Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Get-Away

Back when I was a "real missionary," I used to set aside fairly regular days--or half-days at least--in which to really try to communicate with God. I don't do that anymore, even though I will still vehemently assert that such retreat days are vital for anyone trying to maintain a relationship with the Divine. The fact that I am, apparently, a hypocrite about such things, is probably why I don't retreat very much; because then I'd have to take stock of myself or something.

This, I guess, may also be why God has to orchestrate retreats with me Himself at the moment. I sort of had one by mistake this weekend. It wasn't maybe what anybody would think of when they think of retreats. But the cumulative effect was pretty similar, so I think it was one anyway.

I had the weekend off. By which I mean, the whole weekend. I didn't have to work at Starbucks on Saturday. I didn't have to play the flute in church on Sunday. There has been no weekend in recent memory like this one. So I went to visit Dear Friend Paulina, whom I hadn't seen in over a year. She lives two hours from here, unless there's traffic, which there was pretty badly for about an extra hour of driving time on my way to her place. That was a little annoying, since it was very hot and humid, but I listened to a Tim Keller sermons on my little plug-in CD player. (I am, after all, so very, very hi-tech.) My family is into Tim Keller sermons. Dad and David put some onto CDs for me, but I had forgotten I had them until this weekend.

When I got to Paulina's, she cooked made brunch and we ate it in a leisurely fashion and we talked about our lives. Talking-about-our-lives took a while, since kind of a lot has happened to both of us in the last year. "We need to make sure we take some time this weekend to pray together for each other," she said. I concurred, because of course this is a Very Good Idea, probably akin to making lilies, although I confess I did feel my stomach drop a bit at the thought of praying aloud.

After brunch we went into town and Paulina gave me a walking tour, and we got coffee and cheesecake from places having nothing to do with Starbucks, but at the end of it I had the beginnings of a migraine, so I had to lie down for a bit. It was kind of a drag, but it did give me some time to be quiet and rest and do nothing.

The next day we went to church and talked some more and ate some more and drank more coffee (well, I did), and then we prayed together. On the way home, I listened to more Tim Keller sermons. When I got home, I saw another sermon of sorts on TV. By the time I went to bed I was feeling joyful and sombre and like Someone was trying to communicate Something, and that if I spent a little more time being quiet and paying attention, I might just find out what the Something was.

I merely say all this to provide a framework for some other stuff I want to talk about later. But also to say that apparently, even when you're with people, you can "get away" and hear from God, even if you have to wait a few installments to figure out quite what you're hearing.

Photo by jennw2ns, 2005: Walkway.

Switching Gears

It's going to be a little tricky to take seriously anything I say with that Simpsons-Jenn up in the sidebar, isn't it? So I'm changing it already. Well, I mean, as soon as Blogger lets me. What if I'm stuck with a Simpsons avatar in my blog for the rest of my life? Ack!

Mom says she's "definitely not an improvement," and I say, "Did we think it would be?" Dave says, "You look better than that," and I say, "I should hope so!" I mean, I really do hope so. It would be tremendously demoralising to find out that my Simpson alter-ego was more attractive than I am. But maybe some of you think differently.

Anyway, I have other stuff to say, so Simpsons-Jenn was a (hopefully) one-day wonder. But I'm dying to know whether any of you succumbed to the desire to find out what you'd look like if you lived in TV-Springfield . . .

Monday, July 30, 2007

Simpson Mania

Everybody I know who blogs is clearly more intellectual than I am, because they're all talking about Harry Potter. I have only ever read the first book and seen the second movie. But I have seen the Simpsons. A lot.

I'm pretty sure I won't spend upwards of $11 to watch the antics of mustard-yellow people for over an hour. But you know, your brother tells you about a website where you can find out what you'd look like if you were a Simpson character, and how can you resist?


You can't. You know you can't. Here's the link, just to prove it.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Good Idea

The other day I was weeding. I don't particularly like this task, which is why I've been doing it a lot lately--because I hadn't touched the weeds since probably May. The flower beds here have sort of been overtaken, and my parents are coming home for a month in a couple of weeks. They're great gardeners, and this is their house and . . . anyway, you get the idea.

I was sitting on the ground, which I kind of enjoy, getting scratched and very close to poison ivy, which I really don't enjoy at all, when I looked up and saw this:I know my opinion here doesn't really matter a whole lot, but lilies were a great idea God had, I think.

Also, this afternoon after work, I ate half a cantaloupe, with plain yoghurt in the cavity where the seeds used to be, and dusted over with cinnamon. Yum-my.

