Thursday, May 28, 2009

Losing What I Made; Gaining What I Was Made to Be

Four or so years ago I began a hesitant journey towards a faith of my own - one that was to grow out of the faith of my childhood into something much more complex, and that still has a lot of growing and maturing to do, quite obviously. The first and hardest challenge for me on this journey - and one that still challenges me and will do so I'm sure on my dying day - was coming to think of myself as a child of God who needed to submit my own desires and plans to His will. I was so proud. I was so proud of the person I felt I'd created, and I had the near-impossible task of listening to the small, persistent voice that told me quite clearly that while I'd done things in the world to be proud of, I had almost nothing to show my Creator 35 years after He created me. I remember saying to someone "I like who I am - who I've made myself to be. I'm terrified of having to give that up." But still the voice I heard insistently called me to say, with St. Paul, that

"Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ..."

- Philippians 3:7-8. I knew in my heart I had to lose what I had created - what I thought I was - and it scared me half to death. I had to (to put it tritely) lose myself to find myself again.

I am by no means finished with this process of losing and finding, but at the same time I have a hard time relating to the woman who was so scared of losing who she'd made herself up to be. I no longer want to be that person, not in any respect. It's not that I don't want her external life, it's that I don't want her reactions to things, her fear, her utter lack of faith and humility. I am ashamed of the fact that all the time I was standing on a tiny pile of pebbles on an endless beach, all the while thinking I was on the top of Mt. Everest.

God, guide my steps as You see fit. Take me to the tops of mountains or to the deepest of valleys. All I ask is that You help me to have the faith to believe that You are the one making my path. Amen.

Seen and Heard on the Internets

Why I love James Lileks - he can combine White Castle and Proust into one sentence and make it funny: "It’s the square hamburger, that’s what it is. Americans are ambivalent about hamburgers with right angles. Memories of sliders past. If Proust had bit into a White Castle instead of a madelaine, he would have written two pages about a frat party and left it at that."

Look: hideous modern art in red wax. Don’t you wish you lived closer?

How California is like China: a couple hosting a home Bible study is being harassed by San Diego County authorities. Via Drudge.

Amanda Witt links to Tony Esolen’s spectacular piece on abortion and why the line between pro-life and pro-choice is not a line, but a chasm – as proved by the President in his speech at Notre Dame. The perfect quote: “Except in the case of rape, there are no 'unintended pregnancies,' none. There are plenty of women who do not want to be pregnant, and plenty of men who do not want them to be pregnant, but in all those cases the pregnancies are the results of intentional actions that have pregnancy as their perfectly natural and perfectly predictable consequence.”

Jennifer at Conversion Diary writes on Kid Save - a summer program to help orphanage children.

And via Ecclesia: This Is Our Home, It Is Not For Sale - what looks like a fantastic documentary on the turbulent history of a Houston neighborhood – Riverside.

That's all for now. Oh, and aren't you glad it's a short week? Me too.


Ann Alhouse links to this narcissistic piece by Elizabeth Wurtzel about the fact that she is, alas!, 41 and not as sexy as she used to be. Ann comments on another part of the (very silly) article, but this later section is what caught my eye:

"Sex and sexuality, at least for me, are not some segment of life; they are the force majeure, the flood and storm and act of God that overtakes the rest. Without that part of me, I’d rather be dead. And I know all I can do right now is hold on tight to the little bit of life that’s left, cling to the edge of the skyscraper I’m slipping off of, feel my fingers slowly giving way, knowing I’m going to free-fall to a sorrowful demise." [my emphasis]

Wow. To hear someone talk about living her life with sex as the driving force is something that makes me sit back on my heels and think for a while. Of all the motivations - the raisons d'etre out there - could you possibly pick a more shallow and selfish one? Yes, selfish, because even though all sex involves "sharing" yourself with another person (at one level of intimacy or another, depending on the relationship), sex without a life-long commitment is oh-so-much more about you and what you are getting than it is about anything else.

