Sunday, July 29, 2007

Postcard from Birmingham

So the secret is out, we are in Birmingham. We can never get quite enough time to do all we want to do. And Amabel has had a fever and been not feeling well the last day so we have had to forfeit some of our plans. It has been great anyway though. George has been ever so George-y keeping the kids for me while I get a chance to meet friends for lunch and catch up. I have had some of the best conversations I've had in years, I think. And that is something that will keep me warm when the cold lonely winter comes. I don't literally mean the cold lonely winter, just those times when you feel isolated and busy and in need of good friends- you know, day to day life! I don't have time for much, our gracious hostess has prepared a delicious meal. We have had many delicious meals down here! So I'm off for another one. If I don't get to see you while I'm here, I'm sorry. There are so many of us and so many people each person wants to see, and we can't be away from home too long either. We are leaving the Ham tomorrow, but it has been a lovely visit.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

More to Come...

Seriously, no one cares that they are connected to Martina McBride and Faith Hill?! No one can return a connection for me? Just kidding. But I did think of it a step further and thought how they know people like Oprah and Matt Lauer, and how Oprah and Matt Lauer know the President and the Dalai Lama and the Queen. You're connected, people! Oh well. That is silly.

Amelia had brain surgery yesterday and came out of it okay. There is so much going on with their family so please keep praying. It seems like things are very unknown and changing quickly as soon as new things become known. The word "baby steps" was used and that seems like what to expect for now. I will try to keep y'all updated, but you can always click "pray for amelia" up top to link to their blog.

We are doing some travelling so I may be in and out on here for a while. I have been working on a party planning journal in the car. I know that sounds corny, but I have always loved entertaining and have no real record of all the work I've put into it over the years- nothing to show for it! That tells me I should take pictures more often! But also, I have much to say about I Like You, a great book about entertaining by comedian, Amy Sedaris. I laugh out loud, y'all! She recommends the party journal to keep track of what recipes worked great and what certain guests like (i.e. one of George's friends freaks out over rare meat!). I will have to tell y'all all about it later. I don't actually own the book yet, I have been reading it at the bookstore! But it is so funny, a little over the top and raunchy sometimes, but mostly just funny and helpful too! Anyway, I also never have reported on Amabel's birthday party. I will get to all of that. Gotta go for now! Please please pray for Amelia!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Keeping You Connected

Please pray especially for Amelia today, y'all. They have taken some bone marrow and spinal fluid to test to see what's going on. This will tell them whether the cancer has come back or not. Pray that is has not and that it never will. I wish so much there was something more we could do. But of course, God has the power to do all that needs to be done. Steve wrote a great post about suffering last week. I am sure you are already convinced that they are amazing people, but if you haven't read that particular post, you should. What an amazing perspective!

This is so silly to post compared with what the Allens are going through. But I thought it was sort of funny. I was watching some country music thing on tv a minute ago, just trying to sit down for a second. I generally dislike country music (but there is nothing on tv). You get somewhat bombarded with it growing up in Nashville. But anyway, there was a commercial for some show on ABC next week with Martina McBride. Now I do like Martina McBride. I think. I really know nothing about country music anymore. But back in the day I loved "My Baby Loves Me," "I Love You," and her cheesey duet with Bob Seger off the Hope Floats soundtrack. And that's saying a lot when you think about how I was determined to avoid country music and listened to all things Brit pop! Anyway, the show is called "Six Degrees of Martina McBride" and I have no idea what it's about except it's based on the whole six degrees of separation- how anyone in the world can be connected to anyone else in the world by six people. And I just wanted you to know that if you read this blog, you are indeed connected to Martina McBride by less than six people. One of my best friends from high school, and if you went to high school with me or were at my wedding you know her too, is an art teacher at the private elementary school in Nashville. She teaches Faith Hill's kids, Martina McBride's kids, and if I'm not mistaken, Amy Grant's kids too, and probably some other people's kids too. I wonder if she taught Hannah Montana when she was just Billy Ray Cyrus's kid? You know he lived next door to one of my friends? I never met him though. I did see Reba McIntyre in the bathroom at La Paz one time. And Naomi Judd was there on the same night! At La Paz in Green Hills! Also, one time my friend literally ran into Garth Brooks. We didn't know it was Garth Brooks because he was carrying about eight take-out boxes. But people were coming out of the restaurant saying, "you just ran into Garth Brooks!" He didn't care. But it was Garth Brooks- at The Cooker on West End. Anyway, my friend says Martina McBride's daughter is really down to earth and doesn't seem to think she's something special just because her mom's a big star. That's nice to know, isn't it?

Well, I sound like Access Hollywood don't I? Seriously, that's the kind of things they report on those tabloid shows. If I'm lucky, maybe my post will be read aloud amidst various footage of Martina McBride having her picture made, and a few snapshots of the other people I mentioned and a nice picture of some take out boxes and signs to the restaurants I mentioned too. I could totally direct one of those shows. It's like the most formulaic and boring television there is. Sign me up!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

I Should Have My Own Infomercial!

