Sunday, March 31, 2013

Anemic Faith: A Reflection for Easter

Not everyone who waits to have a baby is eventually blessed with one, and not everyone who waits for a better job eventually gets one!”

This is what I sobbed on the phone to my mom yesterday morning. She was trying to console me, poor woman, over a recent disappointment that Mark has suffered in his search for a job in Minnesota.

The fact that we’re not guaranteed any happy endings, the fact that the proportion of prayers we pray in supplication does not correlate exactly with the number of favorable answers we receive from God, really bothers me sometimes. It’s haunted me, really, since we eased into our struggle with infertility, and it’s bothered me as Mark continues to deal with the problem he’s dealt with since we graduated from college: not knowing what he wants to do and somehow ending up in jobs in which he doesn’t feel fulfilled.

This is the crux of the matter for me, my ‘crisis of faith,’ if you will, that has arrived unwelcomed at my doorstep over the last few years. Can I trust in God’s unfailing goodness to me despite circumstances? Can I take into account the largest perspective possible: that of my problems in light of eternity?

I don’t know. And it’s funny that I should be thinking about this on Easter, the day when we celebrate God’s ultimate goodness and selfless love in sending His son to die for us. I know this is true. I know God loves me more than I can understand. That’s just the problem, though: I can’t understand it.

In addition, I can’t reconcile my sense of personal suffering and my questions about God’s goodness with suffering worldwide. When I think about my suffering, the face of the Mozambican pastor Vicente comes to mind. His teeth are rotting out for lack of dental care. He preaches every Sunday in a stifling rectangular building made of mud. He’s lost at least half of his children to malaria. And what must he think when missionaries come in and out of his life with healthy children? They arrive in Mozambique with healthy children, they fly to South Africa to have their babies, and then their babies grow up into healthy children and adults as a matter of course. He has experienced real suffering, and if he were to compare his life to the lives of the missionaries, he would have real reason to question God’s goodness.

My struggle with PCOS, my infertility, my desire for a fulfilling job for Mark – these are all problems for a rich girl living in a rich country. I’m so used to having my way paved straight and smooth that my faith is rocked by these minor turbulences, while a poor pastor who has buried at least four children continues to travel to his stuffy mud church every Sunday and preach God’s goodness and faithfulness.

This comparison of me and Pastor Vicente makes me think of what Jesus said in Matthew 19:23-25: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’ ”

Who then? Really? My faith is shivering inside of me under these minor blows. It’s so weak. And God doesn’t offer easy answers. But thank God, thank God, that Jesus didn’t stop his thought there. He added on the ‘but’ that makes all the difference for my weak and faltering American heart: “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’ ”

My faith is not rock solid. We may never have a baby. Mark may never get a job where he can use his gifts. These worries terrify me if I dwell on them. But in those darkest moments of doubt, I know that God’s goodness will win out. I won’t always feel like I believe him but, even so, I can be saved from my quaking anemic faith—

With God, all things are possible.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Not an Island

A friend and I had scheduled time this morning to meet at a coffee shop and catch up. With our move just over three weeks away, little stresses (and some bigger stresses) associated with the move are beginning to creep up on me. I came to the coffee shop with a hankie in my pocket and swollen eyes from crying on the phone with my mom earlier in the morning. 

My heart is feeling a lot lighter, after meeting with my friend. We talked about the stressful things, but we also talked about the happy things. We talked about the 'isms' of living in a small town, like how I found out yesterday I could close my bank account here over the phone if necessary. (But please, don't mess with me. I'm hanging onto my composure by a thread some days and I might just have kittens if my bank account disappears without my knowledge.)

I don't know that my friend said anything new to me that I should be breathing so much more freely. But she was here. She listened. She understood and tried to understand. She helped me laugh when I'm so inclined to view everything with a serious eye. She nudged my mind onto happier topics than the stress-inducing topics that have taken up permanent residence in the forefront of my mind. 

And I like to think that I encouraged her too, that I listened, that I tried to understand, that I helped her laugh. I am not an island. I'm not so good at sharing myself that I consider myself to be on the mainland. But I'm learning allow myself to be part of an archipelago. 

I am not an island.

"We will see that we are human, like everyone else, that we all have weaknesses and deficiencies, and that these limitations of ours play a most important part in all our lives. It is because of them that we need others and others need us. We are not all weak in the same spots, and so we supplement and complete one another, each one making up in himself for the lack in another." - Thomas Merton in No Man is an Island

Friday, March 22, 2013

February-March Reading (because I have oh-so-much time to read for pleasure right now)

The type of books wandering around the house (at least they seem to be wandering—I find them everywhere) has changed drastically since I took and passed my tests. I’m still reading through the articles and book chapters assigned to me by Teach For America. I’m enjoying those quite a bit, but they’re not easy or necessarily fun to read.

