Childhood

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Christianity is not the American Dream

Sunday, January 7th, 2018

I grew up as a pastor’s daughter, an identity that I largely shook when I left home at 18, but which played an undeniable role in my formation. In getting to know other pastor’s kids (PKs) over the years, I’ve found some common threads in our experiences; for example, the pressure of visibility, unfair expectations from certain members of the church community, the learned ability to be whoever we needed to be for the given person in front of us, and stealing the leftover communion bread to wolf down in the fellowship hall (privilege negates sacrilege).

Some PKs seem to resent their upbringing, but for the most part, I enjoyed mine. While nowhere in the bible, my marching orders seemed clear: follow the rules and Jesus will love you — or was it Jesus loves you, so you’d better follow the rules? Either way, for this natural rule follower, it all seemed reasonable enough.

Church felt safe to me because I was good at it. I felt at home in Sunday School and church musicals and youth group and worship teams, and always knew I had a big group of people who loved me and were rooting for me. I had the answers to the questions, and prayed fervently over life’s most dire concerns: algebra tests and my future husband. After leaving my hometown to study music at a Christian college, I went to work full-time at a large Presbyterian church. For the first 25 years of my life, I coasted on what was largely an inherited faith — one that served me well as long as I stuck with like-minded people, followed the rules, and did everything right.

In other words, it was only a matter of time.

The past ten years have been a process of disintegration as I began to discover that the “faith” of my upbringing was largely circumstantial and hardly personal. Not only could I not keep up with “the rules,” I realized that I didn’t want to — because as it turned out, no amount of rule following prevented babies from dying or parents from divorcing or bodies from breaking or hearts from shattering. For all I had given God — that is, my deeds, my schedule, my proclamations — how dare he not come through on his end of the bargain? The bargain being, you know, keeping me and everyone I love safe and happy and comfortable. THAT’S THE DEAL, God.

As it turns out, that’s not the deal.

More and more, I’m coming to believe that this is the deal, the only deal: God wants us just as we are, not as we should be, and that we are called to be like Jesus. And if you know anything about the life of Jesus, this means taking our battered and broken down selves and scrapping our reputation in favor of loving the unlovable, welcoming the outsiders and outcasts, sacrificing on behalf of others, forgiving without condition, and suffering. There will be suffering.

In western culture, Christianity has long been sold as a happy, therapeutic path to self-actualization: love God, be a good person, and he’ll give you a great life. But Christianity is not the American Dream. At the risk of being a total killjoy, the true nature of Christianity is costly: join Jesus, give your life away, and die.

Surely this definition would dissuade many from faith. But if churches were more honest about the true path of following Jesus, I wonder if Christians would have a healthier, more realistic view of what it is that we’re actually buying into. I wonder if we wouldn’t feel so entitled to a cute, happy life, and indignant when we don’t get it. I wonder if we’d be more willing to give ourselves away, seeing as how we’re following a man who willingly walked to a brutal death on a cross.

The thought scares me, because who actually wants to live a life marked by selflessness? Here, I’ll go first: I DON’T. I generally prefer a quid pro quo sort of God, one who will reward my faithfulness with recognition and bounty; it’s only fair. And as we’ve already established, I’m amazing at “the rules” — so this kind of arrangement would work out pretty well for me.

But Jesus takes “the rules” and throws them out the window, because he values relationship over transaction. As such, the Christian life is full of paradoxes:

What if death isn’t what we assume? What if death is the pathway to life — and not just the “die and go to heaven” sort of eternal life, but kingdom come life here and now? What if dying up front sets us free to really live? What if being stripped of all falsehood leaves our truest selves exposed? What if the end is the beginning?

If you’re lucky enough to be in a season of life that feels abundant and beautiful, that is a gift and you absolutely should soak it up. But if you, like me, are a Christian who is looking around at all that is passing away and sometimes thinking, “Wait, I didn’t sign up for this,” be encouraged — because maybe we actually did.

The dollhouse

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

When I was 5 years old, my grandpa built me a dollhouse. Even as a little girl, I remember being amazed at the intricate bricks that formed the two-story-high walls and the individual shingles that topped the roof. The front side had a tiny front door which, if you pulled on the tiny handle, opened on tiny hinges. A staircase with a delicate railing connected the two floors, and each of the 5 rooms was painted a different color. I arranged the house with little furniture handmade by my grandpa, and filled it with anthropomorphic animal figurines called Sylvanian Families.

It’s impossible to count how many hours I spent playing with this dollhouse. It’s one of the main icons of my childhood.

But as the years went on, I became less and less interested in make believe. As is the case with many little girls, my focus turned first to horses, and then to boys – and before I knew it, I was off to college. I always hoped that one day, I would give the dollhouse to my own kids – but until then it sat untouched, usually under a sheet in one basement or another.

