Monday, February 28, 2011
Sunday, February 27, 2011
But that's not what I'm thinking about this morning as I prepare for church. I'm thinking about how sweet and strange it is that I've found a home within a church culture that is vastly different than the one I was immersed in the last decade. I went from Pentecostal to Presbyterian, if that means anything to you. Suffice it to say, it's a huge difference. But I love it. I never imagined myself at a church that uses liturgy throughout worship. We read prayers outloud together, sing old hymns with beautifully rich lyrics, confess together on our knees, and share communion each week. People here are passionate and serious about Jesus in a different way than my Pentecostal church family. I love and respect those differences.
Several years ago, I wouldn't have considered settling into this church culture. Honestly, back then I wouldn't have believed I could experience intimacy with God in a way that I found satisfying outside my Pentecostal home. But I've reached a place in life where the church I'm a part of isn't definitive of who I am. I don't consider myself Presbyterian any more than I consider myself Pentecostal. I'm just someone who loves Jesus and worships with a Presbyterian church family.
Sometimes I miss things about the Pentecostal style of worship, because it's more familiar to me in its free-flowing spontaneity, but I see myself stretching to embrace a new kind of worship, a new way of relating with God. In the process, I find another dimension of experiencing intimacy with God, beyond what's familiar. In many ways, it's a cross-cultural experience, not unlike my relationship with Ricardo. In order to have a healthy, mutually respectful, growing relationship with someone from another culture, we cannot presume that our way is the "right" or "best" way. We may have our preferences and our comfort zones, we may agree to disagree on a few things, but the more we can open up and enter each others' cultures, the more we can grow. In this way, church is also a cross-cultural experience.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
Friday, February 25, 2011
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Monday, February 21, 2011
His eyebrow raised and he looked full of curiosity, so I launched into the five sentence version of my story, of why I am where I am. He said he hoped I would not be here much longer, that I would be back in my field. I thanked him and said, "Well, I want to pursue writing. Right now, this job allows me to do that." We chatted a bit more and he wished me luck. It was my first of two conversations today with customers about my desire to grow and develop as a writer, my hopes of pursuing publication someday. The more I talk about it, the more real it seems on one hand, and the more ambiguous it seems on the other.
I don't have any projects I'm currently working on, for one. I know nonfiction is my focal point, but that's like stating you want to cook Mexican food for dinner, and that's it. But do you want tamales or taquitos, enchiladas or sopes, carne asada or quesadillas, ensalada de nopales or chilequiles? What about salsa, pico de gallo or guacamole - or all of the above? I love personal narratives, redemptive stories, writings about grief, and memoirs. Great. But do I write about myself or someone else? Do I tell the story of how I've walked through the grief of losing my Papa? If so, do I focus on his life as a whole, or on specific memories I have of him, or things I learned from him, or characteristics I loved about him, or how losing him so unexpectedly and tragically has impacted every area of my life?
Do I find someone else who would like their story told? Where do I find these stories? Do I travel someplace and tell a story that draws awareness to an important social issue that has impacted the lives of people in that place? Or do I focus on short stories, topical things, that I can submit to journals or magazines or collections of some sort? If only I knew what I wanted beyond Mexican food, it would be so helpful. I suppose that will come with time, but for the moment, all I know is to continue posting on this blog every day. And I sincerely hope and pray I'll have the courage necessary to take that next big step, to risk in a big way, when I have an idea what I should be aiming for. There's a lot of truth in the saying that if you aim for nothing you'll hit nothing, but it's hard to aim for something when the target is so blurry. Thankfully I'm not nearly as impatient as I used to be. Things tend to come into focus at the right time, learning how to be productive in the waiting room is a discipline all its own.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
I don't know why, but it fills me with a tingly sense of satisfaction when I am out and about in my little section of the world here in Seattle, brushing shoulders with virtual strangers who happen to be my neighbors. Last night, Ricardo and I decided we were hankering for a couple games of pool, so we hopped a bus outside my door and popped into the new Ballard Ave Pub on Market Street. I've passed it quite a bit, peering in the floor to ceiling windows, and admired the single pool table at the back of the pub. When we arrived, it was pretty dead. Just the pub owner and an old man sitting at the counter nursing a drink. Ricardo and I happily took over the pool table with our 75 cents.