So, here’s the line-up from the past month and what I’m reading currently:

End-of-February & March Reading:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – J.K. Rowling

5 stars. I haven’t read this series in years and it was delightful to start it up again. And it was a nice way for my brain to celebrate not studying anymore.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – J.K. Rowling

5 stars. Although I had forgotten how very creepy a giant poisonous snake wandering through a castle could sound. When I read this for the first time (when I was like 12), I had to stop part-way through and read some cozy James Herriot cat stories to get my mind off giant snakes.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J.K. Rowling

5 stars. While I was reading this book, I began to try to pinpoint what it is about J.K. Rowling’s writing style that makes her books so entertaining. I think it’s a couple of things: the books are fast-paced, so I’m drawn to keep reading. The dialogues are well-done. They don’t sound stilted and each character has his or her own voice. And Rowling is just so darn creative in some of the places and things she comes up with to make the wizarding world intriguing and realistic. Kudos to her for her creativity.

Juvenile in Justice – Richard Ross

5 stars. This wasn’t required for Teach For America, but I read it with my future students in mind. This is exactly where I do not want my students to end up: in the U.S. juvenile justice system. I didn’t know much about juvenile prisons before reading this, but I shudder now to think of any child ending up there. I have so much more to say on this topic and this book in general, but that’s maybe for another post.

The Girl on Legare Street – Karen White

3.5 stars. ‘Entertaining’ is probably the best word to describe this book. I don’t think it has any value for my life besides that. This is the second in a series about a woman in her late 30s who has the metabolism of a small rodent and eats donuts all the time while still maintaining a killer figure. She can also see ghosts and tends to get wrapped up in ghost mysteries surrounding old homes in Charleston, South Caroline, with an extremely attractive (and single) local author named Jack. As I say, purely entertainment.

The Strangers on Montagu Street – Karen White

3.5 stars. Obviously I like being entertained enough that I continued with the series. The biggest critique I have of this series (and it’s really quite a significant flaw in my opinion) is that the author tends to overuse the cardinal trait she picks for each character and points that trait out over and over. Like Jacks’ deep and startlingly blue eyes. And Melanie’s cousin’s tendency to wear pink and look like a Barbie doll. Puh-leeeeze. But I still enjoyed the mystery that the author whipped up.

The Mind’s Eye – Oliver Sacks

4 stars. Notice! This is one of the books off of my 2013 reading goal list. So, even though I’m severely behind and not doing a great job of running to catch up on the list, I am making some headway. The author is a neurologist and this was a fascinating selection of case studies about people who dealt with unusual eye ailments. Or rather, brain ailments that affected their eyes in some way. I did think that Dr. Sacks tended to wax clinical a little bit too often. I found myself skipping over some of his hypotheses and explanations about why the brain did this or that. But I’ve read other books by him that I’ve enjoyed much more.

Currently Reading:

Decision-Making and the Will of God – Garry Freisen & Jay Robin Maxs

Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – J.K. Rowling

A Chance to Make History – Wendy Kopps

Expect synopses and my opinions on these and a few others next month! Hopefully a few of the books read in the next month will be from my reading goal list for 2013… Has anyone else read anything good recently? Something I should add to my 2014 reading list, perhaps?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Organized Packing: Ignorance is Bliss

I started packing yesterday. I’ve been dreading those first boxes for a while now, knowing that as soon as I opened the first one and began filling it with the bits and pieces of our lives that have collected in the corners of this little rental house over the past two and a half years, chaos would become the permanent guest until someday in the far future. ‘Chaos’ and ‘far future’ may not be quite right, but that’s a little what it feels like. ‘Unrest’ might be better and ‘near future’ is hopefully more accurate.

I will not start earning a paycheck in my new job until I start teaching this fall. And because Mark does not yet have a job lined up in Minnesota, we don’t really know how soon we’ll have a source of income once we sever ties with our current jobs. Two and a half years ago, when we were in a similar situation, the stress nearly sent me through the roof. Mark nearly sent me off to the loony bin. (Or if he didn’t consider that option, he probably should have.) I am pleased and pleasantly surprised that this time around, though I am mildly concerned about our source of income for the next few months, an overwhelming sense that God will provide pervades my heart and mind.

We’ll see how I feel in a month when income really does stop. I may be eating my words.

Mark’s sister and brother-in-law and their two adorable kiddos are coming to visit us this weekend. They graciously offered to bring a trailer down to cart a load of stuff back up to Mark’s parents’ house, where the majority of our stuff will be stored for the time being. I’m so thankful for Mark’s parents, who are allowing us to take over their basement with our accumulation of earthly junk. And I’m so thankful for my parents, who are allowing us to take over their basement with our…selves.

But…. (I heave a huge sigh here.) I’m not super excited about being homeless and out of control of my stuff and home for some undefined period of time. For one thing, I will not be excited about the excessive amounts of hamburger meat that I’ll find at my parents’ house and I’m sure they won’t be excited about sugarless baked oatmeal for breakfast. For another thing, it’s simply disorienting and confusing to not have a home for a lengthy period of time. Mark and I managed to do it once before: we packed up all our earthly possessions except for the few we’d need and put everything into storage for three months. (Mark’s parents were gracious enough to give their basement over to our stuff then too, I might add.)