In the 13 years since I graduated high school, I’ve moved 18 times. This Saturday, I will move a 19th – this time to a place with very limited storage. This has made me reevaluate just about everything I own, and it’s led to the realization that it doesn’t make sense for me to hold onto the dollhouse. I can’t keep moving it from place to place and finding a spot to keep it, only to let it gather dust – so tonight, I decided to give it to some dear friends who have daughters.

Despite my hope to give it to children of my own one day, it was time to let it go – because it’s okay if there’s a gap between the life you thought you’d be living and the life that you actually have.

And when you find the courage to release your grip on the thing you thought was so important, you might just find that the bitter is overpowered by the sweet.

How to cut up a pineapple

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

I’ve known Roommate Hannah since childhood. In fact, here’s a picture of her and me from the days of yore.

That’s us at ages 10 and 15. This was around the time that Hannah thought that “Les Miserables” was, in fact, “Lame is Rob” – which is basically the best thing I have ever heard.

Anyway, Hannah is good at all sorts of things that I’m not good at – like sports and computers and wearing Nike shoes. She also knows how to cut up a pineapple – and yesterday, I made her teach me how.

Step 1: Cut off the top. Those leaves are spiky. Don’t bleed all over the fruit.

Step 2: Cut off the bottom. Now it should be shaped like a barrel. If it’s not shaped like a barrel, then you didn’t cut off the top and the bottom correctly and you probably don’t deserve to hold a knife.

Step 3: Cut the barrel in half, length-wise. Top to bottom. Longitudely, not latitudely.

Step 4: Cut the two halves in half again. Count up all of your halves – you should have four. Yes, four halves make a whole and never let anyone tell you otherwise.

Step 5: It’s time to cut off the core. The only reason you would want to save the core is if you wanted to make a smoothie or if you are a giraffe. Otherwise, you are not allowed to keep it.

Step 6: Cut the four halves in half again. Now you will have eight, and fine, I’ll stop calling them “halves.”

I will call them “boats” instead.

Step 7: Take each boat and slice the flesh (HELLO, CLARICE) into… you know, slices. But don’t cut all the way through the rind, because look at Step 8.

Step 8: Cut off the rind.

Voila – now you have perfect little pineapple pieces – and, in my case, 15 years on the Annie that was pictured earlier in this post.  How has half a lifetime gone so quickly?

Maybe the better question is, how have almost 30 years passed without me ever having to cut up a pineapple?

Too good to keep to myself

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

I bring you this special weekend blog scrap just to announce that my brother used to think the phrase was “throw kosh into the wind.”

Tremendous!

Trying for triceps

Monday, March 29th, 2010

I have negative triceps. There’s, like, nothing there. If my arms were outerspace, there would be a black hole where my triceps are supposed to be.

Haha, PHYSICS JOKE!!! Science is sooooo funny.

I am 3 1/2 years older than my sister Becca, so when I was 15 and basically the same size I am now (massive), she was 11 and scrawny. She is still incredibly skinny – she turns sideways and disappears, just like Olive Oyl – and can wear clothes that the cool kids wear (skinny jeans, tiny dresses with leggings underneath, various Forever 21 garb), while I and my thighs are banished to more frumpy sensible attire.

I am not bitter. Then again, here is a picture of me as a child:

ap2

I have always had those thighs and a scowl.

Anyway, the point of all of this is that when I was a full-grown 15-year old and Becca was her scraggly 11-year old self, she could beat me in arm wresting.

I have never had any upper-body strength. But I want that to change, because what if one day, I find myself dangling off a canyon edge? A single pull-up could save my life. And if that’s the case, it’s time to take action.

Take action to get action. That’s always been my motto.

Several times each week, I see the King of the Weight Room at the gym. You know exactly who I’m talking about: Stallone in “Cliffhanger.” The man who is bursting out of his muscle shirt. The guy whose neck is just a direct path from his ear to his collarbone.

This man is to triceps as Hunter Lane is to quads.

In other words, I have found my new trainer.

He just doesn’t know it.

YET.

Don’t tell me it’s not worth tryin’ for

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Remember that time in 4th grade when my class had a contest to see who could best sing Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”?

I suppose I haven’t mentioned it yet.

Any willing participant had a chance to stand in front of the class with the Walkman headphones on and sing along with Bryan, to the cheers or jeers of her peers.

This was obviously very awkward.  First of all, whoever was singing was the only one who could hear the track; to the 30 other people in the room, all they were hearing was an unaccompanied, nervous, pre-adolescent warble.  Secondly, we were 10-years old.  The most passionate thing I could think of was footsy.  However, as I remember vividly, this didn’t stop one girl from closing her eyes and feigning Whitney Houston.

Yeaaaah, I’d fight for you… [fist pump]

To me, Bryan Adams remained frozen in memory, frozen in time, in that Pomona Elementary classroom – that is, until last year when my friend Duane reintroduced me.

Oh, friends.  What I had been MISSING OUT ON all those years.

Duane knows me well enough to know that he would need to be sneaky, so he started by sending me a few songs that our guy Bry had written with Gretchen Peters – one of my favorite writers in the history of the universe (remember, I wrote about her here).  From the first tentative listen to those tracks, all doubt was blown away:

Bryan Adams is where it’s at.  His songs are fantastic.

