05 December 2014

I have nothing to say

With the recent attention being given to the abhorrently violent institutional racism in this country, so many people seem to have so many things to say. My Facebook feed has been full of lament (and some blaming and defensiveness). My Twitter feed is absolutely flooded with one-sentence opinions and judgments. Even people on Instagram are posting pictures of text reading "Black Lives Matter" "I Can't Breathe" and "We Can't Breathe."

And I have nothing to say.

This is not to say I don't think this racism affects me or that these problems are not mine. But rather I do not think that my voice is relevant. We do not need more white people sharing their thoughts and ideas about racism. We need more white people to shut up and listen to what people of color are trying to tell us.

So I have nothing to say.

That does not mean I am not filled with rage, sadness and despair. Nor does it mean I don't want to scream and fume and write diatribes about injustice. But in this I am perpetrator and not a victim, so I must be quiet and listen. I must faithfully follow the lead of my brothers and sisters of color and heed any advice they offer me.

I have nothing to say.

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
therefore judgment comes forth perverted.
Look at the nations, and see!
Be astonished! Be astounded!
For a work is being done in your days
that you would not believe if you were told.
~Habakkuk 1:2-5

21 November 2014

Therapy is Awesome!

(Sung to the tune of "Everything is Awesome" from The Lego Movie)

The first place I experienced therapy was with the counselor at my elementary school. I had just gone on AD/HD medication and so I was meeting with her weekly to assess whether the medication was working and if I was adjusting to it well (it was and I was). We talked about my friends and whether or not I was happy and if my parents were nice. I felt so special. Nobody else got called out of class to go talk about their thoughts and feelings weekly.

The next time I went to a counselor was college. I returned from the Oregon Extension (I'll tell you about it sometime) and was really struggling with the re-entry into college life. That was the semester I failed ceramics and gym. (For serious.) I went the school counselor, not knowing where else to turn for help. She had a lamp that was this spinning underwater scene that I would stare at while we talked. She was wonderful and affirming and made me feel so validated in my struggles. She helped me find ways to ask my professors for help and we made game plans. With her help I got back on track so that I only failed gen. ed. classes (ceramics and gym) and not my major courses. I loved feeling like I wasn't alone and that I was getting the help I needed.

I went back to the same counselor after my father died. He died in August, so I spent the rest of the year at home with my mother. When I came back to school in January, my mother asked her to reach out to me. I went back to her office and stared at that same lamp and told her I was fine. I told her about how happy I was to be back at school and how it was good to have that time with my family. I would guess now that she believed me because I believed me. We were both wrong.

I didn't go back to therapy for three years after that. I'd convinced myself I didn't need it. (I was still wrong.) My life was by no means terrible those three years; but I was not handling things very well. I hadn't given myself the time or permission to really grieve. My pain from not having not my father was causing me to damage important relationships and hindering me from moving forward in my life. But I didn't see any of this at the time. I just figured that I was a crazy 20-something who was self-destructive in an alluring way. Like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's. (Who was I kidding?)

But when my best friend's father died, I couldn't hide from my grief any longer. I stayed strong for as long as I could; but when I finally broke down, I very quickly spiraled out of control. I began drinking too often and stopped caring about any of my obligations. I've found that one major benefit of wearing your heart on your sleeve is that you find yourself saying out loud to people things like, "I'm not doing well." and "I'm not okay." This is beneficial because more often than you might expect these people will say back to you things like, "What can I do to make things better?" and "How can I help?" One such person was my pastor. She referred me to my current therapist.

Since I'd been so open with my struggles, I decided to post on Facebook "I made the call. Counseling, here I come." The response was overwhelming and immediate. Within hours so many of my friends had left comments encouraging me and supporting my decision to get help. Many revealing that they also go to therapy and love it. It definitely bolstered my confidence and helped me actually show up to the appointment.

The first time I went to her, I instinctively sat as close to the door as was possible (I still sit there now, out of habit). I subconsciously wanted the option of a quick getaway if facing my grief turned out to be as harrowing as I expected. In a lot of ways it was worse than I thought it would be, but it's amazing what knowing you're not alone can do. It did not take me long to figure out that this was worth investing in - that I was worth investing in. I was only working part time then, so I begged, borrowed and stole to pay for therapy once a week. I got grants from my church and help from my mom. I was determined to make it work.

And it was working. I was identifying unhealthy patterns and making useful connections to things from my past. I was beginning to work on building healthier relationships and making positive steps for my future. It was the first time in years that I let my walls down a little and just expressed how I was feeling. Therapy was making a real and positive impact on my life.

But after six months, the money ran out. I couldn't afford to go anymore and I had to make that decision very suddenly. My best friend paid for me to go one last time and I spent that last session crying - ashamed that money was once again keeping me from doing something important.

But then after another six months, a lot of things had changed. I'd gotten a new, full time job. I'd quit drinking and smoking. I'd gone gluten-free and felt physically healthier than I'd ever felt before in my life. I was in a much better place emotionally. Still, the moment I could afford it again, I contacted my therapist.

I've been going to therapy 2-4 times a month for over a year now. It's expensive and some weeks it doesn't feel worth it; but usually I recognize that I couldn't do it without this. Knowing that every two weeks or so, I'll get an hour to just sit down and figure out my life. No interruptions, no other obligations - just an hour to dig deep. My therapist and I talk about strife in my relationships and my work. She helps me identify what stressors in my life are a result of the grief I still struggle to deal with. We've been able to locate patterns from my family that have a deep impact on my life today. We work to get to the root of my disproportionate responses to some things. It's hard and some days painful, but therapy is awesome.

I've never been ashamed to tell people that I go to therapy; but it's clear in some of the responses I get that some people think I should be. Too often people get awkward when I say, "I can't do that then, I have therapy." They'll squirm or ask "Is everything okay?" Sometimes I just say "No. Everything is not okay. Is everything in your life okay? Because that is very impressive." Others say, "Good for you!" in a kind of nervous, patronizing way. Not everyone, obviously; I have so many wonderful friends who have affirmed and celebrated my choice to go to therapy regularly. But too often my honesty about this choice makes people uncomfortable. I think this is because when you admit you're getting help, then you're admitting that you're struggling.

That's why I wanted to write this blog. I wanted to be another voice saying to anyone who is struggling, "Therapy could really help you. It really helped me and it's nothing to feel shameful about." Admitting we're struggling is important. Every time I've been able to say out loud, "I'm not okay." things have gotten better. Therapy offers me space to regularly say out loud, "I'm not okay." with absolutely no judgement and that is awesome.

14 November 2014

On Accountability

I've been struggling. I'm anxious about the direction my life is heading. I'm consistently overwhelmed at work. I'm still getting over my breakup. My room's a mess. My dishes aren't done. My bathroom hasn't been properly cleaned in weeks. I'm just struggling.

It's really hard to admit all those things. With our ability to cultivate our online presences, it's increasingly easy to make your life look perfect. I know that I've cropped messes out of the background of an Instagram and only posted on Facebook the pictures from before the wind messed up my hair. Pinterest tricks us into thinking people have perfect, cutely decorated, Martha Stewart lives with just the right lighting. These days, a facade of well-being is all too easy.

When someone says "How are you?" I instinctively respond "Good" regardless of whether that's true or not. Even when it's someone who I would feel comfortable opening up to, I automatically put on a happy face. Sometimes when I'm having a really bad day, I'll go so far as to say that I'm doing "Okay." I think most people are guilty of lying like this without even thinking about it. Why is it so difficult to be honest about how we're feeling when we're feeling poorly?

I think this is part of why I've been avoiding blogging some. As a writer, I desire to write about what's going on in my life and admitting to the public that you don't have your shit together is scary. But, dear Public, I definitely don't have my shit together.