I am glad everyone enjoyed the last post so much. I have been sort of working on an idea for a follow up post as it seemed to be something everyone could relate to. There's a lot going on around here though, we had VBS this week (which I thought would be a vacation for me- turns out, those two older children help out with the baby a lot more than I realize in spite of all their whining and nagging, and I had my work cut out for me just keeping Elspeth occupied a lot of the day so I didn't sew the days away as planned! this is okay as I now know what to expect of my two mornings a week next fall that August is supposed to go to school) and Amabel's birthday and an evening activity every single night (and counting). So I haven't done much in the way of formulating ideas or even taken down the party decorations either (still carrying that bag!). But I saw something on the Today show the other day while Elspeth was nursing. I looked up the article and have the link for you here. It was a segment with Mark Bittman on how to stock your kitchen for under $300. And he means pots pans and everything! I made a similar list for someone who was getting married recently, just for fun, of the ten essential things I use in my kitchen every day (and gave her a couple as a gift). This was excluding pots and pans and basic utensils like a wooden spoon, rolling pin, whisk, or nonstick spatula. I mean how could I narrow all of that down? I can't imagine the money that has been spent on my kitchen after all the wedding gifts and birthday and Christmas gifts over the years. I just love to cook. But so does Mark Bittman. So read his list and here's mine. He wins, but mine is more fun (even if it is more expensive!). Oh, and he also has a list of ten things you don't need, one of which is my number one!

1) KitchenAid stand mixer. One (positive) review called mine the "mixer for kitchen freaks." I am not sure they make the model I have anymore which is a six quart "Epicurean." But you can still get a six quart mixer. They are pricey, though mine was a gift, but I have seen excellent offers on Food Network at Christmas time where you get an attachment of your choice (sausage thingy, icecream maker, juicer) for free as well as Kitchenaid utensils and a cookbook (can't remember which cookbook, but it was swanky looking) when you order! And if you don't need the one "for freaks," you can get a much more reasonably priced 4.5 quart one. They all come with a dough hook, great for making bread or Annie's pizza dough, a flat beater, and a wire whip. I just can't even tell you how often I use this. I am guessing most of you have one so you already know.

2) Williams Sonoma silicone spatula. I know, if I've said it one, I've said it a hundred times. I love this thing! I use this at least daily, but often wash it and reuse it again and again during the same kitchen adventure :) Does it have to be from Williams Sonoma, I wouldn't know. Just kidding, but really, I don't know, I haven't ever used anything else. My guess is that one from anywhere else works fine.

3) A Microplane grater. My brother-in-law is a chef and does not have one of these. Does that tell you that it is not necessary in life? No, it tells you what he is getting from me for his birthday. It is the gratest (ha ha! get it? grate instead of great? I told y'all about my sense of humor last post!) thing for citrus zest, for Parmesan, for chocolate (why you would want it that fine, I don't know, but you might) etc. It was actually first developed for woodworking. I know nothing about woodworking so I will leave it at that. Anyway, I love my Microplane grater, and I would marry it, but I didn't find it until after I was already married, so that answers that question for all of the things on the list really. (Are George and I the only ones that still keep the corny elementary jokes alive or did y'all all get that right away?) P.S. I do not like the photography on the Microplane website. Boo Microplane! Your products deserve way better than that!

4) OXO Tongs. Isn't OXO the best? Where can't you find OXO tools? They're everywhere! And so reasonably priced! These tongs were rated the best by America's Test Kitchen (aka the Cook's Illustrated people). When I saw their segment on tongs, I wondered how on earth I had gotten on without them for so long. I had tongs, but they were almost completely useless. No, they were completely useless. But I use these OXO ones all the time. If you don't use tongs regularly, ask yourself, "is it me, am I just not a tongy sort of person, or is it the tongs, maybe they are as crappy as Abby's old ones?" For nine dollars you can answer that question. Sorry, if it's the first thing though, the not a tongy person, because then you just wasted nine dollars. Bummer, man. Oh, if you are a nonstick pots person, they have nylon covered tongs too.

5)More from OXO, the OXO swivel peeler. Really? Yes, it is practically my best friend. Practically, but I guess I have some friends I wouldn't trade for my peeler. Growing up in Macon, Georgia (where I lived until halfway through the eighth grade but don't often mention), my best friend's mom would often employ us in the kitchen to peel potatoes, carrots, apples, whatever. She was a garage sale addict, which would be a hilarious post alone and I am now convinced I must write that post, so we always had six or eight peelers (or anything for that matter) to choose from, but they were all formerly owned and only cost that previous owner 89cents at the grocery store in the first place. The point is, all of my former experience with peeling was with horrid excuses for peelers and I thought it was the worst task in the kitchen. I therefore bought only peeled baby carrots and tiny red potatoes whose skins are so fine you don't have to peel them until I met my OXO peeler. But now you can bring on the eggplant, of course I don't mind trimming the peel off that cucumber for you, and yes, we can have mashed potatoes made with Russet potatoes! I got a peeler for free with a cooking magazine subscription one time that looks like an OXO one but is not. You can totally have it. Because yes, it does have to be an OXO. But for $6.50, I think you're going to be okay on this one.