I'm truly non-plussed by this article. To announce to the world: "my life has been based on the most selfish motivations known to mankind!" seems to be a trumpeting of the most base of sins. Accustomed as I am to hide my sins and flaunt them as little as possible (perhaps because I know they are sins, even when I don't want to stop committing them) watching someone tell the world their life has been based on the all-consuming sin of self-centeredness is a little too upside-down for me to grasp. No wonder the woman feels like she's falling off a skyscraper! Her life is based on nothingness - it's meaningless in every way that counts.

It's. just. ... sad.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

10 Year Anniversary

Sometime around this week is the 10 year anniversary of Husband and I discovering there was a stranger in our midst - or, more accurately, in my belly. Yes, we found out, quite shockingly, that we were expecting One, just as I was leaving for a week's business trip to NYC. I can still remember the "oh sh!t" feeling and startled looks on our faces when we realized that our careless disregard of certain rituals had had their usual result. We were one year into our careers as attorneys; we certainly weren't planning on becoming parents. But God had other plans in mind, and there we were in our apartment, staring at one another in shock and amazement. That week alone in NYC was hard; acknowledging I'm not in control of my life is always a challenge for me, and this was such a big reminder that His plans were not my plans - whew! I'm glad that week is now a distant and confused memory.

Becoming parents was such a blessing from God, in so many ways I can't begin to describe. After we got over our own shock - and our mothers reactions* - my pregnancy turned into an easy and exciting time. Nothing compared to the adventure that began when One was born the following January, but splendid nonetheless.

Thank you God for my mistakes and Your glorious plan!

*As an aside, mothers' reactions were as follows:

MIL: "Oh my God, Tari, you're not going to quit your job, are you!??!"
Mother (bursting into instant tears): "I always prayed that God would close your womb!"

Yes, we forgave them, but geez ladies, get some, well, tact, self-control --- or how about just plain old Christian love?!

Friday, May 22, 2009

On Self Confidence

I was reading this post by JMom and it got me thinking about a lot of things with the boys – about how they view themselves and how they react to how the world views them. It’s so shocking when your child comes home for the first time and tearfully reports that a classmate or friend was cruel to them – said something or did something that cut into their heart and made them feel small (not small in the way JMom was talking about, but small in an evil, painful way). I have a million thoughts about this and I’m trying to put them together in some semblance of order. Here we go.

One has never been overly talented at getting along with others – he takes after me in this respect. He is a great friend and very devoted, but often frustrated and easily hurt. He also has trouble knowing what to say (or when to stop talking). Like I said: just like his mom. He has spent a lot of time working through tough times because of this. His low level of frustration not only puts off some friends but has also made him the target of a bully or two; this year a particularly nasty and manipulative child has zeroed in on him from time to time and wreaked havoc (one of those “nice one minute and horrible the next” kids – you remember them, don’t you?). It is so hard as a parent to watch this! But while it is hard, it provides so many opportunities to teach important lessons. Every time D, the bully, comes up with something new, One has the chance to work on how he’s going to react. He has learned this year to take his time responding and to keep his temper as cool as he can. I couldn’t have manufactured these very necessary lessons in self-control myself, and while I am miserable at the thought he has to face this potentially nasty child every day, I am so glad God has used these episodes to mature One in a much-needed way.

The second thought I had when I worked through JMom’s post is how, on a number of occasions, each boy has come to me with frustrations and disappointments on how they “aren’t very good at” some particular thing. Seeing that self-doubt, accompanied by the downcast face and wet eyes, is again very hurtful for a parent. But, again, those moments have provided many important discussions. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want my boys to think they are good at everything. I want them to acknowledge their weaknesses and learn to decide (with God’s help) if the skill in question is one worth working on or one better left alone. And that is the lesson we’ve been able to teach at those moments. When One tearfully announced that he was “no good at all” at baseball, we had several conversations about whether baseball was important enough to him to be really good at, or whether he could choose to enjoy it while not being the best on the team. His father is especially helpful in these conversations; he has more than once reminded One that he worked incredibly hard to swim well as a young man. It wasn’t a natural talent; it was only through constant practice that he saw himself improve and win races. When the boys have these discouraging moments, we’ve found that it helps to talk about this kind of perspective, and to remind them that the most important things to us are the ones we’ll work hardest at – not necessarily the ones we’ll be best at naturally.

