Sunday, April 13, 2014

Real Love?

I get Christianity Today magazine and read an intriguing article towards the end of the April issue last week. Here's the first line: "The report is in, and the eulogy has been delivered. Romantic comedies are dead. I say that's good news." I was hooked. What could the writer possibly mean?

The writer described Hollywood's typical romantic comedy and argued that a new batch of movies and TV shows seem to be getting at a different message. Many of these recent offerings are either portraying the challenges of romantic relationships or are featuring relationships beyond the romantic as central to the plot. The writer described scenes from several recent movies and TV shows to support her point, including an example from Frozen, my new favorite animated movie. Instead of the act of true love being a true love's kiss in Frozen (a hinge point in so many romantic comedies), the act is a young woman sacrificing her life for her sister.

After citing examples, the writer gets down to the real reason the death of romantic comedies is a good thing. She writes: "Against all odds, Hollywood seems to be discovering that when we make romance the highest form of love, we're missing what love is all about...More important, we forget that love is not just for people in romantic relationships. Real love occupies our whole lives."

This article hits close to home and crystallized some thoughts I'd been turning over in my mind. As I get ready to turn 25 on Tuesday, my thoughts have inevitably turned to broader questions about my life and about life as a whole. Am I happy to be where I am in life? Am I okay with being single at a quarter century?

On Saturday, some dear friends of mine--a dad, two daughters, and one daughter's son--picked me up for an afternoon together. We had lunch at Rancho Chico and then went to visit their aunt, who lives near by. The big occasion for visiting was so the aunt could meet my friend's four-month-old son. The aunt lives alone, so we sat in her plain living room, drank peach tea with organic honey, and listened to her talk about various subjects--doctors, church, her son, organic food, and marriage all being among the topics.

One of the daughters is just 10 days older than me, so she had turned 25 the week before. The aunt asked her how old she was, and my friend answered.

"Twenty five!" The aunt said. "We have got to get you married. We have to find some nice man to snatch you up. We can't let you be an old maid."

Why not? I thought, rather peevishly. What's so bad about being an old maid? It's not a death sentence.

I've heard people express sentiments like this before, and though I'm still young enough to revel in my independence without regret, I always wonder what they dread will happen if I'm not paired up with someone post haste. It's not that these people are mean-spirited. On the contrary, it's not likely romance is even what they're hoping for when they wish for a spouse for a single person. Rather, they know that romantic love can give way to a life time of companionship and deep joy. I can understand that desire. I even wish it for myself often.

But, in the meantime, here I am. Single. Unattached. An old maid (depending on your standards). What's a girl to do? As the article says: "Romance is not the only kind of love that makes life worth living." Even in my limited experience of life, about to swell with another year, I've found this to be true. I've got a blessed number of friends and family and a God whose definition of love is constantly shattering the molds we squeeze it into. I have a feeling this year is going to be a wild ride. Hang onto your hats!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Menu-Planning Mojo

In the coming two weeks, I'm gonna need all the cooking mojo I can muster. I usually just cook two to three meals a week and eat the leftovers for lunch and dinner. It's easy; I only cater to my own whims. But I often find cooking for myself boring, which is why I like to try new recipes and new techniques and to play with new ingredients. For instance, a friend gave me some culinary lavender on Friday, and I spent a good bit of time researching recipes that evening (while watching Frozen). I've already made lavender ice cream and 16 lavender scones. I baked three scones and ate them with lemon curd and froze the others unbaked, so I can pull them out and bake them anytime.

I hope my success with my lavender treats has got me on a good foot for all the meals I have to make in the coming weeks. The first is a pancake breakfast for my company--Olive Tree--to celebrate a big software update that our development team has been working on for more than a year. We also invited the folks at Partners to breakfast since we're using their space to cook and eat. I'm guessing we'll be cooking for 35-40 people. The seven managers are cooking, but I'm in charge of planning the menu, buying ingredients, and giving orders on Wednesday morning. Despite the sometimes-harried nature of these events, I always like adding another event like this to my cooking resume. You never know when it will come in handy. The menu is has a lot of moving pieces, though: pancakes, waffles, crepes, fruit, baked egg dishes, sausage, and drinks. Wish me luck!