6) Cuisinart food processor. He says to get a cheap one so try that if you like. I had a blender mixer combo one time and it was the worst piece of machinery ever invented. My Cuisinart saved me from it. I always say that George has a knack for knowing what I need before I know it. He is more thoughtful about efficiency and usefulness than I am. So much like the kitchen tongs, I didn't know how much I needed a working food processor until I got one. My sister and her husband have birthdays right around Christmas so I bundled my budgets for both of their birthdays and Christmas this year and got them one as well. They are looking into marrying it together. I think I probably under-utilize mine when I hear of all the things they do with theirs (take it to the movies, buy it nice shoes, just kidding!). Anyway, for grating and chopping and finely finely chopping, for making pestos and pie crusts or whatever, this is a happy thing to have.

7) A good chef's knife. Confession: I am slightly afraid of knives and my husband is even more afraid of me with a knife and the possibility for loss of fingers, so I have a 7 inch chef's knife instead of an 8 inch! I read that this is often actually recommended for women, so there you go. Mine is Wusthof and is another thing Georgie knew I needed. Maybe it was all the complaining I did about my old knives? Added to this, though not something you would use as often is a good sharpener. George found both of mine at Crate and Barrel a few years ago. Another thing he found there this past Christmas was a great pot rack. Only you know if you need it. If you live in my apartment complex, you do. I list it here as it came from the same place and because it was yet another time George beat me to knowing what I needed before I did. That George! Put him on the list!

8) Boos cutting board. Look at this guy's website! Why do I now feel like building a house out of butcher's blocks? Anyway, what I have came from the Viking Store. I am starting to feel bad about how much George spends on birthday and Christmas! Well, he knows what I like. And what I like is presents. I am only half kidding there. But if you know people who like presents or if you are one, you also know that it doesn't have to be expensive to be special. Unfortunately, I tend to have expensive tastes. But put it into perspective. Expensive chocolates, while expensive for chocolate, are still very reasonable compared to expensive cutting boards. So there you go.

9) Cutco spatula spreader knife. I was nearly bamboozled into selling Cutco knives one time. I was home for something a few weeks before summer vacation and decided I should look for a summer job. My sister and I found an ad that looked promising, but the interviews were scheduled to begin that evening. I rushed and pulled myself together, put on my mom's suit, and went downtown. I looked really spiffy! I got the job. But one wonders about a job that is not really explained very well during the interview. Of course they wanted me, but what was I interviewing for? It was all so unclear. After I said I was still interested (basically in what was only described to me as "an exciting opportunity with potential to make a generous salary"), I got the pitch. I felt like I had been duped. I had been duped. I was so eager to sell myself and get the job, that I hadn't considered if I really wanted the job. Well, who can blame me? I was nineteen. I needed a job. And I was mostly confused by their vagueness. In the end, no, I was absolutely not going to hit up everyone I knew to buy knives from me. No, that would come two years later in the form of RUF support letters! (Not the knives part, just the hitting up everyone I know- oh, and I don't feel this way when I receive support letters, just when I send them!) All that to say, I was not a big fan of Cutco. I was never going to buy their knives. And I haven't. But my sister sent me this as it was unidentifiable to her and her chef husband has way too many knives. It arrived with the Miracle Blade and several other various pieces of cutlery. And it is a truly wonderful thing. It spreads anything better. Peanut butter? Yep. Icing? Yep. Pimento cheese? Yep. Mayonnaise? Yep. I said anything. It slices cakes and quick breads perfectly and is wide enough to use to serve the slice afterwards. It is so fabulous that I sort of wish I had another one. Why is this necessary? It's not. But I do so love my knife.

10) Are we there yet? Yes, this is the last thing on the list. It's also the least expensive, but over time may end up being the most expensive. Dontcha just love a good riddle? It's parchment paper! Yea! I always line my baking sheets with parchment. And you know I bake a lot. I really really really don't like cooking spray. It totally grosses me out and I have only ever owned one can since I have been married. I owned this can because a friend bought me a subscription to Cooking Light for a wedding gift and one of the ways they cut the fat in recipes is by using cooking spray for everything. But I just don't like it. And I won't like it. And you can't make me. But what I do love is parchment. And butter. And flour. Or olive oil. All of these things keep things from sticking while cooking. And parchment also makes things bake more evenly. For some reason we used to have those air pans at my moms house. You know, I guess when Air Jordan was so big, they had to come out with Air everything. And Reebok pumps (which George spent his entire school clothes budget on one year and when they wore out quickly, he made sandals out of them. I am so glad I did not know him then- it never would've happened with us. Yes, I am that shallow. Footwear is a big deal!). So we had air pans. And they are weird. You have to adjust the cooking time and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. No, parchment for me if you please. I have never had a Silpat though. But you can't cut a Silpat into a circle and put it in your cake pan now can you? I didn't think so. Take that, Martha Stewart!