Finally, in both situations, it is so important to remember that home base is just that – home base. It’s where your failures aren’t pointed out with pinpoint accuracy, but rather where you can feel safe to reveal what hurts you, receive comfort, and work out a solution. It’s where your parents remind you that whatever the world thinks of you, whatever you succeed or fail at in life, the most important scale you’re judged on is God’s. If your ultimate goal is to love Him with all your heart, mind, and soul – and to serve him with all the gifts you’ve been given – then the opinions of your baseball team and the petty torments of a classroom bully take on a much different perspective. We can build our children up with assurances of our own love, but it is when we speak to them of Christ’s love that we give the most comfort and build the strongest hearts.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Heard this Morning

Every morning the boys sprawl on the front hall rug waiting for Husband to come downstairs and drive them out the door and on to school. If I have time I sit with them and relax before getting down to work. This morning I was lying on the floor, trying to convince One to bring At the Back of the North Wind (by George MacDonald) with him to read in the car:

Me: "He's the author who inspired C.S. Lewis, you know."

One: "Having started this book I don't know how I'm supposed to tell that."

Meanwhile, Two was hunched over on the floor with his backpack on:

Two: "I'm a rock. A grouchy rock."

They aren't the same, you know. Their minds work in very, very different directions.

Back from Hiatus

Wordless Days revived itself yesterday and is back through the end of May, at least. Enjoy.

How I know it's Summer

1. The cold tap water isn't cold: it's warm enough to shower in all by itself.

2. Bugs bugs bugs! (if it weren't so dry, this would say "mud mud mud!" instead) A baby spider in the sink this morning, a palmetto bug the size of a newborn baby on the stairs last night - they're everywhere, and they want my water.

3. I sweat in shorts and a tee shirt, until I realize: I'm wearing closed-toe shoes - no wonder I'm hot. Flip flops or nothing at this point.

4. My face turns the color of a ripe tomato five minutes into any outdoor exercise.

5. I'm consuming my weight in fruit every day, and in water.

6. My office has been set at "meat locker" by the building staff, and nothing I say will convince them I'm too cold to get anything done.

7. My glasses fog up when I leave the AC for the outside.

I love summer - even (and maybe, sometimes, especially) in Houston.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Haircut

Before - the mop:

The hated ponytail:

After - my neck emerges:

I feel the opposite of dowdy, whatever that word may be. And my hairdryer and I have parted ways, at least for the near future. Freedom!

I may even have to post a profile picture facing the right-way-round sometime soon, if I can get Husband to take one or two I approve of. Wait and see ...

Scratch and Sniff Blog

I wish this was one, because this is my favorite Texas springtime smell - white jasmine.

Some More of Two's Inventions

Here are some examples of Two's latest fad. They're boats built with his favorite materials: paper and tape. He also made one from a kit he received as a party favor; he pretty much put it together without reference to the directions. He has some new ones I haven't photographed yet; he calls them triremes, as they have banks of oars.

I need to get this kid into a woodworking or woodcarving class, soon. I'm just worried about how much it will cost to build the eventual "shop" in the backyard when he's 11.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

55 Years

This afternoon we went to celebrate the 55th wedding anniversary of some of our oldest friends in Houston. We had perfect weather (73 and sun - no joke!), a perfect setting in the backyard of their country home, good food, mariachis, and many, many happy people.

Happy Anniversary, Nana and Popo. We love you very much.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Boys and Books: The Nine and Six Year Old Edition

As expected we've been reading a lot around here. Well, I should amend that: the boys have been reading a lot, and we've been reading to them. Whether I am ever going to finish Bede is entirely up in the air.