On Monday night, I'm hosting around 10 people at my house for our monthly children's ministry committee meeting. We used to have almost more food limitations in this group than I could count: vegetarian, doctor-ordered low-carb diet, gluten-intolerant, and a slight dairy-intolerance. While the gluten intolerant people are no longer in the group, I still try to be creative when I cook for this group, so the menu is as follows: Spring Risotto with asparagus and peas, deviled eggs, and cut veggies with homemade ranch dressing. I was planning to make a pavlova for dessert with baked meringues, a triple-berry compote, and whipped cream, but I was informed at church today that the dessert would be brought by my friend Karen. I have to admit I was disappointed, but as the reason for this dessert switch-up is my birthday the next day, I'm inclined to give in. :)

I have a reprieve on my birthday and will be enjoying milkshakes with a group of friends at the Milk Bottle, a classic Spokane joint. On Wednesday, I'll prep a meal with my friend Gerry for my church's monthly family night. In light of Easter the following Sunday, we decided on a simple menu of ham, green salad, sliced bread with butter, colored hard-boiled eggs, and Oreo Rice Crispy treats. Piece of cake!

The next day, my parents come into town until the day after Easter. We'll celebrate my 25th birthday and my dad's 60th birthday, both big milestones! I love planning the menu when my parents visit because they are so easily pleased. :) Thursday night, we'll have one-pot Arroz con Pollo. Friday, we're having Lemon Brioche Baked French Toast for breakfast. Lunch will be at a restaurant in town. Dinner will be Alaskan salmon and a wild rice casserole. A friend of mine gave me three filets of salmon and one filet of halibut several weeks ago that her husband caught himself in Alaska. I was so amazed at her generosity! I feel like I have pure (food) gold in my freezer.

Breakfast and lunch on Saturday are yet to be determined, but we'll likely need picnic food that day. The evening will feature broiled New York strip steaks and popovers filled with creamed asparagus. Dessert will be lemon ice cream and homemade shortbread. Yum! Easter is still up in the air, though I'm guessing my pavlovas will be on the menu for dessert. I've also spent this weekend filling my freezer with granola, vanilla frozen yogurt, and lavender scones and ice cream, so whatever else we are, we won't be hungry.

I found all my menu planning ironic after the sermon at my church today on Jesus' statement "I am the bread of life." Hunger is not what I'm feeling right now, but there was still something in the sermon for my food-filled brain. "In one of the most crucial points of Jesus' life," my pastor said, "he proclaimed that 'Man does not live by bread alone, but by the Word of God.' We still live on the Word of God, the Word made flesh, the Bread of Life." I'll keep this in mind as I eat and prepare meals in the coming weeks. God's grace is abundance. It's filet mignon once a day with peanut butter chocolate cheesecake for dessert. It's good to feel hunger, like the self-imposed hunger of Lent, but it's right to celebrate, too. And what better to time to celebrate than Easter?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Happiest Place on Earth

I wrote this post for the Olive Tree Blog at work, and I'm sharing it here.

I don’t travel to new places very often; I love being at home. A couple weeks ago I broke the mold and traveled to southern California to spend time with my sister, and we spent a Saturday at Disneyland. The day was a happy whirl of rides, lines, ice cream, and warm sunshine, but around 3:30 that afternoon, when the park was at its most busy and we couldn’t walk without bumping into someone, I began to feel the effects of the crowds. As a child, I might have pitched a fit. But as such tantrums are not tolerated with adults (however much we might want to), I agreed with my sister that a half hour break in the car would be good for both of us. I recognized unmistakable symptoms of being overtired, irritable, and, in this new environment with so many unknown faces, a little fragile, too.

The next day, my sister and I visited my grandma who had recently suffered a minor stroke. My sister and I helped her from her wheelchair to the hospital bed, and she lay there helplessly, unable to use her arms to prop herself up on the bed. My sister and the nurse hoisted her up, and we stood over her, looking down.  She grabbed our hands, hers still surprisingly firm and strong, and said to us, “I’m sorry you have to see me at my worst.” I smiled at her and squeezed her hand, but my insides wrinkled uncomfortably as I recalled the day before, overwhelmed in the happiest place on earth, ready to burst into tears like a petulant child. My grandma’s worst didn’t seem that much different than my worst.