So that's my list. It took me all day to write it and you probably just skimmed over it didn't you? Well, I won't do that to you. So tell me what your right hand man is in the kitchen? What did I forget? Or what do I not know about that I simply have to have? My next big request will be a Dutch oven I think. Can you believe I don't have one already? I hear you can find them at TJ Maxx and Tuesday Morning pretty regularly. One last thing, the movie previewed on the Today show link is called No Reservations and is out next week. The original was a German film called Bella Martha, translated Mostly Martha. It was pretty good and won lots of awards. The American redo has Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart, and Abigail Breslin (who is also doing an American Girl movie for the big screen soon) in it. Maybe it will be good too. You can rent the foreign version now if you can't get to the theater. One review reminds us that Eat Drink Man Woman was redone in America as Tortilla Soup. And I have to say, Tortilla Soup is better to me than the original though it could just be because the food to me is prettier and more palatable looking. Anyway, this post has taken entirely too long. But I hope you enjoyed it. Guess I better use some of those kitchen tools and get to work- it's time to make supper!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Baggage Claim

I really appreciate so much everyone's sensitivity and encouragement about my last post. And I have made a decision to do something. I cannot say I have never done this before, but I can make every effort not to do it in the future. I have a pretty good idea of who reads this. Well, I get thrown off by the numbers on some days, but I think there is a general group of like thirty or so and I could probably make a list (but I won't!) of who those people are. Anyway, I can just go ahead and say that I will never make a deliberate backhanded confrontation on this blog. If I know you read, you will not have to find out that I am somehow upset with you, unbeknownst to you before, by reading a post here. I have a terrible problem with gossip. I never really confronted it head on until someone I know started gossiping about people that I know are very dear and special to this person. I realized that I have this same ugly tendency, this same lack of restraint to say anything that pops into my head. Fortunately, a blog is something you can proofread and check over before the rest of the world gets a hold of it. I will definitely keep in mind my readers when I talk about something that I have had a hard time with. Also, if I make a general statement, like what I said about when everyone was trying to encourage me and it felt like a rebuke, a lot of times 1) I am as much if not more or completely at fault because of how I choose to handle their comments when I know they mean well, and 2) I usually can't remember anything specific but just that I felt that way and am not thinking of anyone specifically.

I know this is a little tricky to be so out there and open on the world wide web. I know some people think this must be a little like "airing dirty laundry." But I try to just keep it about me and not about other people where I can, and I have a real desire for vulnerability and honesty in friendships that I can't expect if I'm not making my own contribution. I think stay at home mom-ness particularly is a very isolating thing even as I have the absolute luxury of living in a small community with 40 something other Christian families, many (though less and less it would seem!) with children. This is your window into this stay at home mom's world. Perhaps you do not feel so alone when you read this. I know there was a catch 22 on the last post- no one wanted to say "we feel just like you" when they knew I was talking about something kind of severe, but on the other hand, no matter where you came from or what your life has been like, you probably struggle with a degree of perfectionism and inadequacy. A sweet friend pointed that out to me with all delicacy last night and I know that is completely true. This can be that post if you like- what do you struggle with, where is it hard for you to feel like measuring up? I know this crowd, so I am not expecting to be singing Kum Ba Yah, but I thought I'd give us the opportunity to have a discussion.

Pam Caldwell, a lady at our church in Birmingham who really felt a call and duty to be a Titus 2 model for all the young women in our church, is also connected to my church in St. Louis and speaks at our womens' retreats. She has a back pack with measuring sticks dangling from it that she walks around the room with when she speaks. The back pack is our baggage, which everyone has, and the measuring sticks are what we hold up to others to see if we measure up to them. In one skit at our retreat in Birmingham, there were two ladies completely laden down with baggage. The bags had things written all over them from the serious to the stuff we get embarrassed about that make us feel like we are failing like "I have fed my family from the McDonald's drive through three times this week." These illustrations are funny because they peg us pretty well don't they? Does talking about them and acknowledging them help? I think so, but what do I know. Here's some of what would be written on my bags that I bet a lot of you have to match- we can be Twinkies!