Here's a list of what has been keeping them busy this school year:

What One has been devouring on his own:

The Redwall series. He's up to the 13th one now and no end in sight.

The Hardy Boys are still a favorite. He's up through 14. Again, an endless series.

The Percy Jackson series. One talked me into the hardback of the 5th and final book last Friday; he's read it twice since then. These are a favorite at school, so that's extra motivation (as if he needed it).

The Phantom Tollbooth. Two loves the movie, but One complains it's not true to the book. When are they ever true to the book, son? Lesson learned.

The Lord of the Rings. He stalled out toward the end of The Return of the King, but he picked it up yesterday when he visited 4th grade, so I expect he'll be finishing our copy soon.

The Mysterious Benedict Society and its sequel. Long books but very engrossing.

Under Drake's Flag. This was his first Henty and I really wanted him to like it. He didn't love it, unfortunately, but I still may buy him a few more to see if they catch on. In defense of Henty, One was reading and re-reading the 5th Percy Jackson around this one, and it's hard to match that in the non-stop excitement category.

Little Pilgrim's Progress. This was a gift from a teacher at Ecclesia. He's read it four or tive times now.

The Tales of Beetle the Bard

Boy, by Roald Dahl (non-fiction)

The Lost Island. This is from The New York Review Children's Collection. You can see below that Two is even more into these classics than One is.

Husband has been reading aloud to One this year. They've enjoyed Red Planet, The Red Badge of Courage, and are now in the middle of The Sea Wolf. On deck: The Black Arrow, Treasure Island, Kim, and White Fang.

One has covered a lot of history this year on his own as well. He continues to enjoy the Sterling Point biographies: this year he's read The Barbary Pirates, The Swamp Fox of the Revolution, Teddy Roosevelt, John Paul Jones, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Three other books he enjoyed were A Young Patriot, The American Revolutionaries: A History in Their Own Words 1750-1800, and Our Island Story. The last is a children's history of Britian, covering ~2000 years. It draws much of its style from Bede (and some of its content in the early years, I think), is easy to read and moves quickly.

Two has entered read-aloud-novel-land with a vengeance! This year we have read together:

All the Hiccup Horrendous books. One has read these to himself as well and really enjoys them. Elizabeth tells me her boys recommend them too.

Some Roald Dahl: James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

The Magic Pudding. It's laugh-out-loud funny and full of fights. Made for boys to love.

The Box of Delights. This is one of the best children's books I have ever read. I had a hard time not reading ahead each night after Two fell asleep. Absolutely magical.

Carbonel: King of Cats

The last three are part of The New York Review Children's Collection. Two has loved each story more than the one before. The books are beautiful paper-covered hardbacks with original illustrations. With their bright red spines they are keepers! Grandchildren will borrow them someday.

Two and I are now three nights into The Hobbit. Next up are The Wonderful O, The Wind on the Moon, Best Stories for Six Year Olds, and The House of Arden. This last will be his first Edith Nesbit - my favorite Fabian Socialist.

The more we read to them, the more they want to read on their own. And the better the quality of the writing, the happier they are. I may have dreamed of reading books like this to my children some day, but I never really thought it would happen. Obviously, it's a pleasant surprise.

Prince Caspian

Getting tired of reading aloud until you lose your voice? Then treat yourself and your kids to this read-aloud podcast of C.S. Lewis's Prince Caspian.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What to Do if You're Laid Off

Continue to have fun, says Pfizer.

"Pfizer Inc. says it will provide 70 of its most widely prescribed prescription drugs — including Lipitor and Viagra — for free to people who have lost their jobs and health insurance. The world's biggest drugmaker said Thursday it will give away the medicines for up to a year to Americans who lost jobs since Jan. 1 and have been on the Pfizer drug for three months or more." (my emphasis)

Camo Dog

Morning Light

The View from the Floor

I was taking a moment to commune with this on the dining room floor:

When I realized - I love my kitchen, even the view from the floor:

Good morning, y'all.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Meet Knight!

