album are equally good." Sigh.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Happy Birfday, Grandpa













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