"I haven't mall walked (exercised) in a week!"
"I still haven't taken down the party decorations from Saturday."
"I also haven't washed (or even soaked) the pots I used to make dinner last night."
"Lots of nights, no one has clean pajamas and we have to find tee shirts for the kids to wear to bed."
"I grocery shop in the really nice part of town and pretend (ever so subtly) that I live there instead of five miles away where the factories are."
"My children watch entirely too much tv."
"Because my children drive me crazy just by being in the same room as me a lot of the time."
"I have a library book that is nearly two months overdue. I have only read about thirty pages and that was in the first three days I had it. Yet I continue to not re-check it out and not take it back. I am going to have over six dollars in fines (and climbing). But I have done nothing about it."
"Speaking of that, we are the people that get the 'friendly reminder from Blockbuster' calls on almost every video. We have even been charged for the video more than once before for being a week past the due date- the secret is, you can 'return' the video and get your money back anyway! Now that we know that, we are more shameless than ever. But at the same time, we really do mean to take them back, we just keep forgetting."
"We have no budget and have never had a budget. We pretend we do because people always say things like 'we had to pull from our entertainment budget to help with the grocery budget because we bought so much beer on sale.' We act like we have an entertainment, grocery, or any other budget too. But really we just pray for money a lot."

Sorry, the stuff written on the bags is getting progressively longer. Well, you get the idea. What's on your bags? (Get it? Kinda like "what's in your wallet?") - Add to my bags, "I have a really dorky sense of humor."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

As Raw As I Have Ever Been- The Post That Has Been A LONG Time Coming

This post was actually started last week. It was really only the first part about Amelia and what I think of as Amelia's song, a song by Jamie Soles based on Psalm 124. The rest will be new today. I mean, it's all new to you, but I have been hashing through it all for the past week, and really what you will see is that it has been coming on now for a little more than seven days- seven years would be a much closer guess, though I think we can safely say it has been even longer that the Lord has been working this in my life, perhaps for the entirety of my life this far. I know, whoa! Brace yourself now!

There is some good news on Amelia lately. It is kind of hard to know exactly what is happening (how good or how bad) when we are just reading blog posts, but if you haven't checked, go ahead, you will be glad. Even in spite of gladness, I still feel pretty emotional about their situation. I mean, I am an emotional person; it's very obvious and is often very embarrassing. For example, I always cry over Christmas carols. So much hope and help all illustrated in one song; it is an emotional thing, the Gospel! So today on the way to church we were listening to Ascending, a great album by Jamie Soles based on Psalms 120-134. I have come to think of Psalm 124 as Amelia's song as it is my hope for her life. The "people" rising against her would be the horrible disease she is fighting. You can right click the link open in a new window so you can read the lyrics as the song plays:

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
Let Israel now say
If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
When people rose up against us
They would have swallowed us up alive
When their anger was kindled against us
The flood would have swept us all away
The torrent would have gone over us
Raging waters over us

Blessed be the Lord
Who has not given us as a prey to their teeth
We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler
The snare is broken and we have escaped
Blessed be the Lord
Who has not given us as a prey to their teeth
We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler
The snare is broken and we have escaped
We have escaped

Our help is in the Name of the Lord
Who made heaven and earth....

Blessed be the Lord
Who has not given us as a prey to their teeth....

I love the chorus to this song, which is unfortunately not complete in the sample link. The idea is that she (or we/Israel) has escaped from a trap like a bird, that she was caught but the trap has broken. And it is so perfect, because it does seem as though she has been caught. But I am, and we all are, so so hopeful that she will escape, that the Lord will deliver her. And so of course, today when I was listening to this song on the way to church (with my freshly painted mascara) I began to cry my eyes out. Also we were really late and came in after worship during fellowship time before Sunday school (I know, we are total messes!). So there were lots of concerned looks once I got there. I guess people don't want to pry, so no one just came out and said "you are really late and look like you've been crying," but there were many worried sounding "are y'all doing okay?" type questions that were simultaneously disguised as casual everyday "are y'all doing okay?" remarks so as not to embarrass me. I appreciated that. But at the same time, I was embarrassed, because I guess everyone could tell I had been crying. I guess this is me telling everyone what the deal really was, and of course, reminding you all to pray and hope in the Lord for Amelia's recovery.

Moving on to this week, it seems good news with Amelia is slow coming and there is concern that there may have been some permanent damage from her infections. We have been so distracted this week with Amabel's birthday, and meanwhile Jen had her own birthday. I want to remind everyone to please pray for their family. Imagine how exhausting this ordeal has been and is becoming ever more so I am sure. Pray that the "snare" would "break," that God would deliver them from this illness.