After each of us had won a game, a middle-aged lady with a friendly smile wandered over to us. I'd seen her watching us and wondered if she was mesmerized by our incredible skills (though on second thought, I dismissed that idea) or if she wished we'd hurry up and relinquish the table. Turned out she wanted to know if she and her boyfriend could play doubles with us the next game, on them. Ricardo and I looked at each other, shrugged and said, "Sure. Why not?" She smiled and went back to her seat at the bar next to her boyfriend.
It turns out, the four of us had a great time playing together. I learned that these two have known each other since the fifth grade and after twenty years finally got together. They usually play pool at the OP (or Old Peculiar) down the street, but they said the tables there are old and bad. I couldn't really tell a good table from a bad table, unless you lined them up side by side, but I nodded and tried to talk pool talk with them.
Actually, we just talked neighborly talk, which both Ricardo and I thoroughly enjoyed, and so did they. We laughed a lot, and they apologized several times for being slightly buzzed, and we passed the time like old friends. They had to take off before us, but they kept thanking us for the nice game and said they enjoyed our company, and we agreed and said we hoped to see them at the pool table again. I don't know if we'll run into them again or not, but I have a hunch we might, because that's one of the many things I love about my neighborhood.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Friday, February 18, 2011
Thursday, February 17, 2011
I've been slowly learning Spanish. I really had no desire to learn Spanish before meeting Ricardo. Swahili, yes, possibly even French (only because it's spoken in West Africa), but never Spanish. It's the classic case of acquiring new, unexpected interests as a result of a romantic interest in someone else, but it's genuine. As in, I'm not faking my desire to learn Spanish. After all, it's his primary language, and so the more I understand Spanish and am able to communicate with him in that way (or at least understand some of what he says), the better I understand him. It's forever a huge part of who he is, so naturally, I want to learn. I'm motivated to learn, and I find the whole process a fun and rewarding challenge. That said, I confess I'm thankful I'm not having to fake an interest in golf or video games (are they even called that anymore?) or comic books or bryology (the study of mosses and liverworts). Spanish and the many subsets of the Mexican culture from which he comes are within my realm of interest.
Regardless, the point is that Ricardo is someone I love, and therefore, he is well within my realm of interest. I want to know him. I want to understand what makes him feel passion or sadness or anger, what triggers his emotions, what gives him energy and what takes it away, what his dreams are and what he fears, what pulls him close and what drives him away. I want to know where he comes from and what has shaped him into the man he is today. I want to know all the nuances of his culture. I want to know what makes him feel supported and what makes him feel undermined. I want to know what actions on my part make him feel loved and cared for. These things are the substance of his primary language, more pervasive and yet more subtle than Spanish.
Too often, my own language gets in the way. More so, my desire or expectation that he be fluent in the ways I love can obscure my ability to speak his language. My first thought in a disagreement or miscommunication is generally not, "How can I meet Ricardo's needs in this moment?" rather, "How can I make sure my needs get met?" It's the sad truth. The good news is, I don't intend to stay there. Inch by inch, I'm making my way toward fluency in Ricardo's language of love. I've got a long way to go to fluency, but the challenge serves as a continual reminder to be intentional, to not grow lazy. I can think of no other language worth learning right now than his. I just pray I can be a good and faithful student.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Sometimes I feel like a poor, cowering little onion trying to hide her nakedness, as one layer after another is stripped away. But I know I'm not really naked, far from it, though it may feel that way at times. Just when I'm adjusting to one new layer of skin, another is exposed. I want to beat my little onion fists against the wall, begging the peeler to slow down and give me a break. And yet I know I thrive on the peeling back process as much as a plant thrives on pruning.
Love is a lot like an onion, too. To think we can peel it back and look at it in one fell swoop is laughable. Who can peel an onion like that? Surely not even Chuck Norris. Love has infinite layers of depth and dimension, and the sense of exposure at times is nothing more than adjusting to the vulnerability and maturity required of me in a new layer of love's onion. I can shrink back from it and clutch my layers against me, refusing to be peeled any further, this is true. But my love will be stunted, and I don't want that. I want to love deeper. I want to love further. I want to love wider. I want to love higher. And the only way to that ever-expanding capacity to love is through peeling.
