Monday, August 29, 2011

Happy Birthday to Our Daughters

This year, on October 6th, our daughter Sabrina will turn 14. We will celebrate another birthday that same day. Our other daughter, Noellia, lives in the Dominican Republic. Noellia and Sabrina share the same birthday, the same age, born on the exact same day. We support Noellia through the sponsor-a-child program at World Vision.

Our daughter, Sabrina, loves to read. She is always on her computer. She loves anime and cosplay and Japanese food. She gives a creative spark to everything she does, whether it is the clothes she chooses to wear or her hair styles. She is kind hearted and a wonderful friend. She is extremely smart and humble. Her dad and I are very proud of her.

We have never met Noellia. But, she has a smile that lights up every photo. She has been our sponsored child for about five years through World Vision. She has a pet goat. She helps her parents with chores like carrying water. She has resilience and determination and wants to be a doctor. Through her notes and sponsor reports, Noellia is also a constant reminder to me that our life here in the United States is very blessed.

While we have been given so many physical comforts, there are many children in this world who have nothing. There are many families who are without basic food and shelter. Many will die from illness or starvation. The current situation in Africa is just one of many crisis areas on our globe.

Organizations like World Vision remind us that life does not revolve around us as individuals or as families. We need to help others - we need to shift the focus just a little bit from our own world. We need to give as generously as we have been given.

So Happy Birthday to both of our daughters: to Sabrina, and to the daughter we have never met in person, Noellia. We consider ourselves better for having both of you in our lives. May you each experience God's richest blessings in the year ahead. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Baptized in Humanity

I stood in the middle of Miami International Airport, arms spread, palms facing up, feet on the two yellow footprints painted on the cement floor.

The female security agent was a foot shorter than me, her brown braided hair came only to my chin.

She pulled on latex gloves. "I'm going to pat you down," she said, "But when I come to sensitive areas, I'll use the back of my hand."

I nodded.

"Would you prefer to move to a private area?" she asked, her eyes softening.

"No," I shrugged. "This is fine."

My husband was behind me in line - and another security agent was being summoned to give him the same inspection. We had decided to opt out of the x-ray machine that was scrutinizing everyone attempting to fly out of Miami. The funny thing is that even after passengers were x-rayed, another agent was patting them down anyway. Regardless, the whole process made me feel like a common criminal.

Between the spread-eagle pat down and the already invasive procedure of disrobing and putting the contents of my life in plastic bins, I was feeling overwhelmed by the desperate state of humanity. "What have we come to" I wondered, "that we are treated with such suspicion - that these procedures have become an acceptable part of the ordinary human experience?"

My entire trip to Miami was an experience of feeling immersed in and overwhelmed by the world. It began with our bus ride to South Beach. The ride on public transportation was only $2.35 compared to the $28 ride on a hotel shuttle. So, hoping to save some cash, we boarded the bus - surrounded by speakers of many foreign languages.

The bus had only made one stop when a tall leggy and chesty woman boarded. She had leathery skin, a cowboy hat, bleached blonde hair, and a skimpy tank top that was stretched to capacity. She carried a large wooden skateboard with a chain attached to it. As the bus swayed to and fro, she clung to the metal bar like a stripper to a pole.

The entire bus was fascinated.

We were even more fascinated when, as she turned completely around, we realized she was most likely a man.

The man/woman continued to pose and preen. She would lean out the bus window and flip off random pedestrians, shouting expletives, and trying to catch the attention of the bus riders.

Everyone of us purposely avoided her eyes.

When the/man woman stepped off the bus, we gave a collective sigh of relief.

Miami is a humid blend of humanity. During our weekend visit, we met people from every walk of life. We ate French sandwiches and drank Cuban coffee. We chatted with our taxi driver, an Egyptian who had been beaten four times in his country for being a believer. We ate pizza outside of a club where African American teens were gathered, one wearing a gold chain that read "Free Lil."

There was extravagant wealth and extreme poverty. My husband and I were blocked from entering the pool area of the Fountainbleau Hilton where guests pay $500 to stay for one night. Immediately afterward we walked the boardwalk and met a woman from Ecuador selling necklaces in the blazing sun while her four year old son played by her feet.

And, in a fitting ending, on our last night, as we walked along the beach - we saw the same man/woman singing and yelling to herself standing on a park bench...her chained skateboard nearby.

Miami was the most vivid example of a melting pot that I had ever seen. It was for this world that Christ came. I thought of this as I stood with my feet planted on yellow footsteps. Scripture tells us that he humbled himself, that he came and dwelt among us.

Graham Greene says it well in his novel The Power and the Glory: "We were made in God's image. God was the parent, but He was also the policeman, the criminal, the priest, the maniac, and the judge...It was for this world that Christ had died; the more evil you saw and heard about you, the greater glory lay around the death."

Jesus didn't dwell in a church or cathedral; he rode the bus, walked the streets, caught a cab, wandered on the beach. He willingly stepped into humanity and lived and breathed among us. My public humiliation at the airport dwindles in the face of his extravagant love.

It is for this world that Christ died.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Finding My Inner Gleek

The first two times I watched the smash hit television series Glee, I hated it. I didn't like the characters or the plot - and, frankly, I found some of it offensive.

But this summer, I found it again on Netflix - so, starting from the beginning, my soon-to-be 8th grader daughter and I watched it.

I was hooked.

I had thought this was a show about high school and singing - and it is. But it is also a show about people who are multi-faceted and quirky - people who don't fit in or who don't think they fit in high school or in society. People like me.