Today our pastor preached about Perfectionism. Well, disclaimer, I hesitate to say what he was really aiming toward as I was really tired and also found that I really related to some of what he said. So then, you know, you can think someone is talking about the part you relate to and actually miss the real message they wanted to send altogether; but in today's case the Holy Spirit used at least part of it, and the part I was ministered to by was about perfectionism. He recommended a book called Perfecting Ourselves to Death by Richard Winter if you are interested in that. I have read another of Dr. Winter's books that I thought was really helpful, but I have not read this one (yet). He talked about two different kinds of perfectionism. One he called "private perfectionism" and characterized people with this type of trouble as timid (rather than arrogant), fearful, and anxious. He said they are always worried about measuring up, and I guess most of us can relate to that on some level. If I had been even more vulnerable with y'all, you would know that that is a giant I daily battle and usually lose to. It runs very deep with me, a debilitating sense of being forever inadequate and falling short, both with God (or especially with God) and with man. He went on to describe another type of perfectionism that is more like the Pharisees, as opposed to the first which would be more like the tax collector. The second type he described as being arrogant, being the kind of perfection that talks down to others, just as the stories of the Pharisees go. He said that Spurgeon once said "I have only ever known one perfect person and he was a perfect nuisance." We all kind of chuckled because of course it is true that really perfectionistic people are totally annoying. Think of Martha Stewart! He warned us against this type of perfectionism which I am also personally acquainted with. Often times we think our denomination is better than another, that we somehow have the inside track with God. He reminded us several times that this is absolutely not the case. On an even more serious note, he talked about situations of child abuse, where perfectionist parents demand perfection from their children, talk down to them, discourage, berate and abuse them, and injure them so deeply as to leave them with permanent "injuries," this emotional state of being where you are always uncertain and afraid of devastating failure, perfectionism not fueled by arrogance but by deep fear and pain. Wow! This was not something I had never thought of before, but more some dots that no one in authority had ever connected for me before. This was, to say the least, a huge relief to me. I wrote him a letter during the Sunday school hour, though in the end I decided maybe I'll just grab a chance to talk to him sometime, thanking him and telling him that this is the thing I wish more people understood about me. And I am sure there are other people who were there who felt the very same way.

It sounds simple enough. People who don't know what I am talking about will say that everyone has feelings of inadequacy. I know this is true. I just have a very strong idea that people who came from regular homes have a helplessness, that is actually a blessing, in understanding what some others of us feel like. Just as I think I take for granted growing up in the church or having a relatively good education as opposed to people who never heard the Good News until later or who were not blessed with access to knowledge, and can't fully realize how those things have really made me who I am and that I would be a completely different person without them, I think people who grow up in good sound families take it for granted as well. How could they not? And I know that they do because they say insensitive things. They say things like "every family is dysfunctional" or they just don't get what the big deal is when you share something that for you is nothing less than heart breaking. I know that they can never know how different their life would be if they grew up feeling hated rather than loved, but I think it is important that they know that, that they know that who they are is all wrapped up in that love and that who someone else less fortunate is is going to be equally wrapped up in the absence of that love. Not sure if I can ever express this well enough. But when my pastor preached today, I really felt that he got it. I felt like he expressed it perfectly.

And I finally felt understood. So I was free to move past that big un-understood part of me to the next thing. And the thing I thought about next was what I should do with this private perfectionism. Because of course, what I have always thought I would do would be to meet the standard, eventually- lose the weight, somehow grow non-acne prone skin, be on time all the time, become organized all the time, friendly all the time, the perfect mom with the perfect children, etc. etc. And I thought of this time in seminary, these past three years where I have gradually unraveled completely. I was so close to perfect, you know. I was on my way to having two perfect children, we were ready to buy our first perfect house, I was getting back down toward my previously perfect size 6 figure (yes, those of you who know me now, I was a size 6, almost effortlessly, throughout high school and college!), I was the perfect hostess, homemaker, mom, etc. Well, I mean, as close to perfect as I thought I needed to be- this is all based on the bizarre standard in my head. And what do you think happened over the course of six months? Well, let me tell ya.

First George lost his job and couldn't find another one for five months. We lived off the generosity of people we knew, in the form of both odd jobs and handouts, and off our savings from our first four years of marriage. Savings for what? Right, the down payment for our first home (in the meantime, all of our friends without the two kids we had had their own homes in the most charming parts of town and we were still renting in the way far away cruddy part of town)! This was near heartbreaking, but I held out some hope. We lost a baby about eight weeks into pregnancy during this time and it was incredibly awkward as we had not really announced the pregnancy and it was also an unexpected pregnancy. I felt a weird obligation to blow it off when I was secretly devastated. In the wake of all of this, we left all of our friends to move to St. Louis for seminary, a decision we had been considering for years but never could afford to do- we had nothing left to lose anymore so we finally just came. Well, the move to St. Louis pretty much broke what was left of my heart, we finally completely lost hope of owning a home, we lost our friends, and for me, the culture I had been raised in. I came to a place that felt very unwelcoming and cold, and feelings aside, a place that is, at the very least, very different from anywhere I had lived in the twenty six years before. I became friends at that time with a very sweet person who really didn't understand me very well. Although this person meant well, this person made me feel that I could not struggle through the things I was going through. I felt the need to constantly explain myself and apologize for myself. I felt like everyone was constantly critiquing me and I was failing with a capital F. After about a year of this we moved thirty minutes across town, switched churches, and I quit my job. It was nice to start over, but it was as if we moved to St. Louis all over again. I had to find streets, grocery stores, post offices, malls, libraries, restaurants, a new church, and all new people all over again. Less than a year later, we were faced with another necessary move, though this time there was nowhere to move to so we were just praying desperately, and were going through all of this with another baby on the way. The day we moved out of that house in spring of 2006 was seriously, to this day, the worst day of my life. I was in excruciating physical and emotional pain and I was at the very end of whatever faith I had been hanging on to. At the same time, I felt very ashamed of all of those feelings and nearly everything that was said or done to encourage me felt like a rebuke. Someone had told me nightmarish stories of a woman losing her unborn baby at 23 weeks, I was 20 weeks and in bad pain. I had a pretty big breakdown that day, but it was just a shadow of what was going on inside of me. God had already taken my home and my unborn child before. He seemed like an unmerciful dictator. We had a long summer last year, as most of you will remember, and I lived in fear and shame. But we did find a home right before school started and our darling Elspeth was born. We named her Peace in hopes that she would have what I had none of while I carried her.