Turning 28 really freaked me out. For some reason, I always thought that was the age when everything would click. I would turn 28 and suddenly start consistently cleaning my room and always remember to brush my teeth before bed. I would turn 28 and my shit would magically get itself together.

Nope.

Surprisingly, just waiting around for things to get better did not actually accomplish anything for my life. I'm as shocked about it as you are.

But, the first step in solving a problem is admitting you have one. So, I'm here to tell you that I'm struggling and it's not going to get better unless I get off my butt and do something about it. No more excuses and no more waiting. But I can tell myself that all day long and nothing will change. I need my community to support me.

I have a lot of friends who don't go to church. I have a lot of people who ask me why I go to church when so few of my peers chose the same path. I'm still working on coming up with a coherent answer, but the best I can offer now is: Community. Part of what that means to me is having people to support me and keep me accountable.

At Oxford Circle Mennonite Church, where I attended before becoming a member of West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship, accountability was something that was stressed. It was not enough to show up on Sunday, you had to be open to relationships with other church-goers and it was understood that part of that relationship meant accountability.

To be honest, I kind of hated it. I was in my early twenties and wanted to make poor decisions and think stupid things without anyone telling me I was wrong. But that wasn't an option and people told me I was wrong. Sometimes they were right and sometimes they weren't; but I wasn't able to just keep doing something without thinking through whether it was a good idea or not. And when I said I was going to do something, there were people who invested themselves in making sure I accomplished it. As much I hated it at the time, my experiences at OCMC taught me how important accountability is.

But I've learned the only way to be held accountable, is to make our shortcomings known. So, friends, I'm letting you know that I'm falling short of who I want to be. That I need to make changes that are substantial and obvious to those around me. That I need to stop waiting for my shit to magically gather itself and DO something about it.

One thing I've always desired for this blog is that it be authentically me. I've been falling short of that lately. I've been trying to gloss over my cracks and rely on superficiality to hide any hint of struggle. But that is not honesty and I am dedicated to honesty in my writing. So, with this new layout I've built for my blog, I want a fresh start. A re-dedication to being open about the experience of my life - which includes my struggles. I'm telling this to all of you because then I know that you're expecting it. Because then I'll disappoint more than just myself if I continue to fall back into patterns of polishing my life so it seems better or more interesting. I'm grateful to have a readership that I desire to be authentic with.

31 October 2014

Halloween

It's Halloween!!! While I love Valentine's Day the most of all holidays, Halloween is the most fun because nearly everyone is on the bandwagon with me. I feel like with Valentine's Day, I have to convince people that it doesn't suck. Pretty much everyone agrees that Halloween does not suck. I know there are some, mainly Christian, exceptions; but I was spared most of that growing up. My parents always embraced Halloween as fun and silly. A time to play make-believe on a grand scale and get rewarded for it with candy.

When I first moved to Philadelphia, I did not live in a very safe or welcoming part of town. Some areas close by were great, but my immediate neighbors were wary of me and I them. We'd nodded in greeting at each other, but had never really spoken. But then came Halloween. I love Halloween and always have and that was the first year that I was a grown-up passing out candy and not a kid getting candy. I couldn't miss out on the opportunity to be on the other side of this holiday love I so much. So, even though I wasn't so sure about this neighborhood, I decided I couldn't let that stop me.

My next door neighbor was a big, tough looking guy. He was tall and muscular and often scowled. Of all my neighbors, he was one that I kept my guard up with the most. But then came Halloween. I'll never forget when I first saw him come out of the house. I thought I was hallucinating or maybe seeing big, red spots. He was in a full-body Elmo suit. Never has anything been more disarming. When he saw that I was also dressed up and handing out candy, he came over to talk with me. We exchanged names and compared and traded candy. We shared our love for Halloween and how great it was to see these cute kids and give them candy. I kept my guard down and said hello to him every time I saw him after that.

That's what I think people don't think about with Halloween: it's all about your neighborhood. You go out and actually walk your streets and go up to peoples' houses and talk to your neighbors. When else do you get that kind of opportunity? It's a chance to touch and see and be silly with the people Jesus calls us to love as ourselves.

Last year I was a peg-legged pirate.

As promised, pictures from my Halloween party last week.

24 October 2014

Halloween Party

Okay, so you obviously already know of my love for holidays. I mean, I went all out for Labor Day, of all things. And, while Valentine's Day is my favorite holiday, Halloween is a very close second. Growing up, my parents did not ascribe to whole "Halloween is an evil and un-Christian celebration of witchcraft and mischief" thing. Rather, they thought it was a great time to have fun and be silly. They understood that going out Trick or Treating gives the whole family a chance to meet our neighbors that we wouldn't otherwise have. I was raised with the understanding that Halloween is about fun and candy.

Next week I'll go into my thoughts about the holiday itself and, if you're really lucky, I might even get into a historical discussion of the origins of Halloween. But, this week, I'm feeling very distracted by a Halloween party that I'm going to tonight. I recently became a youth leader at my church and we're having a Halloween party this evening. I'm so excited, I could burst! I spent the last several weeks perusing Pinterest and getting ideas for festive snacks. Last night I made much of what we'll be serving today.



As you can see, I really got into the spirit. What can I say, I love a theme!


These Rice Krispie pumpkins turned out to be so easy! You just make Rice Krispie Treats and dye the melted marshmallows orange before you mix in the Rice Krispies. I found that it took A LOT of food coloring to get them bright enough because the white marshmallows make the color pretty pastel. But, as you can see, I accomplished a nice pumpkin orange. Once you've mixed the Rice Krispie Treats up, let them cool for a little while before you shape them into balls. If they're too gooey, they won't hold shape and Rice Krispie Treats remain pretty malleable, even at room temperature. You'll want to spray your hands with cooking spray to keep the marshmallows from sticking to you. Don't worry about making the balls squatty like a pumpkin, that will happen when you add the stem. The stem is made from a tootsie roll, cut in half. When you push it onto the top, your pumpkin fattens and gets more pumpkin-y. Some of the pictures I saw online had icing leaves, but I liked them like this. (Plus, I didn't feel like making green frosting.)


This is my attempt at offering a healthy(ish) snack. Turns out, apple slices, peanut butter and marshmallows make a surprisingly great mouth. These were just my prototypes and I think I will have to cut thin apple slices for the party as they kept falling over. I love how cute and simple these are. I wish I would have been able to find the colored mini-marshmallows since then they would look more like zombie teeth. These are still pretty awesome, though.


This one is super cute and it was really easy. I'm calling it Zombie Puppy Chow. All you have to do is make puppy chow using whatever recipe you prefer. Then, add Halloween/fall themed candies. I chose candy corn, Reese's Pieces and candy eyes. 


This was by far the most complicated of all the snacks, but the payoff is pretty great. These Jello Worms are going to be a big hit, I am sure of it. You take three packets of unflavored gelatin and one packet of red jello (I chose raspberry flavor, but anything red will do) and mix them into three cups boiling water. Once it's fully mixed, stir in 3/4 cups whipping cream; this gives it the two-tone look since it will separate. Add a lot of green food coloring to make it kind of brown/gray. (As you can see, I was too frugal with the food coloring.) Then, take 100 straws and extend the bendy part to get the ridges. Rubber band them together and put them in a cylindrical container, bendy part down (only to make sure it gets filled with jello). You don't want the container to be much wider than the bundle of straws because the jello on the outside is just waste. (I'm sure I could come up with something clever to do with the leftovers, but I've got a lot on my plate already.) I decided to do two bundles in two tall tumblers since I didn't have a container that was the right size for all of them. Let them set and then squeeze the worms out into a bowl. Squeezing them out is time-consuming, but look at how cool they are!