Photo by jennw2ns, 2007: Daylilies.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Traitor (to) Joe's

I like Trader Joe's. You know this. Ex-roommate-Sarah (who at the time was still Roommate-Sarah) got me into shopping there about six months ago, I guess. I like their food and their ambience, and their prices are usually not too bad, either. They also have some pre-made dinners which are not scary, taste good, and seem to be made of more or less healthy products.

And, of course, conversation with the people at the registers is always enlightening. A couple of weeks ago, I made friends with an older British chap, who was very personable and probably more chatty than the people behind me in line would have wished. He told me that his daughter recently tossed strawberries with balsamic vinegar, pepper, and sugar, and then put them on vanilla ice cream. According to him it was delicious. Being an avant garde eater, I tried it, and--what do you know?--he was right.

You can't really put a price tag on interactions like that.

But Price-Rite is just around the corner from where I work. Someone at church said, "You should go there. Their food's really cheap!" Probably less likely to be organic, though. Still, sometimes cheap is what I need the most. Not to mention right around the corner. Our closest Trader Joe's really is not that. So yesterday, as my section of the fridge was fresh out of everything, I went to Price-Rite.

Thus I discovered where all the non-European Americans go to do their grocery shopping. Or maybe, where very few of the European Americans go. Seriously--there are so few places I go in town, and they are always so overwhelmed with people of European stock, I'm sometimes not very sure there is anyone else in this city.

But at Price-Rite, I felt like I was back on Green Street. There may not have been much certifiably organic produce there, but there were multiple kinds of avocado, plantains and cooking bananas (there's a difference?), piles of mangoes, lychees, papaya, every "green" imaginable, and that was just the produce aisle. The bakery section boasted Jamaican sweetbread and things I had only ever seen on shelves in East London. The aisle of Goya products was extensive. (I also learned that I should be harvesting dandelions from my yard, because they were selling huge leaves of the stuff for 99 cents a bunch.)

The whole experience reminded me how much I miss a multi-cultural milieu. It's pretty easy to get used to being the majority ethnic group if you get the chance to be, and I am used to it, I'm reluctant to say. But the thing that I loved so much about East London was not being the majority.

I've had people accuse before me of trying to be part of a culture that I'm not. I guess that happens sometimes. Probably it's good for each of us to be secure in who we are within our birth cultures. But it's also possible, I think, to really thrive on crossing cultural barriers--and that can be just as much a part of "who I am" as the fact that I'm what is typically called "white" and that I'm from the United States. Or maybe moreso. Just because I'm likely to don a shalwar kameez or a sari for a Pakistani baby's first birthday doesn't mean I think I am Pakistani, or that I think I know anything about being Pakistani, even. But there are aspects of that culture that I like, and that I'm willing to investigate, try out, enjoy--and that enjoyment of those things is, I feel, in part what makes me, me.

I don't know what the Jamaican or Ghanaian or Indian or Puerto Rican subcultures of my city are really like--most particularly because I don't truly know any of their representatives, if anyone can truly be said to represent a group in that way. But it was kind of a relief to know that there are some, and to get myself into another environment for a change. Trader Joe's hasn't lost my business completely--but in spite of offering pretty decent attempts at world cuisine, there are some things they just don't offer. At least not in my neighbourhood.

And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street

I don't know that there are any Mulberry Streets between here and my place of employment. But I keep seeing things that strike me as odd or funny in transit these days, and the name seems to be a good one for the Tales of the Daily Commute matrix.

Today, on said commute, I ended up spending part of it behind a Carvel ice cream truck. (Not the kind from which a vendor sells ice cream cones, but one which presumably transports their ice cream and ice cream cakes.) It was an appropriately cheery-looking truck, entirely plastered over with photos of ice cream cakes, decorated with various congratulatory sayings.

The most eye-catching one from my vantage point said, "Happy 1st Lost Tooth!"

I was first struck by the originality of this. If you can convince someone to buy a whole cake instead of putting a quarter under their kid's pillow, you're golden. But so might the teeth be after a while. I couldn't help but find something ironically sinister about the whole enterprise. This greeting was being displayed on an ice cream cake. Ice cream. Cake. It felt like the subtext should be, "You might as well celebrate now, because you'll be losing a lot more teeth if you keep eating cakes like this one!"

Just as long as no one tries to put the cake under a pillow . . .