My counselor suggested we need to learn how to love smarter, not harder. To do this requires a willingness to learn the love language of another, which is tricky, because no two languages are exactly the same. We can learn to be fluent, perhaps, in two or five or ten love languages, but it takes smarts. It takes courage. It takes tenacity. And it takes the humility of an onion.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Lately, writing in the mornings has worked for me. I get up and head to a coffee shop near work about an hour before work starts, and there I happily sip my coffee and get my juices flowing for the day. But sometimes, like today, attempting to write in the morning is similar to starting a car with no fuel in the gas tank. The key's in the ignition, I turn it, and... nothing happens. Just the sound of a sputtering starter. Brain freeze. I really have little desire to write about yesterday, and today nothing has happened yet. Nothing in particular is on my mind, except that after four and a half hours of sleep, I'd prefer being back in bed. So all this makes for not an exciting post at all, for which I apologize, and I promise tomorrow will be better. What I need is some back-up fuel for days like these.
Monday, February 14, 2011
Sunday, February 13, 2011
It hit me today that there are questions I've been hiding in the closet of my heart for the past few months, and that they needed to come out. So I did something I hope was brave and not premature: I let them out. That's right. I asked those questions to the person I needed to be honest with, and I no longer hid behind the fear of the unknown. Have you ever done that? It's both frightening in the level of exposure you feel, hanging awkwardly in that place of the unknown, while also liberating you from the dread of an answer you may not want to hear. In letting those questions out of hiding, it's making a statement: I won't be in cahoots with fear any longer. I'm going to face it head on, instead of waiting for it to creep up and grab me from behind. I'm going to surrender.
And that's the place I find myself in this evening. Waiting, choosing not to dread the answer. Learning once again what trusting God looks like.
Saturday, February 12, 2011
Here I am, sitting at my favorite Cafe Delirium, or Cafe “D”, in Gresham (east of Portland), across from a plush green sofa that my best friend and I clocked a lot of hours on throughout the years. The cafe is half a block north and two blocks south of both locations of my parent’s former bookstores here on Main Street. Across the street is Dee’s Studio where my sister found her wedding dress, now with a "For Lease" sign in the window. And so the memories start coming home, some with speed and others with the pace of an unhurried stroll.
Being back in Portland elicits strange, vague feelings, like shadowy clouds moving across a muted blue sky. I have nothing against the city. In fact, if I hadn’t already lived here and left it behind, when I read over reviews of how innovatively green and vegan friendly Portland is, I would think to myself, now that’s my kind of place. But Portland and I have a history. And while not a bad history, when I’m back in town there’s always an unexplicable sadness hanging over even the sweet memories, even the new memories. Not to mention, for all the delicious, funky cafes and coffee houses, all the eclectic hipster shops and the art scene, Portland is missing some vital things that I dearly love in Seattle: the Puget Sound, ferries, the overall urban factor, and of course, most of my dearest friendships.
Cafe D hasn’t changed much. It’s still jam packed with mismatched comfy armchairs, shabby chic furniture, tables and chairs, throw rugs and local artwork. It still has my favorite vanilla chai, which I drink blended for old time’s sake, even though it’s cold and windy outside. My bf and I spent countless hours here, most of them ditching our dull history classes at the community college for some chai and catch-up time. I don’t know how many tears were shed on that green sofa as we spilled our guts to each other, how many times we huddled together laughing until we cried, how many crossword puzzles we attempted (and later abandoned) together. We didn’t really come here to study; it was our meeting spot, for just about every occasion.
Main Street has changed, though. There are still the staple spots, like Sunny Hans teriyaki, Bocelli’s Ristorante, Wall Street Pizza, Lil' Britches, Tedrick Family Chiropractic, Main Street Nails and Tanning, and of course Cafe D. The spots where the bookstores used to be are an office and a resale clothing/home decor shop. The latter shop, the one that’s now a retail business, is a charming old brick building that originally started as a church. Since then, it has been a revolving door of failed businesses. It’s always been that way. Chinese restaurant, Irish pub, catering business, wedding event center, Christian bookstore and cafe, and now, resale clothing and home decor shop.
The way I remember it, though, when at the height of its glory as a business, is Still Waters Christian bookstore and cafe, owned by my dad and mom. Hardwood floors, old wood molding, dark wooden rails trailing up to a cozy balcony, tall ceilings and beautiful windows, neatly lined rows of bookcases, the smell of history. Now those memories are a part of my history. I haven't been inside for at least five years, but I will forever associate that place with my Papa. It was his baby.