I'll try to post pictures of the actual party next week. Have a great weekend and Happy Halloween!

10 October 2014

On Choosing Joy

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.
~James 1:2


In the wake of my father's death, I found myself doing something strange. I identified anything good that had come of his death, and clung to it. I know this sounds crazy - to search for goodness in something terrible; but there was so much terrible in my life, that I needed something - anything - to ease it all. I was blessed to have been able to see so many people I love gathered at my home and at the memorial services. I was blessed to be in Colorado for the birth of my first nephew. I was blessed to have some of my college debt forgiven because my father had taken out the loans in his name. I was blessed to spend the most difficult and challenging months of our lives at my mother's side. At the time I called this search for goodness finding the blessings; but now I think of it as choosing joy.

I find myself coming back to this verse in James over and over again. Throughout my life, it has meant many different things to me. When I first read it, I was drawn in by the idea that trials develop perseverance - that adversity brings growth. Later, I read it as an admonition of grumbling about my struggles in life rather than facing them and growing through them. I wrote recently, of a time when it gave me strength and hope about where I am and where I'm going - that perseverance is both something I'm developing and something I've developed. But as I read this verse today, it speaks to me of choosing joy.

There is a scene in Romeo and Juliet that I think about often. It's act 3, scene 3, just after Tybalt and Mercutio have been killed and the Prince has sentenced Romeo to banishment. Romeo is hiding in Friar Lawrence's cell and the Friar returns to tell Romeo of his fate. Romeo goes on to lament and says that banishment is bad as death because there is no life beyond Verona's walls. The friar keeps trying to get Romeo to see that this sentence is a generous one, but he is having none of it. Finally, when Romeo draws his sword and holds the tip to his own chest, the dear Friar snaps. He admonishes Romeo for shaming his shape, his love and his wit with this threat to kill himself. He reminds him of just how many things and people he has to live for and smacks Romeo as he lists them, ending each sentence with "There art thou happy?!" Near the end come my favorite lines:

A pack of blessings lights up upon thy back;
Happiness courts thee in her best array;
But, like a misbehaved and sullen wench,
Thou pout'st upon thy fortune and thy love:
Take heed, take heed, for such die miserable.

The Friar is telling Romeo to choose joy. 

It can sometimes be hard not to think of joy as something that happens to us. Like we can only experience it when there is something external that influences it - when someone is kind to us or we do something fun or accomplish something difficult. But what I think James and the Friar are trying to tell us is that joy is a choice. James tells us to consider it pure joy, not simply that it is pure joy. Even in trials, we can, and should, choose joy. 

I have a little way I check in with myself in the morning on the walk to work: I ask myself if the sun is on my face or in my eyes. If the sun is on my face, I'm choosing joy. If the sun is in my eyes, I'm not. It's the exact same external experience, but it's my choice how I respond to it. On days the sun is in my eyes, I try to feel its warmth on my face by the time I get to work. It is amazing what this practice has done for my psyche. 

Choosing joy can be so hard, though. When you're in the middle of trials, everything seems terrible and out to get you. It all seems like it can't and won't ever get better. But if you can open yourself to finding the blessings, you can find hope. Finding a way to take a step away from our pain to look at the landscape can be transformative. 

To me, choosing joy means taking time to find it. It means listening for the sound of birds, or celebrating a silly holiday to its fullest, or calling a good friend just so she can make you laugh. It means taking stock of your circumstances and choosing to focus on the good stuff, rather than the bad. It means feeling the sun on your face and not in your eyes.

03 October 2014

Birthdays

I think I've probably told you enough times that I love holidays. I love celebrations and joy and presents. I love the break from the routine that usually comes in the form of a day off or a party (or both!). I love gathering with friends and doing something special. I figure that life can be boring or sad too often, so we should celebrate every chance we get.

I have never understood when people don't like it when a big deal is made out of their birthday. I like it when everyone knows and I feel celebrated in all facets of my life. It was my birthday last Thursday and I have had a wonderful time celebrating. My best friend came into Philly for a long weekend and we had a party with all my friends on Sunday. I love having a special time to do your favorite things with your favorite people each year.

Part of the beauty of birthdays is that we can be celebrated without humility. As a Mennonite, it can be hard to take a compliment, much less abide a whole day of being celebrated. But on your birthday, it is wonderful to just allow yourself to be celebrated. To thank everyone who tells you something good instead of finding ways to refute them. To receive gifts with gratitude and not embarrassment. To show your friends you love them by receiving their celebrating.

That's part of why I love birthdays so much; but I think the bigger reason I love them is that it is the only day that we celebrate people for nothing more than existing. The other celebrations we have for people usually center around accomplishments like promotions, new houses, pregnancies and engagements. You don't have to accomplish anything more than being alive to be celebrated on your birthday. I know that some years just being alive is an accomplishment in and of itself; but more often than not it comes easily.

Being celebrated just for existing feels similar to God loving us just because we are. God rejoices when we accomplish things, but God also celebrates when we simply wake up in the morning. Having a day dedicated to just celebrating ourselves can help remind us of the way God loves us. God loves us with all the joy and encouragement that we receive from loved ones on our birthday.

Allowing ourselves to be loved for nothing is not as easy as it sounds. It can be easy to feel unworthy of God's love. But scripture tells us over and over again that God's love is given freely, just because we are. We do not need to do great things or be a good person or make all the right choices, God loves us just because we are. On our birthdays, we get to be celebrated just because we made it another year. What a blessing.

A few snapshots of my fantastic birthday weekend.

19 September 2014

Bible Story

Occasionally I like to post something I wrote for a theology class while in college. Today I am posting my retelling of the Biblical Narrative that I wrote for my Narrative Theology Senior Seminar course at Goshen. Telling the Bible Story as a narrative was not something I was new to when I was given this assignment, though. At Central Christian High School, the Mennonite high school I attended, all sophomores are tasked with telling the Bible Story from memory. (And from what I hear from my young cousins, they still do it to this day.) I remember this as being one of the more exciting and nerve-wracking days in high school. Everyone anxiously going over their notes in the hallway as they awaited their turn. But more compelling than the anxiety was how we were all able to find coherence in this sometimes disparate story. It was so affecting to take all of these Bible stories that we had always known and string them together into a full narrative. It gave us such insight into who God is and what is important to God.

It has been the experience of my life that God is full of Grace. Grace can take the form of patience, forgiveness, guiding, comfort, love and so many others. When I read the Biblical narrative, I read story after story about God’s Graciousness. This is the theme that I have traced in my retelling of that narrative here.

In the beginning, our Great Creator Created the Universe. Perhaps it was created with a big bang and then slow movement. Perhaps it was created in a single week. That is not the point, however. The point is that the Great Creator Created. Everything Created was so divinely intricate and perfect that we will never be able to comprehend the magnitude of our Creation. The Great Creator also Created a balance so sacred that to defy it is sin. All things were Created in Grace.

Adam and Eve disobeyed God and God showed them Grace. They left Eden, but God gave them what they needed to survive. Later, Cain disobeyed God and killed his brother Abel; but God showed him Grace and he left his family. People continued to populate the earth and they continued to disobey God. We are told that God became frustrated and decided to destroy humanity. But, through Grace, God found one Godly and obedient family to save: the family of Noah. God told Noah to build an ark for God intended to flood the earth and start again with a, hopefully, more obedient people. When the flood was over, God sent a dove with an olive branch to show Noah that the land was returning and a God also sent a rainbow as a sign of God’s promise that never again would humanity be destroyed. These have become some of our most sacred symbols.