All of the feelings from all of these events have sort of lingered. All of the unmerciful remarks or actions of others, the lapses or even losses in friendship, the feelings of being completely forgotten and forsaken, they just haven't ever resolved themselves. And I have been really questioning God's goodness, really pretty dang angry a lot of times, all the while thinking that I'm supposed to be Susie homemaker pastor's wife soon so I best get myself together! Don't get me wrong, I've been hammering away at it, it's just been pretty slow and really difficult lately- "lately" as in always, but increasingly so as time has gone by. And it's been really humiliating. It's that perfectionism that's been telling me that I never should have "strayed" this far and that my attitude was outright "sinful." Yet, I just couldn't get over this feeling that God seemed to be wanting to destroy me. The whole time we have been in St. Louis I have told George that I feel like I walk into a room and people can sense right away that this is a person who is coming to pieces before their very eyes.

But praise God for all of that! Today I was given a notion of "what might've been." Our pastor warning us against the Pharisees' perfectionism really illuminated that snare for me. And suddenly, I could see that all this time God wasn't destroying me, just my perfection. I spoke to a counselor once who told me that if we compare ourselves to other people or some sort of made up standard, we will either feel bad because we don't measure up or we will feel awesome because we do. And I just think what if none of this had happened? What if we were still back being the parents with all the answers in some darling house in Cahaba Heights with a closet full of Ann Taylor and Southern hospitality pouring down our garden walk (brick, and lined with pink tulips, of course!)? Seriously! What if I hadn't been destroyed, hadn't moved here and gained a kazillion pounds (or closer to thirty, but kazillion is good too) and realized I had no idea how to parent (that one size does not, after all, fit all) and made a friend that criticized me so much that I became afraid to be friends with people? All of my crutches, all of my perfection, were taken away. I couldn't measure up so I didn't get (any more) puffed up.

And that's the thing, the perfectionists I know, the people in my life who make me feel inadequate with every encounter, are actually people who at their core are very sad themselves. You know the old joke about the Sadducees, "they're sad, you see." That debilitating perfectionism, the kind that comes from abuse or from wherever it comes from, can turn into the really puffed up kind if you start to make your mark. All of these things that I thought were a plague to me, this total lack of a concept of time despite so much struggling, this total inability to lose weight despite so much exercising, and all these other things, have been a blessing to keep me from turning that corner to feeling like I have it all together. Of course, I still have high hopes that some of this baby weight will go away and that I will get better at being on time or knowing how long it takes to complete a task; it is really frustrating to work and work and feel like it is completely useless. But I thought of Amelia's song today. I thought about the snare I was caught up in, the standard of "perfection" that I nearly met, and how it broke. And I have escaped! My children have escaped.

I still have no idea what will become of my "private perfectionism." That was one of the things I was going to talk to my pastor about. I know that part of that snare being broken was God placing me with George (told you this has been a long time coming). We have joked before about our marriage being arranged by God as we have looked back and talked about times where each of us thought of breaking our relationship off, even as far as minutes before our wedding. It seems it might have been a pretty reasonable, even wise, thing for either of us to do at the time, but we are so glad neither of us did (though it made for a pretty difficult go of things for a while)! Besides being very well suited for me in all kinds of ways, George is a total departure from scary standards of perfection and mercilessness. I have been aware for a long time that God delivered me from being "swallowed up alive" when he put me with George. But as I have just related to you, the standards and assumptions from before are just sort of part of me and are a giant to be reckoned with. But you know the old GI Joe saying, "knowing is half the battle." I feel like God reveals these things at the "proper time," as the Psalms say, and that maybe being brought to this point of understanding and renewed faith is a big piece of the puzzle. As I have now pretty much told you every secret thing about myself, I should have no problem sharing what happens next huh?