I have a short list of people that I have to see in concert someday – and in addition to Patty Griffin (which will FINALLY happen at the end of this month), Shania Twain, and Phil Collins, Bryan Adams has earned his place.

And I just felt like declaring it to the world.

Indicative of things to come

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

One time, when I was 5, we lived next door to a girl my age.  Her grandparents gave her a Popple.  I wanted it so badly that I asserted my Alpha Girl status, and she gave it to me.

A few days later when her grandparents found out she gave it away, they sent her to our house to reclaim it.  As she was carrying it home, I ran down the hallway and, with a flying leap, tackled her to the ground.

My family brings up this story frequently.

Steered in a positive direction

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

For as much as I love cheese – which, trust me, my devotion is infinite and everlasting – I rarely eat grilled cheese.  Chalk it up to just another childhood overdose – I never eat peanut butter & jelly, either.  Grilled cheese lost its appeal before Clinton took office.

Which is why it was shocking that yesterday, I had the chance to eat a grilled cheese for lunch – and I jumped at it.  Like, I literally sprung out of my chair and made a beeline for the kitchen.  See, my co-worker Delaney is a dazzling maker-of-all-foods, and she brought a griddle!  To work!  To make grilled cheeses!  And if this woman makes something, it is a guaran-freaking-tee that I will love it.

I’m serious.  Remember how Ritz Cracker Cheese Sandwiches are my secret shame?  Delaney has actually taken these bite-sized wonders and made them into a gourmet snack.  She shakes some sort of herby goodness all over them, and I swear, they could be served to the Queen of England.

After experiencing this woman’s brilliance yesterday, I can positively say that I am back in the saddle when it comes to grilled cheese.  She has renewed my hope, my faith, my confidence in the sandwich.  Thank you, Delaney, for pointing me toward the truth.

Now, to make my own.  I’m looking for grilled cheese tips, if anyone has any…

Halcyon gone wrong

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

You know how sometimes, a long-forgotten memory will make its way to the surface for no apparent reason?  All of a sudden, the scene is playing in your mind – like a film projector on an old bed sheet, nostalgic home video remembrances of life before you knew the things you know now.

The other day, that was happening for me.  I was seeing our Dalmatian, Princess, and games on what must have been the original Apple computer, and Otter Pops from the freezer in the garage, and the orange tree in our old backyard, and trips to the Dairy Queen on our bikes, and summer nights in the backyard, and getting beaten up by the deaf girl in 1st grade…

WAIT A SECOND.

It totally threw a wrench in my gears, a hitch in my giddy-up.  I was beaten up?  In 1st grade?  By the deaf girl?

(Let it be known that these days, I would absolutely, 100% use the term “hearing impaired.”  But remember, I am being transported back to 1989, when I didn’t know anything about being politically correct.  I also didn’t know that you shouldn’t swallow toothpaste – but I digress.)

The last time I checked, I do not have multiple personalities… yet… and so I’m not quite sure how this memory got repressed for all these years only to surface two decades later.  But just like that, in the middle of my work-day, I was transported back to recess in 1st grade, on the playground at Oster Elementary, scared every single day that the deaf girl from 2nd grade was going to beat me up again.

She had pigtails.  She had hearing aids.  And she had it out for me.

I never got up the nerve to tell anyone.  I just went on being afraid every day.  And I don’t know that I’ve ever been so relieved as the day when a playground aid caught the little shrew in the act, and made sure she never touched me again.

Hey, if I was forced to re-live this story, then you can be sure that I would subject you to it, too.  What else is a blog audience for?

And two more nubbins:
–    I fly to Seattle tonight.
–    My East Nasty of the Week column will be resurrected next week.

Reasons “Pinocchio” is the worst movie ever

Friday, March 6th, 2009

–    “When You Wish Upon a Star”
–    Geppetto’s wish that a puppet would become a real boy.  What?
–    Creepy Blue Fairy
–    Cricket as conscience
–    “Give a Little Whistle”
–    Honest John (wicked fox).  MISLEADING.
–    Figaro (pet cat, unclothed, walks on all-4’s), and Gideon (mute cat, clothed, walks like a human).  INCONSISTENCY.
–    Cleo (flirtatious goldfish with long eyelashes).  AWKWARD.
–    “Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee”
–    Pavarotti… I mean, Stromboli
–    “I’ve Got No Strings”
–    Puppet locked in a bird cage
–    A nose that grows with every lie.  A NOSE THAT GROWS WITH EVERY LIE.
–    Pleasure Island
–    Boys turned into donkeys for “behaving like jackasses”
–    Subsequent braying
–    Puppet swallowed by gigantic whale
–    Puppet sneezed out by gigantic whale
–    Puppet dies
–    Puppet brought back to life by the Blue Fairy as a reward for bravery
–    “When You Wish Upon a Star” reprise… because we didn’t get enough the first time around.