Friday, July 20, 2007

Just Seen

Today I was driving home from work, down the street where Ex-Roommate-Sarah now resides, and I saw a young man sauntering down the road. The first thing I noticed about him was that he was not wearing a shirt. Note to guys everywhere:

I don't care how fit you are, how great you look or how hot it is outside. Being shirtless in public, unless you are at the beach or a public swimming pool, is Not Classy. I am not impressed. Nor, I might add, are several other women I know.

(I might not be very classy either. But please. Spare us.)

Here, however is the other thing I noted about him. He was wearing a license plate. Yes. As in, the thing that one affixes to the back of cars, the number of which one wishes one remembered when one's car is towed. The bottom of this license plate was somehow tucked into the back of the young man's Bermuda shorts, but the number was legible, presumably in case he violated traffic. Or perhaps if someone wanted to call "How's My Walking?" (there must be such a thing, right?) and let them know he was staying on the sidewalk.

I am having a hard time imagining this adornment could be comfortable. On the other hand, I also have a little trouble with the idea that someone coerced him to put a good-sized rectangular metal plate in the back of his pants.

I don't know. Anyone have any creative explanations as to the reasons for this particular fashion statement?

Also, for a totally unrelated but also humorous observation, please check out this article from the Onion.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Euphemisms

There's a corner in our church building with a table, some shelves, and a hanging rack, where various pre-owned items appear on a weekly basis, free for the taking. "Pre-owned" is a euphemism that I find utterly hilarious--and appropriate for the car industry. But it's a nice word to use here, too, even though it makes absolutely no sense in relation to its ascribed meaning, if you think about it.

But here is the observation I was going to make. I picked up a shirt the other week from this used clothing rack. It's a cute striped button-down shirt. I like it. The label inside the collar which is meant to proclaim brand name or some such thing says, "Cotton Works" in largish letters. On the other collar-tag, the letters are much smaller, and they announce the shirt to be made of 64% polyester, 32% nylon, and 4% spandex. The word "cotton" is not in evidence.

I mean, I guess I could have figured that out just from the feel of the thing. But am I missing something here?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Happy Birthday to . . . oh . . . Somebody

Today I made myself obnoxious. I said to my favourite customers, "It's my birthday!" at random, because it is, and I could, and plus, no one else was telling them. I would have liked my colleagues to have slipped everybody a secret memo while I was off this weekend, celebrating my birthday before the fact, so that everyone would have wished me a happy birthday this morning. Well, I mean, I did get up at 3.45 for them all. I don't think they would begrudge me a tiny little birthday wish.

But my colleagues clearly hadn't thought this far ahead, so I had to announce it to everyone myself. Natasha-the-Mother-of-Three said, "Happy birthday! But if you're going to announce your birthday, you also have to announce your age." She was pretty insistent on this point, so at last I did, but not as loudly. One of the Three apparently exclaimed to her afterwards, "Wow! I thought she was 21!" Which was gratifying, if a little lacking in discernment.

Manager-Hillarie helped get the news out a little later by buying me a cookie-cake (as she does for people who are getting older in our store--which would be everybody), putting candles on it, and singing loudly to me in front of all assembled. After I punched out for the day, I sat at the bar for 20 minutes, eating frosted, half-baked cookie and reading the leftover Sunday comics. I could tell that I hadn't read any in a while because they all actually seemed funny.

My friend Brooks, who is considerably younger than I and also male, so one wouldn't necessarily expect him to remember things like this (sorry, but one wouldn't), gave me a mix CD yesterday. Plus another CD on which he features. And I had a nice chat on the phone with my long-distance parents. I will be talking to my brother and sister-in-law on the phone, too, in about two hours, and some time after that getting a glass of something not-joe with Cupppajojo who comments on here from time to time. Tomorrow I have the day off.

Also, it's really sunny outside and I'm about to go for a walk.

It really is a happy birthday.

Overheard

Back in, oh, probably March, I was hanging out with the Item after a closing shift at work, as I sometimes do. Conversation got a little intense, as it also sometimes does, and I became struck with a feeling that we probably needed to pray about something. Even though the Item and I don't have exactly the same perspective on the whole Jesus/faith thing, he has made a fairly regular appearance at Bible study in the past. Even though I knew our praying there sometimes struck him as a little foreign, I also knew that he does have his ways of trying to make contact with God.

Rather tentatively, no doubt, I asked him then if I could pray for him. I really wanted to pray for him. The thing is, I have a very difficult time praying out loud. I think (although the jury is still out on what God thinks, I suppose) I do my best praying either by writing down the actual prayers in a journal, or else in drawing or painting or otherwise creating something visual. Oddly enough, I have the hardest time putting words together when trying to address God in the presence of other people. Still, I tried it.