We have a new boxer! He's been with us for a week and all is well. He's two, from Boxer Rescue, and is just the sweetest thing.

As you can see, Lambie has been the perfect Texas lady, welcoming him and sharing everything with him.

Isn't he a baby?!

My New Ride

I am having the happiest Mother's Day ever, and I hope y'all are as well. One of the reasons?

Right here, girls:

I have wanted a bike for the longest time; honestly, I haven't owned one since I moved to Houston. And Husband was kind enough to tolerate my incessant hints over the past few weeks, and came through on Saturday afternoon with this beauty. I feel like a little kid again with my first bike (mine was a red, white and blue banana seat - and you?).

The boys and I tried it out through the neighborhood yesterday and again today, and then One and I went down the Bayou path for a few miles this afternoon. Sweaty but fun!

Here's hoping I get to ride it every single day!

Happy Mother's Day, y'all.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Hypereating, or Food is my Hobby

Interesting article.

"If a bear walked in here right now, you would stop listening to me and you'd focus on that bear. We're all wired to focus on the most highly salient stimuli. For a lot of people, that highly salient stimulus is food. It could be alcohol, it could be drugs, it could be gambling, but for many people, it's food. It's not just people who are obese, or overweight. Even for people that are healthy weight, food activates the neural circuits of their brains, and they have this conditioned and driven behavior we call conditioned hypereating."

I recently made the decision to try to lose some weight, so this is of particular interest to me right now. I'm also trying to wrap my mind around the Orthodox concept of fasting, and how much of the goal of fasting is to pull yourself back from food as a goal in itself and get back to food as sustenance. This is a huge challenge for me; I think about food a lot. I love food - I don't necessarily love to stuff myself silly, but I love tastes, textures, flavors, the vocabulary and the sight of food - you name it.

I don't want to be driven by my desire for food, except to the extent it's a simple matter of hunger. It's psychologically and physically unhealthy, and, more importantly, a spiritually bereft pursuit.

People I Used to Like

Jimmy Buffett. That is, until he did a marketing deal to get the Miami Dolphins stadium naming rights. Sorta wipes out whatever meaning 99% of his song collection has, doesn't it? How do you sing Twelve Volt Man or A Pirate Looks at 40 when you have forgotten completely the life that led you to write those songs in the first place?

Now I now this Joe down in Mexico
He went there to work on his tan
For years he's been plugged into blenders and songs
They call him the Twelve Volt Man

He don't need no charge card
Just give him a Die Hard
And he'll makes sparks fly 'round your head

Oh just ask for some palm trees
Or tales from the South Seas
And I'll make sparks fly 'round your head
'Round your head

You Don't Say

"Work-Life Balance a Challenge, Says Michelle Obama, But Having White House Staff Helps."

Really? Me, I'd settle for a midget who comes in to fold laundry once or twice a week.

HT: Ann Althouse

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Five Things, or More Accurately, I Must Be Nuts

I'm following Elizabeth with this post, called 5 Things I Like about my Body. Yes, I'm crazy - need you ask?

1. My hair - it's very healthy, it looks pretty good short or long, it takes color well (and fast!) - what's not to like?

2. My legs - Husband and I have the same length inseam and he's 3 inches taller than me. Cool, eh? You can fit a lot of hot fudge sundae in these legs and not know it.

3. My bone spurs - I have torii in my mouth and the biggest bunions in the world on my feet, both of which make for interesting conversation at the dentist and doctor. And since the bunions have yet to be that painful, who cares? They just make me unique.

4. My prehensile toes and webbed hands - okay, just trying to see if you're paying attention.

5. My eyes - I need distance glasses to see properly, and I always wanted to wear glasses when I was a kid. I look good in glasses, and they distract from the fact that I never wear earrings or, actually, any jewelry at all. At least I think they do this.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Bucket Lists

Should Christians have them? What do you think? Don't they imply that this life is all there is, and we need to get going and enjoying ourselves, because there ain't no tomorrow? Or am I stuck in the mud?