Even as organized as I thought I was last time we had to pack up, we still managed to permanently displace half of our hand towels and washcloths (which, since we only had four sets, left us critically short of towels to offer guests). And I still shudder to remember needing that one item and trying to rummage through the mounds of boxes in search. And all that despite my numbered and color-coded system.


So, this time, I’m prepared. We are not only going to be numbered and color-coded again, but I’ve made a spreadsheet. A colored, numbered spreadsheet. Disorder and chaos will quake in their boots when they see this spreadsheet.

Control is a funny, tantalizing thing. All this ‘organizing’ of our packing and this spreadsheet might just be a way for me to feel like I’m in control in this stage of upheaval in our lives.

But I’m not going to analyze it too far. Organizing and color-coding my boxes makes me feel like I’m in control. Ignorance is bliss!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Trying to Make Sugar-Free Sustainable without Caving and Eating all the Monster Cookies in Sight

Mark and I are starting month number four of no sugar – or at least very little sugar. I’ve begun to ease up a little bit. From what I’ve read, the important thing about giving up sugar for a period of time is to reset, in a way, your body’s insulin sensitivity. If your insulin isn’t freaking out multiple times a day, that gives your hormones some breathing space and they can begin to focus on some other more important bodily functions than trying to keep track of the insulin that’s acting like a teenage girl with PMS. 

I don’t know if that’s entirely true. To be honest, I don’t really understand the relationship between insulin and my hormones and PCOS. But that’s kind of what I imagine happens.

So, I’ve let up on myself a little bit in one area: I’ll allow myself to have a serving of a dessert if it’s a very special occasion, like someone’s birthday. I figure this will amount to about one or two servings of desserts per month. I think my body can probably handle that.

I would like to reinstate some fruit into my diet. I did, in a moment of weakness at the grocery store last week, buy a grapefruit. I ate it in two servings, at two different meals, and it seemed like the sweetest grapefruit I’ve ever tasted. It was delicious. Since then, I’ve had at least one dream about fruit. Apples, mainly. I love apples. I miss them.

I’ve wanted to write a post for a while on how I’m planning to make a low-sugar diet sustainable but I’ve been putting it off. Frankly, I’m afraid to bring fruit back into my diet. I’m afraid to bring much of any sugar back into my diet. So far I’ve only seen good things happen to my menstrual cycles since I gave up sugar. (Not so many good things happening to the PCOS-induced acne, but that’s a post for another time.) I kind of don’t want to shake things up.

But at the same time I kind of do want to eat a banana again, or some blueberries, and definitely an apple with peanut butter. And at some point I want to eat a monster cookie again. When is the right time to bring those things back into my diet? Ever?

And the more realistic and probably more important question, how can I make a mostly no-sugar diet sustainable for a family? (‘Family’ at this point just means me and Mark, but I’m thinking optimistically about the future here.) Right now for breakfast we generally eat sugar-free baked oatmeal, which incidentally I have come to love. I don’t miss the sugar in it at all. Or we eat sourdough English muffins, or better yet, sourdough English muffins with fried eggs and cheese in them. Mmmmm.

But is that enough variety in our breakfast diet? What about coffee cakes and scones? And are we never to have pancakes or waffles again? (We tried sugar-free pancakes without syrup. It was about as fun as eating slices of dry bread.)

I know I’m probably whining too much. I mean, realistically, if I try to keep my diet in perspective, I still eat a much wider variety of food than most of the world. And when I’m at home, I’m satisfied with my sugarless hot chocolate and my snack of raw almonds. It’s just when we’re with friends and someone squirts a big dollop of whipped cream onto their sugar-full hot chocolate or when a co-worker brings monster cookies to share at work that I begin to feel discontent.

Really, I can handle saying no to the monster cookies. It’s not easy, but I’m sure it builds character or something. And I am perfectly content to eat baked oatmeal for breakfast, most of the time. What this whole post boils down to, I guess, is my musings on when to let fruit back into my diet and how much. Monster cookies I know I can live without. But I don’t know about fruit. Fruit has a lot of health benefits giving weight to its argument to be back in my diet.

So, I don’t know. I don’t have a plan yet, and I’m not really sure what to do. It’s not life or death and it doesn’t keep me up at night, but I’m just not sure.

Any ideas?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Showing Off the Husband

Mark had to disappear overnight last week. I hate it when he has to do that. He knows that. So he made a surprise for me that I found when I got home from work. Here's his note:

It reads (in case you can't read his ultra-neat handwriting): "Dearest Hillary, In case you get bored while I'm gone, I made you a 63-piece puzzle. If you want to do it, you might try doing it on a piece of cardboard or something, black/red side down, and then flip it over when you've finished. I lvoe you and hope you enjoy some Downton Abbey! Love, Mark"

Here's the puzzle laid out on the table:

And the puzzle completed (make sure you read through what he's written on the pieces if you can):

And the back of the puzzle:

I personally am terribly impressed and was smiling ear to ear while putting this together. Actually, it makes me feel a little guilty because I don't know if I could (or would) find the inclination to make something this detailed for Mark. I have a wonderful husband!