After I had finished, the Item said, "I feel like I should reciprocate." Then he just started talking. He talked about the things I had brought up as concerns in my life, and reiterated the things I was hoping for. But he wasn't talking to me. He was talking to God, I guess. I had never heard anyone pray like that.

Of course, prayer is supposed to be between the pray-er and God, and so third-party evaluations seem somewhat invasive or something, but I was so struck by the way the Item had just prayed that I couldn't help saying, "Wow. That was one of the coolest prayers I had ever heard."

Fortunately, the Item didn't really seem to know how to respond to that, but after a minute he said, "I do have a question. Why is it that in Bible study, some of the people just keep saying 'Lord' over and over again? Are they afraid He's going to forget they're talking to Him?"

I had to laugh. I've heard other evangelicals poke a little fun at this before, but I've never heard someone like the Item do so before. "Yeah," I said, "or maybe it's so we don't forget we're talking to Him. Here's another thing like that that bugs me. 'Just.' People apparently have to say 'just' all the time when they're praying out loud. 'Just do this. Just do that.'"

The next time we had Bible study after that, the Item wasn't there, but I paid especial attention to the prayers, to see which of us were the culprits. Oddly enough, I didn't hear anyone saying either "Lord" or "just" an inordinate number of times. I was highly familiar with the peculiar evangelical verbal tic to which the Item had been referring, but I couldn't figure out where he had come across it, because I was pretty sure we were the only group of evangelicals he had ever heard pray before, and no one was succumbing to it.

The following Sunday we met again, and the Item was there. At the end of the study, we collected prayer requests as usual, and then began to pray about them. In spite of how awkward I feel praying aloud, I often feel I should, so I picked something and began to ask God about it. I was halfway through the prayer, and I believe I really was praying, and not just reciting or something, when suddenly I noticed something. I was saying "Lord" all over the place. It was me. I was the one talking to God with extraneous verbiage.

It was kind of embarrassing.

(More thoughts on this soon. If I post them now, this will be so long, no one will read it . . .)

Monday, July 09, 2007

Belated

The other day I visited my mom's blog, which I haven't done recently because she doesn't post on it much anymore (*ahem!*). And there, wouldn't you know, was a post, celebrating my dad's recent 60th birthday. You should go check it out. You'll see some fun photos of the Irish partying in honour of my dad. Plus, you'll see my dad, who doesn't look 60. At all. Here's hoping I inherit that trait . . .

Anyway, it occurred to me that here I've been writing about all these people who keep dying all over the place, and I should, because they deserve to be recorded. But there are also all the people who are living all over the place. And I'm certain I won't celebrate all of the ones I should (I just missed my brother's birthday, for example), nor as well as I should, but I did just want to announce to the world how grateful I am for my dad.

I love him. He's tremendous, in that quiet, soft-spoken way that somehow manages to make waves anyway. He's godly and wise, and also funny in that really-terribly-awful-pun sort of way that somehow manages to make you laugh anyway. (Well, some of us, at least. I think that might be an inherited trait, too.) I'm really grateful he's my dad, and I'm really grateful to be grateful, too, because you know, some daughters don't have that great a relationship with their fathers, but happily, I do.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Independence

I don't think anyone knows what to do with single, childless adults. Even though there are, apparently, so many of us. We don't know what to do with ourselves sometimes, and we seem to defy convenient categorisation. Once, when I was 23, which was, er . . . a long time ago, I went to the wedding of an Indian friend of mine. Her young cousin who was 9 at the time (and now is probably the age of some of my colleagues) asked me, "Jennifer, are you married?"

"No," I said.

"Well, you'd better find someone fast," she admonished. "You're getting old."

You're telling me.

Lest you write this off as some sort of cultural tick, let me say that . . . it isn't. Really. How do you think about single adults in your deep dark head? This isn't so much an accusation as a question to ponder. I hypothesise that the older you get as a single adult--particularly a childless one, interestingly enough--the fewer people understand you, and the less they understand you, too. And let's face it. We are different. Single people don't generally act like married people--because we're not. For better or for worse (to borrow a phrase from . . . somewhere), we only have to be responsible for ourselves. (Stacey was talking about this recently.) And for some of us, that isn't enough motivation to be responsible. Either way, the single life is often difficult for other people to fathom. It's just that usually everyone is too tactful to admit it.