I have now watcheed Glee up until mid-season 2. And, while I would still offer some parental cautions abou the show's content - I think there is much about it to love:

1) Will Schuster - Here is a teacher who loves his students. I had a few teachers like this in high school who loved us - and we knew it. One was my English teacher, Mr. Gansauer. We loved to talk to him and listen to his stories. He was funny and smart and kind. He treated us with respect. There is a mutual respect between Will Schuster and his students. They don't always see life the same way - but there is a shared communication that enriches their lives.

Too often adults want to impart their own choices onto children. In this show - Mr. Schuster does just that. He encourages his students to perform numerous songs by Journey and his favorite 80s bands. In one episode, he is introduced to their music. This common courtesy opens the door to serious conversations between him and those he instructs. When true communication happens, it allows teaching to move beyond the classroom.

2) Grilled Cheesus & Religion - Most popular tv shows avoid religion - or - at best - make fun of it. I found thi s episode especially intriguing. One character sees the face of Jesus in a grilled cheese sandwich - and begins praying to the icon. But - the more interesting part of the show for me were the various characters views of faith. They each had strong opinions, but the topic was covered with a serious tone that allowed each view to be heard.

Sue Sylvester - usually the most sarcastic character - became vulnerable by expressing her profound disappointment with God. Her mentally disabled sister, however, challenges Sue - saying that "God doesn't make any mistakes."

3) The Slushied Gleeks - Perhaps my favorite part of the show is the fact that each character faces an issue. They each feel that they don't fit in. One struggles with being African American and overweight. Another is handicapped and restricted to a wheelchair. Even the blonde leggy cheerleader struggles with a lack of intelligence. Their strength, in the show, lies in their community. They accept one another. They are on each other's side. They find that together they are stronger.

The show takes these set backs seriously. It shows consequences to bad behavior. It doesn't paint teens as stereotypes - but lets them show their insecurities and worries. It lets them fall down, make bad choices, and then lean on friends and family in times of despair.

Glee is not a perfect show. It has its soap-opera type moments. It sometimes steps a bit beyond my parental comfort zone in terms of topics or language. It makes me squirm a bit - as a parent - to realize the mature situations these high school kids get involved in. It deals extremely frankly with sex. It deals extensively with homosexuality - and (at times) this topic feels politicized. But, I also feel like the relationship between Kurt and his dad are handled with care and honesty.

If you haven't seen it yet - watch it from the start. It will open you up to the world of today's high school - and maybe (like me) remind you just a little bit of yourself.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

You're It!

Thanks to my friend, writer, and fellow blogger Amanda Cleary Eastep for passing along this blog prompt. Try it out on your blog or just enjoy reading it and meeting some new bloggers!

What do you think of when you the hear the word tag? I think of recess at Parkside School in Thornton, Illinois. I remember being "it" a lot because I wasn't so good at running or any type of outdoor activity. I also remember the "cootie" stage where the girls would try to catch the boys or boys catch the girls and "infect" them.
Do you think you’re hot? Last week, I was extremely hot :-). The humidity was killing me. My husband and I did the air conditioning battle - he inched the dial up - and I put it back down.

No - seriously - I feel like at age 45 I am finally growing into my body and becoming less worried about my appearance.
Upload a picture or wallpaper that you’re using at the moment.

This is a sunset in Door County, Wisconsin - always one of my favorite spots.
When was the last time you ate chicken? Yesterday, we went to La Creperie in downtown Chicago. We sat at the outdoor back patio and had crepes with chicken and mushrooms - finished off, of course, with a nutella and banana crepe (my favorite). Milt and I used to go to this little spot when we were dating. It was my daughter Sabrina's first visit.
The song(s) you listened to recently. I've been watching Glee with Sabrina...and I've really really enjoyed hearing some songs that I haven't heard for ages. The episode about religion was especially moving to me with: "Losing My Religion" and "One of Us"...two of my favorite alternative songs about faith.
What were you thinking as you were doing this? That my friend Amanda is pretty cool :-). And - I'm glad that I know so many writers, thinkers, and bloggers.
Do you have nicknames? What are they? Not really. Some people call me James. My family used to call me "Vera" after the dingy waitress at Mel's Diner. My grade school friends called me "Storms" - my maiden name.

Tag 8 blogger friends…

Who’s listed as No. 1? Connie. We were friends 25 years ago in college and reunited during the Chicago Blizzard at our reunion. Now we are reunited friends and writers - and she just got back from an exciting trip with Wycliffe to write about missions work in Europe.

Say something about No. 5 Ilene was my student. Her blog is so fun - and she is the most faithful blogger I know with a HUGE following. How do you do it!?

How did you get to know No. 3? John and I teach together. He has a sarcastic wit that helps keep me sane at MBI. I love his narratives. He is also published - I am jealous!

How about No. 4? Anna and I were roommates in grad school. She is creative and driven and is married to a Frenchman. I miss her!

Leave a message for No. 6. I will miss you at Moody! Be sure to stay in touch with me. I so appreciate your insights and sensitive soul...

Leave a lovey dovey message for No. 2. Hmmmm - I don't know about lovey dovey :-) - but I so love your huge heart and think you are an amazing person and writer and dad.

Do No. 7 and No. 8 have any similarities? Both former students. Both individuals who aren't afraid to step outside of the box and see everything (including faith) from a unique and yet utterly devoted light. I admire you both!
If you’re reading, please take a few minutes to check out these great bloggers, and if you have a blog…Tag, you’re it!