I don't know where the sadness comes from, but each time in town, it's like I'm trying to stay ahead of the memories. The past no longer exists, that's the strange thing. The house we lived in on Orchard Place is still there, our old neighborhood much the same, but life has moved on, chapter by chapter, leaving the memories behind. The sadness was there even before my dad died, but it's more pronounced in his absence, as if to remind me he, too, is a past memory. And that, perhaps, is the main reason I could not foresee myself moving back to Portland.
Friday, February 11, 2011
I first noticed her in a calculus class. The girl at the table next to me with the colorful striped socks. Surely she is cool, I thought, because she's got good taste in socks. My intuition was spot on, and we struck up a friendship one afternoon while studying in a common area at the college. That was eleven years ago. Since then, we've each been through multiple boyfriends, heartbreaks, late-night study sessions, college graduations, life tragedies, celebrations, new jobs, new apartments, road trips, birthdays, funerals, adventures, and now, a wedding. We've been roommates several times (I thought we resembled the Odd Couple). We've prayed hours and hours together, worshiped together while I jammed on my guitar, cried together, laughed hysterically together, dressed up in funny costumes together, adopted a grandpa together, shared the deepest things of our hearts. She's the one of the most loyal, faithful, hang-with-you-till-the-day-you-die friends I've had the pleasure of knowing. She's more like a sister than anything else. I'd do anything for her, and she'd do the same in a heartbeat. There aren't many friends that come through this life that you believe will be around for your whole life, especially if you've moved around a lot like me and aren't great at keeping in touch long distance. But years ago, I finally let myself accept that she was one of those friends that wasn't going anywhere, no matter where we lived.
And now she's getting married.
From the depths of my heart, I'm happy for her. So happy. This is right, it's what she's wanted. He's right for her. But I don't know why, it's hard to give her away. It's hard to think of closing such a long chapter, punctuating it, and turning the page to start writing a new one. I don't know what it will look like, much like everything else in my life. But I'm learning to trust that, though a different chapter, we can still be beautiful characters in each other's stories.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
9. Eating animals - Jonathon Foer. I knew I was forgetting a really important one. The book that educated me immensely about the factory farm industry and some philosophy about why we eat animals, and certain ones at that. What I loved about this book: It was not directly a case for vegetarianism, but with the facts he presented in the passionate but objective manner I so appreciated, it ended up being a slam dunk case for me. Extremely well researched, well-thought, well-articulated, provocative book. I haven't been the same since.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
It’s often difficult to break through barriers of social ettiquette to reach authenticity with people. Every day I’m aware of this while I greet customers and coworkers in over a hundred mini conversations throughout the day: “Hey! How are you this morning? It’s good to see you. Are you having a good week?” I want the hear the real answer, but the truth is, it’s more efficient in business to have people give the short, standard replies, the “Oh, fine. I’m tired, but good,” and so forth. Customers understandably grow impatient in line if I take too long with the person in front of them. However, I relish those moments when I truly connect with a customer, even if just for that moment.
Today I was taking a lady’s order and noticed either she wasn’t having a great day or she wasn’t a very warm person, because her face was quite serious and her tone very businesslike and no-nonsence. As I prepared her latte, I asked about her day. She didn’t look me in the eyes but for a second, looked down, and forced out a very unconvincing mumble of “Fine.”
In these circumstances, I don’t often know how to proceed. Do I drop it and ignore her response? Do I take that as a hint that she doesn’t want to talk? Or do I gently show some interest in knowing more? Well, seeing as I’m not so great at ignoring these kinds of things, I waited and discreetly watched her as I finished her drink. She looked like she was holding back tears. My heart went out to her.
As I handed her the latte, I caught her eye, “I really hope your day gets better.” Now the tears were rolling down, but she didn’t turn away, just stood there fiddling with her drink and gave what seemed to be an unconscious sigh of frustration. I didn’t know what to say, but I couldn’t turn away, even though maybe that’s what she wanted. “Is there anything I can do?” I finally asked, hoping it sounded as sincere as I felt.
She just stared at me, perhaps a little surprised, then gave a faint hint of a smile. “Your smile helps,” she said. “Actually,” she blinked back more tears, “I found out today that my job ends in a month.”