Today, after my opening shift at Starbucks, I spent a very nice afternoon at my friend Heather's. Heather and her husband have four children, ranging in age from four to nine. Just before dinner, I took the youngest (or maybe he took me) out of the kitchen to play. We were soon joined by his sister Hannah. At some point, I was told I was to big to play with a particular toy. Then Hannah looked at me quizzically.

"Are you a teenager?" she asked.

"No," I chuckled.

"Are you a grown-up?"

"Yes," I said.

"Are you a mommy?"

"No."

Hannah was looking more and more concerned. "Are you a grandma?" (Well, she is only five.)

"No!"

Both children were staring at me now. There was a moment of silence. "Are you a grown-up?" Hannah asked again, as if desperately hoping a beam of light would suddenly illuminate this situation.

"Yes," I responded simply.

"But what are you then?"

Hey. At least someone said it.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Everyone Keeps Dying All Over the Place

Well. They do.

So far I still don't know what it's like to have family kidnapped and my entire community slaughtered. But some people do. Like Emmanuel, for instance.

Emmanuel and Jemima came to work for the group of churches I also worked for, just about a year before I left London. They're Rwandan. Emmanuel was a pastor, and he and his wife and children were not exempt from experiencing many of the atrocities that occurred in their home country. The faith they exhibited in the aftermath was inspiring, and the love was more inspiring still. Although they reached out to whomever God put in their path, they're heart's mission was to bring the reconciliation of Jesus to their fellow Rwandans, even though they were no longer in Rwanda. They never told whether they were Hutu or Tutsi. They never told anyone. "We belong to the Third Tribe," they said. "Jesus' tribe." They wanted everyone to belong to that tribe.

"Someone should write their story," I said, on probably more than one occasion. I never did anything about it, though.

Then Emmanuel contracted some sort of cancer. It was pretty sobering news to find out, so soon after leaving the scene. "Someone should write their story," I said. Emmanuel and Jemima and their adult children believed he would be healed, and truly, I didn't hear anything about the cancer anymore for a long time, so I thought maybe he had. You sort of lose touch with people after a while of not being in their presence regularly anymore.

Then this year, three years after the first diagnosis, my friend Jayne wrote and said that Emmanuel's cancer had become suddenly very aggressive.

"But someone needs to write their story!" I said. It hit me, then, that I had wasted a lot of time and opportunity. People are worth more than their stories, but their stories are always worth telling. Everybody has one. Over the last few months, as people I care about keep dying (Grandpa, Lloyd, Phillip), I've been realising with waxing and waning but quiet desperation that there are all these people around. And no matter how well you love them, you never quite love them enough, and you always take them a little bit for granted, and there are always things about them you never quite learn or know sufficiently, and most of the time you miss out on something.

Emmanuel died over the weekend.

I could still write Emmanuel and Jemima's story. I could talk to Jemima. Her side of the story is just as compelling as Emmanuel's and I would be remiss to discount it. I could talk to their children. I could talk to my London church family, who got to know them better than I. But the grief's too fresh now, and I don't know when it won't be. And in the meantime, I missed the opportunity to really sit down with this man of God and take down the story from his point of view.

I have a Rwandan outfit that Jemima bought me when we celebrated Emmanuel's induction into the service of our church in London. It's purple and beautiful. Maybe I'll wear it on Sunday.

Monday, July 02, 2007

July

Possibly, if you were not born in July, you have never noticed this phenomenon. But calendar-makers quite typically save all their worst photos or illustrations for that month. Perhaps they think everyone will be on vacation, will not give their wall-calendars so much as a glance, and will therefore not even notice their laziness.

But I notice. Am I the only person who opens a calendar directly to her birth-month page to see what is represented there? Quite often I am tempted to make my calendar-purchase decisions based on the picture staring at me out of July. Often, but not always. If it were always, I would never buy any calendars at all, because July calendar art is usually ugly, or boring, or tritely patriotic, or a bad guy. This year I bought a Beatrix Potter calendar on sale in mid-January, partly because it was on-sale in mid-January, and partly because even though the character respresented on the July page is a fox (one of the bad guys, though I do not recall from which story), it's an engaging illustration. Sometimes you have to settle.

Roommate-Rachel, however, has saved the day. (Or the month.) She has a Lord of the Rings character-portrait calendar on which we write our weekly work-schedules, hanging in the kitchen. Staring mysteriously out at us from behind her glistening white hood is Galadriel in all her elvish glory. I have always like Galadriel. I've pretty much always liked elves, too. I fully endorse this calendar.
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