The people repopulated the earth and, unfortunately, continued to disobey God. But God showed them Grace by calling to Abraham and giving him a new covenant. God promised Abraham a son by Sarah whose children would number the stars and become a great nation; but Sarah did not trust God and Abraham had Ishmael by Sarah’s servant Hagar. But God was trustworthy and gave Abraham a son through Sarah: Isaac. Sarah exiled Hagar and Ishmael but God showed them Grace and gave Ishmael a great nation of his own.

Isaac’s children did become a great nation: the nation of Israel. After some time, there was a famine in the land and God showed them Grace and they found food in Egypt. But, while they flourished in Egypt for a time, the nation of Israel became enslaved. But God showed them Grace by coming to Moses in the wilderness and giving him a mission: a plan to save Israel. Moses did as he was told and God freed God’s people through trial and tribulation. But when they reached the desert, the people began to doubt. Moses went up a mountain to converse with God and to bring the people a decree of God’s laws. But while Moses was gone, the people lost faith and began to worship an idol. Moses was angry at this, but God showed them Grace and gave them a new covenant. God gave them manna from heaven and pheasants so they would not starve. God was faithful. For forty years the Israelites wandered through the desert, searching for the Promised Land. Moses led them for a time, and when he died his son, Joshua, led God’s people. God was faithful and brought them to the Promised Land.

While in the Promised Land, the tribes of Israel were faithful – most of the time. When they were unfaithful, God did not condemn them or disown them or curse them. When they were unfaithful, God sent them a judge to lead them back on the right path. When they were unfaithful, God showed them Grace. But, the people were not content with this system and wanted something more stable: they wanted a king. God told them through a prophet that they did not want a king. They disagreed, so God gave them a king, Saul. But Saul began to disobey God and so the prophet Samuel anointed David. God promised David that he would bear the Messiah. After David came his son Solomon and after Solomon came his son Rehoboam. But then the people began to doubt in their king and, predictably, God had been right and the kingdom split in two.

The Israelites lived through times of great faithfulness and times of great disobedience. God sent many prophets to try and keep God’s people on the right path, but they would not follow. After a time, the Assyrian Empire took the Promised Land from the Israelites and they were forced to live in exile. But this, as God’s Grace may have intended, was not a time of trial only – this was a time of great renewal, as well. The Israelites looked to the mistakes of their past and the hope of their future and established Judaism. The Jews lived faithfully and continued to struggle with disobedience, but had formed a strong and unbreakable community bond.

Out of this community came Jesus, son of Mary. The Jews had become too focused on doctrine and laws that God needed to Gracefully remind them of what was important. Jesus came to help guide people toward that end. He was given a believer’s baptism by his cousin, John the Baptist, at the start of his ministry. He then went on to gather twelve disciples to follow him and teach with him. He taught using stories, because he understood the way people come to understand things. He told his followers stories of seeds planted among weeds, shepherds who do not neglect even one lamb, workers in the field receiving the same wages and prodigal sons. In the life and teachings of Jesus we are taught the importance of showing Grace in all things. He forgave sins and healed the sick. He comforted the widow and cared for the fatherless. But he lived his life counter to the powers and principalities and because of that, suffered a death on the cross. But God was Gracious and gave us hope in Jesus’ resurrection.

While the Biblical narrative is one that has shaped much of my life, it isn't something that I think of as a coherent whole often. I struggled to come up with a clear theme, but when I did, it all seemed to flow so naturally. Once I chose Grace as my theme, it became the obvious theme. Grace is the theme of my life, the theme of my understanding of God; it only makes sense that it also be the theme of my Biblical narrative.

12 September 2014

Sabbath: A Holy Reset Button

Did you miss me last week? If you can believe it, I literally just forgot. Not like, kinda forgot, but also kinda remembered like the week I was going to the Nisly campout; but legit didn't think of it once all week until Friday at 5:30pm when I was talking with my momma on the walk home and she asked about it. I was pretty annoyed with myself, but also recognized that I've been working harder than I've ever worked for a job this last month and so I extended myself a little grace.

On Saturday, I had the idea of posting a follow-up to the previous week's Labor Day post and write about Sabbath to post on Sunday. But since I'd been busy from work all week, I hadn't had time to do housework and I became consumed with it all day. On Sunday morning, I woke up not feeling well, so I stayed home from church. At the time, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to write that blog. I got myself all settled in the windowsill (the best place to write, if you can't be outside) and started researching Sabbath. I wrote a few paragraphs here and there, but just couldn't seem to get my brain to catch up with me. I spent the whole day in front of that computer trying to will something interesting to happen and nothing did.

I don't know how I missed the irony while it was happening. There I was, trying to write a blog about Sabbath rest while blatantly ignoring my own need for it. That's why nothing was coming: I hadn't refreshed, so I had nothing to give.

For Lent this year one of my disciplines was No-Screen Sunday. On Sundays, I wouldn't watch TV or use my computer and I would only use my phone for phone calls. It was both the most difficult and the most rewarding of my Lenten disciplines. On the Sundays I was home, I would spend the day cooking, cleaning, reading and listening to records. And while all those things are lovely, it was a real challenge to cut out something that has become such an integrated part of my life. But setting aside a day to do things totally differently and take a break from my usual routine was refreshing. At the time, I likened it to a reset button.

Without giving myself a break from the steady stream of work, I had no time to reset. I'm like a computer that needs to be restarted because it's running really slow. I know you've all experienced it: that moment when you realize your brain capacity is maxed out and you are no longer able to do even the simple things. I was there on Sunday, but I ignored it. And the real trap is the idea that you're too busy to take a break. The truth is, we all work better when our heads are clear and our hearts are full.

As I was doing the research on Sunday, it occurred to me that it could seem as though Jesus did not value Sabbath. He was constantly rejecting the pharisees' laws about how to observe it and doing what he wasn't supposed to. It seems to me, though, that this is simply another example of Jesus' rejection of legalism. Sabbath had gone from a day God gifted us for rest and had been morphed into a day of rules and regulations. It was no longer about taking a break, but about conforming to rigid expectations.

But Sabbath, at its core, is a break from all that. It is a day when the rules and expectations of our usual life no longer hold any sway over us. It is a day when we can relax the grip that responsibility holds on us the other six days of the week. A day to unplug and restart. A Holy reset button.

So, I'm hoping to find a way to give myself the grace to take a break and hit the reset button this weekend. To remind myself that busyness is a symptom of not getting enough rest and not a road block to it. I hope you're able to do the same.

For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
~Exodus 20:11

01 September 2014

Labor and Rest

Happy Labor Day! I love a holiday. Ask anyone and they'll tell you that I get jubilant for Thanksgiving, giddy over Halloween, ebullient about Valentine's Day. I love a theme and celebrating - I am truly my mother's daughter. So, I want to celebrate Labor Day. I suppose in order to celebrate it, I have to figure out what we're celebrating.

Labor day originated in Canada, of all places. The Industrial Revolution made twelve hour workdays and seven day workweeks a commonplace reality for workers. In Canada, labor unions were illegal, so the workers had no collective bargaining power to make any changes to this unsustainable and unfair system. In 1872, thousands of Ottawans marched to the house of the Canadian Prime Minister to protest and later that year, the anti-union law was repealed. That day became a sort of annual Canadian labor celebration. In 1882, an American union leader visited Toronto's worker's parade. He thought it was such a good idea, that he proposed a similar celebration in New York City on September 5 (to fill the holiday gap between July 4th and Thanksgiving). The first Labor Day march took place in 1882 and focused on rallying for an eight-hour workday. A few years later, the march was moved to the first Monday in September and the celebrations began to spread to cities across the country. However, since it was not yet a recognized holiday, workers often had to lose wages to go to the parades. Oregon was the first state to legalize the holiday in 1887. It wasn't recognized nationally, though, until President Cleveland's harsh and bloody response to the rail worker strike in Pullman Illinois made recognizing Labor Day as a national holiday a political necessity. 