I shared all of this because I think there have definitely been allusions to all of this, if not more. I think it is important to follow through reports of sorrows and struggles with reports of God's faithfulness and deliverance. So this has been it. May it encourage you and bless you today. Oh, and the song is from the ESV translation, did ya notice?!

We have escaped like a bird
from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
and we have escaped!

Our help is in the name of the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Stopping by to Say Hello

Sorry to have been gone for so long. Amabel's birthday party is tomorrow so I am still in the thick of busy busy. But what a blessing! I was so afraid the summer would drag on. And it is zooming by! Hurray hurray! We went to the craft store yesterday and they have begun putting up the pumpkin stuff. Pumpkins! I can't wait! Usually I have the tomatoes to look forward to. But the squirrels are eating them before they are ripe enough to pick. About two weeks ago I saw a little guy scampering down the sidewalk with a big orange ball in his mouth. I wondered where he got it. Then I wondered what exactly it was. It looked like a kumquat. Mmmmm, kumquats! But I was pretty sure no one around here has a kumquat tree (if they did, I'd be stealing them with the squirrels!). And then it hit me like a hammer as they say (and as Huey Lewis and the News put into an obnoxious song for us a decade or so ago), those were my tomatoes! Damn Gammers! That's what we used to call squirrels back in Auburn. They would take your bagel or candy bar on the concourse if you set it down for too long. And now they're getting my tomatoes! So I'm back to waiting for the pumpkins. But I promise to blog more regularly before the harvest! Just give me a day or two to get through birthday festivities. And let's just not talk about how my little girl is turning six!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Hoping for Very Good Things from Y'all

As I am sure everyone else is, I am still very distressed over Amelia. She has started producing white blood cells (hurray!), but there seem to be several new problems. Please keep her in you prayers as always. But can we try to have a bit of lightening up around her again? I know even Steve and Jen are needing that now. They have written of a few outings recently that I think must be keeping them still sane. They really are sane. I saw Steve (they were home for a while with some family, just taking a break- they came by because they needed a spare key) on Sunday and was blown away by his ever positive attitude. What a testimony of faith and courage they have been! So now for a little diversion to keep all of us more sane.

Jon relayed a review about Ratatouille on his blog that made me think I might want to see it afterall. Cars was just so disappointing wasn't it? And I never saw what was so incredible about The Incredibles, though I know many will disagree. Wait a minute, now that I think about it, I'm not crazy about Finding Nemo either! I do so love A Bug's Life, Monster's Inc. and the Toy Story movies though. I have only seen The Incredibles once so maybe I should try it again. But really, I'm not the cartooniest person around. I am more of a romantic comedy person; though I am the first to admit that most romantic comedies are very poorly done, and I would much rather see something from another genre that is well done than a romantic comedy that is poorly done. We have only been to see Pirates this summer, or really since Elspeth was born. I didn't like the ending. I would tell you what I didn't like specifically, but I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it yet. But you know how Fourth of July is a huge movie holiday? So I thought I'd bring up movies and see if any of y'all were among the "holiday movie-goers." What are you going to see? What have you seen recently? What are you looking forward to being released in the theater? We have entertained the idea of going to see Ocean's 13 as we have two free movie passes. Would this be squandering our passes? It just doesn't seem like I've heard much about it, or anything lately. Except Knocked Up. And I do not want to see Knocked Up. Even that title, that expression, is yucky to me. Plus, it's by the Forty Year Old Virgin people. Is that right? We made the mistake of renting that. Well, we have Blockbuster Online so it was "free" in a sense, which is good as we turned it off after five minutes.

We have been doing that a lot lately, turning movies off. We watched about 45 minutes of Crash last night before we finally decided we had seen way too much. I am sure there is a powerful or positive message in there if you can make it that far. I hope there is even some hope at the end. But it was just too whoa for me! A long time ago my friend Jennie and I went to see a "comedy" called Very Bad Things with Christian Slater and Cameron Diaz, oh and Jon Favreau who we then only knew from Swingers and his stint on Friends. Too bad we didn't see this "Rated R for strong, grisly violence, sexuality, drug use and language" before we went. We thought "Christian Slater! Cameron Diaz! That guy from Friends!" It was the darkest thing I have ever seen. It was so dark that we had no bearings for that kind of movie at all and naively thought it would turn itself around. We waited the whole movie. We never left. It kept getting worse! So I have learned my lesson about watching something all the way through- it is better to just turn it off! That was back in the day when we had so much free time that we'd say "I feel like seeing a movie. Let's see what's playing." (And then we saw "comedy" and the names of a few actors and since we liked them, didn't pay attention to anything else) Now we have to make time to see things really worth seeing. And that requires a little but of research on our parts. So tell me what we should make time for- in the theater or at Blockbuster.

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