Two weeks later, I sat in the Ash Wednesday service at church and listened to the words of invitation to the observance of Lent:

“Friends in Christ, every year at the time of the Christian Passover, we celebrate our redemption through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Lent is a time to prepare for this celebration and to renew our life in the paschal mystery. We begin our journey to Easter with the sign of ashes. This ancient sign speaks of the frailty and uncertainty of human life and marks the penitence of this community.”

As the sign of the cross was marked on my forehead with ashes, I was struck by the troubling paradox in the words of invitation, new life and frailty in the same breath. It’s like Lent itself, a season marked by penitence and fasting, which is puzzlingly placed at the time of year when the created world is bursting into new life. The grass becomes green again, the trees straighten towards the light, and flowers emerge from the cold ground.

I realized as I felt the ash on my forehead that my grandma and I both represented the paradox of Lent. My grandma, whose earthly body is failing, is headed for the new life that awaits us in heaven, where the earthly wear and tear fades away forever. While still young and healthy, I have my own frailty in wrestling with the sin and brokenness that are inherent to human life. And yet, the promise of new life still extends to me in the culmination of Lent, that glorious triumph of the cross of Christ. I like Disneyland and all, but surely living in the light of new life, even with the shadow of death, is the happiest place on earth.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Beauty of Words

I've spent the last couple months tangled up in the beauty and excitement of language. This emergent theme in the last couple months prompted me to take a three-pronged approach to adding language to my life during this Lenten season instead of fasting like I've done in recent years. January and February were rich months of taking in words through reading, but I haven't been pouring words back out through writing. I've recently had an itch to write, so here are my Lenten goals:

  1. Journal for 15 minutes each day. No less time, but perhaps more time if I feel lead.
  2. Blog once a week.
  3. Memorize Psalm 139 and a yet-to-be selected poem.
Writing has always been a helpful way for me to think through life, and I felt uncomfortable with my lack of discipline in writing the more I read. A couple things I read (or listened to) made me particularly sensitive to my lack of discipline. The first was that I started getting the Spokesman Review, albeit a recycled version. I mentioned to my mentor that I missed reading the paper every day. No sooner had I said it than we had worked out a plan. She would get the paper from her neighbors every morning, read it, and then put the papers in a plastic bag outside her door, so I could pick them up (usually several at a time) on my way home from work. It's great to read the paper as a whole, but I've particularly enjoyed the poems that are included in the paper each Sunday, chosen by a former U.S. poet laureate. There's something about poetry--some magic, perhaps--that conjures the love of words.

The second is a little embarrassing to admit, but fun, too. I listen to a lot of music at work while I type at a computer all day. Back in December, I saw the movie 'Frozen' and spent a couple weeks at work listening to the soundtrack. The sophistication of the lyrics caught my attention along with the heartfelt vocals. I started a Pandora station with songs from Disney movies and Broadway musicals, anything from 'Annie Get Your Gun' to 'Mary Poppins.' Lyrics catch my attention because so many of the songs tell a story and use the classic pairing of words and music to explore the meaning of life. Listening to these songs gave the week-in-week-out routine of work and home a new context. Life is full of adventure, humor, sorrow, and routine and words put to music give life poignancy. You can even sing to people instead of talking to them, like I did with my housemate when she bought a new car. She'd been thinking about it for a while, so when she finally drove the car into the driveway, I sang to her: "You did it! You did it! You said that you would do it, and indeed you did" (from My Fair Lady). She only thought me half-crazy.

The third concerns the two books I read for my Sunday School book discussion class. In January and part of February, we read 'Cry, The Beloved Country' by Alan Paton, a novel about South Africa in the 1940s. In March and April, we're reading a non-fiction book called 'Letters from the Land of Cancer' by Walter Wangerin, a series of letters the author writes as he's experiencing cancer. The written words on the page are beautiful, but the beauty of the words and stories also extends to the discussions we enjoy in class each week. Our conversations allow us to question what we don't understand, extend the stories to our lives, and share the phrases in the books that challenged, encouraged, and moved us. The language of the stories allows us breathing room to discuss subjects that are challenging--sorrow, justice, death, and love. These subjects need the flesh and blood of stories to come alive and move us.

All these experiences led me to miss the process of reflection that comes with thoughtful writing. Here's my attempt, if only for the Lenten season, to move the words from inside my head and heart to the page, paper or computer screen, and to put flesh and blood on my own story.