So, I guess what all that means is that today we celebrate unions and workers. I just wrote that and I don't even really know what it means. I guess to celebrate labor unions, it would be helpful to have an idea of what they've accomplished. The first thing that comes to mind for me, is the eight hour workday and five day workweek. 

Like I mentioned earlier, the Industrial Revolution brought on twelve hour workdays and seven day workweeks. And, unlike farming, the work wasn't seasonal so there was no chance for a real respite. Some companies allowed for Sunday's off so their workers could go to church, but many jobs had few days off during the year. Even with the strength of labor unions in the late nineteenth century, the first five day workweek didn't come until 1908 and that was only at one New England cotton mill to allow for Jewish workers to observe the Sabbath on Saturday. But it still wasn't until 1926, when Henry Ford instated a five day workweek at all his factories that the idea really gained strength. And yet it was not adopted nationally until 1940 when a provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act went into effect that called for an eight hour workday and five day workweek. This act was lobbied for heavily by the labor unions. Without them, it can be argued that we still would not have this necessary respite from the workweek. 

On this particular Labor Day, I appreciate this respite even more than usual. I simply cannot imagine not having two days dedicated to a break from work. Everything needs a time to rest. The fields are left to lay fallow every couple years so they can recuperate. All bodies require some sort of sleep cycle. Even God took time to rest on the seventh day. Rest is an ordained part of living. But too often days off from work are viewed as days to do work at home. I know I'm guilty of it. But I want to try and keep my sabbath holy. To take these respite days and really use them to take a break from work and live in the stillness of being enough.

So this Labor Day I am celebrating weekends. The God ordained and nationally recognized need for rest. I hope you have a restful Labor Day.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
~Genesis 2:2-3

22 August 2014

Family

Six years ago today my dad died. When someone you love dies, you learn the great importance of memories. When they're all you have, they mean an awful lot. Something I've learned is that every story you hear about your past helps you figure out your future.

My father had a great memory. He could remember who so-and-so was and when we went to that place. I could describe a memory to him and he could pinpoint where we were, when and with who. I hate that that's gone now. Parts of my childhood effectively lost because no one remembers them. I wonder what he and I shared that I'll never know to remember. What insight he would have about who I am today from who he knew me to be then.

My grandmother's memory is going. She can't remember that she just went to the bank that morning or who was just on the phone. But, if you ask her about the past - how she met my grandfather, who was the orneriest child, what was Oklahoma like during the dust bowl - everything seems to get clearer for her. So I seize every opportunity to learn more about her. In such a real and intimate way, she created me. I can learn about myself, learning about her. So I ask every question I can come up with and pay attention to everything she has to say.

When I go on vacation during the summer, I don't go down the shore or to visit friends or even camping (though I wish I did all of these more often). No, what I choose to invest that time and money in each summer is going to Ohio to visit my aunts and uncles and cousins and my grandmother. There are three annual family reunions I could go to each summer; two on my dad's side and one one my mom's. At all of these events there are more than fifty people who are related to me there. I choose to invest time and money in seeing my family because I have learned the hard way that time is precious and your family are the only people who really know you.

My cousin Elisabeth and her husband Chris came to visit last weekend. I'm in the middle of a very busy time at work and have been feeling more worn down than usual. Yet after spending the afternoon walking miles around my city with them, I felt refreshed. There is something about being with family that just strips off all the armour and lets you relax. They already know who you are; you can't hide anything from them so you just stop trying and relax. Even though I was physically tired, I felt like my brain had stopped spinning and I could just be. Something about the safety and comfort of family just gets to the core of you and reminds you who you really are.

So on this day more than most days, I am remembering the importance of remembering. Of locating my place in the family of things. Of knowing who my people are.

The Bloughs, circa 1998
The Millers, 2008

15 August 2014

I am my Body

I'm sorry, but I just can't stop talking about bodies. I'm utterly fascinated by them. So many shapes, sizes and colors. So much political and societal pressure. Such potential for joy and heartbreak. I feel pain and power through embodiment. I am in awe of incarnation.

Our western culture has so divorced our bodies from ourselves. We talk about it with distancing language. We do things "to" our body and our bodies "to" us. When we're dealing with cramps, I've heard many women (myself included) complain that our uteruses are attacking us. We so often say, "My back is killing me." Not, "I'm in pain." We accuse our body as if it is some third party.

I've dealt with a lot of gastrointestinal issues and I used to get mad at my stomach for doing this to me; never considering I was just trying to warn myself that something was wrong. My stomach didn't hurt - I hurt. I've spent so much time trying to beat my body into submission - to bend it to my will. I never considered working with my body. I always considered pain something to be overcome, not a warning from me to me.

I'm taking a body alignment class and it is so fascinating. We're learning to really tune into our bodies and pay attention to what is hurting and what needs rest. We're learning how best to walk and stand and sit. Most of what I'm learning, though, is that my body isn't something to be overcome. When I push my body to move a certain way and it hurts, that's not something to push through, but a warning that I need to pull back.

For me, the very idea that physical pain is not something to push through, but rather something to listen to is revelatory.

When something makes me feel sad or something is painful to think about, I listen to that feeling and stop doing that thing. Not to say that I avoid sadness or pain, but I pay attention to it and give myself a break when I need it. If I can have this grace for my mind and spirit, why do I struggle to offer this grace to my body?

I think part of it is that it is easy to own my mind and my spirit. Claiming them feels natural and right. Owning my body feels like a whole other thing. And not owning it in the sense of possession, but owning it as an integral part of Me. Not something I control or operate, but, just as my mind and spirit are, a third of my whole being. A vital piece of my Trinity. It is my firm belief that we are created in the image of Trinity: Mind, Body and Spirit. All three equally me. I am my body.

But my body has been a source of such shame and fear - Is is so surprising that I struggle to claim it as myself?

Part of how I know that I am my body is that my body feels what I feel. When my father died, I felt it in my chest. Like a hippo just sitting there for months. The first time I heard Led Zeppelin's "Bron-yr-aur" my chest swelled and I got weak in the knees, taken by its beauty. The first time I got dumped, I got a rash and a migraine. Recently, when I saw Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art I audibly gasped and my stomach jumped, overjoyed at the very sight.

When I claim my body as me, taking care of it gets so much easier. Eating healthy and exercising become as important as learning new things and writing. Paying attention to my pain rather than powering through it just makes sense when I internalize that pain, rather than treating it as something happening to me.

I am my body. What affects my body, affects me. If my body hurts, I hurt. If my body feels good, I feel good. The more I take ownership of and pay attention to my body, the more whole and happy I can be.


08 August 2014

Nisly Campout

I totally forgot about you. I remembered a few times during the week, but didn't write anything. Then I remembered last night at 8, but still didn't write anything. Then I remembered when I woke up today, and didn't write anything. Then I remembered 10 minutes ago, now I'm writing something.

I'm headed to the Nisly Campout this afternoon. It's a huge family reunion in Ohio and this year will be the 47th annual. And I've been so hype about it, that I totally forgot to write a blog. So, instead of a blog, here's some pictures from Nisly Campouts past. Maybe this will give you a glimpse of what got me so excited that I even forgot to blog.












 


#sorrynotsorry

01 August 2014

Take care of yourself

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.


Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain 
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.