They remind me of my new least-favorite billboard - for Dos Equis - the one that says "life is short ... make sure it's enough."

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

God and Meaning

As shocked as I am to find Stanley Fish writing about anything that has immutable meaning, I have to recommend this review he's written on Terry Eagleton's book, Reason, Faith and Revolution.

"'Faith and knowledge,' Eagleton concludes, are not antithetical but 'interwoven.' You can’t have one without the other, despite the Satanic claim that you can go it alone by applying your own independent intellect to an unmediated reality: 'All reasoning is conducted within the ambit of some sort of faith, attraction, inclination, orientation, predisposition, or prior commitment.' Meaning, value and truth are not 'reducible to the facts themselves, in the sense of being ineluctably motivated by a bare account of them.' Which is to say that there is no such thing as a bare account of them. (Here, as many have noted, is where religion and postmodernism meet.)"

Stanley Fish?

HT: Ann Althouse

Two on Itching

"It feels like I swallowed mosquitoes."

Monday, May 4, 2009

Can It Be?

Can someone actually be doing something about skyrocketing college tuition costs?

Maybe so.

La Swine

Eric Berger from the Houston Chronicle on the good, the bad and the ugly of swine flu reactions. As usual, understated, level-headed news coverage.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Lesson Found in a Case of the Wiggles

Back towards the beginning of Lent we started attending an Antiochian Orthodox Church together as a family. It's a Godly experiment on our part; we're not sure yet this is where the Lord wants us to be - although when the four of us stand together and the smell of incense fills the church, I feel more certain each week that this experimental journey may really be taking us home. But for now we're just visitors: Presbyterians in a foreign land, as it were.

Since the service takes place only once on Sunday and there is no Sunday School at that time for the kids, the boys are with us for the two hour service each week. They've never had to do that, not at either church we've attended since they were born, and it's definitely taken some getting used to. A week or two ago I had a conversation with Two about it - in particular about sitting still as much as possible and standing when we stand (at least 1/2 the service is standing - this church building is actually a bit odd in that it has pews at all). The best way I could explain it to him was that he had to accustom himself to worshipping God with his entire body. He could worship with his feet by standing. He could worship with his eyes by watching the service and looking around the church at all the icons. He could even worship with his mouth - not only by learning some of the songs and prayers but by kissing the crucifix and eating the blessed bread at the end of the service. This analogy has helped him to keep still (well, a little bit more still, anyway), but what it really did was help me even more than it helped him.

It has helped me because so far my experience with Orthodoxy has been like drinking water from a fire hose. It is overwhelming in almost every possible aspect. Not just the adjustment to an entirely different worship service (in which every single detail has pages of meaning), but all the standing, the fasting, the 2 and 3 hour services - all of this has me sometimes bewildered and overwhelmed. But when I thought of each of those things that overwhelmed me as a way that a different part of me - even a different part of my body - could worship God, it became easier to understand. It doesn't always make it easier to do - to go without butter on my toast when I really, really want some - but it helps. That and copious repetitions of the Jesus Prayer usually get me away from the butter dish before something bad happens.

I've not made the transition from Protestantism to Orthodoxy - not by a long shot. Some days I am certain I will and others I am not so much. But the journey itself - the prayer, the study, all of it - may after all be a transition into a more faithful, thoughtful follower of Christ. And wherever I worship, that would be a good thing.

Two on Sunday Brunch


Saturday, May 2, 2009

Two's Little Obsession

This took him maybe five minutes, if that:

One the Green Belt

The boys passed their lime green belt test on Thursday and are now officially dark green belts (or just plain old green belts, as they are insisting on). Yesterday they were especially eager to get to practice to wear their new belts. As they were getting ready One came into our room in his uniform, with the new belt raised over his head: "Huzzah!" he shouted, and then "wait until don it for you."

Don? Huzzah? I think we need to cut down on 19th century literature, don't you?