She looked so alone across that counter. I sighed, “Oh... I’m so sorry. That must have been awful news to receive.”
Her face reflected some embarassment about her tears, which she followed up with, “I’m trying not to let it affect me, but...”
I stopped her. “Of course it will affect you. What a big unexpected blow.”
She was quiet. "I was there for 20 years... I didn’t think this would happen.”
“Wow, that’s a long time, of course you didn’t. I really am sad to hear that.” And I was, though I have no clue what the imminent threat of losing a long-held job feels like.
As she turned to go, I asked for her name and told her I would keep her in my thoughts and prayers for a new job. She smiled with her teary eyes and walked away, and I realized my eyes were on the verge of tears themselves. I felt humbled by how tempted I was at first to judge her as an unfriendly person, how wrong I would have been.
I don’t know if I’ll she’ll be in again, but I know I won’t forget her. I began praying that God would comfort and encourage her. It was one of those more -rare-than-I’d-like experiences at work where I felt like, maybe, in this moment, I was the answer to my own prayer for comfort for this lovely woman.
In addition to a new job, I’m praying this will become a piece of beautiful rubbish in her story, when things looked so ugly for awhile, and then - the beautiful unexpected emerged. I won’t be the answer to that prayer, but God is so creative, I’m sure He’s already got something in the works.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
*At my writer's group last night,
I started thinking more about the story I'd like to tell,
about this idea of beautiful rubbish, were I to write a book.
But where do I start?
I'm not sure I know that answer yet, but here's what came out.*
I will remember the last conversation between Papa and I as forever eerily punctuating my transition to writerhood. The temperature remained solidly in the upper eighties that week in August as he and I worked together on an outdoor painting job. I painted in shorts and a bikini top, to maximize the inevitable tan, since we were mostly working secluded in a backyard. Working between free-flowing conversation and silence, we had been talking about my plans for the near future.
I was but two months out of grad school, just two and a half weeks out from packing my belongings into my Honda civic and driving cross country with my dad to Minneapolis. I had big hopes for working with an organization in the city that provided culturally creative mental health services to refugee clients who’d survived major traumatic events (what a mouthful, huh?). This is what I’d been grooming myself for in grad school these past two years, and really, what I’d been preparing for all of my twenties. And here I was, twenty-seven, finally on the brink of launching out into my field.
I stopped to give my forearm a quick break and turned to look at my dad a few feet away with a paintbrush. The sun fixed its gaze on me with beady eyes, until the sweat crept from my temples and quietly rolled down my cheeks. “Papa?”
“I know this sounds crazy and ridiculous, considering I just finished school with a Master’s in counseling, but, all I’ve wanted to do since finishing school is to write.” I studied his face, which didn’t look at all surprised by this confession, feeling a secret weight roll off my heart. I hadn’t told this to anyone.
“I don’t think that’s crazy, honey. If writing’s what you want to do, then do it. You’re an incredible writer, I’ve always thought so.”
I nodded my gratitude. I could always count on my dad to understand. After all, I’d inherited my distaste for conventionality, my hunger for adventure, my artistic bent, from him. My dad didn’t fit into a box, and I admired him for that.
“I don’t know what that means,” I continued, “Where to start, what to write, what, if anything, I’ll ever publish. I just know it’s in me, it’s what I love. Much more than counseling.”
Our conversation shifted to plans for the big move. Something in me felt that I’d just gotten the blessing from my dad, to be something more than I went to school for. To unleash more creativity in my dreams for life.
I recalled this conversation with a growing sense of displacement and detachment just a few days later. The next evening, I sat down to write. Finding a computer with internet access in the ICU waiting room at Harborview Medical Center, I posted a note on facebook requesting prayer for my dad. He fell off a ladder and hit his head on the concrete driveway while painting that morning. Now he lay in a coma in the hospital. I had no clue what sorrow the next week and months and years would bring, only this deep down rumbling, this knowledge that I would not be taking that cross country trek to Minnesota with my Papa after all.
And I was right, life had a very different turn in mind. Nine days after that conversation with my Papa, he passed away, not having woken from his coma. The past two and a half years have been my journey to uncover and accept the beautiful in a landscape of rubbish. It’s a story very much in process.