~Mary Oliver

"Take care of yourself," is my favorite way of saying goodbye to someone. I did a semester in Oregon and I had a friend who would always say that as his "goodbye." It was also while doing that semester in Oregon that I was introduced to this poem by Mary Oliver.

I recently remarked to my therapist that a lot of people had been saying, "Take care of yourself," to me lately. She asked me what taking care of myself looked like and I quoted the first stanza of Wild Geese.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

My soft animal has gotten pretty beaten up over the last few weeks. Work has been particularly busy. I've had some tumult in my relationships. I was sick for a week. My evenings have been full of responsibilities. I couldn't even get myself out of bed this morning to go to the gym and I love going to the gym.

I need to take care of myself. To stop walking through the desert on my knees. I need to let the soft animal of my body love what it loves. I need to go for a walk and lay in some grass. I need to relax and let go. This week, I needed to not worry about writing a blog for today.

So, dear reader (Hi, mom!), I hope you can forgive this soft animal for not feeling very interesting or profound this week. I've got a lot of possible topics for next week (the Trinitarian self, on loving my body, the Bible story), but this week I decided that I did not have to be good. That I could give myself some space and time to rest and love what I love.

Take care of yourself.


25 July 2014

On Immodesty, Part 2

Or, The revelation of my body is not an incitement to violence.

As I've discussed before, I was taught to fear my body. I was taught that men had uncontrollable violence in them that would lash out against me if I exposed too much of my body to them. Which, inversely, means that my male peers were taught that violence was inherent in them. And I do not believe that this teaching was just a fluke of my rural Ohio Mennonite community. The simple fact that the question "What was she wearing?" is constantly asked in response to hearing a woman was raped or assaulted is, to me, clear enough evidence of the prevalence of this teaching. And if this is what we are taught growing up, is it so surprising that violence against women is so terribly persistent in the United States?

Women's bodies incite violence and men's bodies commit violence. That is the story I was taught all my life. Men will be violent and my body (I) will be the cause of it.

If a man walked naked down the street and got raped, would we blame him? There's a lot to think about with that one. What about if a woman walked naked down the street and got raped, would we blame her? Yes. Nothing to think about. Just: Yes. She was asking for it. She should know better.

I wore big, baggy clothes for years. Partly because I was taught to be ashamed of my body since it wasn't photo-shopped; but also because my body was dangerous. This is the piece that I do not feel is truly understood: I was taught that my body is dangerous. I was literally afraid of it. Do you get how awful and damaging that is?

Something I've been trying to live into is the Truth that I am my body. How often do we talk about our bodies in the third person? Like it is some sort of other. In philosophy class in college, I learned about Descartes' mind - body dualism that has so influenced Western culture. His belief that mind and body are two separate entities. At first this made sense to me. I so often accused my body of doing things to me. But as I came to understand the Trinity, I also came to understand the trinity that I am: mind, body and spirit. I am three and also one. I am my body.

If my body is shameful, I am shameful. If my body is dangerous, I am dangerous. If it is my body's fault that violence is committed against me, it is my fault that violence is committed against me.

This is what we are teaching our girls: that when they are abused or harassed, it is their fault. They did something to cause this. If only they had worn a longer skirt. If only they had covered their cleavage. If only they had worn less make up. If only they hadn't been "asking for it."

But I am declaring that no matter what, it is not okay to objectify or commit violence against me. I am never "asking for it." Doesn't matter what I'm wearing or not wearing. Doesn't matter what I'm doing or not doing. Violence committed against me, whether verbal or physical,  is never, ever my fault and especially not the fault of my clothes.

If a man commits violence, that is his fault. There are no uncontrollable violent urges that are just a byproduct of his Y chromosome. We all have full agency over our actions and no right to blame others for them. I have been blamed my whole life for the thoughts and actions of males and I am done.

I will wear whatever I want whenever I want. I will honor myself and my body by doing what makes me feel good and beautiful. I will respond to harassers by telling them their behavior is unacceptable and their problem. I will teach the girls in my life that they are beautiful and violence committed against them is never their fault. I will teach the boys in my life that their thoughts and actions are their responsibility.

I need this weight off my shoulders. Women should not have to carry all this blame and shame. Our bodies are a celebration of beauty and life, not an incitement to violence.

18 July 2014

Flat on my Back

Have you ever gotten the wind knocked out of you? It's such a strange and frightening experience. It feels like an emergency, but really you'll be just fine in a minute.

When I was about nine, I was playing with a friend in the backyard. As a kid, I was always called a monkey because I could usually be found barefoot in a tree. And even at that young age I felt strongly that I was equal to my male peers and could climb as high and as fearlessly as they could (and I could).

So on this rather ordinary day, I was probably twelve feet off the ground when I somehow lost my grip. Something I thought I could trust turned out faulty and the thing my mother had always warned me about was happening: I was falling out of a tree.

I wish I could remember what it looked like. All Hollywood and slow-motion, my hands reaching out futilely as I watch the branches slip further away. I hit the ground with what I imagine was a horrifying thud and found myself gasping for air.

I don't think my friend even checked on me, she just ran into my house as fast as she could screaming, "Brooke broke her back! Brooke broke her back!" I wondered if I had.

I would guess now that the time between the thud and my mom coming out to find me starting to sit up was less than a minute, but it felt significantly longer. I laid there trying to understand what had happened. I had been in a tree, where I always felt happy and secure, but something betrayed me and down I went. In an instant I went from happy and laughing to scared and gasping.

I laid there and thought I might die. Or worse, never walk again. (As a kid who basically lived in a tree, paralysis seemed the worst possible thing.) I was so terrified.

But then, as suddenly as I'd lost it, my wind came back. All that gasping paid off, my lungs filled with air and I began to feel again. And I realized that I felt fine.

That's when I started to sit up and my mom got to me. She was so flustered; it must have been awful for her, too. Once she was sufficiently convinced that I was, for the most part, unharmed, she forbade me from ever climbing a tree again, quickly reneged, and then asked me if I wanted ice cream.

Sometimes life knocks the wind out of you. One minute you're just a happy kid in a tree and the next you're flat on your back gasping for air. I've been gasping for air all week.

When you're lying on your back, it can feel impossible that you'll ever get up again. There's no air in your lungs or energy in your limbs. You're sure you'll be paralyzed forever while the world just keeps stepping over you.

But as I metaphorically lie here on my back I am reminded of two things: The air will come back sooner than I expect and talitha cumi.

I am going to be okay. And, yes mom, I do want ice cream.

11 July 2014

On Immodesty, Part 1

Or, I like to show off my legs and I am not a slut.

I was taught to fear my body. It was a dangerous stumbling block for the men around me and if I showed too much skin, men would be filled with uncontrollable urges and it would be my fault. The way I was taught this sounded much more empowering and flowery; but this is, essentially, what I was being taught: My body was dangerous and something to be feared. I spent many years hiding it under baggy clothes to protect myself and the men around me from this dangerous burden I carried: my body.

When I was growing up, some of the women trying to teach me modesty (it's even more depressing that it was always women teaching other women to shame their bodies) would contort themselves into an argument that I am beautiful and delicate and that is why I need to cover up. Which makes absolutely no sense. "You're a gorgeous girl! But, careful, wouldn't want anyone to see your beautiful body; that only causes problems because your body is bad. But beautiful! But you can't show it off because that's dangerous. But don't feel bad about yourself because you are lovely. But your body is dangerous, so keep it covered. But you should be proud of how good you look! But not too proud. Did I mention that you shouldn't ever show off your beautiful body?"

The alternate message I was getting from popular culture was one of sexual objectification. I am to be skinny and sexy so that men will be attracted to me. My body is only worthy insofar as it is appealing to men. Teen magazines didn't give me tips on being healthy, but on losing weight. They didn't talk about how comfortable clothes were, but about how seductive clothes were. I was being told that my body exists only to please men.

Women are only given two options: Virgin or Slut. Angel or Nymph. Old Maid or Cougar. The Virgin Mary or Mary Magdalene.

Rachel Held Evans wrote a blog on modesty and I think really nailed this dichotomy when she said: "While popular culture tends to disempower women by telling them they must dress to get men to look at them, the modesty culture tends to disempower women by telling them they must dress to keep men from looking at them...Women are left feeling ashamed of their bodies as they try desperately to contort around a bunch of vague, ever-changing ideals. It’s exhausting, really, dressing for other people."

I went to a women's group through my church a few weeks ago and we had a discussion on modesty. Again, I heard that flowery language about being beautiful and delicate and that's why I needed to cover up. I kept pressing the women who were talking positively about modesty on why? What's the point of being modest? What we kept coming back to was, in essence, dressing for men. Dressing frumpily to try and stop the cat calls from men. Dressing provocatively to attract the attention of men. Dressing modestly to protect the lust of men. Dressing safely to prevent being susceptible to violence from men.

As a woman, no matter what I think about what I'm wearing, what men would think must also be a factor. I am 100% not okay with that. Not even a little, not even kinda.

It is completely unacceptable that I dress with anything but my own happiness and comfort and the appropriateness of the situation in mind. I know that I shouldn't wear booty-shorts to work or a plunging neckline to church. But that is not because it would make the men at work or church lust after me, it is because I want to show respect for myself and the situations I'm in. I'm not saying we should be hoochie-mamas whenever, wherever; but I am saying it's okay to rock a really short skirt if that makes you feel good. I'm saying I can show off my legs and not be a slut.

I vote we ditch the term modesty. I'm not usually one to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but this water is gross and the baby isn't gonna recover. What does modesty even mean anymore? It seems to me like it's just a way to shame women's bodies. I believe there might be ways to redeem modesty (Rachel Held Evans gives some good ideas in the blog I mention above), but I just don't know if it's worth it.

Can't we all agree that women are so much more complex than just virgins and sluts? Can't I just look good and not have it be anything more than that? Can't I just be a woman regardless of men?

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body,
~Philippians 1:20a

04 July 2014

To Philly, With Love

When I first came to live in Philadelphia for the summer of 2006, I thought it would be just that: one summer. But I fell in love. Truly, madly, deeply in love with this beautiful city. Now, over four years after I moved here in April of 2010, there's no place else I'd rather be.

I'm proud to be considered one of the better Philly tour guides among my friends. I'm sure a lot of that has to do with my sheer enthusiasm about this city of brotherly love (and sisterly affection). So, when I was considering what to post on this Independence Day, I decided to write about where it all happened: my dear city. What follows is my idea of an ideal tourist day in old city. I'm going to stick to the old city area, because this post would be way too unwieldy if I wrote about ALL the places I love in Philly and these are the places that were around that first Independence Day.

Breakfast
Continental
This is one of Stephen Starr's many restaurants in the city. Each has a different feel and flavor and I have yet to be disappointed. At Continental Old City (there's another Continental in Midtown) you'll feel like you're sitting in a diner from The Jetson's. It's futuristic, but still comfort food. A great place to start a Philly day with plenty of fuel.
Old City Coffee
If you're not much for a hearty breakfast, but would rather something grab-n-go, this is a great spot. With La Columbe coffee and a variety of pastries, you're sure to find something to get you through to lunch. This cute coffee shop is located in a cool, old alley near Christ Church and it's fun just getting there. You can hang out and munch on your pastry and sip your coffee in one of the shop's comfy chairs or in the 300 year old church garden next door.

Continental. (Totally looks like The Jetsons, right?)
Elfreth's Alley
This is America's oldest, continually residential street. I honestly can't quite put my finger on what gets me so excited about this place, but I always love coming here. I guess part of it is that it feels like taking a step back in time. Trust me, it's worth wandering through.
Betsy Ross House
I've never paid for the tour here, but it's a fun place to stop by and hang out in the courtyard and check out the gift shop.
Engine 8 Ladder 2
This place is worth walking by simply for the pictures of the bust of Ben Franklin made of keys and the other bust of Ben Franklin wearing a fireman's helmet.
Ben Franklin's Grave
Another place worth it just for the pictures. Some will toss coins onto Ben's grave and make a wish (I guess). I just like to read his epitaph: "He tore from the skies the lighting and from tyrants the sceptre."

Ben Franklin's Grave
Independence Mall (not the kind with stores)
There's a lot to do in Independence National Historical Park (that's right, a national park in the heart of Philly) and all of it is worth doing at least once. Here are some of the highlights:
National Constitution Center
If you're not really into history, this place can be a little disappointing. If you are really into history, this place is awesome. They also have some great exhibits. Right now, they have one on slavery in Jefferson's Monticello. When I went last summer, it was on prohibition and suffrage and was really interesting.
Independence Visitor Center
This is not so much a neat place to visit as it is a place to get tickets for Independence Hall (sometimes a long line, but they're free), go to the bathroom and hang out in the air conditioning. And it has a good gift shop.
The Liberty Bell
Definitely worth it if you've never seen it. There's a great photo-op with the bell in the foreground and the clock tower of Independence Hall in the background. There can be a crazy long line sometimes, and since there's a window that you can see the bell through (the same window that you get the photo-op through), I'll usually take visitors there rather than wait for an hour and waste time to see other things.
Independence Hall
The building is beautiful, though surprisingly small on the inside. If you get a good tour guide, the history is really interesting and fun. It's a short tour, but definitely worth it if you haven't been.
Independence Hall
Lunch
There are so many great places to go for lunch in this area, that I suggest you just wander until you find something you like. But, here's where I would take visitors:
Sassafras
This pseudo-hole in the wall pub is a little hard to describe. Most of the bartenders are Irish (Niall is my fave) and you can almost feel like you've walked into Ireland when you enter the doors. It's cozy, but rarely gets overcrowded. The service is great and the patrons aren't generally too rowdy. The food is awesome and, ladies, the bathroom is an experience unto itself. Trust me.
Franklin Fountain
After lunch, head here for some of the best ice cream on the east coast (yeah, I said it). It's worth the wait, if there is one. And I suggest getting a little adventurous as they often have interesting seasonal flavors. The staff all wear costumes from the turn of the century soda shops. It's quite an experience.
Shane Confectionary
This is Franklin Fountain's sister store and if you bring in your receipt from one store, you get 10% (or is it 15%?) off your purchase from the other store. Again, the staff are in costumes from the early 1900s and it's worth it just for the experience. But I go for the chocolate. This is my favorite chocolatier I've found and I come here any time I want to treat myself or just need something delicious.

American Philosophical Society
I've never been inside here (though I'm sure it's great), I just walk by to see the statue of Ben Franklin in a toga. Ben Franklin. In a toga.
Second Bank of the US
This place seems a little strange, but I find it quite fun. It's a huge, old bank that is now used to house a free portrait gallery. It's mostly people from Philadelphia and America's early history. The architecture is interesting and the portraits are fun and (bonus) it's air conditioned.
The Philadelphia seal, Ben Franklin and John Paul Jones
Race Street Pier
This is a lovely little park that juts out over the Delaware river. It's a great place to hang out for a while in the afternoon.
Franklin Square
This is place is great, especially if you've got kids. There's mini-golf, a merry-go-round and a huge fountain. It's another great place to hang out and there is an amazing sculpture of the infamous key and bolt of lightning.

Chinatown
To end your day, explore beautiful and smelly Chinatown. Go on an adventure in any of the shops that seem intimidating. You'll be amazed what you can find (live sea monsters in one store and an entire store devoted to Hello Kitty next door). Chinatown is fun and vibrant and interesting. Also a great place to get dinner. Again, I recommend just wandering until you find something you like, but I would take my guests to Penang or Pho Xe Lua.

I hope you all enjoy any festivities you have planned or just the day off today! And come Visit Philly sometime!

30 June 2014

I'm a Feminist (there, I said it)

I call myself a Mennonite, a hippie, a Philadelphian, a nerd and a liberal. But none of the titles I claim carry with them as much baggage as feminist does. (Well, Christian might, but that's a whole other blog post.) When Franconia conference asked to list my blog on their website, they asked for a short description of what I write about. I thought long and hard about whether or not I wanted to include feminism on that list. I AM a feminist and I DO write about feminism, but I was still hesitant.

When I was in high school, I began reading a lot of Barbara Kingsolver. She helped me to identify my own belief that women and men are equal and to see that that is not how our society functions. I saw this in the way the dress code was much stricter for me than for my male peers. I saw it in the way my girlfriends talked about their future in terms of marriage and my guy friends in terms of career. I learned quickly, though, that speaking up about these disparities will get you labeled a "feminazi." I learned quickly that feminists hated men and that I didn't want to be counted in their ranks.

It's become common practice for interviewers to ask young famous women whether or not they are feminists. Theoretically, I like that feminism is being talked about so publicly. In practice, however, this question simply serves to create ammunition to hurl back at these women. If she says yes, everything she's ever said or done before that moment will be scrutinized to determine if she is really, truly feminist enough. If she says no, she's a traitor to the sisterhood and will be lambasted as such.

Shailene Woodley recently said she isn't a feminist because she believes in equality, not the superiority of women. She was blasted by feminists for not getting it. Lana del Rey says feminism bores her and she has been criticized for embracing ultra-femininity. Beyoncé, a professed feminist, was called a terrorist by bell hooks because of her use of her sexuality to promote herself. A girl can't catch a break.

Roxane Gay wrote a book called "Bad Feminist." I haven't had the opportunity to read it yet, but I've read some interviews she's done and I really want to. In one interview I read, she talks about how for years she rejected pink "because it is so often mindlessly used to code the feminine." But then she realized that it made no sense to "not enjoy a color because of how it is misappropriated." This nails it for me. You can ask anyone who knew me five or more years ago and they can attest that I HATED pink. I refused to wear pink. I wouldn't buy anything that was pink. I judged people for liking pink. But then one day I got a free bag. The catch? It was pink. I'm a good Mennonite and not one to reject something free, so I started using it. And then, I started liking it. Not just because it fit all of my gym things or because it was the perfect weekend getaway bag, but also because it was pink. I like pink. (Saying that feels almost as loaded as saying I'm a feminist.) I realized that I had spent literal decades hating a color for crying out loud! 

It is in this same way that I have come to embrace the title of Feminist. Despite it's baggage and stereotypes of bra-burning, men-haters. I am a feminist because men and women are still not treated equally in our society. Because my body is still seen as a object and not a person. Because young girls are taught to be pretty rather than smart. Because we have too much work to do to fight over what we call ourselves. Because I believe we can only make a difference in this world if men and women are at the table together and on equal footing. I am a feminist. There, I said it.

20 June 2014

Stories From my Mother

The stories from our past help us to navigate the future. In college, I had the task of asking my mother to tell me some stories and to write them down. What follows is what she told me. If you haven't ever done something like this, do. I will cherish these stories forever. Stories of quiet strength and meek courage. Stories that shape me. Stories I'm proud to count as part of my story.

My Grandfather

My mother's parents were born and raised in the Amish church. They were married in the church and had had two children when my grandfather decided that they needed to leave the Amish church. He says that he “saw the light.” You see, the Amish church believes that if you do good works, then you might go to heaven; but my grandfather believed that it is through faith that one gets to heaven, not works. He could not reconcile his views on salvation with those of the Amish church, so he decided to join a Mennonite church. This was, for those of you who aren't familiar with the Amish, a very big deal. Once a person is baptized into the Amish church, leaving it would mean being shunned - deliberately ignored and distanced - by your entire Amish community, including your family.

My Grandmother

My grandmother followed her husband, as a good Amish wife does, and left the church regardless of the doubts she was having. One day my grandmother's family came over when grandpa wasn't there to convince her to leave him. I was shocked when my mom told me this because I know that divorce is unheard of in the Amish church. She told me that they were most likely not advocating a divorce, but hoped that if my grandmother left him, my grandfather would come to his senses and rejoin the Amish church. However, my grandmother stayed with my grandfather, but she still felt guilty and uncertain about their having left the church. She didn't have a lot of self-esteem, as most Amish women are taught to be modest to the extreme, and that might help to explain why she began to experience such torment. She felt that Satan kept coming to her and telling her that she was not saved. She worried that she wasn't really a Christian and that she wouldn't go to heaven. She became very depressed and grandpa got worried that she might hurt herself. Then one day she came out to the field where grandpa was working and - according to him - she was about beside herself. Grandpa took her into the house and together they prayed. After this, she felt that she was delivered from Satan's torment. Grandpa referred to it as her “victory.”

My Father

Before my father was a pastor, he was a carpenter. He was, however, very involved in the church and in the Ohio Mennonite Conference, as well. He and my mother were youth sponsors and they taught Sunday school frequently. Dad was also the chair of the peace and justice commission for the Ohio conference. He was invited to go to a conference in Kansas in the 1980s as the Ohio conference representative. While he was gone, Mom stayed behind and went to a women's retreat. While there, Grace Brunner, who pastored Beech Mennonite - the church my father would later pastor - with her husband, asked mom if she and my father had ever thought about going into ministry. Mom told her that they hadn't and she suggested that they should. Meanwhile, someone dad met in Kansas asked him the same thing. When dad returned home, he and mom compared stories and were startled to discover that they both had been asked the same thing. This started the process.

My Mother

Dad was excited about this call to ministry and they decided to pursue it. However, mom did not want to leave her family and friends in Ohio for dad to go to Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She had a lot of misgivings about uprooting everything to move halfway across the country. Dad wanted mom to be one hundred percent certain about it, and he said he wouldn't do it without her full support. One day, Grace Brunner invited mom to breakfast and mom divulged to her all of her misgivings. Grace told her, “God would not lead you and leave you.” At this, mom was given the faith she needed to believe that they could do this. When dad came home from work that day, mom told him that she was ready and tears came rolling down his face.

It puzzles me that a woman as forward thinking and strong as my mother could come from an Amish/conservative Mennonite background. I’ve often wondered why my mother chose such a different path from those of her sisters. She followed a liberal husband to seminary, which she also attended, and left her entire family – something few of her siblings had done before or have done since. I wonder if it is because the story of her mother following my grandfather gave her the courage to follow where God leads. It was not easy, but grandma did it because it was right. I know that, in many ways, she was just following my grandfather, but even that took a great deal of courage. Perhaps if she had had a story like the one she gave her daughters, she could have believed in not only what her husband was doing, but also in her place in it. In our culture, we often focus on the great sacrifices of those who lead and we don’t give enough weight to the courage it takes to follow. While my mother and grandmother may not have changed the course of history, they both followed their God (and their husbands) faithfully and courageously. It was not easy for either of them, but they learned to trust and walk in faith.

I have learned so much from my mother. These stories of faith are only a piece of the volume of wisdom she's given me. I'm proud to have been raised by such a strong and Godly woman. I'm proud that she's taught me so much. I'm proud to call her Momma.

Me and Momma on her most recent trip to visit me in Philly.